From the time Ragnar first came on my radar, I have been utterly enthralled with the idea. Running. Driving. Eating. Fun-having. I approve of all these things. I followed people on Twitter who were running Ragnar FL Keys last January and immediately thought “This is so my scene.” My husband and I landed a spot on a team for Chicago but even before that, I decided that I wanted to be on a team for Tennessee. I didn’t want to chance not getting a spot on a team, so I decided to put together a team for myself.
Even now, two days after we crossed the finish line, I can’t believe it actually happened. And that it’s over. And that my next potential relay experience won’t happen until next June (Chicago again).
Yes, as I write this I am in a Ragnar hangover. Trying very hard to resist the urge to write on random vehicles with wet chalk marker… looking for someone to slap a bracelet on at the end of my run…and researching where to buy a cowbell to call my own. So, to combat the funk, I will re-live for you the Adventures of Team Twisted Running at Ragnar Tennessee.
First off, I adore this team. I am so pleased that we wound up with 10 people that I personally knew, and even then, the only one that I’d never met was a sibling of a team member.
Our Cast of Characters (in runner order):
1. Jan-I met Jan through BodyPump at the Y. We’ve run some of the same races and I’ve gotten to go the BootCamp class she teaches. She is funny and encouraging.
2. Amy-A dynamic college chum who has become a long-distance running friend, too.
3. Jason (JWin, as we had two Jasons)-Father of my daughter’s Pre-K friend. Prefers trails to roads but slummed it with us this weekend.
4. Elise-Jason’s wife and a newly-minted half-marathoner.
5. Cris-We met through BodyPump and have become friends. She is a biologist and teacher; tiny and tough!
6. Lori-Amy’s hilarious sister who has got adorable running ensembles.
7. Jason (J-Ran)-My training partner Katie’s husband. He flew in on a redeye from California to Atlanta, then drove to Chattanooga to run with us.
8. David-My husband, and the guy who makes our team videos look so good.
9. Aron-A co-worker from The Weather Channel, who has had multiple brushes with fame.
10. Katie-My dear friend and marathon training partner.
11. Brian-A friend from church; David’s soccer teammate. Dry humor, good runner. Prone to ‘nutrition situations.”
My life was pretty much Ragnar-centric for the week leading up to the race. We had a team meeting the Thursday before and then I spend the next days shopping, pre-producing the video, putting together spreadsheets, and baking pumpkin bead (a loaf of perfect running fuel for each runner!)
Then, of course, I had to pack for myself.
The real adventure started Thursday morning when Amy and Lori flew in from Wichita and Kansas City. I picked them up from MARTA and we went to get the vans. I had only been able to find 12-passenger vans, which turned out to be okay, but next year I’d like to reserve earlier and make sure I can get 15-passenger vans. That one extra bench adds a lot of space. I had neglected to tell Amy she would be driving, but she’s a sport. We nervously drove off the lot—but the 12-passenger van proved not to be that big of a deal to drive.
Lori, Amy and I hit up Target for snacks and then hung out at my house for a bit. Then the team members started to trickle in and it was time to decorate vans and pack up. Most of us hit the road for Chattanooga around 8. Missing: David had to stay and go to work, J-Ran was wrapping things up in Cali, and Katie was meeting us at the hotel after dropping her kids with family near the ‘Noog. Jason and Elise also have family in the area and stayed there Thursday night.
Bedtime came around midnight, but I was wide awake again at 4:45. I laid there for a bit and then decided, if I couldn’t sleep, I’d get up and try to catch the sunrise for the video. Katie stirred around this time and came with me. We drove to the Walnut Street bridge, which is a beautiful pedestrian bridge over the river. The water was steamy and the sky cloudy but we pointed the camera east and caught the first slivers of light for the video. Then I looked to my left and—you can hear this on the video—started shrieking. “Katie! Katie! It’s the start line! The start line! Look! It’s the start line.” I knew we were close to it but didn’t realize you could see it from where we were. We moved closer and got some good overhead shots of the 7:30 starters lining up and taking off.
Then it was back to get ready for our 11AM start. Our late-comers showed up and we headed to the start line. We only had two Ragnar vets on the team, and since that was David and me, Van 1 was full of rookies. I wasn’t worried about them—everyone is a fully capable individual, and Amy and Cris are two of the most take-charge planners I know. They’d be fine.
We shot some fun stuff for the video of the team at the start, and saw some of the folks we’d be running with for a while. The most colorful characters were certainly the team called The Fellowship of the Beards, who were immediately ribbed by our bearded runner J-Win. You will hear more about them as they continued to be around us for the whole Ragnar.
Our time to start came and Jan lined up with the other teams. She executed a gorgeous cartwheel when the announcer called “Team Twisted Running,” and shortly thereafter took off to start our 200-mile journey.
Van 1 packed up and took off. Van 2, meanwhile, went to do—what else?—eat. Sandwiches at Sweet Peppers where we each got called “Honey,” “Baby,” or “Darlin’” by the sweet Southerner taking our orders. We then went to buy another red blinkie light from a running store since one of ours turned out to be blue (oops).
Then off to Exchange 6 we went. We checked in, went through the safety talk, and got ready to run. There was a Ragnar Merch Tent which I avoided altogether because half the time I already look like a Ragnar groupie when I leave my house. I also practiced extreme self control in not succumbing to the lure of Swiftwick socks. However, I could not resist the little bakery there with a booth, selling chicken noodle soup. Now that was some good eating.
