Thursday, October 2, 2014

Napa Ragnar (Part 2)

[I meant to post this last night, but we had some wicked storms blow through St. Louis and we lost electricity for a bit.]

I think I might still be recovering from my Ragnar adventure, or at least that is what I keep telling myself on nights that I fall asleep before 8 p.m., like Tuesday night.  On to part 2 of my Napa Adventure!

On Friday morning, the 19th, Van 1 had an early wake-up call to be at the starting line at 4:30 a.m., which was an hour before our team's official start time.  Our anticipated start time for Van 2 was 10:30 a.m., which meant that we had to be at exchange 6 no later than 9:30 a.m. to check-in and listen to our mandatory safety briefing.  We decided that based on our arrival time at exchange 6, that we would need to leave the Marina Motel by 7:45 a.m. to allow us time to drop off excess luggage at Kate's house and grab a bite to eat before we made our way to the exchange.  I think Sarah knew my number when she told us the night before "I'm not one of those people that says 7:45 and we actually leave at 7:50.  When I say 7:45, I mean wheels up at 7:45, so don't be late."  Duly noted, SBS!

Smitha and I ready to roll!
Smitha and I headed out the door just after 7:40 and met up with the rest of our Van 2 gals (Sarah, Jodi, Melissa, and JMart) to load up the van and move out.  We drove through the Presidio on the way to Kate's house and we happened upon a male cyclist wearing a Strava kit.  Since Strava is one of Another Mother Runner's gracious sponsors, Sarah suggested we get a photo of this jolly bicyclist.  Melissa was riding shotgun, so she grabbed her phone and got some great action shots and also offered a friendly "hoot" his way (he was rather attractive once we got the front view!).  He seemed a little caught off guard at first, but he warmed up and gave us a rather sheepish smile.

We got to Kate's house in due time and she lived in a darling, quintessential San Francisco neighborhood; a picture perfect front stoop and gorgeous bay windows.  We unloaded the non-running luggage and made our way to the Golden Gate Bridge to drive into Marin County to find food and exchange 6.  On the way to the Golden Gate Bridge, we turned on "Lights" by Journey, which was a fitting song for our adventure and we had the first of many Van 2 sing-a-longs.

We found another Noah's New York Bagels fairly near to the exchange point and grabbed some breakfast.  There were several other stores in this particular strip mall, including a grocery story, so Sarah and Melissa were able to go grab ice and water for our van while we ordered and waited for our food.  We were in good company at Noah's, as many other Ragnar teams had stopped for sustenance.  I loved all of the creativity among the teams; my favorite team shirts from this stop included "Kiss My Asphault" and "Misters, Sisters, and Blisters."

After breakfast, we drove to exchange 6 and I was amazed at all of the vans!  This was the first major exchange (where Van 1 and Van 2 meet for the first of three times in the race) and there were vans everywhere!  This was also another great opportunity to experience the creativity among the teams.  One of the vans had created a huge, sparkly tiara out of cardboard and affixed it to the top of their van.  This spoke to many of us in our van, not the least of which was our resident #Princess Jodi!  We ended up seeing that van several more times and it felt like Jodi just kept on chasing that tiara!
The #Swagnar tent, chock full of Ragnar goodies!
We began the process of checking in; getting our Rag Mag (the race bible which included directions to the exchange points, race contests, vendor information, etc.), listening to the safety orientation where they warned all of the teams about the excessive heat predicted for the next day (more on that in another post), picking up our orange safety flags, which were to be used when non-runners crossed the street during the race, and getting our Ragnar shirts.  The major exchange points were large enough to allow for teams to sleep and rest.  There were vendor booths and plenty of port-a-potty's (Honeybuckets.  Seriously, that was the name of the port-a-potty company.  It's kind of genius.).

Sierra Nevada Brewing Company had a clever booth at exchange 6.  They had tables set out with hundreds of blank post cards and pens.  Ragnarians could write a postcard to anyone they'd like, put it in the mailbox next to the tent, and Sierra Nevada would mail it for you.  I thought that was a really creative and clever idea and so I sent a postcard to Matt.  It arrived a few days after I got home, but it's the thought that counts!  I also enjoyed sampling some Strawberry Lemonade Nuun and I think it's my new favorite flavor, yum!  I also stopped by the Scott James Jewelry booth to swoon over the cute Napa Valley charm and the Ragnar charm.

