Categorizing Fun: An Overview of My First Ragnar

“You know what Type 2 fun is, right?”

I was at M&K’s house talking about a then-upcoming Ragnar event, and how I was really, really tired of running. I was asking if it was worth it, as M&K have done some Ragnars, and I had heretofore done none. (I was also borrowing a sleeping bag based on the pack list M had given me.)

I replied that I did not know there were types of fun.

“Type One fun is that you’re having fun while you’re doing it. This is what everyone easily recognizes as fun. Type Two fun is you have fun when you talk about it later and reflect on the overall experience. Type Three fun is never fun.”

Fair enough.

As of that discussion I was certain Ragnar was Type Two fun and possibly Type Three. There are a variety of training guides to follow for Ragnar, including the one on their site; some folks I ran with basically added up their total mileage for the roughly 36-hour period and trained as though they needed to be able to run all of that in one block. I followed the training guide on the Ragnar site, more or less. It meant running 5 times per week, with alternating distances and speeds, and as we got closer to the event and before tapering started, the increased mileage meant increased time investment. My running playlists were well worn and I was finding it irritating that I’d “have” to run on a given day instead of being able to bike or swim or row or what have you. All but 2 of my training runs were outdoors, with some variation of hills for the most part. The most awkward part of this experience is of the 12 people in 2 vans, I had only met one.

For me, Ragnar started when two of those people (the one I knew (Tristan) and one of the ones I didn’t (Sonya)) headed up north to the starting point. We met up with Van 1 (we were Van 2) and drove to our first major exchange, Exchange 6. Ragnar starts the slower-paced teams earlier than the faster-paced ones, so everyone ends at roughly the same time. Our team started at 6:45am on Friday, with Van 2 starting at roughly 11:30am. At the major exchanges, it’s a festival of painted vans and themed running wear; we had vans named things like “Team Div/0” and “Will Run for Beer” and “Start Slow then Taper” and so forth. Some teams were dressed as superheroes, some teams were dressed in tutus or hula skirts, some teams dressed like Cirque members. Our team’s name was “Running Better than Congress” and for the most part we did that: showed up, talked with one another, kinda wore red, white, or blue, and one of our Vans was painted. We ran better than Congress only marginally.

I was Runner 10, but we had lost two runners at the last minute to injury, so we were shuffling extra runs among the remaining 10 of us. My first run was essentially a 5k, mostly flat, but at about 2pm in the sun, with no shade.  If you’ve spent 99% of your training runs running in tree-shaded areas or in the mid-60 degree early mornings, running in 85 degree heat is punishment. I did not enjoy my first run at all and was glad to hand the baton (a slap-wrist bracelet) to Chuck, our group organizer and the unfortunate benefactor of 2 of the extra 6 legs floating around thanks to drop-outs.

If you had asked me after Run 1 if I would ever do this again, I would have said definitely not.

Our group ran the remaining 2 legs and headed to the next major exchange, a high school with tents set up to catch some sleep. Unfortunately it was 5pm and there’s no way I can sleep at that time, so I pretended to and then gave up. We did get nice showers (there was heat!!) and headed into LaConner to get dinner. At 9pm we piled into the Van for our 2nd runs. That’s when I got tired.

My run was at 12:30am and was only 2 miles, but it was all hill. Still, the cool of night took away some of the unpleasantness from the earlier heat of the day, and while running with a headlamp took some getting used to, I managed to get done at my expected pace (given the fall in Beijing and the loss of 5 training weeks, plus my knee, I used my 10k pace of 10:30 — I know it’s slow, but I’d rather not run to injury, thanks).  Run 2 ended for me and I handed off to the next runner in our van, Joe.

If you had asked me after Run 2 if I would ever do this again, I would have said probably not.

While Joe and then Sonya ran, I tried to get some sleep — I think I managed an hour each, sitting in the front seat of our van (actually a Suburban). I have a messed up back and that wasn’t ideal, but I managed to brace it with a rolled up jacket. At 4am we finished and headed to our next stopping point on Whidbey Island, where we were told to park in a field. As it was light enough out, I could see where I put M&K’s borrowed sleeping bag to make sure there was no poo (long story) and racked out for two solid hours.

That’s right. Two hours. At 7am my eyes snapped open because of habit. I had 2 more hours before I had to get back in the van and I could not, for the life of me, sleep. No coffee needed (which was good, because there was none to be found), I headed off to shower, and change, and prepare myself for my last run: 6 miles, all up and down hills.

