musings on running, life, and everything in between

Ragnar again: Ragnar Relay Great Rivers Race Recap

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I thought about naming this post, “Oops, I did it again.” But in the name of good taste, I refrained.

Anyhow, I haven’t posted in a bit for a couple reasons: 1) I think I’m overtraining and took a couple back-to-back days off to try and recover a little bit before Ragnar and 2) I ran Ragnar Great Rivers. I actually deliberated for a long time about backing out because of the whole overtraining thing and whether it was going to set back my marathon training further…but duty won out over commonsense. I blame my Asian background.

Anyhow, here’s the three outfits I planned. It was going to be blistering hot–read 90’s all weekend, so the least amount of clothing possible was the goal (without being just in a sports bra obviously. I am a lady!). You like the Ragnar Pro Compression socks? I got them for captaining Ragnar Chicago this year. I wore them at night. Wearing black compression in the heat of daylight sounds like a nightmare. If you’re new to the blog or Ragnar, you might want to read the first bit of my race recap of Ragnar Chicago to get situated. I will also admit that another factor made me question the wisdom of my decision to do this race. I got a late-night message from my friend on the team (Johanna, who’s the one who invited me) and Melanie, the van pick-up person, that there was no mini-van. The team had decided to get mini-vans to save money. That made me want to run screaming as we usually get 12 passenger vans, and even the Suburbans this year were TIGHT. But Melanie arrived 7 minutes after her appointment time and the rental place was closed! And she couldn’t get another mini-van from another spot. So we were going to create clown car capacities with a…wait for it…Hyundai Santa Fe. I test drove a Santa Fe a few years ago and didn’t remember a third row. I quickly Googled it and there is a third row but it’s small. I couldn’t imagine how we were going to fit 6 people and all their gear for a 36 hour relay race in Minnesota. Somehow, we did it! The saving grace was that the majority of the time, there are only 5 people in the van since someone is running. It was cozy…

Because the first van exchange was relatively “close” (i.e., driveable within a semi-sane amount of time…5 hours), Van 2 decided to forego the hotel costs and hassle and leave the morning of the race. My friend Regina woke up at 5 in the morning to drop me off downtown at the pickup site. She’s also my friend that gives me kimchee. I love her.

Anyhow, Melanie picked up Lisa, Daren, Sam, and me in Chicago and we got Norma on the way up. 

I realize that it seems like I’m doomed to be in Van 2 forever. Johanna sent me this gorgeous photo of the start of the race in Winona, Minnesota. Belying its name and the implication of a Minnesota start and finish, the vast majority of the race is run in Wisconsin. This is in Winona, Minnesota. FullSizeRender

The car ride up was pretty uneventful. I drove a big chunk of it. I enjoy driving long distances for some reason. We passed by some big bluffs on the way up–Mill Bluff State Park. Since I was driving, I couldn’t take a picture of them, but here’s an image I found online. Would love to explore them more one day.

We were taken aback by how hot and dry it felt when we got to the first van exchange (that’s Melanie in the bottom right corner of the pic). The port-a-potty lines were crazy long. 

This first van exchange (where Vans 1 and 2 meet to trade off running responsibilities) was different from Chicago’s. The one in Chicago is like a big party. There’s music, alot of Ragnar merchandise, good food, and general merriment. This year, there was even Zumba! This exchange had minimal food–the convenience store that was on-site had “make your own salami sandwiches” and dubious hot dogs. It seemed almost more like a waystation that people were passing through. And it was so miserably hot that people were swarming any shade they could find. We took the time to decorate our “van/clown car.”


I didn’t choose the name…

There WAS free pie, though, which was nice. We waited across the road the for Van 1 to arrive. Cell service was spotty for their van so we weren’t in communication with them much. They ended up being very late as one of their runners got hurt a mile in (oy, cue flashback to Ragnar Chicago). There was a very friendly dog on the property we were sitting near. I think he must have been one of those “invisible fence” properties as he wasn’t tied up at all.FullSizeRender_2Lisa, who’s an Ironman triathlete swears by olives. We saw the Mondovi, WI ambulance make several visits to the exchange, which was portentous…

Jack finally arrived, though, in a good amount of pain, and handed off to Sam (also an Ironman). Sam was Runner 7. I can’t find the correct elevation route, but her leg had a section that was essentially a 450 ft climb over 0.5-1 mile. We stopped partway up the monster hill to help mentally and hydrationally support her. I finally got a chance to run around 3:30. It was well into the 90’s by then, and my leg (5.2 miles) had very little tree coverage and a fair amount of hills. I made the rookie mistake of going out too fast for the hills/heat. I felt awful that run, and you can see my poor form (hip collapse anyone?) in the first pic. 

The temperature didn’t drop much as the sun started setting. It also didn’t help that we were running west.


Melanie handing off to Norma, and Sam practicing safety with her flag (required for street crossing).

Daren’s run was probably the roughest in some ways. It was flat, but it was about 8 miles and flat, but there was NO shade and he was running on a road. You can see the toll all that heat took on us. We weren’t done running until almost 10 p.m., so this is what we looked like trying to eat dinner at a Perkins at 11 p.m.

One of my favorite parts of this picture is the bit of “late” that is in the bottom right hand of this picture.

