Chuck Norris never Ragnar’d, but if he did he would run it by himself. Barefoot.
It’s done.. 200 miles from Miami to Key West in 36ish hours with about one hour of sleep in a hot, sticky van. The fact that this race is over is sort of sweet sorrow. Let’s start from the beginning:
Jacksonville to Miami:
We were supposed to leave Jacksonville at 6:00pm Thursday night. As anyone who has ever travelled with a large group knows, “being on time” and “large group” are phrases that do not belong in the same sentence. So, we left at 6:47pm. We were so excited to get on the road! We had two short stops along the way and arrived at our hotel just before midnight. I can’t speak for the other two rooms, by my room took a trip back in time and had a middle school sleep over until about 2:00am, when the giggles finally subsided and we fell asleep. The 6:30am alarm came too quickly but we bounced out of bed, ate breakfast and found our vans.
Miami – The Start: Key Biscayne
Our start time was 9:30am and it was recommended we were there by 8:30am. We spent about an hour in the morning organizing the two vans, making sure everyone had everything they needed. Van 1 headed to the start and Van 2 headed to Exchange 6. As soon as my van, Van 1, got to the start, we realized our head lamps and tail lights were still in Van 2. Safety Check! Thankfully, Van 2 was able to meet us at the start line to hand over the goods. We checked in, had our safety briefing, got our swag bags (bibs, tattoos, race shirts, Gu). And in the end, it was nice to have the entire team there to watch Monica start off the race for us.
Miami – Exchange 6: Tamiami Park
While Monica was running the first leg of the race, we were able to pull over and cheer her on before driving toward Exchange 1. The handoff was smooth and Leif took off as our second runner (and maybe we accidentally drove to Exchange 3 instead of Exchange 2 and realized it in time to drive back to Exchange 2, just before Leif finished). Leif then handed off to Andrea, who handed off to Brooke, who handed off to me. Everyone had complained about the heat. I knew it was hot, but I began my leg in a neighborhood park that was lined with trees. I had plenty of shade and a slight breeze for a few minutes and I felt incredible lucky….. and then I turned onto Bird Road. Bird Road – a long, boring, six lane, non-tree lined, non-shaded, high-traffic road. Death. It was SO hot, I just wanted to lie down and die. It was really hard to push through and it was really hard to keep a reasonable pace. I also found myself stopped (Oh, thank God) at six major intersections, waiting for the lights to change so I could cross.. that took up a significant amount of time. Eventually, I handed off to Lindsay and my 3.6 miles were over. We met Van 2 (Adam, Roxie, Melissa, Amanda, Robert, Stacey) at exchange 6 and enjoyed a box of Krispie Kreme doughnuts. Exchange 6 also had some Ragnar swag for purchase, but we didn’t see much else going on.
Miami – Exchange 12: Homestead Speedway
After chowing down on doughnuts and reorganizing our van supplies so that we could actually find things, we headed to the Homestead Speedway to wait for Van 2 (and made a Panera pit-stop for a real meal/clean restrooms to use to change out of our now disgusting outfit #1). Exchange 12 was a fun little party. We realized people were tagging vans with magnets and marker (something we wish we’d known about before hand), they had a medic tent, a massage tent, pizza for purchase and FREE S’MORES! Most importantly, there were really nice, clean restrooms – much appreciated. Many people took this opportunity to socialize with other teams or nap. I found it incredibly hard to fall asleep – I was too wired. Van 2 arrived at Exchange 12 to wait for their last runner. We had at least 45 minutes to catch up and talk about our experiences so far. Stacey soon arrived, finishing her leg in full force and handed off to Monica (for her 2nd leg). It was time for us to go again!
Florida Keys – Exchange 18: Key Largo
Exchanges 12-18 were all nighttime running legs. We donned reflective running vests at all times and head lamps/tail lights while running. Out of complete fear of the intense darkness, we also had glow stick bracelets around our wrists and vests! It is SERIOUSLY dark in the Everglades at night! Monica ran through Homestead and lived to tell stories of, “Hey girl… whatchu running for??” (Her thought: “MY LIFE!”) and Leif survived running on a narrow road, which soon turned into a dirt road in the middle of the swamp. Andrea survived 8 miles of this:
A dirt road in the middle of the swamp.. water on both side, vans right on top of her. What a champ! Brooke survived her 11.8 mile midnight run over an intense bridge and then I was up again. I had 7.1 miles down lonely US-1 at 2:30am.. the only thing to look at was the head lamp shining on the sidewalk in front of me. Strange noises came from the mangroves, so I turned my music up louder. I passed the occasional gas station and at least 20 fish-related places: Joe’s Fish Camp, John’s First Camp, Fish House, Conch House, Bait House…. yeah. Stinky. I felt like a champ for the first 3 miles, maintaining my planned 10:30 pace. Right at mile three, I felt like Chuck Norris roundhouse kicked me in the lower back. The pain was intense and a run/walk became necessary. I managed an 11:50 pace, but that was way too slow :( I fought back tears the last two miles and thanked the Florida Keys Gods that I didn’t have to crawl across the exchange line to hand off to Lindsay. Despite not having any music (her iPod died at the start), Lindsay rocked her night-time run.