I should explain that I had the 2nd shortest distance of the 12 runners. This was by design as most of the people I was running with measured their experience in IronMans and Marathons (not half Marathons, those do not count), and all but 2 of us had done Ragnar at least once before. I was 3rd slowest pace (but hey, at least I was consistently pacing) and, I found out later, the oldest person in our group. That doesn’t mean anything though as there were groups consisted of people at least 10 years my senior, and possibly 15, and they were kicking butt.

As we piled into the van Chuck asked me if I could take leg 32 instead of 34, which was the same distance but instead of up and down little hills, it was up one big hill and down it.  I figured it was the same distance and I had trained for hills, so, sure. I took it.

Slapping the baton on and running along the trail, I had to stop twice in the first mile: my shoe was untied, and then at about the 3-quarter-mile mark I recalled I hadn’t kicked off my running program (that tells me how far I’ve run). Shit. I turned it on, turned a corner, and looked at a big hill. Shit.

I turned my volume up, stared about five feet at the pavement in front of me, and kicked in. Time to get this definitely Type Two fun run done. My van passed me and yelled out to cheer me on, only it wasn’t my van — it was someone else’s van cheering everyone on. They hadn’t done it in the middle of the night to respect the residents of the streets we were running, but everyone had done that, I reflected, the day before up in Bellingham.

And then another van passed and did the same. And then my van. And then a runner passed me (some call this “kills” — and that’s fine, you’re welcome to run by me as long as you’re not a jerk about it) and told me I was doing good work on the hill. He was easily 10 years my junior and his muscles were so defined you could have written in the creases with a sharpie and he would have looked like one of those comic-book super heroes.

The hill was about 2.5 miles of hill, and the “flat” at the top was a series of mini rolling hills. About halfway into the flat I took some Gu and water and started to get into a rhythm. And I started to enjoy myself. I picked up the pace a little — up the hill my pace had suffered and I wanted to come in at 10:30 again — and kept at it. Type 1 Fun had just been achieved.

This run had some shade breaks here and there — 10 foot patches of tree shade separated by 100-or-more foot patches of sun. It was 85 degrees on Whidbey. I finished the “flat” of the top and started descending the hill, first in a very gradual slope and then (in the last mile) at a super steep one. I rounded a corner, and looked down about a quarter of a mile to see the checkpoint. It then hit me that I was almost done, and I sped up. Slapping the bracelet on to the next runner (Chris), I pulled off and realized my knee hurt, my ankle hurt, I had acquired a sunburn in spite of sunscreen, I smelled like a yak, and I was happy.

If you had asked me after this run if I would ever do this again, I would say maybe.

We raced up to the next exchange point, but as we did so we saw a runner fall — and it looked like heat stroke (2 other runners had already been ambulanced off). We pulled over to the side and got him water, Gatorade, salt pills, etc.  — not heat stroke but definitely he was pushing too hard. He said he felt better and insisted on finishing his mile, so we made it a point to look for him at the next checkpoint (we did see him). As Chris came in and handed off to Chuck, we realized that we were almost done. After Chuck it was May, and it was Sonya who ran leg 36. We met up with her in the last turn to run in with her.

Hot, tired, sore, and smelly, we acquired our finisher medals (that double as bottle openers, apparently), our stickers, our T-shirts, our group pictures, etc. We congratulated each other, shook hands and did that hugging thing you do, and then Sonya, Tristan and I piled into the Suburban and took off for the ferries. We had a Dairy Queen craving that we exercised in the wait line for the ferry, we regretted it nearly instantly, and got home.

When my husband asked me after this if I would ever do this again, I said definitely.

Ragnar isn’t, actually, about running. If you think about it, you spend maybe 4 hours of the 36 (or, in our case, 32) hours actually running. The rest of the time you are talking with your van mates — and we had a good group — cheering your team (and others’) on, marveling at the creativity of names and costumes, attempting to navigate to the next exchange (because you sometimes can’t drive the course), eating snacks (lots of snacks spread over that time == only one real meal (dinner) eaten), drinking water and Gatorade, and looking to see who’s slapped what magnets on your car (tagging of vehicles is popular in Ragnar and now that they use magnets instead of stickers, it’s easier to clean up after). Pretty much anyone who knows me knows that I have to keep busy and in fear of 20-odd hours of “nothing to do” I brought my knitting and a book. I didn’t touch either except to move them out of the way as I looked for my solar charger, or Gu, or reflective vest, or ponytail holders. Naturally, I have a much better idea of what I will pack for next year.

