2011 Florida Keys Ragnar Relay Part 2

12:30 PM: International, House of Pancakes – Homestead, FL

While our van was full of tired and somewhat shy runners at 6:00 AM, we now sit and chat like old friends at a corner table.  A few people experiment with the various supplements provided in the race packet.  Jim downs a green colored liquid that apparently tastes like peas.  It’s not really my cup of tea (no pun intended), so I opt for some OJ and a big plate of Ultimate Blueberry Pancakes.

Our table affords a view of part of leg #11 – a 2.3 mile easy leg (according to the Race Bible).  A lot of the runners look pretty exhausted and are walking as they pass by.  This is their first leg and they’re barely over a mile into it.  The next 20 hours are going to be awfully long for them.

2:00 PM: Homestead/Miami Speedway – Homestead, FL

After briefly getting lost in the van, we’ve arrive at exchange #12.  We find a spot in the parking lot that’s fairly shaded in hopes of getting some sleep.  Like exchange #6, the area is filled with vans, but the large parking lot of the speedway handles them much more easily than Gould’s park.

Jim and I head into the tunnel and to the infield of the speedway to check out the exchange point.  If you’ve ever dreamed of being in the Olympic marathon, running through the streets for 26 miles and into the Olympic stadium to be greeted by tens of thousands of screaming fans for your final quarter mile, then this leg offers a very small glimpse of what that must feel like.  As we walk through the tunnel, runners enter.

“Clear for the runner,” someone yells.  The cry is repeated through the crowd and everyone shifts against the wall while the very tired runner trots through the thick crowd amid cheers.  Unfortunately, this is where the Olympic analogy ends.  Once through the tunnel, the runner must come to grips with the fact that the 65,000 seats in this stadium are empty and that the loop around the track is not the standard quarter mile running track, but rather a 1.5 mile auto racing oval with a steep bank.

The setup is pretty cool, but I’m glad I’m not runner #12.

Jim and I return to the van.  Hunter, Daphne and Danna have found a spot to sleep on a hill and Danna snores quite loudly despite the drone of Go-Karts across the street.  Lindsay has been snoozing in the van and Raffi has found a quiet place underneath the bleachers for some yoga.

3:00 PM: Homestead/Miami Speedway – Homestead, FL

After a little rest, I decide I better get ready for my next leg.  I change into my running clothes while Daphne confiscates the video camera for some Wild Kingdom like footage of Danna sleeping.  I hit the bathroom and spot Lindsay and Raffi making Smoores over a few firepits that the Ragnar staff have set up.  Once back at the van, we get word that Taryn is about 20 minutes out, so we wake Danna and everyone gets back to the van.

Soon after van #1 arrives, Taryn runs through the gate of the speedway and heads for the tunnel.  We all cheer for her as she enters the tunnel.  The whole team follows to the infield and we lose site of Taryn as she rounds the first turn of the speedway.  I wait with Tim near pit road.

4:08 PM: Homestead/Miami Speedway – Homestead, FL

Taryn rounds the corner, makes her way down pit road, turns into the infield and hands the bracelet off to me.  I zip out of the exchange and charge down into the tunnel.  I’m running really, really fast.  I hear the occasional “wow” and “whoa, he’s fast” and I revel in that until I hit the bottom of the tunnel and start back up the other side.  It’s a reality check, but I want to save face with the people in the tunnel, so I suck it up and sprint to the top, across the parking lot and out the gate of the speedway.

Out of site, I slow to catch my breath.

First quarter mile down, only 9+ to go.

I run at 8 min/mile pace for awhile, but soon find a comfortable rhythm at about 7:20 min/mile.  I don’t see any runners ahead of me until I’m through the first mile, but then I gradually pick a few people off one by one.  We run along a sidewalk.  It’s Friday afternoon and people are coming home from work.  This is part of the beauty of the Ragnar Relay.  The streets are not closed.  One by one, we run quickly past ordinary people waiting for the bus.  They might normally expect to see a jogger or two on their way home from work, but several runners wearing race numbers in rapid succession leaves them somewhat bewildered.  Sometimes a stopping bus creates a log jam on the course as people try to exit and board the bus while the runners try to make their way past the bus stop.  This is urban cross country racing.

An older woman named Mary (I know this because her van has just driven by cheering her on), jogs steadily in front of me.  As I pass on her left, I clap my hands and give her a hearty “Go Mary!  Great job!”.  It scares the crap out of her.  I quickly apologize and scamper forward.  So much for sportsmanship.