Listening to the safety briefing at exchange 6
Sarah picking up our Rag Mag and safety flags
We also took the opportunity to take a few photos while Dimity finished leg 6.  We cleverly came up with different poses for our pictures and I admit, I was clueless when Sarah suggested we take our photo with a particular hand gesture.  I can't even claim that it was sleep deprivation because that had yet to begin.  She said "It's a hashtag!"  Good gracious.  #DuhLaura  My entire entry was based on hashtags and I didn't even recognize it when Sarah made the hand gesture.  #Oops!

Sarah and I rocking the #tutus and the #hashtag
BAMRR's (minus Dim who was finishing her leg)  L-R:  back row Kelly, Jodi, Melissa, Smitha, me, SBS, JMart, and Lisa.  Front row:  Jen Lewis, Erin, and Kim 
Van 2 (aka Van Temporarily Displaced...a lot) L-R:  Jodi, Me, Smitha, SBS, JMart, and Mel (kneeling)
I also took the opportunity to take a photo for my Dad.  I wanted to do something in Napa in his honor and I thought about putting something on one of my shirts ("Bob's Daughter" or "I Run for Dad"), but honestly, as time was running away on me during the days leading up to the race, I reminded myself that he would be with me, because I wear his wedding ring every day.  One of my teammates, Melissa, found out about a medical concern in regards to her Dad after we finished our shakeout run on the Golden Gate Bridge the day before and he was, naturally, on her mind.  We all felt for her and were keeping her dad and her family in our thoughts and prayers.  She wanted to do something for her Dad, too, so she made a sign for him and took a photo with it to send to him.  I asked her if I could borrow it, too, and she sweetly let me take a quick photo of it.  It was a perfect gesture for Dad!  (Thanks, Mel! I really appreciated this sweet gesture!)

Always on my mind, even in the middle of Marin County, CA.  #LoveyouDad
Dimity crushed her leg and she was running into the exchange before we knew it.  I missed seeing her run into the exchange and hand off to Mel, but I know that the Van 1 girls were there to cheer them on.  We quickly left the exchange because Mel's first leg was short and she is speedy!  About a week before the race, Ragnar notified runners that exchange 7 would be a pick-your-own exchange, meaning there would not be a dedicated exchange point, but rather an exchange "zone."  Given that this was at exchange 7, this impacted Melissa (runner 7) and I (runner 8). I looked at the exchange zone on the map on the Ragnar website and it looked like it amounted to about a mile in distance.  Melissa and I quickly talked about our game plan in the van on the way to the exchange, but in hindsight, I guess we never really locked down a plan.  Melissa asked when I wanted to start to run and I said that it didn't really matter to me, because it truly didn't.  Since we both were going with the flow, we settled on meeting up at some point in the mile long exchange zone.  The rest of us in Van 2 would set out to the exchange and when we saw her, we'd switch off.  This would have been an ok game plan if we hadn't had a little detour on the way to exchange 7.  So began our adventure as the van that was "temporarily displaced...a lot." 

In the interest of our belief that "what happens in the van, stays in the van," I am leaving out the names of all involved parties, but as we headed out of exchange 6, we were following the directions in the Rag Mag.  We made a right out of the exchange, and then another right, and headed straight for a few miles.  At this point, the directions read something to the effect of "Keep on hwy xxx for 24 miles."  It took all of us a quick minute until our driver said "Wait, the next exchange is only about 3 miles away."  Uh-oh.  Turns out we had been following the directions for the inactive van (Van 1).  Not to worry, though, as we quickly remedied our path and in reality, probably hadn't gone more than a few miles out of the way. 

As we approached the exchange zone, it became somewhat clear as to why this point had not been a definitive exchange point, as parking seemed to be quite limited.  It's our best guess that the race directors thought it best to alleviate the parking bottleneck by enlarging the exchange zone.  We drove through the exchange zone hoping to see Melissa, but to no avail.  We didn't really panic at that point, because we didn't know exactly where the exchange zone ended.  We found a parking lot at the local library and got out to stand on the race course, as we noticed several other groups of people waiting for their runners, too.  After chatting with these people and a few runners that went by we confirmed a few things. 1) This was essentially the end of the exchange zone and 2) no one had seen our teammate in her fearless hot pink tutu.  

