Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A case of the sicks

I'm running the Run Like Hell Half Marathon on Sunday so of course that means I came down with a nasty cold this week.

I don't know what it is about this race but I just seem to have bad luck with it, from being sick to having business trips, I just can't ever seem to have a great taper week leading into this event.

I know I'll run this race come Sunday even if I'm still coughing but I sure hope I'm mostly recovered. Last year we had the unfortunate luck to be stopped at mile 11 by a train...in the rain...pretty sure I caught a cold at that point.

I'm just hoping I can get in one solid run this week before the race. We shall see though how I'm feeling.

In related news - I am going to have to receive my first ever DNS on a race. My favorite event of the year - The Las Vegas Rock and Roll Half Marathon "Strip at Night" is going to be not run by me this year. I purchased my race registration last December having no clue I would have a work conflict show up and make me cancel my race plans. I'm super bummed because this was going to be THE YEAR that I owned this course and came in under 2:00. Unfortunately the owners of the race, the Competitor Group will not allow deferrals or even allow you to sell your bib. I hate it when race organizers are so tight with their policies. I'm trying to get them to allow me to change from the half marathon to the 5K as that event is the day before and I could run it, but I'm not holding my breath - I fear the Competitor Group won't be willing to allow that to happen. It's too bad but I don't see any option for me.

I tried to find a new November race and found one right down the street from my parent's home! Yeah! But get this - they don't offer a finisher medal for the half marathon. What?!? Not to be up on my high horse or anything seriously what type of half marathon doesn't offer finisher medals? I've ran dozens and dozens and always gotten some sort of finisher medal for anything over 15K. Not cool!

My fall race schedule is in trouble for sure, between being sick, on the road for work and just running out of long race options I'm not sure where I'll land on my goals for the year! Wish me luck!

Monday, October 13, 2014

RunDisney's Tower of Terror 10-Miler Race Report

Most people have a bucket list, I'm pretty sure most runners have a bucket list for runs they want to race. I know I sure do! For a few years now I've had a RunDisney event (any RunDisney event) on my list. They have always looked so fun, so memorable, so magical! The problem is - these races require a lot more planning than most races. They sell out extremely early and you can't just make a flippant decision to run last minute like I prefer to do.

Also a trip to Disney means my family will want to join me and I've learned that racing and family are a little bit of a challenge to coordinate. Even when we are in the same city (San Diego earlier this year for example) I've learned my family would rather stay back and go swimming in the hotel pool than brave the crowded race course with me, and that's ok. I'm perfectly fine to immerse myself in a crowd of strangers in dri-fit clothing.

This event really was a challenge for me to coordinate as my flight to Orlando wasn't going to get me to DisneyWorld in time to pick up my bib. Flying from Portland to Orlando takes all day and although I would land with more than enough time to run at 10:00 p.m., I was not going to make it to the bib pickup earlier that day.

Jack Skellington inspired costume - with some Ragnar flair of course!

Luckily for me I have friends that have friends and was able to find someone kind enough to pick up my bib/shirt/bag and then I just had to swing by her hotel to get it upon arrival in Orlando. This left me with just enough time to have heavy appetizers and drinks at The Wilderness Lodge before returning to my hotel and changing in costume. Unfortunately for me, I was not staying at one of the designated  RunDisney properties so after I had changed I had to make my way over to a property where the race buses were shipping runners to the starting line. On paper - this distance wasn't very far - I might have misjudged the enormity of Disney just a little but eventually I did find my bus and eventually I made it to the starting line with about an hour to spare. This was good because I literally stood in the Porta-Potty line for at least 30 minutes - wow!

Look at all those toilets! Insane potty lines

I easily found my way to the starting corrals among thousands of other costumed runners. The sun was dipping now and I was so thankful that although the temperature was still hot compared to Oregon, it wasn't too bad and it didn't feel as humid as they last time I had visited Orlando in October. I talked to so many cool people in my starting corral. This was most certainly a different crowd than I was used to at a race start. The Disney magic was strong with them - almost all had done several RunDisney events and most of them had run this course before. It made me wonder how many people are return runners year to year.

Starting corrals

It felt like a really long time between assembling into the starting corrals, walking nearly a mile to the starting line and waiting for the timed corral releases. Everyone around me was having fun taking pictures and doing silly things but since I was standing there all alone I just really wanted to start running. The one cool thing about the staged corrals is that you really can enjoy the fireworks and release in front of you - especially for a night event!

