Race Recap: 2015 Cape Cod Ragnar – Team Strong Hearts Vegan Power

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Photo cred: Chris Cooney/The Vegan Zombie

Last weekend was a whirlwind. An amazing, fun, exhausting and eye opening whirlwind. I participated in the 2015 Cape Cod Ragnar with a huge group of over 40+ ethical vegans. I was pushed to my limits physically, made tons of new friends and had an experience of a lifetime. But first, what is a Ragnar?

I’d never heard of Ragnar before Scott did his first one in 2013. A Ragnar is a relay race of roughly 200 miles; point-to-point, for a team of 12 runners. Or 6 if you’re an ultra team. We had three teams this year for Strong Hearts Vegan Power after the first two years garnered so much interest. Each runner is assigned a number (1-12) which designates which legs they run. The first 6 runners pile in van #1, the last 6 pile in van #2 and once the first runner starts the race is non stop. Someone from your team is running until the race is over. Meaning we run through the night and get very little downtime. I was runner number 3 in my van, so I ran legs 3, 15 and 27. Not all legs are equal distance or difficulty. My legs were 6.3, 4.0 and 9.4 miles, respectively, for a total of 19.7 miles in less than two days.

The aim of running as a team of vegan runners wasn’t just to have fun. We organized this to benefit Tamerlaine Farm; an animal sanctuary run by one of the team members. Tamerlaine has rescued dozen of chickens from a Kaparot ceremony (a ceremony in certain Jewish communities where chickens are waved in the air and then slaughtered brutally, this is for some reason still totally legal in NYC), factory farms and school hatching projects. Recently they just welcomed two pigs to their farm and continue to expand. Our team shirts boldly stated “FOR THE ANIMALS” on the back and “VEGAN POWER” on the front. People immediately knew who we were and what we stood for. As someone who has not ever participated in any sort of activism this was thrilling to be a part of.

I was on Team C, van 1 and we started around 8:45 am Friday. I was excited and nervous for the race to start. I knew I could run all those distances, but I’d never done so much consecutively. But excitement really prevailed as there were so many people to meet and stories to share. My van was full of amazing people doing such diverse things. A musician, a nurse, a personal trainer, the owner of Strong Hearts Cafe, the director of the podcast Our Hen House….. seriously amazing people. I was so impressed with how we all have approached veganism in different ways, but shared the same message.

Our run kicked off with Carrie, a personal trainer who had such great enthusiasm and positivity, and happened to be celebrating her birthday. We quickly hoped in the van and drove to the first exchange ahead of her to prepare our second runner. Carrie came in strong and we sent of Michael and headed to the next exchange. Which meant I was up next! Michael’s first leg was a shorter one so I didn’t have too much time to get nervous, but I did anxiously bounce around at the exchange waiting for him to come in. When he did we had what I would say was the ‘perfect slap’ (the baton in this was a slap bracelet, a dangerous dangerous slap bracelet) and I was off. I had just over a 10K to cover. It was maybe around 10 am at this time and it was sunny and warm. I felt really strong for the first half of this run that took me along some suburban streets. Eventually the hills started to take a toll on me and I found I slowed down but finished with an over all pace of 8:45/mi for the 6.3. My leg finished on a steep downhill and I passed the slap bracelet to Joel. Ok, first leg done. I was happy to have it out of the way. That last 9.4 mile leg kept jumping to my mind. “Can I do that?” “How can I do that after running all this!?” “I’ll be fine.” “When will I sleep?”

I caught my breath, jumped back in the van and got interviewed by Jasmin of Our Hen House for their weekly podcast about my experience being a vegan scientist. I’ll put the link below – I don’t sound too rambly thank god! There is something about living in close quarters with people that turn you into instant family. I was constantly laughing in my van, even when I thought I might pass out from lack of sleep. Our next exchanges went smoothly – much due to the excellent navigation of our driver Molly who always kept her cool. We were never late to an exchange once! When our 6th runner passed off the bracelet to runner 7 (the first runner of van 2) we finally had a good 4 hour break before we needed to start our second legs.

We found a great park on the route and had a picnic lunch. Joel, being a restaurant owner, provided us with a complete gourmet spread of vegan sandwiches and snacks. I had NO complaints about my van placement. Ha. After replenishing calories we all spread out languidly in the park, taking naps, observing wild turkeys, stealing toilet paper from the park bathroom (desperate times people)…Jasmin conducted a few more interviews and I tried to take a small nap in the van. Not too successful.

