Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Why I Ragnar

It’s two in the morning.  I’m excited for my 3.9-mile run that’s going to start in about ten minutes.  No, I’m serious.  I really am excited.  After my 4.9 mile run in the 100 plus degree heat of the day six hours before, the cool of the night and the downhill course makes this run very appealing.  This run beats the pants off my middle of night run at Wasatch Back the summer previous.  It was so cold then that I woke up with frost on my sleeping bag.  After nearly freezing waiting for our runner from the other van to come in, I had a four-mile run uphill.  It was not my most pleasant run.

Here she comes—my teammate.  She slaps the Ragnar wristband onto my arm and I take off.  With the cooler temperature and downhill my pace is about two minutes faster than it was during my first run.  Within a mile I’ve found a good pace.  The problem, at least for the girl in front of me, is that it is the same as her pace.  For about three miles in the dark, with my headlamp bouncing on the ground at her feet, she has to listen to me huff and puff in cadence with my gait. 

The pace feels great.  I’m eating up ground and my body loves it.  As I come into the last mile I realize I can finish a little faster than my non-voluntary running partner.  At first I hesitate as I think about the grueling run earlier in the heat of the day.  That run took a lot out of me.  I’m pushing it on this run and in about six more hours I’ll be hitting my last run of 11 miles from Sea World around the harbor near downtown San Diego.  If I step up the pace now, it’s likely I’ll be in pain and slower on the next run.  I can’t hold back though, despite my own mental warning.  The pace, the temperature and the course combine to make me want to go faster.  Sliding around the girl, I move ahead to finish the leg a little bit faster. 

So Cal 2012.  From Huntington Beach to Coronado Beach.  My fourth Ragnar and second time running this one.  What is a Ragnar and why do so many people flock to them?  Why do I flock to them?  (Can one person flock?)  A Ragnar is a long-distance relay race, usually between 180 and 205 miles.  Sane people run them in teams of twelve, split between two vans.  (Insane people run them with six people.)  Each person runs three legs varying between two and eleven miles in distance, completing a total of around twelve to twenty total miles.  The race begins sometime on Friday, with your start time being determined by the average pace of your team.  Slower teams start earlier in the morning to give them more time to finish it by Saturday afternoon.  The first van runs six legs, and then turns the baton (wristband) over to the second van and they run six legs.

If you’ve ever been on a Ragnar course, a van exchange, or finish line, you know that people from all walks of life participate.  Young people, old people, middle-aged people, teenagers, athletes, wannabe athletes, no-where-near athletes.  Teams are made up of families, friends, co-workers, classmates, and strangers.  For instance, our So Cal Team—Team Family Therapy consisted of my father (Reed)-fifty something, his friend (Jeff)-forty something, my wife (Rochelle)-thirty something, her sister (Amanda)-late twenties, aforementioned sister’s boyfriend/presumptive fiancé (Matt)-early thirties, my wife’s single/needs-to-get-married-soon brother (Brett)-mid twenties, my sister and her husband (Nathan and Heather)-thirty something and late-twenties, one of my friends/former co-workers (Brett)-early thirties, my sister’s husband’s sister (Kami)-thirty-something, and a friend from church (Michael)-late-twenties.   The wife (Nicole) of my friend from church also joined us and stepped up as a driver and team-mom for one the vans.

What would cause such a diverse group of people to come together to spend 34 or more hours together in a van with no more than baby wipes to use for shower purposes?  What makes running in the heat of the day and the middle of the night, followed by one more run seem appealing?  Before I step up and offer my own reasons for running, let me first speculate as to why some of the others on our team run.  I meant to ask them during this last race, but I forgot.  So, I imagine if I interviewed them this is what they would say.

Brett (friend/former co-worker)
-       United States Air Force Academy graduate, played football for USAFA and played arena football.

“I run to continue to convince those around me of my outstanding athletic prowess and abilities.  Also, because Jarad is one of my mentors and I’m willing to pay for the chance to spend time learning from him, even if it means running through the night.  I don’t worry about how bad the van can smell from all of our stinking bodies, because I tend to be the stinkiest.  Knowing I have a Ragnar coming up gives me a reason to keep running.  Finally, I run because I think people like watching me run.”

Rochelle (wife/best friend)
-       Mother of five with one in the oven.  Psychology major so she should know better than running such a race.

“My husband tricked me into running with him on occasion previous to my first Ragnar in Las Vegas last fall.  Somehow my husband and father-in-law convinced me the Ragnar would be fun.  Giving into peer pressure I decided to give it a try even though it didn’t sound very fun.  Surprisingly I loved the experience despite all the pressure and unease involved with the training.  Honestly, I think there’s a virus that you pick up from other Ragnar runners for which there is no good cure.”

Reed (father/mentor)
-       Survivor of four daughters, police officer, Navy Reservist.

“I enjoy getting people to do things that a person with normal cognitive abilities would consider painful and undesirable.  My goal is to get them to do it and then to decide it’s fun.  In the past few years I’ve managed to get a handful of people to run marathons, half marathons, and Ragnars.  I’ll keep running as long as I can convince more people to do it with me.  While helping incarcerate bad guys is fun, this is even more fun.  Plus, as the mail advertisements from AARP remind me, I’m getting a bit on the older side and this gives me an excuse to stay in shape.”

Amanda (Rochelle’s sister)
-       Nutritional expert and stickler for proper protocol and rules.

“I run races because we have been commanded to be healthy.”

Matt (Amanda’s boyfriend/potential fiancé)
-       Public policy expert and explorer of all angles of even the most minute of decisions.

