Sunday, July 28, 2013

Ragnar Relay | Northwest Passage

Despite not being a consistent blogger, Ragnar Northwest Passage was an experience worthy of a new post. I apologize in advance for the length...

[Team Party Like a Flock Star]

Pre-Race Thoughts:

1. Holy smokes. I have never done a relay, what am I supposed to expect? Is my body capable of this endeavor?
2. I have to do this relay... it's been on my bucket list for quite some time now.
3. How will I survive the van ride? I can hardly handle a car ride to work.
4. No sleep?! What? I hope I don't get cranky.
5. It's with Oiselle gals - I am sure they will be awesome.
6. 17.7 miles with my first leg almost entirely up hill? I'll just set low expectations for pace.
7. What have I gotten myself into?
7. How are you supposed to pack for this thing....?
8. Why do I wait until the last minute to pack? You'd think I have learned my lesson by now.
9. Team Party Like A Flock Star is an awesome team name.
10. I can't wait to wear my headlamp and reflective vest.

Race Recap:

Van 1 left Seattle bright and early to get to Blaine, where the race started. My van, van 2, only had to drive to Bellingham for our first exchange. Our first big stop was exchange 6, where our two vans would meet-up and we would take over the running for the next few hours. We had a quick photo (see picture above), before Natty, from our van, took off for her first leg.

This is right before my leg.... the picture speaks for itself.

My leg was right after Natty's, and passed right next to Lake Padden. The anticipation of getting started had me anxious, nervous and excited. The butterflies in my stomach, while fluttering away, allowed me to know that I was ready to race. Someone once told me that those butterflies are a sign that you care about the adventure you are about to embark upon, and thus, I have always welcomed them before big events. I knew from the map that it was going to be a tough and hilly 5.7 miles, but I was ready for the challenge.

750 feet of elevation gain over 3 miles...

The first quarter mile ran through a neighborhood and it was relatively flat. Once we crossed over the freeway, the road went straight up. Literally straight up. I tried not to think about the climb too much, and right when I felt a serious burn in my legs, my teammates were there cheering for me in full force. I threw them a few smiles and a thumbs up, so grateful for their support.

At the top of the first hill, we entered into the trails surrounding Lake Padden. It was wooded and had a nice gravel path. I love the particular sound of runners feet striding against gravel. It is oddly calming and it puts me in a steady rhythm. The path was also shaded, which provided much needed relief from the hot, hot sun.

The views of the lake were stunning and it helped to take my mind off the burn in my legs. Running by water is one of my favorite things, and it helped me find peace in hitting a pace I could comfortably push. There were several other runners around me, so I had plenty of people to keep my eyes on and chase down (also known in relay terms as "roadkills"). It really is quite the experience to be seriously sweating, blue abs nonetheless, breathing hard, and pushing the pace, while people chill out by the lake in their swimsuits drinking beer (actually, this part sounds nice). There were some good looks, a few stares, and more than one comment made about what the hell we were doing. Gotta love feeling like a badass runner.

Once we exited the park there was a long climb ahead. I felt like I was climbing the Alp d'Huez... ok maybe that's an exaggeration, but it was steep and seemed never-ending. You couldn't see the top as you ran up, and I had no real sense of how much further I had to go until I reached the crest. I was able to pass several runners on the climb, but it was brutal. Just as I was feeling like I was pushing empty (and getting concerned for the well-being of my other two runs), my team was there to cheer me over the top. Knowing I had their support and encouragement kept me on steady pace for the last mile and a half of the run. I was running for something so much bigger than myself, and it was an incredible feeling. Hearing their cheers gave me chills - I literally had goose bumps. That is a moment I hope to never forget.

Side note: I can guarantee you that the goose bumps were from my teammates, not from heat exhaustion. I did wonder this myself, but after some serious reflection, I am positive I came to the proper conclusion.

Leg 1: 5.7 miles | 8:26 average pace

4. After finishing my first leg, I felt like I could finally relax a little and enjoy cheering on my other teammates. It was so much fun watching everyone, cheering for people and witnessing the true bliss of a running event. I genuinely believe that running events provide moments of the most incredible demonstration of the human spirit at its best (and some of the wackiest, joyful spirits as well). I could tell right away that it was going to be hard on my legs to run and then climb right in the van without much stretching in order to get to the next exchange. Thankfully, cheering and driving kept my mind off the panic of tired legs. Every single gal on our team had a fantastic first run. It was fun to swap experiences, take pictures and cheer each other on, but by the time we reached exchange 12, it was time to let the other van take over and we were off to grab some food.

5. After dinner and a well deserved round of beer at the Skagit Valley Brewery, we were off to LaConnor to wait for the other van before it was our turn again. We parked and collectively opted to attempt sleep in the van rather than the hard gym floor at the local high school. Despite heavy eyes and a tired body, there was too much adrenaline rushing through me to catch much sleep. Too much excitement outside, too many flashing tail lights, bright headlamps and reflective vests were pouring light right into my eyes, holding me in the zone between sleep and curiosity for the world outside. Fighting sleep often causes me stress, but this time I was harboring too much excitement for my night leg and was too busy taking in the moment that at the time it seemed like sleep hardly mattered.

6. My second leg started in Anacortes by Padilla Bay and went out across Fidalgo Bay before heading towards the next exchange.

