Monday, October 6, 2014

Part 3 of my Napa Adventure

When we last left off in my Napa adventure, we were making our way over to the exchange zone as Dimity was set to come in at any minute to pass off to Melissa, thus beginning our second legs of the race.  We briefly saw our Van 1 teammates at the exchange and said a groggy "hi" and the next thing we knew, Dim was coming in.  She passed off to Melissa and we said goodbye to Van 1 so we could start to head to the exchange.  Mel had 6.6 miles on tap, but we wanted to be sure to get to the exchange zone in time to avoid missing her like we did the first time!

I realized as I listened to the Napa podcast yesterday that it is no longer a secret who was navigating when we got lost on the way to Exchange 7.  As Sarah mentioned, we never let JMart have the navigator spot again (sorry, JMart!  We love you, though, girl!) and I took over navigator duties with the help of Smitha.  I would give directions from the Rag Mag (which I got to keep as a souvenir for being the navigator.  So many memories from that book!) and Smitha would help double check the directions with the use of her smart phone.  The Rag Mag was ok, but some of the streets weren't identified properly in the Rag Mag.  For instance, as we were driving to the next exchange to meet Melissa, we were looking for Mendocino Avenue, however, Mendocino Avenue was actually called Broadway, I think, in the particular area where we were.  It turned into Mendocino Avenue a few blocks away.  Thank goodness for smart phones!

We drove through Santa Rosa and made it to the exchange point.  Parking was a little tricky at this exchange, so we ended up parking the van on the side of the road along with several other Ragnar vans.  I was loaded up with all of my nighttime running gear; pink reflective vest, red blinking light on the back of my shirt, headlight on (thanks, JMart, for letting me borrow yours!), and glow sticks aplenty on my wrists.  I was bouncing up and down at the exchange trying to pump myself up, but in reality, I was crazy nervous.  From the time I found out I would be running the race, the night leg had always been my biggest source of anxiety. I was worried about getting lost, although I was less concerned about this after running my first leg due to the fact that I was always around people and the course was fairly well marked, I was worried about mountain lions (irrational, yes, but still I was worried), and I was worried about being able to see, although I knew I would be running with a headlamp.  I am very much a night owl, so I wasn't as concerned about running at 1 or 2 a.m., other than the fact that I'd never run at that time before.

Don't let this face fool you; I was nervous as all get out at this point. 
My second leg was 5.5 hard miles with probably the most interesting elevation changes of all of my legs.  When we were picking our top 3 choices for the race to send to Sarah and Dimity, runner 8's legs intrigued me the most because of the elevation changes.  I knew this leg involved a huge uphill, but was blissfully followed by nearly 3.5 miles of downhill.

A few minutes after we arrived, Melissa was coming up the hill and we cheered her on as she handed the slap bracelet off to me.  This exchange was smack in the middle of the hill, so I started my leg going uphill.  It wasn't awful and shortly thereafter, I headed downhill for a bit.  I started to think that the hill hadn't been too bad and then just as soon as I thought that, we started heading up hill again.  Up the mountain, really.

This may be the only photo of me running as I head out for my second leg (thanks, JMart!)
This was another instance where I didn't feel guilty when I started to walk as nearly every single other runner was walking at this point, too.  There were probably a handful of people who ran past me and I gave them a very hearty "good job" because that hill was a beast!  In the course of a mile, our elevation changed nearly 400 feet!  We all commiserated with one another and I reminded my fellow runners that our next, and last, leg was 2, flat miles, which elicited a few sighs of relief.  

When I started out on my second leg, it was misting slightly, but it felt really good.  It was also quite foggy, but it kind of added to the ambiance.  There was only one brief moment during the entire leg, maybe about 30 seconds, where I couldn't see a red blinking light from a fellow runner in front of me, nor could I see a headlamp behind me, but I didn't worry too much.  

