I’m about 2 weeks overdue on this but I wanted to still do this. I’ve had time to think about it and take it all in and it was a pretty incredible experience once again. So without further adieu, here goes:
For Jenn and I, Ragnar prep starts well in advance. Being that this was the fifth time that I’ve captained a team, there are some things that I’ve learned along the way. I’m sure first time teams don’t have a bag full of reflective vests, blinkers, and headlamps. I do. It’s all part of the gig so about the week before, I double checked to make sure I had enough of everything so we were covered in case we were short anything.
This year we started earlier so we were all set to go on Thursday but that wasn’t without the usual midnight or later packing that takes place when you’re trying to figure out what the weather might actually look like. Michigan in late September is a total crap shoot and this year was much better than last year’s race but we were probably a short bit from it being pretty bad. More on that later.
Thursday the 26th arrived and all of our stuff was ready to go. We took our 3 littles off to school, hugged them, and reminded them that Mimi would be picking them up. We rushed home, texting one of our runners, Kelly, that she was good to come pick us up and she was there within 20 minutes. In what was one of the 2 best moves of the race that was done months in advance, I was able to get my passenger rental vans reserved at a much more convenient location that honestly saved us an hour of transit as well as the inkling to pick people up which only took more time. Special thanks to the folks at Enterprise, other than leaving the vans with less than a quarter of a tank, you guys rocked it.
On the way to Krogers to pick up our gas and gift cards that we’d use to pay for more gas while on the trip, the first true speed bump in the trip occurred. I got a call from a returning runner, Matt, that another of our runners, Amy-Jo, had a family emergency and wouldn’t be joining us. She was devastated and we were equally bummed out for her. She was one of our strongest runners and was also our lead-off runner so while we had time to figure it out, the ramifications of filling her mileage would have a chain reaction from the beginning of our race.
Since I was the captain and had been through similar scenarios before, I wanted to have time to figure out how to get through this so I decided that no decision would be made till we got together that evening with the majority of the team present. We did miss her tremendously though. About 11:30 we had most of the Fort Wayne folks that would be coming so we headed off.
We arrived in Holland and picked up Chris and headed off for Montague, getting stuck in a little bit of traffic but nonetheless, got checked in, and headed off to dinner not long after. Artie got himself a brew or two. We got back to Grand Haven at a decent time to be able to hang out a bit, get some van decorating done, and rest up for the next day. Along the way, I decided that I’d take Amy-Jo’s first leg of the race. I was definitely good for 4.8 miles and didn’t anticipate any issues later on in the race with tacking this one, afterall, I had the rest of the day to fuel back up for a 3.5-er.
After what may have been my best pre Ragnar night of sleep, I was good to go. I got all ready that morning getting hydrated and psyched up for the race. After 4 of these, with this being my 5th, I was actually pretty confident and carefree which was a really weird feeling. I know that I was really happy with how the team had come together and having that crew behind us, I knew we’d be good.
We started off in the 7 a.m. flight and the sun was due to come up within the next 35 minutes so I knew the headlamp would be needed but it really wasn’t that long. At a Ragnar, any person you pass, you get to count as a “kill” and at most of these races, I’ve not had that many. If I got 2 or 3 per leg, I was lucky but this time, I hit the motherlode. I will take it on a technicality but you can’t take it away from me. 🙂
So we took off out of the chute and literally 8 people ahead of me missed the turn right side as it guided you onto the sand covered sidewalk. I technically passed 8 people in that first 100 yards and I counted every one of them! Ha! That part of the run was particularly difficult even though it was flat as a pancake. Running in what amounted to 6″ or more of sand wasn’t good and I felt like I was blowing out my legs in a very short amount of time. The sand was choppy from other runners so I actually veered farther to the right into sand that hadn’t been run on yet and that was actually pretty good. It actually worked well enough that this little strategy got me all the way till we crossed the road. The path was winding us partly around the little harbor and it was pretty cool. There were some beautiful little spots where we popped out near the lake/harbor, others that took us past some marinas with some pretty big sailboats, and then what might have been the third creepiest part of a Ragnar leg I’ve experienced.