We arrived at Exchange 18, which was Coral Shores High School. For $3, we could use the school’s locker room showers (gross because #1 it’s a high school locker room and #2 a few thousand, disrespectful runners had come before us and left all their crap lying around). Clean water has never felt so good. Unfortunately, the Spaghetti dinner was sold out. No food for you. We ate our van bagels… again. Some of our team slept in the school gym, some slept on the grass in the cool, but humid, island breeze. I slept in the van from 6:00am-7:00am. One hour that I am grateful for.
Unfortunately, at this point, our team had fallen somewhere around 2 hours behind schedule. Between the extreme heat, multiple major intersections that needed to be crossed, lack of sleep, dehydration, hunger, injuries.. everything had just fallen apart. Van 2 coincidentally got into a discussion with another team who mentioned they were “Leap Frogging” because they were behind. The fear was that we (and they) were so far behind, that the course would be taken down ahead of us, instead of behind us. We would arrive at Key West by midnight, long after the finish line had been removed. We also wouldn’t receive any medals. After learning more about our options, our team chose to alter the race. Instead of each person running back to back, runners teamed up in groups of two or three to run a leg, while other legs were skipped. For example, Andrea’s leg of the race was skipped (we drove through it) but Andrea and Leif ran Leif’s leg together (7 mile bridge,baby! Those kids are rock stars!). In the end, everyone still ran the distances the planned (or more.. ah hem.. ANDREA)… except me. If the race had gone on as planned, I would’ve sucked it up and cried my way through my last 3.9 miles. But, since we were changing the race anyway, I bailed. It might sound like wimping out, but that’s fine. I’ve had enough injuries this year to learn that no race is worth the pain when you don’t know what the pain means. Though extremely disappointed, I know I made the right decision. What’s important is that everyone got to make a decision regarding what they wanted to do for the race and it worked out well.
Florida Keys – Exchange 24: Marathon
We started to have a little more fun here :) The sun came up and we were happy with our Leap Frogging decision. Monica reached a lack of sleep level that lead to delirium and began tagging every van in sight. She left witty Chuck Norris quotes on vans and only got caught once! She also caught someone tagging back.. nice try, friends. We had heard rumors of another “Chuck Norris Never Ragnar’d” van and soon learned it was not their name, but just a slogan they had written on their window. Chuck Norris doesn’t like imitators, and we let them know:
I guess they didn’t appreciate being called out, because they rubbed off our paint before the next exchange. Maybe we shouldn’t have used bright red ;) #soresports
For our Leap Frogging, Leif and Andrea ran the 7 mile bridge together. They seriously are idols in my book. Not only was this bridge long and hard, they kept an incredible pace. Brooke, Lindsay and Monica ran the next leg via “virtual exchange” (e.g. we texted them to let them know Leif/Andrea finished and they could start.. since we skipped the leg in between and could not hand off the slap bracelet). Andrea then turned around, like a maniac (one I aspire to be like) and ran my 3.9 miles at something around a 7:20 pace – over a bridge. Beast, much?
The bogeyman checks his closet at night for Chuck Norris. Chuck Norris checks his closet at night for Andrea.
Florida Keys – Exchange 30: Summerland Key
We reached exchange 30 and handed off to Van 2. We wasted no time heading to Key West so that we could check into the hotel, shower and wait for the rest of our team at the finish line. The drive from Exchanged 30-36 was absolutely beautiful and I’m a little jealous of the routes that Van 2 got to enjoy. They certainly deserved it, though!