Once the fireworks were off and I was running I was a happy happy girl. As we ran out of Hollywood Studios Auto Plaza entrance, RunDisney had lit the street with super fun neon green strobe lights - an eerie foreshadow of sights to come. There was also a lot of fog (artificial fog) to amplify the spookiness of the green light. We ran past many volunteers that were super excited for us to begin our journey as we escaped onto Osceola Parkway heading toward Animal Kingdom. 

My entire goal was to make up as much time as I could from the start. I could tell my pace was quicker than the majority of folks in my starting corral. I caught up to the laggards in the corral released before me within the first half mile. I was worried about running into walls of people but for the most part I was able to run pretty freely with minimal bobbing and weaving.

The first villain picture station came up quickly. I think it might have been Jaffar from Aladdin. By the time I ran alongside the line for a photo was at least 20 runners deep. I glanced at my watch - I had a current pace of 8:55 minute mile. Nope - no way, I was not slowing down to stand in line and kill my pace. I was trying to estimate just how long it would take to stand in line for that long for a photo opp. Just didn't seem reasonable to me.

I continued on in the darkness and was really enjoying my Disney themed music list that I had created just for this event. We passed some other great Disney decorations along the way as we progressed down Osceola Parkway. I could see Animal Kingdom in the distance and I knew I was nearing the 2.5 mile turnaround point. Somewhere around this section I saw the lead runners on the first return. I love to see the fast runners out in front, it's always so inspiring! And I'm always on the lookout for the first woman on the course.

RunDisney did a nice job decorating the overpasses

I am still disappointed that the RunDisney folks didn't take us INTO Animal Kingdom. Running through the parking entrance wasn't all that thrilling and soon enough we had turned around and were heading back east on Osceola Parkway following the path of the elite runners. The fun part about this though is that I was able to see the thousands of runners behind me. And wow there were LOTS on the course behind me. I was certainly in a less populated running space than people farther back on the course. By this time I had passed a few picture stops and was still not willing to get in a long line and kill by sub 9:00 minute/mile pace for a photo opp but I was hoping to find a shorter line and jump in shortly.

My running goal was to run faster than my awful half marathon the week prior (should be easily attainable) and my photo goal was to take at least one character picture on the course. Two would be a stretch goal. I figured if I ran hard the first half, I could find shorter lines on the second half of the course as I'd be ahead of a lot of the runners by then.

I think it was just before mile 4 that I came across a photo station with Dr. Facilier - or The Shadow Man from Princess and the Frog and it was the first time the line wasn't 20 people deep! I decided this was as good as a time as any to get in a photo opp so I jumped off the course and stood in line. I quickly noticed that RunDisney had an official course photographer but they also had manned the station with a volunteer to snap pictures using your own personal device. Now that is just cool! Thank you RunDisney! I had assumed all my pictures would be photos I would have to pay for since I wasn't running with any friends but thanks to the volunteers I got a few shots on my own phone!

I jumped back on the course and did everything in my power to NOT look at my current pace knowing how much it would have fallen by standing still. I reminded myself this is a unique race and that I would be upset if I finished without at least one character photo. Soon after we were turning right off Osceola Parkway (FINALLY) and onto the trail portion of the race. I was really looking forward to this section of the course! It was a gravel road so I was expecting something akin to my Ragnar races but it was easy peasy. It was extremely well lit (a little too much in my opinion) and the rocks were tamped down, I never once lost my footing. There were more photo opps along the way including the one picture I really wanted - Jack and Sally - but the lines were once again long and I was still trying to make up time from my Shadow Man stop. New rule - only one photo opp per mile - it was the only way to keep my pace respectable.

The trail portion had some really cool decorations and creepy sounds coming from the woods and I did enjoy this section. Soon enough we were emerging from the trail and into the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. This was an all new section of DisneyWorld for me. I have never been here and was interested to see what it was all about. I'm still a little bummed that this is where we ran through instead of say Animal Kingdom, but what can I do? I don't create the courses. We ran past some soccer fields and then on some sidewalks past some more character stops and onto a track. I was expecting some interesting spooky decorations on the field but only saw a pumpkin or two. Not impressed. I didn't like running on the track. But it was here that I passed a girl in a cool black tutu running on her toes. I always fixate on unique running styles and somebody running long distances on their toes always draws my attention. I thought that with her toe style and her tutu she should be the black swan - a ballerina.

We pulled off the track and were now halfway to the finish - RunDisney had lined a sidewalk with dozens of volunteers but their job was simply to cheer and ring cowbells for us. How fun! It was actually really cool - props to the volunteers that were so happy to cheer for strangers.

After the volunteer pep rally I spotted my next photo opp - Stitch was hanging out on the sidelines and his wait line wasn't too bad so once again I jumped off and made the decision to take a timing hit for a photo.

I was feeling proud that I reached my stretch goal on the photo side when I passed the ballerina once again. We were then heading into Champion Stadium and about to run the bases in the baseball park. This was actually pretty cool. A lot of spectators filled the stands and had signs for the runners. It was a cool vibe and my pace picked up considerably here, allowing me to make up some time from the Stitch photo opp. I did though stop a little and pose for the race photogs on the baseball field. I hadn't seen any other traditional race photographers yet at this point so I needed to take some good action shots!

After exiting the Wide World of Sports, we eventually returned to Osceola Parkway where I once again caught glimpses of the runners behind me on the course. We were now in miles 7 and 8 and I began to wonder how my dreaded mile 9 would treat me. I hate mile 9 on my half marathon courses. It's my most challenging and brutal 'mental mile' but tonight it would be my final mile. I was hopeful the excitement of the finish line would removal my personal barrier and I could enjoy the final steps of the course.

Another photo opp (my favorite one of the night actually!) and I was back on a portion of the course we had run at the very beginning, so I knew we were close to returning to Hollywood Studios. Upon re-entry to the park, the RunDisney volunteers were out in full effect. These volunteers were awesome - I can't say enough great things about them! They hooted and hollered and applauded for each and every one of us. And I found the ballerina once again (and passed her one final time). I glanced at my watch and knew we were now in our final mile (mile 9) and I wanted to just run and have fun. My Disney playlist was featuring Tiana's song "Almost There" from Princess and the Frog and I thought - wow, how serendipitous that this song comes on right now!

These guys were AWESOME! so glad I stopped!

The last mile although SUPER fun, felt SUPER long. I honestly think I had a giant smile plastered on my face the entire time we were in the park. We ran past some back lots not typically open to the public, which was really neat to see. We ran past Mickey's big Sorcerer's hat in the middle of the park and we ran through this really neat tunnel of strobe lights. In looking at my watch, we should have emerged from the tunnel straight into the finish line, but it wasn't there. We were in another back lot area and all the excitement from the crowds was gone except for about 5 excited volunteers. The smell of garbage was strong and I was realizing that I wasn't anywhere near the finish line just yet as I could see the Tower of Terror ahead of me but it wasn't that close just yet. I put my head down and ran, I was now ready to be done as I entered my 10th mile.

Immediately before I crossed the finish line I heard the announcer say "Welcome Jeff Galloway to the finish line!" and I thought - "whoa, I'm crossing a timing mat with THE JEFF GALLOWAY" - there is one for the record books! The picture below was the video team setting up to record him for this video spot that just came out today!

Minutes after finishing - Jeff Galloway!

I stopped my watch, collected my medal, posed for a shot or two in front of the Tower of Terror and began the loooooong walk back to the buses. Along the way I picked up some Gatorade and a nice little food box from RunDisney. It was a great race. I had a blast - both running and experiencing the Disney magic. It was unlike any other event I've completed before and I'd love to do another in the future.
Nice goodie selection!

That medal glows in the dark and the elevator moves!

After the goodie collection and the finish line photos, runners could join the after party at Hollywood Studios as the park was to be open until the wee hours of the morning. Unfortunately for me I had a big long day ahead of me on Sunday and I've been fortunate enough to experience Hollywood Studios after dark a number of times, so I just kept walking back to the buses.

I met a few cool runners on the bus back to Saratoga Springs. There were only probably five of us on the big bus but they were all super cool people with fun running stories (two were Iron Men/Women). I still had a long walk to get from the bus to my hotel and it was well after midnight by this point but I wasn't nervous walking alone in the dark. It was quit pretty and calm actually. Helped me put the entire long and crazy day in perspective. I really enjoyed the entire event.

Pretty views for my walk home at Downtown Disney

Post race shakeout run - enjoying morning coffee at Downtown Disney
PS - I totally forgot to add my stats! According to my Garmin - I ran 10.21 miles (almost a quarter mile more than projected!) in 1:37 minutes at a 9:31 min/mile pace - and that INCLUDES my idol time while waiting for photo opps!! I'm pretty darn happy with that especially when you factor in the heat of Florida in October. I certainly justified my crappy half marathon the weekend before with this run. Can you guess from my splits below which miles I stopped for photos?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

I'm going to DisneyWorld!


I have two big days ahead of me - a super important day today for work, a super important day on Friday for a volunteer position I hold and then I am boarding a plane to the happiest place on earth!

On Saturday night I will be running my very first Disney race, the Tower of Terror 10-miler. I cannot express in words how excited I am to run this event. For starters - it's a night race - WHOOP WHOOP!! Plus I am wearing a a costume, which always makes my day! 

