It’s time to talk about Ragnar! I had SO MUCH fun this past weekend in Tennessee with my team as we raced from Chattanooga to Nashville as an Ultra team. I struggled a little bit out there for sure, but with the help of my team I was able to make it through all my legs right around the pace I projected myself hitting.
My team, Stucco Running Club Ultra Club, took seventh overall in the race, and we were the first Ultra team across the line (we are technically ranked in the men’s ultra division because we had 4 men and only 2 women). So, let’s just jump into the dirty details of what went right and what went wrong.
Wednesday Night (Pre-flight)
I could not sleep for the life of me. Most of it was from excitement, but as the time passed by, I started to stress out from my lack of sleep. I didn’t really sleep well at all Monday or Tuesday night so I started thinking about how the lack of sleep was going to affect me. I ended up getting five hours, but it really wasn’t enough.
Thursday – Day Before Start
Dave and I woke up at 3:45 AM with two of our teammates who spent the night, to get to the airport for our 6:00 AM flight. I didn’t even feel tired because I was so excited, and I couldn’t sleep on the plane.
I think the first mistake of the weekend came today. My stomach was really upset this morning (maybe from taking all my medicine at 3:45 AM? Something I never do?) and I couldn’t eat breakfast. I managed a protein bar but it made me want to throw up for a good 2 hours. By the time we landed in Nashville I was so focused on having some coffee, I didn’t get anything else to eat. While we waited for Erin and our other teammate’s flight to land, Dave and I went to pick up our snazzy 15 person van from the rental place in Nashville.
Once everyone landed we started our 2 hour drive down to Chattanooga. It was a really pretty drive as we went through some of the mountains, and then I realized we were going to be climbing right back through them the next day. It wasn’t until we neared Chatt and many hours later did I realize how hungry I was. Erin and I ate some pistachios while shopping for some race necessities in Walmart. Once we were done shopping we headed straight to the hotel to offload our stuff and immediately go out for lunch.
We ended up at a Panera and I had some tomato soup, salad, and potato chips. Honestly, not ideal the day before a race, but I told myself I would have a heartier dinner to make up for the lack of breakfast and lunch. We walked around the waterfront after lunch and Erin and I re-lived some Ironman memories from her race this past fall, and then we all tried to nap for a bit in the hotel. I only managed 15 minutes of sleeping in the hour I laid down.
We had team check-in at 6 PM, and I knew I wanted to squeeze a shake-out run in before we headed across the river. I hadn’t run since my massage on Wednesday, so I headed out the door with Erin and Jeremy for a veryyyyyyy slowwwww 2.5 mile shakeout. It was glorious. My legs felt amazing and it was such a beautiful evening for a run by the river. The shake-out made me feel confident and ready for the race the next day – my calves felt fine, my achilles were loosened up, and I didn’t really have much leg pain. I was so excited!
The rest of the day consisted of the team check-in and dinner. Erin, Jeremy and I ended up going to Whole Foods because we figured it would be my best option to find gluten-free and dairy-free options, but because it was later in the evening they didn’t have much out on their hot bar. Even though the food I ate was really good, I knew it wasn’t enough. I should have gotten more, but because I wasn’t really hungry I just brushed it off and went back to the hotel to sleep.
FRIDAY – DAY ONE OF RAGNAR
Woke up around 8 AM after not a great night of sleep. It took me a super long time to fall asleep because of surrounding noises, and I forgot I had my ear plugs until 1 hour later into trying to fall asleep without them. Erin and Jeremy went down to breakfast and I stayed in bed, and actually managed another hour of undisturbed sleep before rolling out of bed to catch the free breakfast.
There wasn’t anything for me to eat at breakfast. I had a little box of Frosted Flakes and a banana, but nothing else offered was gluten free. I meant to make myself some gluten free bread with peanut butter when I got back to the hotel room, but I completely forgot while getting ready because we left all of our food in the car overnight.
We headed over to the race start around 11 AM-ish because we needed to check out of our hotel. Our start time wasn’t until the last wave, 2 PM, so we still had plenty of time to wait. Erin and I ran a few last-minute errands to pick up some needed van items, but most of the time we just sat around waiting for 2 pm. We did decorate our van during this time and it came out awesome!
