Posted by: Joe English | March 2, 2008

Race Report: The Ragnar Del Sol Relay with Team RxRunning1

Below is the complete race report from our Ragnar Del Sol Relay live updates — all in one post to make for easier reading. This is a narrative that was penned as the race unfolded over a one day period. The times in bold are the times when the entry was posted. Enjoy.

Lake Pleasant, Arizona – 8:30PM – Sitting in a darkened parking lot with a few dozen vans, our runner is about an hour out. There is a band playing songs, most of which seem to be about Tequila. Our van still smells good, but that will soon change.

Band
A band plays songs about Tequila in the dark night

The six of us: Chris, John, Rob, Dave, Duane and me are sitting, waiting.

There are 153 teams in the Ragnar Del Sol relay. At the moment, we’re told that we are in 153rd place. We’ve got some work to do tonight.

Now, it’s not as bad as it may seem. In relays, the fastest teams start at the back and work their way forward through the field. Apparently, we started with the five fastest teams and, well, the other four were faster than us. So now we are making our way up on the field by ourselves.

Just since I’ve started writing this, the band has started to break down their equipment. There are only a few vans left here with us. We will soon take off into the dark night and head out into the desert alone. We’ve got some work to do tonight.

In the next ten hours or so until the sun comes up, we’ll work our way north and east from here and eventually turn back south heading toward Phoenix. The roads will be dark, lit only by the moon and the brilliant stars.

There will be coyotes and, hopefully, no worse. I’ve already asked about the snakes. They are supposed to be sleeping for the winter, but we’ll see. I’m deathly afraid of snakes and I hope not to run over of them in my first 7.3 mile leg — which I’ll be running around 2:30AM. The thought gives me a shiver, but I’ll put it behind me hoping that our information proves to be accurate.

We found the van
A van decorated for the race

All but one of us in the van have run relays before. I asked the team why they come back for more and the resounding answer: “because it’s so much fun.”

“If you try to explain why this is fun to people that don’t run, they just don’t understand,” Rob Nichols tells me. “Running through the dark last year, with the moon and the stars, listening to the coyotes howl… it was just incredible.”

Duane Slade adds: “It’s an incredible experience. I remember being so tired in the morning. We were sitting in the Denny’s in the morning and we’re just staring at each other. We were just so tired.”

John Hetrick of Phoenix has run both the Ragnar del Sol and the more famous Hood to Coast Relay in Oregon. He told me that this relay was particularly well put together in its inaugural year in 2007. “It was amazing how smoothly they put the race together, especially considering the logistics of such a long race.”

“One of the things that I like about this race,” adds John, “is that it runs around the edges of Phoenix, making it easier to get around and jump ahead of the course when your van needs to.”

Chris Dragon, the only runner in our van who has never run an overnight relay, tells me that about his biggest concerns: “not losing time for the van and not knowing what I’ll feel like totally sleep deprived tomorrow morning.” We all agree that he’ll find out.

So as our runner approaches and we start getting ready to take the reigns of the race, we settle in for a long night without sleep, but filled with excitement and experiences that are as Dave Ryan says, “indescribable.”

Duane Slade adds, as he jumps out of the van into the dark, “it’s quiet out here. Really quiet.” The long night begins.

The middle of the night
Pinnacle Peak, Arizona – 3:05AM – Waaaah! I’m tired. It’s been a long, dark night in the desert. We’re now camped out in a parking lot in the hills above Scottsdale, just below the Four Seasons Hotel. The thought crossed my mind that maybe we should have gone and rented a room there. Between the six of us, it might have only cost us $100.00 each.

Over the course of our first 40 miles of running, we made progress in reeling in the field of runners ahead of us, yet we didn’t pass even one single team. We could see that we were catching teams ahead of us, because their vans were in the exchange zones each time a little bit closer to the times that we arrived.

The traverse across the desert from Lake Pleasant to Carefree was extremely dark. The exposed desert roads let gusty winds blow our runners around as they made their ways carefully along the narrow roads.

Rob Nichols with map
Rob Nichols studies a map of the relay route

One team was trailing behind us for much of the evening. They were a group of ultra-runners who were doing the relay with six, instead of twelve, runners. As our eleventh runner took the exchange, they trailed us by about nine minutes. By the end of that leg, their runner had pulled within a mile of us.

My leg started out with some very dark, deserted roads and then transferred to a busy divided highway. Running along the highway, I could hear a group of perhaps a dozen coyotes yipping at me in the distance. I thought about picking up one of the traffic cones lining the road to beat them away should they emerge from the bushes. Thankfully they never came into view. At mile four, I turned off the highway into a swanky sub-division of homes in the town of Carefree. The roads turned from extraordinarily dark to very well-lit in a matter of moments, leaving my eyesight reeling.

