Sunday, April 19, 2015

Ragnar SoCal Relay: Expanding the Race Resume and Executing The Unknown

12 runners
2 drivers
182.4 miles, HB to SD
26:44 hours of running
0 hours of sleep
10th division
55th out of 700+ teams

I didn't really know what to expect from Ragnar: Would it be fun? Would I regret it in the middle of the night? Would I survive on no sleep and avoid turning into a grumpy b----? Would my body be able to perform like the old days? Would our team--many of whom I didn't know--get along?

I wasn't worried, just curious about these unknowns. If anything, I was excited to figure out the answers. I'm all about new adventures with my racing and activities these days...

I actually had a rough patch leading into Ragnar too. My "that time of month" was due, which meant all the symptoms. Yup. Plus I had a heavy heart and bouts of tears after learning of the death of an old high school boyfriend-turned-friend the week before Ragnar. My mind was somewhere else with that news. I don't even really like talking about it, and I hesitated to even mention it here but it's part of me and this... he was on my mind, as was another old, dear friend who I grew up with and who would have been 30 on April 9; he passed away too young too. So the day before our team arrived in town I spent most my day at a funeral. I'm glad the funeral took place when it did. I felt like I was at least able to get some closure, find peace, shed some tears, and share hugs with people from my early life....

Wore some bracelets to remember loved ones who left
this world way too soon. I'll never forget them.
All that leading up, and I definitely made sure to have super low-stress, easy workouts the week leading into Ragnar. I wanted to be 100 percent on my game running-wise and energy-wise. I was tracking my HRV and general metrics before/during/after Ragnar, which I'll post in a separate (shorter) post to come for my geek friends like Alan Couzens on how Ragnar wrecked havoc (or not ;)).

It was busy leading up to race weekend. Our team wasn't just a group of local friends; John and I organized a special Endurance Planet team with people flying in from as far as Toronto and the East Coast. So this was actually business for me in a way, but I'm grateful my business is certainly mixed with pleasure. I was especially excited that my two favorite colleagues and dear friends--Brock and Lucho--would be joining  the crew and staying with John and I. I love those guys so much, and love our annual get-togethers (they need to be more than annual IMO).

John and I planned it to be an "all-inclusive" weekend of sorts for the team, starting with a catered team dinner on Thursday, racing Friday/Saturday, and ending with our own special awards ceremony at Stone, plus everything in between (vans, food/meals, sponsored hydration, houses for rest stops, supplies, special souvenirs, etc). Everything for Ragnar was all there and ready for them. They just had to show up.

So how'd it go?


Our team, Ragnar, running balls-out hard--it absolutely exceeded my expectations!

If you want the audio version recapping the event, listen to this podcast with Lucho, Brock and I sharing all the details. We recorded it Sunday morning after the race; a super fun, highly caffeinated chat.

If you want more from my POV and also more on my own running performances, read on...

As mentioned, it was a bit of a "meh" week for me. But that changed Thursday when I woke up feeling like a rockstar. Had one last easy run, and forced myself to hold back. Legs ready. We spent a good 3ish hours in the car picking up the boys from airports and running errands. The evening ended with our team enjoying Mexican food in a Laguna Beach park, which John and I served only the best quality--La Sirena Grill.

Start line. We were dead last wave to go off lol! But we loved
it when we ended up passing 100s of teams!
Friday our team was literally the very last wave to go off at 1:15pm, which I actually liked. Teams were starting as early as 6am but we had a nice leisurely morning. I even fit in a 5k SUP session before we got going, and we stopped at the farmer's market to pick up freshly baked sourdough for the team. We gathered, drank coffee, decorated vans and got going. I made a deal with myself that I would get to drink as much caffeine as I wanted/needed then get back to reality next week.

Ragnar logistics are quite complicated especially if you've never done one of these so I'll try not to explain the impossible. Basically our team congregated in Lake Forest, then we were off to the start line in Huntington Beach. Most everyone was pretty much strangers to one another, yet right away we had good vibes and nonstop chatter.

Team photo with the coolest van in ragnar! 