FINALLY, 2 PM rolled around and our team was able to start. I was #4 in the line-up of six runners, so I still had a few hours until my first leg.
3:34 PM – LEG #1 (10.2ish miles, 1119 ft gain) – I was incredibly nervous for my first leg. It was my hardest by far, and I was nervous about how I would feel climbing up the mountain. When Justin handed off the bracelet to me, I flew out of the transition area way too fast. I wanted to go around 8:30 min/mile pace, but whenever I looked down at my watch during the first two miles I was between 7:20-7:45 min/mile pace. I tried to keep myself under control but my adrenaline was still pumping. We had to run on the “shoulder” of this big road, but the shoulder was so small (and the rumble strips took up most of it) it was incredibly unnerving to run, especially when huge 18-wheelers flew down the mountain past me.
I have to say running along this shoulder was probably my least favorite part of the race because of how dangerous it felt. I had one dog come after me, and after I wasted my energy screaming at it as I trucked up the mountain, it decided to stay on its lawn and not keep coming after me.
Around five miles (still climbing) I decided to try and fuel, but realized my stomach still felt way too uneasy to eat my Gu. Luckily, I brought cliff blocks as well and I forced myself to eat two of those. I was also sipping Tailwind (MY SAVIOR) so I felt pretty confident I’d be able to get through the rest of the leg without bonking.
I walked three times trying to make it to the top of the mountain, but it was planned and I felt very much in control. When I finally reached the top and saw the downhill road before me, it was such a glorious feeling even though I still had 4 miles to go. As I ran down I felt like I was flying and everything was effortless. I forgot about my stomach, and all I felt was happiness. Despite the road being treacherous, it was an absolutely gorgeous run along the river and it made me feel so grateful to be in Tennessee with my friends.
When I finished, they handed me a medal for running the “hardest” leg of the race. We hopped in the van shortly after I finished, so we could beat our runner to the next transition and I was feeling pretty good. I chugged a gatorade as I sat in the van, and slowly I felt my stomach pain returning. I tried to eat a picky bar but I ended up only nibbling at the corners because I suddenly felt so sick.
I don’t know what set off the stomach pain, but as soon as I discovered I couldn’t eat, I knew I was in trouble. I started sipping my Tailwind mixture as much as I could – liquid calories are better than no calories. I laid down in the back of the van while my teammates kept forging ahead, and before I knew it, my turn was coming up again. So I filled my water bottle with my tailwind, got all my reflective gear together and tried to mentally prep for my second leg.
7:36 PM – LEG #2 (6.8ish miles)
When I stood outside the van waiting for my next leg, I didn’t feel as bad as when I was just laying in the stuffy van. The fresh air was really nice and there was a little bit of a chill in the air, so I put my arm warmers on because I was shivering a lot. I tried not to psych myself out about my stomach as I waited for Justin to come into transition and I tried to stay positive.
As I started out, I didn’t feel too bad. Again, I was dealing with an annoyingly-small shoulder and rumble strips, but because the road wasn’t as busy I could run a little bit into the road without fearing for my life. I told my team to meet me about 2ish miles up the road in case I was feeling incredibly horrible and around 2 miles I could see our van parked on the side of the road at a pull-off. I ripped my arm sleeves off as I came to them and asked Dave again to stop a mile or so up the road because I wasn’t feeling great.
The course was rolling – very manageable after my first leg. It wasn’t long before I saw the van up ahead again and Dave and Erin crossed the street to make sure I was okay. When Dave said, “see you at the finish” I had a panic moment. Suddenly, I didn’t feel like I was going to be able to make it to the transition, even though I only had about 3.5 miles to go. Because it was “nighttime hours” and we are allowed to have pacers in the night, I asked Dave to jump in and run with me to the transition. I kept running as he bolted back to the van to get ready and I thought the van was just going to leapfrog me and drop Dave off in front of me. I had NO IDEA he actually just grabbed reflective gear and started chasing after me – not until I heard him yell behind me. I stopped and waited and we continued on together.
