*Technical difficulties with photos, so I’ll be adding more images later!
All good things must come to an end. Such is the saga of the 4 years in a row I’ve participated in Ragnar DC. Year 1: joined a team last minute as an injured runner replacement on a team of women I had never met. Made a few friends I’ll be thankful for the rest of my life. Year 2: joined my first MRTT team and had the best time of all 4 years! I don’t think anything will compare to that epic ride. Year 3: another shot with our hand-picked MRTT team, but noticed the race was starting to lose some luster. Year 4: decided I wasn’t going to do RagnarDC and then had too many Orange Crushes one night with Melissa and April and succumbed to peer pressure. Won a free entry via an Instagram contest with MRTT/Ragnar so I thought “meh, what’s one more round!?”. In the interim, April and I joined a bucket-list Ragnar Cape Cod team and realized all we’ve been missing on the national Ragnar circuit, which might have spoiled us to the extent that I find myself in the position I’m in now. Let’s face it, DC doesn’t hold a candle to some of the other Ragnar opportunities… and I’m kind of over it! The DC era has passed for me, but still deserves a bit of a recap.
Van 1 departed Thursday night to get a full nights’ sleep in a small western MD hotel before our 6:45am start time Friday morning. We’ve had a monsoon’s worth of rain in the last few months and with a downpour Thursday, we opted to avoid decorating the vans until morning, when they wouldn’t all just be washed away. Friday morning came and just minutes before heading out to meet my Van 2 teamies, RagnarHQ text us that due to the rain/conditions a mandatory delay was in effect and our start time was pushed back to 3:45pm. Thinking back to the chaos of van-logistics in tropical storm Joaquin my first year at RagnarDC, I really wasn’t in a hurry to recreate any of that. Thankfully, it appeared as though we had amazing weather ahead of us. That being said, some of the flooding and damage had already been done and Ragnar opted to cancel legs 1-9 (I’m runner 9, six months pregnant and NOT enjoying running at the moment, so I had a mini-celebration at cutting 4.5 miles out of my weekend runs).
New plan implemented: Van 2 will meet Van 1 at the start line in Rocky Gap State Park to check in. After checking in, Van 2 will takeover at runner 10’s starting point as the official NEW starting line of RagnarDC with a start time of 2:15pm. Since some of our Van 1 runners are BAMFs and were bummed at the thought of missing their first legs and losing mileage, Steph, Camille, and Tara joined Van 2 to double up on some legs for fun. I joined Van 1 temporarily (and to make room in Van 2 for our “extra” runners) and headed out for lunch finishing a full plate of a big fat bacon cheeseburger and fries. I had to resist the urge to add pie and cake to the meal!
We set up camp at our first major exchange 12 and Erin, Jamie, Mary and I lounged around until meeting up with Van 2. We all got situated and hung in there for our team of four runners to complete leg 12. Amanda and Steph came in first and handed off to Erin (runner 1), and right behind them was Melissa and Mary as they all completed their first set of 3 legs. Van 1 officially took over for the next set of legs as I joined my Van 2 teamies for some resting and stretching. We reorganized and made our way to exchange 18: South Mountain Creamery.
Having just downed a burger and fries, I wasn’t starving; however, I knew I needed something to tide me over. Thankfully the creamery’s burgers are more like slider size so I topped off my tank and then set up for a little rest before our night runs. I recently invested in one of those inflatable loungers (you know, the ones you inflate by running back and forth to fill with air?) and have been thoroughly impressed by this invention! It took no more than a few sweeps back and forth and I was lounging in style and total comfort! Queue a few ground-sleeping gentlemen who got a glimpse of my efforts:
“did you literally just inflate that by running back and forth?” … yep! sure did!
You’re never too experienced to make rookie mistakes, and I forgot a blanket. I did have my towel seat cover and an ENO hammock made of parachute material; however, the cold damp night caught up with me after a few hours and I moved back to the van.