There was lots of voo doo flossing going around thanks
to Greg (and Kelly Starrett). It freaking works. And greg,
seen here, is quite the runner. He just went sub 19 at the
Boston 5k the weekend after Ragnar! #superfan
I was in Van 1 with six others. We started while Van 2 waited for our six to do their thing. I was No. 6 and would pass to Lucho, who was No. 7. In terms of performance, I had told the team prior to the event that our pace and where we placed weren't important factors, but it was clear to me that we had compiled a group of competitors who wanted to run fast and hard (we had a speedy group!). Greg, who I coach for running, started us off with a badass 2.4 mile balls-out run. As for me, I had this "silly" idea that I'd be "smart" and pace myself by going a bit conservative on Run #1, but there was none of that once I got going. It was 100 percent hard. And I'm glad I did it that way.

As Runner No. 6, all three of my legs were hard and hilly. It was only 14.4 miles total running (6.75, 3, 4.3 miles each), and in that I had more than 1,600 feet elevation gain total. My runs were mostly all uphill with way less downhill being that they were point-to-point runs. One positives of less descent was saving my quads from downhill DOMS (although I run steep trails enough where I wasn't worried about that). There were at least five gnarlyyyyy hills I encountered. Some decent downhills too. Not so much flat running. Thank goodness I run trails often.

Invasion of the white vans in SoCal.

Endurance Planetttttt!

Before I got going on my first run I did some pullups in a park (seriously), downed espresso (yup!), took 5 Perfect Amino (the new MAP), and warmed up well. It was the perfect time of day to run--just before sunset and cooling off. Not cold, not hot.

My first run was incredibly satisfying. I literally had not pushed my body that hard since Vineman 70.3 last year; nearly 9 months ago. It felt like racing again. It was racing again! In fact, in some ways cooler than past races because I was totally by myself no other ragnar runners around--due to our team's late start--and navigating random roads and hills. Yes, there were signs with directions, but I was by myself, in my own head, digging deep and finding my way.

I. Loved. It.
Climbing a mellow uphill grade.
I honestly didn't realize my shorts were so dang short!
This was right before the big-ass hill... I am totally
loving it!
My pace/intensity was a bit of a question mark going in, as I've been doing nearly 100 percent MAF training and very little/no intensity and no true speedwork. Nearly all my runs I'll average ~150 HR or under, and rarely have I gone above 160 in training. But this is part of the "MAF Game"--train at the aerobic max mostly then be able to dig deep and push hard on race day. I was guessing I'd be sub-8 without too much trouble, but factoring in the hilly route I couldn't guarantee that. I just knew once I started that the idea of going conservative on run #1 was not happening. I wanted to race and go hard. I'm glad I have past experience running at 175+ HR because it definitely stung at first, but it didn't feel unknown to me. For anyone new to MAF, I'd get in a couple practice races or sessions at that high intensity before your A race. Or if you know your aerobic base is well-established add in some anaerobic intervals (this is allowed in true MAF training if done appropriately).

Once I realized I can still run hard lol, I was just hoping I could hold to effort, and not blow especially considering the course profile (see below).

Up, up, up! After this Lucho had nearly an all-downhill run. No wonder he was faster ;)
The first four miles didn't really feel like climbing, but I knew they were due to my HR vs. pace. On flat at that HR I'd easily be running nearly a minute faster per mile than I was. Mile 5 was a bitch of a climb and I did walk a few times but even walking my HR never dropped under 165! But after that I think I finished really freakin fast in the 6's and apparently even sub 6 at times.

Looking back, I think I could have ran faster/harder had I practiced that scenario a couple times before the actual race. But that gets tricky because then the recovery needed is greater... anyway...

Here's my data:

The numbers. Fyi- 58:15 vs. 55:41 is due to getting
stopped at stoplights--no cheating, no running reds!

I think a new chapter might be brewing for me in which I'll be adding more of these random adventure/ultra races where getting lost is a real possibility and where you're not sardined into a crowd. Don't get me wrong, I've loved being that sardine in the triathlon crowd, but it's time for some new adventures! Also I know I won't be running ultras that fast or hard, but I think you get my point.

