Last January, the Road Hazahds were deep into training for Ragnar Cape Cod, and a few people were starting to ask, “what about Reach the Beach?” Well, Reach the Beach is awesome, and at that point, I’d already run it twice, so yeah. What about Reach the Beach? After it got some traction via word-of-mouth, we started talking about it on our Facebook page, and within a few weeks had a dozen people who were ready to go. On February 24, I made a credit card deposit for the team registration, and we were committed.
First up was to find a couple of 12 passenger vans to rent, and even though we had seven months to go, there were none available within 100 miles. I resigned myself to the smaller vans (they really aren’t that bad), made a reservation, and quit thinking about it for a while… At that point, the smart runner would be thinking about Cape Cod or the Pittsburgh Marathon. But once I got those out of the way, it was time to cast my eyes toward the end of summer, and start planning the Road Hazahd’s first trip to New Hampshire.
Next up was thinking about our team shwag. This typically involves coming up with a design that will work for some sort of apparel (shirts, hoodies, whatever), plus something we can use for van magnets for tagging other teams’ vans. I didn’t have any great ideas, but I started playing with the Reach the Beach logo and some runner clip art I’d created in the past or the Road Hazahd / Biohazard logo… I figured I’d focus on the magnets first and figure out a shirt later, but the designs were dumb, nothing struck me as funny, and I just wasn’t happy with any of it.
Then I remembered that I had long ago created some clip art of a dorky looking van that was clearly being driven too enthusiastically, so I put that on my background, and I thought we might be getting somewhere… Trying to keep the innuendo to a minimum, I still was suddenly struck by a new slogan, and once I put “We Have Candy” on the magnet, we had a winner. The team agreed that this was the way to go, and John and I bought 20 pounds of lollipops to give out along the course to go with our magnets.
A month later, when considering the shirts, it occurred to me that we might also consider a bag instead. My shirt guy is pretty reasonable, and he digitized the Bio-Hazahd logo and we ordered up about sixteen duffel bags (some going to peeps who bought a bag even though they weren’t running the NH event). Everyone got to pick their own color, plus we had monograms, so even if everyone used them together they wouldn’t get mixed up.
Training was up and down for the team; but the calendar waits for no one, and before you knew it the week of the event was here. Tim, Julie, Becky, Nataleigh, and Zach were all coming from further away, so they came up to my house on Thursday night and crashed at my place. John, Amber, Sam, Kim, and Roman all live closer and came by early Friday morning. We stuffed the vans full, and at around 5:15 AM, rolled out and headed for Brettenwoods, New Hampshire.
Tim got things off on the right foot, charging up the ski mountain and back down again in epic fashion. We were hoping he’d finish his first leg in 40 minutes, so when he did it in 25, we were lucky that we were waiting for him at the transition to send Kim on her way. Van two headed off in search of breakfast, and I stayed and ran with van one. On our first trip away from the starting line, we passed many Ragnar van magnets that had peeled off and were lying on the side of the road; we scooped them up so everyone in the van could have a souvenir.
Because one of our twelve runners didn’t make the trip, we knew we had extra miles to share. As a Freestyle team, we had a lot more flexibility; anyone could run the miles in question, just get out there and go. As such, when I finished leg 6, our third runner (Becky) took off on leg 7, taking some of the load off of van 2. Once Becky was done, we headed off to the Rusty Moose for some well-earned grub.
Van 2 went out on the road and crushed their legs, and we met them later in the day as dusk approached. Amber handed off to Tim, was still relatively fresh in spite of nearly a thousand feet of gain in his first leg. We added reflective vests and headlamps to our kits, put blinkers on our backs and headed off into the night. At the 15th transition area, I headed into the Center Harbor Church where they were serving up soup, sandwiches, fruit, brownies, cookies, and macaroni and cheese. I decided on the latter plus a bottle of Gatorade, threw a donation in the jar, and chowed down. Shortly after that, I crashed hard. Full belly, 10.9 miles in the books from my first run, I went poof, crawled in the back of the van, and took a nap.
