Our team changed a bit over the months leading into the race. It took a little time to find a sixth member and one of original members had to sit out due to injury, but she become one hell of a support team member/driver/navigator! By race day though, we had a full team, we were all ready to go and excited to have a great time together over two days stuck in a van with each other.
Festivities began Thursday evening while we decorated the van. Due to connections from our last minute runner, we ended up with an awesome set of legs to attach to the top of the van, perfect for our "She's Got Legs and Knows How to Use Them" team. Legs firmly (hopefully) attached to the top of the van, pictures in fishnets and high heels, including our "Sharp Dressed Man" and we were ready to run.
Friday began with a 1 AM wake up call. I was lucky to at least got a few hours of sleep, a few people on our team didn't even bother going to bed at all. Van fully packed, the six girls settled in while our awesome driver and co-captain hit the road at 2 AM taking commands from the Mr. T GPS leading us Lancaster for our 5 AM start.
Arriving in Lancaster shortly before 4 AM, we got our necessary gear from the start line, which was just getting set up since we were part of the first group of runners. Our first runner, Anna, got all of her night gear on and headed over to the start line. It seemed like just seconds later and she was off! The start was a bit of a blur and I remember thinking "Now what?". It seemed a little anti-climatic! We all piled back into the van and leap-frogged our runner through the first two exchanges. Since we were an ultra-team, each of us ran two back-to-back legs. I'm pretty sure I was in and out of full consciousness during these legs (sorry Anna!).
By the time our little firecracker of a runner hit exchange 2, the sun had risen for our last minute runner, Angie, to start. It seems the van got a little turned around during the next two exchanges. Pretty soon we were at exchange 4, although we didn't realize it for quite some time. Wondering where our runner was, since she is a really good, fast, runner, we finally figured out that we somehow skipped exchange 3 completely. Angie probably wondered what the hell happened to her team. She said she didn't want us sticking close to her but completely abandoning her until exchange 4 probably wasn't in the plan either.
On schedule, she arrived ready for our third runner, Charlene, to take off. This was the shortest section of a very long race and pretty soon it was time for runner 4, Nikki to take off. This was at a major exchange point, where normal teams would switch out vans. We were a bit ahead of pace so they held us back a few minutes. Also by this time, we were running/driving through gorgeous farmland in Lancaster county. Having grown up in the country, I thought I knew what farms looked like pretty well, but they are still very different in Amish country. I thought this part of the course was great.
While Nikki was running her heart out in Amish country, we were busy stopping and taking pictures while going through Intercourse, PA. How could you not!?! Somehow we got a little turned around making our way to Exchange 8. Turns out our runner did as well, adding an extra mile and half to her run...she only had the most miles anyway at over 40 during the course of the weekend, what is a little more!
After we were back on course and also located our missing runner, we enjoyed some yummy ice cream at the next exchange where Brenda, our captain, was ready to take off. By this time, I was fully awake and getting antsy to run. It had been a long time. Through more country roads Brenda ran before stopping at exchange 10 for me to take over. By this time, it was the afternoon.
I started, about 2 PM, along a somewhat busy road and in front of a strip mall but quickly turned into quiet, country roads. I had about 13.5 miles to run total on these two legs. The first leg was great as it rolled along a gravel road, passing through a covered bridge and I continued passing farms with horses plowing the fields and tobacco (I guess?) hanging in barns to dry. It was quite picturesque.
Before my run started, I was a bit distraught since I could not find my mp3 player. I looked for it frantically but to no avail. I was going solo on this and frankly not happy about it! One of the most fun things during this relay was to witness the nervous energy that each of us runners displays before we run. Checking and double-checking gear multiple times, reviewing the route over and over again and doing our normal pre-run rituals, questioning everything. By the time I was a few miles into this, I realized I didn't need the music, I just needed to enjoy the run. We were doing this solely for fun and taking the time we needed on each leg. As I continued onto leg 12, I was passed by a horse and buggy. That was a little odd. What do I do? Do I attempt to jump out of the way? Stop? I kind of just slowed down and hopped into the grass on the side of the road.
