I'll share a crusty old race recap squatting on my hard drive. Ragnar's a 200 mile team relay through Wisconsin and Minnesota, finishing in Minneapolis.
Our team of 12 spread between 2 vans covering 48 legs of footrace, so a couple teammates helped write this story to milk all the details.
Good times, it went down something like this...
Our team of 12 spread between 2 vans covering 48 legs of footrace, so a couple teammates helped write this story to milk all the details.
Good times, it went down something like this...
Ragnar Great River Relay, August 2010
Team Brown Chicken Brown Cow
Riggs out of the blue sent a feeler, saying teammate Dave couldn't run Ragnar and asked if I’d like to join. Big shoes to fill, but in the end, is the Pope Catholic? Of course!
I knew little about Ragnar, other than it consisted of 12 greasy dudes tag-team racing a couple hundred miles through Wisconsin and Minnesota, day and night nonstop for 20 hours. I was unaware when saying “yes” that it would also include watching a teammate fire high-viscosity mucous splats into a plastic sack.
Winona, MN arrives lickety split when the hammer is dropped on Van 1’s (Suburban) V8. Scott tried in vain to catch AQ’s 87 mph soccer-mom Dodge Caravan. Aaron surely was squirting NOS shots into the intake to keep it on boil, they were hauling. Hopefully, we’d run as fast.
We arrived at Levee Park coughing smoke trails from Van 2. The Mighty Mississippi swelled a few feet from the parking lot, engorged from relentless rain that attacked the Midwest all summer. Lunching at an antique exposed-brick pub, we noticed Scott closing down a sandwich the menu advertised as “World’s Biggest Club, Over ½ Pound of Smoked Bacon.” Scott's on deck for the first leg of the race, which would commence in three hours. I prayed he possessed cow-stomach enzymes to break down mammoth amounts of food quickly, since his sandwich housed an honest 40 grams of pork lard.
A quick thunderstorm emptied the clouds and summoned the humidity shortly before the start. The race director doled a list of red tape at the pre-race safety meeting. Something about non-supported legs, carrying an orange flag when crossing the road, no pooping on lawns and some other junk, I got bored.
Upper 80 degrees, 90% humidity and direct sun meant we’d gulp gallons of water stashed in the support van.
We bid farewell to Scott and six other teams that started with us. Ragnar stages teams by projected finishing time, slowest starting at 7:00 am and the fastest at 4:00 pm. Our 4:00 pm pack included a couple ultra teams (6 members rather than 12, they each ran double legs), a ripped mixed team from Duluth that included a 100 pound college girl we feared would “chick” Scott, and a 5% body fat over-50 masters team.
Scott dug in and was tough, putting us in the lead with six minute miles on his muggy 7 mile stint.
|Scott leads us off|
|Mississippi crossing into Wisconsin|
|Our support van must stay ahead of the pack, prepping Jason for leg 2|
Rumor has it Scott went missing a couple years ago on the first leg of Ragnar. Allegedly his wanderings included, but were not limited to a bar, a lift by another team and a state trooper ride back to his team. Sounds to me like he was starving for attention. We wanted to take the win this year, so drove ahead in Van 1 and dropped breadcrumbs and Gatorade for Scotty.
We still don't know how he didn't chunder his bacon lunch, the guy must have bionic bile.
Jason's run the U.S. Olympic marathon trials, so I was hoping the race would be a shoe-in with his talent unleashed from Brown Chicken Brown Cow’s stable. He strode slow, long strides like a giraffe, cutting out an easy 10K in 33 minutes. He put a deep gap on the other teams. Heck, with his speed, several of us could walk (moonwalk, even) our legs and we’d still win. Right? Nah.
It was hot, heat index in the mid-90s.
|Scott batoning Jason|
Meanwhile, back at the ranch of Van 2, while we were busting our cash and prizes, I suspect those clowns were standing around in sandals and street clothes, pointing at each other and faking a finish. Confirmed.
Bret was on deck, a random stranger to most of us at the start of the trip, but a friend by the end of the first day. Andrew lined him up as a late addition to Team BCBC. We were glad to have him on board to keep the neon orange slap band baton moving onward. Jason gave him the tap to start his black pavement bake on a 5-mile shift. No shade and barely a breeze to clean up salty sweat. We chucked water at him to ease the pain a little, this is definitely a pansy-free D.I.Y. race.
|Bret getting it done|
Time for Andrew to pay his dues on an eight mile asphalt fry. He fought a two mile hill directly into a late western sun. He was also running with a mangled hand from a recent triathlon bike wreck, holding surgery till after Ragnar. Priorities. I suspect swears flowed freely from behind his creepy 1980s ‘stache on that lonely stretch. We stopped midway en-route to cheer/jeer him, then drove ahead to the next town to ready Riggs.
|Drew fighting an ugly dog day|
Riggs looked effortless, like he wasn’t running very fast. But any fool that's tried to keep up with him on a tempo run knows his hydraulic stride covers nasty chunks of ground, multiplied by quick turnover. He was under a 5:30 average on his six miler.