About an hour later, my team woke me. The night time is my favorite part of Ragnar. And at two in the morning, my least favorite, too. It’s like this. Humans weren’t meant to get up at five in the morning, and then still be awake over 20 hours later. The nap helped, but when they woke me for leg 18, it took me about twenty minutes to shake the cobwebs from my mind. I have this moment in every relay. I think if I were to write myself a letter in that time, it would say, “Dear future me, I know you think this is fun, but right now, you’re not having a good time. Right now, you can’t remember why you did this once, let alone why you’re here on your eighth relay, with number nine already on the books for next May. Stop. I’ll thank you. Really.”
But instead of writing that letter, I shook it off, made sure my bib was on, checked my lights, and got out there and hit the road. I looked back in my training log for my last couple of relays, and while I always get some joy out of running underneath the stars, they haven’t been great runs. This time, however, was different. This time was perfect.
Sure, it was the slowest leg of the race; you need to pay more attention to your feet and your surroundings. It is dark out there in the lonely countryside of New Hampshire, but the moon was full, and at some point, I pointed my flashlights away from the road so they offered me no extra guidance, and ran by the light of the moon and the starts. I didn’t wear headphones, so no music, just the sound of my feet and my breath, and occasionally, the sound of another runner passing me, or that of another runner I passed. “Good job runner.” “How ya feelin’?” “Keep it up!” Strangers in the dark on the same quest, all running solo, all running together.
In short, magic.
As soon as I was done, we handed off to van 2 and drove down to transition area 24, where I slipped into my Selk bag and leaned against the window for a three hour nap. The sun came up while I was still in the van, and shortly after that van 2 checked in. They’d fallen a little behind schedule in the night; again, to be expected with that whole vision and darkness thing. I wandered over to the picnic pavilion where the local fire department was serving up coffee, pancakes, eggs, and sausage. Glorious. In no time, van 2 arrived, and hugs and high fives were given ‘round. Shortly Amber rolled in and it was time for us to go. Tim took the slap bracelet that serves as a baton in these things and headed down the road, his van in tow behind him. It seemed like no time until we were running through my home town, and when we got to the school my daughters attended, I put a speaker on top of the van and started up the tunes. Becky was running leg 27, and it ended up being a little longer than we thought it would be, but she made it work in spite of having run an extra five miles the day before, and Zach was off. Next was Julie’s final leg, at which point we did a quick time check.
We were running just over an hour behind schedule. While we were waiting for Julie to take off for leg 29, I overheard a Ragnar staff member talking about how they were starting to leap-frog some teams, which is where instead of running a leg, the van takes that runner to the next transition area, then two runners run that leg together. For example, if I’m scheduled to run 30, and Roman is scheduled to run 31, we skip 30, and we both run 31. This is okay, but I like knowing my team ran every mile of the course, so we deployed a different strategy. We had already planned for me to run 30 and 31, and Roman was going to run leg 32. I texted Roman to check in with the race officials and start running as soon as he was ready, then reached out to Ragnar command so they would know we were going to run the course in two places at the same time.
By doing that, we were ineligible to be considered for placement… oh, shucks. Wait, we’re not the fastest team. We’re not in the fastest 100 teams, frankly. Who cares? We Julie ran leg 29, and while she was out there, Roman got started on 32. When Julie came in, I ran legs 30 and 31. Meanwhile, Nataleigh was running leg 33 (or was it John… I can’t remember!). In any case, we ran every mile of that course, and earned our finisher’s medals. Some of us scored the “Overboard” medal too, for having run Reach the Beach plus at least one other Ragnar relay in 2016.
All in all, I would have to consider this to be one of our most successful relays as the Road Hazahds, even if we missed some friends who were out there running on other teams. A solid group of people has formed in the Road Hazahds… most of us runners, some serious, some casual, plus a spouse or two who is part of our Facebook group, too. Some of us are colleagues, but a lot of the group met through running. We’ve become friends, and learned to rely on each other, and we know how to do difficult things well together.
Go Road Hazahds!