Anyway, while I was busting my ass, Lucho was getting ready for his first "competitive run" since Leadman 2012. He has run since then (barely) but hasn't raced. We brought him back to the game baby! Although, I think after ragnar he went back into retirement from running already lol.

Lucho's like, "What the hell am I doing?"
Meanwhile I'm trying to bring it in fast....

And the exchange! Lucho and I have been friends and podcasters since 2011!
In fact, I've talked to him nearly every single week for more than 4 years now. 
Then, Lucho had the longest leg, 12.1 miles, which he "decided" to make 13.1 miles by going off course. All good lol.
He passed to John, who also ran more than 20+ miles total. 

After my first run, our team was done with our first shift and got to go to the house to eat, shower and rest (but no one slept; we were all amped up!). All the food was ready and cooked. We had some good stuff, and I highly recommend planning out your menu and buying/preparing food prior to avoid having to do it in that moment. You want all the chill time you can get, not running around shopping for food. I ate a crap ton and didn't even care how it might affect my next run at 2am. I was hangry, and probably had two solid plates of food plus more snacking. Then showered, and then we rehabed with voodoo flossing (magical!), foam rolling, compression, feet up, and so on... we shared past race stories, I had my brain picked nonstop by our EP fans on the team, and the energy was HIGH! We all were feeling great, happy and having a blast. No signs of major fatigue at all yet, which is good because it was only ~8-10pm.

Tons of bacon got consumed.

I basically took all this stuff and made it into tacos with non-GMO
corn tortillas. More bacon was added ;)
Apparently Van 2 had a thing with M&Ms that didn't
really turn out well for them in the GI department.

Some of my Van 1 crew pigging out and talking away.
Meanwhile, Van 2 crew was doing their run thang while we chilled. The only
downside of a 12-person team is not being able to spend more time all together!

Our Van 1's next shift started in Oceanside at 10-something. Right on the boardwalk where the half-Ironman goes. The port-o-potties and darkness with a cool breeze and street lights gave me the chills because it felt exactly like arriving to Oceanside in the morning to do the 70.3. Ah, memories.

We were on from 10ish till my run, which ended at 2:45am. I was the team captain and van navigator so when I wasn't running, the whole race I was constantly thinking two steps ahead and working: looking on the Ragnar app for routes and exchange points, searching google maps, and dictating directions to my dad. This was especially "fun" in those wee hours. But he and I worked very well together and never had a hiccup. Never got lost. Because I was team captain and the host (and full of good energy) I never really slept because I felt like I was needed, but I did have some moments of quiet time and relaxation which were helpful. (I'd eventually get a quickie nap back at the condo....)

Ragnar at night.

Runners coming in for the exchange. "Is that our light?"
This actually happened to be my mom, who ran!

My second run started around 2:20 am somewhere in Carlsbad I think. That area is hilly, and so was my little 3-miler. It was cold (not freezing), and just cold enough where I didn't want to strip down to shorts and a shirt--I was so cozy in my puffy jacket and leggings!--but knew I'd regret wearing pants and a heavy top on my run. Each time I ran I got in at least a mile of jogging/moving/walking and dynamic exercises to get loose and ready. This was especially important on the second two runs after you're stiff and a lil sore. My 2am'er was basically just going up or down on sidewalk (concrete, yuck). See the course profile below. However, the ragnar peeps categorized it as "easy," WTF?! I can assure it was not except for the fact that it was just 3 miles, but that's like saying a competitive 5k is easy It's not. (We're thinking they rated "easy" vs. "medium" vs. "hard" runs simply based on total miles.) So when I finished my 3 miles, I had a potty mouth like none other blasting out a bunch of expletives that explained how the route was anything but easy. I wasn't mad, just on the runner's high and needing to make a point ;) It just so happened that I didn't care about having a filter on my mouth in front of the team at 2:45 am. They thought it was funny.
Because this was all on concrete I chose shoes with a tad more support to cushion that pounding.

