You may remember a little relay I ran last year called Ragnar. Well, crazy as it sounds, I ran it again. This time with my running group, some new friends and some very long-lost friends.
Ragnar is a 200 mile relay with 12 people in 2 vans spanning 36 hours. It's logistical mayhem, but it's what I love most: planning and running. Our team surprisingly dubbed ourselves as the Perfect Strangers and by the end of the weekend we all knew more about each other than we did on Thursday afternoon.
Van pick-up a la Bri and Jaime in the Circle City:
We loaded up our vans and headed north to Chicago to pick up some of my friends.
We had dance parties (well maybe that was just me) and shared our excitement and nerves about the race. I practiced the lyrics to a song that we talked about creating a choreographed routine. We shared new dance moves. You know, typical car trip shenanigans.
We stopped in a Chicago suburb to pick up a friend from my high school cheerleading squad (Megan!!!). Can't believe it had been 18 years since I had seen her last. But she's just as I remember her: hysterical. We then stopped in Rockford to pick up a friend from my junior high cheer team (Donna!!!). I hadn't seen her since 8th or 9th grade and she, too, was exactly how I remembered her: chatterbox. Facebook brought me back in touch with these ladies and I'm so happy they took the leap of faith to join all these strangers for a weekend trip.
Straight to Paisan's for beers and pizza. Beautiful Lake Menona in the background.
We woke up early to capture a team photo: yellow was van #1 and purple was van #2. Tall socks were optional :)
Van #1 headed to the start line to run through the safety meeting and packet pick-up. We were able to watch the 7:15 group start and share in the excitement all the other teams had while runners took off on their 200 mile journey.
Bri started us off, tearing up as she stood in the starting corral. We're an emotional group of women and we were so happy to be together doing this crazy relay.
As soon as Bri took off, we rounded up back into the van to go to exchange #1 where she handed the slap-stick bracelet to moi. I only had 4.5 miles and it was just 8am-ish. No biggie. Until I turned directly into the sun. And had to climb hill after hill after hill. Hot. Hills. Not my fave. Plus, I was in van #1 last year and had remembered all of the exchanges...so as I passed last year's exchange #2 (just 2 miles into my run) I realized that Ragnar had changed a few legs along the course and mine was one of them. Tease. I had 2.5 more miles to go. Can't remember much other than climbing hills and seeing spots. But I made it. Handed it off to Meghan. Who handed it off to Karen. As Karen was running her leg, the rest of our van did this:
That's right, our first dance party at an exchange. We opened up the van doors, blared the music and started dancing. Our laughter is what I remember most. Think everyone at the exchange either saw us, heard us, recorded us, or joined us. It was epic. We had energy to burn and moves to bust out. After several songs we decided it was time to get to the exchange to meet Karen. Then we saw this (there are no words):
Karen handed off to Meggie. Meggie handed off to Jaime. Jaime was running the longest leg of the race (10.9 miles) so we decided it would be best to "leapfrog" her. This is when we let our runner run a few miles, we drive up a few miles and meet her to give her fuel. Then she runs more and we meet her again. Van support. And boy, did Jaime ever get support. Our tactic was to give her 3 miles on her own until we meet up with her for the first time. We stopped the van in some shade (near a cow pasture) and once again had ourselves a dance party. As Jaime approached, she joined in for a 2 minute dance party as well. Vans next to us were recording us. Runners that passed us gave us fist pumps. It was epic. Karen then joined Jaime for a few miles. Leapfrog & dance party. Meghan joined Jaime for a few miles. Leapfrog & dance party. I joined Jaime for a mile and let her finish her last on her own. And cue major exchange where we hand off to van #2. Phew. Rest time.
We ate lunch. We tidied the van. We took baby wipe showers and discovered the awesomeness that spray baby powder possesses. We visited Target for more water and snacks. Then we drove to the next major exchange where we'd wait for hours until van #2 was complete with their 6 legs. This is where the fun got out of control. Almost immediately we decided it was time to start choreography on our dance routine to Call Me Maybe. Hours of grueling practice in the heat. Onlookers watching, clapping, video taping. It was time. We recruited, first, a stranger for a trial run through on the camera, then Jaime's brother Robb to film the final show (he's much more professional than that stranger). For your viewing pleasure, I introduce to you the PS's rendition of CMM:
As of today, we've had almost 1,200 hits. Love everything about that!
After our dancing was complete, we spent some quality time in the van cooling off. Played games. Sang songs. Had hair competitions (who was the better Mufasa?). Just overall fun girl time.
Before we knew it van #2 was on their way into the exchange (after a very long and grueling afternoon of running some very long miles in the heat). Was amazing to see our "other half" and grab hugs and some quick stories. We were immediately sobered to hear that Rachel's mom had an emergency back home. There were worried glances. Tearful hugs. But Rachel's attitude was incredible. She's such a positive person. It helped that we had 3 nurses on our team, all of whom offered incredible insight and support to Rachel. Swear, our team caught Rachel's attitude and carried on. It was time to do some night running:
This year we wizened up and packed a bike to accompany the night runners. It can be VERY scary and intimidating running on pitch black trails mostly alone. The bike came in handy for more than just the night rides, though. More on that later. All of us made it through our night runs without a hitch. We handed off to the other van and took off for the next major exchange, some food and some rest. This part becomes very hazy, but I do know that while a few of us slept in the van the other half dined at Denny's and have some pretty funny stories to boot. The girls finished their pancake balls and drove us to the next exchange where we slept somewhere in the ballpark of 2-3 hours.
