A couple weeks ago I was invited to join a friend’s Ragnar Relay Napa team (the Luscious Lushes). It was a last minute invite (definitely my style) so I hadn’t been thinking about training or preparing for it in any way shape or form. But they were short on runners and I’m a runner who happens to love relays (and wine!) so I decided to go for it.
It wasn’t really a difficult a decision for me given I’m a bit of a relay veteran – I’ve completed several relays with TheRelay (Calistoga to Santa Cruz), The Reno-Tahoe Odyssey and most recently Ragnar SoCal with my SweatPink sisters.
Shortly after my decision to join, however, I learned that we were short a few runners. The week leading up to the race, we had only 9 out of 12 runners confirmed. Given the majority of my team were relay virgins, I volunteered myself for a long distance leg and an extra leg if need be.
My amazing and very resourceful teammates managed to secure two more runners a mere two days before the race but one additional runner just wasn’t in the cards. On Thursday (the day before the race), we had 11 out of 12 runners confirmed. Since I had volunteered to do an extra leg, I signed myself up for both legs #2 and #5 for a total of 38 miles (give or take). And while it isn’t the farthest I have ever run, it was definitely my first time doing a relay ultra style. Relays not only require the ability to run the distance but to run at all hours of the day and night on very little sleep. Running 38 miles in a bunch of short spurts was different than anything I’ve ever done before and needless to say, I was both excited and nervous about the challenge.
Around 5:15 am on Friday morning, I met my teammates and we hopped in our weekend mobile home (AKA big white van) to begin our journey from San Francisco to Calistoga.
My van (van #1) consisted of five runners: 4 ladies (one who is 5 months pregnant!!!) and a dude. Van #2 had a last minute drop out and was also 4 ladies and a token dude (they split up the other leg amongst themselves – a couple people ran 4 legs vs. 3 – did I mention how badass my team was??!!!).
The next 24+ hours were amazing – filled with laughter, running, sweaty clothes and a lot of strange van smells. I went into the relay knowing one person on the team and came out having 9 new friends who each inspire me to be a better runner:
- Stephanie: This kick ass lady is 5 months pregnant and doesn’t take shit from anybody. She is a total road warrior – climbing hills, passing other runners – making every mile look easy. And of course she kept us all laughing throughout the race (she has the BEST stories). Oh and the girl can drive (and park) a big white van like nobody’s business.
- Katie: Incredible, incredible woman! Katie completed her longest run to date off the treadmill and did so with the most amazing energy, enthusiasm and grace I’ve ever seen. She is a wonderful teammate – she is so good at keeping everyone on track and making sure the team was taken care of. What I loved most, however, was watching her fall in love with running…I think she has really, truly caught the running bug!
- Lauren: I would best describe Lauren as a quiet storm. She would start each of her legs – no matter the mileage – with an incredible ease and then reappear at each exchange looking just as strong as she did on her first leg. Aside from being a quiet badass, Lauren and I share quite a bit more than running in common – our affinity for black clothing, working for fitness companies, and of course startup life.
- Johnny: Our token dude, driver and most adorable programmer I’ve ever met. Not only did he put up with 4 girls for over 24 hours talking about pregnancy, girl stuff, and everything in between, he also ran like a boss. After his second leg, he felt like he had a lot more to give and offered to switch final legs with me. Basically he offered to take my slightly hillier 4.9 miles and in exchange I got his slightly less hilly 3.9 miles. He is a rock solid dude and a great post race beer buddy, to boot!
- Spending time with amazing people
- Wearing construction safety vests. Yup, that’s right, construction vests, baby! We don’t need no stinking running vests, we just go with the real deal. I think next year we’ll have to incorporate construction workers into our theme…hmmm…..No but seriously, they were so large on all of us and we had to get creative and tie them up, knot them in the middle and tuck them in just to make them work. I especially loved walking into a grocery store in my giant vest and headlamp – I looked like I was wearing a tacky, yellow mesh dress because it was so much longer than my shorts. Ha.
- Rescuing a teammate from a ditch filled with thorns. Nuff said.
- Watching another teammate help our thorny, scratched up teammate spread Neosporin all over her butt to help with the sting. Again, nuff said.
- Watching Stephanie at 5 months pregnant passing a group of like 10 runners going up a hill (seriously, amazing and inspiring!)
- Breakfast at Gott’s after our third and final leg – best (and saltiest) hashbrowns ever!
- The post race beer garden. Sunshine, beer and new friends. What more is there to say?
- The giant and strange post race wine country house with an aviary and exotic cats…oh and an MTV style European pool party…seriously
And now, the hairy details:
Leg 1: We started the race at 7:15am. Our first runner, Stephanie (who is 5 months pregnant) kicked everything off with a speedy (yes, speedy!) 3 miler. We had to practically race back to the van to ensure we’d make it to the next exchange in time. I was waiting only a couple minutes before she came all but flying into the exchange…and I was off for my first of 6 legs. I was the lucky runner who got to run the Land’s End trail and then over the Golden Gate Bridge (about 5.5 miles / 8:40 minute miles). I loved every minute of this very familiar leg with the exception of the half mile or so on the sand. It was hilly, beautiful, and the temperature outside was nothing short of perfect.