I remembered seeing on the map for this leg, that I would be running through a town called Sleepy Hollow and I was equal parts excited and creeped out.  It figures that my nighttime leg would go through a town with that name.  I had hope to find a sign with the town name on it, but I didn't see one, nor was I really looking as I didn't remember to look until after my leg was done.  It turns out that as I look at the map now, the Sleepy Hollow referred to on the map was actually a street name that my leg ran perpendicular to.  It's a miracle that I was Van 2's navigator with my less than stellar map reading capabilities!  

A little funny story from this leg involves the AMR podcast I was listening to, as I finally was in an area where my cell service wasn't spotty.  Sarah thought it was hilarious that I was listening to AMR podcasts during the race and asked me if it was like listening to them in stereo.  What can I say?  I'm a creature of habit and it was actually really nice listening to the podcast, particularly on my night run, because it felt like they were running with me.  In fact, it was so realistic, that when Dimity was talking about her upcoming (at the time, as I was catching up on older podcasts) Pike's Peak ascent and describing how the race course snakes up the mountain, I thought she was saying "snakes" and I nearly jumped out of my skin.  I am not normally afraid of snakes, but as I mentioned, the night leg had a bit of a spooky ambiance with the fog and the mist and there were a ton of leaves that looked like snakes on the ground.  I thought they were cypress tree seed pods, but when I googled those types of trees, they weren't the ones I saw.  In any case, I happened to be running through a bunch of whatever pods they were and so when Dimity said the words "snakes" on the podcast, I thought she was running with me and telling me that those leaves were snakes, so I jumped a bit until I remembered that I was just listening to a podcast. 

I only had minor nerves about mountain lions on this leg, mainly because it seemed pretty mountainous, particularly the uphill, but as I look at the Google map now, it was actually quite a residential area.  As I mentioned, too, I was almost always by other people, so there was really nothing to worry about.  

When I came to the crest of the hill, I was so excited to see that beautiful downhill!  I coasted down the hill for probably some of my best splits of the race.  Which brings me to another Ragnar tradition of sorts; kills.  A kill is when you pass someone else during your leg.  There were many vans tracking kills on their windows in addition to marking off each leg as it was completed.  We talked about this as a team and agreed it wasn't the best sportsmanship and that took away from the camaraderie of the race and running.  

At some point early on in the race as we were getting to know one another, JMart was telling us stories about she and her girlfriends when they get together.  It came up at one point that they used the term "throat punching" which we all thought was hilarious, so I jokingly asked if we could track "throat punches" instead of kills.  We didn't track kills or throat punches in our van and I was glad, because I do think it's a bit unsportsmanlike, but I admit, a teeny part of me wanted just to have one "kill."  Is it too much to ask to pass one runner?  Of course, the other part of me, said "who cares if you pass another runner?  Run your own race!"  In any case, I did pass two people on the downhill portion of the second leg (although does it count if they pass you, then you pass them?) and I quietly mentioned to JMart when I came into the exchange that I got two throat punches.  

Although, I was particularly irked when Melissa was telling us about one of her legs when another van pulled up along side the runner behind her and asked their teammate how she was doing (this part of the leg was uphill, if I remember correctly).  She replied that she was fine and when her teammates in the van asked how many kills she had, she said "just 8."  Her teammates told her "9's right there" clearly referring to Melissa, who could hear everything being said.  I was appalled because that is completely against what I feel like the running community should be.  Melissa shook it off and continued to be the badass that she is, but darned if that didn't piss me off.  Goodness knows I was "killed/throat punched" numerous times throughout the race and it didn't bother me in the slightest.  I said "good job" to everyone who passed me and I appreciated the runners who passed me and said "good job" or "you're almost there" or any other words of encouragement, too.  That, to me, is what running and racing is all about.  We are all runners, we all run our own paces, and we are all out here doing what we love, so why not support each other and encourage one another?  Ok, I'll get off my soap box now!

