Saturday, March 1, 2014

Post Ragnar

I signed up to do the Del Sol Ragnar Relay back in September 2013. My friend Jerri who lives in SD has done several Ragnars and it sounded like a blast.  I wanted the chance to see her and run/drink with her again so we signed up and got 10 other crazy girls to sign up too.  I recruited Cheryl & Melanie and Jerri recruited all the others.  Training was going great.  I was running several times a week, doing Bodypump 3-4 times a week and I ran a half marathon here in town in October with no probs.  A couple of weeks later my left knee started hurting and was still hurting after 2 weeks complete rest, so I went to the orthopedic doctor to see what was going on.  Arthritis and meniscus damage apparently.  He told me I should stop running and stop doing Bodypump because it involved doing squats and lunges which would further damage my knee.  I was gutted, scared and angry.  I called Jerri (who is one of the most motivating people I know) and immediately decided I was not going to stop running at all.  I would cut back on my runs, do hot yoga and spinning and hope that this would be enough to make me Ragnar fit.  My friend Melanie swapped legs with me so I wouldn't have a brutal 4 mile uphill leg (thanks Melanie!) and Ragnar was still on.

Ragnar Del Sol is a 202 mile relay race done by regular teams of 12 and ultra teams of 6 who run double the legs.  In our race, there was an ultra team of 2 blokes who split the 202 miles between themselves.  Hardcore!!  Teams split into 2 vans and take turns to run 3 legs per person.  When you're not running, you're driving to the next exchange to drop off/pick up runners.  You basically live in those vans for 2 days, not showering, changing in the van, eating in the van, sometimes napping and just having a good laugh.  You pack your running outfits in ziploc bags and put the nasty, sweaty used ones back in the bags to take home and open a few days later once they've nicely ripened :)

Fast forward to February.  I'd spent the months in between doing hot yoga 4-5 times a week, spinning 1-2 times a week and running at a pretty slow pace 3 times a week.  My knee was mostly pain free.  I was drinking Shakeology for lunch every day too and this gave me a huge energy boost as well as taking a few pounds off (I've lost 20 so far and still going).  I was nervous but totally ready for Ragnar!  Our team had all been in touch constantly for the few months before the race and even though I hadn't met a few of the girls, I felt like I knew them all.  Banter was good, sometimes dirty (Jen) and totally motivating!  I couldn't wait!

I flew into Phoenix and was picked up at the airport by Cheryl & Melanie, my friends from Korea.  We have a lot of crazy memories and shared experiences together.  One of the most memorable was having to be evacuation ready (with all our kiddos and gas masks for the entire family) when North Korea bombed Yeonpyeong Island in the South back in 2010.  We had also shared lots of  'beverages' together in the past.  
We met up with the other girls at the lovely Kelly's house (Jerri's sister who lives near Phoenix) over the next several hours, hung out and had a couple of beers.

The next day we had a team meeting in the morning (complete with Shocktops) for most of us, did grocery shopping for our vans and eventually drove up to the start line in Wickenburg.  Our team name/theme was Inner Ninjas - we had shirts, magnets (to tag other vans) headbands, inflatable ninjas and a bunch of other items to decorate our vans Ragnar style.  Kelly and Anita generously allowed us to use their Suburbans as team vans so we didn't have to rent - thanks girls!!  We even had our theme song which we blasted out of the windows cruising round the hotel car park to the other teams.  Immature you may say, but SO MUCH FUN!!!  We decorated our vans with duct tape - ninja masks, words, cactus etc and put our names on the windows so we could mark off our legs and our kills (when you pass another runner on the road/trail).   We went out for dinner, we were very loud, we stopped off on the way back to the hotel to ride a stationary jackass (Cherie is an awesome twerker), then went back to the hotel for a few hours sleep before the 3.30am wake up call to get to the start line on time.

First AZ discovery - it's bloody freezing in the desert at night!!!  I didn't expect that at all!  We saw our first runner off (Angie - she of the long legs) and that was it, we were starting our Ragnar!    I quickly grabbed a cup of tea which made me happy.  It's hard finding a decent cup of tea with milk in America when you're a Brit!

Everything was going smoothly, we were rocking our runs and having fun  once the initial nerves wore off.  Danielle (Jerri's other sister) who was in Van 2 had the 'pleasure' of doing over half marathon distance on her first run!!  She was a beast and made it in a fantastic time in the blazing heat.   Once our van was done with our first 6 legs, we had some down time at a High School football field.  We lay in the grass and chilled.  And pissed off some random bald dude who didn't like that we were talking near him when he was trying to sleep.  Miserable git!!  It wasn't an official sleeping area with quiet signs, it was a field and he chose to lie down almost on top of us.  6 girls.  Like we were going to be quiet...  He was grumping and moaning about us to whoever would listen which gave us a giggle.  We started playing a game on Krissy's phone (It's all about you Krissy) and got progressively louder so the grumpy git eventually got up and left which was quite satisfying :)  There were several other people around who were being way louder than we were, the whole Ragnar atmosphere is about fun so he was definitely the exception!

