Cape Cod Ragnar Relay (SHVP A-Team)
This past weekend I ran my second Ragnar Relay with Strong Hearts Vegan Power in Cape Cod. The first one I ran was last September in the Adirondacks (written about in a previous blog post). For the Adirondacks, we had 3 teams of vegan runners participating, labeled "A", "B" and "C", with the "A-Team" being the fastest runners and competing for the win. This time around we had FOUR teams, meaning 48 vegan runners and multiple vegan drivers for each team. I found out a couple months before that I would be running with the "A-Team" which was really exciting and felt like such an accomplishment for myself, as I was being grouped with some amazingly talented and fast runners. It also made me quite nervous as I was going from being one of the fastest runners on the B-Team at ADK, to being one of the slowest runners on the A-Team at Cape Cod. It just meant that I had to train harder and really push myself, so I could show that I had been placed on the right spot on the team. Unfortunately, two weekends before the race, I went to the Indiana 100 to help pace and crew a couple of SHVP teammates, and while being sleep deprived at the airport I managed to pick up the flu. I spent an entire week on the couch, with a fever and a terrible cough, along with all the other joyful, beautiful symptoms of having the flu. I went from ultratraining to being ultrasick, unable to walk, much less go for a run. The Saturday before the race, my fever had gone away and I made an attempt to run a few miles. I made it one mile before almost passing out at a stop light due to lack of energy and oxygen, and then death marched back home. The next day I tried again and made it 4 miles, but instead of feeling like an easy 4 mile run, it felt how the last 4 miles of a marathon feels, which is awful. Over the next couple of days, I was able to run longer, but not any faster, and didn't feel much better. On Wednesday, less than two days before the race, I went out for an 8 mile run and had to stop at mile 5. I have been sick numerous times since I began running a couple years ago (nanny problems), but I have never had it effect my running like this before. I felt like I was running on no steam, my legs weren't cooperating, and my lungs and throat were on fire. It was mentally and emotionally difficult as well, because I knew my teammates were counting on me, and I already felt I had a lot to prove being a newbie to the A-Team. I thought about contacting the captains and requesting to be switched to a non-competitive team, but I had really looked forward to meeting and hanging out with the folks in my van, and it was so close to the race that I didn't want to cause any unnecessary stress on my friends. It was time to just suck it up, and try my hardest, even though I knew it wasn't going to be my best.
A Ragnar Relay is a 200"ish" mile point to point road race. Each team consists of 12 runners, two vans and two drivers. Each runner has three "legs" of varying lengths and difficulty. I was in the first van, runner 6, therefore I handed off to the first runner of the second van (confusing huh?, glad I don't have to organize this!). The Cape Cod Ragnar Relay starts in Hull, MA and ends in Provincetown, MA. The morning of the race, most of the team met at Park & Ride in Rockland to organize vans, hand out SHVP branded gear, and divide up the food we received from sponsors. After, we headed to the starting line in Hull. It is such a gratifying, powerful feeling to walk around the starting line with this huge vegan army of runners and drivers wearing the Strong Hearts Vegan Power branded running gear and hoodies. Our first couple of teams took off at 11:30am, A-team didn't start until 2:30pm, so we had plenty of time to mingle. I met so many new faces and reunited with some that I met at the Adirondacks. As exciting as it all was, I was also beyond nervous, and eager to start running. Of all the races I have ever done, I think this was the most nervous I have ever been before a race!
My van consisted of Chris Cooney, A.K.A. the "Vegan Zombie", as our driver. Ellie Pell, a super fast runner from Syracuse, NY who recently PR'd and won a half marathon at 1:20:37. Alan Dumond, an amazing ultrarunner from Indiana who just placed 11th at the Indiana 100. Jason Young, a long distance runner and father from New Jersey. Ian Sherlock, a long distance, trail, and future ultrarunner (also participating in the Vegan Power 50k) from Syracuse. And Sean Scott, a fellow White Pine Distance Runner who just moved very close to my home in Medford, and we've become pretty good friends since. Runner after runner was crushing their first legs, which made me more and more nervous about starting mine. At the exchange where I was going to start my first run, B-Team Van 1 was also waiting for their runner, which was great because a very good friend of mine, Skott Daltonic, was in that van, and he's always great at giving me "pep talks" before a race. When Ian handed off the slap bracelet to me, I took off running up hill like I had never run before. I made sure to change the settings on my watch so that I could see my pace displayed, which I usually don't do, but I did for this race because I wanted to make sure not to go too slow. The pace that I had committed to for "Ragnar pace calculation purposes" was 7:45 min/mi, and although I hadn't been able to run below an 8:00 min/mi all week, I still wanted to try to stay around my expected pace. My first mile took me 7 mins 5 secs, which is only 12 secs from my 1 mile personal record. I knew I was running a lot faster than I should've been, but my leg was only 4 miles long total, and I wanted to push as hard as I could before my lungs caught up to me. Unfortunately that happened soon. After the first mile, my breathing became very labored (the extreme humidity didn't help that situation) and all the muscles in my legs were on fire. I saw my van pulled over up ahead, by my surprise, and all I could think was how much I didn't want them to see how pathetic I sounded and probably looked right then. I managed a smile, and seeing them did bring on some much needed energy. The next couple miles were so painful, and thoughts of how I was going to run the rest of the weekend like this went through my head. Turning the corner and seeing the big inflatable Ragnar finish line along the beach was a sight for sore eyes. I handed off to the next runner and immediately felt like collapsing over. I couldn't breathe and everything hurt. I finished the 4 miles in 30 mins 18 secs (7:36 min/mi). It was a lot faster than I had expected to be able to do, but still felt like a let down and I was even more nervous about my next run which was over a mile longer.
