Thursday, July 18, 2013

Bib of The Day -- Ragnar Relay Great River, August 24-25, 2007

This bib comes from the first of the three Ragnar Great River relays that I have run. Let me tell you, if you haven't ever done a relay, get it on your bucket list and get it done. It is a fabulous experience and one you will never forget. Plus, they have great medals!

The Great River relay is a 198-mile jaunt from LaCrosse, Wisconsin to Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota that roughly follows the path of the Mississippi River. Here is how a relay works -- there are 12 runners on a team that is split between two vans. The first team runs the first six legs, the second team runs the next six and each group leapfrogs each other until the finish.

Each runner has three legs of varying distances. I've run as many as 18 miles (which I did in 2007) or as little as 10-11, which makes it something that runners of all abilities can do.

Anyway, putting the team together was my friend Wally Hines, who I have been friends with since the sixth grade. I was actually the one that got Wally running when we decided at my dad's funeral in September, 2004 that we were going to run a marathon together in 2005.

We settled on Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota (that bib will come up later) and in the years since Wally has used running to have some incredible adventures, and this past April completed his goal of running a marathon on every continent when he completed the Antarctica Marathon. Oh yeah.

So anyway, the team was put together amongst Wally's running club friends, plus myself and a couple of people who signed up as individuals and were added to our squad. Our team name was "Pour Us", and we made really cool shirts with a stick figure stumbling along while carrying a bottle on the front. In subsequent years the team was "Pour Us Again" and "Pour Us Yet Again". Runners are a bit of a twisted lot. That and pretty much everyone on the team liked to drink beer. Go figure.

The race started outside of our hotel right on the banks of the river in LaCrosse, and our first runner headed out at about 9 a.m. on Friday. What people don't realize is that in most cases you have to seriously hustle between legs. Once you see your teammate off and get organized and back into the van, you get to the next checkpoint pretty much just in time to get the next runner loosened up and ready. Of course, stopping a couple of times and cheering them on is part of the plan as well.

I ran my first leg at about 2 in the afternoon. It was a little over six miles and it was seriously hot. I had some stomach issues which slowed me up and was happy to get over the top of the hill and see the next group waiting for me at the checkpoint.

As the sixth runner in our van, I passed our wristband off to the next van and we drove up the road to a little town called Norway, where we spent the next couple of hours hanging out and waiting our turn. Norway is kind of a cool town because it only has about 200 residents but has an incredible view of the river (and it looks to be about a mile wide there!) and a neat little hole-in-the-wall grill/bar, which serves really cold beer!

Of course they's Wisconsin! Truth be told, I seriously love Wisconsin. Except for the Packers.

One thing I like about relays is that there is a lot of camaraderie and an opportunity to meet the people from other teams. Since the start is staggered depending on a team's anticipated pace, with slow teams going first and faster ones going off last, you are around the same people pretty much the entire time.

Our opposite numbers arrived and we were off again. I crammed into the van (actually it was a big Toyota Sequoia SUV, but "van" sounds a bit more hard-core) and waiting my turn. By the time Leg 18 (mine) came around, we were about 7 1/2 miles outside of Prescott, Wisconsin and it was about 12:30 a.m. and about 57 degrees.

What followed was one of the most epic runs of my life. With a two-fer of Heart ("Barracuda" and "Crazy On You") blaring on my headphones, I took off on a run that could best be described as surreal. It was after midnight, it was seriously dark and I had no concept of anything except for what was about 30 feet in front of me that I could see with my flashlight.

I had looked at the elevation and knew there were a lot of hills, but I didn't know where they were, so I just ran. It was an incredibly free feeling, just running and not caring about what was ahead. No mile markers, no clocks. It was completely running in the often does that happen?

It was also so beautiful. I live in a metropolitan area of almost 10 million people, which means there is so much light I rarely see many stars. I saw lots of them that night, and the view of the river from some of the bluffs was unreal.

In short, I tore that leg up. When I pulled into the parking lot of Prescott High School, I had run 7 1/2 miles in 52 minutes. To this day, I still have no idea how that happened. I wish I could recreate that every time I run, but I guess if you did that how could you remember it as being special?

Leg three came about eight hours later when I took the wristband somewhere in Minnesota for a 5-mile leg. As good as the previous leg was, that one was just bad. By the time morning rolls around, unless you are good at sleeping on the move, you are just out of gas. The final leg is a grind for almost everyone, and I had to take a walk break about midway through. Still, I ran the leg in about 42 minutes and our van (OK, SUV) was FINALLY done.

We celebrated by grabbing breakfast at a Perkins restaurant before we drove into St. Paul to wait for our team. The cool thing about this relay is that when the final runner is about a quarter-mile from the finish, the make an announcement and the rest of the team heads down the running path next to the river and waits for their teammate, then all 12 people run the rest of the way through to the finish together.

In the end we covered the 198 miles in 28 hours, 55 minutes and 45 seconds for an average pace of 8:45 per mile. We finished 22nd overall out of 99 teams and won our division, Mixed Masters. For that we got a sweet baton that I still have somewhere. And as I mentioned before, a cool medal that doubles as a bottle opener.

I ran the race again in 2009-10 and had another great time. Since then Wally and some of my other teammates have run relays in places such as Key West and Cape Cod, and will be running one in northern California soon. Someday I hope to join them again.

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