We met up with Van 2 at this exchange and were waiting for Jen (of dirty Jen fame).  Jen rocked her leg but when she came into the exchange, there was something wrong with her foot.  It was totally numb.  Ellie took her to the First Aid tent but wasn't happy with their diagnosis, so they took Jen to the local ER.  More on that later.

Now it was time for our van to start our night legs.  By the time mine rolled around, it was around 11.30pm.  I was totally crapping myself.  2.8 miles of my leg was on a dirt trail, away from street lights and civilization.  AZ is know for it's critters - mountain lions, coyotes, rattlesnakes, javelinas.  Oh crap.  I started off running 4 miles alongside roads that were nicely lit up.  My headlamp was bright, I had on my reflective vest, flashing LED light - I almost relaxed!  There weren't many other runners around but I was hoping by the time I got on the trail part there would be.  I got to the end of the lit up road, there was a right turn and BAM, in front of me was a huge sandy hill to climb.  Made it up slowly but surely.  It immediately dropped down into darkness on the other side.  I couldn't see any other runners in front of me, just total darkness.  I made it down the hill and started running as fast as I could in the dark, very grateful for my headlamp.  I was scared.  I kept thinking about the mountain lion stories I'd heard.  I remembered it was best to be noisy in their territory and to look as big as possible so I threw my arms up cactus style and started grunting loudly as I breathed.  I must have looked so ridiculous but I couldn't care less!!  I ran for about a mile and a half and I saw a blinking light in front of me - another runner!!!  I sped up even more, determined to catch them up and I did!!  I stayed with her while we chatted about how scared we were and then I finally saw lights in the distance and left her.  By the time I got back in the van, I was sweating profusely and shaking - I think I was kind of in shock!!!  I wouldn't say I enjoyed the night leg but man, I was so happy I did it and lived!!!  Dramatic I know, but I WAS REALLY SCARED!!!

I won't bore you with the rest of the race details, I'd be here forever!  But back to Jen.  The hospital thought she'd had a mild stroke and were doing all sorts of tests.  They kept her in until Sunday afternoon and took great care of her.  I was so glad I got to see her before I left to come home to TN.  She didn't have a stroke but has to see a specialist back home in WI to see what happened and how to live with whatever it was.  Jen is an amazing, strong willed lady with a huge smile and a fab sense of humor.  I hope this thing can be worked out and she can recover and get back to running again soon!   Our whole team was amazing.  I'm so blessed to know the other 11 ladies now and count them as my friends.  Jerri, Danielle, Kelly, Melanie, Cheryl, Krissy, Angie, Jen, Ellie, Cherie and Anita.  Every one of us should be so proud of ourselves for those 2 days!!!  We rocked!!!!  At the finish line, they had free pizza and a beer garden for all of us runners.  We got a really cool medal and a fab T shirt too :)  I have to give a shout out to Jerri's Mum Vicki who not only cooked an awesome dinner and breakfast for us, she also volunteered to man a water station on behalf of our team.  Thanks Vicki!  She was able to have a beer with us at the end too :)  And thanks to Kelly's family who let us crash there the first night and thanks to Krissy and her Dad for letting some of us crash there after the race!

The next day it was time to un-decorate the vans, get our stuff together and go home.  What an amazing experience it all was, I'm so glad I got to do it with such awesome girls!!  And I'm so lucky that Jason was happy to take 3 days off work to look after our kiddos :)

Back to the knee.  I really had no issues with it at all!  I was running up and down hills and on a trail, faster than I normally run.  This was supposed to be my last race but there is no way I'm stopping now.  I'm going to keep doing what I've been doing these last months.  Who knows, maybe because I lost weight, it's putting less pressure on my knee or maybe it's because my knee & the muscles round about my knee are stronger from doing hot yoga and spinning but whatever it is, it's working!!!  There's a Ragnar Trail Race in AZ in November, I'm seriously considering it :)

So, that's it for now, I just really wanted to write some of this down so my old lady brain won't forget it.  It's been a week now since the end of the race but I'm still on a high!  The desert was amazing.  I've always been a lakes,  mountains & 4 seasons kind of person while Jason is a beach, desert & sunshine kind of person.  He told me I'd love it in AZ, I laughed and said "no way".  He was right.  The sunsets were amazing and the desert just has a lovely atmosphere.  Can't wait to go back again some day!!

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