Ragnar Relay (Aka: Dang it Anthony!)

I consider myself to be a descent couch athlete. I casually partake in most sports, and train harder when a race or competition is coming up. I can roll off my rear and pull hard-ish climbing, or bust out a 5 miler without wincing too much. I honestly thought a few laps up and down my canyon street the month before would prepare me for Ragnar survival. Dead wrong, I mean completely, utterly, without reservation, wrong!

A few months ago a Factory climbing member, Anthony, posted about a Ragnar relay happening in October. Immediately all the hard cores in the gym signed up for the 8 member team. I jumped on board as co-captain with my husband Louie. All planning was going well (because no plans had really been made), until about 4 weeks before the race. Anthony had the opportunity to start a new work project and he would be unable to attend the event on October 10-11th. That’s right folks, two whole days of running. By the way, that should have been everyone’s first clue that this was not going to be a stroll up a few hills and around the lake for a picnic.

After Anthony dropped out, my own husband abandoned the team. OK, abandoned is strong, but we lost a second team member and my co-captain to another work opportunity. A word from the wise kids, jobs suck! I struggled to fill the spots, then Carman and Mike (my brother) came to the rescue. With just 2 weeks to go team Factory Bouldering was back on track and complete with a running order of Carman, Mike, me, Emily, Stine (Christine), Lem, Adri, and Virgil the race horse anchor.

Front LtoR: Emily, Valarie, Adri, Carman.
Back LtoR: Lem, Virgil, Mike, Stine.

Logistically speaking, I’m the last person who should be planning a group trip. I always forget something, so this time I started preparing a week early. Emily and Lem provided the fortress we camped in. Please actually imagine a fortress when you think of our tent! It was the envy of the lakeside campers, complete with standing room it was spaciously cozy for 8 crazy runners. There was a separate changing room, and porch with a table stacked with food for an army to survive a month. The usual nutrient rich items of course, for a pack of intense athletes: Oreos, spinach dip, popcorn, baked chocolate chip bread… only the best! 

The Fortress

At this year’s Vail Lake Ragnar in Temecula the coordinators allowed cars to drive in, drop everyone and everything off, then drive over to a parking lot a mile away to catch a shuttle back. Brilliant! Considering most teams came prepared with a theme. We saw jail houses, holiday lights, super hero lairs, couches… wait coaches? No, actual couches! This race was starting to look a little more fun and entertaining, especially with our swagg in hand we had picked up with the team racing bib (neat shirts, but we all chuckled at the thought of waiting to show off our long sleeve Ragnar top until December). Fun yes, but then, we hadn’t started running yet.

The team’s start time was Friday at blistering 11am. Just in time for the heat to really start rolling in because everyone knows your personal best only comes in 90+ degree weather. There are 3 loops that begin and end at the Village. Ah, the Village. Where Jamba Juice flows and the only camp fire roars!  So… 3 loops: green, yellow, and red were affectionately renamed hard, harder, and WTF! Yeah, you thought hardest was coming, but WTF! is a perfect name. Green was 6 miles of casual, long rolling hills around the lake  I know, sounds lovely right, until you consider running either of the other two legs before it. Yellow was 4 miles of sharp up hill ledge steps. Think of that iconic rickety trail built on Mt. Hua Shan in China because that’s what it feel like when you are running in the blind dark and then come upon this…

