Friday, July 24, 2015

The Greatest Ragnar I Never Ran

Just as I have every other July for the past many years, I was prepared to run the Ragnar NW Passage. Not only has this race become a regular race staple in my running diet, I build my summer schedule around this event as I am the team captain. 

After completing the Ragnar Florida Keys event in February I was more excited than ever to get my team to the starting line. But alas this year was about to turn into a big struggle. Although I had 9 runners committed when I purchased the extremely large race registration (I always pay up front for the entire team and then have folks repay me when I register them to the team page), the closer we got to July - the worse off my team was looking. I had runners dropping left and right on me - including some of my long standing team members that I was really counting on to fill seats. So I started scrambling. I would fill a position or two only to have more members fall off for other commitments. And then the biggest blow of all - I myself had to find a replacement due to my unplanned knee surgery in June.

When my knee doctor initially sat me down to talk about my needed surgery he told me I would be up and moving in 2-3 weeks. I knew it wouldn't be wise to run an entire three legs, but I thought I could at least run a short leg or two and drive the rest. Because my surgery ended up being the 'worst-case scenario' that dream was shattered in the recovery room. Not only would I not be running by NW Passage, I wasn't even going to be able to walk without crutches. I reached deep into my pool of runner friends to find a replacement only to secure one and have yet another drop out in the last stretch. 

Not being able to train though provided one big benefit - TIME! I had time to spoil my team. For the first year ever I was able to have a team logo, team shirts and van magnets for tagging during the race. I also got crafty and made team headbands for everyone and really went to town on the van decorations. Even for little organized me, this was proving to be my most thoughtful and organized Ragnar to date. I made Excel spreadsheets (with formulas!). I coordinated van pickups and reservations galore! I wasn't going to run, but I had everything else locked down!

True to form, all my best laid plans couldn't control every detail. When I went to pick up the passenger vans I found out that the person that rented one of the vans failed to return it that morning and my team was down one vitally important and necessary accessory to the event. Several hours later Avis did indeed find us another van and by 6:00pm both our teams were heading north via I-5. My van stopped in downtown Seattle to pick up three runners hailing from California and Tennessee. Our van 2 driver was also flying in from England where his collegiate rowing team had just secured an international championship. We continued North to Bellingham and found our accommodations for the night and waited for van 2 to greet us around midnight. 

Once all 12 of my runners were accounted for, I was able to drift off to sleep but only for a short sleep as we had a 6:30 start time and they had a 30 minute drive to the Canadian border. Van1 started on time and my van began loading up and getting acquainted. I took my position in the driver's seat with my crutches tucked behind me ready to drive and not run. It's a different vibe when you know you aren't running. No fears of digestion trouble, no need to partially dress for your first leg. No scramble to find your iPod in the bottom of your backpack. It was nice, no running stress - but team stress for sure. 

Constant checkins from van1 proved the team was staying fairly close to our estimates - running about 15-20 minutes behind. Not bad for a newbie team. We made our way to the grocery store for supplies, the gas station for fuel and off to the exchange point where my handicapped parking pass came is VERY handy for the first of many times this weekend. You see, there aren't a lot of vans in a foot race with a handicapped parking pass. It was glorious - especially since going more than 100 feet or so resulted in me being a sweaty mess and needing a pause to catch my breath. Crutching it is not easy when you only have one functioning leg. By the time my van started their rotations, I looked like I had completed a 3 miler. 

Our first round of rotations overall went really well. We were behind our pace predictions but within a decent window. Both vans were decorating and everyone seemed happy. The weather was hot for running, but great for spectating and as always the course was beautiful. Our out of state runners frequently commented on how beautiful this course was and I couldn't disagree. Stunning views at every turn. 

This is usually the time I write about my experiences on each leg but alas I have nothing to write as I had no legs to run. Even now a week later I'm still really sad about this but it just wasn't meant to be this year. Overall things went well. Our one major issue was with my girl Kate in the middle of the nighttime runs. She had a 9 miler scheduled and within the first 3 miles, she rolled her ankle. I saw her hobbling up in the darkness, her silhouette screaming pain from the darkness but she refused to step off the course. We stopped several times but she was determined to finish. Unfortunately, it was a bad turn and she was done for the remainder of the race. On the plus side we are the same height, so I was able to share my crutches with her so she could get around a little. 

Our two strongest runners covered Kate's final miles after much discussion and I am so proud of them and grateful for their ability to run extra miles after already carrying the hardest of all the legs in our van. I must say that is what I love most about this event - the true team spirit that is reflected every mile of the journey. 

Although we got very off pace for a while we finished very close to our projected time. We celebrated with the entire team at the finish line with beers and pizza a toasted another exceptional year. 

Can't wait to come back and run this event again!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


I went to my one-week post-op appointment yesterday. To say I had fear and hesitation was an understatement. I wasn't fully clear on what my recovery would look like in the coming weeks.

The good news:

  • My knee is healing just as it should - no concerns from my doctor
  • I was able to say goodbye to my bulky, sweaty knee brace - wahoo!! 
  • I was finally able to BEND my knee for the first time in a week.
  • I can start driving again this weekend!

