It’s been a little over 3 weeks since we ran this race and, quite frankly, it’s taken me that long to process the entire experience. Not because it was that rough but because it was nothing short of amazing. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s rewind, shall we.
Van 1 had the task of kicking this whole thing off – which meant that they had to leave Montgomery County at 2AM to drive to the start line in Cumberland, MD. It was a tough job, but someone had to do it. And still, they arrived at the start line on Friday morning looking fresh and ready for selfies.
At 5:15AM, Runner #1 Krissy started us off — taking what became the first few steps of our collective 207-mile journey. Way up in northern MD, in the dark and wee hours of the morning, our race had begun.
While Van 1 was doin’ their thing up north, Van 2 gathered at my house at 7AM for breakfast and official team meet & greets. Then at 8AM, we also headed north to meet Van 1 at Exchange 6.
The drive to Little Orleans, MD was a great opportunity for the folks of Van 2 to start the bonding process. We were equal parts nervousness and excitement but it was clear to me very early on that this crew was the most solid and balanced group I’ve ever been in a van with. I knew in my bones that this van was going kick some serious Ragnar ass.
A couple of hours later, Allison (one of my Ragnar Trail Ultra Teammates) was running into the exchange and Gina was on the course, kicking off Van 2’s duty and relieving Van 1 for a little well-deserved R&R.
The first few legs for Van 2 were some of the toughest we’d face out there terms of inclines. Seriously, just driving along the mountainous route made my legs heavy. But we handled it. Each runner came in looking strong with plenty in the tank — no surprise there.
This year, I was Runner #12 and my first leg was 7.4 miles. As a general rule, I don’t look at the elevation profile of my Ragnar legs — call me superstitious — but I’d rather just take it as it comes.
But I actually sorta kinda wish I’d looked at the profile for this first leg — as it turns out, it contained valuable information that I would’ve loved to have had in advance. Miles 1.5 through 5.5 were a steady climb with a particularly gnarly 650′ climb in the middle followed by an awesome (sometimes very steep) downhill finish. I tried to just stay alive on the up and then for the last 2 miles I was cruising as the sun set and darkness fell.
As I turned the corner to run to the exchange, I saw my relief runner, Krissy, waiting for me, smiling, laughing and dancing. We exchanged a sweaty hug and with a pass of the even-sweatier slap bracelet, she was on her way and my van’s first shift was over.
We quickly wished Van 1 well and sent them on their way. After our spaghetti dinner in the Clear Spring High School cafeteria, my crew headed out into the school parking lot to set up a make-shift camping area. At that point, we had about 2 hours to get some shut-eye before it was time for us to be on the move again.
I really wanted to sleep but — between the distractions of my very upset stomach, the news that one of our Van 1 runners was out of the race with a foot injury mid-way through her second leg and the cool effect of the Harvest Moon peeking out from behind the super-spooky cloud cover — I got exactly 15 minutes of sleep before it was time to wake the troops.
A little after midnight, we were on our way to South Mountain where we’d exchange with Van 1 again. And before we knew it, Gina was back out on the course. At that point, Van 1 had been awake for a full 24 hours so they headed south to get cleaned up and hopefully catch a little sleep.
As the night wore on, we the people of Van 2 supported our crew as they bravely tackled their overnight runs. Around 9:30AM, it was my turn again. My second leg was a 9.7 miler — which I turned into a 9.85 miler when I took a wrong turn (thank God for the van who saw me and chased me down to get me back on track).
Coming in to Germantown, it was hot and sticky AF and I was feeling pretty overheated but when I saw Krissy waiting for me with her trademark smile I suddenly had a bit of pep in my step so I rolled in hard and fast, relieved to be done with that leg — two down one to go. But then, the news came in…
After a conversation with Race Command only moments after completing my second leg, I had to tell my van mates that, in order to complete the race in the designated time frame, we would have to “double up” which means that even though Van 1 was on the course and we would otherwise be off to get some food and a few hours of rest, we needed to drive to our next exchange and get started running our final legs ASAP. In other words, no breaks for us.
To my surprise, they took it like champs and within seconds, we were gearing up and heading toward Chevy Chase, MD to get Gina back out on the course.
Despite the lack of sleep and actual meals (cuz I’m told that Sour Patch Kids and pretzels sorta don’t count), we were in fantastic spirits. Perhaps, a big part of each of us just wanted to get it done and see this thing through.
Gina decided that as her last action as part of the team she would try to break her high school 2-mile time. I challenged her to run her final leg (2.1 miles) in 18:18 – a challenge that she gladly accepted. But then in true Gina-style, she ran it in 17:45 (overachiever). And just like that, her Ragnar was over.