At this point, we started to get a little concerned because we hadn't passed Melissa as we drove through the exchange point and we now knew that this point was the end of the exchange zone, so we had either missed her or she hadn't reached the zone yet.  We figured the later was highly unlikely, though, given Melissa's faster pace.  Sarah and I decided to walk down the street a bit to head towards the earlier spot in the exchange zone to see if perhaps Melissa was back there.  We mulled over several options as we walked.  Would she have kept running past the exchange zone and started my leg?  Would she borrow someone's phone since she didn't have hers with her?  If she did borrow someone's phone, how would she get a hold of us since we all had our numbers programmed into our cell phones and didn't know them by heart?  

We ran into a few fellow Mother Runner's near the beginning of the exchange zone and asked if they had by chance seen Melissa and unfortunately, they had not either.  At this point, we figured it might be best to put something on social media in the hopes that if Melissa borrowed a phone from someone that she might post on our Facebook page or Twitter.  I put a quick note on our Facebook page asking her to call me and I left my cell phone number.  I inadvertently alarmed van 1 with my post (sorry gals!), but it was a necessity at the time.  Sarah and I walked back to the van and our teammates and I suggested that I just start running my leg in the hopes that I would meet up with Melissa at some point.  We agreed that was the best plan at the moment and my teammates said they would continue to drive the course to look for Melissa.  The only caveat to me starting to run my leg would be that I didn't have our team's slap bracelet, which was the item used to pass off between runners.  Sarah assured me it would be ok as long as I stopped running before I entered the exchange chute for exchange 8.  I would need to make sure I had the slap bracelet from Melissa before I entered the chute, which was fair enough.

In all honesty, the pick-your-own exchange concept was not well executed at all.  I know we weren't the only team to have a displaced runner on this leg and I think that in retrospect, the exchange should have been moved slightly to an area that could have accommodated the vans.  Or at least, at a minimum, the exchange zone should have very clearly been defined with signs indicating the start and end points of the zone.  I think our team did a fantastic job of logically thinking through the situation and we handled it as best we could with equal parts humor, concern, and strategic thinking.  

TMI warning for the faint of heart.  Before I set out on my run, I needed to pee.  I had 5.6 hard miles on the books and there was no sense in making it harder by having a full bladder.  I hoped that the library, where we parked our van, would be open so I could use the restroom, but unfortunately they were closed all day due to staff training.  I would be willing to wager that the staff training was strategically planned to correspond with the Ragnar race to avoid the likely rush of runners (ahem, me) who needed to use the facilities.  Desperate times call for desperate measures, so Sarah Badass Shea taught me how to pop a squat right there in the library parking lot.  The concept seems easy enough, I suppose, but I was perplexed as to how to accomplish this feat without peeing on my clothes.  Note: when it comes to nature, I am not a badass.  Sarah showed me the method and we had a nice bonding moment over peeing in unusual places.  Another note:  I stuck to HoneyBuckets from there on out.  It's not my preferred choice, but it ranks slightly higher than popping a squat in a public parking lot.  

Ready to take on Leg 1
After my bonding moment with SBS, I headed out on my run.  My girls cheered me on from the road and I set out on a trail near the library.  The trail didn't last too long and shortly into my run, I was running in a fairly residential area.  The van ran by me early on in my run and honked and cheered before turning around to backtrack and look for Melissa.  I knew most of the first part of my run was a gradual uphill, but I learned quickly on that a "hill" was actually what I would call a "mountain."  I made it up the first incline, but shortly after that, I stopped for a walk break.  I didn't feel too bad, in all honesty though, because I noticed ultra runners walking up this bad-boy mountain, too.  Many of the people who passed me on this leg would wish me good luck and comment on the gnarly elevation increase.  

There was a fair amount of construction on this stretch of my run and the construction workers appeared to be on their lunch break.  I said hello to all of them and had a nice chat with one of the older men who was eating his lunch in the shade.  He asked me what I was doing with a bit of incredulity because he had watched so many runners go by.  I explained that we were running a relay race from San Francisco to Calistoga and he wished me luck.  He also kindly mentioned that I was about 2/3 of the way up the hill and that it would be downhill soon enough.  