I cut hard right through a path they carved out and onto a gravel-ish path that was to the side of a rail road track that looked to be out of service. We were running in this area that was well below the houses above and to our right and next to a fence that had overgrown bushes, etc. there. I’m 6’1 and 205 and I was thinking, this wasn’t exactly the safest place to run. Luckily, it was 7 a.m. and not 10 p.m. so it wasn’t too bad. Making a turn out of that part of the course, I curved back towards the water and then another right turn and I could see the exchange off in the distance. It was time to kick it in and finish strong. I handed off to Kelly and the rest of Van 1 and we were off to breakfast, which was the same restaurant/bar that we went to the night before in the Muskegon area and it was great again!
After breakfast, we had to stop at a store for a couple of supplies and Artie, ahem, Batman wanted to make a point that he got justice*…cough….”just ice” for us all.
And then we waited as you do during a Ragnar. It is definitely the hardest part of the race. Whether it’s trying to get food, water, or rest…all of the downtime and what to do with it, that’s the hard part. While we waited:
Van 1 was at it and crushing it. They all did a great job. We were getting antsy and getting their updates, we started to get pumped up. It wasn’t long and we were catching some rest in Montague and it was our time. Michael was ready:
He took off and it’s pretty amazing how fast a guy his size can move. He was out the door and just tearing up his run. He brought it in, and Jenn took off. She had a couple of MASSIVE hills she had to climb but she tore them up.
As you can tell, she finished really strong. That girl that was just behind her was really closing the gap but when Jenn heard the cheers of them trying to will that girl on, as well as ours too, she took off. After those hills, I would have been spent!
Andrew then started our sprint to the next exchange. We had 4 straight runs of 3.5 or less. He had a really nice run. Ryan and Chris were expectedly fast and I ran an ok run. I personally thought I should have been better on that run. I ran my first leg in a happy time for me but my legs just felt tired from the 7 miler a few days before and that 4.8 was looming larger than I anticipate. It was a fun run but I slowed more than I thought I would and I was more glad to be done than really anything. Then it hit me, I had run twice and still had 2 more to go, both 6.2 or longer. I wasn’t happy about it honestly.
I was happy to be done for that stretch, get some food in my belly, and get some rest. We found the same great smokehouse we found in Ludington last year and I had some brisket that hit the spot. It was AWESOME. If I’m ever up there again, I’ll definitely be searching that place out. After dinner, it was time for a nap.
I tried to get some rest but rain started and that’s when things got interesting. Kelly had added on Amy-Jo’s 2nd leg so she was running that tagged onto her 2nd leg for a total of 11 miles. It was beastmode-gritty type of stuff, with much of it rainy. Van 1 really got hit pretty good on their 2nd leg but it wasn’t until poor Cherri was out running that lightning started to hit in the distance and they eventually called a hold. We had been solidly in the middle of the pack at that point but that didn’t last long.
Cherri finished her run and we were to skip Amanda’s next run, a 4 miler and wait an hour. So Van got the luxury of trying out the very best decision of the race and that was our house we rented for Saturday night AFTER the race that I rented for Friday night as well for during the race. We on the other hand got way off kilter.
We had to wait that hour for a 4 mile run, which may have taken us less than 40 minutes so we essentially lost 20 minutes on the deal. A lot of the teams that had been in at the High School waiting to go, had pulled their runner from the 4 miler and got to skip the next run, an 8.1 miler, which in theory, could have taken close to 90 minutes in the rain. So they got to jump 8 miles and 20-30 minutes ahead. We lost track of a lot of folks that we’d seen throughout the day. Michael, Jenn, who battled an IT issue in the rain, Andrew, and Chris battled through the night. As Ryan waited on me to take off, the volunteer checking people off told us that we were in the last 10 that he was waiting on. I had a hard time believing we were that far behind but when Chris came in, he said he hardly saw anyone out there and he passed them. I only saw 5 runners. 4 of them passed me and I passed the other.
