January
30
Posted on 30-01-2011
Filed Under (Races) by Brian

12:30 PM: Townhomes on Windsor – Key West, FL

After a short 20 minute drive, we’ve meandered around Key West for an additional 20 minutes, trying to find our townhouse. Eventually, we squeeze the van up an alley and into the parking lot of the Townhomes on Windsor where their owner, Tim’s cousin waits for us. He shows us around and most of us rush to the showers while Daphne and Hunter empty out the van to organize the miscellaneous gear that’s been strewn about.

The showers in the Townhouse are borderline opulent, but the hot water heater has trouble keeping up with three simultaneous back to back showers. After my shower, I relax briefly on the deck as Daphne and Hunter walk straight into the pull fully clothed.

Soon, we receive a text message that Britt has handed off to Colette. I gather the team together and we walk a half mile to the finish line.

1:45 PM: The Southernmost Hotel – Key West, FL

The finish line is festive. The giant orange arch that we haven’t seen since the start back on Key Biscayne spans a pathway leading from the street to the beach. We watch several teams finish, their final runner rounding a corner from the sidewalk to be joined by the other members of the team so everyone crosses the line together.

We figure that we’ve got some time to kill so we turn in our orange saftey flags and sort out some problems we had with our Ragnar shirts. Soon, we get a text that Colette has handed off to Peter. It comes with the bad news that the “Fins” team passed Colette during her leg.

Hungry, and knowing we’ve got at least 40 minutes to kill before the finish, we head to a deli to grab some food.

2:40 PM: The Southernmost Hotel – Key West, FL

Back at the finish, we run into the members of the “Fins” team. The word from our teammates is that the “Fins” are looking tired and we’ve got a chance to catch them before the finish. Before our van 2 comrades arrive, however, we spot Meredith in the distance. She rounds the corner, is joined by the rest of the “Fins” and crosses the line.

Van #2 arrives soon after and we take a few pictures together. Taryn appears down the street, hits the corner, and thinks she’s finished when she spots her cheering teammates. We all yell for her to make a left turn and we join her in the run across the finish. We finish 12 minutes after the “Fins” team. In total: 198 miles in 30:47:15. 164th place out of 292 teams. Given that they started 3.5 hours after us, the “Fins” finished in 27:05:34 – good for 36th place overall.

After the big finish, we enjoyed some beers and war stories on the beach with the “Fins” team and any competitive bitterness that developed over the last few hours quickly melted away. We all cleaned up and had dinner as one big team at Turtle Kraals before heading over to Rick’s on Duval Street for free drinks (with our medals). We didn’t last too long after the free drinks were over and various team members began to peel off and head back to their various accommodations. Raffi, Lindsay and I left Rick’s just before 10 PM. I arrived in my bedroom at the townhouse at 10:16 PM – exactly 1 minute after I went to bed following last year’s Ragnar Relay in Daytona.

All pictures have been gathered. Look for them later this week!

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January
23
Posted on 23-01-2011
Filed Under (Races) by Brian

12:10 AM: Marathon Community Park – Marathon, FL

After a dark and desolate drive with very tired eyes, we’ve arrived at exchange #24.  We could see runners along the ride for 2-3 exchanges on the drive down, but after that, most of the exchanges were set up and empty.  There are currently less than 10 vans here at this major exchange, so we nab a pretty good parking spot and dig the tent and sleeping bags out of the trunk.

Danna, Lindsay and Jim opt to sleep in the van, but Jim helps Raffi and I carry our supplies over to a baseball field that will serve as our camp site for the night.  Daphne and Hunter set up a tarp next our tent and sleep under the stars.  Although the exchange is fairly quiet now, I know that things will soon begin to get noisy, so I’m glad I’ve brought my sleep mask and ear plugs.  After setting up the tent, I hit a real bathroom and settle into my sleeping bag for a little more than four hours of sleep.

I wake a few times during the night and I can hear cheering in the distance, but unlike last year I immediately fall back asleep each time.  More than anything, the lack of a pillow disturbs my sleep.  The rolled up towel just isn’t cutting it.

5:45 AM: Marathon Community Park – Marathon, FL

Raffi wakes me and I remove my earplugs.  There is a lot of noise now.  The cheering in the distance is louder and more steady.  Somewhere, the sound of a generator or a backhoe or something like that is adding to the clamor.  I’m groggy at first and don’t want to slide out of my sleeping bag, but eventually, I get moving and gather everything in the tent.

