RAGNAR DEL SOL 2015 or HOW I DELVED DEEP INTO MY PERSONAL SELF AND FOUND A PIECE OF MYSELF I HAD NEVER MET BEFORE……WHILE ALSO LEARNING HOW TO SURVIVE WITHOUT ANY SLEEP, DEAL WITH THE HEAT AND HOW TO BE A LEADER!
time around, it wasn’t some debate about what could be what could have been. It actually happened. During my three year journey from the fat, weak, and angry loser I used to be to the person I am, there has been lot’s of ups and downs. But the best thing about getting fit and healthy is the chance to actually test yourself against the world and see where you fit in. I know I will never outrun Rich Rolle or jump like LeBron James or out-lift the best Olympic weight lifters, but in my little world and my life, I know each and every little thing I do will create a better version of myself. Some people believe that life in general is a competition and must therefore win at all costs. Personally, I don’t agree with that sentiment, because then one will start moralizing bad behavior mainly because it benefits them and makes them feel like a winner. Personally, I believe in fair play and feel those that cheat should be punished to the fullest extent, regardless of how expensive the lawyer they hire to beat the system (which we all know judges are intimidated by). But that doesn’t always happen, so some people like myself merely make unusual choices to tackle the competitive nature that resides in all of us. I will admit, times have been tough, and taking a day off from work when I am in real need of money was something that most people would not do. But this wasn’t about the money and about the monetary uselessness of money, but this was about the valuable commodity a human being can carry within them. It was about self respect and pride and leadership, which were things I never really had. But this past weekend brought about some good changes, I was feeling pretty good despite all that happened.
For those not familiar with the Ragnar Relay series, it works like this. You get a team of people with a group of 6-12 people (though some hardcore runners use less than six!) and pass the baton. The legs vary in length and topography, and in the span of the race you might find yourself running 80-degree heat and then running in the middle of the night in the pitch of dark. Since my team was just a regular squad, we had two groups of runners that split up in two vans. This year’s version of team Victorious Secret started with a lot of hiccups. As late as December, we didn’t have a full team. Due to some clerical problems, we weren’t even known as Victorious Secret but merely known as “TBD” (which we tried spelling out as Tucson Beer Drinkers) and didn’t even get a start time until a week before the competition. Yup, we were “that” team, and I had to put a lot of time and effort into helping this thing get off the ground. Despite all of this noise happening in the background, I was making some real strides in the running. I was breaking nine and half minutes per mile on seven-mile runs, doing so twice a week. I knew in my heart I was ready, and then the craziest thing happened--two people dropped from the team the day before the race. Initially, it was just once person, and I already had a contingency plan in place. I was so fired up and high that I said I would pick up the extra leg, running six legs that would total out to roughly 31.8 miles. I was pretty hellbent on doing this until my co-captain Nicole Gale told me we had a second drop-out the morning of our departure for Wickenburg, Arizona. So here we were, a day away from a 205-mile relay race and we only had ten people. This was going to be even more miserable than the previous year when we only had 11 people, and this would be worsened by the fact we had a later start time and would be doing a lot of running in the heat of a typical late winter day in Phoenix.
Fortunately for everyone, we were saved by trainer Clif and his girlfriend Amanda, who took on the challenge despite no training and no preparation (not to mention Clif canceled a lot of clients for the weekend, meaning he put more money on the race than anybody else--just to merely challenge himself! How freaking cool is that! And his girlfriend did it for the same reasons as well!). So just a few hours before our race, we dropped from ten people and jumped to 12. I think most people would have suffered from such stress, but I managed to handle myself pretty well. I was the freaking captain and that meant I had to keep myself together. The good thing about this year is we once again got to stay in a house, and we put together a pretty awesome buffet. Christa made a Mexican style casserole and some amazing guacamole (I wouldn’t know since I don’t eat the stuff, but since it was all gone everyone couldn’t stop talking about it, I assume it was excellent!). I pretty much provided all of the pasta, making some Casarecce and then made some good couscous as well. The meat eaters in the group had plenty of chicken and fish to chow on, but the highlight of the night was the cauliflower based dish that Nicole made. I think my really good olive oil helped, but the roasted cauliflower, olive and whole garlic stood on their own. I don’t even like olives or cauliflower and I absolutely loved it! I’ll admit, I was so wired up that I maybe got in a good five hours of sleep. The anticipation was pretty much killing me.