I'm a tad bit nervous about getting there - I'm not set up for the most optimal schedule. My flight departs Portland at 6:30 a.m. and I have a layover that puts me in Orlando at 4:30 p.m. The race doesn't start until 10:00 p.m. but Disney requires you bus it to the starting line and encourages runners to board the buses by 8:00 at the very latest. That will give me just enough time to check in to my hotel, change into costume, grab some fuel and go. Luckily for me, I have someone picking up my race bib as I will totally miss the race expo! It's going to be one exhausting day! The good news is the course is Orlando - so with the exception of some overpasses it is a flat flat course - easy peasy!

The other thing is that Florida has been wet. Really really wet. Apparently Florida broke all the records for rainfall back to 1892 for most rain on record for the month of September. It's so bad that the RunDisney folks sent out an email to runners this week telling them to prepare for unusually wet and muddy conditions. 

Listen up Florida - I'm an Oregonian and I run in the rain for months every year. The only difference is that when I run in the rain, it's cold. Really really cold. Bring it - I've got my tricks for rain running - and I'll be bring them and I'll still have a blast running my first Disney race!! 

Continue the countdown to Saturday!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

North County Wine Half Marathon Race Report

As if on queue while I sat on the tarmac waiting for my flight to finish boarding at SFO to leave Ragnar Napa Valley, I received a text message from my friend Emily asking me to join her the following Saturday for a half marathon.

It's become an unplanned tradition for me to run a half with Emily the weekend following my relay races this summer. Lacamus Lake Half following Ragnar NW Passage, Oregon Wine Country Half following Portland to Coast and now North County Wine Half following Ragnar Napa Valley.

Unfortunately this race wasn't to be as great of an experience as the other events. It all started with packet pick up. This race is about 45 minutes North of Portland so the organizers smartly set up a packet pick up on Thursday for Portland residents. There was a note on the registration page that in order to pick up packets on Thursday you needed to register by 9:00 p.m. on Wednesday night. I registered at 7:30 pm but alas no bib/shirt for me on Thursday. Even more unfortunate the volunteer implied I was at fault even though my confirmation email positively reflected I made the deadline by plenty of time. Strike 1.

So I went to email the race director about my bib to ensure it would be available for me race morning. The website didn't include R.D. details anywhere. Strike 2.

To be fair, I was able to find an email on the website that I could contact and sent an email Thursday evening. She did respond to me Friday morning assuring me my bib would be available race morning but she offered no apology and her tone was curt - it struck a sour chord with me.

Emily and I drove to the race together Saturday morning and easily found parking. Yeah! No need to worry with bag check when we were so close to the Start/Finish line. We wandered around the tents looking for registration and eventually learned we had to go find the fitness center that was hosting the race for my registration. We went inside and unfortunately my bib packet was not with the other packets for pickup. I was frustrated but explained to the volunteer that I had emailed with the race and was supposed to have a bib. Emily spotted the woman from the Thursday bib pickup and called her over. She pulled a hand written entry from under the table with my details on it. Ok. She tossed the form at me and directed me to sign it, which I did. As I bent down to sign the women behind the the table rolled her eyes at me. Strike 3.

They told me I didn't get a Tshirt, which is fine because I registered late - I've had this happen before, I usually get a shirt at the finish. No big deal. Emily was supposed to get her shirt but they were only giving away Men's sized shirts even though the event advertised women's sizes. Something about a fulfillment issue. I really liked the front of the shirt but the back was funky with a strange shaded person. I was suddenly not disappointed that I wasn't getting a shirt today.

I pinned my bib onto my shirt and ripped off a blank tear away section on the bottom. This is the section that races will use for gear check/drink tickets/etc. This was a small event and the tear away was 100% blank so I ripped it off as the tear away section always bothers me on a long race. (I'm a girl with a short torso - what can I say).

Ragnar teammates Emily and Wendy!
Emily and I made our way to the starting line and even though there were a lot of issues up to this point, I was feeling pretty good.

The first three miles felt pretty decent. I had an ok pace and the weather was awesome! It was such a relief to have a cool foggy morning instead of the blazing hot weather from the weekend before in California. Unfortunately as I proceeded into the third mile my body started to revolt. I started experiencing some rather uncomfortable stomach cramps and was really regretting not using the Honeybuckets one last time at the starting line.

At mile four the organizers had a water station AND a Honeybucket. I saw it a 1/4 of a mile away and knew I was going to stop for the very first time on a race and use a Honeybucket. In all my half marathons, I've never stopped for a bathroom break but today I had to and I was thankful the race director set it up.

After emerging I thought I was going to be better but I wasn't. I was good for about five minutes and unfortunately my gut went right back to cramping and pain. My body was not going to play nicely today.

I won't go into specifics here but let's just say this was the longest 13.1 miles I have ever run. I stopped at every single aid station and used the Honeybuckets (except for the 2nd one and I regretted it as soon as I passed it). There were aid stations approx every two miles on the course and I was thankful. My body hated me today and there was absolutely nothing I could do to fix it. My only goal was to finish as quickly as possible to make the nightmare end.

By the time I stopped at the final aid station, I had stopped looking at my mile splits on my watch. I was still running 9:30 minute miles but with all my stopped time I was pacing with 11:00 minute milers. This resulted in me passing a lot of the same people multiple times. I just wanted to be finished.

I crossed the finish line and walked five feet into the after party. The act of walking and not running helped settle my stomach the most. I collected my really awesome finisher medal, a bottle stopper and my complimentary wine glass. When Emily finished we went back to her car to change out of our shoes and then back to sample the finish line wines.
For all the issues - the course was pretty
I was able to collect my glass and sample two or three wines without issue but at the next tent I was told that I couldn't sample anymore wines because I had torn off that bottom piece of my bib. The blank section without any print on it. Apparently this was the area where the wineries would mark if we had gotten wine with them. The other wineries were just marking my bib but this winery refused stating that it was suspect that I already had filled my blank portion and then ripped it off so I could get another round of free tasters. At no point during the day did a single announcer tell us to leave the blank portion on, nor were these directions written anywhere. I told the winery I was sorry and it was fine to not serve me. Yet another frustrating angle of this race - poor communication between runners and vendors.  Strike 4
The spectators were awesome!

It had turned into a nice day and my stomach was starting to get better - but I was still visiting the Honeybuckets every 20 minutes or so. As such we decided to hang out and enjoy the party atmosphere, visit the nearby street fair and wait for the raffle giveaway at 12:30.

Before the raffle giveaway prizes were given out for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place finishers for age divisions in both the 10K and the Half. This took A LONG TIME. It took A VERY LONG TIME. By the time they finally finished with the awards, the raffle was half an hour past due. Emily and I had noticed that most people had left so we were excited to possible win in the bib raffle (had to be a runner to win). They handed out the last age division prize around 1:00 and said 'thanks for coming - see you next year' No raffle. Strike 5

Really fun finisher medal

Let's just face it, this wasn't my race. My body was against me and there were several flaws in the organization of the race. I'm glad I got to spend time with Emily and I did in fact complete the course - my 16th race this year (11 of those being half marathon distances). And I always say - you have to have some bad runs in order to appreciate the great ones! Onto the next (which is this weekend - my very first Disney race!!!!)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Race Report - Ragnar Napa Valley!

Team Taste the Rainbow

Earlier this summer I received an email asking if I would be interested in flying down to San Francisco to join a 12-person relay team running the Napa Valley - San Francisco to Calistoga Ragnar Relay.

I've been eyeing this particular relay for a few years now. The motto of the race combines my two favorite hobbies - running and wine: Run Now, Wine Later. How could I not agree?

I started off my trip with an early morning flight on Thursday to San Francisco. As my boss works out of the San Francisco office, it only made sense for me to head down early and spend the day getting some valuable face time with my coworkers. After a super fun happy hour Thursday evening, I took an Uber cab to our house for the night. We stayed in the most surreal house owned by the infamous Chicken John of San Francisco. Suffice to say - his house was the most interesting place I've ever rented. I quickly met all my new running mates, received a colorful rainbow tutu, pair of rainbow knee high socks and a bright orange "Taste The Rainbow" team shirt. One thing was for certain, we would be visible on the road!

Yes that is a camper balanced up high

The next morning came early as it was my second 4am wakeup call in a row. Our team was scheduled to start at Golden Gate Park at 6:15 a.m. I thought that meant that van 2 (my van) would sleep in and have several hours to kill before meeting up at Exchange 6. I was wrong. This team would ALL go to the starting line which meant we all had to get up and dressed - not an easy feat when there were only two bathrooms in Chicken John's abode.

I remember running through Golden Gate Park this spring when I ran the Bay to Breakers, but at 5:30 in the morning - I had no bearings as to where we were. We met up again with all our Van1 teammates at the starting line while we danced and blew bubbles in the darkness. I love the Ragnar atmosphere - always fun always encouraging. Our first runner (running her very first Ragnar) was off promptly at 6:15 and we said goodbye to the rest of Van1 with well wishes for a safe and speedy run.

