Ragnar Relay Florida Keys by

Journal Notes

I had not heard of the Ragnar Relay race series until very recently when my wife told me that several of her co-workers, also friends of mine, were doing one here in Florida. I immediately Googled it to see what the hell this Ragnar shit was, and immediately wanted to be part of it! The Ragnar Relay these people were doing was in Florida, and was a 200 mile relay style race starting in Miami and ending up in Key West Florida.

The concept of these relay races is awesome. You put together a 12 person team, (or..a 6 person team if you are all cyber-human hybrids), rent a couple of big passenger vans, and take turns running "legs" of the 200 mile course. Each "leg" can range anywhere in length from 2 miles to 11 miles or longer. On average, it seems like everyone's 3 legs added up to around 18 miles apiece. That seems like alot, but there are 11 others on your team that have to run in between your runs....so it's several hours to rest. Still though, it's tough. I have one Tough Mudder under my belt, and this was harder.

Anyway, I reallyreallyreally wanted to do this race but it was sold out. No biggie...still have a Warrior Dash and another Tough Mudder already planned for this year....until!!.... Got an instant message from the guy that organized the team of my wife's co-workers!! Apparently one of their team members had bailed on them and they needed a 12th runner.

Well now!! I'm in!

I drove down to meet the rest of the team in Miami early that Friday morning and was redicerously excited. We met at the Hilton by the Miami Airport where I was introduced to the other 5 runners that would comprise our half of the "Rocky Top Rascals", our official Ragnar team name. We spent a few minutes decorating the rental van by drawing on it with grease markers and then hit the road to our first "exchange". "Exchange's" are the official spots where the baton, or in this case the "slap bracelet" is passed from runner to runner. Since we were Van #2 and had the second half of of the team, we skipped ahead to the location of Exchange #6 and waited for Runner #6 from the first van to finish her leg. This all making sense?? It takes a while.

It wasn't long before we heard our team number being announced and Runner #6 was seen coming around the last corner heading our way. Our runner #7, Russ...was on his way. This was cool!!

The next 35+ hours are kind of a blur. There was alot of driving around, stopping, starting again....no...still stopped...ok, going....stretching, sweating, snacking, chugging water, more stretching, more water, quick nap...nope...can't sleep...then RUN!!! KEEP RUNNING!!!

The overnight hours were the most interesting. There's a whole cultural sort of ambiance that surrounds you when you are part of a Ragnar Relay at night. At the exchange points everyone is wearing the Ragnar warrior battle uniform...head lamp, red blinky light and reflective vest. Everyone. It's like an army of vampire road construction flag waivers, but instead of wanting your blood, they want to go jogging. It's weird. When you pull into an exchange it's a battle to find a spot to park your white rental passenger van between the 250 other white rental passenger vans. One thing that's even more amazing is how it somehow becomes amazingly easy to navigate your white rental passenger van through an impossible maze of obstacles in a deep rutted muddy pull off when it's dark and your vision is obscured by shadows and trippy reflections as you suffer from oil rig roughneck caliber sleep deprivation. Wow, that was an awesome sentence! Anyway, it was amazing that at least in the exchanges I was privileged to be part of, no one crashed into each other.

We ended up having our "off time" waiting for Van #1 to finish up their legs at an exchange that was at a high school near Marathon Key. They had showers available, but I opted to simply take a "whore bath" with baby wipes and try to catch a nap. My nap options were limited...in the van or outside the van. Outside the van won out and I grabbed the camping style sleeping pad I brought and headed up to a section of the parking lot of the school where a couple hundred other Ragnarians were crashing to try my luck. I pushed my bright yellow/green shin splint compression sleeves down around ankles and laid down....and holy shit did that feel good. Really good. Didn't get any sleep though, the exchange point was only a couple dozen yards away and it was loud. Cheering... clapping...air horns....headlights from white rental passenger vans shining directly at me. No sleep, but it was nice to take my shoes off and let my feet breath and wiggle my toes for a few hours.

And so went the Ragnar Relay. The hours sped by as the sun, followed by the moon, followed by the sun again, sped overhead. One by one all the runners from Van #1 and Van #2 suited up, jumped into the chute, took the slap bracelet like a gladiator and did their thing. Three times it was my turn, and I had the honor and extreme privilege to also be the final runner of our team, the one to cross the finish line!

My last leg started off at a Shell station on Stock Island just north of Key West. Wendy, Runner #11, came into view just as the sun was setting and before I knew it I was on my way and only 5.8 miles from the finish line at the southern most point in the continental US. I was filled with such a contrasting mix of emotions. On one hand...the sleep deprivation, failing muscles, chaffing, blisters and body odor made me want to just lay down in the gutter and call it quits. On the other hand the sense of accomplishment, beautiful sunset happening in front of me, teammates waiting for me and lure of what beer will taste like after all of this literally translated into a broken man running with a giant smile on his face. I really was pretty much a broken dude at this point, and I had a huge smile on my face.

It was completely dark when one of the encouraging bystanders finally said what I consider to be possibly the sweetest words I have ever heard...., "just a couple more blocks to go!!" He was right, up ahead I saw the blinking red and blue lights of a police car and heard music. The end. It was over. I was both elated and sad. Elated knowing that sleep...on something soft...was near...sad that this experience I've shared with old and new friends is about over.

Fifty yards before the finish the rest of my team...Wendy, Ellie, Erica, Cara, Melissa, Brittani, Marc, Heather, Lindsay, Russ and Ronnie, joined me to cross the finish line as a team. The "Rocky Top Rascals" crossed together screaming, yelling, singing and waiving a flag. We had collectively ran 200 miles over two days and one night and lived to tell about it. Would I do it again? Ha, I would do it again tomorrow.

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