Monday, April 18, 2011

SoCal Ragnar 2011 Team DNR

I saw an e-mail about a week ago on the tri club website searching for a last-minute runner to fill in for a random RAGNAR relay team. I'm not too sure what possessed me to say, "Yes," to fill in at the last minute. I wasn't too sure what RAGNAR stood for or even what RAGNAR was but running 200 miles non-stop from Huntington Beach to San Diego in about 30 hours? Hours and hours and hours of tired, cranky, stinky strangers crammed into a van? Sounds like a reality show! Rad! I'm in!

After saying yes I glanced at my calendar. I noticed I was signed up for the Painted Rocks Half Marathon on Sunday. Hmmm. What to do, what to do. One voice in my head said, "Whaaa? Are you nuts? You won't be able to do both. That's crazy!"
Another voice from my heart said, "I bet it would be awesome." Even though heart was not as eloquent or logical as head, she was much more convincing.

I glanced at the RAGNAR details. Wait, this race is 200 miles? How long would we be out there? That's a long way! Would I makeit back on time for Sunday's race? Worriedly, I sent a quick e-mail out to Liz and Cara, who I had never met. All I knew was that they had sent the original e-mail. They thought I was a bit (okay, maybe more than just a bit) crazy but it looked like I'd be back Saturday afternoon, just enough time to get my race packet and a full night's sleep. Phew! Perfect!

Contradictory to my traditional nature, I totally winged the planning for RAGNAR. I just planned on showing up with my running clothes. This could have been disastrous as the complicated RAGNAR logistics requires a high-degree of cognitive skill, perhaps more important than being in good running shape. I had no idea about any of this. I had glanced at the website but had stopped reading after a few moments, besieged with details. Thankfully, our team was very organized. Cara, our team captain, was a RAGNAR veteran. Just tell me what to do, where and when to be there, and I'll do it!

After I signed up, I discovered that one of the teammates was one of my old running buddies. I haven't been able to run with my old group in almost a year, and I can't tell you how much I miss our Sunday morning runs and post-social brunches. I couldn't wait to catch up with an old friend.

On the drive up, worry started to furrow my brow. This race was complicated. In addition to the volunteers and race directors, I was depending on at least 11 other people to get me back to San Diego in one piece. Call me jaded, but I have found in my 33 years that people, in general, are not that reliable. And I was trusting perfect strangers? I guess it was a leap of faith but for some reason, I knew it would all work out.

After a restless night of no sleep, we got up at 4:30 am to get ready. Sleeping in a strange bed in a strange place the night before a race is hard enough. Add sharing a very small bed with another person that's not your significant other adds another layer to the challenge. Lauren, I love you, girl,'re a pretty violent sleeper!

We flopped onto the hotel lobby sofa at 5:10 to wait for Cara. Our start time was supposed to be 6:30. But we had freaked ourselves out the night before. Wait, is our start time or check-in at 6:30? Don't we need to check in at 5:30? Are we getting picked up at 5 or 5:30? We set 3 alarms and woke up extra early, just in case. Lauren and Liz snacked on clementines in quiet contemplation. I kept chirping repeatedly like a baby bird, "Where's breakfast? Where are we going to have breakfast? Does the hotel have breakfast? Will they have breakfast at the start? What about coffee? Don't you want coffee? Is there a Starbucks open now?" Smiling, Liz pleasantly gave me a couple of clementines to placate me.
Cara texted and informed us she was running about 20 minutes late. I struggled not to have a hernia. Admirably, the other girls shrugged. "Well, she's done this before. I'm sure it'll be fine," they reasoned. Liz gave me a few more clementines to enjoy. Suddenly, the DNR van appeared, and we were whisked to the start. We checked in and the race volunteers were relaxed and non-plussed about arriving 10 minutes before our start time. They simply moved our time from 6:30 to 7:00. What a great idea! Luckily, this is what Cara had been hoping for anyway.

Cara, our team captain, getting ready to start the race. This girl knew exactly what she was doing! Both of our vans were equipped via a carefully crafted checklist with duplicate supplies of orange safety vests, first aid kits, water, ice chests, and tons of food. And the most sacred item, the Race Bible, a 3-ring binder with laminated information about each runner's contact info, course info, and anticipated start and finish times, race rules, and course maps.

