Ragnar Relay

Ragnar Relay Finish Line
Ragnar Relay, Socal. 12 runners, 2 vans, 229 miles, Huntington Beach to San Diego.

We assembled Friday morning at 6:30 am and drove down to Huntington Beach to check in and start painting our vans. On the way we discovered things like our #12 slot runner who had the longest run at 26 miles had never run half that far but reckoned his ultimate frisbee playing would see him through.

The vans were painted. Danny, Jordan & Charlie worked up a serious sweat playing frisbee. Team Babewatch scared us with their teeny weeny bikinis and the little fire engine red hot pants on the guys. Not pretty.

Our race began at noon. Runner #1 Todd took off from Huntington Beach and east into Orange County. The rest of us quickly discovered that navigation is not just for sissies. The very first thing we did upon leaving the parking lot was take a wrong turn and drive 8 miles out of our way. Todd reached the exchange before we did.

I jumped out of a very airconditioned van, sprinted across the parking lot to the exchange and then took off running. My leg was on a paved bikepath along the Santa Ana River, which makes the LA River look like something in Yosemite. There was no shade, nothing green, and all that man-made material was soaking in and retaining the heat. About a mile into my leg I realized that I was still cold, it was too hot, and I was running about 2 minutes per mile too fast. I had to reel it back in or I was gonna tank before my short 5 miles finished.

This 5 mile leg turned out to be the hardest. Jordan came out to run me in the last quarter mile or so, which I greatly appreciated and decided to do for all our runners after me. I was very happy to pass the baton on to Francesca, who ran it in to Angel Stadium.

Manning the Angel Stadium aid station and exchange were Pier and Luis, a couple of run club members & friends who are also part of a running crew centered around ultra runner Maggie Beach, who just won Labor of Love 100 miler in Nevada the weekend before. All Ragnar teams had to provide 3 volunteers. Pier & Luis were volunteering for the ARC ultra team – a team of 6 runners instead of our 12. Having friends manning an aid station is always a treat.

Next was little Norma, who had already discovered the stash of fake Ragnar tattoos and had festooned herself with Ragnar logos. Norma passed it on to Jordan, aka Misslel Toe, so named because we all had toe names but nobody could figure out how to spell Missile. Jordan was the Van’s Rocket Man. He grabbed the baton, sprinted 4 yards to a red light, waited a couple of minutes like a good citizen, and then took the hill at a sprint. Last was Grace, who ran it hard into Yorba Linda (home of Richard Nixon) and then cut loose with some festive Gu colored vomit.

Van 2 took over to run it 38 miles through Corona. It was time to rest. Everybody got free massages. Grace recovered quickly by eating more Gu. We discovered that sugar is like crack for Grace, who managed to consume a year’s supply of Gu over the weekend. Gu mania, crash…Gu mania, crash…Gu mania, crash…That was a lot of Grace’s weekend.

We hit Lake Elsinore on the side that does not have the town of Lake Elsinore. Lake Elsinore town is apparently a nice upper middle class bedroom community that’s the home of some of California’s first outlet malls, and is staunchly Republican. Lakeland Village, where we were, is a ramshackle town (they call them “census designated places”, which means a town’s worth of people in a non-town) of trailer homes. This is mobile home living done right: pre-fabricated housing sitting on decent chunks of land, with lots of trees, chain link fences, and abandoned appliances strewn about the yards, but not so much to make things hillbilly. Poor, but not poverty stricken. There was even a place that advertised $1 haircuts. (I’m not sure how they make their money. Maybe they charge a lot for perms?) I had no idea that there was an entire town of poor rural white folks in Orange or Riverside counties.

This made me happy. Here’s why: despite all that good breeding and education, I’m kinda poor. I guess that’s what a career in the arts gets you. Discovering a Cali town wedged between mountains and a lake full of poor folks with big yards means that maybe there’s a chance I won’t end up on a street corner when I’m too old to work. There’s just not enough money in the budget to support rich people and poor folks at the same time, (those rich people have pricey needs) and I’m not really counting on tinkle down economics to come through. Despite the encouraging sounding name, there’s no gold in golden showers. A poor town that’s not some desolate little Mad Max hideaway in the desert gives me hope.

We pulled into a mall. Jordan noticed we’d run over a nail and the back tire had sprung a leak. AAA was called and the gang headed into the nearby chain restaurant for beer.