The Things One Does For Money

Instead of run/walk/limp, Sunday featured a run/walk/run. I managed to complete with a time of 10 minute miles. But let’s be honest, that’s not what you’re here for. You’re here to see how the tattooing went.

The henna was applied on Thursday by Katie Bachand, and she is a lovely lady. She makes the henna herself, and adds essential oils, so instead of smelling all chemically I smelled like a spa. One interesting thing about henna is that when it is applied it is much like a mask: it’s gloopy, then it dries, and then it flakes off leaving little “henna boogers” everywhere. If a booger drops and gets remoistened, it will stain whatever it drops. I will remind you I just got new white carpet.

It’s fine, no henna boogers. I couldn’t resist adding that measure of suspense.

Here’s what was done on Thursday, and how it turned out on the day of the race:

I still have them with me, as the henna will take up to 4 weeks to fade.
I was sincerely thinking about shaving my head for an upcoming 3 day bike ride in September, however, it looks like two of the days are not what I though they were, so I backed out. No head shaving for me.
Unless I find another just cause.

Give Me Money. Again. Please.

I’ll be running (walking, limping) in the American Lung Association’s 5k run this coming May 1st. This is one of those “get people to donate money” things, and last year I had the amazing incentive of annoyance plus the ability to have people sign my helmet for the Ride.

This year, options considered for fundraising included shaving my head. However, that was vetoed by Man and Boy, and so instead I found something far more temporary: a tattoo.

Specifically many tattoos (hopefully), of the 30-day Henna variety. The week before the race I’m engaging a henna artist to tattoo slogans, pictures, names, etc. — whatever is wanted, as long as it is PG — on my limbs and upper back for the race. At the $25 level, of course.

And you, too, can be a part of it. You can even *watch* as I plan to tweet the proceedings 🙂

But, you need to donate money. Here’s where you do that: 

I may even come up with fancier incentives for fancier money 🙂

Inanity, or Insanity?

Insanity is defined as doing something over and over the same way and same time and expecting a different outcome.

I run, my left knee and foot hurt. I stop, I walk. I run again, my left knee and foot hurt. I wait a couple of days, I run, my left knee and foot hurt.

I have toyed with the idea of new shoes, going back to physical therapy, walking the end of the tri, etc. I’m still not sure what I’m going to do. I can’t not do events of some sort, because it is what keeps me (barely) honest when it comes to regular exercise.

It’s a pretty problem.


36 miles, no wall, leisurely pace (yet still faster than the weekend previous!) and I didn’t walk any of the downhills.

Oh hadn’t I mentioned that?

Yeah so me? Not so much with the whole biking down the hill thing: biking down hills scares the poo out of me, because it is speed and it is not easily and quickly controlled with braking. In fact if you brake hard you end up flying over your handlebars like some git who got her bike tire stuck in railroad tracks and then you end up in the ER paying a $250 deductible, $100 copay, and another 10% of the total bill (ok, so I’m just a little bitter about that).

The weekend I hit the wall I walked a lot of the downhills (which adds to a dejected mood) because what with rain and steepness I was scared. This last weekend we got some cool, crisp, and clear weather and I rode those back brakes like a grandma: but I rode them.

However, I am at a disadvantage: I ride with two guys. These guys have leg muscles that make mine look darned petite (and people, I’m 5’10” and not what one would call “thin” or “wispy”), and they get going, and my new nickname is “Waldo” because they get going and stop and turnaround and I’m not there because my pace isn’t quite as fast as theirs.

I’m going to invest in a red and white striped bike jersey, if I can find one.

The Wall

No, not Pink Floyd’s.

I want you to imagine yourself at your most depressed. You are cold, wet, hungry, and incredibly sad. You are shaking uncontrollably and crying just as uncontrollably. You are dejected, you are miserable, and you are in a state of such self-loathing that there is no apparent way out.

That is where I was today.

The phenomenon of “hitting the wall” was brought home to me about a year ago, more actually, running with friends in training for the half marathon. One of the friends hit the wall and we found her crying, walked a bit, and seemed to cheer her up. But try as we might we couldn’t really, truly understand: we offered her water and a walk break, and tried to decipher best practices for next time.

So I now know what Duncan and Bryce were up against today, when I walked my bike up to them in Bel-Red, completely uncollected and openly weeping.

It takes a lot to make me cry. It takes a lot a lot to make me cry in front of other people. I don’t like it, there is all sorts of personal shame associated with it. And here I was crying, IN FRONT OF GUYS.