After a fairly long, gradual hill, I was back into a small town and ready to hand off to runner 1. By this time it was a little after 4 PM (I think) and finally, we had all run. It was now time to start all over again. We were able to fill up on some food before quickly trying to find our runner. We missed her during the first exchange but apparently she was quite the Energizer Bunny flying up the hills and encouraging others as well. As we tried to look for her, a guy from another team told us Anna helped get him through those hills...gotta love that! We made it to the next exchange in a park where our next runner was able to take off. By this point, I was getting tired so I resorted back to my semi-conscious state. I only truly fell asleep a few short times but was semi-conscious during several legs.
Angie made her way through Reading along some killer hills and some lovely sketchy, ghetto-land. Some more massive hills and eventually we were at the top of Skyline drive ready for Charlene take off on the first night run. Darkness seemed to settle in quickly and Charlene had about 14 miles to cover. The van, with our still amazing endless energy driver at the wheel, tried to stick close with her, leap-frogging as much as we could. We had been warned in advance that signs might be messed with and LEDs from the signs removed. We didn't want her getting lost out there in the dark. However, the runners got led off onto a path of some sort and we ended up getting a little turned around due to an unmarked road that we needed to follow. Eventually, though, we found her and she made her way to the next major exchange.
Exchange 17 was a bit of a cluster. There were people and cars everywhere. The exchange was on one side of the road and we wanted to get to the other where they had bathrooms (real ones!) and food. After parking, I made my way to the food stand with my mouth watering for some warm soup. By this point, I had basically eaten a banana and a bunch of PB&J and a few Shot-Bloks. I'd had a cold all week and was still not feeling 100%. My heart sank a little when the soup option was Beef Vegetable. I am not a fan so I settled for a turkey sandwich. It still tasted good and the hot chocolate was a treat. After everyone refueled a bit, we needed to get back on the road to get Nikki through the night legs. These roads had a bit of traffic and some of the drivers were driving a bit crazy.
After some long miles, it was Brenda's turn to tackle about 10 miles, including one bitch of a hill. She powered up that thing as the van leap-frogged her cheering her on. From the van we could see her headlamp, light and blue reflector on her shirt just chugging away. By this point, it was after midnight and I was getting a second wind. I was getting excited since it was soon going to be my turn to run again. Brenda brought it into the next exchange and I was off around 1 AM. I had a little over 9 miles to cover and for the night running, this was probably the easiest. I went through one little town so there were streetlights that helped, although the uneven, cracked sidewalk was a little tricky to maneuver.
Leg 24 started with a bit of a climb along a very dark road. It was the type with woods (I'm guessing!) off to the side and I got a little jumpy a couple of times through this section. The road was marked off with cones which we were to run inside of but sometimes that was difficult since they were so close to the edge of the road. Eventually, I made my way through another small downtown and into the next exchange, handing it over to Anna for her last run. We were actually getting there. Poor Anna had the most dark, nighttime running with two of her legs happening in the dark.
By this time, the legs on the top of the roof now had a name. Liza! Liza took out a tree limb and had to be adjusted during one of the earlier nighttime runs. She also took out some flags at exchange 25. Of course, this was minor compared to what was to come.
Around this time, our driver and wonderful cheerleader finally got tired...over 24 hours straight! He was remarkable! Our lovely co-captain took over the driving as we pressed on. During this leg Anna's foot became victim to a hole that wasn't illuminated very well by the headlamp, but she pressed on with her finish line in sight. With that, she was finished, just had to wait hours and hours for the rest of us!
Next up, Angie took over her last legs, most of which happened in the dark. At this point I was in my semi-conscious state again and cannot remark on too much that occurred. I think I actually fell asleep when we were at Exchange 26 but it must not have been long because when I woke up we were still there. I felt like I had slept for hours though. This stop had real bathrooms and I took advantage of being able to do a complete change and wipe down. By this point, I was feeling a bit disgusting. I ate the remnants of someone's egg sandwich and went back into my semi-conscious state.