7. I started about 1:20 am and headed off into complete darkness. Other runners were fairly scattered around, so there weren't too many nearby - this was both unnerving and relaxing all at the same time.
8. My leg started off with a slight uphill in the first mile, but then was almost entirely flat the whole way. I was hesitant in my aggression to push the pace, primarily because I was unsure how my body would respond. In hindsight, I wish I had trusted my body more and pushed it on the flats, but in the moment, I was soaking it all in and enjoying every step. How often do you get to run in the middle of the night. The calm and quiet that came with this leg was humbling. The sound of your own breathing and your steady footfalls on the concrete provided me with thankfulness for this sport. I made a conscious effort to glance at the moon, take in the quiet and let my body guide me through the next 7.7 miles.
9.  Circling around Padilla Bay was beautiful, and not nearly as scary as I thought. Only once did I hope that no one would jump out and push me into the Bay. At the edge of the Bay the runners entered a pedestrian only footpath (Tommy Thompson Trail) that led out across Fidalgo Bay. The bridge was recently restored and was made of wooden planks that clicked with each step. It was approximately one mile long and went straight out over the water. The glow of the moon on the water, the stars and the sound of the water hitting the pillars was amazing. On the one hand, the freedom of the scenery made me want to fly, but I also felt pulled to slow down because I knew this was a one time experience and I wasn't sure I was ready for it to end, especially just as I felt like I was hitting a groove.

Photo courtesy of: Northwest Ramblings

10. I came in just under an hour after I started and was full of joy for the experience. Seeing my team cheering me on made me sprint it in just a little harder, and I passed off to Ashley for her leg. Since Ashley's leg was short, we had to race to the vans to head to the next exchange, so I did my best to stretch standing up as we drove onto our next destination.
Leg 2: 7.7 miles | 7:45 average pace
11. Our team dominated our night legs, and somewhere around 3:30 or so Paulette crossed over Deception Pass. We had plenty of laughs and sleep deprived moments that kept us moving through the night. It got ridiculously cold right around 4 am when Sophia was about to run. This coincided with the time that I started to get pretty tired. Knowing how much Sophia had supported all of us during our runs, I knew I had to stay awake to keep her going - oh... and also because I was driving the van. Sophia had a long leg with rolling hills. I would drive the van about a mile ahead, pull over, set my alarm for 5 minutes later, doze off, and then get up to cheer her on. It was quite the system. She did awesome and we rolled right into Oak Harbor for another van exchange.
12. The only exciting news of these next few hours is some attempted sleep, a bagel, some good stretching and a few sips of coffee....
13. We each had one final leg to go. My last leg was only 4.2 miles, but there was some serious doubt creeping in on me. I wasn't sure that my legs would carry me. My whole body was tired, but I forced myself to move around and attempt to wake up. Deep inside, I knew I would make it, but I also kept thinking about how much it would hurt.
14. Our team was cruising. It was impossible to stew in doubt for too long because of the energy that surrounded me and my teammates. Everyone stayed so incredibly positive, which is amazing considering the circumstances. My last leg was a straight shot, one small incline and then almost 2 miles of rolling downhill.
15. Out of nowhere, my first mile rolled in around 7:07. I was stunned looking at my watch, but also knew that my legs were rolling faster than my body felt like it could move. That one tiny incline of less than 100 feet over 3/4 of a mile had me feeling like my legs had been put through a grinder. It took every ounce of energy to shuffle up that hill. Both of our vans drove by to cheer me on, coming at exactly the time when I needed the support. Hearing their voices reminded me why I was running and gave me the courage to fight the "hill". I knew from the top that it would be downhill into the exchange zone, but in the midst of the "climb", which felt so much harder than the climbs on my first leg, I kept thinking about how much I had asked of my body in the last 24 hours.
16. Throughout the last 2 miles of my run I was in awe of the capabilities of my body. I'm not sure I can find the appropriate words to describe the emotion of experiencing your body going well beyond the limits of what you thought were possible. I kept repeating in my head how much respect I had for the abilities of my body. I knew this run would forever change how I view limits, pushing on empty and the gratitude I have for being able to run and enjoy this sport. Shortly after my run I tweeted at Oiselle, "Though there are days when I don't feel strong or fit, after today I have endless respect for my body..." These words are a summation of how I felt when I entered the exchange zone. I had the biggest smile on my face, the most grandiose sense of accomplishment, and immense pride for the team I was on. What an amazing feeling.
Don't mind "skeletor" in the background...

Leg 3: 4.2 miles | 7:35 average pace
Final Thoughts:
1. Thanks to all of my teammates: Andrea, Nolana, Lauren, Sarah, Morena and Becky. To Natty, Ashley, Laurel, Paulette and Sophia. I am so glad I could share this experience with all of you, and thank you for the encouragement and support. Way to go "Party Like a Flock Star"! We took 3rd place!
2. It's amazing to experience what your body can do, even when you think you have hit empty. The race taught me to push limits and have confidence in my body to keep charging ahead when I am tired.  This gives me a new perspective for workouts and races.
3. This was a great bucket list item... even though I thought I would say "never again", I already want to try another one...!
4. I am proud to wear my Oiselle jersey every single time. It never gets old.
5. The Northwest is a beautiful place, and I am lucky to enjoy it while running and doing what I love.


  1. Great recap Julie! Loved reading about Ragnar NWP through your eyes.

  2. LOVE! At first I was kind of glad I never ran in the wee hours of the night, but I'm becoming more and more envious of all the van 2 runners that had such cool overnight legs - that run across the bay sounds amazing. Just another reason that we must do this again!

  3. So proud of you and in awe of your awesome abilities!!