My thoughts on the 2nd annual Ragnar Relay Tennessee
November 4-5, 2011
Chattanooga to Nashville
This was undoubtedly one of the most difficult yet AWESOME things I’ve ever done. I had never participated in anything remotely like this before, and had an absolute blast going through this experience with my teammates. The Ragnar Relay Tennessee is a 196.1-mile relay from Chattanooga to Nashville. A standard team was comprised of 12 runners, with each runner completing 3 legs of 2 to 9 miles each. The first 6 runners were in Van #1 and the last 6 in Van #2.
Meagan leading Team Isabel to the finish line…
Our team was named “Team Isabel” after the daughter of one of the members of our running group who has leukemia. Team Isabel was classified as a “mixed” team because we had 6 women and 6 men. Van #1 started in Chattanooga at 2pm (EDT) on Friday and we finished in downtown Nashville at 1:19pm (CDT) on Saturday for a finish time of 24 hours 19 minutes 43 seconds. At the end of the final leg (#36), the 11 of us cheering on Meagan joined her for the last 200 meters so that we could cross the finish line as a team. Our finish time was good enough for 4th overall out of 223 teams, and was 2nd in the “mixed” division. Our team absolutely KILLED IT!
Team Isabel after a successful race….
I was in Van #2, which left Nashville at 1pm (CDT). From the time I woke up on Friday morning until I arrived back home on Saturday afternoon at 3pm, I slept for approximately 30 minutes and raced 18.5-miles (20+ miles running with warmups). I have never been more tired in my life than I was when I finally got home. Even with this utter exhaustion, I’m so glad that I did it. There is no way I could adequately describe the experience in a post like this, but it was such a remarkable thing to be a part of.
Bob, Kelly, Meagan, Janna, John, and me from Van #2…
I was assigned to position number 9 which meant that I had leg 9 (5.8 miles), leg 21 (3.8 miles), and leg 33 (8.9 miles). John Thorpe had advised me to run each leg on it’s own without thinking too much about conserving for the later runs. My overall goal was to average under 7:00 min pace for my 18.5 total miles.
Leg 9 – This leg was on top of Monteagle Mountain, and was much hillier than I was expecting. After a relatively flat first mile, the next 3 were all up a steady incline. By the time I reached the top of the grade, my pace had slowed to around 7:00 average, but I was able to pick it up quite a bit over the last 1.8 miles into Tracy City to finish with a 6:50 average per mile. It was strange to run in the middle of the night for almost 6 miles and not see another runner except for the start and the finish. The good thing is that I felt really good during and after this run.
Leg 21 – This leg was very short, but by this time a dense fog had settled onto the course. With my headlamp reflecting off the fog, I could barely see a few feet in front of my face. The first mile of this leg was a steady incline, but much of the last 2.8 was flat or downhill with a few short rises. Once I crested the hill, I pushed my body as hard as I could into Shelbyville. My average for this leg was 6:20 per mile. Unlike the end of first leg, I felt pretty beat up after this run, and began to worry about my last leg.
Leg 33 – This was hardest run of my life. It was 8.9 miles in a very hilly area that I know very well around Franklin. I was very tired and on fumes before the leg began, but still tried to keep my pace around 7:00 minute miles. One of the awesome things about this leg was that both Van #1 and Van #2 stopped at several points along the route to cheer me on. This was badly needed, because my legs were completely dead. About halfway through the leg I had to make an unexpected “pit stop” which cost me about a minute, and pushed my pace well above 7:00 avg.
After this stop, I was faced with a mile-long climb on Sneed road up a very steep hill. I wanted to stop and walk so badly, but the power of knowing 11 people were waiting and counting on me was overwhelming. This is the reason why the run was the hardest of my life. In a marathon, I’m running for myself. In this race I was running for my 11 teammates, and I could not stand the thought of letting them down.
Running my final leg up Moran Road…
Somehow I kept my feet moving and made it to the top. At the top I saw a very short stretch of flat road followed by another long hill on Hillsboro Road. On this hill I was overwhelmed by nausea, but was determined to keep going. The final couple of miles on Hillsboro Road were rolling, but not as severe as the previous hills. During this stretch I tried to finish strong, and almost collapsed at the transition point. Both vans were there at the exchange since Van #1 was finished with all of their legs. It was a great feeling to be done, and even better to be with my teammates after such a difficult effort.
My average pace for this final leg was 7:08 per mile, even with the pit stop. This put my overall average at 6:52 per mile for all of my legs, which is right in line with what I was shooting for.
The following is a list of some of the highlights from our team. These will obviously be slanted toward Van #2, since that is who I was with for the whole race.
