September 13, 2014

Race Report: Ragnar DC 2014

The Ragnar road relay is an overnight race with teams of 10 people spread over two vans. Each runner completes three legs of the course. My second Ragnar DC was just as fan as my first in 2013. This year I teamed up with the same crew from the Ragnar Appalachians trail relay and hopped into van 1. Though I had far fewer miles than last year, van 1 offered some new routes and new views, and it was nice to kick back and relax while van 2 brought it home on Saturday afternoon.

The Ragnar team was again a pleasure to work with, and the camaraderie and enthusiasm of our fellow runners was evident throughout the weekend.

The Course

Ragnar DC is a 200-mile course weaving from Cumberland, Maryland to Washington DC. It goes through hills and mountains, historic small towns, and wraps up in the National Harbor.

Race Day(s)

I was up in Maryland before dawn to meet up with the team and load up the van. As I climbed in the van I was handed a green and pink adult tutu. Now I don't need to tell you how bad I look in a tutu, and I've never raced in a costume before...but Ragnar team's have a funny way of making you do silly things at 5:00 in the tutu fast, tutu furious! And with that, we were off to Cumberland armed with tutus and coffee to conquer another Ragnar relay. The starting area was a scenic park along a lake, and I found quick use for my Orange Mud pack...a carrier for snacks. So I killed time by munching on pretzel rods and hanging pro-tutu signs on my back.

Through our van's first session, our runners headed up and over several inclines, and we took to ringing the cowbell with abandon to encourage them on. We also started cowbelling pretty much everything that moved...runners, locals, dogs, volunteers. I was runner #6 this year, meaning I was the last person in our van to get on course, taking on the Friday afternoon sun. Unfortunately the early part of the race was on dirt roads, so the sun and dry conditions kicked up a lot of dirt and dust. Each of our early runners was covered in a brown layer after running alongside dozens of Ragnar vans. My leg (#6) was no different, taking a rolling profile over 6.0 miles. I clicked through the miles fairly quickly, happy that the tutu, while foreign to me, really didn't get in the way. The last couple miles were on pavement and down some steep grades, so that was a bit jarring on the old bones. But gravity did its work and pulled me to a decent 6:50/mile pace and into the first major exchange to hand of to the next van.

Our first major rest point was an elementary school where we had a few hours to relax and try to sleep. Unfortunately the heat and sunlight made it difficult to get much rest, so I just listened to music and stretched out my legs. Fairly quickly the break was over, and we were getting ready to take on another session of running. My second leg (#18) was short at only 3.5 miles, but the course profile looked like a traffic cone. It was straight up for half the miles, and then straight back down. The incline was about 2.2 miles, with a false summit at mile 1.0. I tried to maintain a consistent pace, my headlamp light bouncing off the ascending roadway that felt close enough to reach out and touch. I'll admit, I was not expecting a short leg to be difficult, and I ended up taking about a 30-second walking break after the false summit to catch my breath. The final downhill miles were actually harder as the road fell away underneath me and me feet and shins screamed as they pounded down a 45-degree descent. My pace on this stretch crept up to 7:50 and I was very happy to see the lights of the Creamery where I handed off to van 2 to end my night.

The van's second rest point was a parking lot at a park, and with the temperatures falling, most of us decided to stay in the van. I leaned back the passenger seat and tried to catch some sleep as rain started to fall outside. After some overnight rain, we woke up to cloudy skies to fuel up, stretch, and foam roll aching muscles. My final leg (#30) was unfortunately my longest, so I put on the Orange Mud pack with two bottles of Nuun, strapped on the tutu for one more ride, and set off for 8.6 miles on everything from rail trail to city sidewalks. As I started this final leg, the rain started to pour again, and I spent the next hour running through mother nature's fury. The early miles on Rock Creek Trail were scenic as I ran through forests, alongside creeks, and past a few curious deer. At mile 4.0 I turned onto the Capital Crescent Trail for some gravel miles, cutting through suburbia and headed towards the office buildings of Chevy Chase. The final mile or two was on neighbor sidewalks and eventually cutting through office buildings and busy streets. So there I was, a man in a tutu, running 7:00-miles in the rain and dodging folks walking to brunch on a Saturday morning. It was even more humorous when I had to stop at red lights; cars drove past and just stared at this weird man in a tutu, standing in the rain with a race bib on. Playing Frogger through the morning traffic, I wrapped up van 1's race, and we all headed directly for food, beer, and warmer (dry) clothes.

A few hours later, we were standing at National Harbor and cheering on the final runner as our team came through the finish. We could finally all enjoy some time together, both vans, sitting at the Sierra Nevada beer garden and eating donuts.

The Results

Final Time :     33:18:08

Packing List

Since there were some questions through the blog on how we could possibly fill a van with just running gear, please check out my packing list from last year to see how much it takes to run for 33 hours. Full blog post and packing list here: Ragnar Relay Packing List