The trail… well, something like this…
Oh wait, that’s actually Mt. Hua Shan. But yes, in the dead of night something like this image flashes through your mind. You are quickly relieved of your quad and glut marathon with glorious down hill running. Did you know that down hill can turn into blistering breaking? After about 2 miles of “where am I” and “is this still the trail”, you realize you have to go back up again to finish. In fact, all 3 loops merged at the foot of the same heinous hill. One more hump, over, and punch down to the transition tent in the Village. Red loop, referred to from now on as only WTF! loop, was 4.5 miles of hilly fun! You know when someone jokingly says “school was up hill 2 miles, both ways, in the snow” you think, that’s not possible. And then you run WTF! You have now defied physics and have never prayed harder in your life for snow in summer. I ran WTF! at 1pm on Friday, took it like a champ, hobbled back to camp, and quickly scared the Shot Bloks out of everyone with my report. I could tell my riveting rendition completely psyched Virgil up for the last run of the race on it! “First there’s a hill, not so bad, then it tapers to a thin trail with steep drops to the left and right, and of course you’re shocked when it ends at the small X signs saying do not go further. Where do you go but left with the arrow, and it’s more of a dirt avalanche than a trail, ending in more up hill, then more down hill, then more up hill, finishing with a hands and knees crawl for many up the last two majorly steep crests. You think the glorious end is coming just over this last excruciating hill, and then…is that the one more mile to go sign?”
After about 4 or 5 runners had passed through we began the team mantra of “dang it Anthony”. The man who had started it all, we wished he was there with us, enduring. Night fell and the cooler temps were excitedly welcomed. Sweat and 60 degrees actually feels like snow should be falling, somewhere. Nope, that wasn’t our team making fun of the long sleeve shirts that we were now all wearing on our night runs… eh hmm. My first night run gave me jitters, especially after seeing Mike limp into the transition tent. What now? Later he confessed that a week ago he had accidentally kicked a chair and bruised his foot. It ached painfully, but he was sure he could get through his last leg later that night.A blazing and scary 48 minutes later I finished the yellow 4 miler of down hill death, redeeming my pitiful 1 hour 2 minutes on WTF! It was like riding a roller coaster, blind folded! 
Night Running!
I wanted my sleeping bag harder than an Adkins dieter craves potato chips! Must… sleep… wait, the lake! Shivering from sweat I glared down at my already wet bikini from the previous cleansing after my first dust bowl run. “Dang it Anthony! Sneaky, must be sneaky… be cool, be cool. Act like your just walking to the dock, casual stroll”… a quick peak around, no spying eyes, a speedy strip down, and a sloppy slip into the lake… naked! The cool air made the water feel pleasantly warm. A bath, yes, it’s just like a bath. Exactly like a 5 year old taking a bath, including the painful kicking and screaming of “but I don’t wanna get out, it’s cold!” The moon had just crested over the hill and the landscape glowed before me. “Dang it Anthony (you are missing this!)”. The dock swayed as I pulled myself from the water and romped back over it toward camp. I’m not sure how I physically made it into my sleeping bag, under that current state of exhaustion. I curled up next to Mike, just like we were kids, camping with the family!
Virgil signed up for the 3 hour volunteer shift every team was expected to complete. Unfortunately, he was running during it, at 12:30am! So I fumbled my way over to the transition tent for the shift, after 8 1/2 miles of hard running and only 3 hours of sleep. Wait, what, free coffee? Yes, oh hell yes! I saw Super Man, a gladiator, tutus, and skeletons pulling themselves across the transition line. Did I mention there were team themes!? Awesomeness that kept me revved up until my 3:30am relief. Team members searched frantically for their next runner, handed over their racing bib to me, ran some more back to camp, pulled the poor fellow out of a slumber, and push them to the tent.  Racers came though completely caked on one side with a fine chalky dust, the perfect markings of a beautiful face plant. After my shift, I had just enough time to run back to camp, change (did I mention the awesome long shirts?), grab a quick snack, use the restroom, and then warm up before my brother came in to the transition looking for me.  
Emily down! Way to take one for the team!
My last run… yipee… yay… I’m so happ… really, 6 miles? Pull it together, girl. There’s no crying in baseball! Wait, what? Where did that come from… Dad! Why hadn’t I stretched more, or taken the free yoga class earlier? Per usual my tight hip flexors pulled on my thighs, and I crawled up all the hills and couldn’t take full advantage of the downs. I decided to just make the best of it. It seemed so much brighter with a little bit of optimism (and, well, the moon had fully risen by now). I dared, and I did. My headlamp was switched off. I coasted in the breeze through the lakeside lagoon. I danced with my shadow through the long valley. Solitude was bliss at this point, just my feet pounding the sand and my night lights leading the way for many. The safety company 4ID had graciously sent team Factory Bouldering a box of lights to wear while running. We had Power Spurz, Power Armz, and Power Bandz to share. Each one of us that wore a light was thanked by a runner for helping them find their way in the dark. They really were a beacon of hope, knowing you in fact were still on the right trail in the night, and hadn’t just added 3 miles to the course. I soaked in my last hill, finally pushing through it without stopping this time, and crested to see the bonfire of the Village as the last quarter mile slipped down in front of me. I victoriously, and exhaustively raced toward Emily. I was finally done, and I hugged her as she turned and raced off into the night for her last too.
4ID Power Spurz
4ID Power Wrapz
Morning came fast and hard. Out team was making great time! We set a new goal (the previous one was just to finish!). We knew the team could complete the race under 24 hours! Exciting news, since no one would have to run in the exhausting heat again! We all crowded around the finish to greet Virgil as he bolted into sight. The team ran through with him, officially clocking in at 23:21:29. We then collected our medals, and took a victory picture. Done and done! 
Beaten up and tired we tore down base camp in record time, and drove to IHOP for some much deserved carb gorging and bacon stuffing. I gladly devoured a plate of french toast! A-mazing! I tortured my brother the entire car ride back, talking to mostly keep myself awake. He was a good sport, even though his foot begged him to rest and sleep. The next day he had an X-Ray and found out a toe was broken, had partially healed, and the running had broken it again. What a trooper! He gets the team hero award for that one! 
The entire experience is one I would gladly repeat. I hope next time my husband can join us. He can endure pain and suffering to nonhuman degrees, and thus would do well on the WTF! loop. I plan to do, at the least, more hill training for the next Ragnar. But first, my next adventure… the LA marathon! Stay tuned!
Ragnar gnar out,
Valarie Anderson
Watch our team video on YouTube!


Thanks Adidas Outdoors, Merrell, Prana, and Moving Comfort for keeping me
comfortable on the run, and 4ID keeping the team safe at night.

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