That night run was my nemesis from the previous year when it was low 40’s with a 15 mph headwind that just beat me into submission. I had almost quit on that run in ’18 and almost did again this year. I took off and was doing well. It was freaking early in the morning as we had lost that hour and it was nearly 5 a.m. by the time I took off. We had gone from ahead of pace to nearly 2 hours behind. I was pretty well shot from the get-go and was only beaten down more by an elevation chart that said the hill I would climb for the first 1.5 was really a 2.5 mile once I got out there. I didn’t remember how much climbing it was other than alot and when I got to the 1.5 mark and I could tell it was still a battle uphill, I was starting to feel like this was a mistake. The hills and fatigue were hitting me and I was power hiking the worst of the hills, occasionally looking back to see if anyone was coming. Two girls that were machine line churned their way past me and I could see a faint blinker in the distance that they eventually passed. I thought it was a marker but it was another runner who was walking. If he were walking that run, it was a pretty lonely walk. He looked 100% healthy on it though so good for him for soldiering through!
This is where things took a slight downward turn for me. I had a car pass me and I looked over my shoulder as it took me by surprise and I sidestepped wrong with my left foot and caught the edge of the road. I landed awkwardly on it, rolling my ankle. Immediately, my ankle hurt and I was thinking, this isn’t good. I slowed down to a walk and tried to see how I was and thought, maybe I should make a phone call. I figured out I was 2 miles out at that point and that’s about when I did call last year and Artie gave me a quick pep talk and I was on my way again. I had been running about a 10 minute pace though which was so much better than the year before when I was running 12 1/2’s into the freezing wind with an aching hip. If my ankle would be ok, I’d give it a try. The only issue though was that it felt like because I was compensating for the left ankle, my right groin muscle was tightening and it wasn’t a fun feeling. I ran/walked the rest of the way and even finished pretty strong. I had “conquered” my nemesis leg but I knew deep down that I lost my last leg. At that point, I had run 14.7 miles with the last 2 on a balky knee/groin combo. The tank was pretty low then but there was some serious sleep on the way. Talking with Jenn, she pushed me to make a decision on lessening my mileage. I told her I’d sleep on it and we’d go from there.
Once we got to the house, it was just before 6. We knew we’d have about 5 hours or so till our last run so we hit a quick shower so we’d not dirty the beds and got some much needed sleep. I can not tell you how nice it was. After 4 other Ragnars and having slept in the front and backs of vans and on a chase lounge in the summer warmth before, this was by far, the best. The team left the king bed for Jenn and I. I got 3 1/2 solid house of sleep in a bed and woke up feeling great. The ankle/groin issue wasn’t gone so I talked to my guys. We weren’t going to win anything so I flipped the script for the final legs. Andrew would take Michael’s 3 miler. I would take Jenn’s 2.3 while Michael would take on an additional 3 than planned by taking Ryan’s 6, then Jenn ran Andrew’s original 3.5. She handed off to Ryan who took Chris’ 7.5, who ultimately took my 6.6 to finish up.
We had a short 10 minute drive up to St. Ambrose Cellars and waited for Amanda to come in. She finished strong and Van 1 was off for some rest before the finish line festivities!
Everyone in that last van was dead. Despite feeling refreshed from the sleep in bed, the legs just weren’t there. The hills of Michigan had chewed us up and we had one more to go to finish up. The revised line-up worked pretty well. I had a huge downhill that worked out pretty well in that short 2+ miler. It wasn’t a pretty run as I struggled with the groin a bit but it was sunny and beautiful out. Never forget, every run is a privilege and despite the discomfort, this was no doubt a privilege.
The only thing we had to avoid to finish up really was anyone getting hurt further and the waves! Oh the waves! Right by the seawall a the finish line, the wind had turned awhile back and were coming from the north and the lake was super choppy and just crashing waves against that wall. It looked like something out of the west coast with the water spraying 10 feet high above it, soaking everything near it. We avoided the drenching for the most part and finished as a team.
It really was wonderful how the team came together to overcome the obstacles before us. I’m truly grateful for their willingness to tackle the extra miles and doing so looking out for each other so that no one got hurt further. It truly was a team effort and they have a lot to be proud of.