After stowing the tent back at the van, I dress in my running gear, grab some baby wipes and head to the bathroom.  The real bathrooms have quite a long line and there are about 20 people in line for the port a potties.  My turn comes sooner than expected since my possession of baby wipes allows me to make use of the port a potty than has no TP.  I spend some quality time there, then head back to the van.

Taryn’s arrival will be near 7:00 AM, so I’m debating whether I should wear the night safety gear.  I check the Race Bible and the official rule says that legs beginning before 7:30 AM require the use of the safety gear, so I grab a headlamp, a butt light and a homemade reflective orange safety vest.  I clip the butt light to the back of the headlamp strap and turn around to spot Raffi chatting with Meredith.

Meredith is the captain of our sister team: Fins to the Left, Cars to the Right.  They’re a 9 person team with somewhat faster runners than ours and they’ve started 3 hours after us.  They were projected to catch us at exchange #18 and we held them off that long.  From our conversation, I gather that they still haven’t caught our team.  The pressure is on my van to hold them off for another 6 legs.  If we can do that, I surmise, we might actually beat them to the finish.  Meredith and I talk a little trash and I head for the exchange point.

6:55 AM: Marathon Community Park – Marathon, FL

As the sun slowly rises, an announcer calls out #142 and Taryn makes her way into the exchange.  I grab the bracelet and trot off into the distance.  I’m not sure how I’m going to feel.  I’ve got 12.5 miles on my legs already and about 4 hours of sleep.  This is a 9+ mile leg that traverses the 7 mile bridge.  I’ve been visualizing what it would be like during workouts.  I’ve run this route many times in my head while on the treadmill listening to Boston’s “Don’t Look Back”.  I’ve always known it would be around sunrise.  The song pops into my head.

“…the sun is shining – and I’m on that road…”

I’m surprised to find that I’m overcome with emotion and my eyes begin to tear up.  I smile at myself for being such a sap and the stiffness disappears from my legs, I pass another runner and spot the bridge ahead.

We’ve been instructed that we’ll be provided with a plastic flask to carry across the bridge since there will be no water available and vans are not allowed to stop on the bridge.  I’m not too keen on carrying the flask the whole way since we’re not allowed to drop them on the bridge.  I trot up the bridge and spot a small table with a large water jug.  No one else is around.  There are no flasks.  I figure this is just a regular water station and jog right on by.  About 25 yards later, I realize that I’m on the bridge and there will be no more water.

I turn around, spotting the runner behind me still about a quarter mile away.  I sidle up to the bar and pour some water into the plastic shot glass and slam it.  This all feels a bit comical as I pour myself another shot.  I daintily sip this one as I watch the runner behind me slowly making his way up the road to the “bar”.  I look the other direction and spot the tiny little island that is exchange #25 far in the distance.  I toss the plastic cup into the trash bag next to the table.

“Alright, let’s do this,” I say to myself and Boston pops back into my head.

“…I don’t mind where I get taken.  The road is callin’ today is the daaaaay.”

The 7 mile bridge is pretty much like any other bridge.  It’s just 7 miles long.  In the middle is a big hill and I’m focusing on that right now because the little spit of land where my teammates wait doesn’t seem to be getting any closer.  I pass a few runners on the approach to the span and pass another on the way up.  I focus on my breathing, try to relax and shorten my steps during the climb.

At the top, my hard work is rewarded with a puddle of puke.  Apparently one of the runners in front of me wasn’t having such a good time.

As the bridge levels out, my legs are thankful that gravity is no longer working against them.  I fall into a nice rhythm that picks up as the bridge turns downward.  My pace increases nicely and I’m enjoying the fact that the worst part is behind me.  It’s windy and the rush from the large cars driving by pushes my body toward the barrier, but I’m feeling in good spirits now, so I set my sights on the runners ahead.

I pass a few more people on the way into the exchange, bringing my total for the leg to 12.  I hand off to Daphne and revel in the fact that I’m done!  Meredith is there waiting for her brother, who has just started the leg and I’m happy to point out that I’m finished while she actually still has two more legs to run.  We hop in the van and head to the next exchange.

8:20 AM: Bahia Honda State Park – Big Pine Key, FL

We pass Daphne and honk with our usual enthusiasm, but she greets us with a sad look.  Raffi pulls the van to the side of the road and I jump out with an orange flag.  I know her hips are still hurting from her previous leg on the gravel and I’m certain the downtime has only made them stiffer.  I’m fully prepared to hand the flag to Daphne, send her back to the van and finish the remaining 4 miles of this leg myself.  More than anything, I’m thinking we can put some more time into our sister team.