Incidentally, crying in front of incredibly understanding, awesome guys who didn’t try to solve it and didn’t try to belittle it: they walked with me, kept an eye on me, and ensured I got to a Starbucks where I rested and recouped.

In my case, I hit a wall over several things: I didn’t hydrate nearly enough, I didn’t eat enough breakfast, I didn’t prepare for the cold, I didn’t prepare for the wet, and it was my first outing with clippie shoes which, while they propel you farther, require more of your musculature than you would think. All manner of things contributed to the breakdown, and let me tell you, fifty unstopped minutes of personal loathing and forlorn-ness are not fun. By the time I made it to the Starbucks I had formed a plan: procure the necessary additional items (rain shell, longer bike tights, second water bottle) and provide the necessary additional preparation (full breakfast, extra water, extra snacks).

Because I’m not doing that again. It was the most personally demeaning, ugly chapter in my life, save possibly one circa November 2005, and I don’t wish to repeat it ever.

Next weekend, the wall will be my bitch.

Taking a Page from NPR

I’m here to talk to you about your Bobbie services. Think about it, you tune in to Bobbie on a daily, or at least weekly basis; you trust Bobbie to tell you about all things Bobbie and keep you more informed on the things you like to know about, such as Spin Class Social Studies and Things Not To Do With Data. When was the last time you were standing around the water cooler and the conversation turned to something you heard from Bobbie, and were able to participate in the discussion?

Now is the time to show Bobbie that you appreciate her, that you understand that this Bobbie service isn’t something that should go unrecognized. For just pennies a day you could sponsor Bobbie for $30 in the RtCC. Or think about your daily latte expenditure: what does that come to, $3? Maybe $5 if you get that pastry or roll? How much do you value that latte versus your Bobbie experience: for just a fraction of your daily latte habit you could sponsor Bobbie for $50.

Don’t forget, your Bobbie RtCC donation is absolutely tax deductible.

And then you can drive in your car, and go about your work day, knowing that you’ve done your part in supporting the Bobbie. You then have that bond, with other sponsors of the Bobbie, knowing that because of your financial support you will have access to the Bobbie and all of the Bobbie expectations you’ve come to enjoy.

There are also wonderful pledge gifts for your support of the Bobbie. At the $25 level, you will receive an authentic thank you email from the Bobbie, personally addressed and containing some personal reference or relevant piece of information. At the $50 level, you will not only receive the thank you email but are likely to get your data faster (cough). At the $100 level and above, you will have the opportunity to sign the Helmet of the Bobbie for yourself or in honor of someone you know as she plummets down the backroads from Vancouver, BC to Seattle.

At the $250 level, you will be able to access the Bobbie’s personal blog, which is actually quite racy and includes all sorts of gossip, back to when Bobbie started blogging in October of 2005. Alternately, if you already have access to the blog, the Bobbie will show up at your house and do your laundry for you each week for two months. And if you already have *that*, you are Bobbie’s boyfriend and should be donating just because you use up more of the Bobbie’s time than anyone, except the Boychild, who doesn’t need the tax credit.

Once again, you can donate to the Bobbie’s fundraiser (The Ride to Conquer Cancerhere and thank you for your support.

Shifting Gears

The one thing I really suck at is shifting.

When I was training for the triathlon last Summer, my sister (to be… she did say yes, so she’s stuck) coached me through the motions.  “Left–down a couple! Right — up one!” If it hadn’t been for her I would’ve bike-walked the triathlon I swear.

This was naturally brought home as I took the bike out for its first run since September 20th– this morning.

If you live in the Seattle area — or any of its suburbs– you know that it is replete with hills. Big hills, little hills, hills that climb on rocks. Lots of hills. If you ride a bike, hills are not fun.

You see, there are two sets of gear wheels on a bike: little teeny wheels up to big wheels on the back-end, and but 3-changes-of-gears (wheel sizes) on the back-end. The general idea is to keep the chain line straight between these two sets of wheels whence you shift. However, this requires you bend your head down and actually LOOK at what you’re doing, which necessitates removing your line of sight from the road, which is where things like potholes and cars are.

It’s a lot like juggling projects, but with much more immediate results.

I rode six miles this morning, at an appalling time of about 30 minutes. I rode past a speedometer rated for cars (you know the sort– they tell you you’re going 40 –and flash — while you’re going past a church or somesuch) and it told me I was going 15mph. I paused to consider what “biting it” at 15mph would do to me on this bike.

Then I kept coasting. It wasn’t worth the worry, really.