- Just before Van #2 was scheduled to leave Nashville, we found out that John Thorpe, our track coach and best runner, had come down with a stomach bug the night before. He was not sure whether he was even going to attempt going, but decided to go and see if he felt better. He was originally assigned to position #7, which included the leg up Monteagle Mountain (more on this below). We moved him back to position #12, and ultimately #11 to give him more time to recover. Even though he was not feeling well he still ran all three legs at around 6:30 per mile average. Unreal!
John getting psyched up for the safety briefing…
- Bob Murphy’s run up Monteagle Mountain for leg #7 was one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen in running. Bob was originally in position #12, but volunteered for #7 once John got sick. That route was 5.3 miles with an elevation gain of 1,100 feet. He did it in 44 minutes! After that effort, I thought his legs would be completely trashed for his second run, which was 8.2 miles through Moore County. However, he still completed this leg in under an hour. Bob is a machine!
- With all of the position shuffling due to John’s illness, Meagan Michaelis ended up in position #12, which included a first leg that was 7.9-miles down Monteagle Mountain (elevation loss of 876 feet). Not only was this a brutal leg, but Meagan fell off the side of the road in the dark and injured her knee. Even with the knee injury, she finished this leg in an incredible time, and then crushed her last two legs through significant discomfort.
- Even though I didn’t witness this run, Dan Ashmead was in position #2 which had a first leg that was 6.2-miles with an 1,198 feet elevation gain (Suck Creek leg). By eye-witness accounts from Van #1, Dan didn’t just finished this leg, he crushed it.
- My fellow members of the Bellevue Trio, Nathan and Paxton, were in Van #1 and both averaged under 7:00 min miles for their total distance. I’m really proud of them for this awesome effort.
The Bellevue Trio after the finish…
- Meagan Segebarth competed in the Ragnar Relay 5 DAYS after finishing the Marine Corps Marathon, and she killed it! How is that possible?
- Outside of Monteagle and Suck Creek, the hardest leg that I personally saw was #32 between Brentwood and Franklin. I had the next leg (#33), and was already having a lot of doubts about my ability to finish it on pace. When I saw Janna Williams powering up the massive incline on Lynnwood Way, I knew that I had no excuses. She finished that leg at least 5 minutes before I was expecting to see her. Pretty impressive.
- When I finished my last leg I handed the bracelet to Kelly Murphy. Kelly had already run 2 very strong legs, and like all of us was fighting incredible fatigue. By the time I got back to the van after my last run, and we got on our way, Kelly had already covered a lot of ground over difficult terrain. When we caught up with her on Chickering road she was absolutely flying and had a HUGE smile on her face. It was awesome to see. Also incredible was that she caught and passed over 20 other teams during this leg.
- Our captain Dawn Denny was on top of everything. This included getting the vans, sponsors, t-shirts, fluid, and making sure that everyone on the team had all of the necessary information. In addition to all of this, she ran an awesome race. Paxton and Nathan from Van #1 were telling me about a monster hill that she had to take on immediately in leg #1. I’m very appreciative to Dawn for all that she did, and for allowing me to be a part of it.
With Dawn after the finish…
- Amaya Guenechea not only ran all three of her legs really fast and hammered through her last 6.5 mile leg which got pretty hilly at the end, but she also stayed in super spirits the whole time, leading Van #1 in many cheers and celebrations as they passed runners from any team to lift their spirits through the exhaustion. She is also credited with one of the best quotes of the race; “This race was like a bowl of oatmeal on the stove, the longer it went the thicker it got.”
- Everyone on the team ran each leg with everything they had. At signup, everyone was asked to submit their average 10K pace, and from that Ragnar estimated our overall projected pace for the race to be 7:55 per mile. Our actual average for 196.1-miles was 7:27 minutes per mile, which is incredible.
In a word…Tough. 196.1-miles of winding backroads and highways from Chatanooga to Nashville, with a nice little adventure up and down Monteagle Mountain. No one has ever accused Tennessee of being a flat state, and this course highlights it’s elevation changes. We learned early on that even if the elevation chart for a leg looked fairly flat, this was mostly just in relation to some of the extreme elevation changes like Suck Creek (legs #2 & #3) and Monteagle (legs #7 & #12). Most of the 36 legs contained challenging climbs and descents that pushed our quads and knees to the limit.
At exchange 6, just before Monteagle Mountain…
Even with the challenge, the course was fun and beautiful. As someone in our van said, it was a shame that we had to run through any of those areas at night, because we missed many of the more scenic areas.
This was one of the most well organized races I’ve ever participated in, which is amazing for a 196-mile race. Every turn was marked, and all of the signs in the dark were equipped with blinking red lights. The volunteers were fantastic and were present at every exchange. Also, every exchange had plenty of port-a-potties. The course had over 65-miles of cones to help guide the runners. Every team had to go through a safety briefing and was provided detailed maps of all legs and exchanges.
Each member of the team received a long-sleeve technical shirt and an awesome medal at the finish. The finish-line party had lots of food and entertainment, and was also very well organized. Overall, it was a great event.