RAGNAR DEL SOL 2017: TRIUMPH, DISAPPOINTMENT, FAILURE, SUCCESS, REWARD, LOSS, BREAKING DOWN, RISING UP, LESSONS LEARNED, NEW ADVENTURES, AND THE FULL REALIZATION OF THE TRUE SELF
Any views or opinions presented in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the company. This blog is a unique perspective of one persons journey into fitness. Not all clients and participants at Parsons Training undergo the same training, and each person makes his or her own decisions regarding dietary discretions.
By Steve Sharpton, Parsons Training Center, Tucson, Arizona
March 16, 2017
For the past five years, there has been a constant in my life, something I always jump at an opportunity for. During the course of a standard year, the idea of just working out does kind of get old, and when you lack the motivation and the money to go forth with every little event you see in front of you, you have to take leap and try something that will get the heart going. Something that will tell you whether you are pushing forward or not. Something that indicates the long hours in the gym and the track will come to some reward some day. This was something that ultimately made me such a slow starter in regards to the fitness game. While looking better and feeling better and losing weight are all said and good, I was raised in a much different manner. I am a man that seeks out a problem and looks to fix it right away, this is why I sometimes struggle with my job, for it demands that I be something of a suck-up and constantly try to butter people up. While this is all dandy and good with some people, I seem to run into more individuals like myself. They want the situation dealt with. They don’t want small talk. What I am getting at, I need something that will force me to deal with a problem in my life, something that will ultimately compel me to learn and grow as an individual. For me, that little piece of life is the Reebok Ragnar Relay Series (try saying that five times fast!).
It started out as a favor for a friend, something that was a break in the monotony. It then turned into a test for me, seeing if I was capable of standing up to certain challenges. Along the way, I learned to deal with some anxiety, when I was stuck in a van of virtual strangers in a city I had never been to when I did Ragnar Las Vegas two years ago. The last two Del Sol’s I have competed in have seen me join a complete cast of strangers, thrown together by a single shred of competition. In both instances, I was a grizzled veteran of the races and was looked to for inspiration and guidance. In both cases, I felt I did the job necessary for these challenges, taking on a rather important role in both instances and discovering some different threads inside my own psyche. If anything, Ragnar Del Sol has become my barometer, whether it be for the bad or the good. It tells me whether I am making the necessary changes not just in my fitness but in my life as well. I have come a long way since the days I was just sitting in my living room watching King of the Hill and gorging massive amounts of food and drink.
For the uninitiated, the Reebok Ragnar Relay Series is a series of races that is spread throughout the country, with people of all walks of life and fitness levels combining into a major race weekend filled with huge passenger vans, tagging and general competition. Most teams have 12 members, but the more hardcore teams have six members and are labeled as “Ultra” teams (in the case of Del Sol, there is one team that typically boasts a three man running squad every year…and every year they finish! There was also a two-man team this year but they did not finish this year even though the course reduced from 206 miles to 190). Anyway, this year was going to be a difficult one for all involved. Since Reebok has taken over the series, they have pushed back the start date of the race to benefit one of their Spartan Races that happens on the weekend Del Sol used to happen on. So yes, with a later start date, that meant the weather would be a bit more inhospitable for all involved. At some points in the race, the weather tipped the scales at 90 degrees. Reportedly six people collapsed during the race! Fortunately for me, I was smart in the picking of my leg, for I either wanted to be Runner Number 2 or Runner Number 12. Since No. 12 had been sopped up, I resorted to No. 2 and was rather fortunate that was the case (more on that later).
Every year I do this race—or any Ragnar race for that matter—there is going to be a lot of drama leading up to the race weekend. This year was no exception, for we not only lost our team captain a few weeks before the race, we had lost a total of three other runners a couple weeks before the cut-off. Fortunately, we were able to get replacements in the nick of time though at one point in the process, there was some grumbling about the fact runners were dropping left and right. For me, it was business as usual. While I had a rather confident front about the ability to replace runners on the fly, I was actually terrified this year. Much like the issue of running out of runners for Ragnar Las Vegas a couple years back (which we remedied with some last second replacements…which to this day I cannot thank those people enough), replacing runners means more running for those involved. Trouble is, I was in no shape to take on any extra legs (in spite of the fact I was volunteering). Going into this race, I had all sorts of issues with my legs. Working the kind of job I work is not something that is easy on the legs, for the amount of sitting I do can lead to some lower back problems and leg tightening. And then there was the issue with my left meniscus. Much like my poor father, I was having a rather sharp pain in that pesky ligament and really slowed down my running regimen. I was able to battle the issue while in the gym, using my quads more efficiently or lowering the weights when necessary, but you just couldn’t really get around the issue while running. If the knee was hurting, I was not going to risk a bigger injury. Now naturally, I went with the long game, trying to rest the body and let the meniscus heal on its own. But the situation was just not moving along fast enough for. So I had to get drastic in the process, going to the chiropractor again and paying my friend Carrie to do some muscle scraping on my leg. Combined with good yoga in the final weeks, my leg felt healthy enough to finally take on the challenge that was Ragnar Del Sol. The major problem though was this…would I even be ready? I had a very doable 17.5 miles to run this time around, and the legs were all evenly distributed in the process. I knew I was capable of running a good six miles, but would I survive the additional miles? It was a real wait and see for me, for I knew I did not want to throw away the money I had put into the race. Pain be damned, I knew I would have to do this. While I did not want to let anyone down, I also did not want to let myself down.
