Ragnar Relay 2010 – Running in Honor of a Norse King

9 11 2010
Ragnar logo195.5 miles + 10 runners + rain, snow, sleet + total sleep deprivation + temperatures between 20-40 degrees + 31:15:01 hours of non-stop running from Chattanooga to Nashville = Ragnar Relay = one of the most amazing, brutal and rewarding physical feats I’ve ever accomplished.

I first heard about the Ragnar in late April, right after I finished my second ½ marathon.  Ragnar is a 9th Century Norse King:  a pirate, an explorer, a raider, a conqueror, a wild man.  The Ragnar Relay embodies all these qualities and is definitely not for the faint of heart, mentally or physically.  Teams consist of 12 runners (or six runners if they do the ultra) who each run 3 legs ranging from 2.7 to 8.9 miles, non-stop from Chattanooga to Nashville, 195.5 miles total.  (Or in our case, 198 miles due to a missed turn on leg 34.)

Ragnar TN 2010 course

Ragnar TN 2010 course

Several friends and I talked about getting a team together, and by the end of July, we were registered as Team 109:  Smells Like Team Spirit.  By September, our roster was finalized with 10 runners instead of the usual 12.  Two of our runners would be “ultras,” meaning they would run 2 legs back-to-back, three times.  Once we got our order worked out, I was responsible for legs 11, 23, and 35 of the race.

The first five runners (Carrie, Josh, Michelle, Andrew, and Chassi) were in van 1 and had to be at the start line in Chattanooga by 9:30 a.m. which meant a very early start to their day.  I was in van 2 so we didn’t leave Nashville until noon to meet up with Van 1 at exchange 6.  (Each point where runners pass the “baton” is called an exchange.)

Van 1

Van 1 and their "inspirational" message. (Carrie, Chassi, Michelle, Josh, Andrew)

Van 2

Van 2 at exchange 6 (Echo, Lee, Kelly, Meg, Matthew was MIA)

Van 2

Van 2's inspirational message

Van 2

Van 2 - The TN RagMag did a feature story on me overcoming my asthma through running (page 1).

Our excitement was palpable on the drive down, although I was a little sad Matthew, who was the runner right before me, was not with us.  He had a work engagement to attend to, but he met up with us right before his first leg.  The runners in van 2 were Lee, Echo, Meg, Matthew and myself.  Sky, Meg’s husband, drove for us.  We all knew each other pretty well, except for Lee who was a new-comer to our group, but what an amazing blessing he turned out to be!

There are hours worth of stories to tell from our discussions in the van about rotting bananas, body odor, Snickers, Motrin versus Tylenol, and the various digestive issues several runners were experiencing.  However, I’m going to focus the rest of this post on my own experience.

Kelly at leg 11

Waiting at leg 11 for my first leg to start. From 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. all runners were required to wear full protective gear: reflective vest, headlamp, and LCD light on the back.

My first leg was leg 11:  5.3 miles through the University of the South in Sewanee.  I began around 8:00 p.m., and the temperature was already in the 40s, the coldest weather I’ve ever run in.  I was nervous going into the race because cold weather has always been a trigger for an asthma attack, and I do not train in cold weather.  I was amazed that my breathing was fine; I had no issues with my asthma.  This was the first of several victories I had during the race.  Six years ago, I could not run for one minute at a very slow pace without wanting to collapse and needing a puff of my inhaler.  Three days ago, I was running a sub-10-minute mile in 40 degree weather.  Though this was the longest of my three legs, it was the easiest, flattest, and fastest.

Leg 11

Leg 11

Leg 23

Leg 23

My second leg was leg 23:  4.6 miles northwest of Shelbyville (middle of nowhere TN).  I started this one at 4:00 a.m., and the temperature had dropped another 20 degrees.  This was the loneliest of my runs.  In the 4.6 miles, I encountered one other runner.  I am so, so thankful for my teammates in van 2 and their incredible encouragement during this leg.  They would drive ahead a mile, wait for me on the side of the road, and cheer me on ridiculously until I passed.  Repeat four more times.  We did this for all our runners, but that little extreme burst of encouragement meant the world to me.