Next up was Angelo, with his third super hilly almost 7-miler. He crushed it and as he came running into Arlington, the smile on his face said it all. His pure enthusiasm throughout this race was infectious. He faced some of the most challenging legs with such impressive and inspiring determination, all the while beaming from ear to ear. What a fantastic guy!
Next up was Kim, who we sort of strong-armed into joining the team, knocked out her last leg of 2.2 miles and came into the exchange looking equal parts exhausted and proud of herself. As she finished, I grabbed her, hugged her and reminded her that she had done it … something she thought just 24 hours ago might be damn near impossible. I cannot tell you how proud I was of her in that moment – she had done the impossible. What a moment to be present for, a moment I’ll never forget. Way to go Kim!
Then, it was John’s turn. He had the shortest final leg (1.8 miles) but after what he and the others in this van had already been through, it was long enough. Then, with that quick run around Northern VA, his contribution to the team effort was complete. I had only met John face-to-face once prior to this race but I’m so grateful that he was in my van. A strong dude with a great sense of humor and a positive attitude that was super calming and very much appreciated.
Then, Josh was off for his final 6.1 miles. Josh was a stranger to me prior to this event but we had some time to chat during the race and I gotta say, this guy is a great guy. He’s tough and determined. Prior to this race the longest he’d ever run was 9 miles — his second leg alone was 9.1 miles and his individual mileage contribution to the team was more than 20 miles. What a trooper! I think he surprised himself but from the relatively little that I know about him, I wasn’t surprised at all. He’s a special guy and I’d absolutely love to have the chance to run with him again.
My turn. My longest leg remained – 11.9 miles. The mileage itself wasn’t enough to get me bent out of shape but once I got to about mile 4 after crossing the Key Bridge into DC, I found myself covered in sweat (it was super humid) and dodging people on the insanely-crowded sidewalks of Georgetown on a Saturday night. Yep, you read that right. We were on the effing sidewalks of one of the most crowded areas of DC on a Saturday night. It. Was. Awful.
People on the streets refused to move and got mad when they bumped into us and got slimed. But the worst part was that running down M Street means that you gotta wait for a whole lotta traffic lights. For the next few miles, we were sprinting from traffic light to traffic light, only to stand and wait for 45-60 seconds every block for the WALK sign to change. Boo! It was like time had stopped and I swore that it was becoming the never-ending run.
But just when I was ready to plot my escape from this silly adventure, I started chatting with another runner. Her name was Robin, originally from California but now living in Howard County, MD — one county over from where I live. Over the last 5 miles of the run, we chatted and shared a bit about our lives with each other — like old friends catching up on the run. Time started to fly by and we kept each other moving.
The last mile was kind of a blur. As we rounded the corner to head for the finish, knowing we’d be separated once we found our teams, we began to say our good-byes. Our running friendship — although relatively short — was particularly sweet and had served its very important purpose. We made it through a really tough run together and we didn’t have to go it alone. Priceless.
I was beyond thrilled to see my team waiting for me. We ran for the finish line together. And just like that, it was over.
Another Ragnar in the books. Best team of 12 runners I’ve ever known. The circumstances were tougher than any I’d ever experienced and this team managed it all like pros. I cannot tell you how proud I am of each person on this team.
Each of them had doubts and fears. Each of them had to overcome their own stuff out there. Each of them made a valuable contribution to this team. Each of them gave it everything they had. And in the process, we’d become a family —with lots of shared emotions and (really sweaty) hugs to prove it.
This is the magic of Ragnar — you go in expecting to run a bunch of miles with a bunch of randos but you end up changing your life.
I had the privilege this year of being the captain of two awesome Ragnar teams of gutsy, impressive, beautiful souls. I’m so unbelievably blessed and honored to know these people and to have shared this experience with them.
I get asked all the time why I do these races, why I do what I do and why I quit a promising and stable 12-year career in the legal field to coach. My answer: there’s nothing quite like seeing someone discover their own strength and potential, watching as doubt is replaced with pride. I live for the moments when I get to see peoples’ perception of themselves transform from otherwise ordinary to absolutely extraordinary. It’s pure magic and it never gets old.
So hell yes, I can’t wait to do it again next year. And again, as I do every year, I’ll challenge those who are on the fence about it to give this race a go. You never know what you’ll discover about yourself out there but I guarantee that it’ll change you forever. Come on … I dare you.
Thanks to my amazing team – Krissy, Liz, Lisa, Sean, Dodi, Allison, Gina, Angelo, Kim, John and Josh – for being the most amazing group of people ever assembled. Also, a very special thanks and a massive shout out to our amazing volunteers – Rena, Dave and Edgar – who made our team complete. Ya’ll are so awesome.
To see more pics from this awesome experience, check out this slideshow made by one of our teammates (Lisa).