Shortly after my chat with the construction worker, I saw a much needed water station and took the opportunity to drink a few cups of water and fill up my water bottle.  By this point, I had been constantly fiddling with my phone trying to get my AMR podcast to work or my Spotify playlist.  Sadly, cell service was super spotty so nothing was working, but I tried to enjoy the sensation of running naked electronically and enjoy my surroundings.

Beginning the downhill after the epic uphill climb
The cows I saw on my first leg.  I'm a Missouri girl, but it still tickled me to run past cows.  I thought the boys would appreciate this picture, too.  
The rest of my run was pretty uneventful, but in a good way. I really did enjoy my surroundings and I got a kick out of all of the costumes I saw and van decorations.  I had a large number of runners who passed me, but I loved talking to all of them.  I said "hi" and "good job" to everyone who passed me and we all commiserated about the hill and the heat (by this point, it was getting pretty hot outside).  There were a few folks who were really focused on their race and were therefore, less chatty, but I understand, and respect, that too.  

As I came into the exchange, I noticed that Jodi wasn't there and I stopped before I entered the chute because I worried about not having the slap bracelet.  I saw Smitha and JMart and they mentioned that they had caught up with Melissa (I was so relieved!) and that she had given the slap bracelet to Jodi, who started her leg while I was finishing mine, which was perfect.  I thought about suggesting that to the team during my run, but it slipped my mind just as soon as it entered it.  JMart and Smitha had an ice cold bottle of water for me, which tasted heavenly!  We met up with Melissa and Sarah at the van and headed out to the next exchange to get Jodi.  

Jodi beat us to the exchange, so Sarah hopped out of the van quickly and started her first leg.  Sarah had some crazy long legs, so we weren't as frantic getting to the next exchange.  We drove to the next exchange and cheered on the runners as we drove by, including Sarah (a.k.a. Champy).  I have a new found appreciation for cow bells.  I don't know how I've made it this far in my running career without one, but I am so glad Melissa brought a few for us to share.  I need to invest in one for my future races!

Sarah came blazing into her exchange like the badass she is and JMart was on her way.  While JMart ran, we took a little time at the exchange to freshen up, refill our water bottles, and eat a bit of sustenance.  It was nice to rest for a little while, especially since we found a few picnic tables in a shady spot.  

Sarah passing off to JMart
As we headed to the next exchange, Melissa and I were able to stop and give JMart some cold water about midway through her leg.  We picked a bit of a precarious spot to stop on the highway (near a blind curve), but we were able to safely cross and give her water and a hug.  JMart had a gnarly, lengthy leg, too, much like Sarah, but in true JMart fashion, she nailed it!

One of the fun parts of Ragnar is van tagging; some vans get team magnets and stick them on other vans, while others use paint pens and write on other vans.  Jen Lewis from van 1 crafted some darling #FearTheTutu magnets for our team to tag other vans with and it was a lot of fun.  The key is to be stealthy and make sure the other van does not see you do it.  This was another area for the teams to showcase their creativity and I loved all of the van tags.  My favorite, below, is a reference to the movie "Ted."  

Thunder Buddies for Life!
We made it to the next exchange and Smitha got ready for her leg.  As runner 12, I'm sure she was itching to start running, as it was late afternoon by this point!  While we were waiting for JMart to come in, I found a runner whose shirt I had admired earlier in the day at one of the other exchanges.  I wanted to take a picture, but I didn't want to be a creeper, so I grabbed her attention, told her I loved her shirt, and asked if I could take a picture.  She had cleverly used the word "Ragnar" to spell out Running hAGiven my Newest dreAms a Reality.  It was one of my favorite shirts!
Smitha getting ready to throat punch her leg!
I love this shirt!
As JMart came into the exchange, we cheered her on and sent Smitha on her way.  We were all getting excited because we knew that when Smitha was done, it would be time for us to eat and rest while Van 1 began their second legs.

