Last Friday I awoke to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.” It blared from an iPhone at 6:30 a.m. in a bedroom that housed six adults for the night. It was my wake-up call, the signal that the next 26 hours of “run, eat, sleep?, repeat” was upon my 11 teammates and me – and yes, baby, I was born to run. Sort of.
Friday morning was the start of a Ragnar Relay, an overnight running race that, in this case, began at San Francisco’s Marina Green Park and ends in Calistoga. That’s 194 miles. Of running.
Before we get into those minute 194 miles of running details, let’s rewind a bit and figure out how a team of elite runners let someone like me, a novice jogger at best (but, man, can I skip really well) be on their squad. I used to be one of those people. You know, the type of person who made fun of others who ran 5Ks and 10Ks, who willingly paid an entrance fee to run those races, who wore matching singlets and short shorts with underwear liners in them. Yeah, I was that person. I was pretty insular in my thoughts, pretty single-minded when it came to running.
So when I heard in late May that my group of friends was getting together a team of 12 for Ragnar Relay in San Francisco, I stupidly asked if I could join their team. It was wholly against my traditional mindset. Aside from a run/walk (mostly walk for me) for Leukemia research I did in the eighth grade, I’ve never done a race before. Besides being quasi-active with team sports like volleyball, soccer and flag football, where you run more sprints than anything else, I never considered long-distance running as part of my weekly regiment.
So I started training. I had to. And, I hated it. With friends, I did sprint training. By myself, I ran to the Hollywood beach and back. Running is hard, I remember thinking as I crossed over a canal bridge, but I couldn’t let the team down, nor myself down.
For those unfamiliar with Ragnar, join the team. Essentially, it’s a relay race that takes place at various parts of the country. There are teams of 12 (or six in the case of ultra teams) that have one runner at a time running a leg of the 194 miles. In total, each person runs three legs of varying lengths. As the one person runs, the rest of the team, divided into two vans, travels with the runner to provide support and then meets the runner at the upcoming exchange. There, as the original runner ends his run, the next runner from the van continues on with the next leg of the race.
Each van houses six runners, hence the need for two separate vans. The first van takes on six legs, and then the second van takes on the next six, then the first van get back in the game, then goes the second van, and so on. This leapfrogging of running goes on until we reach the finish line.
For 26 straight hours, our Ford E-350 van becomes our team’s sleeping quarters, kitchen (we made PB&J’s with a plastic fork … we kept it classy …), noble steed and changing rooms.
My first run occurred at around 2 p.m. on Friday, the next around 3 a.m., and the final around 8:45 a.m. The chilly California temperature during my last two runs (and the fear of bumping into lawlessness during my 3 a.m. run in a city) kept my legs moving. Not very fast, but moving. Our van’s inhabitants probably slept about 3.5 total hours – for about 1.5 hours between 9:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., and then 2 hours between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m.
Perhaps the overall exhaustion got the best of all of us, but get this: What was so remarkable was that for our second slumber we collectively fell asleep at the exact same minute together and then woke up at around 7 a.m. at the same minute as well – no alarm or anything. That’s how in sync we were with each other. We lived and breathed one another. Now that’s a team.
But there was no greater feeling than just finishing. Utter elation washed over me, the non-runner in the group, as I finished my final leg.
So how’d we do? Our team, called You Wine Some, You Booze Some, slayed it. Despite having me on the team (the equivalent of a lead Zeppelin), our team won our division. We also came in 11th out of 371 teams. Individually, we had elite runners who clocked in paces of 7:20/mile up steep hills. I think we had a team time of 26 hours and 14 minutes, about 8:10/mile.
What makes it even better is how each member of our motley crew pushed each other. One teammate was asthmatic and, on top of that, was suffering from bronchitis. Twice he needed to receive oxygen after his legs. And, he average a well-under sub-8:00/mile pace. That’s crazy! We all run in our spare time. None of us are Olympians or have won the Boston Marathon. We’re just average people. On our team was a CFO, a mother of two, a Microsoft program manager, a civil engineer, a registered dietitian, a website entrepreneur, an AutoNation car distributor, a Southwest Airlines employee, a stay-at-home dad, a CME coordinator for a global health organization, a JM Family broker, and me, a magazine editor.
Now that I’ve done a 5K two weeks ago and Ragnar Relay last week, would I ever make fun of runners again? No way. Would I do another Ragnar? Um, yes, please.
Here are some quick shots of the past Ragnar weekend: