I don’t even know where to begin but I’ll warn you, this post will be a long one!
Ragnar Del Sol was a thrilling, challenging, exciting, nerve-wracking and unbelievably fun 36 hours of my life. The entire experience practically blew by from when we drove to the starting line at 3:00 am Friday morning to when we crossed the finish, 202 miles and nearly a day and a half later. I am proud of what our entire team was able to accomplish. The 12 ladies who comprised “Run Through the Desert? We thought they said Dessert!” – or Team Dessert, for short – were so awesome and inspiring. I will definitely be taking some great memories with me.
Our journey began on Thursday night when the team met at my house for a pizza dinner and packing the van party. Karla and Melissa had arrived in town on Wednesday night and Thursday morning, respectively, and the three of us had been nervously chatting all day about what was to come.
After stuffing the vans with all the necessary supplies, the team went to work on decorations. Though collectively we were Team Dessert, we were also the ice cream and cupcake vans, and so the windows were painted to match. Curling ribbon was also involved.
The “honk” is for “honk if you love sprinkles.” As you can imagine, we had a lot of sprinkles enthusiasts show us their appreciation throughout the race.
The vans were split into teams of six based on our legs…
You can read all about us on Nicole’s blog. She created an awesome introductory post!
Once we were satisfied with the level of window paint on each van, we snapped a quick picture of most of the team – with the exception of Megan and Chris, who joined us a few hours later – as well as our rocking team shirts. I couldn’t wait to wear mine at the finish!
And then it was time for sleep! Or as much sleep as one can get when they know they’ll have to wake up at 2:30 am to start a 36-hour relay race. It sounds counter intuitive to say it’s hard to sleep before you are going to get no sleep, but there you have it.
Before we knew it, our cell phone alarm clocks were ringing and it was time to make our way to the starting line in Wickenburg. As soon as we got there, it all became extremely real. Ragnar was happening (and it was freezing)!
Our fearless team captain Nicole was ready to tackle her first leg. The official start time was 5:30 am, which meant reflective vests, headlamps and LED lights were a must.
The rest of Team Dessert was ready to cheer her on amidst layers of blankets, jackets and hats.
Soon enough, the countdown began…and Nicole was off!
The ice cream van headed to the next exchange point to meet her. With Ragnar, you switch back and forth from being the racing van to the resting van depending on which legs are running (one through six or seven through twelve).
Those of us in the cupcake van had until a little before noon to head to exchange point six and rest before Betty began her leg. As we drove, the sun was rising, and within a few hours our surroundings looked a lot different and felt a lot warmer.
My mental state at that point was somewhere between tired and jittery, as I realized that it would be well after 6:00 pm before I even began my first leg. I knew it would likely be a long day, not boring by any means but just a true test of patience as I watched 11 people take off before me. But hey, runner 12 is what I signed up for and I was excited to cheer my teammates on!
As more and more vans began arriving at the exchange point, Karla and I walked around and snapped pictures of some our favorite team names and decorations. Among them were the Jelly Rolls…
…Worst Pace Scenario (you have to love a good pun)…
…and Kilty Pleasures, which featured a bagpipe and runners wearing kilts. It was fantastic.
It was a very relaxing morning for the most part, complete with temporary Ragnar tattoos.
Before we knew it, we received a text saying that Megan had started leg six – it wouldn’t be long now! Betty made her way to the exchange and prepared to accept the “baton,” or in the case of Ragnar, the official orange slap bracelet. The cupcake van’s legs had officially begun!
Our team opted to drive by and cheer for each runner along their route, pull over and wait for them to pass again, then cheer some more before making our way to the next exchange point so that the next runner could use the bathroom – we were pleasantly surprised by just how clean the porta potties were, by the way – change clothes and do any last minute preparations before their leg.
Then came Karla’s epic first leg. This year, runner nine had the longest leg distance in Ragnar history of 13.5 miles – longer than a half marathon and awesome enough to earn them their own separate medal for being so hardcore.
Not surprisingly, Karla rocked it! She owned every one of those 13.5 miles as she made her way to her exchange point with Lara. The cupcake van was so proud!
Lara did a fantastic job on her run, too, before handing off the slap bracelet to Chris.
And then I was next. GULP. After so many hours of waiting, my leg was rapidly approaching. My stomach was in knots as I put on my night gear and prepared to tackle leg 12. As one of my shorter legs – 2.8 miles – I was feeling confident, but still very nervous. I had tried to spread out my food intake and drink enough water so that I didn’t end up cramping the moment I left the exchange.
As I waited for Chris, I could feel my throat going dry. It definitely didn’t help to ease my anxiety!
Then I saw something incredible. A car…hey, I know that car…hey, I know that guy sticking his head out the window and looking at all the runners, trying to pick one out of the crowd. HEY, it’s the Benders! Mama, Papa and Baby Bender came to “surprise” me in Surprise (the city where I was running). Their timing was perfect: less than a minute later, Chris came running down the street toward the exchange, and I was off at 6:52 pm!
I don’t know if it was the fact that I had waited so long to run, that I had seen my family or some combination of both (most likely), but when I started running, it felt like my legs were completely separate from the rest of my body. Call it an adrenaline rush, but it was as if I was gliding on air.
I had been consistently training at an 8:30 mile pace for the past few weeks and was feeling good about that speed for my first two legs, which were shorter at 2.8 miles each. My third leg was 5.6 miles, so I was aiming for a 9:00 mile pace in order to ensure I ran into no IT band issues. Since the North Shore Half Marathon, I’ve never felt confident enough to run more than four miles, afraid that I would hurt myself again. This relay promised to be challenging in that I was running 11.2 miles total – spread out, but still within a span of 24 hours. I wasn’t sure how it would go down.
I quickly settled into my comfort zone and the rest of the leg was a blur from there. All I can honestly remember is the fact that my family drove to several points along the route and got out of the car to cheer for me. It was truly the most motivating and wonderful feeling a girl could ask for, and pushed me to keep the pace as I ran to meet Nicole at exchange 12.
My official time for leg 12 was 23:44 for 2.79 miles, an 8:27 average mile pace! Woohoo!
After I handed off the slap bracelet to Nicole, the cupcake van had another six hours or so before Betty would run again. We decided to grab some dinner before attempting to sleep. Paradise Bakery seemed like the best option around us, and it really hit the spot. I went with the garden vegetable soup, which came with asiago bread, and the Thai peanut chicken salad. Yum.
We then headed over to exchange 18 to try to get some sleep. There was a community center where they were offering space to sleep on the floor, but Karla and I opted to stay in the van. We both dozed in and out for two or three hours. This was the moment in the race where we felt the most tired and dirty, but we made it through and came out the other side ready to run our second legs.
My official start time ended up being at exactly 5:00 am – another 2.8-mile leg in the dark. This time around, however, I had a very special pacer following behind me the entire way: Bobby!
He and Papa Bender woke up before dawn to come out and meet us. My second leg was only a few miles away from my parent’s house, so Bobby spent the night with them and drove with PB to the exchange. Once again, it meant so much to have them there!
One thing I hadn’t fully prepared myself for on this second leg was the addition of hills. My first leg was very flat, but this time around I started with a slight downhill that then turned into a long and relatively steep incline for the majority of the route. I knew pretty soon after taking off from the exchange that an 8:30 mile pace wasn’t going to happen, so decided to take the hill as best as I could and see what happened. Having Bobby behind me definitely helped me stay the course!
When we got to the Ragnar sign that told us we had one mile to go, I was a bit shocked – we were already at two miles! Three miles instead of 2.8 isn’t a huge deal, but at that moment the hills combined with some growing stomach issues (no details, promise) were starting to get to me. There was nowhere to go but forward, though, especially when you’re out in the middle of the desert at night. I was trying to avoid colliding with a coyote at all costs.
Ultimately the second leg was 2.94 miles, and we finished in 26:03 for an 8:49 mile pace. I was glad for this one to be done only because my stomach was really starting to bug me. Other than that, it was amazing to run with Bobby, especially so close to home.
Once again, the cupcake van had a break while the ice cream van took over, and this is where we really got lucky. Chris lives in Cave Creek, which happened to be where I ended my leg, and graciously offered to have us back to her house to take some quick showers and sleep until we had to head to the next exchange. Of course everyone felt incredibly grateful for the opportunity and we jumped on it. Readers of this blog may remember my troubled tummy history, and it was definitely rearing its ugly head. I can honestly say that the recovery time made all the difference in the rest of my Ragnar experience, so THANK YOU, Chris, more than you know.
