Sometimes the hardest part of any journey is actually getting to the starting line. And I’m not talking that emotional, inspirational journey. I’m talking pure logistics.
Our Ragnar Relay started Friday morning at 9am. We’re van 1, which means we’ve got to be present at the start (for legs 1-6). The plan: on Thursday, work half a day in NY, catch a cab with team captain Tommy around 1:30 for our 4pm flight out of JFK. Arrive in Buffalo around 5, meet up with our van 2 counterparts for, yes, buffalo wings, and then hightail it into Canada for an overnight at a motel close to the start.
But bad weather (that really never materialized) threw a glitch into all of this. My train into the city for work was stuck on the tracks for 2 hours. My cab ride with Tommy was an adventure through Queens with a driver who told me at the end “anything is better than driving in Afghanistan.” And our 4pm flight didn’t actually take off until 7pm-ish.
(Baron Von Fancy was probably the most motivated cabbie I’ve had in a long time. Good thing, too, as the traffic was atrocious, but probably not as bad as…um…Afghanistan?).
Finally, we arrive in Buffalo at close to 8pm. Our van is ready and waiting:
and we start our nearly 2 hour trek to the Coburg Ontario starting line. I was so excited when I opened the door to my hotel room–wow! A foam roller!
Nope. Just a bolster pillow. Too soft to do any good on my hip/hammy.
The next morning we got off to a great start:
Van 1 of The Dirty Dozen: me, (right to left): Brian, John, Joe (in the far back), Allen, and Tommy. Brian is new to our group, and it was his first ever relay. Kudos to him for putting up with us Jersey folk for 27 hours (and running 3 awesome legs).
We were team 97–our start was at 9am.
Our swag bag had tattoos!
From the Ragnar website, this relay appeared to be not so tough. I mean, how hard could running alongside a lake be? Well, we weren’t really ‘alongside’ the lake. And the first legs were really, really hilly. Lots of rolling hills.
Here’s how the relay works: Van 1 is at the start, and our first runner leads off. We drive to a “transition point” where the next runner gets ready for the handoff, and we pick up the runner who’s just finished. We do this until all our runners (1-6) are done. The 6th transition spot is when we hand off to Van 2. These transition spots are larger (double the number of people). At the smaller transition points, volunteer groups have the chance to set up bake-sales, etc. One of the best ones was in Wesleyville.
The old church was home to a quilt show! So lovely. The feed cloth quilts are a favorite of mine, and the handiwork was fabulous. And the volunteers sold delicious apples and had iced tea. I tried convincing my teammates to let us back up this harmonium (we did have a 15 passenger van at our disposal), but that was quickly nixed. Oh well.
Soon enough it was my first leg: 5.3 miles. Although it was slightly hilly (but starting to level off at this point), the run was good. I started out a bit fast for me (all the adrenaline, plus there was this one team with a 7 year old and 9 year old on it, and I didn’t want to get “killed” (passed) by a child).
This was the view when I crested my first hill
And around every corner, more of Lake Ontario:
This house was for sale. I think the harmonium would fit nicely in here.
After this house, my leg took me into some lake suburbia, with lots of new homes and townhouses being built. Unfortunately for me, the developer’s signs and the Ragnar relay signs were the same color (blue), and I missed a Ragnar directional sign and ended up about a quarter mile off track. Thankfully, a runner behind me saw me turn in the wrong direction, and she followed me to re-direct me (at this point, I had turned around as well, but the damage was done). Leg 1: 5.64 miles with a running time of 52:54 (and a picture-taking time of 4:24)–running pace is 9:33, but with the photo time it’s 10:24.
When I got to the transition spot, my teammates were waiting on me (I was off-schedule), but they were less concerned about the wrong turn, and more concerned about the photography. Turns out that one of the runners who passed me, when she got to the finish line, ratted me out: “Your runner was taking pictures!”
Let the ribbing commence. My photography was the topic du jour in the van all the way to transition 6 where we handed off to van 2. Then we went to lunch. Lousy photo, but awesome mexican!
The lunch place was off course, and miles away from where we had been running. We were skipping ahead to transition spot 12. But of all things, as we’re enjoying our lunches, this customer walks in, and asks if we’re part of the relay. We acknowledge that we were, and she says, looking right at me “I saw you taking pictures on your run! I recognize your outfit!”