Anyway, the drama leading into the race was no big deal to me. Our team was much different looking than what we started with, but what team doesn’t make a few changes. Desert Flames Team 2 was put together when the team organizer Rey Bracamonte decided to have another team to supplement his. Thanks to the help of a fellow running friend named Laura (who was on my team Too Tired To Be Inspired last year), a second team was formed and I was one of the first to sign on the dotted line. This year I was in van 1, and I was kind of thankful in a lot of ways mainly because the group we had was pretty chilled and relaxed. I seem to mesh better with these type of people, not to say I would have done well with the more loose goose fun lovers in van 2. Our first runner was Cassie, a late addition to the team that probably had no idea what she was getting herself into when she joined our team that was chalked full of personality. We also had Nicole, who was back for another round Ragnar after being on the team last year. She was literally added to the team days before the race! Our next runner was Joseph, who may have been quiet but was clearly a great runner, thriving in the heat of the Phoenix desert. Then there was Monique, running Del Sol for the second year in a row and was looking to finish the race after suffering an injury at the trail race in November. Our final runner was the all around fitness guru Mandy, a woman that does medical transcription by day and fitness classes by night. All in all, we had a good mix of personalities and athletes. I felt pretty comfortable with this group, though I do wish I had been able to join the awesomely hilarious van 2 group comprising of my co-captains Austin and Lucas, married couple and late additions Chris and Michelle, long distance master Tracy and our team finisher Max. All in all, I would love to do another race with these guys some day!
Anyway, this year we did some rather different things. First and foremost, rather than staying overnight in Chandler or something like in years past, my van had to leave at 1:30 a.m. just to have enough time to get to the starting line. Now, this was done to save on the cost of getting a hotel, but man this just made the night a tough one. I did not get much rest the previous day and due to the business of my Thursday evening, I really didn’t get any time to nap either. The longest time I had for a nap since waking up on Thursday morning was maybe 30 minutes while waiting for my teammates at the El con Mall. That was it. I don’t think I officially got any rest for the next 20 hours or so…literally. Anyway, we got to the starting line and everything started off fine with Cassie’s first leg. I was nervous to say the least. I had not been able to get the kind of distances I needed to run to survive this race, so by the time I got the wrist band slapped onto me, I was already making the first mistake….starting out of the gate too fast! I was trying my best to not run fast, but it didn’t seem to matter considering my body just naturally worked harder than I really expected. This is to be expected when you start a race of this size and magnitude. Now I couldn’t really slow myself down and ultimately ran much faster than I could have ever expected. For a good month, I was rarely under the ten-minute mile mark, and here I was running nine-minutes miles on my first leg. Fortunately, and I say this sarcastically, the sun came out and slowed me down a little bit. I survived my first run with little trouble, but I already knew the rest of the race was going to be hell on Earth. My body was already hurting and my legs felt sore and tired. I will say this though, at least my knee was not hurting. But that would be the least of my troubles moving forward.