We slowly roused, met up with Van 1 as we waited for Tara to finish her leg. The night was crisp, but it’s just about everything a runner would want: a little chilly to start, but perfect once you get moving. Melissa took the handoff and we were set for Van 2’s second legs. Night runs with Ragnar tend to be my favorite, and I’ve run Tara’s leg before (I was runner 6 my first year), so I was shocked when she said some douchebag was hiding in the bushes specifically to scare and spook runners. I’ve never had a reason to be nervous on my night runs, but she was visibly shaken and we urged her to at least tell a race official or volunteer. There’s just no need for that crap, especially with the shit women runners already have to deal with. I not-so-secretly hoped he scared the wrong person and got a little dose of karma.
Melissa came in and Amanda made her way out. I got ready for my first official run of Ragnar: 6.6 miles through the rolling hills of western MD. I was feeling a little energized by the temps and the experience of Ragnar, but I was a little nervous knowing I haven’t been able to put on the miles I’ve done in the past due to pregnancy. My route looked easy enough, mostly rolling downhill and there were plenty of runners around me. I did ask my van to stop ahead around halfway just to check on me and for a quick sip of water.
Well, right off the bat I realized I’m just about done running during my pregnancy. I’ve had a few shorter runs recently that just didn’t feel comfortable, and there were awkward pains and Braxton Hicks contractions that started right away and those were just good signs that this would be my last race. I made peace with it and walked when I needed to. My van teamies found a spot to pull over at only 1.6 miles in. Yea, I asked for halfway, but you’re kind of at the mercy of what those back-country roads allow. I asked them to stop again somewhere between 3-6 miles and headed out again. My frustration was palpable and runner after runner kept passing me. My brain: “Yea, yea, you’re welcome to pass the fat, pregnant runner who can’t keep a pace… good for you.”
2.6 miles in and my van teamies were pulled into a spot to meet me. I took a quick sip and told them to just go ahead to the finish. They asked if I was sure, and I said yea – honestly, the run was pissing me off more than anything so if I knew they were waiting for me along the way it was just going to make me feel like more of an inconvenience. A million thoughts ran through my mind, and I made the decision to pull out of my next race (the Baltimore Marathon relay). I made the choice that I needed to be done with pregnant running, my body had been telling me for a while and finally, my brain was hearing it. With a pace of 13:41 average per mile, I finished the 6.7 miles pissed and almost in tears. I’m sure it was tangible because my team just let me do my thing. I quietly laid down and tried to gather my rest while I could, wondering how my next and final leg was even going to be possible.
The next few hours were kind of a blur. I was really uncomfortable post-run and trying to rest (without complaining), but we had some really awful routes driving to the different exchanges. I thought for sure we were going to blow a tire or break an axle on the van, but Amanda did an amazing job navigating us through. Due to construction or rerouting, our Runner 11’s second leg was merged with Runner 12 to be completed as a buddy run. Mary and Crystal came in strong at the exchange to hand off to Erin as Van 1 took over right around sunrise for their last legs of the weekend.
Van 2 perked up a bit with the sunrise and made our way to the parking lot final exchange. We were all curious about our final legs, as Ragnar had rerouted the DC portion of the event. In the past, it’s been a challenge with most runners in Van 2 having extremely short legs (1.8-3 miles) while the final runner having to complete a 12-13 mile run through the city. This usually proves extra challenging for runner 12 due to being exhausted, and the fact that there are stop lights every block that you’re expected to obey. A normal runner might spend 1:45-2-ish hours on this run; whereas during Ragnar it could take upwards of 3 hours to complete!
We savored our final hours of rest and prepped for Van 1 to swing in for the final exchange. It was good to see them all changed into their team tank tops and ready to be done! A few of my teammates asked how my run went and I made a quiet comment or two that I’m done running and just needed to get this last chunk out of the way. My body was done and it was bittersweet. I felt a little better after rest; however, I was still really nervous about my final leg. Tara came into the chute and handed off to Melissa, Van 2 couldn’t waste any time getting to the next exchanges with DC traffic so we said farewell to the first half of our team and made our way out. It was getting really warm, but Melissa finished strong! Amanda took over as our speediest runner and knowing she only had a 3 miler to finish up, we high-tailed it to the next exchange where she would hand off to me. I knew I needed to make a bathroom break before starting my final leg; however, we were still about 10-minutes away from the exchange when Amanda sent the “one-mile” text. SHOOT! Now I was in panic mode. We basically had to pull into the exchange, I jumped out and headed over to the chute right as Amanda was coming in. I was still pinning my bib on me, had NO TIME to make it to the bathrooms, and the volunteers kept yelling “85! 85!” (our bib number). I screamed back at them “I KNOW! I’M WORKING ON IT!!!!!” in total frustration, almost crying already. Amanda asked if I needed a minute, but I was too frantic and I just grabbed the snap bracelet and went.