Talking with Dave through the next few miles was helpful for my mind. I was feeling stressed because of how competitive my teammates were with the other ultra teams, and I felt like I was going to ruin everything by not feeling well. Running with Dave reminded me this was supposed to be fun, and I felt a little better by the time I finished. I tried making myself a peanut butter gluten free sandwich after my second leg, but I only managed to eat half of it before feeling sick again. So I continued downing my tail wind and tried to lay down anytime the van was moving, and get up at each transition for fresh air and to stretch my legs.
10:59 PM – LEG #3 (6.1 miles)
Because I was still having problems eating, I was very concerned with this leg in the middle of the night. I hadn’t slept, and I was nervous about the 6 miles all by myself. There weren’t many other runners around, and Dave decided to run with me for the first 3 miles. I’m happy he was there because we were in the middle of no where and I didn’t see one other runner on the road. At this point, my stomach felt like one gigantic knot and I know it’s because of how empty it was with the lack of food and plenty of miles. Other than the stomach pain, my legs felt fine though, so I kept plodding along at my target pace.
Around 3 miles, Dave peeled off and hopped back in our van and I continued on alone. The last 3 miles weren’t bad at all, they were actually very beautiful. I could finally see some other runners ahead of me and we were running through farmland, and a big beautiful sky of stars stretched out above us. This was one of my favorite parts of Ragnar.
When I finished, I felt relieved because I only had a 2.5 mile leg next and I was halfway done. I hung out with Erin until she was off on her leg and then I tried to sleep. Joke’s on me because I couldn’t fall asleep once, but laying down and closing my eyes was nice at least. I managed to eat a Huma Gu during this time as well and a few more cliff blocks.
3:00 AM – LEG #4 (3.8 Miles)
Ha, yes – I know I said above my next leg was only going to be 2.5 miles. THAT’S WHAT I THOUGHT, but I was wrong. Turns out, we looked at the legs wrong, and my 2.5 mile leg wasn’t until Leg 6, and I had 3.8 miles as my Leg #4, and then close to 7 miles for my Leg #5. Internally, I was having a breakdown, but I decided to pull myself together because 4 miles would feel like nothing after my longer legs. I pushed the 7 mile leg out of my mind.
As I got ready for Leg #4, I actually didn’t feel so bad. I knew I had been hydrating well despite not being able to eat much, and Erin and I joked around before my start, making me feel immensely better. I managed to eat a few handfuls of potato chips as well while we waited for Justin to come through, and this made me feel a little more confident. I brought my water bottle full of Tailwind with me even for the 4 miles because of my lack of eating, and I figured if I could keep sipping the stuff throughout the event I would be okay.
The 3.8 miles went by really fast. It wasn’t a particularly beautiful leg or anything, and there were a few good hills in there, but I felt good other than the stomach tightness. I actually passed a few runners on this leg and this made me feel even more confident. The transition area popped up on me in no time, and I was incredibly happy I made it through this leg on my own and without breaking down.
I stretched for a little bit, tried to sleep again, and watched the sun start to rise over the beautiful farmland. Even without sleep I felt calm during this time.
6:39 AM – Leg #5 (6.8 miles)
Now that I had to actually think about running almost 7 miles, I had a little freak-out. I was so worried how I was going to get through the leg because I wasn’t stomaching any real food. When I got out of the van at my exchange and started to get ready, Dave could tell I was upset. Because it was still before 7:15 AM (when nighttime hours are officially over) he promised to run a little bit with me because I was feeling so sick.
I had on my new lyme don’t kill my vibe tank top, but I couldn’t help thinking my lyme was destroying me during this race. I wanted so badly to be strong, but I felt like my body had crumpled under the stress of the race. I wasn’t able to take any of my medicine in the van, and the times I thought I might be able to, I decided against it incase they upset my stomach again. I was in some sort of state.
I started this leg nice and slow and tried not to think about how far I had to go. The sun was rising and it was finally getting light out again, and as I turned a corner onto a country road, an entire field of purple clover was illuminated with new light. It was so beautiful and serene, it made me forget about my stomach for a few minutes and feel lucky to be running. Running has allowed me to see some of the most beautiful scenery.