By the time we left Chris’ house the next morning, it was a beautiful day for more running.
We headed to exchange 30 and caught up with the ice cream van. The ladies were nearly done with all of their legs and many of us had changed into our team shirts. The hours were flying by!
But there were still six more exchanges to go. Soon Betty was off, closely followed by Stacey, Karla, Lara, Chris and me.
During our breaks at the various exchanges on the last legs, we had plenty of fun with our fellow Ragnar teams, including the 70s group Fro-Motion, who not only ran in costume but also had a van complete with speakers on the back that blasted decade-appropriate hits.
We also showed off our “guns” – we look fierce, don’t we?
Soon enough, the time had arrived for my third and final leg – 3:35 pm, to be exact.
My final leg was incredible. A total of 5.6 miles that was mainly along a greenbelt full of parks. There was even a golf course! I somehow managed to snap a picture as I was en route. I haven’t mastered the whole camera while running thing, but you get the idea.
A little less than a mile into the route, I heard Mama Bender, Bobby and my brother – they had come to cheer me on for the final leg, too! I’ve never had a race photo I’ve liked before, but this one says it all. I was exhausted, but so happy to see them.
The route weaves its way further toward Tempe, ultimately crossing under a major highway and ending up along Tempe Town Lake. The final turn takes you across the lake via a pedestrian bridge, at which point there are only a few more yards until the finish line.
might will sound dramatic, but my final leg was therapeutic in that it was exactly what I needed to realize that I can handle longer distances again. Not half marathons, necessarily – I’m not sure yet whether I’d do one of those again. But perhaps the 10K really is my sweet spot, because it felt good to be able to run as fast as I knew I could and not have to worry about pacing myself for longer mileage or fearing that once mile seven rolled around, as it did in the North Shore, something terrible was going to happen. No mile seven, no need to worry – or so I told myself. The strategy seemed to work, at least this time around.
As I turned onto the pedestrian bridge, I noticed two yellow dots waving at me from the other end. Karla and Melissa were waiting on the other side! I practically pranced my way across and we ran to join the rest of Team Dessert, crossing the finish together amidst screams of pure joy. We made it!
In the end, my final leg was 5.48 miles, which I finished in 48:31 for a pace of 8:42 per mile. Our final team time was 34:53:57, which puts us at a 10:21 mile pace overall. In other words, Team Dessert ROCKED! After picking up our medals, we took a few team photos. Clockwise from the back row left: Nicole, Lara, Betty, Karla, me, Jaime, Chris, Tara, Melissa, Stacey, Megan and Jenna.
I’m so grateful to Karla and Melissa for jumping at the chance to come to Arizona and join Team Dessert. These ladies are two of my oldest and most wonderful blog and real life friends – I’m so lucky to have you both in my life!
I would also like to give a BIG thank you to some of my newest blog and real life friends: our team captain, Nicole, as well as her co-captain, Ari, who unfortunately had to drop out of the race due to injury but was with us in spirit every step of the way. Your knack for planning and attention to detail were what made this entire experience a reality for all of us, and we are so appreciative of the time and energy you put into Team Dessert!
Ragnar Del Sol was the ultimate adventure. I bonded with 11 inspiring women and fellow dessert enthusiasts – what could be better? Not to mention, the medals aided in the post-race celebration with their bottle opening capabilities…
I would highly recommend checking out one of the many Ragnar races out there. If you’re a fan of exciting – and at times daunting – running challenges, it should be on your bucket list.
Last but not least, I have to thank Bobby, my family and friends for supporting me throughout this entire process. The emails, texts and comments I received were all incredibly motivating. And of course, having Mama Bender, Papa Bender, Eric and Bobby show up to not one, not two, but all three of my legs was completely unexpected but by far one of my favorite parts of the Ragnar experience. Thank you for sharing in my excitement (even if you thought me crazy). I love you all.
Now to determine what the next adventure will be…
Have you ever done a Ragnar relay? If so, where and what did you think?
If you have any additional questions on the logistics of the race – everything from van rentals to packing methods to how to fuel properly – please don’t hesitate to email me. I’m no expert, but we did learn a lot and I’d love to share if you’re considering a Ragnar race!