Wiping tears for my first mile, it was hot and slow rolling hills through a creepy-ass neighborhood. I remember trying to push thoughts of Wendy Martinez (a DC runner recently stabbed to death on her afternoon jog) out of my head. 3 miles, just keep moving forward. I refused to make eye-contact with bystanders as I plugged along, noting the smell of weed emanating from a couple of vehicles and groups I passed. Whatever, it’s just weed. It’s legal in DC. Doesn’t make me feel any better, but just keep moving forward. After a slow mile through residential streets, the route jumped onto a secluded pathway. Great, this is where it happens… This is where I’m going to get assaulted or robbed or worse. Again, pushing thoughts of Mollie Tibbetts out of my head and just moving forward, using anything to distract me. About 2 miles in I finally came to a public bathroom and I took the opportunity. Shortly after, I saw my “one mile to go” sign and sent the text to my team so they’d know when to expect me. Not too far after this, I discovered my trail was flooded and there was no way around it. I watched a couple of people try to skirt around the water, only to sink into the shin-deep muck that smelled like dead bodies (not helping my then-current state of “I’m probably going to die here”). Eventually, a runner probably saw my panic and she stood on the other side saying “I gotchu, just do it. Come on, I gotchu.” Relenting and just fording through I kept up my “forward is a pace” mantra and told myself to just get to the exchange. I told myself I had months of rest ahead of me after this, and there are going to be days where I would beg to be out here running, so suck it up. As I kept wiping tears from my eyes, I rounded the corner and saw April waiting for me in the chute. I slapped the bracelet on her arm and again, quietly made my way to the van.
Not wanting to dump my drama onto the team and drag them down, they already had a changing tent set up for me and let me know I had time, we weren’t in a huge rush with April’s mileage and expected pace. I shed more silent tears in the changing tent, trying to peel off the layers, reflecting on my failed expectations as a pregnant athlete. It was really bittersweet. Bitter to be giving up yet another passion, sweet to be relieved with a [hopefully] more comfortable final few months. I, again, quietly sat in the van trying to rest as we made our way to the next exchange, and then the next. I could have bitched about the lack of shade, the temp on the run, how uncomfortable I was, the BH contractions, having to start in a panic, having to ease my PTSD during the run, having a 14+mm pace for 3.2 miles, having a river crossing… but it wasn’t worth it. I was done. Pregnancy wins.
When Crystal handed off to Mary, we were in a serious time crunch. In previous years, with the last leg being 12-13 miles, that allowed us time to find a place to park by the finish, clean off our van, breakdown and clean up the inside of the van, and meet up with Van 1 at the finish. This year, Mary’s final leg was only 4 miles and she’s a speedy gal! Even though the finish was LITERALLY a few miles away, we had a 20-minute drive to then find parking in downtown DC, walk to Yards Park, and meet up with our team. It was tight, but we made it a few minutes before Mary was spotted a block away. We made a human bridge for her to run through and finished together as a full team, uniting Van 1 and Van 2 to cross as Ragnarians together.
All in all, RagnarDC has definitely put up a better showing in past years. This was one of the more disappointing and least organized races I’ve participated in, and I really hope they do a lot with the constructive feedback they get from the post-race survey. That aside, my team and friends really make this event, regardless of the organization every year. I’m so sad to be done running for the rest of my pregnancy but will keep moving forward with some walks and hikes as long as I can. I just know in my hear it was time to call it quits…
I have said it before, but I can’t say it enough – THANK YOU to my friends and fellow mother-runners who have supported me through my training runs and this race. This mama is hanging up her shoes for a while, but I can’t wait to be back out there to see what 2019 has in store for us!