“How are you feeling?” I ask as she approaches.

“My hips really hurt, Brian, but I want to finish.”

I quickly realize that I’ve almost let my competitive spirit get the better of me.  I give her some advice about using her knuckle to massage her hips to alleviate some of the tightness while she’s running.  She gives it a try as she jogs past me.

“Just run your own pace,” I tell her.  “We’ll see you at the exchange.”

8:30 AM: Gravel Shoulder – Big Pine Key, FL

We arrive at the exchange, which is just on a wide part of the shoulder of U.S. 1.  This type of exchange will become very familiar over the next few hours.  I change into my “street clothes” and we cross the street to meet Daphne.  She arrives about 13 minutes after her estimated time, but we cheer loudly for her.  After handing off to Danna with tears in her eyes, she’s greeted by a big hug from her best friend, Hunter.

I give her a pat on the back.

“You gutted that out,” I say, “that was awesome.”  I’m very glad she finished it herself.  It means more to everyone on the team than any competition with our sister team.

9:35 AM: St. Peter’s Church – Big Pine Key, FL

We’ve arrive at exchange #27.  Daphne heads to a covered eating area with a towel to stretch.  Lindsay loans her tennis ball and I show Daphne how to roll on the tennis ball to massage her hips.

“It’ll hurt like hell,” I say, “but it’ll loosen them up.”  She gives it a try and the anguished look on her face indicates that my prediction is true.

I leave Daphne to herself and jog over to the exchange where Lindsay waits for Danna to finish.  The exchange is right at the end of a small bridge, so it’s hard to see runners approaching, but I sneak up the road a bit and call out to the rest of the team when I see Danna in the distance.  She hands off to Lindsay and we pile in the van again.

10:15 AM: Another gravel shoulder – Summerland Key, FL

Jim and I stand sentry as runners approach exchange #28.  We spot several people who look like Lindsay in the distance, but none of them turn out to be her.  A woman runs by with no number.

“I just live here,” she says with a smile as she jogs by.  We all cheer for her anyway.

Eventually, Lindsay appears in the distance and we cheer as she passes by.  She runs into the exchange and all the way through, passing off to Hunter who stands on the other side.

10:45 AM: Yet another gravel shoulder – Mile marker 23.5.  Somewhere in the keys.

Hunter is searching for a 3 mile PR for this specific leg, so we wait in anticipation for her arrival.  She arrives in PR time, hands off to Jim and laments the fact that the leg was actually shorter than 3 miles.  Lindsay jokes that this is because she had to run part of it since Hunter was all the way on the far end of the previous exchange.  Back in the van, we do some calculations and find that she was at least on PR pace.

11:00 AM: Sugarloaf Elementary School – Summerland Key, FL

We pull into the very crowded parking lot of Sugarloaf Elementary School and meet up with van #1.  We proudly point out that we’ve held off the “Fins” team for another 6 legs and that it’s all on them to complete the task and take us to the finish before them.  The exchange point itself is located on a very narrow shoulder across the highway from the school, so only the runners are allowed across.  A police officer stands watch over the intersection as crowds of people gather to cheer for their teammates across the street at the exchange.

Patrick crosses the street primed and ready for his last leg.  Soon, Jim approaches and hands off.  We grab some water for Jim, take some pictures with van #1 and the “Fins” team, then hop in the van and head for Key West, looking forward to the luxury of some shower time before the big finish.

Will they finish before the “Fins”?  Will they enjoy their showers?  Who will stay up past 10 o’clock?  Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion later this week!

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January
16
Posted on 16-01-2011
Filed Under (Races) by Brian

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.

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January
12
Posted on 12-01-2011
Filed Under (Races) by Brian

7:30 AM: Crandon Park – Key Biscayne, FL

I’m sitting on a patch of concrete next to a picnic table underneath a small tiki hut stretching my legs.  To my right, the orange glow of the sun is peaking over the gentle waves of the Atlantic Ocean.  Birds glide gracefully over the turquoise water.  The scene is one of tranquility and peace.  It sharply contrasts the scene to my left.

There, a giant orange archway spans a concrete pathway through the park.  A crowd of people gathers around a giant watch and a man with a microphone sends 20 runners through the archway on a journey that will take them 190 miles to Key West.

I watch the events nervously and I breathe deeply, trying to let go of the frantic events of the previous few days.  There were last minute lodging changes, vans to rent, schedules to coordinate, butt lights to acquire and long drives.  I remind myself that everything has gone according to plan.  The team is together.  We’ve arrived at the start.  We’ve completed our safety briefing.  I’ve got #142 pinned to my chest and a bright yellow slap bracelet on my left wrist.  I’m runner #1 for “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Run” and it’s almost time to start the Florida Keys Ragnar Relay.