With two miles to go, I started up a long grade. My pace felt solid, but I was laying back coming up the hill. My support van pulled alongside, “the other team is maybe one minute behind you Joe,” shouted our van leader Rob. That was the impetus that I needed to kick it into another gear. After rounding a corner and getting onto somewhat flatter ground, I knocked it up a notch and started to pull steadily away. That runner had gained nine minutes on our team in 14 miles, but I think I gapped him by at least a minute in the last half of a mile of my leg.

Although still back from the field, our team came in just a few minutes behind of scheduled arrival to our next major exchange. Overall, we did exactly what we needed to do to keep the team on pace. Now we’ll need to do it again two more times this morning and this afternoon.

John gets some shut eye
John Hetrick catches some shut-eye under the stars

My teammates are sleeping around me, some here in the van, others outside on the ground. I can hear the cheers of runners leaving the exchange zone a few hundred yards away. We get a few hours to rest and then we’ll need to take off again. We should be leaving about sun-up. In the mean-time, I think I might just lay my head down and get some shut eye myself.

Morning
Mesa, Arizona – 9:30AM
– We’re two thirds of the way through the race now, so no more crying! On this second set of legs, we finally started burning our way through the crowd. We’re not sure how far we’ve made it through the field, but I know I passed at least ten teams on my last 5.4 mile segment.

After my last post, I wandered down to the exchange and spent about an hour talking with other runners. The common theme: no sleep. I laid down in the van myself for about a half an hour and low-and-behold our other van had made up some time and called in to let us know that they were ahead of schedule. We scrambled to get ready and hit the road for a series of shorter segments right about sunrise.

The temperature sure felt like it had dropped over night. When I ran in my first night segment, I wore arm-warmers and removed them about half-way through my run. Standing around watching the runners in the pre-dawn hours, the light wind made it feel chilly. I actually had a bit of the shakes happening, even though I was dressed in running tights, long-sleeves, gloves and a light jacket. This was probably from the effect of being out in the cold all night — and the lack of sleep.

Group Shot at Sunrise
Dave Ryan, Rob Nichols, Duane Slade, John Hetric at sunrise

As the sun came up, our group stopped to pose for a photo and then broke out our sunglasses as we drove down the road straight toward the sun. The temperature rose quickly. By the time I would set out for my second run segment, it was pushing 70 degrees and getting warm. Although I was still shaking from the cold before I started my run, I shed all of my excess layers before starting and was glad for that. Within a mile of the start of my segment, I was already hot and starting to dump water over my head to cool off.

Coach Joe on leg 24 small
Coach Joe on Leg 24 of Ragnar Del Sol

Leg 24 was undulating for the first three miles and I krept up on several teams. The desert was beautiful bathed in the morning light. As I made my way into the he last two miles, we started up a fairly long, steep hill and I just barely hung on to my pace as a most of the other runners around me struggled up the hill at walking pace. Somewhere near the bottom of the hill, I began to feel a gurgle in my stomach and I suddenly needed to get to a bathroom. Coming up the hill, I did my best to run with my legs crossed (not an easy task), but I made it to the exchange zone without exploding. I dropped my gear in the parking lot and kept on running right to the bathrooms, making it just in time. Phew!

After spending a few minutes decompressing at the exchange zone, we portaged ahead to Duane Slade’s house in Mesa – a major upgrade to our last accommodations in a dirt parking lot. We all ate plenty and showered and then headed back out for our last set of legs.

Last legs
Mesa, Arizona – 3:00PM
– Hot was the theme of the afternoon. Our van took over at leg 30 around noon. The temperature had risen to close to 80 degrees and it felt even warmer. Mingling in the exchange zone prior to our last set of legs, the runners looked tired and a bit weary from the heat, but otherwise in good spirits.

Leg 30 is by far the most difficult leg on the entire course. Our runner, John Hetrick, took the reigns near the base of the long, steep, Usery Pass climb. Most of the other runners were reduced to walking up the two-plus miles of the grade. The heat was oppressive and the climb stretched out into the distance below the runners approaching us on the side of the road near the top of the climb. John must have easily passed fifteen teams coming up the climb.

John Hetrick on Usery Pass
John Hetrick gets water on the Usery Pass climb

After leg 30, the course comes mostly downhill from the top of Usery Pass into Mesa and each of our runners took their turn as we moved steadily up through the field. The runners ahead of us were more frequent and moving more slowly, so we were plowing through them, picking them off one at a time.