Van 1--The Girls--Sharon, Lauren, me, Liz, Cara, Beverly, and Becky (left to right)

Van 2--The Boys--Leon, Dave, Dan, Mark, Steve and myself.
Perfect strangers when we started, my new RAGNAR bruthas and sistahs by the finish!

Putting on our race numbers (Cara, Becky, Lauren, Beverly, Sharon, from L to R)

And we're off!

Cara kicks off the first leg (far center, in blue shirt and black tights)

"This way, right?" Cara points to the course. Although Cara didn't have a problem on her legs, staying on course would prove to be one of the challenges at several points during the race.

Lauren, Runner 2, gets ready for her leg with some dynamic stretches. (She's also a yoga instructor).

Cara runs in with the slap bracelet ready for the exchange.

Cara passes the "baton" (slap bracelet) to Lauren and Leg 2 begins...5 miles down, only 195 miles to go. Unbelievably, time flew for all of us.

Lauren takes off at a full sprint, moments after telling me she's planning on running 8:45s or 9:00s. Sandbagger!

Looking like a Runner's World model, Lauren races to the finish of Leg 2 at a blinding pace.

One of the best things about RAGNAR were the team costumes and van decorations. Some teams went all out! Next time, I definitely want to dress up. The mimes (below) rode in a van marked "SBD--silent but deadly". There were The Single Ladies wearing glitter and gold with "555-HOTTIE" on the backs of their running tops. At each checkpoint, all 12 girls would get together, pump up the dance music, and work the parking lot like a dance floor with impressive moves. I saw teams of nerds and scientists (as a fellow nerd and scientist, I particularly enjoyed these) with their vans decorated in equations. One showed an asymptope on the x and y axis with the phrase, “Can’t Touch This!” printed underneath.

The mimes, my personal favorite. (SBD--Silent But Deadly!)

The Biggest Loser even had a team with some veteran Biggest Losers as fellow teammates.

Meanwhile, Cara gets a call from the Boy Van. "Can Runner 12 switch with me? I only have 16 miles and I want more," Dan, Runner 9, asked.
"No! Don't do it! You'll have to ride in the Boys Van," the girls pleaded. A chorus of "No she won't," "Yes she will"s followed.
"Boys are gross and hairy! Don't go with them!"
I looked at Cara.
"What do you think?"
Cara laughed, "I don't care. You can do whatever you want. It's up to you."
"Can we even do that? Isn't it too late?" I asked. I didn't really care which leg I ran but I wanted to make the best decision for the team. I didn't have a preference; if another teammate wanted my leg, it made sense to switch.
"Nope. As long as that runner has started her first leg. You just can't switch once you've started," Cara assured me. Since she had most likely memorized the rule book, and didn't mind switching, I said, "Sure!"

In between the final leg of the Girls (Runner 5 & 6), we met the Boys van and made the switch. It was a little awkward. I'd had a few hours by now to get used to running around in a van with the Girls. After some quick photos of us standing stiffly next to the van, my backpack was squished into the back of the Guys minivan, and we piled into the noticeably smaller vehicle like clowns in the back of a Volkswagon Beatle. As we drove off to get ready for the next Boy's leg (Runner 8), I looked back wistfully over my shoulders, watching the Girls get smaller in the distance. Hmmm. I just moved from 6 girlfriends in a 12 person van to 5 strange guys in a minivan. Plus, the girls were now done with their first leg and off for some much-needed rest, which I later learned is one the smartest things you can do in a race involving sleep deprivation. While the Boys had slept in because of their later start time, I had woken up before sunrise after a night of getting kicked in the back in a tiny hotel bed. Not that I was bitter or anything. For some odd reason, I didn't really mind. I was actually excited about being able to meet the entire team. It was a unique opportunity to make 11 new friends.

(Mini)Van 2, the Boys Van, stuffed to the gills with our crap!

Meanwhile, Becky (Runner 5) passes the "baton" (a slap bracelet, which I quickly renamed--The Slappy) to Sharon (Runner 6).