That night before my next run, which was expected to take place at 2 am, was a highly-caffeinated blur. I spent my time chatting with my vanmates about all things trail and ultra, and also eating some delicious vegan food such as Pretzilla buns with Tofurkey Deli Meats, Just Mayo and Chao Cheese, and some of Jason's lentil sloppy joes. At home, I have a somewhat strict "whole foods plant-based diet" so eating all this processed vegan "junk food" (I also ate a bunch of Veggie Galaxies blueberry muffins and chocolate chip cookies) was such a treat! Just as it was coming close for our first runner to take off again, the battery of our rental van died, which provided a lot of unnecessary stress (did I mention it was raining at this point too?), but thanks to the help of teammates from other SHVP vans, we were able to find jumper cables and get the van rolling just in time. Again, everyone in my van continued to crush their second runs, even though it was the middle of the night. Luckily, I really enjoy running in the dark, and was actually getting more excited versus nervous about my second leg. I drank my first ever Monster Energy Drink, which might not have been the best idea, but it definitely got me pumped up! I took off for my next run at 2:08am, running just as hard at the beginning as I did for my first run. It was only a little over 5 miles long, so I didn't try to pace myself. I just wanted to run as hard as I could until my lungs burst. I passed quite a few runners on this leg, which being an extremely competitive person, it added to my motivation to push hard. Headlamps up ahead became targets, and I was continuing to pass runners, even though I wasn't running as fast as wanted to. At one point, my van drove by me as I was passing a running, and I wanted to shout "You see what I just did right there!!". Less than a mile into running, the rain started to come down harder, which I actually enjoyed. I find the rain falling in the dark with the headlamp glow to be really mythical and it took my mind away from the pain I was feeling all over. A few miles into the run, I got a very painful side stitch on my right side. I haven't had a side stitch in a long time, and brought my back to me early days of running. The labored breathing was really taking its toll on my body and my pace slowed down quite a bit. Turning a corner, I saw the big exchange up ahead and heard the entire A-Team yelling my name. Having all your friends cheer you on at the end of each run is one of my favorite parts about doing a Ragnar. I handed off to the first runner of Van 2 for the second time, and for the second time I felt like collapsing, this time with the sharp pain in my side. I finished the 5.2 miles in 40 mins 33 secs (7:45 min/mi), exactly at my goal pace for the weekend.
Since we had a few hours to kill, most of my van tried to get some sleep inside the school where we were parked at. I stayed in a van and tried to sleep, but as soon as I leaned my sit back, I started having a coughing fit. Between being uncomfortable because of the coughing, and our loud neighbors in the parking lot, I was only able to get about 20 minutes of sleep. I "woke up" the next morning with an awful stomach ache. Apparently vegan junk food doesn't mix well with gastroparesis and IBS. I was given some Cocobeet water with activated charcoal to help ease the pain, but it didn't provide any relief. I even tried drinking some free hot coffee from on the the aid stations when our van was rolling again, but again to no avail. I couldn't eat anything except for a couple Clif Shot Bloks before my next run at 9:00am. I am used to running with tummy troubles, so I wasn't too worried about it. I was more worried about how I was going to run after being up all night coughing. My next run was my shortest, and I knew that after I completed it, my van would be done for the entire race, so I was prepared to give whatever I had left on that last leg. I hadn't used music all weekend, but decided to for this run because I was so sick of hearing myself breathe like a chain smoker. I blasted some Beyonce, Peaches and M.I.A and took off. It was a lot hotter on that morning than the day before, but the humidity was gone which helped somewhat with my breathing. There were a lot more runners out on the course this time, which meant a lot more opportunities for passing, which also made me run even harder. Somehow I felt a million times better during that last leg than I did on my first, and I finished the 3 miles in 22 mins 13 secs (7:23 min/mi) coming close to a new 5k PR. This time when I handed off to the next runner, I didn't feel like collapsing or like my legs were going to explode. I felt good and I felt proud for successfully completing all my runs in under my goal pace. There were no PR's this weekend, I believe I could've run a lot faster had I not been so sick the week before, but I am stoked that I was able to push through my sickness and still run a respectable race. The Strong Hearts Vegan Power A-Team finished the 192 miles in 23 hours and 15 minutes, placing 4th overall out of over 500 teams! I feel proud that I played a role in that.
Overall, this weekend goes down in history as one of the best weekends of my life. I can't describe how amazing it feels to be part of this crew. Before the Adirondacks Ragnar Relay, I hardly knew any other vegans or runners, and throughout the past year I have connected with so many amazingly talented runners and animal activists. Their encouragement, friendship and positive attitudes have helped me through so much, and have made me a better person and runner. I hadn't planned on running the Adirondacks Ragnar Relay this September, as it is only two weeks before the Chicago Marathon, during which I am really hoping for a Boston Qualifying time, however after this weekend, I really want to do it all over again. I'll just have to figure out a way to make it work!
Thanks again to everyone who helps organize this race. It is one thing to organize a single-team of runners for a Ragnar Relay, but four teams is unimaginably difficult, and takes a lot of time and effort to do so. Thanks to all of our sponsors, we were not only well-fed this weekend, but able to raise over $1,000 for the Maple Farm Sanctuary. Thank you to my vanmates, I feel like I have 6 new best friends now, and I had so much fun hanging with you all weekend. And also, a big thanks to my trailbuddy, Skott Daltonic, for his encouraging messages all weekend long, I really needed it!