Before we knew it, it was time for us to start our second leg. We headed over the the exchange point where van 2 would finish and Carrie would start again. By now the sun was going down and we were required to put on all our safety gear. Headlamps, reflective vests, blinkers. It also became surprisingly breezy and cold at this point and I cursed myself for not bringing any sort of blanket or pants. I think it was about this point that I started to get nervous about continuing to run and it being cold. I also felt nervous to run in the dark, even with all the precautions. I am not sure why my anxiety started to get so high at this point – I’ll say it was probably due to the accumulating fatigue.

It was dark at this point (maybe around 8 or 9 pm) and I was just not sure of my abilities. Once Michael came in to the exchange and gave me the bracelet I took off with a vengeance. Half to get it over with, half to warm up my body. I knew this leg should be easy. It was 4 miles pretty much all downhill. I told myself to just run it as fast I could so I could try to get some sleep right away. Most of this run was on sidewalks so I really didn’t have much to worry about but there were some very dark turns where I would hold up my blinky protectively for cars. This leg was probably the best leg for me since the chill in the air was actually great once I got going. I finished it up with about a 8:40 pace and handed off to Joel again.

Here is really where I think delusion sets in. I think I mostly stayed in the van through the next few exchanges since in my mind I figured any second possible I should try to be sleeping. I didn’t know how I was going to run 9.4 miles with little to no sleep in between. How do people do this race?! How do people do ultras?! I don’t really recall getting any actual sleep at this point since we were still very on the move. Once our last runner came in for the second time we had a moment to relax. Since it was Carrie’s birthday we had a mini celebration with cupcakes from Strong Hearts. I don’t think a cupcake has ever tasted so good to me. The sugar was all my body wanted at that point. Pure energy, nothing hard to digest. I then conked out in the backseat of the van for what I guess was 2.5 hours before I had to prepare for my last leg.

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Starting my last leg around 5:30 am. Photo cred: Jasmin Singer

I was SO nervous at this point. I felt spent but I had my longest leg to go. I hadn’t really eaten much other than cupcakes and lunch seemed so far away. It was still cold out and I couldn’t remember that I would warm up while running. I just knew I was cold then and I didn’t like it. The sun rose just before I started off my last leg so I was mostly running through the hazy morning air. Michael came into the exchange still looking strong, maybe fatigued, and handed me the bracelet. I took off at a much more reserved pace than my other legs. I knew this leg was just about staying upright. I needed to keep my pace easy and consistent to finish it at all. The cold wind slapped me awake before I knew what was happening and I actually enjoyed those first quiet 3 miles a lot. Pace maintained around 9:05-9:10 and I got to take in some really scenic views of Cape Cod houses and the coast. I slowly passed people – which gave me confidence that I could endure this leg. But then of course; hills. What looked like nothing on the elevation chart proved to be constant undulating hills through these sleepy streets. My next two miles were much slower, but still I felt I had energy in the tank. Once I hit mile 6 and turned onto a paved running path I started to really start feeling fatigue. My left knee started to feel a little too much and it worsened with every step. I knew my form was suffering as I got more and more tired, but I had to keep pushing.

At 1.7 from the finish I was dragging. I had NO more energy in my legs. I couldn’t make them turn over any faster. My knee was wobbling. I had given my team estimated pacing of 9-9:30/mi pace. I knew I was well off that now and they were probably wondering where I was. I tried to muster any last reserves here, but it really didn’t help that these last two miles were a gradual incline. I tried to pace with an older man that was still trucking but I couldn’t keep up. This is what it must feel like to run a marathon or an ultra. Complete energy depletion. In hindsight I should have absolutely taken a gel or calories of some sort with me. I was a good 10-15 minutes off pace at this point so I texted my team to let them know I was having some issues but I was close. Joel, the runner after me, immediately ran out to me with water. He met me at about 0.7 miles to go, and took off on his now extended last leg. I never intended to make him run extra, but from what Jasmin tells me he didn’t even hesitate. This is what I mean with my van became family. I shuffled into to exchange point to my teammates and collapsed into the van. I was done. Done running. Such a bittersweet end.