The not so good news:
  • I need to remain on crutches for another month - I am to bear no weight on my knee until I return for my next appointment at the end of July.
  • I can shower, but no pool for six more weeks (there goes my swim program).
  • Instead of just one place where I was missing cartilage, there were two 'bone on bone' locations that the doctor had to treat in my knee.

At first I was so relieved to remove the knee brace and start bending my knee again. Soon enough the reality that I can't bear weight on my leg for another month has hit me and I'm feeling depressed by it. I was ok to lay low for a couple weeks but no exercise for more than a month is pretty terrifying to me. I really thought the pool was going to be my refuge during this period, but to learn that I can't swim in addition to not even being able to walk is pretty tough on me emotionally. Even when I donated a kidney, I was able to walk immediately. I feel like a bird with clipped wings right now. My Garmin Vivofit is lucky if I break 1000 steps a day, and I think 500 'steps' are from brushing my teeth. 

I stepped on the scale for the first time since the morning of my surgery. I've gained two pounds. I really can't stomach the idea of gaining two pounds every week for the next month so I'm going to have to figure something out. I just don't see any cardio options available to me right now but I can start back on my upper strength training again this weekend. 

I know this surgery was necessary and I know it's best I took care of this now before I get any older and develop additional damage but this won't be easy. Today I'll focus on bending my knee and starting in on the muscle stimulation therapy - which is a really fascinating treatment and crazy to watch. In a nutshell, it uses electrical pulses to prevent the disuse of muscle atrophy in my thigh muscle above my knee.All I do is apply the sensors, push a few buttons and sit back for 20 minutes 3x a day. It's a very odd sensation to say the least - like an electrical current shocking you. By the end of the 20 minutes, it feels almost like a massage. Of course the first thing my husband said when he saw this is "you are just like Bruce Lee now" - yes, just like Bruce Lee, that's me. (apparently Bruce Lee used this sort of treatment to build his rock solid physique decades ago). 


Here is an article that explains it all if you are interested: 

Electronic Muscle Stimulation for Strength, Athletic Performance and Recovery

Monday, June 29, 2015

Knee Surgery

As of today, I am six days post-op from my knee surgery -and that means I am well behind on updating my blog. I return tomorrow for my one-week post-op appointment so I hope to have even more updates then, but for now I'll give you the surgical run down from last week.
Pre-op Pedi - a must do!

Leading up to surgery I was in a cleaning, cooking, preparing frenzy. I made lists for my lists and I had every single item checked off and ready to go Tuesday morning. My home was ship-shape and my refrigerator was stocked and ready for battle. I also made sure I really savored my final run before surgery. It was a nighttime trail run and it was about as perfect as it could be.
My final twilight miles pre-surgery. 

I was unable to eat or drink anything starting at midnight Monday night. This meant Tuesday morning was awful. I was set to check in for surgery at noon Tuesday afternoon and fighting my way through the Tuesday morning hours without even a sip of caffeinated water was pure torture for me. I kept my mind busy with work that morning but soon enough it was time for me to head to the surgery center.
Check in

Check in went as I expected with the usual procedures. I was a sight in my gown, compression socks and hair net. As typical, it was a little bit of a challenge to find my vein for the IV. It always is (I was stuck multiple times for the pre-op blood work as well). But eventually she found a vein that would cooperate. I was wheeled back on schedule wondering what procedure my surgeon was about to perform on my knee. I absolutely hated the uncertainty of not knowing how bad the injury was going into the procedure. Once I was wheeled into the operating room, the anesthesiologist approached me and said "now it's time for the good drugs," and that is the last thing I remember.

pre-op blood work - too many sticks to find a vein..
Waking up in the recovery room reminded me of when I donated my kidney eight years ago. I was disoriented and tired. I was so very tired. Just like that time I opened my eyes to get a quick awareness only to think, I'm too tired for this and closed my eyes and attempted more shut eye. The nurse didn't like that and tried to wake me again. I remembered from my kidney surgery that sleeping now wasn't an option. My job was to wake, so I tried to rouse myself. I was in a sitting position and she handed me my glasses. I looked down at my knee and saw the massive black knee brace already positioned on my leg, it felt heavy, solid. My freshly painted purple toenails glistened in the recovery room as the bright lights overhead bounced light off my swollen little piggies.

Luckily I wasn't in pain but I was most certainly uncomfortable. Scott was brought back and they began to prepare me for release. I asked him what procedure they had done on me - would it be the 'easy' 2-3 week recovery option or the more evasive several month scenario? He didn't know. He had left me while I was in surgery to get some work done as his office was less than a mile from the surgery center. He wasn't around when my surgeon went to talk to him about my progress. The recovery room nurse unfortunately didn't have any information on my specific procedure so she had to attempt to find someone. So we waited. Eventually we were given the news that my knee needed the most advanced procedure. My heart dropped in that moment. Although I knew it was a possibility, I was hoping for the best. Deep down I was preparing for the worst but it still stung in that moment knowing that my summer just slipped from my grasp. Instead of running endless miles of freedom while earning racer-backed tan lines, I'd be slowly building back my endurance, my stability and my strength - most likely inside a poorly lit gym, out of reach from my glorious Pacific Northwest summer. The nurse ran through what to expect the next several days along with detailed post-op instructions, yet I heard none of it. All I could think of is that I wouldn't be running for some time. My head nodded in agreement but I didn't hear anything.