All of us woke on Saturday morning. with major tummy issues. And an early morning phone call from Rachel told us that her van was struggling, too. Vomitting. Tummy issues. Not sure who would be able to make it to the next run. Worry set in. But our van made the conscious decision to rally. No matter who dropped out or who was sick we were going to finish this race. We did the math of how many miles all of us would have to run if we had to pick up extra legs. We are the Perfect Strangers...this is what we do...we finish. We figure out a plan to accomplish our goals. As a team. Our minds were set: we were going to kick today's ass.
Exactly at that moment, we received the best picture ever from our biggest cheerleader. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a fellow Perfect Stranger's support while she couldn't be with us. Christi sent us pictures, posters, messages ALL day long. She was our biggest cheerleader from afar. Christi and Amy had their 10 year college reunion but they'll be with us next year :) Anyway, upon opening Christi's motivational message we all shed some tears. It was exactly what we needed at exactly the right time. Goodness I love her.
Finally it was daylight and we were ready for (what we believed to be) our final legs of the race. A change of clothes, some Skittles and another port-a-potty break did the trick. Time to run. I have to mention that after Meggie posted our dance on YouTube we started getting recognized. I kid you not. We'd be at an exchange and hear, "Hey, are you the Perfect Strangers?" or "Um, are you the Call Me Maybe dancers?" Yep. That's us. We're kind of a big deal. Was so fun and gave us a laugh knowing the video had gone viral (within the race, not the country) so quickly.
Bri handing off to me...
My final leg was about 6 miles along Lake Michigan. I ran through Carthage College and along the shore. It was beautiful and inspired me to keep going. Today was going to be a good day.
Me handing off to Meghan.
Crossing off my final leg of the race.
Here we are leapfrogging Karen on a beautiful gravel trail on the Wisconsin/Illinois border. We cheered on other runners from the race as well as regular, everyday bikers, walkers and runners. Who doesn't need an extra pick-me-up while working out?
There aren't many pictures (if any) after our van passed off to van #2. Sandi headed off on her last leg of the day while Rachel decided she was going to leave to be home with her mother, and the other gals described their nerves about running in the day's heat again. Told us how hard yesterday was and they were afraid of what today held. Here we go. We immediately put together a game plan for the rest of the day. We were going to get through these miles no matter what the cost.
Sandi completed her leg and handed off to Steph. Steph ran half of her leg where I met her to finish her leg. Holy heat. I had to call in for back-up. Jaime came and rescued me. I hadn't eaten enough that morning to get me through two runs. Hadn't anticipated more miles. Jaime brought me fuel. I crossed the line to hand off to Meggie/Meghan who traded miles running and biking for that leg. I grabbed ice by the handful to shove into my sports bra and my mouth. Heaven. Next M&M handed off to Jess who had Steph to ride next to her. I'm telling you, this bike came in handy at the most crucial time. The heat was so bad that no one could run many miles without stopping to walk or to ride the bike and trade some miles. Jess handed off to Megan while Steph rode more miles. (During this time Meghan, Meggie and myself attempted to shower in Lake Michigan only to have the whistle blown on us. Apparently that's not ok. Meggie hunted down a hose at the lifeguard station where she proceeded to shower. This is where I exited the scene and opted to be stinky for a full 48 hours.) Megan ran all of her miles and handed off to Jaime to take a few of the last leg's miles with Donna on the bike. I leapfrogged her, hopped on the bike and Donna ran the final 5 miles. It was special to me that I was able to ride alongside Donna; we were able to catch up and spend time together after 22 years apart. Those final miles were through the city and then along Lake Michigan in Chicago.
After almost getting lost and witnessing hundreds of thousands of people at the beach we saw it...the massive orange arches of the finish. Donna was getting emotional, as her husband and two children were waiting for her at the finish. We found our team, dropped the bike, and all 11 of us ran onto the beach and into the finish together. We made it. It took a lot of heart (and baby wipes) for us to get there...but we did it.
After gaining our medals (aka bottle openers on a ribbon) we snapped a few pics and started the walk back to the vans. We were exhausted and just wanted to go home. The ride to get out of the city was quite memorable to me...we laughed, we cried, we smelled. And we just kept saying how proud of us we were.
The ride home was long. It was dark. We were tired. But ya know how we made it through? Dancing. That's right. Pump up the jam because we had some singing (rapping), dancing and schooling of Meggie on some integral 90's dance tunes to do. You bet your bottom dollar that we made the ride home epic.
Although Ragnar's 200 mile relay is behind us, we still have many miles to run. Many more memories to make. And call me crazy, but I can't wait to do it all again next year with the Perfect Strangers!