After my jubilant downhill stretch at the end of my second leg, I handed off to Jodi and we headed to meet her at the next exchange.  I think my leg began somewhere around 1 a.m. or 1:30 a.m. and I must say, it was by far my favorite leg.  It's absolutely true what everyone told me before the race; there is nothing like running outside in the middle of the night with nothing but you, the stars, and the moon, or in my case, me, the fog, and the mist.  It was completely outside my element, but I loved it.  It was challenging at first with the steep incline, but the downhill was amazing and I enjoyed the relative solitude of the night.  

Runner's high post-second leg
Smitha and I went with Sarah to meet Jodi at the exchange while Mel and JMart parked the van and as we were waiting, Sarah did her lunge matrix per Coach Bri's directions.  At this exchange, as at most exchanges, teams were cheering on their runners, but given that it was in the wee hours of the morning and this exchange was right across the street from an apartment complex, the race volunteers asked all of us to keep it down.  Most of us were happy to oblige, but some others either didn't hear the message or chose to ignore it.  A local police officer came out to offer another warning and it seemed to help.  I think it is really important to remember in races like Ragnar that you are running through many communities and causing a little bit of chaos given road closures or just general masses of extra people, so it is really important to be considerate and a good representative of the running community.

Sarah doing her lunge matrix before the start of her second leg
#PrincessJodi handing off to Sarah 
Sarah had a great second leg; we noticed what we thought was a pretty significant hill as we drove by the runners on the way to the exchange, but when she came into the exchange, she noted that it wasn't that bad at all.  At this exchange, we found our favorite race volunteer, Stephanie.  What I quickly learned early on in the race, is that it is super helpful to have a volunteer at the exchange chute calling the bib numbers as the runners come in so that you can be ready for the hand off from your teammate.  Unfortunately, this was not always the case and we didn't have the best volunteer experiences up until this point.  Stephanie was directing traffic like a boss (this exchange had a tricky parking situation) and directing runners, too.  She was firmly correcting runners who were in the way of oncoming traffic or incoming runners and she efficiently and clearly called out bib numbers as they came in the chute.  We decided that she need some love so, after Sarah passed the bracelet onto JMart, we hopped in the van and as we pulled out of the exchange, I rolled down the window and gave her some of our Larabar stash as we all thanked her for being such an awesome volunteer.  I hope that others thanked her, too, but I'm glad we showed her our appreciation.  She was truly a bright spot in the race! 

Early morning shenanigans at the exchange point as we waited for Sarah to hand off to JMart.  (JMart, Mel, and I)
At the next exchange, as we waited for JMart to come in and pass off to Smitha, Sarah and I decided to scope out the Honeybucket situation.  Just when it looked like we were going to have to pop a squat again, we found the port-a-potty's.  While waiting in line and on the walk back to the van, Sarah and I had a really lovely bonding moment and I thanked her again for the opportunity to be a part of the team.  We talked about my Dad passing and how this year had been so difficult.  I've felt a little lost when it comes to most everything and this has affected my eating habits and my running.  I told Sarah, though, that being a part of this Ragnar team had re-ignited my love of running, as it reminded me of the challenges of running, but also of the exhilaration of pushing past your boundaries, physically and mentally.  It was really nice spending some quality time one-on-one with Sarah!  

JMart came into the exchange not too long after we got back from the port-a-potty's and Smitha was off for her second leg.  I was again the navigator and I admit, I led us astray.  It's a bit of a sleepy haze as to what happened, but I think it was another instance of the streets in real time not matching the street names in the Rag Mag, but I'll take full responsibility for getting us off course.  We found some runners and when in doubt, we followed them, so soon enough, we found an exchange.  I remember someone in the van commenting on how small this seemed for one of the major exchanges, but we really didn't think anything of it.  Parking was a little tricky at this exchange, but Sarah did a badass parallel parking job with the van, which we were all quite impressed by.  At some point, Mel got a call from Dimity, I think, asking where we were.  We said we were at the exchange point and asked if they could see us, which they couldn't, since it became clear by now that we were at exchange 25, not 24.  Melissa came over to the van and told us we were in the wrong place, so we hightailed it out of the exchange and back-tracked to exchange 24.  We hoped that we wouldn't miss Smitha, but we got a phone call from van 1 saying that she had already come into the exchange and passed off to Jen Lewis.  We were going to try to play it off like we just weren't there yet and we told Dimity to tell Smitha that we would be there soon, but word got out that we had gone to the wrong exchange.  By this point, this was becoming second hat to us, though, so we shook it off and headed to the next big exchange to get some rest.  