My effort was certainly not an "easy" cruising pace lol.
Only one stoplight this time and it was a quickie whew.

2:45 am running - appropriate that this pic came out
blurry because that's exactly how it felt in the moment.
So at about 3 am we made our way to our Carlsbad casa while Van 2 got busy running until sunrise. At 3:15 am I made myself chicken and tacos, bacon, chips, and who knows what else, then we all got to doze off for 30-40min under a roof, cozied up in a blanket on a couch. It felt like 30 seconds later the alarm went off and it was time to get going. Ugh. That was probably the hardest part of the whole thing. I we were wanting was to sleep, and we were flirted with sleep, but it was just a tease. Off we were.

I was so out of it when we left that I forgot half my shit for the next round including my Garmin, HRM strap and wallet (important things I needed haha). Thankfully I was able to borrow a Garmin/HRM and other peeps had money; although, we never bought anything except gas and coffee. We didn't have to. It was all there. (Planning success!)

Brockstar is truly one of a kind and I'm soooo grateful
to have an amazing team who I get to work with
regularly on Endurance Planet. This guy is truly a man
of many talents. 

It almost appears as if I've closed my eyes for a quick nap!
Haha, yea right, in my dreams. This was just around sunrise.
Notice how our team is NO LONGER alone... we had caught
up big time at this point. #fastteam

After that parking lot the route headed west and we got to chill on the beach.
It was so nice having the out-of-towners get a taste of our SoCal paradise.

Part of my breakfast that morning was Orange UCAN in my Betty bottle,
so delicious simply on its own! Had this before run #3.
Click here to find out more on UCAN and why it rocks.
Use "coachtawnee" for 15% off.

I also needed a bit more fuel before run #3 so I went with the tried and true:
Apple Pie Bonk Breaker. These were a hit with the team!

While we ran in a new day on Saturday, Van 2 crew finally
got some naps in. 

I was a tad nervous about my third run. Two runs totaling about 10 miles at the hardest pace I'd run in ages and not easy routes, no sleep, cracked out, eating/drinking through the night.... then running 4.3 miles up Torrey Pines and through La Jolla?! What did I sign up for here, I thought?? But I was loving it and certainly wasn't nervous like I've been in past races. We were all asking each other our realistic pace prior to starting a run, and this time I was basically like, "I really don't know.... somewhere between 35-40 minutes is probably safe." I got it in 35min, and up Torrey kept it at a 9:30 avg. After that I dug deep like none other and went balls out to run in the low 7's on average. Interestingly my HR was more depressed on this last run and didn't reach the 170s until the very end. Up Torrey it remained ~165-168, which was low to me especially given the effort I was going. But at the end I was making some major kills (more on that soon) and passing groups. One guy I passed didn't seem too happy and he tried to pass back near the finish but I held him off! I think I got as fast as 5:20 pace during those final miles. When I reached Lucho for the pass of the baton, I literally was putting on the brakes as you can see. I didn't fall over, but I certainly did need to chug water and keep moving to walk it off.

That's what Torrey pines looks like on the charts. I guess I did have some
flat and downhill in this one ;)

Does anyone pay attention to NGP vs actual pace? I'd
never relied on it for much, but interesting to see.
I did have one stop this time too but it didn't register.
I made about 20 kills on this run, including that guy behind me who wasn't
happy about my passing him and he was trying to catch me but didn't!
BAM! That certainly got my HR to the 170s lol.

Putting on the brakes and making the last exchange with the Luch-man.

Ah, that feeling of being done. So happy! Haha.

So making kills. This is a Ragnar thing, and it was fun especially for us. As I said, our team started dead last so for most of Friday we were all alone and/or only a few other runners around at any given time. But around those ugly 1-3am hours were were clearly making up time and catching teams. It went from arriving to near-empty parking lots to arriving at the party at every exchange with dozens and dozens of vans, runners and commotion! Wow! Making a kill basically means passing and overtaking another runner, thus moving up the ranks. I made a few kills in my first couple runs, then 20ish by my last one! Others on our team were making 30+ kills, and at the end Brock (our last runner) said he lost count on all his kills--too many. That was extremely motivating for our team, clearly. This group we had was a bunch of badasses who wanted it, who gave 100 million percent of their bodies and who did amazing things that had my jaw dropping in awe of pure athleticism and talent. Even my sister had all-time PRs for the given distances on her runs. As one runner, Sal, put it, "I was inspired by the athleticism around me and found that extra gear to go faster."