Getting home was easy, but getting into my home presented a challenge. I was wheeled out of the surgery center in a wheelchair but I'd have to navigate my driveway and front walk by crutches. I was still woozy from the anesthesia when I faced the eight steps separating me from my house. Although I had practiced walking in crutches I never figured out how to navigate steps in them - somehow with Scott's help, I made it inside and to my couch but I don't have any memory how I accomplished this challenge.
Icing post surgery

I was now positioned in my 'spot' where I would recover for the foreseeable future. I had an air-conditioner - which was vital as Portland was entering a crazy heat wave with temps nearing 100 degrees (practically unheard of for June in Portland). I had my cooling unit for icing my ridiculously swollen knee and I had my television, ripe with top Netflix choices ready for hours upon hours of laziness -- I mean recovery. But most importantly I had a room full of helpers. Not only were my husband and my daughter on hand to help, my best friend and her mother had driven down from Seattle to play nursemaid to my immobile needs.
Day 2 - switching it up with Nathan compression socks

The first day was pretty decent. My pain was kept fully at bay thanks to pain meds and my helpers that kept me hydrated, iced, medicated and entertained. I realized sleeping with my ridiculous brace was going to be a challenge but somehow I made it through that first night of interrupted slumber. I still hadn't figured out how to navigate the many steps in my house with crutches so my trips to the bathroom and my bed consisted of me getting on my bum and scooting up and down the steps. It wasn't pretty but it was functional and far safer than attempting the challenge on crutches.
More Nathan compression socks and swollen toes

The days have blended together now but overall things went pretty well. I was really excited for Friday because that meant I was allowed to remove the ace bandage and inches of gauze- basically everything except the brace. All in all it took me a solid half hour to remove all the layers. There was a lot of dried blood and I can be a little bit squeamish, so I just took things slow and steady. I was so relieved once it was all removed though. I was able to actually feel the coolness of the ice on my leg for the first time. I felt like I was making progress on my recovery and that made me happy.
Removing all the post-op gauze 

My parents also stopped by on Friday for a visit and my father gave me some great tips for maneuvering on crutches. I know no other person in this world that operates better on crutches than my father. To say he has had some knee work done is an understatement. Both his knees have been extensively worked on over the years. First knee was an accident in his youth when his leg was crushed from playing on the logs in the river - for those of you from timber towns, log driving down the river is an easy way of moving timber and is dangerous when the logs pull apart from the water flow/tides. My dad's leg was caught between two logs and then crushed when the water pushed them together again. He spent more time than he should of his childhood on crutches. Then as an adult - he nearly had his leg amputated at the knee from a sawmill accident.Luckily the doctors saved his leg, but he had years and years of reconstructive knee surgeries. It's a miracle he kept his leg, and even more of a miracle he can walk normally today. As a child I used to count his 'railroad tracks" on his leg. He has more inches of surgery scarring than everyone else I know put together.
Log driving on the river - not safe

By the time my parents left, I was a pro at going up and down steps on my crutches. They also took my daughter back to the coast with them, which left me short one helper but she was getting very bored sitting in the dark every day watching movies with us old people.

Saturday brought another big day for me as it was the day I was cleared to take a shower. Considering how hot it had been all week, I was REALLY excited for a shower. I won't go into all the details but taking a shower with an immobile knee was quite an ordeal. It was worth it though as I felt 100 times better post shower. I felt so much better that the girls and I decided we would attempt going OUT to a movie during the peak heat of the day.
My first outing post surgery "Me, Earl and the Dying Girl"

We brought Scott's drum throne with me to rest my leg on while watching the movie and got a refill of ice at the concession stand for my knee. It was nice to get out of the house and enjoy a Starbucks and movie theater popcorn, but by the time we returned home - I was exhausted. And I was feeling very nauseous. My anti-nausea patch had finally worn off and suddenly my pain meds were making me ill. I decided then to just stop taking them. My pain was always under control so I figured it was time to stop and hope the pain would continue to be manageable. So far so good and I feel less loopy.
Morning coffee with the dogs

Yesterday my best friend and her mother returned to Seattle. I was sad to see them leave but so grateful for their help. They cooked, they cleaned, they took care of me. They were amazing and made this recovery so much better. I cannot thank them enough.
Swollen knee

Today is Monday and I am returning to work full time. I'm thankful I work from home as I can't drive yet. Not sure how I would be able to work if I had to return to an office. I'm also thankful I've weaned myself from the pain pills - I am too foggy to be productive on those things. Let's hope for a good appointment tomorrow and a plan for the rest of my recovery.

Gracie really appreciates the fan....

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

A New Chapter

I've been terrible about updating this blog since my injury. I thought it would be a fairly minor issue, I would go to physical therapy for a few months and be my old happy running self in no time. I was wrong.

I gave it the old college try. I went to PT and I did what was asked of me. I continued running but my schedule wasn't the same. I was only running perhaps twice a week and cross-training the rest of the days. When I ran it was never more than three miles at a time and there was a lot of walking mixed in with my running. It was awful but I was willing to do what needed to be done in order to heal.