We hit some traffic as we made it to the next exchange and I guess we determined it was construction traffic due to the earthquake damage.  We were so excited to see the sign for Napa on the highway and we had another sing-a-long to "Good Day" by the Nappy Roots.  It's a great song that I got hooked onto from one of the AMR podcasts and it was fun to sing along with the gals in the van.  There is a video of our sing-a-long floating around somewhere so I'll have to track it down!  

We made it to wine country! 
We found the next exchange and settled down into the van to take a little rest.  Sarah was out like a light in no time.  I thought I could sleep at the drop of a hat, but SBS has me beat for sure!  I think Sarah and I must have been the only ones able to sleep, though, because I woke up about an hour later and the van was empty.  Jodi, Mel, JMart, and Smitha had set out to picnic on the field where the exchange was and had a great time from what I hear.  I missed the "fat M&M's" story happen in real-time, but I heard about it when I woke up and I will forever think of peanut M&M's as fat M&M's. As I type the words, I can hear Smitha saying the words and laughing at herself because she had never seen a peanut M&M before.  

JMart snapped this shot of me sleeping in the van at exchange 30.  I think I fell asleep looking at my phone.  
When we knew Dimity was getting close to the exchange, we made our way over to the exchange area and caught up with our Van 1 friends.  It was always so nice seeing them at the major exchanges and hearing about their adventures and sharing our own!  At this exchange, I learned Sarah's lunge matrix, too!

Melissa getting ready for her third, and final, leg
Soon enough, Dimity came into the exchange zone and we grabbed a quick picture so she could post it on Strava before she handed the slap bracelet to Melissa.

Dimity handing off to Melissa for the last time
Melissa finished her last leg like a boss; she sprinted into the exchange zone like it was no one's business and before I knew it, I was off on my last leg.  It was bittersweet for sure, but I was looking forward to the quick and flat 2 mile leg ahead of me.

Melissa sprinting to the end of her last leg like the badass she is!
Ready to rock and roll for my last leg
My last leg began in a commercial area of Napa and then continued into wine country and some beautiful vineyards.  I ran for a bit with a gentleman who told me about getting lost on his last Ragnar experience in Southern California (Martha, I thought he might be one of your teammates, but I asked and he wasn't).  He and several other runners weren't sure if they were following the course but kept running for awhile before they figured out that they were, in fact, going in the wrong direction.  I can only imagine how that must have felt!  We ran together for awhile, which was nice, but then he went ahead, as I stopped to take some requisite selfies in the vineyards.

Vineyard selfie

I ran past the most exquisite strawberry stand about halfway through my run.  It was set back a bit from the road I was on, but I could smell the strawberries from the road and if I had brought cash with me on my run, I probably would have stopped to get one.  It was getting quite hot by this point and those strawberries smelled amazing!  I finished up my last leg by putting my new favorite jam ("Rather Be" by Clean Bandit featuring Jess Glynne) on repeat and I tried to savor every minute because I knew my race was coming to an end.  It was bittersweet handing off the slap bracelet to Jodi, but I was excited to get into the air conditioned van.  I gave Jodi a hug and told her "you got this" because I knew she had 9.4 miles for her last leg and she was a little nervous about it. 
Post-run picture in the vineyards of Napa
We were low on water and ice in the van and given that it was so hot and both Sarah and Jodi had epic final legs, we stopped at a local grocery store to get some more water and ice.  I decided it was a perfect time for an ice-cold Pepsi (it seems that much of the West Coast is Coke territory, so I was having Pepsi withdrawal) and a Popsicle.  The Popsicle rocked my world, for the record.  I was a sweaty mess but the Popsicle and Pepsi hit the spot.