“WTH.  And I don’t even swear.  Who runs in the middle of the night after having run earlier in the day with no sleep in between?  All of this after an all day trip from Salt Lake to Costa Mesa with the offer to share a bed with Reed the night before the race.  I did this for Amanda…well for me, because I love spending as much time as possible with Amanda.”

Brett (Rochelle’s brother)
-       Outdoorsman, ladies man without the lady, sod expert.

“Don’t tell my sister Amanda, but I ran this for the opportunity to check out runner chicks.  By those criteria alone, the entire experience was worth it.  Turns out I can actually run fast for up to seven miles, maybe even further.  Also, my therapist suggested that I needed some people time; time with people who don’t just talk about sod and wild animals.  This was a great opportunity to discuss different topics.  Did you know that people in So Cal speak English?  Also, they make some great running outfits for females.  Oh, and to that nice young lady I flashed in the port-a-potty accidentally, I apologize.  (Look me up on FB.)”

Michael (My friend from church)
-       Physical therapy student

“Have you ever been cornered by a sad desperate person who turns to you for help?  Well that’s what happened to me when Jarad asked me to run with them.  Before I knew what was happening I had said yes.  Plus, the challenge sounded fun and exciting.  Except for the drive back, it was a great experience.”

Heather (my sister)
-       Mother of three with one more on the way.  Yeah, she ran six months pregnant.

“I run to get away from it all (mainly my wonderful family).  My kids tell me I’m a happier person when I’m running, so really, I do this for them.  Sleeping in a van with bad BO is actually quite relaxing compared to chasing children and keeping my husband in line.”

Nate – AKA “Shin Splint” (Heather’s husband)
-       Serious computer nerd and recovering athlete.

“I tried to run my first Ragnar because my wife told me were taking a weekend trip to Las Vegas.  I was like, oh yeah!  Party time!  We loaded into a van and drove to Lake Mead.  At some point they pushed me out and drove away yelling at me to run as fast as possible until I saw them again.  I ran this Ragnar to reclaim my honor after the terrible injuries I incurred during the Las Vegas race.  After losing over 30 pounds, I decided to make this Ragnar mine.  No way was I going to trip and roll over sagebrush along a lone stretch of road in the desert and then sprain my ankle stepping off the curb.  No way was I going to have someone else run my last leg for me.  Plus, did you know that on a Ragnar you have a captive audience for about 36 hours.  There are some amazing facts about programming that the rest of the world needs to know.”

Jeff (Reed’s friend)
-       Inventory expert and poor chooser of friends.

“After Reed convinced me to run a marathon with him last year, my doctor, who helped me recover from the marathon, told me I needed to find new friends.  Since I have trouble developing new relationships, I said yes when Reed asked me to run the Ragnar.  It was actually quite fun.  Besides, hanging with the Van Wagoners makes me feel a bit more normal in my own life.  I’ll probably run the next one if asked.”

Kami (My sister’s husband’s sister)
-       Mother of three and sister to some crazy brothers.

“I ran this because the Van Wagoners were desperate to get one more runner and I knew the expectations for speed would be low.  No, I’m kidding.  Who doesn’t want to spend three days with the Van Wagoners non-stop? ”

Why do I run Ragnars?  Mainly because I love to laugh and every Ragnar I’ve ran, even the one with strangers, gave me plenty of cause to laugh.  I love the challenge, the motivation to stay in shape.  I love the shared adventure of doing something hard and crazy.  It’s fun knowing that your teammates are counting on you to run each of your legs.  I love being around other teams who are excited to be doing the same thing.  I love the novelty of running in new places and in the middle of the night.   I love teasing people when they’re sore and sleep deprived.  I love throwing a sleeping bag on a patch of grass at a golf course in hopes of sleeping for a couple of hours before my next run.  I love all the teams that stop and cheer for and support all the runners on their final leg when most of us are physically and emotionally exhausted.    

The Ragnar creates memories that will not soon be forgotten.  For instance, sharing a bed with Brett (Rochelle’s brother).  Who wouldn’t line up for that?  Being there when the same Brett forgot to lock the door on his port-a-potty giving a random girl her Ragnar highlight when she opened the door too soon.  Eating Krispy Kreme Donuts right before we started our first leg.  Taking a dip in a lake after our first leg.  An amazing meal at IHOP.   Their food can taste so good after a long run.  Watching Heather push through an excruciatingly painful run in the heat of the day.  Once the six month pregnant woman completed a very tough leg it was pointless to complain about any of my runs.  Watching Brett (the other one) ask a group of guys sitting around a fire if he can sit down for a second as he drops his pants in front of all of them. 

Check out this video about why to run the Ragnar.

- Jarad Van Wagoner


Matthew Piccolo said...

Hilarious! And your quote from me was spot on.

Anonymous said...

Jared, I loved it! You really are a comedian,I think you should really take it up as your second job!

Susan Albano said...

Fantastic post!! I'm about to do my 2nd Ragnar (New England) this weekend. One of our team members had to drop out this morning and we were planning to do this with a team of 10 instead of 12. So now we're down to 9 and I was feeling very anxious about whether I could do this or not, but after reading your post I am so ready!!!! Thanks.

Jarad said...

Thanks, Susan! Best of luck to you, but be warned you're bordering on the insane. We almost had to run the So Cal with fewer than 12 runners. I can't lie. Part of me was excited at the prospect of the challenge...or at least the right to brag about it. Let me know how it goes.

Anonymous said...

That was classic! I think it was better that instead of getting a quote from each of the runners...you thought of what they might say. :D I love RAGNAR too! My stomach always hurts on the day we return from all the laughter. It's a good release! Go RAGNAR!