At 10am Friday morning a group of 6 of us arrived in a giant 15 person van at a parking lot in Woodstock, NY. We would soon be joined by another 6 running friends and team-mates. Starting at 12pm, and for the next 25 hours, we would travel entirely on foot to arrive at Dobb’s Ferry, just outside of NYC, 180 miles away.
Lest you think me completely insane, or incredibly able, I will point out that these were not the same feet (or not always the same pair). Instead, one set would head out, run one leg and then switch. This would continue on, exchanging amongst the 6 runners in one van, then amongst the 6 in the other.
A beautiful description of running this race, as an ultra team no less!, was posted by JS at Blue Serge Suit. I highly recommend you check it out.
I intend to go a different approach. Instead of the prose that was so perfectly captured by JS (and so perhaps not worth repeating here), I will give a blow by blow description of what it feels like to run one of these races.
To set the scene I will introduce our Van:
SB1- French triathlete, master of dark humor, driver extraordinaire (Pictured above)
JC- Close friend and running-mate, primary purveyor of the potty humor, and team PB&J maker
SB2- Self appointed coach and master navigator, time-keeper, keep on tracker, and master of the calm
JM- lifter of spirits, player of the tunes, and owner of super-speedy legs
PM- Push-up master, start-line dance master, and hill conquerer
And now our “day”, which you may be able to tell from above, was actually 2.
Fri. 8.30 am: I join my van at breakfast. I’m not hungry, but realize this may be the last real food I’ll see for a while, so I eat toast for the carbs and bacon because it’s bacon.
Fri. 9.30 am: We are joined by the other van in the parking lot. I hand out the costumes, which are donned by all. Music blares on our van stereos and we start to paint the windows. The combination of the crazy costumes, loud music and adrenaline creates a powerful cocktail. Hijinks ensue:
Fri. 10.30 am: We have arrived at the start line, checked in showing our safety gear and are now taking the safety course. There are a smattering of runners around, but not as many as you might expect from the competing 200, 12 person teams. Since the starts were staggered from 8am to 4pm, many runners are already on the course, while others are still in bed or arriving.
Fri. 11am: We cheer JS’s team as they head off. I think this may be my one opportunity to see JS on the course, who is starting an hour before us. I am wrong. We run into him several more times at every major exchange, and at the finish.
Fri. 11.30 am: Our team assembles and we take photos, many photos, proudly displaying our silly costumes:
Fri. 12 pm: Our start time! PM sends us off with a dance that has the announcer uncomfortable enough to request an early stop to the shenanigans. Although we are competing for this distinction with both the Rock Star and Richard Simmons’ teams, we may still be in the running for the kookiest, silliest team at the start line. This is a good thing.
Fri. 12.31 pm: PM hands off to JM. After PM sets off, the reality of the whole venture hits many of us: JM seems nervous, JC and I frantically search for a copy of our course routes to keep with us when we run, SB (as usual) stays calm. When PM returns he seems happy about his run, but does mention the hill (a word that will be redefined for all of use during our routes).
Fri. 12.40 pm: We drive along the course and arrive at a left turn just in time to see JM running right by it. We call to him frantically and he corrects course. Potential crisis, the size of which we will never know, has been averted.
Fri. 1.10 PM: JM hands off to me for my first leg. It is hot. We are also standing on baking asphalt and it is 1pm. I decide to take my water bottle, then change my mind, then change my mind again. I don’t run with it. A member of another team comes up to me and says he hopes the route takes a turn, because he knows this road well and there is no shade. This is not helpful.
Fri. 1.25 pm: I am in the middle of a mile long hill climbing over 200 feet. I am hot. I think this may be the hottest I have ever been during a run.
Fri. 1.40 pm: I am nearing the end of my run. I am going downhill now and have cooled down enough to enjoy myself. A few minutes ago I ran into my team mates on the course waiting for me with water and had never been so happy for support and water on a measly 3.6 mile leg. Now I am actually enjoying myself and am a bit disappointed when I see the exchange point so soon up ahead. I am pictured below, reaching for the water, red and sweaty.
Fri. 2pm: JC is in the middle of her very hilly run. We drive past chickens on the side of the road, then lounge on a rustic stone wall as we wait for her to come by. She trots by in excellent spirits considering the size of her hill.
Fri. 2.11 pm: I realize that I need to drive. I am very nervous about the 15 person van, but soon discover it drives much like a car. I am very, very relieved, since this driving has been a concern of mine for some time, ever since I found out that it is a rarity for a NYer to own a license. I’m a good driver and I love driving, but I haven’t driven for ages, and nothing nearly as big as this van. I’ve also been known to get into minor fender-benders while tired. Specifically, I have hit one tree and two posts, never another car.