But here's the deal. I didn't heal.Not by a long shot. In fact I actually felt my knee getting worse. I couldn't run well, that was certain, but I could speed walk and I could do other non-impact workouts like swim. So I did my best to keep my runs infrequent and short and I started looking at other options.

I talked to other runners that had experience with ligament issues. I started acupuncture to increase the blood flow to my injured ligament hoping it would speed healing and I consulted with other physical therapists. And I became an expert at applying KT Tape. As I was nearing the two month anniversary of my injury I was out for a run with no time constraints, so when I hit the 1.5 mile mark, instead of turning around I opted to keep running. The morning was cool but dry and I just felt like my soul needed more miles for once. My knee wasn't throbbing just aching a little so I just kept running. When I completed the 5.5 miles I had my first 'runner's high' in months and I was elated. Unfortunately that high faded and my knee started to stiffen. But this time instead of having pain above my knee the pain moved below my knee and this time it started swelling, pretty badly. For the first time, I spent the afternoon icing it.

I didn't run for more than a week after that episode. I was in pain. A lot of it and I was frustrated.This was the turning point because I was no longer willing to sit by and wait for my knee to heal. I knew there was more to my story. I needed to trust that little voice inside of me, so I began researching knee specialists. I was determined to not only find the best doctor in Portland to see me, but also ensure I was finding a physician that understood runners - or at the very least athletes. I was determined. I talked to everyone I knew that could recommend a great doctor. I scoured the internet for referrals and recommendations.I found a doctor I felt would give me answers and made an appointment as soon as I could get in to see him.

And this is where my story turns. First off I had X-Rays, which came back inconclusive but I knew I wasn't dealing with a bone injury. Next up was an MRI where I nearly fell asleep during the process and finally yesterday I went in for my results and I must admit I'm still confused by them.

First off he confirmed I had ligament damage above my knee just as my doctor diagnosed back in March. It was more extensive than I had thought. One significant tear and multiple smaller ones. As I was digesting this information the doctor told me that the ligament issue wasn't the biggest problem. The MRI showed that I was missing articular cartilage below my knee - or the smooth cushion that lines the end of the bones where they meet at the joints creating significant weakness and pain. In coming years this missing cartilage will evolve into painful arthritis if not treated.

For the record, he doesn't think this situation was caused simply by running. He says that my age, combined with the fact I've only been running for a decade and that it is only in one knee - that this is most likely a result of trauma to the knee. Could have been an fall or poor landing when I was a gymnast all those years ago or it could have been that time I jumped off the front porch at my parent's house. Hard to say really. And I suppose in the big picture that even isn't important.

I have a surgery date scheduled for later this month and have been told to expect a two to three week recovery. Of course I have several summer races on the books already from Ragnar NW Passage to Hood to Coast to the Lululemon Seawheeze Half Marathon. Will I be able to run? Only time will tell. One step at a time I suppose. But at least today I have answers and that is something.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Sidelined by Injury

I knew it had been a while since I updated my blog but I didn't realize it had been SO long. I had a great time in Seattle at the Hot Chocolate 15K and I promise I'll do a quick recap soon (although I've probably forgotten most of the details already). That race was followed by another work trip back to Florida followed by a knee injury. I was out on a regular old run. Instead of doing double-digit miles I was running 7 miles of hills - lots and lots of hills. At about 6.85 miles my right knee just gave out. No pop, no slipping on gravel - just came down like I always do and I felt instant pain and I could no longer bear weight on it. I hobbled home (thankfully I was almost there) and started the old tried and true RICE program immediately.

Later that afternoon I was able to bear weight again but walking up the stairs was challenging and painful. What had I done to myself? For a week and a half I tried to take it easy, instead of running miles I opted for time on my bike trainer and weight workouts. I kept my daily steps to 10,000 on my Garmin Vivofit and although my knee was tender it wasn't awful. I will admit I attempted to run twice. Once on a treadmill at a very slow speed for one mile and once outdoors where I did a run/walk combo for four miles. I would guess my mileage for running was maybe around two miles but never more than 1/4 at a time. Both times I tried to run I regretted it later.

I saw my doctor yesterday expecting a severe diagnosis but luckily she thinks it is a minor ligament issue that can be resolved with some physical therapy and a total break from running. I'm still frowning on that even though I knew it going into my appointment.

I'm so grumpy from not running. My husband says I act like a smoker that needs a nicotine fix: I'm short tempered and bitter. I know it's true. I need my run endorphins or else I get testy. And of course there is no clear schedule for how long I'll be sidelined by this injury.

I tried to reassemble my swim kit last night but learned my daughter borrowed my goggles and lost them and just the sight of my 'work' bathing suite pisses me off (my bikini at least makes me think of sunshine and mojitos).  On the plus side, I did find my swim cap easily. I've been trying to talk myself back into the pool for several months now, so this just might be the world's way of coaxing me back into the chlorine. But I have to admit, I don't want to go. I would be much more likely to dive in if the pools around me weren't so busy. I'm fine swimming on my own but as soon as someone jumps into my lane I get really self conscious and annoyed. Maybe I should start swimming at midnight?