All I cared about at this point was finding some coffee. It wasn't easy to find an open coffee shop at that hour, which really seemed silly considering it was Friday morning and the business crowd had to be awake and searching for caffeine as well. Somehow we eventually found an open coffee house and I was able to normalize somewhat as we drove over the spectacular Golden Gate Bridge.

We arrived at our first major van exchange with enough time to go through our safety briefing where I met a fellow NW Passage Ambassador, collect our flags and shirts and start the arduous process of decorating our van.

Our team captain was prepared for van decorations. Holy smokes! For all of my races we've done some good decorating but never anything like this! By the time we taped and cut and taped and positioned we were all sweaty messes and we hadn't even ran a single step!

I was the second runner in the van and that was fine with me. The overall mileage of my three legs was super digestible for me but they were hilly runs and unfortunately they were all 'no van support' legs so I wasn't going to be getting any water from my team. It was hot and sunny so I knew I'd need to bring my own.
So happy to find my friend Heidi on the course!

And also Sarah from Another Mother Runner!

Our first runner was Justin. This was not only his first relay race but it was his first ever running race. What?!?! I'm still baffled by that one, but how exciting for him! We were unable to support him on his first leg but luckily it wasn't very long - less than four miles total and flat.

For my hand off with Justin we had a 'make your own exchange' exchange. Apparently Ragnar will do this when there just isn't room on the course for a large number of vans to park safely. We are given a section of the course where we are encouraged to find safe parking and hand off with our team on our own. I've never had this happen to me on either the Ragnar NW Passage or the Hood to Coast courses so I was really interested to see how it was going to go. As we waited in the shade for Justin we saw dozens of runners pass through on their cell phones with confused looks. I think it wasn't always so easy for runners to connect with their teams.
Make your own exchange

I took the baton from Justin and set off on a very slow long uphill climb. My overall leg was 5.6 miles and categorized as hard. I had almost 600 feet in climbing for the first three miles of the course and then I was able to enjoy a steep decline and then mostly flat for the last 2.5 miles.

It was hot and there was very little shade. I knew there was a water station at the top of the climb so I stupidly didn't take my handheld bottle because I really hate carrying those things. By about mile 2, I noticed I was road killing vans. That is never a good sign. As I continued to ascend the massive climb I came across the problem - road construction. And I realized my van had yet to pass me. It was at this time I told myself I wasn't going to kill myself on the uphill when I knew my van was stuck in traffic. I slowed my pace and stopped focusing on my splits. I came to the water station and walked through it allowing myself to re-hydrate. I picked up speed again on the decline but still no Taste the Rainbow van.

I kept glancing at my overall distance but because I wasn't sure exactly where on the map my leg started (remember the 'pick your own exchange') I really had no way of knowing exactly how much longer I needed to run until I came upon the always welcomed "One Mile to Go" signs. Not too long after I passed this sign, I saw my van pass me (whew!) and I knew they were out of that killer traffic.

The last bit of my leg was rough as I had to come to a complete stop (police officer making sure of that) and wait to be signaled across the highway. Once I was able to go again I was faced with one final sharp climb into the exchange. I hate when legs end on an uphill! The great news is that our third runner Deb was waiting with a big smile to take over. I handed off and was thrilled to be done with that first climb.
Handing off to Deb

Deb had a nice easy (and beautiful) 4.4 mile leg. She had a strong climb early on but most of it was a lovely descent and she flew through her miles. I was thrilled to find there was a tiny little convenience store at this exchange and I happily purchased my favorite recovery drink, chocolate milk, and supported the local economy. Because we were an out of state team - we didn't have a cooler in the van -so my regular race options weren't available to me. Happy to find a store that served my drink!

Deb handed off to Bri and she embarked on a challenging 6.6 'very hard' leg. Nearly 650 feet of climbing and very little shade to be found. The sun was straight overhead and hot at this point. Another reason why I prefer being in Van1.

See what I mean about no shade?

Bri then handed off to Will who would run the longest  leg of our first rotation for 9.7 'very hard' miles. The only benefit to this leg was that there was more decline than incline but regardless it was a whopper of an assignment and he did a spectacular job running it.

Gorgeous exchange

Using the safety flags like good Ragnarians
Will handed off to his girlfriend and our team captain, Brannon - with a kiss. She had a hard 6 miler ahead of her. I was glad I wasn't running this leg because it seemed to me there was a lot of room for error with many turns and twists.

When Brannon came into the major van exchange, she did with flair -- jumping, leaping and 'flying' with her fairy wings in a dramatic hand off with Van 1. It was still daylight but the temperature was quickly changing.