Our next couple of legs took us through the Marin area. Runners #3 and #4, Katie and Lauren also sped through their first legs. When Lauren came into the exchange I almost couldn’t believe it was time to run again. My second leg, leg #5 was a hilly, hot and hard 6.5 miles through the Marin hills (somewhere near Strawberry). My run consisted of mostly sidewalks and GIANT, beautiful homes. I enjoyed passing a bunch of runners on the climb but also worried that I was pushing it a little too much given I still had 4 additional legs ahead of me – two of which were over 8 miles each. After about 6.5 miles (doing 8:40 minute miles) I handed off to our token dude, Johnny who took off like a bat out of hell and came in looking like it was just another run in the park….and then van #2 was off!
Leg 2: We hung out at the next exchange in Petaluma while our other van was out running their first legs. Most of my van hung out in the van (Johnny was actually programming) but I was way too hot and sweaty to sit still for very long. I went out and explored the grounds, got a FREE 5 minute massage and then sipped iced tea in the shade with my van mate, Lauren who I found out works at DailyBurn (worlds collide!).
We eventually got the call that van 2 was nearing the exchange and went to get ready for our next set of legs. Stephanie was running her longest leg of the relay (6.5 miles) and with the heat, we wanted to make sure she had more than enough water stops. Every time we pulled over, we’d see her passing people and absolutely crushing them on the hills. She’s 5 months pregnant (I can’t get over it!) and still so competitive and fast – did I mention how inspiring this woman is?
I started my 3rd leg on a track in Petaluma surrounded by kids running laps for what I assume was a P.E. class. I was weaving in and out of the clusters of kids feeling mostly awkward for interrupting their track workout and then I was out on a trail cruising for a quick and easy 4.7 miles (8:13 minute miles). Katie took the baton from me and was off for her longest leg of the relay (6.7 miles) and once again, came in much faster than anticipated. Next up was Lauren who had a long 8.3 mile run in the dark with no van support. It was her first night run and she was going to be unsupported so I gave her my hand bottle to ensure that she’d have water out there on the course and a good pocket for her cell phone. Despite her nerves about the nighttime running, she came in quick and handed off to me for my longest leg of the relay – 8.6 miles. The sun was setting and it was time for safety vests, reflective gear and blinky lights – I absolutely love night running (despite having to wear safety vests) and had one of my very best legs ever. I was running out on a long, open road as the sun was starting to set and it was not only beautiful…but also fast. I had been pretty nervous about this particular leg – mainly because it was long and my 4th one – but it turned out to be one of my favorites. I came in at an 8:06 minute mile pace and felt pretty proud of myself. I handed off once again to Johnny and he wrapped up our last leg of the night around 11:30 pm. We found some late night food for dinner – scarfed sandos and snacks – and made our way to the next exchange to get a little sleep..
Somewhere near the exchange we managed to get a little lost and confused – we were all tired and ready to lay down – but this particular part of the night made me love my team even more. Even though we were lost and things were a little fuzzy, everyone just dealt with it in such a positive way. Finding the exchange was an incredible display of teamwork and positive attitudes – love when everyone just handles it – no drama (or cranky attitudes) necessary. When we finally made it, we cleared off seats and drifted off for a few hours of much needed sleep.
We woke up around 4 am to the sounds of a van alarm blaring from somewhere in the parking lot. While annoying, it was probably a good thing given how early van 2 was getting in. We quickly got Steph (our first runner) ready and out the door for her final 3 mile leg and I quickly got myself together for my second long leg (8.3 miles). Just as we anticipated, Steph came in super fast and I was off again for my 5th leg (I barely had enough time to wake up!). My 5th leg was by far my least favorite of the 6. We were running up, up, up on a very narrow side of the highway (no sidewalk, just white lines). It was still really dark out so I was fully decked out in reflective gear and lights but getting blinded by every car and truck coming down the road. The wind was also howling a bit and blowing me from side to side. I think the only thing that kept me moving during this leg was the thought of getting off that horrible, scary road. And by the way, what the heck are all those people doing at 5am on a Saturday morning in Napa? Where were they all going?? I don’t think I’ve ever been happier than when that leg was over. I handed the baton off to Katie who had another 3 mile leg and would be followed by Lauren with a 4 mile leg – meaning not a ton of time to rest before my final 4.9 mile leg. Thankfully, Johnny was feeling up to running more miles and offered to switch legs with me. I gladly traded in my 4.9 miler for his 3.9 miler (which had a lot of downhill – yay!!). Plus, I got to hand off the bracelet to van 2 for their final set of legs which was a lot of fun.
The finish: Van 2 came in blazing again. Jess finished off the relay with a fast 5 miler and we all ran with her across the finish line. Celebration was definitely in order – meaning beer garden time! We enjoyed a couple of free beers (thanks Ragnar) and of course the sunshine before making our way to the house in Geyserville where we swam in the pool, relaxed in the hot tub and observed a very MTV-esque pool party taking place.
Needless to say, it was an epic weekend. Thanks to my teammates, the Luscious Lushes for being so incredible. I’m just glad I was able to complete all 6 legs and not disappoint y’all!
I knew only one person at the beginning of the race…and now have 9 amazing new friends who inspired me mile after mile. Ragnar Napa FTW!