Dave Ryan and PTC Runner
Dave Ryan and the runner from the Phoenix Triathlon Club

On leg 34, our Dave Ryan was caught by a runner from the Phoenix Triathlon Club, but he hung with him for a mile or so then re-passed and dropped him. It was the only time of the day that we had been caught by another team – although the team had started an hour before us so we were actually far ahead of them. When Dave came into the exchange at the end of his leg, he was greeted to the cheers of a hero returning from war.

Finally, around 2:40PM, in 80 degree heat, I took the baton for the final leg. I dropped into a steady tempo and plowed away through the miles. The only hiccups came as I was stopped at three traffic lights, wasting at least five minutes during the short run. Along one of the Arizona water canals, I enjoyed a cool breeze running along the water. And then, finally I spotted the “one mile to go” sign along the trail. It was not only one mile to go for me, but one mile to go for the entire relay. This multi-day adventure was coming to an end.

Ragnar Finish with team
Leading the team in to the finish

I turned off the road into Riverview Park, following a snaking sidewalk through the crowds and throngs of vans. Across the grass, I could see my teammates with their arms raised cheering for me. I rounded the final corner going so quickly that the team had to quickly wake up their legs for one more last sprint down the finisher’s-shoot behind me. We cheered, we high-fived, and promised to do this again over cool beers in the shade.

Joe at finish of Ragnar
Coach Joe at the finish of the Ragnar Del Sol Relay

Ragnar del Sol was a real treat for this running reporter. More manageable than Hood to Coast in size, it provided a sensational new opportunity for Arizona’s runners to experience the fun of an open-road relay. This race is real asset to the racing scene in Arizona and I hope that it becomes a staple for some years to come.

Post-script: our RxRunning1 Team finished 8th overall in the Ragnar Del Sol Relay. Although we didn’t see a single runner in our first set of legs, we passed 142 of the 153 teams along the way. What an effort!

Related articles:
Guest writer Duane Slade on his experience at the Ragnar Del Sol Relay

Selected photos from the Ragnar Del Sol Relay 2008

Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon, USA
Running Advice and News
http://www.running-advice.com

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Responses

  1. […] Ragnar Del Sol experienceRaces: Tatiana Aryasova wins Los Angeles Marathon in challenge format raceRace Report: The Ragnar Del Sol Relay with Team RxRunning1Selected Photos from Ragnar Del Sol 2008Live from Ragnar Del Sol — 3:30PM Day […]

  2. […] Ragnar Del Sol experienceRaces: Tatiana Aryasova wins Los Angeles Marathon in challenge format raceRace Report: The Ragnar Del Sol Relay with Team RxRunning1Selected Photos from Ragnar Del Sol 2008Live from Ragnar Del Sol — 3:30PM Day […]

  3. […] Ragnar Del Sol experienceRaces: Tatiana Aryasova wins Los Angeles Marathon in challenge format raceRace Report: The Ragnar Del Sol Relay with Team RxRunning1Selected Photos from Ragnar Del Sol 2008Live from Ragnar Del Sol — 3:30PM Day […]

  4. […] Ragnar Del Sol experienceRaces: Tatiana Aryasova wins Los Angeles Marathon in challenge format raceRace Report: The Ragnar Del Sol Relay with Team RxRunning1Selected Photos from Ragnar Del Sol 2008Live from Ragnar Del Sol — 3:30PM Day […]

  5. […] Ragnar Del Sol experienceRaces: Tatiana Aryasova wins Los Angeles Marathon in challenge format raceRace Report: The Ragnar Del Sol Relay with Team RxRunning1Selected Photos from Ragnar Del Sol 2008Live from Ragnar Del Sol — 3:30PM Day […]

  6. […] Ragnar Del Sol experienceRaces: Tatiana Aryasova wins Los Angeles Marathon in challenge format raceRace Report: The Ragnar Del Sol Relay with Team RxRunning1Selected Photos from Ragnar Del Sol 2008Live from Ragnar Del Sol — 3:30PM Day […]

  7. […] Ragnar Del Sol experienceRaces: Tatiana Aryasova wins Los Angeles Marathon in challenge format raceRace Report: The Ragnar Del Sol Relay with Team RxRunning1Selected Photos from Ragnar Del Sol 2008Live from Ragnar Del Sol — 3:30PM Day […]

  8. […] Ragnar Del Sol experienceRaces: Tatiana Aryasova wins Los Angeles Marathon in challenge format raceRace Report: The Ragnar Del Sol Relay with Team RxRunning1Selected Photos from Ragnar Del Sol 2008Live from Ragnar Del Sol — 3:30PM Day […]

  9. […] the entire race report on Running Advice and News. Some pictures of the race can be found here and a second funny race report here Share and Enjoy: […]

  10. […] Related articles: Running the Ragnar Del Sol Relay with RxRunning1 (the complete story) on Running Advice and News […]


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