I refueled and started feeling back to normal relatively quickly. It was really just my body saying “No more. We’re tired.” Our van finished up the final handoff to van 2 and we were DONE! We were now free to head to the finish line and meet up with other team members, some of whom had already finished the whole race. Our Team A was purposefully organized to include the fastest runners so it was more competitive (naturally Scott was on this one) and they ended up coming in third place OVERALL and first in their division. There were over 500 teams and they came in THIRD. Our B team came in a few hours later and our C team (my team) about 1.5 after them. When our last runner crested the hill to the finish and all 40+ of us slowly joined her, until it was a massive mob of vegans. I couldn’t have felt more love or pride over my new group of friends. We were so supportive and positive for one another.

And then, the aftermath. So I mentioned before this was the most I’d ever run at one time. It was a new experience for me to feel complete shutdown of my body. Not to mention after effects. I winced every time I got into a car or use stairs. My knee had to be treated with care. But the worst for me was dehydration. When we finally got back to our hotel room I had a massive headache almost to the point of tears (I told you this kind of made me delusional) and could barely eat dinner. All I wanted was a shower and bed. We all fell asleep by 9 pm.

Once those basic needs were met (food, water, sleep, shower) I rejoined the human race. We met up with a group of teammates the following morning for amazing vegan breakfast in Boston and by sheer coincidence – I saw my mom on Mother’s day! She happened to be in New Hampshire, a 1 hour drive from Boston that weekend, so I was able to have a brief visit with her and my grandparents.

Last weekend was epic in all meanings of the word. I would do it again in a heartbeat and wish I had more reasons to hang out with this amazing group of people.

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Just about everyone before the start. Photo cred: who knows!
Click here to hear my lil’ interview on Our Hen House: Episode 279: “Organize, agitate, educate, must be our war cry.”

Race Recap: DINO Series 5k, Mounds State Park

I mentioned months ago that I signed up for the entire DINO (Do INdiana Outdoors) 15K trail series. Due to the severe norovirus I got 3 weeks ago, I made the wise decision to drop down to the 5K. I am STILL not completely over this bug; major symptoms yes, but my digestive system is totally out of whack. So bad that I haven’t been able to run really at all. I can barely go grocery shopping with out needing to run to the bathroom so running was pretty much out of the question. But thankfully I am recovered enough now to run, but I was so glad I dropped down to the 5K.

DINO series, Mounds State Park
Recent snow melt and rain meant for an extremely muddy course for the day, but it’s trail running. That’s part of the package. My goals for this race were to complete it with out needing to stop for a bathroom break. Nothing more. I know that my body is kind of weak right now, my weight is probably down (but I don’t know because I threw away my scale, hurrah!) and my endurance is crap.

Report wise, I don’t really have much. It was muddy, and slow and full of stairs. I definitely need to work on strength/hills to really improve my trail run times. But overall it was a fun race, I finished in a not too embarrassing position (2nd in my age group FTW) and had fun spectating Scott in the 15K.

DINO series, Mounds State Park
Scott finished 4th in the 15K! And we both got age group awards annnnnd discounts to Runner’s Forum. Mostly I am just happy to be able to run again!
DINO series, Mounds State Park
Will update later with my time, but from my watch it looked to be around 32:xx. Meh.

Update: 32:02.6 final. Still Meh! But technically a new trail 5K PR. 

Race Recap: Monumental Half Marathon

Ok – first things first: 1:53:31!! A new PR (by A LOT) and an awesome race overall.

The first cold snap of the season hit on Friday night; snow flurries were sighted, sleet came down and the winds gusted. Mostly I just tried to ignore the complaints over the weather; I had trained 15 weeks for this race and I’d be damned if ‘bad weather’ was going to detract from it. Cold temperatures are advantageous for so many runners anyways. This did force me to re-plan my race outfit though and I settled on a tank, arm warmers, long sleeve over that and mid-calf capris. I also opted for gloves and a headband which were essential for the moments waiting before hand. Overheating was not a problem at all during this race – I was actually really comfortable the whole way through but the second I stopped I though I’d get frostbite.

Scott and I arrived about 1 hour ahead of the 8 am start; it was still dark and we had a ~1 mile walk from the car to downtown. I was NOT enjoying the weather at this point. It was blustery and freezing. We mostly huddled in a corner and tried to maintain some heat while waiting. I eventually made my way to the start corrals; they were loosely seeded and not too many people really adhered to their seeding anyways. I tried to make it to the back where us non-seeded folks were relegated but I eventually gave up and just discreetly squeezed into corral 4.