About 4 miles in, I reach U.S. 1 and catch 2 runners who are stuck at the traffic light.  We chat for the 2-3 minutes it takes the light to turn and I cruise ahead of them.  The next 2 miles get pretty tough.  There’s a head wind.  The sidewalk ends and I’m running on grass.  There are no other runners in sight.  I start to worry that I’ve missed a turn somewhere, so I pull the route map out of my pocket and briefly study it while running a brisk pace.  I see that the next turn is not until the 6 mile mark and decide I’m on the right track.

A few minutes later, I spot a few runners in the distance.  I’m running alongside the road on some kind of field now.  I try to stay in the ruts, but the ground is uneven and it’s not a very fun running surface.  The good news is that as I’m approaching six miles, I’m starting to feel stronger.  I see a sign in the distance.  It looks like I should cross the street, turn left and run with traffic, but some guy tells me to run against traffic.  There’s no sidewalk either way, so I figure it doesn’t make much of a difference.  As I continue on, I see all the other runners on the other side of the street, so I zip across.

Here, the running surface is made up of large rocks.  The map says gravel, but these are 2-3 inches in diameter.  That makes them rocks.  It’s hard to know which way my feet will turn when they land, but I’m wearing my Saucony ProGrid Kinvaras and they almost wrap around the rocks, giving me a fantastic feel for the ground.  It’s like running barefoot, but the padding in the Kinvaras is enough that the rocks don’t hurt my feet.

I continue to feel stronger and I pass a few more runners in this stretch.  Soon, the van passes and my teammates cheer me.  It gives me an additional boost and my pace drops below 7 min/mile.  They stop ahead and get some video of me passing while they cheer.  It’s just the boost I need for the last two miles.

The course turns right into a large field and I can see many runners ahead of me.  I’m still getting stronger and I accelerate again, passing a “Cheetah girl” and several other runners (making 13 total for this leg) on my way into the exchange.

5:17 PM: Plaza Licencido Benito Juarez Park – Homestead, FL

With a quick handoff in the U-turn shaped exchange, Daphne (clad in orange safety vest, headlamp and butt light) grabs the bracelet and retraces my steps for a quarter mile.  I jump into the van and we head onto the Southern Glades Trail.

5:45 PM: Southern Glades Trail – Middle of Nowhere, FL

One of the great things about late model 12 passenger vans is the existence of an auxiliary line input for the stereo.  We make good use of this feature by plugging my laptop into the van stereo and cranking up a playlist from my Napster account as we make our way along this very bumpy “gravel” road at 8 MPH.  As we pass runners, Raffi shouts encouragement out the window to them.  It’s often greeted with warm returns and gratitude, but sometimes we get a menacing “leave me alone in my pain” glance.  It really doesn’t matter.  We’re having fun.

After a mile, there’s a pull off area on the trail so we pull the van aside, open the windows and doors, crank up the radio, don our safety vests and step outside to dance and cheer the runners.  Some of the runners dance along as they pass and others look at us like we’re completely nuts.  Again, none of this matters because we’re having a whole lot of fun.

Soon, Daphne passes with a smile at our antics, but some concern because the uneven terrain is starting to bother her hips.  We all hop back into the van and slowly weave our way around the runners to the next exchange.

6:00 PM: Southern Glades Trail – Middle of Nowhere, FL

The exchange is nothing more than a giant gravel staging area for construction equipment.  The southern Glades trail is basically just an access road for the South Florida Water Management District and the course has been running alongside one of their canals for the last 3 miles.

I change out of my running clothes and Danna gets ready for the handoff.  The sun has set and runners are identified only as blinking lights in the distance.  Daphne soon arrives and Danna is off at a good clip down the trail.

7:20 PM: End of the Southern Glades Trail – Middle of Nowhere, FL

Through many deep potholes we’ve slowly made our way 8 miles to the end of the Southern Glades Trail.  It’s very dark now and we all don our safety vests and whatever lights we can find for a long walk from the van to the exchange point.  Lindsay has suited up and we’re all relieved to find port-a-potties near the exchange point.  We’re not quite prepared for Danna’s arrival and she misses the exchange, trying to hand off to Lindsay near the port-a-potties.  We direct them both to the exchange “chute”, the handoff occurs and Lindsay is off.