And before I knew it, Sharon was passing the slappy bracelet to Leon. Van 2 had begun! Leon took off with blinding speed. I looked at the my other teammates. "Uh, how long is his leg?" I asked.
"7 miles."
"How much time do you think we have?"
"Less than an hour."
"Jeez. We better get going." I looked at my watch. As the day had progressed, more and more RAGNAR teams had started, staggered at different points. To try to encourage everyone to see the costume's on each other's teams and have a chance to interact with more people, the race directors had the slower teams start earlier in the day than the faster ones. Last year, there were 200 teams. This year, there were 500. I don't think the directors anticipated how crowded the checkpoints would become. The last mile of each checkpoint could be stop-and-go for several, slow agonizing minutes. Getting into the parking lots of the checkpoints could take 10-20 minutes. 7 miles wasn't much time.

Leon, fastest runner on the team, takes off with wings on his feet.

As we drove to the next checkpoint, Dan poked the Runner 8, the next runner, Dave. "Hey, man. Are you ready? Where are your shorts?" Dave was silent. He mumbled something inaudibly to Dan. There were several long tense seconds. The roar of the engine became steadily louder as the speed increase.
"Dave forgot his shorts. We're going to get some new ones." Dan spoke over his shoulder. We all sat there in a numb silence. I sat there befuddled, trying to process my emotions. First off, how can you forget your shorts? I mean, really. If I'm leaving for a race, I say in my head, "Shoes, shirt, shorts." The three Shhhs. I mean, basically, if I'm leaving the house, this is usually the bare minimum required so as to avoid getting arrested or stepping on a piece of glass and needing some unpleasant tetanus shots. I took a deep breath; getting angry right now wasn't going to help the situation. However, I was still greatly concerned. Anxiety began making me rock rhythmically back and foth. Finally, I began asking questions like rapid-fire, such as:
"Do we have time to get shorts? "Where are we going to get shorts? Was it far? Should we switch runners? What about supporting Leon?"
The Boys were very patient with me, reassuring me that, Yes, we had time. We would go to Dick's just down the road, and that Leon wouldn't need any help.
Good enough. I shut up, just in time to grab the armrest and clutch the side of the car as Dan (driver and owner of the minivan), threw the car into a hard left to avoid missing a sudden turn. He slammed on the brakes, apologized, and turned left. I slowly peeled my cheek off the side window, looked at him wide-eyed and mouth agape, and pushed my stomach back down my throat.

A mile down the road, Dan and Dave began discussing whether to turn left or right on the highway. Somewhere between Yorba Linda and Corona, Dan turned onto the toll-road. I was a little taken back.
"This way?" Dan asked.
"No." Dave replied.
"We go this way?"
"No. That's a toll-road." At which point, Dan turned onto the toll-road.
"This isn't the right way," Dan stated as he started down the on-ramp.
"No, it isn't," Dave replied. The van jerked sharply to the left, and I gripped the handrails and gritted my teeth, preparing for another adrenaline-packed ride. I was reminded of an incident while riding with my father on the backroads of Tennessee. Upon realizing he was going the wrong way, my dad U-turned on the on-ramp of the interstate, drove the wrong way back the rest of the ramp, and then nearly flipped the car in the dirt ditch between the on-ramp and the road he wanted to be on before miraculously ending up in the right direction. And, no, frighteningly enough, my dad was 100% sober.
Luckily, Dan was a much better driver than my dad. He continued down the toll-road, cursing under his breath.
"Why did you let me go the wrong way?" Dan asked.
"I told you it was the wrong way," Dave replied.
"No you didn't!"
"Actually, he did. You probably just didn't hear him," the Peanut Gallery from the back (okay, it was just me) piped up. Dave gave a peace offering of $2.50 for going on the toll-road the wrong way. The kicker? It was another $2.50 to turn around and go back the other way, despite pleading with the toll-booth lady.
"We're in a race and we went the wrong way and just paid. Do we have to pay again?" Dan asked. The toll-booth lady didn't budge. Without saying a word, she smiled, shook her head, and held out her hand for the cash. I looked for the horns on her head as we stonily gave her the cash and drove away.