Either way, the problems just never stopped from there. Traffic was brutal and full of red lights. We got to the starting line a mere 30 minutes before we were supposed to start. But that was the least of our troubles. I forgot to bring the extra night vests, meaning we only had three available. Fortunately Jon helped me keep my head together, getting approval from the site director. Personally, I think they would have had no problem of letting us run since the checks had already cleared, but it was probably done just to teach us a lesson--follow the rules or we will make you do some extra leg work! And after doing all of this, we had another problem….our team had already checked out and left. Since my team name was “TBD,” the officials got us mixed up with “Team TBD,” giving away our numbered bibs and our flags. Minutes before Christa was literally supposed to start, we were being held up by clerical problems! I had to convince the officials to give Christa a temporary bib so she can start, which they did. Eventually, everything got cleared up and our team number was no longer 142 but 35, which is something they had to radio to various stations and higher-ups. And since I had the chance to do it, I changed our team name back to it’s proper name--Victorious Secret 6. Yeah, we didn’t have the costumes or anything, but there are few teams that have run Ragnar Del Sol for six straight years!
Once we got to the actual running, everything went off without a hitch. Christa, taking on the only runner leg she had yet to try in Van 1, killed her 8.6 mile death march. My occasional running partner Jaime beat down her leg quite easily. Jon, who was finally getting to experience a new running leg in his Ragnar running career, beast-moded his 7.1 mile run in 55 minutes. But this is when things got interesting. Chris had to do his first run. While I was more than confident that Clif and Amanda could handle their runs, I was still a little worried. I did my best not to show it, but after Clif did his 6.5-mile run, I really had nothing to fear. While I had a fear he might break down, after his first run, I learned there was no way in hell he was going to quit or break down on us. With the worry off my shoulders, I went into “ultra crazy” mode on my 6.7-mile run. While my RunKeeper will say I only ran 6.53, a little GPS problem forced me to reset the run. Either way, I restarted and was leaving a fire trail behind me. In spite of having done no daytime training whatsoever, I bolted the remaining 6.53 miles at 9.17-per mile pace, nearly 20 seconds faster than I had ever done at the distance even though my personal best was set on a familiar course (Reid Park) and never done in the heat of day. Amanda, who along with Clif, maybe ran three miles a week, easily completed her five-mile first leg. While it was hot as hell and we were all suffering, we managed to survive. But in regards to myself, I could sense something bad on the horizon. I was feeling like garbage.
I will gladly admit that I ran way too fast on my first leg, and while my nutrition was much better this year and didn’t have the headache like I had from last, my body was feeling it. I was cramping badly. I couldn’t lie down because my calves would go into instant cramp mode. Fortunately for me, I brought my foam roller and was able to work through some of the initial problems, but I knew it was going to get worse, and there was going to be no relief. While I respect Clif and Amanda, knowing full well how fit they were, I had to be a leader and take some running legs that I felt they might not be ready for. Even though I was runner five, I took Clif's second leg, the infamous 6.8-mile behemoth that chewed me up the year before, and then took Amanda’s third leg that was a hilly and brutal 5.5-mile jaunt on hot asphalt. In spite of the potential cramps, I knew it was something I had to do not because I wanted to, but because it was something I needed to. I needed to push myself in a way that would take me out of my comfort zone. During the course of the night, it worried the heck out of me. I was also unable to get any real sleep. I pretty much stayed up the entire time, maybe squeezing in a little one-hour nap when my body eventually shut down for the heck of it. Either way, despite my apprehension, I managed do pretty well on my second leg, shaving nine seconds off my per mile compared to my run from the previous year. Much like last year, I started cramping in my calves, but this time around my hamstrings started putting in their two cents. By the time I passed the baton off to Amanda, my legs were shot. This ultimately led to a lot of things I never would have done before.
