Monday, October 4, 2021

2021 Ragnar Sunset NoVA Recap

In the beginning...

I'm not sure the first time I heard about Ragnar races, but I remember it was soon after I fully accepted and embraced the runner life.  I decided I wanted to do a Ragnar, I told everyone I knew about it.  It's a 200 mile relay completed by a team of 12 people.  Each person runs 3 legs (of varying distance) and ultimately the team will cover 200 miles.  Insane, right?  I KNOW.  

I told myself that I needed to wait until I could recruit 12 people to run with me and that never happened.  I couldn't even get one other person to commit to doing a Ragnar with me.  I think Teh Bestie only committed out of sympathy for me and having listened to me talk about it for YEARS.  But then, there was a glimmer of hope, as Ragnar announced a new variation of the race, the trail version that started and ended at the same point instead of different start/end points with a team of 8.  The trail race included camping in the woods and running laps on the trails around the camping area.  Cool, except that I don't camp.  Or run on trails.  One of these I was more willing to budge on.  Then, Ragnar announced a Carolinas trail run and I was tempted mightily.  Could I gather 8 people to camp in the woods and run in the dark?  No, no I could not.. and I was disappointed, but I knew my day would eventually come.

Then Ragnar announced a NEW race: a team of 4 who run 8 consecutive laps (so 2 laps each) of 4.3 miles to "beat the sunset".  This, this might just be my chance.  I asked Teh Bestie if she was serious about running that Ragnar with me and she said yes, so I purchased a team entry on March 3, 2020 for the October 3, 2020 event.  Unless you live under a rock, you know where this story is headed.  The race was cancelled for 2020 because Covid literally ruined everything.  This probably wasn't the worst thing to happen, because if you were around for my October 2020, it was kinda chaos, so it was for the best that my schedule was free for other activities, like... packing.. and migrating.. 

Would Covid ruin another good plan?

In May 2021, I received an email that the NoVA Sunset Race was a go for October 2, 2021.  Teh Bestie and I managed to trick con find 2 more teammates over the summer.  Then there was the Delta variant and I was confident the race would be cancelled, but I also had faith that VA would continue to be the red state they usually are, which would allow the race to be held.  When we were 30 days out, I expected the cancellation email, but it never came!  We were on!  

The week of the race, I hit the internet searching for Ragnar Sunset reviews to see what to expect/what we should prepare.  There were only a few not-official Ragnar pages talking about the Sunset race and those that did discuss it, were from several years ago, which meant not affected by Covid protocols.  Nonetheless, I gleaned what I could from the reviews and did my captain planning thing.

Night Prior

Friday night, we met for dinner to discuss race day (we were all Ragnar virgins, but I tried hard to prepare the team as best as possible to what they could expect) and to go to the store to buy decorations for our tent.  We took advantage of the option to rent a tent that was already set up, which you had to jump on quick because tents sold out fast.  It was worth the $50.  After dinner and shopping, I headed home and stayed up late making decorations that I kept top secret from the team until their reveal.  

Race Day

We were assigned a 10:30 start time, which was calculated by our estimated pace the month before the race.  We arrived to the site at 0900 because we knew we needed to get checked in and pick up our bib/stuff and to get our tent set up.  Teh Bestie had some anxiety about the traffic/parking situation, but we managed to power through her the excitement induced anxiety.  

Team 4.5mph Couch Potatoes

Things we brought:

  • a wagon.  Ain't nobody got time for hefting all that shit to the car before the race and I definitely wasn't going to feel like carrying it all back to the car after the race.  We also half joked that we could use the wagon to carry any injured individuals back to the car.  (I brought our gorilla cart which has a 1500lb tow capacity, so I knew whatever we threw at it would work, it was just awkward to load/unload, but SOOOOOO worth it.)
  • a table.  Know what else I don't feel like doing?  Bending over to reach things all day long or worrying about bottles/cups toppling over when sat on the ground.
  • a cooler with sodas/sports drink/gallons of water.  We weren't sure what amenities would be offered because Covid is really the cockblock of all great things so we made sure to take care of our business accordingly.
  • snacks/food since Ragnar had informed us that no food would be offered but there would be food trucks.
  • decorations for our tent.  We needed people to know how fun we are.  These decorations included garland and some fun dangly things and poster board and a white board for marking off our laps (although I saw some people that were using plain cardboard, which was clever).
  • quilts for laying on the ground for stretching/rolling/napping.  My body itches all over after I roll in the grass, no thank you.
  • camping chairs
  • foam roller/attaday roller/lacrosse ball, if there had been electricity, I'd have brought my percussion massager.  
  • popup changing tent (last minute, TOTALLY worth it, splurge)
  • extra outfits since we endured multiple seasons throughout the day (I thought it was excessive to have 2 running outfits and only packed one and then ended up borrowing capris from Abi because my leggings were warm, we didn't end up changing into not-running clothes after the race because we had embraced the smell by that point)
  • non-running shoes for between laps
  • 2 pairs of running shoes and socks (maybe less necessary if it's not raining, but I wasn't sad about having a fresh pair for my 2nd lap).
  • any normal run things (earbuds/gels/etc)
  • toilet/face wipes.  I wish I had known what a satisfactory feeling it is to wipe the crusty sweat off your face after a run many years ago.  I'll be packing face wipes in my post-race recovery bag from now on.
  • deodorant 
  • emergency supplies: first aid kid, extra hair ties, itch cream