The one good thing is that I don't have any race registrations until July. Not sure how that worked out because I've always got a race on the horizon. I had planned to run the Race for the Roses half this spring but just never got around to signing up - good thing too! Hoping I'll be back on the asphalt again soon but in the meantime I'll pick up some KT Tape and some new goggles.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Up Next - Hot Chocolate 15K

I'm returning to the steep streets of Seattle this coming weekend to repeat the Hot Chocolate 15K. I ran it two years ago in 2013 and had a great race. My only complaint was that there was no bling - I run for hardware - and although the sweatshirt and yummy food at the finish line was a big bonus, I really wanted a medal for my rack.

When I was attending the 2014 Las Vegas Rock & Roll Expo I saw that the Hot Chocolate was adding a finisher medal to the 2015 lineup so I once again became interested!

I'm not really looking forward to this course as it is a challenging one with some serious hills. My left quad is still not cooperating with me since Ragnar Florida Keys. I'm not sure how well it's going to hold up for 9 miles but I'm taking a break from running this week to rest it up. Hopefully it will feel better come Sunday and my stamina won't take too hard of a hit. I am excited though to get to my sister city for a weekend, I love Seattle. Can't wait!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Ragnar Florida Keys Race Report - Part 2

For the first part of my Ragnar Florida Keys Race Report go here.

After Van 1's first major van exchange/hand-off at Tamiami Park and a super  brief check-in with Van 2, we were back in our van and ready to find some quick food before heading to our next major van exchange where we were hoping to get a few hours of rest. Luckily for us, we had two Florida Key's veterans in our van that knew exactly where to go for a quick but healthy meal. We stopped in at Panera Bread for some carb-filled goodness and then quickly arrived at our next major van exchange at Homestead-Miami Speedway. After parking we all split up to stretch our legs, use a real toilet with running water and find a 'quiet' place to get some rest. I took a walk to the speedway and watched some cars race around the track. The sun was high overhead and all the coolness of the morning was gone. The heat was bouncing off the black track and I headed back to the shade cast by the bleachers. As hot as it was, the wind was strong so once in the shade I needed my jacket again. This weather was perplexing to me for sure.
Empty Speedway

Exchange from above

I found a chiropractic tent where students were giving free adjustments to runners. I felt bad for the students considering how stinky and sweaty we all were - and unless you knew someone in Miami, there were no shower options yet on the course. The only option we had for stink removal at this point was a baby-wipe sponge bath.
Anyone need a sweaty adjustment?

I got myself ready for my next rotation and considered napping. I wanted to join Judy on a grassy patch in the sun because it felt so good but knowing I had my longest, hardest leg up next I knew better than to bask in direct sunlight for three hours right before my run. I considered rolling out my sleeping bag and sleeping under the bleachers like a lot of other runners but I just wasn't tired. So instead I stayed with the van and tried my best to hydrate. I had developed a bit of a headache at this point and the two most likely culprits were lack of sleep and lack of water so I did my best to address both. I probably slept about 10 minutes.

Me and Judy at exchange

Soon enough the exchange was busy and we started to see the first of the runners coming through the Speedway for the handoff. I put my contact lenses back in and waited for word from our team on their status. The first rotation is always a little challenging because this is when you learn if the runner's on your team padded their time (said they would go slower than they actually can run) or if your team did a good prediction on time estimates. As it turned out, by the time our second van arrived they were very close to our target.
Six Ragnar Ambassadors ready to serve!

I had just moved up to the exchange area when I we saw our 6th runner coming in fast. I wasn't expecting him for another five minutes at least, so I was taken off guard. I ran out quickly, grabbed the baton and took off around 4:00pm on Friday afternoon. Right off the bat I knew this was going to be my 'make it or break it' run for the relay. It was my longest overall distance - "8.8 very hard miles" and we were now squarely in alligator territory as  my run would take me through the 'town' of Homestead on an extremely creepy trail and into the Everglades - all as the hot Florida sun was preparing it's exit for the day.

Some pics of Van 2 on the course!
Exchange from up above

I brought a little handheld water bottle filled with Nuun because I knew it was smoking hot for me. The first mile was nice, I was killing off runners even while running at my slow/long run pace. Knowing it would be a long hot haul, I was hoping to run this in 10:00/10:15 minute miles.

Around the first mile I was running on a paved trail where the road and trail were separated by a small body of water. Being in fear of beady eyes starting at me from said water, I was 100% focused on looking for gaters. When my team approached me they honked at me and I must have jumped 5 feet in the air. I was certainly high strung for this leg of the event. It was hot and there was very little shade as I ticked off more miles along a boring stretch of road. We were running with traffic - which I hate - but at least we were on a sidewalk so I did feel safe. I had asked my team for a cold water stop at my halfway point- so around 4.5 miles. As I drew closer and closer to that mileage one thing became very clear. I needed a pitstop more than I needed water. Blarg! I was actually running along a somewhat secluded stretch at this point, I could have easily jumped into the bushes to relieve myself and kept on going. Except for the fact that I was convinced I would find an alligator waiting for me in the brush. So I kept running feeling my body slowly start to revolt with every passing step.

Soon enough I was at my halfway point and I saw my team - when they went to hand me water I instead asked for toilet paper convinced I could stop for a potty break along the trail that was ahead of me on the course. But my team - being awesome, stopped in front of a hotel and as such I took a very short detour to the bathroom. Lickity split I was back on the course and feeling better than ever. That could have been a really bad situation but the timing was perfect.

