Ragnar Relay Florida Keys Down, Numerous Races To Go!

My running agenda is plagued with uncertainty, but one item on it unmistakably screams loud and clear: PIKES PEAK! Registration for both the ascent and marathon open this Wednesday. Mid March already on WEDNESDAY!!!

August is a bit down the road, but it’s never too soon to start preparing for it. With only about a month before I start training, I could use a little motivation to get my head back in the game.

Focusing on what I’ve accomplished so far this year will help me to do just that: Ragnar Relay Florida Keys. I spent the first weekend of 2013 running from Miami to Key West with 11 other runners, plus a few crew driving and supporting us along the way. If you’re not familiar with long-distance relay races like Ragnar, allow me to color a canvas on which your mind’s eye may feast. . .

Logistics: Six runners each assigned to two vans, each runner assigned three legs of varying distance along the course, vans played a game of ‘leap frog’ to pass the baton in the form of a slap bracelet – yes, just like the ones with which I was obsessed the 5th grade!

Application:

  • Spent 30+ hours in a van with 5-7 other people – zany, hilarious, awesome perfect strangers in my case:
50 - Stephan's Stick Brings Out his Inner Captain

Stephen doesn’t always use his stick. But when he does, he poses like Captain Morgan first.

  • Took pit stops at high schools to shower and to get what sleep was possible in either the van or around the school among over two hundred other teams:
43 - Second Major Exchange

I’ll sleep in the van, thank you. . .

  • Played the game of ‘tag or be tagged’ in an all-out team to team war of van decor:
Oh, the carnage!

Oh, the carnage!

  • Running at ALL times of the day and night:
Night-time

Night time running brings a whole new meaning to the caution “Watch your step!”

I can’t imagine a more AWESOME way to start a new year!

My second leg was my favorite. All besides the 4:44 a.m. start, that is. I managed to snore out some high quality Z’s before it was my turn again, and it proved invaluable. I ran faster than expected and just a few seconds slower than my first leg!

Much of the leg was run on a paved path between tall trees, highway on the other side of the vegetation on my left, hiking trails and open space beyond the vegetation to my right. My head lamp was a lifesaver in the pitch black of my first few miles. I looked up at one point in the run and saw a beautiful sky full of dimly-lit stars and smiled to myself. This is why I run. Hmmmmm. . . Bliss. . .

I finished right around 6:00 a.m. and knew that the team was tired and ready for our final pit stop of the race. So, I jumped right back into the van - without stretching or even much walking around – pretty much immediately after passing the slap bracelet along so that we could all get some much needed rest. BIG mistake.

After only a short nap on the way to our next stop, I was up again and ready for shower #2. The second was my only non-daytime run, but there was still no escape from the humidity. I was nearly dripping when I climbed into the van. Disclaimer: Hey, I never said that running is pretty. I’m not out there for a beauty contest!

Up and at ‘em, or so I thought. The second I tried to stand, I fell right back in to my seat. My feet had tightened up so much that I couldn’t hardly stand. Body weight was almost too much. I think it took me about 5 minutes of alternating between standing and sitting before I thought I could walk.

I finally did get out of the van and made my way over to the building. I kept my eyes on the door and willed myself to reach it, both of my feet aching with each slow and careful step. I finally looked around when I hit the few stairs leading to the front door, only to find a handfull of people staring at me. “Are you OK?” one asked. “Yes, just a little tight, that’s all.”

That may have been my worst and best shower ever all rolled into one. It was painful enough shifting my body weight from foot to foot to allow each some relief. The scalding hot water, though, was a bit over the top. Still, I was beyond grateful not to reek of hard earned sweat afterward. Thankfully, I did something smart. I brought my lacrosse ball to use to roll my feet. That and a long nap with my legs elevated did the trick.

My third and final leg was not as enjoyable. As did the first, it fell in the middle of the afternoon. Only, this time, it brought no cloud cover and very little relief from the sun’s intense rays. What it did offer, though, made me wonder just how sleep deprived I really was:

What the bleep?!

What the bleep?!

Fact: Roosters are Florida’s stray dogs. Huh. Imagine that.

With about 2 1/2 miles to go, I saw something even more worthy of a dropped jaw than the rooster: an AID STATION!!! My team was not able to meet me mid-way through this run to hand off a few Swedish Fish (my hard run sustenance staple) and a bottle of water like my first two legs; so this was an unexpected paradise before my very eyes.

I actually stopped and chatted with the two women manning the station for a few seconds, something I never do during races – stop. A sincere ‘Thank you! You saved my life!’ and a few trigger pulls of one of those water bottles with the fan attached to the spout later, I was off for the finish line.

Alex, the team captain, told me after my first leg that the team would be waiting so that we could cross the finish line together. I had only one response: “Well, you’d all better keep up with me then. I’m not slowing down for you!” At the end of the day, I’m a competitor. Seeing the finish line means one thing and one thing alone: Muster up whatever you’ve got left and sprint!

Team 'Drinkers with a Running Problem'

Team ‘Drinkers with a Running Problem’ at the finish line

Long-distance relay races are no joke. All of it – the heat and humidity, lack of sleep, pushing through barely being able to walk let alone run - was worth it. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. I had such a GREAT time! And, who can argue with a new technical shirt and medal that doubles as a bottle opener?

180

As Dave Grohl once sang, “Done, done, and I’m on to the next one.” First, though, registration for Pikes Peak. Wednesday. . .

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., studies child development at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is a long-time road and trail runner. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.

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