Dave met me about 2 miles down the road and talked with me as we walk/ran some of the bigger hills. About 3/4 of the way through the leg, my entire body began to ache. My neck and shoulders tightened up so much I could barely move, and the pain caused me to walk several more times. I wasn’t sure if I was herxing from the stress on my body or my muscles were just tense from the mileage, but I got a little worried here.
I was so happy to see the exchange at the end of this leg. When I passed off the bracelet, my neck was so stiff and painful it made me completely forget about my stomach. I laid down in the van for a little bit until the pain subsided and after an hour or so, it was pretty much back to normal.
11:13 AM – Leg #6 (2.3 miles)
Finally! My 2 mile leg! Once I was done with Leg #5, I knew I would get through my last exchange, no matter how my stomach was feeling. My mood substantially lifted after finishing #5, and I was even able to eat another GU, take in a few cliff shots, and some potato chips. I kept drinking my Tailwind because I knew it was my main source of energy and I am so grateful for the stuff and actually thinking to bring it!
It was a lot warmer out for this final leg and there was absolutely no shade. I was feeling a little competitive with the other ultra team as I waited for Justin to come in, and I decided I would not let them pass me in the two miles – no matter what.
I went out much faster than I did for any of my other legs, except maybe leg 1. There was a decent hill about .5 miles in and as much as I wanted to walk up it, I thought about the other team catching me and I leaned in and powered through. The downhill was fantastic, but at the bottom was a major road where a police officer was supposed to help me cross to the other side so I could run against traffic. Mr. Police Officer was NO HELP at all, and I stood around on the corner of the street for a few minutes trying to make the pass myself. As I looked from left to right, from right to left, for an opportunity to cross, I kept thinking about the other ultra team coming over the hill to catch me.
When I finally got across the road I looked back at the hill for our competition but luckily no one was in sight. It was a straight shot to my finish from here and I pushed it to the exchange trying to keep a good distance on them.
It felt so amazing to pass the bracelet off for the last time in my exchange. Part of me was in disbelief I actually made it through the 36 miles, especially because I felt so horrible after only leg #1. But I was so happy to be done and to cross my final leg off, and even though my stomach was still hurting and I couldn’t eat yet, I was in a much better mood.
Erin was our final leg. It was a much-too-long 8 mile leg to the finish line, and I felt so antsy waiting for her in front of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Before the final exchange, the other men’s ultra team was telling Erin how they were only 3 minutes behind us, and we’re pretty sure they were trying to psych Erin out. But the joke’s on them because Erin could have cared less what they said to her, and they ended up being about 30 minutes behind us, not 3.
Seeing Erin turn the final corner to the finish was so exciting. We all ran across the finish line with her and finished as the first ultra team of the race, and 7th team overall. Our time is listed as 23:30:41.1 on Ragnar’s website, but I’m pretty sure you have to add an hour to all the finishing times listed on the site because of a time zone we ran through, or something like that.
As sick as I felt for the most part, I would absolutely do another ultra ragnar relay. I had so much fun with my team and it was incredibly motivating to work together and to stay strong for one another. My stomach is STILL a little messed up from this weekend but I’m working on feeling better, and my legs aren’t feeling too bad either.
Next time, I know I need to get much better sleep before the event and really fine-tune a nutrition plan. I think I didn’t get enough calories in before the race, and I CERTAINLY did not get enough in during the race. I know now how difficult it actually is, and I think resting up a lot more before the race will help me feel more primed.
But I’m so happy we did it (and did well), and it’s still all I can think about. Some of my teammates and I are already planning to do another next year :).
And that’s about it. I probably won’t do a training update for this week because it’s just a recovery week and honestly I’m not doing much. I want my legs to recover as much as possible for next week’s long run, so I’ve only ran yesterday and will probably only run a few more times this weekend. I plan to go for a nice long walk today to shake out my legs some more, and that’s about it. If my legs are still feeling fatigued by the end of this week, I might go ahead and get a massage early next week so I’m all ready for my 20-22 miler.