As soon as I passed my team, I saw a girl standing at a stoplight waiting to cross per Ragnar signs. She was dressed in a black long sleeved running jacket and long black running tights. I started sweating more just looking at her. In contrast I was wearing short shorts and a tank top. I asked her if she was dying of heat and offered her some of my new cold water from my team. Come to find out she was a native Floridian and thought the weather lately was downright cold. It's all about perspective folks! My new friend and I started talking as we crossed the intersection. We talked about Ragnar and about running in Florida and I asked if she had seen any gators yet. Pretty soon I heard someone honking at us from the busy road. It was another van yelling at us that we missed our turn and that we were off course.
Me being a loser after getting lost on leg

Damn- I just made my 8.8 mile leg even longer. Typical Nicole. We quickly turned around and retreated back on the course the way we had just come. Eventually I saw Maureen and Judy chasing after us as well and soon enough we were back on track. I left my new, overdressed friend behind and started to slowly pick off some runners I had killed earlier on the course. I bet they were confused as to how I was passing them once again.

The next mile was boring, running through downtown Florida City was uneventful and hot. Just strip malls and intersections. Nothing interesting to look at particularly. I almost got lost once again when I continued to cross an intersection instead of turning left. But luckily as I crossed I noticed several vans turning so I turned around and saw the Ragnar sign behind me. What I didn't realize at the time was there was the main sidewalk, which I was running on, but there was a second smaller, older sidewalk about 10 feet closer to the strip mall with bushes between the two sidewalks. The Ragnar direction sign was posted on the smaller sidewalk and I couldn't see it with the shrubbery between us. I passed another support team and they said several people were missing the sign and they were going to move it to the larger sidewalk where a majority of people were running.

After this turn we were off the busy road and I was glad for a change of scenery. We ran along a neighborhood road for another mile and I was finally able to get little pockets of shade here and there. At mile 6.5 (mile 7 for me) our paved road turned into dirt. I knew we had a portion where the vans couldn't follow but this didn't seem too bad. There were a few potholes but the road was wide enough to support vans. Regardless, the vans took a different route and the runners were solo now.
No van support - started out as a normal road
I was on the 'downside' of this leg and getting off the hot pavement gave me a boost. As we continued on the dirt road I noticed it was getting narrower and harder to navigate. The potholes got bigger and there was trash everywhere. It actually started to look like a garbage dump with old discarded sofas and bags of trash everywhere. I didn't see any water so at least I wasn't afraid of gaters but I was afraid of coming across a dead body out here. The sun was starting its descent and I could feel the night approaching.

Then it got narrower and sketchier 

Eventually the road gave way to a trail and everything got significantly narrower. I saw someone up ahead of me and I was gaining on them quickly. I became nervous when I realized this person ahead of me wasn't running, he was just standing in the middle of the narrow trail. Worried that I was all alone on a desolate trail without any other runners or vans around me I slowed my pace to get my bearings. No runners behind me that I could see. I would have slowed up and waited if I could see anyone. I knew the runner ahead of me was maybe only five minutes up. As I got closer I saw not one but two men and my pulse quickened. What were they doing? Reaching up high above them, trying to reach something? And then it became apparent what was going on...I wasn't about to be drug off into the brush. These two guys were from Nathan Reflective and they were putting hundreds of blinking flashing lights on the trail to light the way for the runners. I could just barely see the lights as I approached because it wasn't yet dark but I knew it would be awesome for those coming through in the darkness.
The guys from Nathan lighting the way!

I stopped and took a picture of the two Nathan guys and thanked them for their effort - they high fived me and did a little power arch for me as I sprinted off into the impending dusk. I laughed all the way through the end of that trail thinking I was going to disappear into the Everglades.

At mile 7.5 (8 for me) we turned off the dirt path and back onto a paved road. A paved road that took us past the "One mile to go" sign as well as a prison. As if my near death encounter wasn't enough excitement, I got to run past a prison. Soon enough I could see the exchange in the distance, I was about 3/4 of a mile away and was excited to finally be so close to finishing this long leg. At this point the Ragnar signage told us to run in the grass and stay off the road. What a cruel cruel joke for us at the end of this leg. The grass was high and running through it was akin to running in dry sand. It took more and more effort for me to lift my legs. We were also running straight toward the setting sun. I started to run with my hand in front of my face because it was just so bright. Eventually I made it to the exchange and excitedly handed off to Wendy as the nighttime hours took over for our journey.
After emerging from the trail - the prison is just to the left

Leg 13: 8.8 very hard miles
In actuality I ran 9.32 miles thanks to my ability to get lost easily
Pace: My goal was 10:00-10:15 minute miles but thanks to the toilet stop, walking when we got lost (I pulled up the Ragnar app to find the course again) and stopping to take some pics of the Nathan guys on the trail - my pace was 10:43/minute miles. I was ok with that - hopefully my team was too!!
Alligator Alley at sunset