Busted. Let’s just say I’ll never live the photo-taking down.
So a big part of the success of these relays is logistics–being in the right place at the right time. To help us along, team captain Tommy creates these elaborate spreadsheets, with each runner’s legs, their paces, and anticipated start and finish times.
This helps us know when we should be preparing, stretching etc. Based on this spreadsheet, we figured our 2nd legs would be late evening til about midnight. Van 2, however, was faster than anticipated, so our 2nd legs actually started in the early evening. This was nice–my 2nd leg was at dusk through sunset into the night around the outskirts of Toronto.
I did well in this leg averaging a 9:11 pace for my nearly 4 miles (no stopping for photos on this leg). At about 2 miles in, we entered a park, which was lovely, except for the creeper hanging out in the bushes with about one km to go. I wasn’t afraid, but taken aback. He was standing in the brush too far back to be a volunteer (and without any safety gear on, and the volunteers typically wear safety gear). The bushes were up to his mid-chest, too, so the whole thing was odd. At this point it was dark, so when I got to the end, I texted the race organizers about him. (the race organizers set up a text service, so that you could report cheaters and creepers).
According to the spreadsheet, our next legs would begin in the early dawn (3:30am ish), but again Van 2 booked it, and while we were crashed in our van at the transition spot, Brian’s phone started ringing. “hello” he answered groggily (it’s 2:30 am). “where are you?!?! We’re done and waiting!!” Allen booked it to his leg’s start and we were off…yet again.
My last leg was 9.9 miles though on the service road of a highway. Granted it was through some vineyards, and every once in awhile I caught a glimpse of the lake, but it was uninspiring to say the least. But I do have some photos of this leg:
This rabbit cut across my path, and stopped right in front of me, until I decided to take its photo. When the team discovered I took a pic of a rabbit, more teasing ensued. “We have rabbits in the US, too,” I was told. “Yes, but this is a bunn-eh,” answered Joe (i think it was Joe. Anyways, a good pun).
Loved this house (and its paint job)
Tommy told me to aim for 5, and the van would wait there and we could sub out another runner for the rest. I took him up on that offer. I could have maybe gone further, but at that point my brain (and legs) were tired. 4.58 miles at a 10:03 pace.
Once we handed off to Van 2, we were done. We scooted on over to Melissa’s (van 2 captain) parent’s home in Niagara on the Lake, and jumped in their neighbor’s pool (partially unannounced). The neighbor was a
good great sport, though, and even brought us beer. It was 9:30am.
View from Melissa’s parent’s home (the falls is upriver to the right, lake Ontario is down river to the left. The US is across the water).
The neighbor’s pool:
The beer and the boys (betcha they’re glad I was taking pics now):
The race course ran right by Melissa’s parent’s home. We waited a bit, but then decided to move onto the finish line for the party. Melissa was running leg 36–she’d bring it all home on a 7.7 mile, almost totally uphill leg into Niagara Falls.
This was the finish line. And there are the falls. It was awesome to sit there, watching the teams roll in!
This was the first team to finish. They started at 3pm (the last team to do so). They finished before noon the next day. They lapped everyone. That’s sorta awesome.
Melissa kicked some serious butt and finished us not long after this team. The results aren’t available yet, but Tommy thinks we finished in the 27 hour range, which is pretty great.
Here we are all together (minus Patti who had a dragon boat race soon after she finished her final leg).
Team Dirty Dozen, from left to right: Joe, Nancy, me (back), Heather (front of me), Brian, Allen (back) Tommy (middle back), Ed (front), John (red shirt), Melissa (looking to the side), Erin and her daughter. This was one hell of a team–super speedy runners who aren’t waylaid by photo-ops–everyone with a great attitude. I’d do it all over again in a minute.
And the medal? Best ever:
It’s a bottle opener (the mouth is where the ribbon is tied). The shirt’s pretty good, too.
After hanging around the finish line, enjoying our complimentary beers (and a few extra) we made it back to Melissa’s parents for some BBQ, more drinks and huge laughs. An awesome afternoon! We topped it off with a trip back to Melissa’s, crashing at her place, and catching an 8:30am flight back home.
The weekend was full of decorated vans, missed turnoffs, water and gatorade galore, runners in costumes, music and laughs. But boy was I glad to see this:
Home sweet home!