Ragnar Relay 2011

10 11 2011
196.1, 196.4 miles from Chattanooga to Nashville + 10 runners + temps in the 30s = 30:15:27 hours of 1 crazy, insane, awesome race.  Welcome to the Ragnar Relay.

This marked my 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 into two vans which leap-frog each other along the course, run from Chattanooga to Nashville along backroads, middle of nowhere Tennessee.

Ragnar Relay 2011

Ragnar Relay 2011

Our team started at 11:00 a.m. (Eastern) and finished shortly after 4:15 p.m. (Central).  Someone on our team was running non-stop during those 30 hours.  Each runner ran three times throughout the race, anywhere from 1.6 to 8.9 miles.  The average total mileage per runner was just over 16 miles.  We had two runners, however, who ran an “ultra”—meaning they ran two legs, back-to-back, three times.  Their total mileage was over 30 miles.

Besides being team captain, which I thoroughly enjoyed due to my borderline-OCD organizational tendencies, the other big difference was I was runner 6 in Van 1.  Last year, I was runner 11 in Van 2.  I saw the other half of the course that I did not experience in 2010. 

Van 1 Pros
  • Seeing both sides of the course was neat.
  • I ran two of my three legs in daylight. (In 2010, only my third run was in daylight.)
  • The timing of my three runs was more natural for me.
  • Amazing teammates!

Van 1 Cons

  • I got less sleep in Van 1 than I did in Van 2.  (One hour—maybe—of sleep this year compared to about three hours last year.)
  • The finish line was a little anti-climactic for me, having finished my last run almost six hours prior to crossing the official finish line.
  • I missed being with the rest of my amazing teammates.
Van 1 decor

Van 1 decor

Van 1 Runners: Brian, Lee (ultra), Joey, Jennifer, Kelly

Van 1 Runners: Brian, Lee (ultra), Joey, Jennifer, Kelly

First leg:  #6, 3:00 p.m., 4.6 miles through Jasper, TN

I started out too fast, around 9:00 minute mile, as I was trying to keep up with a gentleman who started at the same time.  It didn’t take long before I had to slow down so my lungs wouldn’t explode.  I did pass one lady, my one and only “road kill” during this leg, so that cheered me up. 

Ragnar Relay 2011 - leg 6

Ragnar Relay 2011 - leg 6

I kept waiting to see the “One Mile to Go” sign, but it never appeared.  That was a little disconcerting.  A little later with the exchange line finally in site, I mustered up a tiny bit of extra speed, smiled, and slapped the bracelet on a teammate who would begin the nastiest hill of them all on leg 7—a 5-mile uphill with an elevation gain over 1,300 feet.  (Jim, you are a BEAST!)

My husband recorded video of me running into the exchange, and as I watched it, I thought, “What’s wrong with me?  I look like I’m injured.”  Those thoughts were followed by, “I hope I don’t always look like that when I run.”  Followed by, “I really need some help fixing my technique if I look like that.”  Seriously, I wonder how much more efficient and how much faster I could be with some formal training.  Thankfully, I am surrounded by amazing running coaches where I teach, and I know they will gladly offer their expertise to help me out.

Second leg:  #12, 12:00 a.m., 1.6 miles through Lynchburg, TN

This was the shortest and easiest stretch of the entire race. It was uphill most of the way, but the elevation change barely registered on the map.  The temperature was quickly heading down into the 30s for the night, and I barely warmed up before my run was over.  I’ve always enjoyed night running.  I love being alone with my thoughts, but my mind kept playing nasty little tricks on me this time around.  I kept hearing (or thought I heard) footsteps and doors opening/closing.  I saw no other runner, or any other person for that matter, on this short stretch.

Ragnar Relay 2011 - leg 18

Ragnar Relay 2011 - leg 18

We, in Van 1, tried to get some sleep after finishing our second legs.  Some of my teammates managed to get a few hours of decent sleep.  I was not so fortunate.  Being in a van with several other sweaty runners, unable to stretch out, is not conducive to rest.  If I got an hour’s worth of actual sleep, I was lucky.

Third leg:  #30, 9:00 a.m., 4.5 miles heading into Franklin, TN

By the time I began this run, I had been awake for over 26 hours.  This run was a test of my mental endurance as much as physical.  The “gentle rolling hills” were not so gentle at this point.  I used every ounce of any remaining mental focus and energy to finish this stretch.  

Ragnar Relay 2011 - leg 30

Ragnar Relay 2011 - leg 30

The following thoughts flooded my mind over that 45 minute run.

 “You can do it.” 

 “One more step.”

 “Each step brings you one step closer to the finish.”

 “Seriously?  Another —– hill?!?”  (Not all my thoughts were positive.)

 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

 “We are more than conquerors.”

 “Where is the —– finish line?!?”

 “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

Reminders and Lessons Learned the Second Time Around

Our physical endurance is often limited only by our mental endurance.

Teammates matter.  Thank you to my awesome teammates who would drive ahead, cheer me on, drive ahead some more, cheer me on some more, and repeat several times.  Those short bouts of whoops and claps gave me a physical and mental boost every single time!

A tiny bit of encouragement goes a long, long way. Thank you to the two strangers sitting on the corner of Oxford Glen and Chester Stevens Road who asked me my name as I approached and cheered me on by name as I ran ahead.  You have no idea how that lifted my spirit and almost made me cry.  (I kept myself from actually crying, though, as crying while running is very difficult.)

The simplest action can have a profound impact.  Thank you to the father who saw me running and encouraged your son to cheer for me as I ran past your house.  You didn’t have to stop what you were doing to uplift a stranger for a few seconds, but I will not forget it.

I will never, ever take for granted that my Creator gave me a healthy, able, capable body.

What would happen if we trained and disciplined ourselves spiritually as we do physically?  (More on this one next week .)

On Sunday night after the race, a friend asked me, “Was it worth it?”  I didn’t actually answer his question with a yes or no.  Instead, I excitedly began talking about the next one I want to do with my extended family up in Wisconsin in June 2012 from Madison to Chicago.

So, YES!  It was worth it.  It was worth the months of training when I’d rather be sleeping or eating cupcakes.  It was worth the three-a-day sessions in the final month.  It was worth the sore muscles as my body adjusted to shorter recovery periods.  It was worth the sleep deprivation.  It was worth the interesting odors that enveloped our van throughout the race.

As insane as it was, I can’t wait for the next challenge!




5 responses

13 11 2011
Katie Foster

What a challenge! Congratulations. That is an amazing accomplishment.

14 11 2011

The hills in Cool Springs/Franklin are definitely not gentle or rolling. I’m really happy for you!

18 11 2011
Physical v. Spiritual Discipline « To Kick a Pigeon and Other Musings

[…] ultramarathons and other crazy races that test the limits of human endurance.  Coming off of the Ragnar Relay, this thought has come back to the forefront of my […]

16 11 2012

I saw the end of this race just a week or two ago! I didn’t know what it was but now I do!! They run right by my house.

1 11 2013

It seems like you have so much energy!!! I with i could have the courage and stamina to do something i loved. This is actually a really encouraging post! Are you planning to do this again?

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