Although I brought us into the Everglades, Wendy had the leg dubbed "Alligator Alley." She and Judy both had to sign special waivers because of the potential for alligators on the course. Wendy ran through a field and then quickly onto gravel canal road. Instructions in the RagMag explicitly warn to stay away from the water and DO NOT THROW FOOD of any kind into the water or on the trail to avoid attracting wildlife. Yikes!! Luckily the vans were between the water and the runners and it was a short 4.7 mile leg. Wendy didn't like it but she made quick time.
Courtesy of Brad
Judy was up next and again I was worried for her. She did great on her first leg but this was going to be much longer at 8.22 miles along the canal on an uneven gravel road. As Wendy came in and handed off to Judy the last bit of sunlight made a farewell and we were now in darkness once again. The only vehicles on this road were Ragnar vans and we continued to be a barrier between the runners and the canal. Runners were told if they encountered wildlife to jump in a van - any van. Luckily at this point on the course the vans were butt to front - meaning we were all driving very slowly in a line. Later on however I talked to runners that were out there all alone with an occasional van lighting the course for them. I was happy Judy was not out there alone and that we were in a heavy part of the relay.
The vans on Judy's leg

Because we couldn't stop for Judy, we proceeded onto the exchange. It was a very tight exchange along the gravel canal. Parking was rough but because we had a mini van instead of a big passenger van we were able to park very close to the hand off area. We saw so many idiots being idiots at this exchange though."Parking" in the road because they didn't want to go to the end. I could tell I was working on little sleep because I was getting angered by bad drivers.
Always time for key lime pie right?

Judy handing off to Maureen

Judy handed off to Maureen in the darkness and Maureen then brought us back to civilization and off the canal and onto the highway. She had a long leg ahead of her - 11.81 miles in the dark. Luckily it was a straight stretch across some bridges and along US-1 South. Again it was a no support leg but Ragnar did set up three water stations for the runners and she had her handy little hydration pack so we knew she would be ok.

Maureen is always so fast
 I can't get a good picture of her running 

The next exchange was at Key Largo school and here I found Team Thumbs Up again and had some time to actually talk to them and learn more about their story. I found both Kerry and Linda and learned that Linda was a writer for the Miami Herald and she asked for my name so that she could include me in her coverage. You can read her article here and the article Ragnar wrote about Team Thumbs Up here: What it Mean to be a Ragnarian: Teams Thumbs Up Spotlight

Team Thumbs Up

If you want to see some really motivational pictures of Kerry - check out these images. She does more than just running events and I promise you will be inspired!

After my chat with Team Thumbs Up the skies opened up and we experienced a downpour unlike the rain we get here in Oregon. It was a hard intense rain. It didn't last a long time but everything was soaked, including me. Being the rain runner I am, I wasn't prepared for this type of rain - I was glad I wasn't running this leg! But just 15 minutes later when Maureen came cruising in, she was dry as a bone (sans her sweat). She completely missed the water deluge that hit us. Amazing!
Blurry Maureen again

Maureen handed off to Emily for a hard 7.1 mile leg and Brady finished it up with a 7.8 mile very hard leg in the darkness. He finished up at Coral Shores High School where van 2 took over around midnight. Normally in a relay, we would motor off to the next major van exchange and get some shut eye so that we were onsite when our second van arrives. Thanks to having experienced team members for this course, we were staying at exchange 18 instead. This exchange had a fundraiser pasta meal, showers and an indoor gym for sleeping in. Apparently Exchange 24 was at a tiny airport with porta potties and a bug-infested field.

The lovebirds ready for their night miles

Normally I shower when I can, but I wasn't feeling very well at this point in the race. I hadn't had a decent night's sleep since Tuesday night and I had a major headache. I washed my face and removed my contact lenses and found a spot on the gym floor next to a wall. Wendy, Judy and Maureen slept in the gym as well while Brady and Emily slept in the school courtyard outside after eating the pasta dinner. I went straight to sleep as I needed it badly.

Pasta dinner which I didn't eat

We were scheduled to hand off around 5:30am so I set my alarm for 4:00. I woke several times but got in the most solid sleep I had had in days. At 4:00 I woke, washed my face, brushed my teeth and changed into my final running outfit. I grabbed a plate of pasta and tried to get something in my stomach but my van started texting me saying it was time to go. I had one bite of pasta and the garlic bread. I wrapped my cookies in a napkin and headed off to the van.

We had about a half hour of driving to get to the next exchange and luckily since it was the middle of the night traffic was light. We found the exchange easily but it was a rough rough ride for me. I should have asked to sit in the front seat but I didn't. Sometimes I get nauseous if I'm not in the front seat - I used to be VERY bad as a child but have gotten better as an adult. I spent  the entire drive holding back nausea - I was trying to hold down my cookies while grasping my literal cookies in my hand. I have never felt so ill on a relay race in my entire life. By the time we arrived at the exchange I was sweating bullets. Luckily I never got sick and I was happy to get out of the van. Unfortunately it was cold at the exchange. My body went from fever to chills instantly and I started shaking. Luckily I didn't have anymore nausea (getting out of the van helped that) but I was so cold I was shaking.