Getting set up

The first thing I did was get our tent situation sorted out.  Super easy process.  Once we had our tent number, I went and grabbed our race bib/stuffs while everyone else headed to the tent to get set up.

Our team name was the 4.5mph Couch Potatoes as a nod to our greyhound connected friendship.  So one side of our tent had the 4.5mph Couch Potatoes and the other side had photos of our 45mph couch potatoes (photos of all our (current) greyhounds).  Not many people understood until we explained that greyhounds are called 45mph couch potatoes and our greyhound group is what brought us all into each other's lives.

The Race

We had debated who should go first, me (the fastest) or the slower runners.  It was decided I would go first so I could scope out the trail for everyone so they would know what to expect.  I was glad to do this because I knew that sitting around waiting to start would ramp me up even more and I was reaching obnoxious excitement levels.  

Lap #1

Ok so, I don't do trail running.  I'm a road runner.  I'm good with fairly flat, smooth surfaces.  Trail running is a different beast.  I don't actually remember much of the course because I spent the whole time watching the ground making sure that I didn't trip and bash my skull open on a rock and die from a brain bleed.  Thankfully, our walkers got some photos along the way.  Due to a shitty volunteer situation, at the first water station, I ended up going the wrong way (towards the very smooth, very beckoning road) and 3 other women followed me and we ended up going about a quarter of a mile out of our way.  We lost the flags and eventually turned around and when we got to the water station the (teenagers who had been scrolling on their phones when we'd all come through the first time) volunteers were like, you're coming from the wrong way.  YES BECAUSE YOU DIDN'T FUCKING TELL ME TO TURN WHILE I WAS GUZZLING DOWN THIS LIFE GIVING WATER WHICH WAS IMPEDING MY ABILITY TO DEDUCT THAT YOUR STUPID FLAG WAS INDICATING A DIRECTION.  I did actually say something to the volunteers about having to DIRECT people if there were options.  The 4 of us who had went the wrong way were super pissed.  There ended up being a lot of super pissed people because I heard other people complaining about the same issue.  

For the NoVA race, there were lots of hills (very reminiscent of my first half marathon in "wine country" VA), lots of gravel on said hills, and plenty o roots along the fairly well packed trail.  Other runners who had done other Sunset Ragnars said that NoVA was a difficult course, so I'm going to take their word on that.  It wasn't for the faint of heart, that's for certain.

Teh Bestie and Jess went down and there were scraped up knees and a gnarly twisted ankle.  

Photos from the trail (taken by not me):

Accurate representation of feelings going on here.

What 85% of the trail was like but add roots.

As a heads up that a runner was almost to the transition zone, we made sure to message our group text so everyone would be aware and we could go to the transfer tent and be there to cheer on our incoming/outgoing runner.

Coming in hot...

There are transition tents for swapping runners.  They are labeled with numbers, so if your bib/team number falls within the range posted on that tent, that is your transition zone.  We were team 155 and we happened to be directly beside the start/finish line inflatable.  This was optimal for extended cheering.

I might have been holding back tears a little bit as I finished my first lap.

When a ridiculous cheering captain (me) gets in the way of your photo of the dressed up staff.

Dressed up staff and Teh Bestie comin' in hot (and EXTREMELY disgruntled about a scraped up knee).

The joy was a mask for the scraped up knee and sprained ankle....


While you're not running...

During the not running portion, you just get to hang out, which was actually way cooler than it sounds.  I figured I'd be doing some scrolling, but also stretching and snacking and rolling.  But instead, I chatted with my peeps as well as our neighbors, who happened to be experienced Ragnarians who were excited for our upcoming New England Ragnar race.