Since our team was mostly from the East Coast we decided an introduction to In & Out Burger would be a good, fast meal allowing us some much needed rest at our next exchange. As always, I love In & Out. Unfortunately, the rest of my team did not. For starters - the vegetarian burger isn't a burger at all. It's just a bun, cheese, lettuce and tomato. No meatless patty. No bueno. Secondly - In & Out didn't sit well with everyone. I don't think any of the East Coasters are going to make In & Out a stop on their next Californian trip.

When running other relays we usually have at least an hour's drive to the next major van exchange - not so on this trip. I think we were only six miles away from the exchange after our In & Out Burger meal. As such, that enabled us to get more shut eye at the exchange, which was welcomed. We looked at the time estimator and figured we could sleep until 1:00 a.m. as our runner was projected at 1:30. Deb, Bri and I found a patch of grass to sleep on while Will, Justin and Brannon stayed in the van.

Since we had so much time, I used the Rec Center's showers before sleeping - which was so nice after a long day. I didn't sleep very well though - I prefer it when Ragnar sets up an indoor sleeping area. It isn't that I have a problem sleeping outdoors (hey I am a camping Queen, that's not it!), it's that when you have an indoor sleeping area it's a quiet space. When you are sleeping on a patch of lawn next to a parking lot you are going to have people talking and being loud all around you. Not ideal for sleeping.

Eventually I drifted off for some much needed sleep. Unfortunately this was right about the time we were all woken up because the sprinklers were going off. Great. Just great.We moved our bedding to the sidewalk and tried to drift off again. I never did. I started checking email, Facebook, Instagram at this point when a message from Van1 came through. Last runner about to take off. Huh? What? No!?! I knew I was tired but they were an hour ahead of schedule. Ugh. After a few back and forth text messages I realized they were still exactly on time, we just must have misread our prediction sheet. So off I went to wake up Justin in the van knowing he was our first runner and would need the time to get ready.

Van1 pulled into the spot next to us in the parking lot and they looked beat. We were all moving slow but Justin was ready to go. He and I took off for the exchange while the rest of the team woke up and started repacking the van. Van1's final runner was on her final mile so we went to the lit exchange and waited. It was then that I realized Justin was missing some vital pieces of gear. I had forgotten this was his first relay race. He had on his safety vest, but didn't have a headlamp or his number! I called back to the van and my phone went dead! So I left Justin at the exchange and I ran back to get his necessary items. After we got him all ready to run and off on the course, I was AWAKE. Lots of adrenaline running through me!

How fun to run through this??

This time Justin had a hard leg - 6.6 miles. The first 5.5 miles were nice and flat but the last mile was a brutal climb, 400 feet up. As we were waiting at the exchange and I was preparing to take over I was reminded how much I love the night legs on a relay. I was excited and motivated to get moving. It was a challenging exchange as we couldn't see the runners until they were upon us, but we were ready and waiting.

I took the baton from Justin and I finished climbing the mountain he started a mile back. Where he climbed 400 feet, I climbed almost 650 feet. Together - that is one gnarly mountain - I'm incredibly thankful that Ragnar split it up among two legs! The one saving grace to the climb was that it was in the middle of the night and cool. For the second time on this race, I was running a 'no van support leg' so I decided to not make the same mistake twice and I carried my water. There were no water stations this time around and I knew this climb was going to be even more brutal than my first one. But as luck would have it, I didn't need water on this leg. I only drank a very small amount and by the end I was seriously considering ditching it in a yard. I hate to carry water. It was wasted energy.

I really really enjoyed this leg. I had my biggest 'killing' spree with 24 victims and most of those I picked off during the climb on the first mile. According to the Rag Mag this leg also claimed the 'highest overall elevation' on the entire course. So that was fun too!The downhill was a blast to run and the finish came quickly (unlike my first leg). Overall just happy again to get a great nighttime run complete!

The rest of the night legs became a bit of a blur - as they tend to do at that hour of the morning. Deb had an easy flat 3.4 miles, Bri had a much longer 8.3 mile gradual climb where she got up close and personal with some winery fields and Will had an even long 9.1 mile trek. Luckily for him it was mostly downhill. Brannon finished up our second rotation with a 4.1 miler as the sun rose over Napa Valley.

At this major van exchange Bri, Deb and I went off in search of the Honey Buckets and instead found the longest line I have ever seen on a relay for toilets. We were in line for at least 30 minutes. If I had any indication this is what the exchange held for us, I would have gladly peed on the side of the road while Brannon was running. I've never been so disappointed in the lack of facilities on a race before.