This is also right about when Van 1 contacted us to say that we were way off from our projected finish time and they were concerned we wouldn’t finish in time (the race “closes” at 9:15 Saturday night). We were looking, with everyone’s slowed pace and Jack’s injury, at pushing an 8:30 finish. Anjie (the team captain) had been in contact with Ragnar central and they suggested we “leapfrog.” Essentially, leapfrogging is when two runners would run one leg together (so let’s say Runner 6 and 7 run Leg 6 together) and then skip the next leg. It saves the integrity of the race a bit since everyone will still do the same mileage, but it will help cut down the overall finishing time. Obviously if we are in fear of not finishing under the time limit, we aren’t contending to win either. This would become an epic thing…but I get ahead of myself. What this meant overall was that our sleep/rest time was going to get cut down. We were pretty unhappy about it, especially since a bunch of us had to run our longest legs afterwards. It couldn’t be helped, though, as we wanted to finish in time.

Leg 2 for me was my longest at just over 9.5 miles. It also had hills, but because I was running in pitch black, I couldn’t see what I was doing. I realized after my run that it was so dark because there was no moon. The sky was clear so there were stars, but it must have been a new moon. Running without the sun beating on us made this my favorite run. Ha.I think alot of us liked our second leg the best for that reason.


My elevation map for leg 2, and the van exchange point.

This is what you look like after running almost 10 miles in the dark and having virtually no sleep.


This is what you look like when you sleep on a gym floor after a night of running and no sleep.

It was at the final van exchange where we got rumors that teams had gotten a heat advisory text from Ragnar Central suggesting they “leapfrog” runners or have Van 2 leave the last van exchange EARLY (i.e., before Van 1 pulled in for the exchange). Our main contact person was sleeping somewhere in a gym and Van 1 had spotty cell service so it was a bit chaotic at first trying to figure out what was going on. Ultimately, that message set the stage for a wild west kind of ethos, though. For some reason not everyone got the text and it was somewhat oddly worded, so people interpreted it liberally. One group of women said that you could leapfrog multiple runners (i.e., more than 2) at a time to finish faster. We verified that was not accurate, but I did see some crazy stunts. I saw MULTIPLE teams swap out runners partway through a leg. Tons of teams were leapfrogging. We were all just tired of being in the sun and wanted to finish as soon as possible. How this will translate into team times and finishing spots, I don’t know. There is no way that Ragnar Central could keep track of everything or that teams were reporting everything. We’ll see how it all pans out.


My last leg was over a massive highway and through some strange underpasses and industrial areas. I actually cropped out a hideous billboard from the first pic, and you can see I ran next to a freight train for part of it as well. 

You can see that my elevation for this leg was a slight decline, and it was just over 3 miles, so I felt good on this run. I even got to run through sprinklers some spectators had going on their properties. At the end, though, there was a woman struggling along in front of me about 50 meters from the end. The runner exchange was at the top of a sharp climb under an overpass. I figured it would be an easy “kill” (when you pass another runner), and I could sneak past her without the runner noticing. I was wrong! She totally got this major kick out of nowhere and we were neck-in-neck to the exchange. Both our teams were screaming for us to beat the other. My team claims I beat her out, and I think I did, but I’m not sure. Either way, it was hilarious and exhilarating. We were leapfrogging the next two runners together, though, which is why Lisa and Sam are both in this exchange with me. 

By the way, it will come as no surprise that I learned on this leg that Arby’s curly friends and diet coke are NOT good to eat right before a hot run. Lisa and some of the others in my van made Arby’s out to be so amazing. I think we all regretted that decision. Well, maybe not Lisa, but she’s just in denial.

Daren’s hand off to Norma and her final leg/anchor.

This was from Daren’s last leg, which took him mostly along the River.

IMG_1602With a title like “Great Rivers” and the promise of running Minnesota, I had really expected the run to be much more trail-like or in nature. I think there was a smattering of trail for Van 1 on their first leg, and a smattering of paved trail for Van 2 on their third leg, but it was alot more suburban/industrial at points than I expected. With that said, there were some very pretty moments from the race. The next are a bunch of random photos from throughout the course.

This is to show the completely cloudless mercilessly sunny sky that beat down on us for our final legs.

Sunset is always gorgeous!

Another cliff/bluff

A pretty country church and cemetery


Back’ish row: Johanna, Debra, Anjie, Jeff, Jack, Sam, Daren. Bottom row, Melanie, me, Blair, Norma, Lisa.

The full team at the end. This Ragnar DID give every team two pizzas, which was like manna after the run. I was disappointed to see that the medal is exactly the same as Chicago’s, with the exception of the Great Rivers logo. There also was no “double medal” for running Chicago and Great Rivers this year. 😦 They did other doubled-up races for the double medals.All in all, I’m glad I did it. I had a fun time and met some hilarious people. I got to push myself in different ways, AND I know we can save on transportation costs next year, haha (just kidding, guys…maybe). However, I thought Ragnar Chicago actually had a nicer route overall. Granted there are some less pretty parts, like running through Waukegan, but there are more actual trails and it felt like there was more camaraderie BETWEEN teams. I’m not sure if it was the heat or the leapfrogging shaking things up, but I felt like I didn’t see as many of the same teams from exchange to exchange and there was less chatting between groups. One thing that WAS great was vans were supporting runners not on their teams, meaning they were offering water and ice or even shooting them with water as they passed by. Everyone was just trying to survive and help each other in the process. Runners are great in that way.

The BFF’ers have been talking about doing a different Ragnar, so my “reconaissance” of Great Rivers will be useful in that regard, haha.

Anyhow, I hope everyone had a great run this hot weekend. I promise to write up the whole overtraining thing soon.

Author: runNerdier

Marathoner. Academic. Mom of 2 ankle-biters.

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