Ragnar Relay Tennessee 2014
The below was written by Glenn Weiner - our Ragnar team captain and organizer - about the experience of running Ragnar Tennessee. For those that don't know, Ragnar is a relay race series that covers approximately 200 miles from one city to another; in our case Chattanooga to Nashville.
Events leading up to this race were disappointing, but I must say that by this point not surprising. Coming off of a sensational Keys event, we had two teams raring to go. We immediately registered for Tennessee – one full team for most of us, and an ultra team for the crazies. This was back in February, 8 months out from our next encounter. Well, as the days passed, our teams began to change shape and size. Of the 15 runners who ran in the Keys, 11 had expressed an interest in running in Tennessee and along the way, another 4 asked for inclusion. As more time passed, we found life beginning to get in the way, just as it always does. Unavoidable commitments pulled 6 of our runners from the ranks of the active to the sidelines and we were now down to one team and 9 runners. We were able to pick up one additional runner to bring the number up to 10 and this is where we landed. 10 runners on a team built for 12 would mean 6 empty running legs would need to be filled. We’ve never backed down to a challenge, and this would hold true in the Volunteer State.
It was the morning of Race Day Eve, and the 6 Floridian members of Team GBoGH loaded up the van to head north. We had Tommy behind the wheel – by far his favorite seat, Maggie riding shotgun with Alan, Kayle, Ho and me filling up the back. It would take some time before Ho would adjust to sitting in a seat other than the fourth bench, which was removed to make room for our gear. This was Kayle’s first journey with our team and I remember Alan’s reaction when he first saw him. “I never knew his name, but I know his face – he always wins the local races.” Yes Kayle is fast, and this would be seen up north over the next few days. We had fun riding up to pick up our friends in Atlanta, Christina, niece of legendary GBoGH speed king and team comedian Mark Deese as well as assistant DA Dave. Without Mark on board, we would need someone to step up in the comedy department and Dave led the way. Now we were only missing Eling and Dan, who were flying in from New York and would meet us in Chattanooga later that night. We arrive in Chattanooga sometime around 6:00. Dave, Tom and Alan would get one room, Kayle, Dan and I would share another, then Ho and Eling, Maggie and Christina. After a few minutes of Kayle trying to figure out how to orient the key to open the door, we see the other three guys leaving their room, bags still in hand. The old “One Bed, Three Guys” routine. They made a second visit to the registration desk and got straightened out with a second bed and rollaway. We headed out to dinner and were hoping to meet up with a friend of Ho’s and mine, our pastor Scott Smith, who was serving as designated driver for an ultra team of six pastors – Team Wesley. On the walk to the restaurant, we passed by some trees that were just filled with what we first thought to be a chorus of thousands of singing birds, a little off key and far from in sync en masse. As it turned out, these were not birds at all, they were bats!! This was confirmed by teammates Alan and David, who measured the response to an audible signal. They clapped, the animals flew, every time. Nice work boys, and yes, it was quite creepy. We get back to the hotel and with the arrival of Eling and Ragnar rookie Dan, our team is complete.