Fri. 2.30 pm:SB2 is on his course. We drive ahead and sit at an intersection by a gorgeous orchard. I am hungry now and eat rice salad SB1 has made for us. A member of the community comes up and yells at us, asking if we have permission to run in her town. This cannot ruin the beauty of the moment, so it does not.
Fri. 2.51 pm SB2 hands off to SB1. Since we need to give the safety gear to our team at the major exchange before they can check in, we drive ahead quickly. As we drive the course we see how hilly it is and decide we need to go back to give SB1 support. We do so, then rush back to the major exchange. SB1 is under the impression that his route was supposed to be “easy.” It is not. He runs at a blistering pace for the hilly, hot route thinking that there is something wrong with him because he is so tired. He blames the cigarette he smoked that morning. We reassure him that it was the route not the cigarette; perhaps this was a mistake?
Fri. 3.27 pm SB1 hands off to the first runner in the second van. We are finished our first set of legs! We are happy, relieved and hot. There is little shade at this exchange so we decide to drive straight on to the next major exchange in New Paltz. I drive, navigated by SB2 and the soothing voice of Catherine, our French GPS who joined us on the route up. At first she was a joke, but our primary driver is French, our secondary driver bilingual and our navigator learned French in High School. Catherine was there to stay.
Fri. 5 pm We arrive at the next major exchange in New Paltz. We organize our car, change, use the restrooms and walk into the town. We lose PM. He calls from the car and we think he was in the car all along. He laugh about this, till we learn he was actually in the porto-potty. We have a light dinner at a Bistro. The host looks at us and then rushes off unbidden to bring water. After dinner we try to nap on the lawn by the car, but it is still early and others around are talking. There is a loud phone call to a “Josh”. JM decides he hates this Josh, there is a photo of me dozing with my arms over my ears, so clearly I agree.
Fri. 8.44 pm The last runner of Van 2 has arrived and handed of to PM again. There is now much talk of running in the dark. Vests and tail lights are worn, headlamps are outfitted with fresh batteries. Some teams run by like Christmas trees, covered in blinking lights. We have mini flashing Leis from the dollar store strapped to our vests.
Fri. 9.13 pm JM has headed off, very very nervous about running in the dark. Perhaps this has to do with his nearly getting lost earlier, in daylight. He is covered in flashing leis. We drive by him and he is running with other runners and seems more comfortable. I am trying now to memorize my route, but it has about 8 turns and I do not have that kind of confidence in my memory (especially when lefts and rights are concerned).
Fri 9.43 pm JM hands off to me. I’m not nervous, but this time I probably should be. I run off, then turn into a dark and twisty local community. (I have written a long post about this route yesterday, so I will not repeat it here.) Instead I will show a picture of me, cresting the 250-feet-in-less-than-0.5-mile hill. I seem happy to see the water bottle. I am very happy to see my cheering team mates, who I haven’t recognized till probably just the moment this picture was taken.
Fri. 10.32 pm 5.1 miles done, I hand off to JC. She heads off on a hard 6 miles that turn out to be fairly easy. Many runners though seem to be walking. Perhaps it is the overall exhaustion.
Fri. 11.34 pm JC hands off to SB2. At this point things become blurry and I don’t seem to remember much. I may have been driving, I may not. I think we weren’t giving support because it was a support-free leg, but I can’t be sure.
Sat. 12.20 pm SB2 hands off to SB1. Again, I have no recollection of this at all. I know I was definitely driving at this point, and that we did make it safely. We arrive at a main exchange and meet up with our team who have spent a few hours at a hotel. They seem tired. We are tired. I recollect nothing.
Sat. 1.22 am SB1 arrives and hands off to Van 2. I try to back out of the parking lot, but it’s tight and there are people behind who are moving, but not in the direction I feel I need them to. My mind is not moving fast enough to process the directions that more than one person seem to be giving me simultaneously. I have SB1 back out, even though he just ran. He does an excellent job. I then offer to drive to the hotel, but I think confidence in me may be shot.
Sat. 2am We are in the hotel and have taken very quick showers. We set our alarms to 3.30 am and try to sleep. I sleep and dream about running and exchanges. When we wake, we check our phones for news about the other team and realize we may have rested too long since we still have to drive to the next exchange. As we leave the hotel it almost feels like we’ve been there for a full night. JM comments wonderingly that “people are still running,” I reply that this will be him soon enough.