Angie finished up her legs and was picked up by her boyfriend at the exchange point. Unfortunately, she had something else to do that day (can you imagine?) and wouldn't be able to make the rest of the journey with us to cross the finish line.
Charlene headed out on some tough mountains and probably thought we abandoned her since we stayed at the last exchange a bit for Angie to meet up with her ride. We left her without water but tried to make up for it when we caught up with her! She powered through the miles and finished her journey at one of the next major exchanges. This exchange was at a high school where we had more real bathrooms plus food. The sight of that cafeteria pizza put me in an excited state and it tasted delicious! Three runners finished and three runners to go, we were getting there!
Nikki took off for 16 very tough miles. Through the legs these girls we doing, we started to earn some major respect from other teams. Many were commenting on us being an ultra team and having our runners tackle these tough miles and double the miles. We passed through a quaint downtown, Jim Thorpe, on our way to the next exchange. At this exchange, Brenda was able to tackle a reporter who interviewed us for a story. We're so famous! By this point in the day, it was getting hot and the sun was beating down. Brenda took off for her final two legs, an extremely tough 17 miles. Leg 34 was going to be killer. Our wonderful support team did everything they could to keep her hydrated and motivated as she powered her way up the hill.
At the next exchange, as I was waiting for Brenda, I decided I was going to use her as my motivation to get through the final two legs. My foot was bothering me and I was not sure how it was going to hold out. I switched shoes to a brand new pair. The ball of my foot hurt after Megatransect and continued to hurt all week, just a mild, dull pain. It felt pretty good through the first two legs but I was thinking the ~34 miles I was putting on them over these two days might be pushing it.
As Brenda made her way into the exchange, I was ready to get through the next two legs. I was tired, going on virtually no sleep and my foot hurt. At a mile and a half into the ~11 final miles, I wasn't really sure how it was going to go. It felt hard yet what I was running was cake compared to what all the other girls just tackled. I just tried to ignore the pain and keep going. I knew I could get there, it was just a lot slower than I had hoped. I had really hoped I was going to have something left at the end to give, but I didn't. I just had to keep going one foot in front of the other.
My team filled up my water at the exchange point and I kept moving for the final ~6 miles. I was hot, tired and just ready to be finished. The road was a little difficult to run on because it was fairly busy and again there was no shoulder, only cones lined up on the road, but they were so close to the edge that it was hard to run inside of them. With four miles to go, it was time to just suck it up and get through it. In my head, I just kept repeating..."You are just walking the dogs, this is your normal, easy, daily 4 mile loop". Slowly the miles were ticking by. At one point I had to run along a freeway which was a little odd before taking the exit that led me into Pocono Manor.
Eventually, I could see people and knew it was almost over. My teammates were all waiting for me and we jogged it into the finish line. There was no kick at the end! Just like the start, the end was a bit anti-climatic, but we were finished and it felt so good! The end was a little disappointing. I was tired and none of the food appealed to me but the chocolate milk tasted good. We didn't hang around long. We were all tired and wanted to get home to a bed and shower, but still had a 3 hour drive. Our wonderful driver broke out a bottle of wine for us to enjoy. Surprisingly, as tired as we were, none of us really slept on the ride back. Guess we were all a little amped up. We did all of calculations to figure out time and pace and despite us all agreeing it was only for fun, I guess we all have a bit of that competitiveness in us. I certainly thought I could've done better but overall, it was still a great accomplishment. 202.1 miles, 6 girls, 1 van, 2 drivers and 35+ hours.
Those girls seem to have brought back my running mojo a bit though. I think I'm ready to get back on a real plan, with real goals. I have big things coming up but have been in more of 'do it for fun and just to finish' mode. I haven't been pushing myself for the last few months. I've kept my fitness level fairly level for the past few months.
So, thank you to all the Ragnar girls for an unforgettable weekend, good times and motivating me than you realize. You were all awesome. None of killed each other by the end of the weekend, we all got along and hope everyone else had a great time as well. Our only real casulty was Liza who fell off the roof on the way home. I'll always be the 'quiet' one but I enjoyed every minute of this!