Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Thinking About Running a Relay/Ragnar? Read This!

If you're thinking about or are even remotely interested in running a relay or Ragnar race, go register NOW! 

It is honestly such a life changing experience (I'm not kidding) and SO much fun. It's challenging both mentally and physically, in a good way. After being in a van for over 30 hours with people you met just the night before, surviving on little sleep and snacks, and running at odd times, you realize just how amazing your own self determination can be. It really pushed my limits and made me dig down deep to find the strength and courage that I didn't think I had. Just a couple weeks ago, I was nervous about running my first full marathon at WDW in January, but now I'm confident and ready for the challenge.

Golden Gate Relay Recap

Calistoga to Santa Cruz
May 3 & 4th
191 miles
12 11 people
2 MiniVans
29 hrs 35 mins

The relay I ran is called the Golden Gate Relay, very similar to the course of the Napa Ragnar race. The team structure is the same, too. 

The Team
12 people make up a team, or 6 if you want to be an ultra team. The team breaks up into 2 vans and for the most part, you only see the people in your van. While van 1 is running, van 2 is eating/resting, then you switch off. For my relay, we lost a person at the last minute, so 3 of the other runners took on an extra leg.

Most teams had big 12 person vans, but we opted for minivans. The exchange points were crowded, often in little parking lots, and our minivans made it easy to zip in and out. Also made it easy for parking on the side of the road to support our runners.

I knew only 2 of the 11 runners and one of them was merely an acquaintance. Hey, you have to be a little crazy in the first place to run a relay, so why not add in spending 30 hrs in a minivan with strangers? The people I ran with were amazing. So supportive and friendly, it really made the race fun. And surprisingly even with the lack of sleep, no one snapped at each other!

The Course
The course was 191 miles, split up into 36 legs. Van 1 runs the first 6 legs, Van 2 runs the next 6, then Van 1 takes over again, repeating until the finish. The Golden Gate Relay runs through 36 cities and if you haven't seen a lot of California, this is by far the best way to sightsee. Such a beautiful course.

The Legs
The race legs are predetermined and each runner is assigned certain legs.

Van 2
My van had 2 guys (both fit cops), a lady in her 40s who coaches people for marathons/Team in Training, and 3 younger gals in our 20s (a marathon runner, my friend, and me).

I was feeling pretty good since I was in Van 2 as runner #11- a difficult first run, followed by two short easy ones.
That all changed on the drive up there. We had stopped for a quick pee break when my friend decided she needed to share some news with the van- she's pregnant. I already knew and was prepared to swap a leg with her if need be. It went something like this:

Friend: "I'm pregnant."
Team in Training coach: "How exciting!"
Marathon runner gal: "Really? Me, too!"
Cop guy: "Kim, do you have something to share?"
Me: "Not pregnant. But wishing I was because I have the feeling I just lost all my easy legs."

They're both in their first trimesters and handled the race really well.
But... Instead of running a total of 14 miles, I ended up going over 20. I kept my first hard leg (11) and swapped my friend for her difficult legs (21 & 33). Let's just say I'm walking a little funny today.

The Race

Our race started around 10am on Saturday with Van 1 beginning the course in Calistoga. In the meantime, us in Van 2 took our time heading over to the exchange between legs 6 & 7.

My friend "fixing" the tagging that Van 1 did to our van. 

We stopped at a deli for sandwiches and snacks. Our minivan/home for the next 30 hrs.

We even stopped to do a little shopping at the Petaluma outlets!

At the exchange! This is when our van took the course!

As our runner takes the course, we drive our van a couple miles ahead to get ready to support them. We pull to the side of the road to ready any water/supplies that our runner might need. And of course offer encouragement in the form of cheering and honking. ;)

In the meantime, I had to get a picture with this gorgeous view!

My 1st leg - Saturday 5:30pm 
My first leg was considered hard- I had a 300 ft climb with head winds of about 20 mph. Nothing like trying to run, but the wind keeps you from moving anywhere! I was able to keep a 10 min/mile pace and even stayed pretty close to the guy in front of me. I tried to pass him at the end, but he saw I was closing in and picked up his pace.

Cheering on our runner! This was right before she passed a couple other runners. You keep track of how many people you pass a.k.a. your "road kill."

We got creative with our van. Chairs are so uncomfortable after running and especially to sleep on, so we folded the middle seats into the floor (awesome feature!) so we could lay down. Best decision ever. We were able to get one person on the back seat and 4 on the floor- after being in a van together for so long, personal space completely goes out the window- and no one cares.

Running the Golden Gate Bridge at night. Pretty amazing, huh?

This is when our race took an interesting turn. We had stopped at a major exchange point in the Golden Gate Bridge's vista/scenic rest stop. Right around midnight, after napping in the van for about 2 hours, it was our van's turn to take the course. 5 of us were in the van, but one of our guys had decided to take his sleeping bag outside to find a quiet place to nap. At one point, someone said that he didn't take his phone with him, so we went out to look for him. Only he wasn't to be found and he wasn't responding to our group messages... 
We searched for about 15 minutes, but we had to get our next runner on the course. Once he was off, we kept looking with the help of van 1. We looked for over an hour and a half checking the vista area numerous times. I even nudged every person sleeping asking them their name. Unfortunately since it was 1am, it was hard to see. We checked with the volunteers, but they said there wasn't much they could do. At this point, my van had to get to the next exchange to meet our runner who was on the course. We decided that if van 1 still couldn't find him, we would all come back and keep looking. We knew he was probably ok (he's a cop and can take care of himself), but at this point it was too concerning that we couldn't find him.