I don’t think we saw him eat at all over our 20 hours of Ragnar. Let’s pass the donation plate and feed the boy.
I was on deck, an eight mile trot through quiet Wisconsin countryside. A mile along the two lane blacktop, I was already watching the digi' watch. This would be a tough ride through the smoky Wisconsin dusk. Hadn’t run all that much since Grandma’s marathon in June, the legs lacked bite. Not another soul in sight for miles, save the support van yelling. We were barely in the lead when I passed off to AQ. Turbo grandpa on the masters team chased me down and was only a minute back.
|Beard/Tank to AQ, so friggin' humid|
Stick a fork in it, that's a wrap for Van 1. Van 2's up to churn their night miles.
Major Exchange 1
Here’s what happened next, according to Scott:
“After out first major exchange, Van 1 hightailed up the course toward Major Exchange 2 so we could grab a bite to eat and a few minutes of shuteye. I was in the driver's seat with Riggs navigating. After several miles of hills and winding roads, not one blinking tail light of a potential "kill" had been seen. In response to me questioning Riggs about this, he responded, "No, this is right, I remember this hill from last year." We continued on for several more miles with zero blinking lights (felt like 20 but Riggs claims 5) until it was obvious that we were now officially in BFE, Wisconsin. After several stressful minutes trying to get a signal on his GPS, navigator Riggs made the decision to backtrack. When we returned to the course and stopped for a chat with Van 2 to share our adventure, they didn't seem too surprised after seeing me behind the wheel. I still blame my co-pilot.”
While Van 1 was taking the slow tour through Timbuktu, Van 2 and AQ were churning through the very depths of hell. Apparently, hell is hilly. Kip recounts how the first leg played out for Van 2:
“Van 2 chomped at the bit to get into the action. We’d been hanging out at exchange six (Major Exchange 1) for almost three hours in the town of Modena, Wisconsin. It isn’t “mod”, it isn’t “modern,” heck, it's barely a town. One street, a small church, dilapidated garage and a handful of shacks…er, houses. Your average trailer park is swanky compared to this place. It was time to leave. It was time to get running.
A continual stream of vans moved in and out of Modena, but still no Brown Chicken Brown Cow. Finally, the heads-up call came through. Get ready boys. Then Van 1 entered the scene. Everyone was talking excitedly. It is hot. Nobody got lost. That team of old guys is surprisingly strong. Suddenly Tank is cruising down Modena’s single street. Tank slaps the bracelet to Aaron (AQ), Van 2’s first runner. We scramble into the van in hot pursuit. Game on!
Van 1 has bequeathed us a small lead. Now we gotta hold it. Still hot, still humid but the sky has that soft glow it gets just before sundown. AQ is cruising along when we pass him. The sun is down but its afterglow still illuminates lush green cornfields on either side of the road. At mile two it starts. Uphill. At first just a gentle grade as the road bends to the right. Then back left as the grade steepens. The van starts to chug a little harder going up hill. We know what's coming….400 feet of climb in ½ mile.
Van 2 parks about a third of the way up this massive hill. It's pitch black now. Down below, a couple of lights (each runner wears a miner headlamp) swing rhythmically back and forth highlighting the slow climbing of their runners. Except for the chirping of crickets, it's quiet in this deserted part of the world. We are pulling for AQ but silently, each of us thanks his lucky stars that we are not the runner attempting to tackle this beast.
A runner emerges from the darkness! It is not AQ. There goes the lead. Down below, another light emerges from the black. We keep our fingers crossed that it’s our runner. Yup! AQ is looking great! Keep it up! Power! Power! We whoop it up. But AQ looks bad; this relentless hill is eating him up. We ask ourselves, “How did Animal run this so well last year?” In hushed tones, we conclude, “that guy is an animal….and a heck of a hill runner.”