There were just three of us at that major van exchange, Maureen, Brad and I waiting for Rob to come into view from the darkness. Everyone else was staying warm in the vans. It felt like we waited at that exchange forever, although it was probably more like 10 minutes. Exchanges in the early morning hours are a different beast with a different vibe. There is less fun and fanfare and more grit and focus. Rob was in the exchange before I realized it was him and I was off. I was so thankful I only had 2.4 easy miles to run. I was started almost exactly 24 hours after I kicked off this race the day before in Miami. The sun rose while I was running those final 2.5 miles and I didn't even look at my Garmin to check my pace at all. My entire goal was to finish and not get sick in the process. I was running once again through a downtown area, this time in Marathon. I ran on a sidewalk with traffic along US-1. It was fairly uneventful but I did see the US Customs and Border Protection office which made me smile. This was to protect the southern border but on Ragnar NW Passage, we pass the Northern border office in Ferndale WA. I had to stop and take a picture!

Hey that sign looks familiar - kind of

FINAL Mile to Go!

My final exchange was a course favorite Stanley Switlik Elementary School and I was greeted by Sharks - it's true - a shark high five on the way in and then a sharky photo opp once I was finished. The sun was now up and I was finished with my miles. Around the first mile my nausea passed and I was feeling much much better.
What a way to end my legs!

Leg 25: 2.4 Miles Easy
In actuality I ran 2.5 miles but it still felt easy
My goal was a 9:30 minute mile and I ran a 10:01 minute mile pace - but since I felt like hurling for the first mile - I'm still happy with that.
Bonus: Not a single turn on this leg so no chance of getting lost!

Wendy was now off and running the glory leg of all the Ragnar Florida Keys legs - the 7 mile bridge leg. But she had to run a few miles before getting on the bridge so her overall mileage was 9.4 miles. She was pretty nervous about this run, but I knew she would do a great job. We wanted to kill some time before we headed to the next exchange because it was limited parking and we weren't allowed to stop along the actual course (because bridges...duh) so we went back to the border station and took some pics and then went to find some coffee. No Starbucks or other coffee carts were to be found so we pulled into a restaurant and got some coffee to go - I decided mine needed a little Bailey's too!
Earned first drink
Ragnar NW Passage/Florida Keys Border Crossings

By the time we got onto the 7-mile bridge, Wendy was well on her way to crossing it. I got some really wonderful pictures of her as the sun was rising. She looked strong. Wendy handed off to Judy for her final 4.8 miles that came with some struggles but she finished strong too as we made our way to the next exchange and parked in a perilously tiny area where I was grateful we had backup cameras and a mini van.

Wendy crossing 7-mile bridge at sunrise

Judy handed off to Maureen while I shivered on the side of US-1. The sun was high above but the wind was strong and I really hoping for some typical Florida weather. Maureen ran a very hard 8.2 mil leg as the sun finally came out strong. Maureen handed off to Emily for a hot 5.2 miler and Brady brought it home for van 1 with an easy 2 miler.
More Van 2 action shots

Honestly no clue where these were taken ;-)

We handed off to Van 2 and let out a little "whoop whoop!" - this is usually when I'm pumped to be in van 1. We usually go eat, find showers and have some good time to kill before making our way to the finish line party. Unfortunately for us Van 2 had a very quick rotation ahead of them, only 17.5 miles in total (one leg less than 2 miles, the longest only 5) and remember, there were two UBER fast runners in Van 2. This meant no showers, no breakfast: just get to the finish line.

I found King Ragnar at Leg 30

I loved this guy's shirt

Because Key West is a tiny island (7.4 square miles total) there wasn't enough parking at the finish line for all the vans. Van 2 was allowed to park there but Van 1 was required to go to the high school and take a fun trolley to the finish line. We changed into our team shirts and boarded the shuttle. We were all a little stiff and sore by this point but were excited to be so close to the end. The finish line was awesome, it was right on the beach and by this point the weather was spectacular. Our van enjoyed our free beer and found some pulled pork sandwiches because we were starving!
Trolley to the finish line!

Finish line party 

As expected, Van 2 flew through their final legs and before I knew it we were all reunited on a sandy beach in Key West. Without a doubt, this is my favorite finish line of all time! There was sun, sand and a lot of really awesome new friends!

The gang's all here!

Reversing our medals made this groovy puzzle

After the party we all made our way back to our hotels, showered, took a power nap and then returned to the after party. This time we made our way to Duval Street where a big Ragnar party was happening at a bar called Rick's. If you showed up with a Ragnar shirt, medal or tattoo you got a Rick's cup that entitled you to free drinks for an hour! And it wasn't just bottom shelf liquor either. It was a fun party with a live band and tons of energy. After the party at Rick's we went for a late night dessert at a restaurant called "Better than Sex" then we crashed.....hard.

Celebration at Rick's in Key West!


A little sexy dessert 

The next day most of our team headed home but the Oregon contingent wasn't leaving until Monday so we returned to Duval street to explore. Wendy and I saw every single open tourist attraction that day from Hemmingway's House to the most southern point in the United States to sampling the most well known seafood in town, conch. It was an amazing day and I'm soooooo glad we took an extra day to be tourists in this amazing city. I flew home bright and early Monday morning with spectacular memories and 8 new running friends!
Coconut water is a great recovery drink!

Wendy and I at the most southernmost point

This cop really wanted his pic with us

I prefer to think of it as the beginning 

Playing tourist

Key Lime Pie and Mojito = perfection

Even I tried Conch in Key West!

Brady and Emily got matching tats!

With their tattoo artist!