Luckily, Dick's was on the way to the next checkpoint. (I was assured of this after I chirped out more questions and expletives about time). Before I knew it, we were in Dick's parking lot. Dave looked through the shorts, deliberating on sizes, prices, style. Dan hurried him along. Finally, Dave selected a conservative pair of black running shorts and proceeded to the dressing room. Let me say it again. He proceeded to the dressing try them on. As we stood in the checkout line, I spotted some candy and piled my arms up with junk food. My breakfast had consisted of a bagel and a banana. It was 1:30, I was hungry, and I would need to run soon. Miraculously, Dave got to the next checkpoint in time for the hand-off. I wiped the sweat from my brow with the back of my hand. I learned early on that riding with the Boys was going to be adventurous!

Dave, heading off on his very hot, hilly challenging run in his brand-spankin' new shorts.

The scenery was nice but under-appreciated due to the sweltering hot sun. In addition, the course was extremely hilly. We stopped several times to support Dave with cheers, photos, and water. It was unseasonably hot and temps were quickly escalating deep into the 80s. Dave's course was the hilliest we had seen so far. Rolling and unrelentless, he was hit repeatedly with hill after hill. We drove up ahead and turned around, oohing and aahing at how steep the grade became later in the course. On the way back, we agreed to remain hush, hush about how steep the hills became. We jumped out of the van at the crest of one of the rollers to give Dave some water.

"Good job! You're doing great!"

"Hilly," Dave gasped, pausing to grab the water.

"You're doing great. Keep it up."

"Almost there!" we lied, jumping back in the van to drive up ahead to the next checkpoint.

"Almost there?" we whispered to each other. "He wasn't almost there! Why did we lie to him?"

"We don't want him to know how bad it gets. Poor guy! Don't want to scare him." It felt evil but he probably had a point.

I became gravely serious; I was the next runner. It was time for business. I was dressed and ready. I just needed to use the Port-a-Potty before I ran. Call it a prerequisite ritual to every run. Unwittingly, I must have asked several times if we were going to get there in time for me to use the lieu. As we pulled into the dirt parking lot for the next checkpoint, Steve, sitting shotgun called out over his shoulder to where I was sitting behind him, "Awwww. No bathrooms!"

"WHAT?!" I exclaimed. Steve and the Boys burst into giggles. I had fell for it hook, line, and sinker. However, secretly, I smiled. I enjoyed being the comic relief. It was like having 4 older brothers.

Running along my first leg (Leg 9; 6 miles). Phew! It was hot! I ran fairly well but was frustrated I couldn't push it a little harder. The heat held me back. As long as I ran slow enough not to spike my heart rate above a certain threshold, I was fine. I knew when I had pushed too hard because my stomach would turn and nausea rise in my throat.

"Whoo hoo!" The ice cold bottles of water delivered to me by the Boys was heaven-sent. I would drink some and pour a generous amount on my head and neck.

And then, somewhere between Runner's 11 and 12 (Mark and Dan), the van broke down. It was Dan's van. It simply died between the checkpoints. The rest of us agreed that Dan was suspciously calm about his van breaking down. Dan later admited that the van had "acted up mysteriously" the week before. I was stranded on the narrow shoulder of a highway in the middle of God-knows-where with 4 guys I had met only a few hours before. Within seconds, the guys were on their cell phones, making calls to the Girl's Van, AAA, and, fortunately, Steve's mother-in-law, who was volunteering up ahead. Within 5 minutes, we had Plan A (fix the van), Plan B (find another van), and Plan C (somehow cram everyone into the Girl's van).

First, we pushed the minivan into a parking lot off the road. After calling AAA and handing his license to Dave with instructions on what to do with the van when the towtruck arrived, we flagged down another RAGNAR van, easy to spot with all the team decorations. Afterall, they were going to the same place. Dan jumped into a strange van and headed off to meet Mark in time for Leg 12. I love the positive sportsmanship and comarederie between competitors on race day in endurance events.