This Popsicle was a delight after my last leg
We drove to the next exchange and saw Jodi at one point, so we honked and cheered as we went past.  We ended up at the exchange but we didn't see Jodi.  At some point, the runners split off from the way the vans were going, so this didn't concern us too much.  We found a restroom in Yountville and walked around for a bit.  It's a darling town and I made a note to come back with Mom when we did wine country after the race.

Hanging out in Yountville while Jodi ran her last leg
As the heat kept rising, we were getting concerned about Jodi, as there was no van support on this leg or the next.  In fact, there were several notes in the Rag Mag that said police officers would be out ticketing vans that pulled off the road.  We considered driving back along the route to see if we could find Jodi, but we were afraid we might miss her come into the exchange if we did that, so we stayed put.  Melissa and I walked down from the exchange point a few blocks to look for  Jodi and cheer on other runners.  Every runner that passed us looked so drained, emotionally and physically.  It was brutally hot and they had a gnarly leg.  I gave everyone that ran by a huge high five and congratulated them on finishing the beastly leg.  In fact, several times I referred to it as a "bitch of a leg" because it was.  One guy that ran by me thanked me for the high five and when I told him he was almost to the exchange point, he told me that he was an ultra runner and still had another leg after he was done with this one.  I was in awe, because the next leg was 11.4 miles on top of the 9.4 he had just finished!  Kudos to him!  

After a few minutes of greeting runners and giving out high fives, several of the runners told us our girl was coming up soon.  We were so relieved to hear that!  Melissa and I had brought a fresh bottle of cold water for her; rules be damned!  We were going to give that girl some fresh water no matter what.  Melissa had gone back to the van to check her phone to see if Jodi had called and I waited for Jodi to come in.  When I saw her tutu in the distance, I headed her way to give her the cold water.  I told her the exchange was just up the street and to the right and she was relieved to hear that.  She was such a trooper!  It was a beast of a leg and the heat did not help at all.  I stuck around for a few minutes after Jodi left to continue to encourage the other runners that went by and I really enjoyed that.  It was nice to be there to support them after such a hard leg.  We were in a residential area and there were two locals sitting outside in their backyard and I thanked them for letting us run through their community.  They said they really enjoyed watching the runners go by, which I thought was nice.  

I missed Jodi passing off to Sarah, but as we left the exchange, we were all worried about Sarah given the extraordinary heat and her long leg of 11.4 miles.  Sarah's leg was also no van support, but it did provide 3 water stations, so she didn't take her own water.  Melissa kicked into Mama Bear mode and said that we should go pick up more water and ice to help the runners on the course.  We all agreed and decided to help our fellow runners.  Melissa stopped at a market in Yountville and got some ice, baggies, bottled water, and Popsicles.  We started to travel the roads towards the next exchange and found one of the water stations from Jodi's leg.  Jodi had mentioned that race officials had told runners to ration the water at that station since they were running out of water.  She also told us the water was warm, yuck!  Two women were approaching the water station and I hopped out of our van to offer them bottled water and baggies of ice.  As I approached the women, I could tell they were trying to get water out of the coolers.  I offered them some of our bottled water and some ice packs.  They were really appreciative and it was nice helping out fellow runners.  I told them they were doing a great job and that the exchange point was just a little ways away.  

As we drove towards the next exchange, we saw Sarah on the course and we honked and cheered for her as she waved us on.  We drove a little ways ahead and pulled off the road to wait for her to offer her some ice and water.  When we saw her come up to the van, we knew that it was a difficult run and that this leg was not going as planned.  I will never forget the look on her face as she approached the van.  She look defeated and she had tears in her eyes.  I think we all did, too.  We offered her water and ice, which she took, and then we offered to drive her to the next exchange.  She told us she had considered it but she wanted to keep going.  Jodi sent her off with a hug and it is a moment that I will always remember.   I know that Jodi and Sarah had incredibly challenging legs and I can only imagine what it was like to push through such difficulty.  I'm not sure that I can articulate how much they inspired me that day, but whenever I have a difficult run, I will remember that day and I will remember how they pushed through with fierce determination and sheer badassery like I've never seen before.  