Magnets get placed all over the vans...
We truly had a uniquely special team. We thrived off one another, and the performances were inspiring. Our team ranged in age from mid-20s to mid-50s, and all were badass athletes.

In fact, 26:44 meant we averaged 8:48 pace, which includes any stops at lights (part of the rules and for general safety--you have to wait; it's an open course) as well as a minor mistake of Lucho going off course for a mile. Total elevation gain must have been more than 10k I'd guess. So all that considered, keeping it sub-9 officially? Rad! It got us 55th overall, and 10th in our division. Fast times and high rankings, again, were not something I was "needed" from this. But little did I know we were in it to win it! Well, maybe not win it; although not impossible. The overall winning team went 21:xx. Shave off 5 hours? Hm! Next time (oh, and there WILL be a next time)!!!

We officially finished at 3pm-something in Mission Bay on the sand among chaos and traffic. A perfect Saturday in San Diego plus wll the Ragnar'ers in that one little area?? MAYHEM! My van had been done since noon-ish, and we even got to take a siesta on the grass at mission bay before Van 2 finished. I slept like a rock even with people walking and talking all around me haha.

Upon finishing I think there were mixed emotions--runner's highs, stoked on how well we did, sad but happy that it was over, clearly tired, a bit delirious and not necessarily looking forward to driving the couple hours back to OC.

Sweet, sturdy hardware for finishing!

Most of us at the finish line. #whereslucho?

We did make time for a pitstop at Stone Liberty Station to enjoy celebratory drinks, food and sharing stories. Shockingly, only one person dozed off at the table, otherwise, we were all in great spirits despite running on fumes at that point (I guess good beer/wine is enough to wake someone back up). Prior to the race John and I made special trophy awards to hand out in our own EP Awards Ceremony. Things like "Biggest Caffeine Addict," "Outstanding Performance" and "Scariest Driver" were up for grabs; we also had other cool schwag to give away, including a LifeBeam Smart Hat or few.

Sleepy driver dozing off. Too funny!

Photo-bombing one of our outstanding runners, Mike
Wasserman. He earned this award. He's in his 50s and
ran like the wind on some of the hardest routes!

Yes, we have Groupies at Endurance Planet, and their love
and obsession does not go unnoticed ;)
So, that, in a nutshell, was Ragnar! Everyone keeps asking: When do we get to do it again?!!?!? (And for real--we're planning another one already. Want in?)


Sunday Funday with my boys!
It wasn't quite over after Saturday, thank goodness. Sunday was special in its own way: John, Brock, Lucho and I just chilled in Laguna, drank tons of coffee, recorded a podcast, hobbled around town, grabbed some adult beverages, and just talked nonstop all day from early morning till nearly midnight. We had burgers, and lots of good eats to replenish. It was one of those special days with my favorite guys that I'll never forget.

I'm so glad I had that extra day to hang out with them. I had mostly been separated from them when I was in Van 1; they were all in Van 2. That's the one big negative of a 12-person team--the two vans get very little interaction during the course of the event so you didn't even get to be around half your team. Grr...


Next up in the ongoing adventures:

- John and I are crewing Michelle and Majo for the Salton Sea Badwater Ultra (81 miles) May 3-4, a job I've wanted to have ever since I learned what ultra meant! Can't wait! Lots of podcasts/pictures/blogging/social media to come on that....

- My MARATHON! I'll be running my marathon on May 24, and according to Maffetone, I'm "ready" for it (ready as I'll be). He's given me four more specific long runs to do. Good times!


Speaking of good times, I think this guy and I are made for each other, huh:

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