Meanwhile, Steve's mother-in-law, Leanna, drove up in her minivan with a halo over her head. We all salivated over her minivan and she gladly handed it over. After moving all our stuff from Van 2 to Van 3 (easier said than done), we drove her back to her checkpoint where she called a friend for a ride home. Leanna, you saved the day! The new van was aptly dubbed "Van Version 2.1" or, due to the absence of decorations, "Stealth Van No. 3". The AAA towtruck hauled the van to the mechanic. We retrieved Mark and Dan from their respective checkpoints (11 and 12), where they were waiting, thirsty, hot and tired.

I'm cracking up as we push the van into a parking lot off the road. What are the odds? We enjoyed the extra challenge. It added to our adventure. (This may not have been my attitude if it was my van).

Team DNR (Do Not Rescusitate!) Van 2 on the tow truck. Time for Van Version 2.1!

We all breathed a huge sigh of relief. Suddenly, all of us were ravenous and exhausted. Dusk was falling. I couldn't believe how quickly the last 12 hours had flown by. As we headed to Souplantation to eat (where my finicky stomach immediately lost her appetite), the Girls headed out for their 2nd legs (Legs 13-18).

Lauren gets ready for her 2nd leg (14). Only Lauren can make a safety vest look cute! (Becky, Lauren, Shannon, L to R).

Lauren, setting off on Leg 14 as dusk falls.

Shannon, the comic relief of the Girls' Van, entertains her vanmates.

After Souplantation, we drove to the start of our next checkpoint (19) to maximize sleeptime. All of us were spent. Silence hummed in the van as we wearily made our way to a dirt field somewhere in Fallbrook. I tried to keep talking to keep Steve, the driver, awake. This wasn't much of a problem. I found I had a lot to say to everyone over the weekend so there was rarely a quiet moment (this gave the guys lots of good teasing material too). In the end, this may have worked out to my advantage. While the Boys lugged their sleeping bags and pads onto a cement landing strip to sleep, I stretched out with my pillow and blanket on the seat in the back of the van. I was warm and comfy.

The Boys, sleeping on the tarmac. (Dave left, Steve right). Note the eyemask. Amazingly, the Boys proclaimed that it was actually pretty comfortable. You'll sleep anywhere when you're tired!

Meanwhile, more drama unfolded back in the Girl's Van. The severe heat of the day was taking its toll. Beverly started to feel sick. She developed the tell-tale signs: splitting headache and severe nausea. She was getting a migraine. Thankfully, she was close to home, and the Girls dropped her off so she could get well. Later, she admitted to discreetly throwing up in the bathrooms at one of the checkpoint. Stoically, she remained mum until later, not wanting to concern her teammates. Just as the Girls were deciding who would sub for Beverly, Cara's phone rang. Beverly had made a miraculous recovery (thanks to her migraine meds). Amazingly, just in time to run her 2nd leg, she rejoined her team to have a great leg. You're a superhero, Beverly!

Shannon (left) and Beverly (right) getting ready for their night runs (2nd legs).

Shannon, finishing up her leg to wrap the end of the Girl's 2nd stint (leg 18). Competing in RAGNAR only 4 months after having a baby, she was a trooper after learning her leg had been changed at the last minute from 5 miles to 7. Refusing to switch with another runner, she stuck it out, and even added an extra mile after missing one of the turns!

Because Shannon decided to do extra credit, we were somewhat worriedly glancing at our watches when Shannon came running in, a smile from ear to ear. Leon took off on his leg, while Shannon took off a mile a minute, telling us excitedly about her run. She obviously had a fantastic experience. Later I learned she had tried her first caffeinated GU at some point on her run. Shannon had a total cafeine/runner's high!

Our 2nd legs were shorter and we were rushing to each checkpoint, trying to fight traffic with every other RAGNAR van. As Dave waited in line for the Port-a-Potty, Leon nearly ran into me and Mark, stumbling towards the checkpoint in the dark.



"Dave! It's Leon!"

Dave left the Port-a-Potty line and ran over to recieve the Slappy Bracelet from Leon. Equipped with only 1 real running safety vests (the others were bulky and heavy), Leon and Dave awkwardly exchanged their nighttime safety running gear (required by RAGNAR authorities). We somehow managed to hurriedly equip Dave with reflective vest, headlamp, and blinky light, and he was off.