For my not running shoes, I brought my Clawz because they are hilarious and also good meh shoes.  They got so much attention.  People wanted photos of the shoes, of me wearing the shoes, photos of me, photos with me.  It was bizarre.  Is this what it's like to be a celebrity?  I shared the shoe fame with Teh Sister who informed me that our "lazy" shoes can no longer be purchased online and if you do find them, they are $90 used.  NINETY DOLLARS FOR CROCS WITH TOENAILS.  Sweet christ.  I have 3 pairs.  I'm sitting on a gold mine.. and I leave a pair outside for poop scooping!

"Fancy" charcuterie board

Thanks to the GLCK, I was prepared to cheer with my clappers from my graduation ceremony!


Lap #2

I was concerned about timing so we switched up the order/situation for lap 2.  Teh Bestie went first, I went second, and then Abi and Jess went at the same time (referred to as "doubling up").  To beat the sunset, the last runner had to leave the transition zone by 5:45 and I was fearful our 2nd to last runner wouldn't make it back in time for our last runner to leave by 5:45.  There isn't really a penalty for doubling up, your team still gets the medal and glory, but your time is counted as an "unofficial" time, which was fine since we are participators not winners.

There she goes!

I had to borrow britches and I got so hot that I took off my shirt for Lap 2.  #YOLO

Look at that FOCUS!

Thankfully, no one went down on the 2nd lap.  As Jess came in, she tossed on her "uniform" and we all crossed the finish line together!  For our team "costume" we purchased greyhound "silk" shirts while we were at Greyhounds in Gettysburg, after I'd made a comment about what an awesome group halloween costume the shirts would make.  Since we were the slow couch potatoes, we chose 5, 6, 7, and 8 as our "silk" numbers.

In the end....

WE MADE IT!!!  We beat sunset!!!  We actually had a gorgeous sunset as we were packing up and taking medal selfies and trying not to collapse.

All done!!!

For all the times I talked about running a Ragnar over all those years, I almost cried at the sheer joy and excitement and feeling of satisfaction/completion of a goal as many times on Saturday.  It might have also been a tinge of PMS, but also, joy.  The best part though?  This was just the WARM UP!  In 2 weeks, Teh Bestie and I will be headed to New England to complete an original Ragnar race (the 200 mile relay) in New England, from Groton, CT to Boston, MA.

To completely acknowledge all my feelz though...
I have to give a shout out to Teh Bestie for helping me make this long-time dream come true, as well as Abi and Jess who were really good sports and joined us even though neither of them really felt prepared (although I'm not sure any of us really felt prepared for what we did).  Also, it was AWESOME to be the El Captian.  It wasn't 12 people, but I feel like I did my best to prepare my little team and ensure that we had all the equipment we needed to spend a day in a field with strangers while we intermittently ran around in the woods kicking up dust.  Also gotta give a shoutout to the home support team, Husband, who manages the children dogs while I'm out traipsing around in the woods/going random places to run for a silly medal.

I've been running for a while now and I might just be a Ragnar convert (I'll research this and get back to you in a few weeks).  There is a huge feeling of accomplishment after I finish a half marathon or a 10k (or shorter distance) I probably didn't really train for (it's been over half a decade of running, at this point my body is just like, mkay we're doing this? Alright, Sparky).  There was a feeling of accomplishment after this race (what with the trail and the roots and the hills and the loose gravel and getting lost that one fucking time, oh and did I mention that right before you got back to the transition area was this super steep ass 70+° hill?  No? Oh well, there was a steep ass fucking hill that made me feel like I was going to die and then you get to the top and everyone can see you gasping for breath and wanting to die but you CANNOT let those strangers see you struggling so you have to just pretend like you aren't fucking dying by smiling and being cool, when you definitely are NOT cool, as you run back into the transition area) but there was also a feeling of community.  You're near other people all day long and you're likely to interact with them and that was awesome.

When I run a half marathon, it's just me running.. and maybe yakking to someone along the way if I'm not interested in my music/audiobook and the person near me is also suffering and not listening to anything.  It's boring, to be honest.  It's challenging.  It's lonely.  With a Ragnar, you're suffering on a TEAM and your team is suffering with other teams along the way.  I enjoy the running part (weird, I know), but I also enjoy the social part.  It's why we go on runcations and why I pulled Matilda (who will be doing NE Ragnar with us!) into our run club.  Ok, that was kinda an accident, but I've never regretted it.  You never know who you'll meet when you're on the run and THAT is why I keep doing it... oh and the medals.

PS those holes in the medal are for the challenge medals you can earn if you do multiple Ragnars in a calendar year.  So for our NE Ragnar, we'll be getting the 2x medal plus our race medal.  :D

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