JMart passing the slap bracelet (and a hug) to Smitha
When we got to exchange 12, we were so excited to see our Van 1 teammates!  That is the one bittersweet thing about Ragnar; only getting to see the other van intermittently throughout the race.  We tried to make the most of the little time we had with them, though.  There were more silly photo opps, hair braiding tutorials for the short-haired BAMRR's, and the swapping of runners tales from the day. 
SBS, me, and Dimity. I only geeked out a little bit. These women are awesome and 100% badass!
Sarah sporting the sassy bang braid that Erin taught us

Things become super funny when you are sleep deprived, but this was entertaining no matter what.  Sarah brought this Saucony recovery suit and swears by its restorative powers.  
Waiting for Smitha at this exchange was really fun since we had Vans 1 and 2 together.  There was lots of energy and laughter and cheering when we saw Smitha run into the chute.  Smitha was so jubuilant when she came in.  She was the epitome of runner's high and it was so awesome to see!  She had a great run that involved some sing-a-longs to "Sound of Music" songs, if I remember correctly!  There's nothing like singing "the hills are alive..." while you are climbing up the mountains in northern California! 

Jen (Runner 1) rocking the night-time gear as she waits to start her second leg
I adore this picture of Smitha and Jen hugging at the exchange.  Badass love!
If this doesn't perfectly illustrate runner's high, I don't know what does.  Smitha after finishing her first leg. 
As we said good-bye to Van 1 as they began their second legs of the race, our van decided it was time for food, so we walked a few blocks to Chipotle and had a nice dinner outside.  We had been snacking all day, but hadn't had a full meal since breakfast at Noah's earlier that day, so having a good meal was delightful.  We headed back to the van and headed to the next major exchange (18), which was about 45 miles away.  

This particular exchange was at an aquatic center, so showers were available to those who wanted to make use of it.  None of us did, though.  I feel like not taking a shower is part of the Ragnar experience and frankly, it seemed like far too much work to get all of my toiletries out of my bag, get my towel, a change of clothes, etc... and take a shower.  It just seemed like it wasn't worth the trouble.  It was nice to have a real restroom, though!  JMart made friends with one of the nice guys from the local rugby team who were volunteering at this exchange and he gave us some much needed batteries for her headlamp.  

We found a flat, grassy area near some tennis courts and made camp there.  It was about 9 p.m. on Friday night and we estimated that we had until about 1 a.m. on Saturday until Dimity ran into the exchange point.  JMart, Melissa, and I shared the two blankets from the Marina Motel that the owner had kindly lent us.  We put one down to sleep on and used the other as a blanket.  It was actually quite chilly outside and I was glad to have the blankets from the hotel, since I had only brought a huge beach blanket (anticipating that I would be warm, as usual, and would therefore not need a blanket or sleeping bag).  

It was a gorgeous night and I loved laying underneath the stars, which is something I don't ever do.  I love star-gazing, though, and should make this more of a habit.  JMart and I had some giggles trying to take selfies in the dark before we fell asleep.  It took me a bit to get comfy, but I finally found a good sleeping spot on my stomach of all places (I'm normally not a stomach sleeper) and I think I actually got about 3 hours of sleep here and there, which is pretty decent in Ragnar world.  A few girls next to us woke up at one point and were frantically packing up their stuff because they saw sprinklers come on in another area of the parking lot and it got a few runners wet.  I guess they were worried about sprinklers coming on in our area and in hindsight, maybe I should have been, too, but I was so tired it didn't really register with me.  
In the dark selfie! We kept trying to click the button to take a photo and we didn't know if it was taking at all, but as soon as the flash went off we quickly jumped into selfie mode. 
Around 12:15, Melissa gently woke us up and said that Dimity would be running into the exchange point sooner than expected, in about 10 minutes.  We quickly got up, went to the restroom, and I changed into my leg 2 outfit since I would be running relatively soon after Dimity handed off the bracelet to Melissa at the exchange.  

I think that is a good ending spot for today's recap, but there are more Ragnar adventures to follow!

My awesome "You've Got This" shoe tag from my friend, Amy, and the sweet, sparkly "badass" shoe charm from my teammate, Jodi.

In the days leading up to the race, as we were discussing room arrangements on our group Facebook page, JMart had a great quote (below). 

"I didn't sign up for this venture to sleep!"