Sat. 4.20am We are rushing to the exchange, driving past runners. The van ahead of us is speeding as well, and we determine they must be in the same boat. At our exit there is a major highway detour. Catherine become pushy, continuously demanding we “tournez a gauche” when no gauche is available. We start to prepare PM that he may have to leap out of the car and run immediately. He seems to be a good sport about this, but may be too tired to argue.
Sat. 4.30 am We arrive at the exchange, and PM jumps out as we park. On the way in we see our amazing volunteers, but don’t have the time to say hi or thank them. This makes us sad, but we are in too much of a rush and too exhausted to worry about this for long.
Sat. 4.38 am Van 2’s runner arrives and we exchange. We are off for our final legs!
Sat. 5.38 am PM finishes a very hard 7 miles and exchanges with JM. At our exchange there are no volunteers, we assume they are wisely sleeping. All goes smoothly without them. We have also stopped at a gas station where I’ve washed down a caffeine gu with a coffee. I’m starting to feel awake, but wondering how long till I crash.
Sat. 6 am JM is running along a trail portion and we take a slight, Catherine suggested, detour. After driving around in circles we arrive at the exchange, but intend to head back out to support JM. Since I’m feeling a bit dizzy and have to run next, I hop out to get fresh air and use the port-o-potties.
Sat. 6.16 am I start my last run, only 5 more miles and my Ragnar runs will be complete. It is flat and beautiful, although alongside a highway. I start out at a good pace, excited to be almost finished and happy for the nice route. The road is busy, with the hum of tractor trailers, but at one point all traffic in both directions just stops. It is dead and eerily quiet. Then a truck rolls by and all is back to normal.
Sat. 6.40 am I start to flag. I have a headache and the sun glaring in my eyes is not helping. Things, mainly my face, are hurting and I start to wish for the end. I hear a whirl of footsteps behind me and a runner, who turns out to be a member of the winning team that started at 4pm yesterday, overtakes me. He takes the time to give me encouragement. So do the cyclists racing along the shoulder. I am clearly not in Central Park any more. As I reach the end of this route I turn right onto a four lane highway with a median. To run against the traffic I would have to cross it. At first I do not, then I notice other runners up ahead on the other side of the road. I wait, then cross. Then, a little while later, I notice the runners up ahead crossing back to get to the exchange. I do the same. I do not feel comfortable running across this road, nor in my decision making ability at this stage in the game. This is probably the moment that felt the least safe for me in the race, but all ends well. JC is waiting for me up ahead. I give her the baton, and I am done!
Sat. 7.02 am JC heads off on a short route. We cheer her on half way, she is also happy to be finishing.
Sat 7.33 am JC hands off to SB2. We are worried that he is going to smoke the short 3 miles, so we don’t stop for support. Plus SB1, who has done most of the driving, needs some time to collect himself before a very hard 7 mile leg.
Sat. 7.59 am SB2 hands off to SB1. We are starting to see the teams we started with again, having lost them in the chaos of the middle legs. We chat with the guys who rented a giant Mercedes van, with driver. We also run into the “Rock Stars.” They make a big mistake. One team member points to SB1 in his presence and tells his team mate that we are his competition. Rock Star, who starts out well ahead of SB1, calmly announces he has it in the bag. SB1 hears and remembers.
Sat. 8.30 am We are in a gorgeous community, with sprawling houses and stately trees. We have stopped a few times for SB1 and each time Rock star appears several clicks ahead of him. SB1 is focused and determined, refusing water, but eagerly accepting a gu. We drive happily to the finish, knowing we are almost done.
Sat. 8.53am We barely have time to park the van and get to the exchange when SB1 blows in, just ahead of Rock Star. The final exchange with Van 2 is made– Van 1 is finished! We are gleeful and excited. Our intention was to run to the finish with SB1, but when we see his final overtaking kick we know better than to interrupt the end of a strong, strong race.
Sat. 9.10 am A woman writing for a local community paper asks us questions about our team and running through her town. She takes our picture. Since JM had posted about how much he loved the last route, we give her the Tumblr. account. I later come to regret this decision when I log on to read a post about a Van 2 member’s diarrhea, and remember the post concerning sex at a Pizza Hut. We head off to the finish line.
Sat. 10.30 am We are at the finish. We clean the van, then wait. Other teams are trickling in, but it is still early. No team has officially finished. I line up for a free massage. We learn our team is lost at an exchange, but soon they have found their way. We eat, then wait some more. I am amazed that I feel almost normal, although it takes me 5 minutes to answer the question as to whether I was Van 1 or Van 2, and 10 minutes to decide on coleslaw over potato chips.
Sat. 1.07pm The last member of Van 2 runs towards the finish line. We join him on the other side and run across cheering to receive our medals.
180 miles complete. Traveled entirely on our own 24 feet.