Monday, February 23, 2015
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
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.
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|Key Lime Pie and Mojito = perfection|
|Even I tried Conch in Key West!|
|Brady and Emily got matching tats!|
|With their tattoo artist!|