8:00 AM: Crandon Park – Key Biscayne, FL

The starting horn goes off and I surge forward with the rest of the crowd.  Britt, Tim, Sara, Pat, Colette, Taryn and Peter(driver) cheer loudly for me as I zip down the path.  These are my teammates in van #2.  They won’t start for another few hours.  My own vanmates: Lindsay, Hunter, Daphne, Jim, Danna and Raffi (driver) have already begun their own race back to the van.  Leg #1 is a 3 mile jaunt along the beach to the Miami Seaquarium and I’m not going slowly.

A small pack of three runners forms at the front of the race.  There’s me, a skinny guy in a red shirt and a high school kid whose pants are falling down.  I figure the high school kid will go out fast and fade so I just tuck in behind him looking at his attractive Hanes underwear waistband hanging several inches over his shorts.

Red shirt guy starts up a conversation.  We briefly discuss last year’s central Florida relay, but high school kid starts to put a gap on us.  Red shirt guy gives me a look and then darts forward with a pretty slick acceleration.  He passes high school kid and disappears around a curve.

I’m not feeling as spry as I’d like to, but I’m still maintaining a decent pace even though the course goes through some deep sand and twists and turns around a shaded pathway.  Eventually, we cross the street and head across a bridge to the Seaquarium.  I finish in 19:47, just a few seconds behind high school kid.  The bracelet goes to Daphne and I try not to puke.  Leg 1 completed.

8:40 AM: Miami Expo Center – Miami, FL

I’m changing out of my running outfit into some comfortable clothes for the van.  I can’t find my new Sugoi compression socks.  Really?!?!  I asked for these for Christmas specifically so I’d have them for this relay.  Crap.  I sulk briefly while consuming my Snickers marathon recovery bar.

Daphne hands off to Danna.

9:45 AM: Matheson Hammock Park – Miami, FL

Lindsay has changed into her running gear and now resembles the pictures on her blog.  We’ve just wound our way through lovely Coral Gables, FL.  Having briefly been lost, we somehow kept driving straight and ended up in the right place.  On a tree lined street, Danna makes her way to the exchange and hands off to Lindsay.

10:10 AM: Old Cutler Presbyterian Church – Palmetto Bay, FL

We exit the van to see a man in full pirate gear charging up the sidewalk with a sword in each hand.

“Ahoy exchange 4,” he yells, “Prepare to be boarded!”.  He is running against us and he is presumably beating us – though it’s hard to tell with the staggered starts.  The crowd cheers him home and he hands off to the next pirate.

Soon after, Lindsay arrives and hands off to Hunter.

11:00 AM: The corner of Ingraham Highway and SW 87th Ave – Miami, FL

Not all exchanges in the Ragnar Relay take place at an “official” location.  This one is on the street corner and it gives us the opportunity to use our orange safety flags.  This year, Ragnar requires all teams to use orange safety flags when crossing streets.  I figure we may as well have some fun with it.  I grab the flags and perform a little rhythmic gymnastics number.  It gets rave reviews from Daphne and I lead the team across the street with much gusto, earning myself the nickname, “Safety Guy”.

I guide Hunter in for a landing with my bright orange flags.  She hands off to Jim.

11:30 AM: Gould’s Park – Miami, FL

We somehow manage to find a parking spot in the extremely crowded parking lot at exchange #6 – the first major exchange.  Everyone gets out of the van happy with our first set of legs and ready for a good hearty meal.  We fan out in search of our van #2 teammates and find them scattered throughout the park.

Peter, Sara and Irish Pat wait near the exchange point on a running track.  Pat has his number pinned on and he’s ready to go.  In the parking, we can see the vans of “11 women running wild and1 lucky guy”.  They’ve become our nemesis for no other reason than that they are always nearby and they are easily recognizable by the cheetah print skirts they run in.

After some confusion following an announcement that team #42 has arrived, we hear an announcement that team #142 (that’s us) is approaching the exchange.  I jog up the straightaway of the track and see a “cheetah girl” round the fence onto the track.  Ten seconds later, Jim does the same.  I yell at Jim to catch the Cheetah girl and he makes up some ground, but she beats him to the exchange.  Jim hands off the Irish Pat who immediately passes the next Cheetah girl in line.

We take a few pictures with the folks in van #2, then head off to IHOP.  Our van, at least, is one third of the way finished.

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