Nicole, Joseph, Monique and Mandy all performed beautifully on their legs, and that was the beginning of the longest eight hours of my life. I did all I could to fight the weakness in my legs, eating ample amounts of almond butter and doing my best to keep hydrated. I loosened up as much as I could during the race, and even payed for some massage therapy at the major exchange we were at. Nothing really did the job, for my legs felt tight regardless. So by the time I started my second leg, it was quite obvious that from there on out, the race was about grit and determination and had nothing to do with time. It was about pride, and boy did my pride take a beating. I was running slowly all throughout the path, getting passed by much better runners, which was a pretty typical thing for me during this race (a total of 14 passed me during this year’s Ragnar). I just tried staying focused, trying not to think about the tightening in my quads as each step was tougher than the next. By the time I hit the one mile marker on the leg, that is when the cramping started. I barely limped past the finish, and I was so pissed off with myself that I threw my water pack to the ground. I was angry with myself and my body. I had trusted myself for so long that this was the first time in a long time where I had major doubts about everything. I was scared I was not going to finish, and I was pretty upset for the rest of the evening. By the time we got to our second exchange with the other van, I knew something drastic had to be done. After being awake for nearly 24 hours, I sucked it up and fell asleep at the gym we were parked at. It cost me five bucks to get in, mainly because the school was intrepid and charging use of their facilities. I grudgingly paid. I didn’t care about the money at that time. I didn’t leave my teammates in my van because I was angry with them or anything, but it was because I was inherently angry with myself. I had to get my head back on straight and focus again. I needed a quiet place where I could go off in a corner and be alone. Fortunately the gym was empty enough where I staked out a spot just for myself. I only got two hours of sleep, but I had enough time to get myself gathered and prepped for my last leg.
I knew it would be the toughest, mainly because it had an incline that pretty much started a good mile into the run. It lasted only two and a half miles, but it was enough to pretty much destroy me. My legs were seizing up, and while my calves were doing okay (until the end of the race that is) I just ran of gas. I was virtually crawling at the time, stepping along at such a pace that I am kind of embarrassed to even mention the time. The last couple miles at least kept my mind at ease despite the pain and indifference. Some beautiful horse stalls were along the route I was running, and the beautiful stallions were giving me these confused looks…like what was this guy doing in front of their street at six in the morning? It was a quiet run so to speak, and when I finally crossed the finish, I felt a huge amount of relief. I never stopped. I never gave up. I knew from the get go that I was going to crash and burn in this particular race, but I just didn’t know where it would happen. While the crash happened much sooner than I really expected, I was thankful I was an early morning runner. I would have failed horrible if I had been in van 2, which is why I gave plenty of respect to my mates on the other half of the team. We saw 90-degree weather for two days and we didn’t have one person get sucked up by the heat vortex. A lot of people collapsed at the race due to heat exhaustion, which might force Ragnar to possibly move the race to January (which would be flipping amazing in my opinion!!! Might even be able to get more teams into the mix). Funny thing though, a 93-year old man was in the race, and he didn’t once get hit by the heat. Granted, he was going at a rather slow pace, but hey, he actually did the darn thing.
I felt pretty content after the race while mingling with my teammates at the finish line. I munched on some vegan pizza from Freak Brothers, got some new Ragnar merchandise and even walked around a bit despite my sore legs. Strangely enough, I didn’t drink any beer at this year’s event…but I might have been just too tired and hot to do so. Over the course of the race, I maybe destroyed 4,000 calories between my races and the waking time, for I didn’t even get to sleep until roughly 10 p.m. on Saturday night. In all, I maybe had a total of four hours from Thursday morning to Saturday night….not an easy stretch by any point of the imagination. But like always, I survived the test. I call this a test because the outcome was always going to be failure in my mind. I knew it was going to be my slowest Ragnar (it was) and I knew I was gonna struggle to even finish the damn thing (which it was). The only thing I can say is I finished, which is the impotent thing that I really needed getting out of this race. I’ve been struggling so much with everything in my life, just getting a win was really satisfying.
All in all, my team finished the race in 33 hours and 21 minutes, not quite as fast as last year’s squad but then again, we had to deal with far more adverse running conditions this year. We finished 132nd out of 239 teams, which just goes to show the fact that Ragnar is hurting their own race by constantly messing with the date. There used to be over 300 teams at this race and now only the truly dedicated are coming back. So please Ragnar, expand the race and move it earlier! Beyond that, I will be looking forward to my next race. I would love to do one in Colorado someday, or possibly the Northwest Passage race near Seattle. One of these days I will do it. Who knows. But first, I have to get my body back to the running spirt. I tried doing a little run on Wednesday and I crashed barely after a mile. So yes, I have a long way to go again.
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Steve, a Parsons Training Client, went from 400 pounds to Running half-marathons, from lifting pizzas to lifting hundreds of pounds through training with us.
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Any views or opinions presented in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the company. The author of this blog is an independent writer and is not an associate of Parsons Training, LLC. Any information or images displayed are done so solely at the authors discretion. Any dietary or fitness commentary is exclusively that of the author and in no way dictated by the company.