Florida Keys – Exchange 36: Key West
I headed over there a little early so cheer on some other friends as they crossed the finish line. It was great meeting up with others from Jacksonville (and some friends from high school) who I knew would be there! The “party” at the finish line was not as impressive as I had expected. The organization, as well as other runners, had hyped it up a bit too much. While nice, I’ve seen better. Some live music and more opportunities to purchase race swag would have been nice. We did receive very awesome medals and decals for our car, though! When Van 2 arrived, we all stood 1/10 of a mile in to wait for Stacey. She had a hard 5 miles at the very end of the race and I can only imagine how tired she must have been. She turned the corner looking like a champ and our team crossed the finish line together. It was great hearing our team name, “Chuck Norris Never Ragnar’d” announced!
Key West – The Party
We ended up splitting for dinner because some people were ready before others and we all had different cravings. By the time dinner was over, I had little interest in doing anything other than going to sleep. I walked around Duval street for a bit with Amanda and Robert and then caved to my drooping eyes. Sleep was amazing. Others managed to party until around 2:30am.. I don’t know how they did it. I could barely stand up by 11:30pm. We were out the door Sunday morning to drive back to Jacksonville (a few stayed behind until Tuesday – lucky!). Our van took some quick pictures at the Southermost Point before making the 9 hour drive home.
The Most Common Question: “Would you do it again?”
If you had asked me about this during the first 1/3 of the race – I would’ve said YES! This is awesome! (Even with the heat). If you had asked me at 3:00am during the second 1/3 of the race I would’ve told you “Absolutely not.” I was tired, cranky and hot. Ask me again during the last 1/3 of the race and I probably would’ve said, “Maybe,” with a discussion about what I would change. Ask me on the van ride home and I was back to yes. Most of our van agreed that we would do it again. We would make some changes and plan a little better.. knowing what to expect would make things a lot easier.
Things I Think We Did Right
- Splitting up the food as discussed in the Pre-Race Post. We pretty much had everything we needed and then some. Do plan on stopping at a restaurant for a real meal, though; it’s rejuvenating.
- Packing each outfit in a Ziploc bag. This was a great idea we found on some other blogs. Not only did we have easy access to our next outfit (and could carry it to the restroom easily without taking the entire overnight bag), we could put our stinky, wet clothes BACK in that bag and the smells were contained! I also had all toiletries in one Ziploc bag and all electrical stuff (Garmin, ipod, plugs) in a Ziploc bag – they stayed away from any moisture.
- Having 15 passenger vans. We saw some people in mini vans. I can’t speak for their experience, but honestly, I can’t imagine being cramped in there. We really valued our space and it gave us room to sleep in the van when we didn’t want to sleep outside.
- Focusing on fun – when we realized how far behind we were, no one really cared too much. Everyone just wanted to run.. and finish. Because of that, the decision to Leap Frog wasn’t a difficult one. We had a fantastic time doing something totally wild, ran some incredible routes and got to cross the finish line. That’s all that matters. That, and no one was eaten by an alligator.
Things I Would Consider For Next Time
- Sleeping supplies. Some people had some pretty awesome air mattresses and blankets. They seemed like they packed up pretty small and were battery operated. This would have really helped me (and I’m sure the rest of our team). I probably would’ve been able to sleep more at the Homestead Speedway and at Exchange 18.. I only had a small blanket and pillow, as recommended by the organization (you do have to remember van space, but we would’ve made it work). One of our runners had ear plugs, which she said really helped.
- Be more modest with running pace. While a few of our team members were able to run the pace they intended, most of us were significantly slower. While we are all capable of running our stated paces in half marathons with a good night’s sleep, a decent breakfast, good hydration and the excitement of the large crowds throughout your entire run.. Ragnar is a whole different ball game. I would recommend everyone add some cushion time to their typical race pace. You often find yourself running alone, dealing with all the previously stated elements. If you happen to run faster, great. I’d rather everyone run a tiny bit faster than significantly slower. I would stress more about being behind the holding times, than ahead of them. Ahead of them, you just have to have wait time between exchanges. Behind then and you end up Lead Frogging.
- Van Decorating. Every single van was decorated but some were absolutely incredible. I thought our van was pretty great until we saw others.. then we were just shamed. The problem was, we didn’t know. We knew to decorate, but not like THAT. In our own defense, we also had to drive down from Jacksonville very late the night before the race. We had no time in Miami to take care of anything (another thing I would change). We also did not know about tagging other vas. The magnets were hysterical and we wanted our own! We improvised, however, and got a lout of laughs out of it.
- Before and after time. This is something I wanted but could not make happen. I would’ve loved to have arrived in Miami a day early and stayed two days after in Key West. Unfortunately, this race is only a few days after the holidays and I just couldn’t take any extra days off work.
Overall, a fantastic experience and one I certainly recommend to others. Plan ahead (start in advance) and focus on just having a really awesome time :)