Physically I was tired, having been awake for almost 24 hours at this point.  Most of my thoughts during this leg were simply:  “You can do this.”  “This is what you’ve been training for.”  “You’re closer to the finish than you were a few minutes ago.”  “A few more steps.”   Etc.  Etc.  Etc.  I also had this horrible, horrible HP commercial jingle repeating in my head for many minutes at a time:  “I’ve got a pair of brand new roller skates, you’ve got a ??? in me. . .”  Only, for some reason I replaced roller skates with underpants thinking it was an ad for some new toddler pull-up training underwear.  I tried to compute Fibonacci series in my head, but that jingle would always sneak back.  I want to scream every time I hear that commercial now.

During this leg, more so than any other, I was struck by the realization that people were praying for me.  I don’t expect anyone was actually awake between 4:00 and 5:00 a.m. praying for my running, but I felt those prayers in a very tangible way.

Once we all finished our second legs, we had about five hours of down time till our third legs began.  Lee’s house was only two miles from our last major exchange, so he invited us all to crash at his house.  He called his wife, and a van of six smelly strangers showed up at their door around 5:30 a.m.  Most immediately found space on the floor or couch and promptly fell asleep.  I opted for a hot shower first and crawled into their guest bed.  What a blessing those two hours of sleep were, in a real bed, with access to a real bathroom.  Port-a-potties get really old in below-freezing weather.

After that rest, some lunch at Chick-Fil-A and more driving and cheering, my final leg began around 4:00 p.m.  It was by far the toughest.  I had gotten about two hours of sleep total in the past 36 hours, and the course was incredibly hilly (for me anyway).  I was pretty psyched getting ready for it, but Matthew, who was the runner right before me, missed a turn and ran about two extra miles before finally making it to the exchange where I was to start.  Though I ran this one a lot slower than originally anticipated, I was proud that I ran the whole thing without walking.

Leg 35

Leg 35

This was the only leg I ran in the daylight, but it was still cold and windy.  My body temperature increased enough to make me sweat, but I never felt warm.  In fact, I kept shivering for almost two hours after I finished; I simply could not get warm.

Smells Like Team Spirit at the finish line

Team 109 Smells Like Team Spirit at the finish line, 31:15:01

Our team crossed the finish line together over 31 hours after Carrie started on leg 1.  Team 109 had finished in 109th place.  Though we were elated, amazed, and slightly crazy from sleep deprivation, I found the finish line festivities underwhelming.  Due to the cold, most teams left immediately after getting their medals so there were barely any people around.  We did take advantage of the boxes of free candy, granola bars, Wheaties, and fruit.

This race challenged me like none other.  It was cruel, brutal, and insane.

Sign me up for 2011!

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9 responses

10 11 2010
รับทำ seo

hello To Kick a Pigeon and Other Musings , i read your blog , this a nice blog and perfect. Great for me. a lot of Scripture and Asthma content. i going to visit to read and comment your site.

11 11 2010
miceliale

This sounds like a really tough, hard race; kudos for taking it on!

11 11 2010
Hunter Schleicher

Great post. Congratulations!! That is such an amazing accomplishment.

12 11 2010
postonj

This was so fun to read Mrs. Huddleston! Because my parents do this thing, I totally understand what you were going through. Congrats on finishing! That is seriously awesome.

12 11 2010
rodewaldn

Wow. That’s crazy. Although, that sounds exactly like something I would do. During Cross Country season, sometimes Coach Floyd has to tell me to run less; he’ll say something like, “Nik – you don’t need to be doing 14 miles today with the state meet next week.” Also, Russell now has this insane idea of going to New Mexico to do the “team” Bataan Death March. Basically, it is a marathon that you run as a team, and you carry a 35 pound backpack while running during the summer through the desert of New Mexico. Now that is a little too crazy for me. Congrats on finishing though, that sounds awesome!

14 11 2010
fosseer

This is so impressive! congrats!

14 11 2010
mistergunner

That was an incredible story! Kudos!

15 11 2010
waylandl

Congratulations on not only overcoming your asthma, but also finishing this race! 🙂

10 11 2011
Ragnar Relay 2011 « To Kick a Pigeon and Other Musings

[…] second year doing this relay race and my first as team captain.  (Read about my experience on the 2010 Ragnar Relay.)  For those of you unfamiliar with this insanity, let me explain.  A group of 6-12 runners split […]

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