I prepared for my leg, donning the huge, bulky safety vest. Since my stint was only 2.4 miles, I was going to pace for a bit. I wanted some extra miles. Steve and Mark had been complaining about lack of training and cramps.

"I'm going to go slow."

"I'm probably going to walk the whole thing."

"I only trained 1 day."

Dan pulled me aside:

"I'm worried about Mark and Dan. Why don't you run with them on this leg?"

So I strapped on the bulky vest, leaving the lighter running vest for them. I stuffed my pockets with GUs and CliffBloks. I was going to act as a moving aid station.

I got ready for my leg. Nighttime had fallen, and the air was crisp and cool, a stark contrast to the brutal heat of the day, just a few hours earlier. The heat had slowed me down. I was excited to give it a 2nd try.

"How fast do you run a 5K?" Leon asked.

Hmmm. I wonder how fast I can run a 5K, I wondered. The gauntlet had been thrown.

"I know I can do at least 8:00s," I mumbled. It must have been loud enough to hear.

"C'mon! How about 7:50s!" some random guy from another team goaded. Oh, no you didn't. Now it's on! Dave ran up, slapped the bracelet on me, and I took off.

My strategy was simple: to run as hard as I could for 2.4 miles. I sprinted down the dark neighborhood streets, dimly illuminated by my headlamp. I stumbled precariously several times over broken potholes in the pavement. My ankle twisted sharply to the ground on one invisible hole. Thankfully, I recovered, somehow uninjured. Frustrated, I slowed. I may have flexible ankles but I didn't want to injure myself. Given my track record (I fall about once or twice a year, often mysteriously resulting in a concussion), I didn't want to take unnecessary risks. 2 miles had now passed, and I was gasping for air. Sweat dripped down my cheeks. It was the longest 2.4 miles ever. I'm not much of a sprinter, and now I remembered why. It's painful to run fast.

I reached Steve, gave him the bracelet, and he took off. I struggled to keep up. What happened to, "I'm going to go slow,"? I had been running my 5K pace, not realizing I would have to continue pacing at that rate. I somehow managed to cling desperately to Steve for a mile. A stitch started to grow from both sides. I gasped out encouraging comments in between sharp breaths. Then, I realized that Steve was wearing headphones. My words were falling on deaf ears. At which point I heard something about an M&M.

An M&M? What on earth does that have to do with the price of beans? Maybe he ate M&Ms before his run? Maybe he wanted M&Ms? The bulky safety orange vest I donned suddenly caught my eye. Wait, was he calling me an M&M? After all that I was trying to do to help him? Screw this! Anger started to rise in my chest. At which point, I stumbled over yet another invisible hole and gave up. I slowed to a walk to let Steve go, clutching my sides and gasping for air.

I managed to quell the stabbing pain in my sides by jabbing my thumb sharply under my ribcage and exhaling sharply. A searing pain exploded under my big toe, followed by a squelching, wet sock feeling. A blister had popped. As I struggled to maintain a running rhythm, I spotted a stray dog, slinking into the middle of the road. My heart went out to the poor animal. He looked mangy, scared, and hungry. Even though it was 1:30 a.m. and the streets were quiet, I didn't want the dog to get hit by a car. As I neared the animal, it shrank away from me, and slinked away. Upon closer inspection of the bushy tail, furry coat and fox-like ears, I realized my stray dog was not a dog at all but a coyote. "Here, puppy, puppy, puppy!" Under the light of a full moon, I smiled, taking the coyote's greeting as a good omen.

Finally, at an agonizingly-slow 9:30 min/mile pace, I hobbled to the next checkpoint, where my teammates were waiting to pick up the pacer. Steve had handed the bracelet to Mark several minutes ago. That was a much tougher 2nd leg than I had anticipated! I excitedely told the Boys about my coyote sighting.

The response was typical:

"How many GUs did you eat?"

"Oh, sure. A coyote."

"You know, the whole world looks different through coyote eyes."

Ha, ha, ha. Very funny.