We ease the parking brake off and chug the van farther up the hill to wait for AQ at the 2/3rds spot. Another team van is there. “Did you see the bear?” they ask. No, he was just off the road a few hundred yards back. They feared for their runner. While we’d rather not tangle with a bear in the woods, that was probably nothing compared to the mythical bear AQ had on his back right now. He was struggling but to his credit, he was still giving it his all. Plenty of hill left.
|Bob suckin' lemons and searching the black for AQ|
|Night running shirtless with vests (sung to Benassi's Satisfaction)|
Back in the van, we chugged up to the summit. As bad as the climb was, there was an equal downhill on the other side. If AQ can just get to the top and get his legs under him. The lead team’s runner scoots past and is really flying downhill. We wait for AQ. It is a long wait. He is still fighting gravity; the minutes pass slowly. “Riggs Time” had him running this leg at 6:30 pace. AQ would need to go sub-4 for the rest and it still wouldn’t be close. We just hoped our runner was OK. Dang this is a tough leg.
Finally, AQ is up and over. He squares his hips and gets his legs headed down hill letting gravity pull him now. We pile into the van and ride the brakes all the way down. By the time we pass AQ, he is moving along well but it still seems like the hill has take its toll on him. We wonder if he is OK. Two more legs after this. Ragnar is hard.
Although not as hard for the lead team’s runner. When we catch up to him on the down hill, he is free falling, just pounding down the hill at an incredible pace. We give him some words of encouragement because that is the sporting thing to do but as soon as we pass him, everyone in the van falls silent. Again, each of us is really glad we didn’t draw the runner #7 assignment.
They would have to add something to be able to call this the boonies. It is beyond desolate. One day of Ragnar likely provides as much traffic as the other 364 days combined. It is also dark, very, very dark. Exchange 7 is unstaffed. The yellow-orange glow from the only street light in the past six miles casts an eerie glow to the church-side grave yard across the street from the exchange. A few teams mill around. A couple of exchanges are made then our nemesis team’s runner trots in still looking fresh after the 6.3 mile hill climb and rapid descent. We wait for AQ then wait some more. Hope he is OK. Maybe we should have provided more support from the van.
And then AQ shows up. He actually looks better. Maybe it is the relief of being done. It is a full six minutes behind “Riggs Time”, but we only tell AQ when he asks. Mark is already on the course cranking to close the gap with the leaders. So, we pile into the van and follow him.
Dang, that was a bad hill."
Mark spooling up
Major Exchange 2
Van 1 parked in a random town (no idea which town, I was too groggy to give a rip) at the next Major Exchange. Several slept in the van while Riggs, Scott and I rolled out the bags on grass above a scummy mosquito pond. Riggs started out with no shirt or covers, all but naked. Mosquitoes the size of dragon flies were hungry for blood cells. When I later awoke, Riggs had disappeared in his bag with only a small air hole to block the stingers. It was hot, gnats were irritating and rancid running fumes tainted the inside of my sleeping bag and made it smell like an Iowa salmonella-laced chicken farm. Set the watch alarm to chime in 45 minutes, it beeped what felt like 10 minutes later. Up and Adam, Van 2 would be wrapping up their legs soon and time for our ride (Van 1) to get back at it.
|External night lights on the support van made it easy to track down|
Van 2 drove ahead to Major Exchange 2 to get cleaned up and rest a bit at a high school. Bingo had this to say about their stay:
“There was a lady sleeping next to us on a wrestling mat in the school hallway. As soon as I settle down and get comfortable, she lets out a belch, which I thought was a little un-lady like. A few minutes later, Bob let's one rip and says "Back at ya." I thought it was pretty funny at the time, but it was even funnier later on when I found out the girl dropped a bomb in her sleep before I got there and it stunk to high heaven. Since I was basically wedged between her and Bob, I was very thankful that I had to go to the restroom before making my way to my sleeping quarters.”
Back to Van 1…2:00 am, running full throttle through the silent Wisconsin countryside, the moon at 20% and reflecting only a little light, faint outlines of landscape barely glowing outside the LED headlamp beam. It was a mix of exhilaration, intensity and peace. The road felt like it was sliding underfoot quicker than actual pace. Flashing taillights of other teams pinged like red fireflies about to be caught. It was surreal, lively, muggy and fun. I ran 7 miles at 6 minute pace, not particularly fast, but enough to keep us in first place.
|Running for broke at 2:00 am|
Each of us kept track of kills (passing another runner while hammering out a leg), Jason racked up more than 30 on one of his attacks. A kill meant we were catching teams that started 1 to 9 hours ahead.
3:30 am, Van 1 was done with our rotation of six legs. Rest time!