Friday morning, Redneck Nerds we were. Some sporting a look rich in elements of Duck Dynasty/Talladega Nights, others more nerdy, less redneck – a la Revenge of the Nerds and Kayle looked somewhat of a cross between Gilligan, Cramer and JJ Evans from Good Times, - “Dy-No-Mite!!!”. We get to the start in plenty of time, get our numbers and t-shirts and go through the safety meeting. We are ready to go, and at promptly 8:00 am, Eling starts us off as the nerds all cheer. With Eling’s first Leg marked at 7.8 miles, we jump into the van and start heading out of town towards the hills. We stop at DD for some breakfast. Although most Dunkin Donuts are reasonably quick, this one was not. Tom was getting a little worked up as we needed to get Maggie over to Exchange 1 before Eling arrived. We made it. Suck Creek. Eling finishes her 7.8 miles making great time, and hands off to Maggie for what was rightfully coined the toughest Leg on the course. So tough that each runner who made the ascent received a special medal at the end for their efforts. At just under 7 miles in length, Leg 2 climbed almost 1,700 feet and it was even hard to drive up it, let alone run it. Maggie handled the Leg like a “Rock Star” as she made it in and handed the slap band off to me. I felt guilty choosing to run Leg 3 as I spent the first half mile finishing the ascent Maggie carried the brunt of to the summit of Suck Creek Mountain, and then the next 4.5+ miles with a continual decent back down. I even think I got to run through the change in time zones. It’s amazing how fast you can run, as well as a real confidence booster, when you’re going downhill. This would prove to be my fastest Leg ever run in my history of relay races. For me, it was all “downhill” after this first run. Next up was Alan. Stoic and steady, Alan was rock solid in this race as he used it as a form of easing into a tapering for the following week’s Ironman Florida competition which he was registered for. Alan bolted through his 5.7 miles in 7:20 pace and next up it was fellow Ironman competitor Dave, who opened with a 6 miler. By the way, I have to mention that the VAST majority of guys on our team – 5 of 6 I do so recall, who spent the weeks leading up to the race carefully preparing their faces for the race – growing their “Stache for Nash”. I remember having conversations with Dave about how quickly we were going to get rid of said “stach” soon after our arrival in “Nash”. Next up was Ironman Tom, a seasoned veteran of the relay, who was sporting the invisi-stache. Due to severe injuries and their chronic after-effects, Tom asked to drive as many miles of the racecourse as possible. On his first run, Tom brought the team a few hundred meters closer to Nashville and finished just before noon. Now it was Kayle’s turn, and he had the second doozy of a leg, which climbed 1,300 feet in just over 5 miles. Kayle destroys it in less than 40 minutes, averaging a 7:30 pace. Comparing my first leg and Kayle’s first leg, both were just about the same distance - I ran almost entirely downhill, Kayle ran almost entirely uphill and we both finished in about the same time. So Kayle made it to the top, hands off to our singular Ragnar rookie Dan and we are about 20 minutes ahead of our expected time – awesome. Dan finishes out his 6 mile leg in respectable style, Hulkster mustache blowing in the wind and guess who’s back up? Maggie. Going into the race with 10, I knew there would be a couple of open spots that were really going to be tough to fill. Leg 9 was the first of these and I approached Maggie prior to the beginning of the race and asked her, as one of our strongest runners, to run Leg 9 a few hours after she would make the climb up Mt. Suck. She didn’t pause, and gladly accepted my request. And dang, she flew through the 6 mile leg, finishing it in 48 minutes. Awesome. Now Christina heads out for a 7 miler and the weather is perfect – sunny, breezy and mid 60s. Bing…Christina flies through, chalk up another 4.5 minutes in the “ahead of schedule” column. Ho takes the handoff from Christina and begins her 5+ mile run. I thought Ho might have trouble getting motivated for this race after competing in the Keys as part of a 6 person ultra team and in the process, running a gajillion miles. Ho came in at just over 9 minute per mile pace, once again defying her claim of “I’m slow”. So Kayle went straight up the hill on his first run, now he would get his redemption with an 8 mile downhiller to finish out our first run. Kayle lit it up. Literally, as night time hours were now in effect. Kayle used my gps during the race and when I returned home afterwards, I uploaded all the data and at first had a little trouble differentiating which were Kayle’s runs and which were mine. Until I looked at the splits. On Leg 12, Kayle had 2 or 3 miles which he clocked paces of around 5.5 minutes per mile – definitely out of my league!! Overall pace for the leg was 6:43, another number which does not appear in my playbook.
As Round 1 was complete, Team GBoGH was 26 minutes ahead of schedule at a little after 6:00 pm CST, and it was cooling down quickly. Jackets were out, vests were on, lamps lighting the way – night had fallen and would remain with us for the next 12 or 13 hours. Soon we would resort to gloves and hats as we paid a long visit to the low 40s. Running was still strong, with Alan picking up the next open leg – a lovely 6.7 miler not even 3 hours after completing his 6.1 mile Leg 16. No problem for Mr. Steady. At one point Alan and I got out of the van with Kayle to send him off on his next run. It really felt almost uncomfortably cold and we were thrilled to find a makeshift wood stove at the exchange. We huddled around it and man was the warmth inviting. Eling started Round 2, and some 8 hours later she stepped up to finish Round 2. And…begin Round 3 – our final round. After 2 rounds, it was 3:30 in the morning, freezing cold and Team GBoGH held its own and were still ahead of our projected schedule by 27 minutes. Two down, one to go!!!