After we finished our legs, sometime around 4 am, we headed to my house, only minutes from the Gliderport, site of our next exchange, about 6 hours later. The Boys got their own bathroom, spare bedroom, air mattress, or sofa, and I got to sleep in my own bed and use my own bathroom. I slept like the dead for the next few hours. The 6 of us awakened to daylight and birds chirping, feeling surprisingly refreshed and renewed. It's amazing how a few hours of quality sleep can make all the difference in energy during a long adventure race.

While we slept, the Girls ran their 3rd and final legs during the wee hours of the morning. (Liz left; Becky right).

"How long can I hold my breath?" Beverly goofs around as she heads down the coast in North County San Diego.

Becky, skipping for joy on her last leg as the sunrise casts a pink glow over the horizon.

Shannon hands the bracelet to Leon at the Gliderport, and we begin the last set of legs. It's only 10 am, and we're already sweating. Prepare for another hot day!

Leon, running his final leg, an envious 8 challenging miles through scenic La Jolla.

Whoo hoo! Leon at pumps up the jam at the end of his final leg.

Dave takes off on his final leg. "Are those the same shorts you've worn for all 3 runs?" I asked.

"No. Only for 2," he replied. It took my a moment.

"Ha, ha, ha...smartass," I sneered jokingly.

I get ready for my final leg as Leon recovers from his hard run through La Jolla.

"Go, Dave!" I cheer, pumped for my final run.

Dave snaps the bracelet onto my wrist, and I take off down the street. I'm all business. It's Game Time!

My last run, Leg 33, was listed as "Very Hard". I glanced at the map. I wasn't sure why it was considered hard. Most of it was flat, winding by the San Diego Bay and Harbor. I did notice a sharp, steep hill during the first 2 miles. The length, 8 miles, was perfect, one of my favorite distances.

I ran through Ocean Beach, a boho, hippie beach town, near downtown San Diego. I dodged lazily turning cars, pedestrians aimlessly walking their dogs, and leaped nimbly over steep curbs and torn up pavement. I weaved in and out of clusters of transients, armed with musical instruments in poorly formed drum circles. They looked at me with surprise. People in OB are very laid-back. It's not normal to see someone in a hurry. Most likely, they carefully scanned the direction I was running from to assess whether or not they were in danger.

Soon, I was heading through the residential streets of OB. A man picking up the morning paper in his front yard called after me,

"What race is this?"

"It's RAGNAR! We're running from Huntington Beach to Coronado, 200 miles," I explained. I didn't have time to stop and explain that it was really me and 11 other people splitting the 200 miles into pieces but no one was around to translate. Besides, what was the harm in letting this guy think I was running the entire way?

I started feeling fresh. I had found my rhythm and my legs felt light and snappy. I turned and started heading up Narrangansett. For those of you who don't know about Narangansett, it's the steepest street in OB, separating the beach town from downtown. At the crest, there are breathtaking views of downtown, San Diego Bay, and the Coronado Bridge. To get there, you have to run up a steep, unforgiving hill for about a mile. I've done hill repeats on this hill on my bike. Standing in the saddle for the hill's entireity is a requirement for successfully biking up Narrangansett. I needed to now run up it.

I sized up my enemy. The hill rose up in front of me, towering into the sky. I couldn't see where the hill ended. I focused on the ground in front of me and found a steady running rhythm. It wasn't fast but it was more efficient than a walk. I felt great! I was going to run up Narrangansett in its entireity! I watched other runner's team vans stop and cheer on their runner. I crested the hill and looked for my team. I had just rocked that hill like a superstar! I wanted to throw my arms in the air and get a lil' recognition!

As I began negotiating the steep descent on the other side (grimacing, my quads were on fire from the mad sprint the night before), I paused momentarily at the breathtaking view of the skyline. I could see Spanish Landing, downtown, and the Coronado Bridge. I suddenly realized I was the first runner to be able to see the finish in sight. That bridge has never looked so beautiful to me than it did that morning. We were going to make it!

While I'm rocking Narrangansett, Mark goofs off for the camera.

A few more turns, over the bridge, and all of a sudden, I know where I am. Spanish Landing Park, the site of the San Diego International Triathlon. I had run this route many times before. From here on out, I knew it would be very flat. I took off.