We parked outside a high school, they rented showers and gym for a fee. Except the gym was stuffed to capacity with runners, they wouldn’t let us in to crash. I showered and headed back up to the van to bag the skanky smelling running clothes and rest. But the Chevy was locked, Bret looked dead inside and Scott with keys was somewhere out that way curled under a blanket. We pounded the van and shook it, it bounced like it was on hydraulics. We finally scared Brett awake.
He shot up, cracked his skull on the roof and eventually unlocked the door from the inside.
This immediately triggered the car alarm. At 3:30 am. With other crabby teams wanting sleep, not horn, we did our best to try and silence the blasted thing. We locked and unlocked the doors, kicked the tires, honked the horn and spat. Nothing but more honking. Scott must have pressed random buttons on the fob from his bed in the field, as the alarm finally died.
As Van 2 ran into the black, it was our turn for some deep REM or 26 minutes of staring at the ceiling, whichever came first. Riggs rolled a 1” foam mat over the parking lot gravel. We figured about one hour driving time to Major Exchange 3.
We woke up to a blanket of fog denser than ______ (fill in blank with joke of your choosing). It looked like we were driving through a blizzard, the cloudy moisture in the air ate the headlights. We couldn’t blow it now and have Van 2 waiting for us at the end of their set, that wouldn’t play well in our score as we bounced between first, second and third place overall out of 325 teams. No worries, we found a shortcut on the map that allowed us to trim mileage. We arrived at the next exchange with plenty of time to spare (4 minutes).
While we were driving like grandma Gladys through the fog, Kip had this to say about his run:
“My second leg started before 5 am. The bathrooms in the park where the exchange was located were locked. The filthy Ragnar supplied facilities were a quarter mile away. Not cool. The humidity hovered somewhere just under 100% as I took the slap bracelet. Up ahead, a steady stream of flashing tail lights. I caught up to the first tail light and blew past her. One kill. Then I caught a second team. Kill! Passing number three, I already had number four in my sights. Kill, kill! The route was straight and slightly uphill but I was powering now. The kills piled up. 10, 11, 12.
Suddenly, out of the steamy darkness I heard the unmistakable slap of feet behind me. "Duluth Running Company?" I yelled over my shoulder. "Uh, yea," the startled 20-something all-American stammered. "I've been expecting you," I said as he blew past me like I was moving backwards. His tail light disappeared quickly in the foggy darkness. I ran that leg well and there were more kills but after being passed, it wasn't the same.”
Major Exchange 3
I was picturing quiet periods of peaceful rest while waiting for other members to glide in. That’s not the case. At all. We were nearly in constant motion, dropping off the man on point, driving ahead to offer support and drinks for our runner, speed ahead to the next checkpoint to unload, rehydrate, wipe rancid loins with moist lemon towelettes, change, stretch, race, drive, guzzle Gatorade shots, ready the night vest and lamps, eat and drink, find some bushes.
Scott was on deck. Efficient at multitasking, he simultaneously clipped on his number, greased his crotch and barfed in a bag. He was shooting blanks though, I didn’t see him eat much since that multi-pound Baconator at Winona. His body must have expelled the last chunks of the lardy lunch while signaling he needed to restock with real food. He was a trooper, pale faced, he clutched the orange band from Bob and engaged the rocket boosters to trot out his multi-mile stint. He must have felt terrible, laboring on each stride. He held to “Riggs Time.”
|Riggs took a likin' to Spanx|
There was pressure to hold pace, as Joe Riggs routed a spreadsheet weeks before with leg distance and predicted finish time. “Riggs Time” was an unusually fast pace he pulled out of the air which he claims was based on our 20K finishing times and, I suspect, a couple digits pulled from the B.S. bag.
Kip confirmed “Riggs Time” was a high mark to hit:
“As soon as anybody jumped back in the van, they asked, "What did Riggs have me down for on that leg?" We surmised that "Riggs Time" was based on some long ago race PR. It sure didn't take account of the lack of other runners, the terrain, the incredible humidity or pitch-black darkness on an unfamiliar route. Still, when some lucky soul actually did run faster than the Riggs projection, there was always a moment of silence and awe. Nobody dared suggest that perhaps the actual mileage for that particular leg was shorter than advertised.”
|Fog lording over Major Exchange 3|
Tony radioed that his foot was shot, something about a blister the size of a Belgium waffle was squirting fluids and making him cry. So we did a switchero: Jason would run double legs, Van 1 rotated ahead one leg, and I’d join Van 2 to run Tony’s shift. The order for Van 2’s third and final stretch would be AQ, Mark, Bingo, Tank, Kip and Bob. Van 1 radioed that Andrew was clawing up a terrible hill. I don’t think anyone checked the map and warned him ahead of time, better sometimes not to know what’s in store.
|Andrew on lonely Minnesota blacktop, unaware of the hideous hill hiding ahead to chew him up|
Major Exchange 4
Now a member of Van 2, we drove ahead and met up with a couple hundred other teams parked at a fitness center, waiting for their runner to arrive. It was a circus, like RAGBRAI without alcohol.