Van2 then made our way to our last major van exchange hoping to get a little more rest in before our last set of legs. This exchange was ugly. It reminded me of a Hood to Coast exchange. Just a big giant field of nothingness. The sleeping area was right situated between the entrance (i.e. volunteers yelling directions to drivers) and the hand off area (i.e. cowbells and screaming teammates). Additionally- the sleeping area was in the same physical space as the Honeybuckets. The line as this location got exceptionally long as well - so as we were trying to sleep, all I could focus on were the conversations of those waiting to pee. Not ideal. I might have gotten an additional 10 minutes of sleep at this exchange. I think I would have much preferred going to have breakfast instead of attempting to sleep, but hindsight is always 20/20.
My vantage point while I attempted to sleep

As is typical on a 200 mile relay race, it's always hardest to gear up for the last rotation. Your body is saying no more and you are tired, smelly and ready for a beer (or wine on a wine run!). Our van was no exception. It had been a chilly night but as we were standing at the exchange I noticed the temperature was going up significantly and quickly. By the time Justin took the baton and started his final run I had already stripped off my sweat pants and jacket. I knew the temps were going to keep climbing as they had the day before.

Justin's final leg went quickly, it was a 3.1 flat leg so we didn't have time to stop. We went straight to the next exchange and waited. Very shortly I was off and running my last rotation - a very easy, flat 2 miler. I've never seen such a short leg in any relay before. And not that I wanted my van to stop for water - but they couldn't have if they wanted to because for my third leg -it was once again a no van support leg. Crazy!
My final One Mile to Go sign was bent in half

As quick and easy as our legs were - the next runners had some extremely brutal courses ahead of them. Deb had a 9.4 mile hard leg, which she killed! It too was unsupported and we were worried because we heard the water stations on the course were dry. The temperatures were hot hot hot and with vans being able to stop and support their runners these water stations were pivotal to runner safety. Thankfully we found out that there was indeed water when Deb came upon the water stations.

Fresh grapes!

Next up was Van2's hero Bri. She had to tackle the longest hardest leg of the entire 200 miles. Leg 34 wasn't just long (9.4 miles) but it was in the heat of the day and not a bit of shade to be found. Plus it was along a fast moving highway and we were once again not allowed to stop and give her water. Our van had actually decided we were going to break the rule and stop for her considering what we had learned about the water stations running out of water, but as luck would have it - as we pulled onto the highway, a California Highway Patrol officer pulled in behind us. There was no option for us to pull over now as vans were supposedly being ticketed for pulling off the road. As such we went to the exchange and waited for Bri.

Van1/Van2 Exchange

The wineries were so pretty on this course

Bri survived and even though she was experiencing some serious dehydration and cramping - she ran it in a remarkable amount of time! Bri handed off to Will for a nice moderate 5-miler and Will then handed off to our anchor and Captain Brannon for a moderate 5.4 miles to the finish line.
Van 1

Now this is where our Captain really showed her commitment to our Taste the Rainbow theme -right before we crossed the finish line she sat down on the pavement to change her shirt and put on her rainbow knee high socks. I couldn't believe it! Now that is a love for the fun of Ragnar! Plus - it just happened to be her birthday - so how about that for some Birthday fun!?!?

We all crossed as a team and then made our way to the beer garden. Here is where things kind of turned in my opinion. First off there was a fulfillment error and that meant there were no medals for us at the finish line (insert big sad face here). Ragnar did try and make it up to us by giving everyone a Ragnar Belt Buckle from a cancelled trail race. That's a super nice gesture so I'll forgive them for the missing medals.

In addition they gave everyone an extra beer ticket. An extra beer ticket. Beer? I thought the theme of this race was "Run Now, Wine Later"? I learned there was wine at the finish that you could purchase, which I did a glass for $6.00. I didn't find it all the tasty. I was disappointed that we didn't get wine at the finish as part of the event package. It was all over the marketing materials and I suppose it was my bad for not reading that there would only be free beer at the finish, but I was disappointed.

We hung out at the finish for a while and enjoyed our team pizza but we were all starving so we loaded up our vans and headed back on the course to find some Mexican food and our hotel for the night.
Birthday celebration at Mexican restaurant

I finally slept Saturday night for the first time since getting to California. It was glorious. We woke up the next morning and packed in three winery visits before heading to the airport. WAHOO! Don't get me wrong, I had a blast running but I was super excited to go on a wine tour.

And one last bit of awesomeness - Team Taste the Rainbow WON the contest for best van decorations of the entire event. How is that for a nice little cherry on top of a great weekend?

Harvest Moon Winery

DeLoach Vineyards

Huge trees at Korbel

Champagne tasting at Korbel

Feeling a Little Randy?

One final shot of the bridge on our return