It wasn't hot but the sun was bright, and I was becoming increasingly thirsty, especially after my struggle up Narrangansett. Enviously, I watched the runners on other teams around me get water. I was kicking myself for not bringing my fuel belt. I spotted a drinking fountain by one of the park public restrooms. I strained to satiate my thirst, thwarted by the low flow of the fountain stream. I spotted a 3/4 full water bottle resting on the wall next to the bathroom. I crossed my fingers, grabbed the bottle, drank a swig, and took off. I was hoping it had belonged to another RAGNAR runner. However, there was also a good chance it belonged to one of the many homeless people that lives along the harbor. It was cool and deliciously refreshing. I decided to chug it, figuring that if it was contaminated with germs, I wouldn't get sick until after the race. (This is true; I didn't get sick until Tuesday.)

About half a mile down the course, the Boys appeared with heaven-sent, ice-cold water. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I have never been so happy to see anyone in my life! I grabbed the water and with no time to explain, tossed the old one before continuing on my way. There was no time to waste. It was game time!

Receiving much-needed water from the Boys along my route. Yay for team support!

Another half mile down the road, the Girls appeared out of nowhere and formed a bridge for me to run under. It was so nice to see them again. Thank you so much for cheering me on! I ran faster than ever to finish the last 2 miles.

The last 2 miles proved to be much more difficult than anticipated, due to lost tourists wandering off cruise ships, street performers on unicycles, swallowing swords, and standing like statues painted in silver, and children running in random, unpredictable trajectories somewhere in the orbit of their usually-large parents, most often stopped suddenly in front of a hot dog, nacho, or fish taco stand.

Oh, no. Not today. I'm racing, I thought. I ran through the parking lot whenever I could to avoid the crowd, forced back in, at the last half mile. I resorted to elbows and shouts.

"Racers coming through! Racers coming through!" I shouted, not caring if the pluralized form referred to only me. Nonetheless, it was effective. I weaved my way through a courteous path. Other runners stayed close to follow my wake, there being strength in numbers. Gasping and out of breath, I gave the bracelet to Steve and walked to cool off. I had given it everything I had!

"No more running for me today!" (until tomorrow morning)

Catching my breath after my last leg.

Steve, having waaay too much fun on his final leg.

Steve high-fives Dan, exuberant to finish strong as he hands the baton off to Mark.

It was only Mark and Dan to go now. It was time to start preparing for the finish. The finish? Already? But the time had gone by so fast! The rest of us changed into more comfortable clothes and spent a few minutes lying in the grass under the delicious sun. It felt good to relax as a team.

Lauren, getting excited about the finish.

The beautiful chimes of an ice cream truck sounded, jerking us from our reveries in the grass. We jumped up and ran over, like excited children, eager for a treat. My stomach, which is finicky anyway, had pretty much shut down over the weekend, making it difficult to eat much more than bagels and bananas. Dave bought me an ice cream to thank me for letting them crash at my house. Thanks, Dave! It was the most delicious ice cream I've ever had. That's the best thing about endurance races. You learn to appreciate what you have and not take so much for granted.

We somehow managed to negotiate through a ton of traffic filing it at a snail's pace to the overcrowded Silver Strand State Beach, the finish line. We gathered a few hundred yards from the finish to wait for Mark. During those few quiet moments, before it was all over, I was flooded with mixed emotions. Besides being hungry, tired, and wondering how on earth I'd make it in time to pick up my race packet for tomorrow's half marathon, I also couldn't belive how much fun this experience had been. The 30-some hours had flown by at a blinding pace. 11 strangers when I had started now felt like 11 new best friends. I was a little saddened at our sudden parting. It seemed like it was ending almost as soon as it had started.

Mark came cheering out of the tunnel, running under the bridge the Girls had formed. We all hugged before running across the finish. And, just like that, it was over. But now I have a new RAGNAR family. And guess what? We're already planning teams for future RAGNAR's!

Shannon, posing by her stick figure on the DNR van.

Cara, our team captain.

Liz, jumping for joy by her stick figure.

"Ready, set, go!" Lauren, posing by her Running (Wo)Man cartoon.

Becky, striking a running pose by her sketch on the DNR van.

"I heart RAGNAR!" Beverly joyfully throws her arms in the air.