There's a 14 passenger van with a large Fu Manchu fastened to the front bumper. A desperate Texan on top of a rental waving his shirt and yelling at fit brunettes. I wished for a slingshot and ball bearing to shoot him in the sack for something worth yelping about. A Griswold Lampoon family vacation themed team had dead Aunt Edna wrapped in a tarp on top and an empty dog leash hooked to the bumper. We started with six other teams, but caught up to all of them over the course of 165 miles.
|SCRC packing heat|
We were tired, you know fatigue is heavy when Bob is quiet. We watched Bret finish for Van 1, he was striding alongside the number six runner on the masters team, and the Duluth team was a minute ahead. Tied for second, it would be a tight finish. We figured the masters would probably pull head of us, but we had a chance of knocking out the co-ed team of Duluth Running Company.
|Shirtless on the right is over age 50 and hauled|
The third and final set was going to be ugly. By this point in the race, after being up for nearly 30 hours of running, sardining into a van or watching Eppy barf partially digested bacon into a bag, the last thing on the wish list was a full bore 5 miler.
We could smell the fumes of Minneapolis, the finish was less than 30 miles ahead. Time to end this mother.
AQ led off, running down residential sidewalks and tagging Mark in front of a school. Mark was cruising, probably sub-six as he put the screws to the Duluth team.
Bingo held off the Duluth club, hanging tough in second place.
Tag, I clawed up a spot on the shady bike path through Minneapolis’s urban woods to 1st place. A minute or two in front of the second and third place teams, with Kip and Bob on deck. As Kip labored, we drove along a tidy, shaded boulevard, miles of 1920’s 'hood in mint condition. The bike path was busy, lines painted to separate runners from bikers and rollerbladers. Cheering Kip in for the final smack to Bob, a scooter gang buzzed 50ccs of two-stroke smoke. There must have been hundreds of nerd bombs. Bingo looked like he wanted to mount one.
|Hell’s Angels on Vespas, Bingo was amused|
Bob anchored Team BCBC. It seems that both he and Van 2 had trouble finding the finish line. The last stretch was not clearly marked, other runners have had issues getting lost on this section in past years.
|Waiting for Bob so we can finish together|
All 12 of us joined in the final yards to cross as a team.
192 miles in 20:16:49, good for 3rd overall and first in our division. Beat by the co-ed from Duluth and the over-50 masters of Revel Sports. Didn’t really matter though, we had the most fun.
We collapsed around white tables behind the grassy finish. Beer and pizza were extinguished by BCBC to reload miles of calories we’d burned over the last 20 hours.
Kip suggested heading over to a German pub to chew on their famous 1 meter bratwurst, but fatigue won and we hit the hotel for R&R instead. Good move.
Cleaned up, rested and recharged, we held our noses for dinner at Joe Senser’s sports bar in Bloomington. If they applied as much rigor to their pulled pork as they did their HD projectors, they’d be a hit.
Later that night, Scott said:
“At the hotel post race, Bingo was trying to open his beer bottles with a faulty Ragnar finisher's medal/beer opener. He literally spent 15 minutes trying to open his bottle on every sharp object in the room including the TV, lamps, headboards, bathroom fixtures, etc. He eventually made his way into the closet where he struck gold but not without mangling the hotel clothing rack. For Bingo, a small price to pay for beer.”
We overnighted at
El Crapo La Quinta a couple miles from Mall of America. I shacked up with Kip, AQ and Tony, seemed like a safe group to bunk with. Until the lights dimmed and Kip switched on the snore factory. At that moment, I understood why someone listed earplugs on the trip packing list.
The sound was mating warthogs on inhale, the gasp a body makes after coming alive from shock paddles on exhale. I was hoping Aaron would reach over and punch him a little. He gave it his Eagle Scout effort with a couple of loud spraying coughs in close proximity to Kip’s face, but no dice. Tony slept like a log. I have a newfound admiration for Kip's wife.
|Sorta like this, but 22 times darker and 90% more poo|
Bet he brings a light into the plasti-throne next time.
Front from left: Tank/Beard, Mark, Aaron “AQ”, Bryan “Bingo”, Anthony “Tony”
Back from left: Bob, Scott “Eppy”, Joe “Riggs”, Andrew, Jason, Bret, Kip