“Where’s the Damn Van?!”
Where’s the Damn Van was the name we chose for a team of 12 runners running in the Ragnar Del Sol 2011 Relay. It’s a race that covers roughly 200 miles through the desert in the Phonenix, Arizona area. Most teams were made up of 12 runners who run approximately 15-17 miles each, but there were a few “ultra” teams as well. Ultra teams only have six runners so each person runs somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 miles over a 24 hour period. To quote Robert DeNiro in Midnight Run, “That’s a very respectable neighborhood.”
To give you some idea of what the race was like, let’s head back to college. Remember back in the day, when you and your college buddies would go on a road trip? Remember how the destination became an afterthought compared to the trip getting there? That’s what Ragnar was like for me. My runs were great. But getting to know the 11 other runners, and crazy fun we had while cooped up in a van for 30 hours with no sleep is what made the whole thing incredible.
Don’t get me wrong, the running was off the charts too. Steve Speirs‘ third and final leg was a 7.7 mile jaunt, nearly straight down. An 849 foot drop over 7+ miles is insane, but he just crushed it, sleep deprived and all. He even paced another runner who was hurting and still turned in a 6:01 pace. Nuts. Jenny J‘s last leg was the opposite: a 600 foot climb over almost 9 miles. All on beat up legs, spotty van nutrition and no sleep, but she just put her head down and ran and ran. Joe Marrachulla started the whole thing off on leg #1 by destroying a run that included a 500 foot climb over about 4 miles. And that was just short of a week after running a marathon. Nina A had a tough run in the dark where the signs directing runners weren’t very clear, so she got a bit off course. But you should have seen her giving it everything she had to make up time by nearly sprinting the final portion of her leg. There is no quit in Nina. This isn’t an exhaustive list of the hard runs, but it does give you a glimpse into the kind of performances our team gave.
I have admit it. Going into the weekend, I was pretty nervous. I really believed I was going to be the weak link in the team, the slowest of the runners. And you know what, I still might have been, I’m not sure. But, I did manage to run all three of my runs in paces below 8:00 min/mile. My leg average paces were:
- Leg #6: 7:40 min/mile
- Leg #18: 7:36 min/mile
- Leg #30: 7:43 min/mile
To put my times into perspective, I’ve never even had one training run at better than an 8:00 min/mile average, yet in this race, I did it three times in a row. So, even if I was the slowest on our team, I think I did myself proud by not dragging the team down with really slow times.
There was one disappointment this weekend. Once the race starts, the team divides itself into two sub-teams. Each 6 person sub-team stays together for the whole race in their own van. Makes sense, and it even gives each group of runners a window of time to try to rest and relax. What didn’t dawn on me, was that it would only leave brief little periods of time, at major exchanges, where each “van” would get to see the other van of runners. So there were six team members that I barely got a chance to know, and in the short conversations we did get to have, I knew I would have liked to have gotten to know all of them.
The upside of the van arrangement is that you really get a big chance to get to know the runners in your van. And I can say this without reservation or embarrassment: I loved getting to know each of them. I truly feel like I’ve made friends that I’ll keep for a lifetime. There were inside jokes, funny stories, brief flashes of nudity (hence the PG13 rating), rotten doggie bag food smells, generous hosts allowing us to rest and have meals at their home, gnomes, tough runs, the stink of 6 sweaty runners, cursing of bad maps, cursing/loving Katy Perry, random texting to people sitting 3 feet from you, multiple U-turns, loud cheering, cowbell ringing, absolute amazement, spectacular sunsets, gorgeous sunrises, shared pictures of each others’ kids, war stories of races gone by, salves, gels, aches, pains, running advice given, running advice taken, personal lives discussed, hopes shared … and the list goes on and on. A weekend I will never forget.
Here are all of my team members. All of the photos seen on this page where taken by Michael Miller, who not only runs like a deer, but takes excellent photos too.
UPDATE: This evening we found out that we finished
19th 20th out of 306 teams. Pretty damn good performance from the Damn Van!