Eling was so into her second run of Round 2 that she didn’t even stop at the exchange – she blew right through and brought us into Round 3. Between the consecutive legs, Eling ran a total of about 9 miles, and made some friends along the way. Nothing helps more during a middle of the night run on the outskirts of East Jibip than a running buddie. Maggie followed Eling with another great effort – running so fast that she made it to the exchange before her teammate showed up. Who was that teammate? All I know is that as I was walking from the van to the exchange, I heard someone blurt out “TEAM 38, WHERE’S TEAM 38??” I quickly glanced down at my racing bib and realized, “Oh 5h17, we’re #38”. I got to the exchange a few minutes late, blaming the tardiness on everything but myself and I was off. First penalty, lost about 3.5 minutes. I pushed through my 6 miles and handed off to Alan, who brought us into the daylight as he finished his 6.7 mile leg at just after 6:30 am. Dave would be the last one to don the vest and lamps as the sun was now in full view. Tommy finished his last leg (after starting 3.5 minutes after Dave arrived – 2nd team penalty, due to um, unspecified circumstances), then Kayle, who seemed to be feeling the uphills and downhills from earlier on. Then it was Dan’s turn to pull an Eling as he conquered back to back legs, where somewhere in the middle we found ourselves alongside Team Running Our Hasselhoff, featuring Ashley Judd. Was it really her? With our team paparazzi, Maggie on the case, the answer was a resounding “YES”, as all of the tweeted pics were matching up with what we saw. Although none of us ever saw her out on the course, we did compete side-by-side with Ms. Judd. “My name’s Tom!!!” A fine piece of investigative work I must say. One by one we were finishing. Dan found a buddy as well, and by the looks of things, she really sped him up (see time grid below). And also by the looks of things, she had toilet paper sticking out of her shorts. After Dan it was Dave, and then me, running in alongside my newly found running buddy, Sid. Then Christina, followed by Ho. After 35 legs, we had one leg left – a 5.5 miler that was open. Our initial plan was to have Christina go back out, on very little rest, and take the first two miles, passing off to Maggie who would run us all across the finish line. We owed this to Maggie as we dropped the ball in the Keys race and she crossed the finish line all by her lonesome – a team of oneL. Not this time!! We see Ho on her way in and Christina was ready to go when…Zzzzooooom, Ho blows right through the exchange. We quickly regrouped and brought Maggie to the 2 mile mark on the leg, thinking this was where Ho would hand off. For the first time on the entire 200+ mile course, the markings suddenly became ambiguous. And we were in a busier area. Does she cross first and then turn? Does she make a left at the corner or make a straight? Right foot green, left hand red? Let’s just say we lost a few minutes here as well, not because of Ho’s running, but rather because we didn’t know where the heck we were supposed to go. Well, eventually Ho handed off to Maggie and she was quickly on her way. The rest of us piled into the van and got to the finish line and waited for Maggie. While we were waiting, we got a good look at the downtown Nashville area and it was quite nice. Lots of really good looking people out on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. Shortly after our race time passed 32 hours we saw Maggie, and as tired and as sore as we all were, we mustered up the strength to somewhat run/somewhat hobble across the finish.
Following a couple of quick bites of pizza and sips of beer, I looked at Dave and thought he was most likely thinking the same thing I was thinking – when can we get rid of these darn moustaches!? We checked into the hotel, got cleaned up and de-whiskered, and then it was off for some Tennessee barbecue and perhaps a JD & coke, or two. As we walked down one of the busy streets, I realized most everyone, other than us, appeared to be somewhat under the influence. Early on a Saturday evening, very interesting and a bit Twilight Zone-esque. We eat our grilled meat and drink our Jack, then the men were separated from the boys as some of us went back to the hotel to get a head start on some much needed sleep while the others went off to church for some bingo, and to assimilate into the spirit of the Nashville crowd. Official race time: 32 hours 12 minutes and 17 seconds, average pace 9 minutes and 34 seconds per mile. Great work team, another successful race. Congratulations to Kayle, Alan and Maggie, who finished first, second and third in the speed department. Very proud of all of my teammates. Let’s do it again!!!!!!!!!