Danna seems disgruntled as she joins the rest of us.  When we shine our headlamps on her, we can see why.  Her lower legs are covered in blood emanating from wounds on each of her knees.  She’s crying, though seemingly more out of anger than pain.  Raffi and Hunter rush back to the van for the first aid kit, but we realize that we’re better off treating her wounds back at the van.

7:40 PM: End of the Southern Glades Trail – Middle of Nowhere, FL

Video and copious amounts of photos are being taken as nearly the entire van treats Danna’s wounds.  Over the anger of not hitting her planned pace for the leg, Danna is more concerned with getting gory pictures of her knees.  We finally convince her that we should actually clean up her wounds and she relents.  With some bottled water, we pick the debris out of the gashes and then sterilize them with alcohol pads from the first aid kit.  Hunter finds some antibiotic cream and we apply that before covering everything up with large bandages.  That will do at least until we get to a medical tent at the next major exchange.

We finally exit the Southern Glades Trail via an access ramp from U.S. 1.  Since we’re traveling the wrong way up the ramp, a three point turn is required onto the highway.  Fortunately, a Ragnar official is watching the traffic on the highway and directing vans when to go.  We turn onto U.S. 1 and look for Lindsay, but the runners are on the opposite side of the road and all we can see are flashing lights.  It’s impossible to tell which one is her.  The van is not allowed to stop anywhere on this leg and she’s got a lonely 11.7 miles until the next exchange.

8:40 PM: Key Largo School – Key Largo, FL

Finally on an official “Florida Key”, we pull into the Key Largo School.  Given the length and stoppage rules of leg #16, this exchange is very crowded with vans and seems more like a major exchange, even though it isn’t.  One van is in the back of the school getting it’s tires changed – a casualty to the major potholes on the Southern Glades Trail.  Another team is attaching various found objects to their van.  Along the way, they’ve acquired a Christmas tree for the roof and a Go-Kart tire for the hood.  The exchange is loud and festive.

One runner arrives at the exchange without his team.  Raffi wanders off looking for his team and a big game of “telephone” ensues.  Yelling that team “such and such”‘s runner is in, the call is carried from one van to another all the way to the back of the school.  When the van arrives from the opposite direction, she yells “Nevermind, it’s here” and that call is carried from one van to another all the way to the back of the school.

At long last, Lindsay emerges from the darkness free of crocodile bites and having managed a pretty good pace over the longest leg of the relay.  She hands off to Hunter and we carefully make our way out of the school parking lot.

10:00 PM First State Bank – Key Largo, FL

After a brief stop at Burger King (Danna was hungry), we manage to find a parking spot in the drive through teller line at the First State bank.  The parking lot here is small and the vans are really starting to pile up. The volunteer at the exchange is little help as vans are double parking and blocking each other.  We’re pretty early and we sit for a while, closely monitoring our parking situation and improving it when we can.  Eventually, Hunter makes her way into the exchange and hands off to Jim.

11:10 PM: Coral Shores High School – Tavernier, FL

The Coral Shores high school is bustling with activity.  We search for a parking spot near van #1, but can’t get near it, so we opt for a secluded spot near the back.  All around, people are in sleeping bags, on air mattresses and in tents trying to sleep.  It looks like a refugee camp in one of those disaster movies where an asteroid is about to hit the city and everyone has to be evacuated.

The high school students are funding various field trips by renting out their showers for $3 a pop and selling pasta dinners for $7.  Daphne, Hunter and Lindsay opt for a shower, while Raffi and I encourage Danna to find the medical tent.  We end up wandering around the cafeteria while Danna enjoys some cake.  Eventually, we run into Tim who leads us to the exchange point where Patrick is getting pumped and ready for leg #19.

We chat with the members of van #1 while an announcer yells out the numbers of approaching teams in the darkness.  Eventually, #142 is called and Jim rolls in and hands off the bracelet to Patrick.  Sara lovingly provides Jim with a bottle of water, we all cheer for Patrick and we are once more officially off duty.

I’m having trouble uploading photos at the moment.  When I’m finished, I’ll try to put together a Ragnar 2011 “in pictures” post.

Categorized as Races


  1. you have a great memory. i’m enjoying reminiscing even though this was only a week ago.

    i haven’t forgotten that i still need to paypal you. you know i am just slack about difficult tasks like that.

    ps: there are crocodiles in florida.

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