On our way to meet our runner, van 1 called and said they found our guy- apparently he was sleeping in a dirt lot with other runners, but we had assumed they were transients and didn't wake them for fear of getting stabbed or something.

My 2nd Leg - Sunday 3am
In any case, we got our guy on the road and the race continued. By then all my adrenaline was spent and I was tired, amplified by a lack of sleep. But I had another leg at 3am and was out of the van ready to go. I expected this night leg to by the hardest, mostly because it was at night. It was super dark it really freaked me out. I kept thinking someone was going to jump out of a bush and attack me! My van was super supportive and stayed with me, either driving super slow behind me or just a bit ahead. There was a part of my leg that went on a bike path for about a mile where the van couldn't follow, so my friend ran with me. So thankful for that!

This was at the last major exchange where van 1 finished running. These guys ran in a Cinco de Mayo sort of theme, blaring musing from their van, and throwing back beers. :)

My 3rd Leg - Sunday 1:15pm
This was by far my hardest leg. I was exhausted, running on fumes and mini PB Ritz cracker sandwiches. I had 6.7 miles to run, an easy run since it was all a slight downhill. I was ready to run, but what I wasn't prepared for was the heat. The morning had started out slightly overcast, so I was wearing pants. I put on my visor, met my teammate at the exchange and headed out. I was making good time, but by mile 3 I knew I was in trouble. It was super hot and I was starting to see spots. I was dehydrated, but got some Powerade into my water bottle from my supportive team and pressed on. I started running in intervals to conserve my energy to finish strong. Once my running app said I hit 6.5 miles, I picked up my pace to run it on home. I was so excited to be done! But the orange cones marking the exchange point weren't coming up. I kept running and only as my app said 7 miles did I finally get to the exchange. What a tease!

Our Team in Training coach and one of our guys running her to the exchange (photo).
She's such a great person- she was playing leap frog with another runner (she would pass, then our runner would pass, etc). At some point they started chatting about the giant hill coming up and the other girl was nervous. Always the trainer, our runner encouraged her saying, "We're gonna make this hill our b*tch." and paced her up that hill.

The two pregnant ladies handing off the baton (really just a stretchy bracelet).

Our team after finishing! As our last runner came in, we ran down onto the beach and across the finish line as a team. It hurt so much to run across that sand!

In total, I ran 20.5 miles over the span of ~20 hrs. Think of it as running a 10k, taking a 10 hr rest, running another 10k, taking another 10 hr rest, and then running a 3rd 10k.

I was going to wait until after we finished to decide if I wanted to do this again, but I knew even before my first leg that of course I wanted to do this again! Only next time, hopefully get in more training beforehand. Such an amazing experience!


  1. You did such a wonderful job with this recap Kim! I literally LOL about the girls both being pregnant and all you could think of was your mileage was going to increase! I probably would have felt the same way. Looks like it all worked out though! What fun!

    1. Thanks! I think the way I feel about a race comes out in my recap- good race = good recap! It wasn't just the extra miles I was worried about. I was worried about being too slow and I wouldn't have an excuse since they're both pregnant! Haha

  2. How fun!! I love this recap... great great job Kim!! I can't believe that one of your team mates couldn't be found for a while, I would definitely have freaked out too lol! In any case, I am glad he was found and that you enjoyed yourself. I think I would like to do a ragnar relay someday!

    1. It was pretty nuts when we lost him. Literally yelling in the parking lots, my heart was pounding, all the adrenaline was flowing, I felt wide awake, even at 1am on no sleep.
      If you decide to do a Ragnar and need a team mate, count me in! :)

  3. What an amazing experience! I have no doubt that with the right training you won't have any problem with the full marathon in January. Congratulations!

    1. I was walking funny for a couple days after and my boss couldn't help nut giggle at how slow I was walking. Haha. I just hope I can training enough to enjoy Disney World after the race!

  4. It looks like such a beautiful run! I have very little interest in doing a Ragnar, but all the recaps I've ever seen do make them look fun! I think I'm just too high maintenance for them. I need a nice soft bed. Or at least a real bed.

    1. Some of the other teams had those big 12 person vans and instead of using the back seat, they took it out and put a full on mattress in the back. :)

  5. Kim, this looks amazing!!!!! I have had it in my mind to do one but I'm scared!!! A few other runners and I have talked about doing the one in the Keys in 2016, so I may do it then! I think for me finances will play a part, I will have to take off work and fly to Florida. What fun for you! I'm so glad you shared.

    1. I was scared, too, but it was so amazing! It was literally a life changing experience! Ragnar in particular is expensive, especially when you have to fly to the race. It's worth it though! :)