This is what the AMR community is about; support, love, and encouragement.  Jodi hugging Sarah after her last leg. 
At the exchange while waiting for Sarah, we heard that race officials had, due to the heat, given teams the option of skipping leg 35 and allowing runners 11 and 12 to run the last leg, leg 36 together.  We quickly decided to go with that plan, as it was hot and it was getting late and we were all tired.  

We cheered Champy on when we saw her come down the road and we set off to drive through to the last exchange.  A few teams decided to continue on and have runner 11 run leg 35 as planned.  I admire that, but I was glad we chose to have JMart and Smitha run the last leg together.  These two should have their own reality show and I mean that in the best possible way.  Dimity referred to their personalities on the podcast and they play so well off of each other.  They are hilarious!   

JMart and Smitha take on the world and the last leg of our Ragnar adventure
The BAMRR warriors are on their way
As we drove to the finish line, I was in awe of our surroundings.  I felt like I was in the movie "A Walk in the Clouds" (great movie if you haven't seen it) and I was making more mental notes of places Mom and I should visit the next day.  

Jodi crossing off her legs.  She shall henceforth be known as #BadassPrincessJodi

Crossed off my legs.  We put war paint on our faces, but it ended up looking like cat whiskers.  :)
Sarah Badass Shea crossing off her legs
We met up with Van 1 at the finish line and waited for Smitha and JMart so we could cross the finish line together.  When we saw them come down the road, we started cheering and quickly fell in line with them.  It was so awesome crossing the finish line! 

We made it!  200 miles in 38 hours!  
I admit that the finish line is a bit of a blur as pure exhaustion had set in by this point.  We had heard earlier in the day that due to a glitch in production, we would not be receiving our medals at the finish line.  We were all a bit bummed, but were told that they would be shipped to us sometime this month, so I guess it will just spread out the Ragnar adventure!  They had a few consolation gifts for teams in the form of ginormous belt buckles, but they had run out of those, too, by the time we finished.  We did get an extra Domino's pizza (I think each team got 1 at the finish line), which we demolished as we waited to get our pictures taken.  We also got extra beer tickets in addition to the ticket we had on the bottom of our race bib.  We were all so tired, though, and we had about an hour drive to our hotel for the night, so we ended up forgoing the post-race beer.  

We did a quick pass through the Ragnar store and then headed to the hotel.  Sarah had headed to the hotel earlier with some of the team who didn't want to shop and Dimity stayed with those of us who did want to shop.  It ended up being that all of Van 1 went with Sarah since they had been at the finish line for awhile waiting for us and all of Van 2 decided to shop.  It worked out really nicely, though, because we got some quality time with Dimity on the drive back to the hotel and Van 1 got some quality time with Sarah.  

We drove down to Vallejo to our hotel for the evening and Jodi and I got settled in our room.  She wasn't feeling too well, so she went to bed, which I think is just what she needed.  I felt like a shower was a necessity, even though I was crazy tired.  I took a much needed hot shower and when I got out, I had a text from Smitha saying they had food and beer next door if I wanted to come over.  Both sounded good, as did some giggles with the girls, so I went to JMart and Mel's room to hang out with them, Smitha, and Lisa.  It was really nice visiting with Lisa since I hadn't had the chance to visit with her much before the race or during it!  

Before too long, I had fallen asleep on one of the beds in JMart and Melissa's room, so we decided it was time to call it a night since it was after midnight at this point.  

Holding up Dimity triumphantly at the finish line
Given that it is after 1 a.m. now, I should probably do the same!  More Napa adventures to come, including saying goodbye to the team (boo!) and wine country adventures with my Mama (yay!).  

Hope everyone had a great weekend!

This quote falls in line with what I mentioned about Ragnar reminding me about why I love running.  Here's to saying "Yes, I can!"

"It will always be easier to say no, I can't until you decide to face your fears and say hell yes, I can."