Our Van 1 was running ahead of schedule, so before we knew it, Lori was powering into the exchange and J-Ran was headed toward Monteagle mountain. Everyone in Van 1 was… well, glowing. They were all exhilarated and starting to ‘get’ the Ragnar experience. They had survived that first leg, where everything is new, and were clearly on a rush. They were also hungry, and we had an exchange to get to, so we said goodbye and went our separate ways.
We headed out of town and toward…the mountain. My grandfather never worried about me much, but when I drove between college in Rome, Georgia, and my grandparents’ house in Columbia, TN, he always fretted about me crossing Monteagle. This time, it was us fretting about J-Ran’s journey up the side of the mountain. There is a 1303-foot elevation gain in 4 miles on that leg. That is BANANAS. But J-Ran is one of the team’s strongest runners, and it was a perfect leg for him. I mean, dude ran up a mountain. That’s all I have to say about that.
We stopped across the road to cheer for him from the van (not surprisingly, teams are not allowed to get out of the van on the side of Monteagle Mountain). The Beard Runners were at the same spot, and had already tagged our van with a little sticky beard. I told whoever was driving (Brian? Aron? I dunno. I was already tired.) to pull up beside them, really close. I opened the door and with a marker started to write my Twitter handle on their van. They saw me and started to move, so I pressed the marker against the van and made a nice little line while they moved. Heh. All in good Ragnar fun. Then we saw Jason coming up the mountain. We cheered and offered him support and then watched him keep churning up the course. Did I mention that he flew in on the redeye from California-Atlanta Friday night? He’s TOUGH.
David still had not arrived from work so I ran his leg for him. Runner #8’s leg was across the top of Monteagle. Did you know that this area is extremely rural? Well it is. You know what live in extremely rural areas? Wild dogs. I saw two dogs (possibly wild, possibly not) on this 6-miler. Truth: It freaked me out. I had visions of those brothers in the recent Runners World article who have nerve damage after being attacked by pit bulls (these were not pits, btw.) I ran into the middle of the road (no cars coming) to be as far away as I could from them. Then I looked at them and sternly said “Stay. Stay.” I remember my mom doing that as a kid so it was the first thing that came to mind. Neither of them attacked me, so I guess it worked? I think they were probably bored with passing runners by this point. Anyway, I ran as the sun set and it was just beautiful, catching the tops of the fall-colored trees as it slipped away. And the perfect hint of chill in the air felt wonderful after a day that had gotten fairly warm. The run over Monteagle is hard because there is very little road real estate. Between the rumble strips and the ditch there is about a foot-width’s amount of space. One foot-width. It takes a lot of focus not to end up in the ditch or with a twisted ankle from the rumble-strips. But, so it goes.
I handed off to Aron just as it was getting truly dark. He busted down the road—so hard that his red blinky light fell off before we caught him in his second mile (remember? The light we had to buy a few hours before in Chattanooga? *facepalm*). We tossed him a new one to avoid a safety violation, but that left Katie scrambling to reconfigure her safety situation. She flipped her headlamp around, wore Jason’s in front, and took my Knuckle Lights. We tossed her out at her exchange and grabbed Aron and took off for more cheering. We found Katie a ways into her run, and she was clearly not happy with the light situation. One of the Knuckle Lights had a broken strap and things weren’t adjusted to her liking. We were also concerned about all the Friday-night-football-game traffic on 41 on Monteagle. I won’t lie—none of us were happy right then. Katie was distracted with all those little things, and we were worried about her safety. We caught her at least two more times before she ended her run, and things got progressively better as she came into Monteagle.
Brian took off for his first leg and after spotting him once on the route, we went on to the exchange. He must have been flying, because I got ready, went to the bathroom, and was tying my shoe near the exchange when I heard “138! 138 do you have a runner here?!?” I tied my shoe, found Brian and was headed down the chute and soon enough, down a mountain! It was so dark and I was discombobulated from missing Brian that I was nervous I wasn’t going the right way. There were no cones and no other runners at first. I slowed down and kept looking back until I saw a headlamp coming toward me. Then I took off. This leg was so much fun! It was dark, and chilly and vans were coming down the mountain and cheering. I saw our van twice on the mountain, and they got big smiles from me. The race had managed to get an entire lane for us to run in, so it was much easier than when we were fighting the rumble strips earlier. I could really let loose and run. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!! The bottom of the mountain is at the 4 mile mark and then it’s four miles in to the town of Cowan. I knew if my time calculations were right David just might be there by the time I finished my leg. And, we’d get to see our dear Van 1 at the exchange. So I plugged along, trying to catch the blinky lights in front of me. I got passed at one point by a guy in compression socks who had a beautiful gait. (As someone who can have pretty terrible form, I’m awed by people who make running look pretty.) I paced off this guy for a while, and then I suddenly saw him walking. Weird, but he was looking like my roadkill now. Turns out his calf was acting up. On the first leg. Ouch. I hope he ended up being okay. I did pass him and soon heard some very rowdy cheering up ahead. My team! I happily ran toward Jan and slapped the bracelet on her, then crossed the street to join the rest of the team. First leg(s), over! 14 miles in 4 hours, and a run down a mountain. Exhilarating! Now, we were off to find David and food.