I was working my legs constantly and eating salty pretzels in hope of getting some more salts in my system. I got some ace bandages from the aid stations along the route, tightly wrapping up my legs and doing basically what compression socks and sleeves do for a fraction of the cost. But it was still troubling. The heat was getting worse, and there was no way to avoid the brutal run. I literally got a cramp in my leg 15 minutes before I started running. By the time I had to run, there was no denying what was expected of me. I had to do it, no matter the consequences. I started the run pretty quick, running on fumes and adrenalin knowing that all of the running obligations of Van 1 ended with me, and thus seeing me would be a big relief to all those involved. My first half mile was ridiculously fast, running at a sub 9-minute pace. I slowed down after hearing my time, but I managed to keep a pace in the 9.4 range. The only time I really fell off was during this huge hill that maybe lasted three quarters of a mile, adding a good minute to my per mile time. But after that, it was just hill after hill. I will admit, it chewed me up a little, but I kept pushing forward despite my quads screaming at me. If anything, I had the perfect playlist going on my phone, a little package of songs I put together featuring music from Hans Zimmer (if you have no idea who he is, look him up!). I started way too fast due to the opening music from the movie Gladiator, thinking I was Maximus himself as the sound of Djivan Gasparyan’s duduk started permeating my ears. Ironically, I found strength in my running when music for The Thin Red Line started playing, particularly one piece called “Journey to the Line.” If you have never seen the movie, the characters are basically walking through jungle after jungle of vegetation during this song, surviving heat and humidity in the process. It looks so real because it is real due to the fact director Terrence Malick put the entire cast and crew through hell for nearly a year. When you see the likes of Sean Penn, John C. Riley, Adrien Brody and Jim Caviezal look like they are suffering, they actually were. I kind of wondered what it must have been like, going in day after day, expected to trudge up the paths continuously for hours on end as a fanatical perfectionist that had worked for nearly ten years to get the film off the ground kept wanting reshoots and new angles. I never once stopped on my run, never once had to deal with a cramp as I passed every person I came across, all of them suffering from some form of cramping as the heat and humidity started shooting up. One guy I passed who was limping bad just said “I wanna finish this race running, not walking!” I scraped up my toes as one of the toe pads fell off and started digging in my skin, and I could feel the blister forming on my toes. By the time I finished, in spite of the two bad hills, I finished with a 9.54 per mile average. No cramps. A lot of people within the Ragnar community regard Del Sol as one of he most difficult due to the heat and the fact you are running on so many hard sidewalks, but I believe it is perfect for me. Some people like trail running, but having the even, hard and flat pavement was perfect, and this route had some pretty horrible hills that would have eaten up anyone.
It seemed bittersweet that I had not been able to embark on my initial idea of doing six runs during the race, and this was only because of how I felt after the third leg I ran. I thought I was capable of doing more and continuing on. I felt a little jealous of our runner in Van 2, Claudia, when she got finish the race in Mesa, Arizona. I figured all the time and commitment I put into this thing was warranted such a reward. But instead, I just accepted my role and crossed the finished line, which many of our runners were surprised to hear our actual team name as opposed to the ridiculous “TBD” that we had to wear on our racing bibs. But then again, that is the joy of such an event. You determine what you make of it, and I felt it was a good growing experience for me. The really cool thing Ragnar did this year was put a special message on the back of the twelve medals, allowing you to piece them together to make a message. It was really nothing life altering, but it did say “Together we Ran 205 Miles.” Someday I intend to embark on the ultra version of this race and actually do the 30+ miles I had mentally prepared myself to do. It just won’t be next year. While I am getting stronger, I’m still not ready just yet. But it is getting closer. Needless to say, this was once again my best Ragnar, and each year you learn a little something different in the process. Now it is just time to start applying those things more often. So, who wants to be on my team next year?
Read about this cool event from last year:
Read what went down the first time I helped out, and how I became hooked on this crazy event:
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