I’d had to sign a waiver for leg #14, which was run on a horse trail and had pebbles and gates and things you could trip over if you were too engrossed in Rage Against the Machine or whatever crap is playing on the ipod. In my opinion, anyone who runs with an ipod deserves whatever misfortune befalls them, and I full applaud the move some races are making to ban them. Beyond the fact that in my opinion a run cannot be experienced when the senses are distracted, and, hopefully, once a runner starts entering races it’s for the love of running rather the firming of the thighs, there’s also a danger to running distracted.

Leg 14 took me through the end of the trailer area of Lake Elsinore and down onto a horse trail. There were no lights, no volunteers, and the runners had all separated before we hit the trail, so I ran it alone. It wasn’t at all technical or difficult, but it was a little spooky. My headlamp could only illuminate a small area ahead of me. The rest was pure darkness and if asked to describe the landscape I’d be at a complete loss. Was there a “river” next to the trail? I have no idea.

There was a point where the path forked. Unlike many of the others on my team, I only experienced well marked routes. Here, the sign point at a pile of hay. I was skeptical, because the other fork seemed like an actual path. I spotted another Ragnar sign on the other side of the pile of hay. Still skeptical, I tried it.

I don’t know what kids are worried about nowadays, but when I was a kid, the thing that worried us was the neutron bomb. That was the super gnarly bomb that just gave off radiation, so buildings and stuff would be fine but all living beings would be vaporized. I emerged from the horsepath in Murietta. Murietta looks like it got hit by a neutron bomb. 11:30 on a Friday night and not a single sign of life in the entire town? That’s some creepy upper middle class shit.

My exchange was in “Historic Downtown Murietta”. The historic part of Murietta is a mall that was built in the late 1980s. Aside from Ragnar folks, there was nobody there. I much preferred Lake Elsinore.

We finished our second legs sometime around 2am. Van #2 took over to run through the night. We attempted sleep. I don’t recall succeeding, but I’m told I snore, so I guess I’m wrong.

My last leg was in Ecinitas. Ragnar is not a monster event. There are no road closures. We run on sidewalks and bike paths, and use the crosswalks like good little citizens…or else. (3 demerits will get you disqualified). The bummer of this was that there were two runners ahead of me on this last leg that I was determined to catch, but everytime I’d get with about 10 yards of them I’d hit a light. At the 6 mile mark we hit a long steep hill. I slowed. Others slowed more. I passed a number of runners, but not the two I’d been chasing. I really didn’t know what I had left, so I turned up the speed in increments, until I hit about 6:30 mpm, which might be close to as fast as these old bones will go right now. I passed the two runners.

We were done. Van 2 had their final legs to run and we had time to kill. Everyone but me seemed jonesing for beer. I no longer drink, so bars don’t hold too much appeal. I suggested maybe we find some place on the beach. Everyone agreed this was better than a sports bar. The boys made a call. Apparently in all of San Diego there’s only one place on the beach and it was full, so we ended up in Whiskey Women.

Whiskey Women was full of TVs playing sports. There was a lone customer at the bar. He was a soft looking hard guy with a neon tan, white leather hightop cross trainers, and a fliptop cellphone. His big claim to fame was that he had once met Sammy Hagar. He thought maybe it made him a big deal, even though it had happened long ago, and he hadn’t much to show for it. If he just talked about it enough, maybe someone would think he was important and the years wouldn’t be such a waste.

Our waitress was cute. She asked us what we’d been doing. We told her. She looked a bit concerned and said it sounded like her idea of hell.

After beer and burgers, we arrived at the finish line. We each had a free beer tag. If I’d’ve been smart, I’d’ve traded mine for free noodles, ’cause the noodles were awesome. Our table at the beer garden was situated right at the exit, which meant the kids got everyone’s unused free beer passes or barely drunk beers as folks were leaving. Massive amounts of free beer were consumed as we waited on Van 2.

Danny Le was on his way in. Grace’s boyfriend was left to guard our table in the beer garden. With some effort, the various stray team members were rounded up and we ran Danny in. We got our medals & posed for pictures. Joe from A Runner’s Circle (who sponsored us) arrived just in time. The Nucking Futs, our 6 man ultra team, came in soon after. Everyone was happy and smelled bad.

And now, a week later, the race results are in. We came in 70th out of nearly 500 teams. Considering that half the team ended up injured and/or lost at some point, and there were stress fractures and swollen ankles galore, that’s not too bad. And the Nucking Futs? They smoked it – 1st place for a mixed ultra team. I’ll post a full gallery of shots in a few days, but below are a few to get things started:

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