After little fanfare we were off! There was much congestion in the first mile and I was really concerned about my pace but it eventually evened out.

Miles 1-3
These went by really fast; they had so many twists and turns through down town and the crowd was still considerably large at this point. Scott had given me pacing of 9:05 for the first 3 miles, 8:55 for the next 5 and 8:40 for the last 5. I noticed I was above pace for these miles and I tried to slow it down some, but I wasn’t too successful.

Miles 4-6
I was still feeling really comfortable in the 8:45 range here at these miles so I decided to just stick with it. The course had taken us out of the thick of downtown by now and we were running through the neighborhoods which were full of nice support.

Miles 7-9
By this point we’d split from the full marathon and were going through some more turns that I couldn’t really place in my head. I was still feeling strong and confident with my consistent 8:42-8:45 miles.

Miles 10-13.1
I had it in my head to try to pick up the pace at mile 10 but I wasn’t able to do it. Part of it was a small incline over a bridge but mostly I think I was still concerned about blowing up. By the time I’d reached mile 12 I really stepped up my pace (I guess I knew I wasn’t going to blow up then) and realized I could’ve probably done this a few miles back. Oh well. Before the start of this year I’d never had a race tactic at all so what can you say?

HalfMarathon

I can’t believe I ran such even splits. I never achieve this in training. You can see the first 3 miles I was still dealing with crowds and my last mile is WAY faster than the others. So I didn’t really follow Scott’s pace suggestions but either way I am super proud of my finish! I kept thinking during the race how hard my first half was (2:17, average pace 10:30) that I had to walk a bunch and how far I’ve come. I felt strong the whole way and never had any really tough parts.

My knees and hips were sore for the rest of the day but I feel fine after a good night’s sleep. Again compare this to last year where I could barely walk up and down stairs for days after. We celebrated with Ethiopian food, vegan cupcakes and my first beer post-training.

Now I have to set my sights on more races because I can’t get enough. Most likely next spring I will run the Mini Marathon and again try to take down my half PR. But for now… I’m going to enjoy a few days off from running.

HalfMarathon

Race Recap: Pleasant Run Run

I’ve gotten so caught up in life and training that this recap is coming a little late – so I hope I can still remember some details.

Saturday Scott and I ran the Pleasant Run Run in Irvington, a really cute neighborhood a mile southeast of where we live. The weather was perfectly autumnal; high 40’s, lots of leaves on the ground, clear skies. We got there early, picked up our race bibs and did a mile or so warm up around down town before heading over to the start line. My expectations for this race were to set a new PR (I knew I’d made speed gains since the 8K in the spring) but I didn’t have anything specific in mind. I figured I’d run something below 8:30 pace.

Mile 1 – 7:56

In typical start-of-the-race fashion I went out the first mile pretty fast. They did a very poor job of setting mile markers so when we ran through the mark and heard “5:29!” everyone around me just laughed….. like, “uh… we definitely don’t run ANYWHERE near those splits”.

Mile 2 – 8:11

The course was a bit undulating so I felt that I lost a little speed going up some hills but overall nothing unbearable.

Mile 3 – 8:00

I did start to feel fatigued around this point. Keeping this pace was good for my 5K, but I still had 2 more miles to go. I went back and forth with a few people around me.

Mile 4 – 8:11

By this point my quads were getting tired of the gradual up-and-down of the course. I was mostly just trying to hold on.

Mile 5 – 8:05 

This mile felt LONG. Never ending. But of course it did. I really felt at my limit crossing the finish but I very quickly recovered my breath after walking for a minute or two. (Scott had finished about 10 minutes prior and ran back to give me some encouraging words in the last stretch – thanks!)

Official Time – 40:14 (8:03 pace) 

So – another PR! Well ok, this is my first 5 mile race ever. But it beats my 8K from earlier this year by a few minutes so I can’t complain! I did a slow run Sunday to loosen up my quads which were SORE and then Scott and I spent a few hours hiking around Brown County State Park. Naturally I was still sore Monday for another slow 4 miler and as much as I tried to take it easy Tuesday I ran 6 miles at 8:45 pace (on the treadmill). My legs still felt sore and dead yesterday so I decided that is IT until Saturday.

Speaking of, the forecast for Saturday is clear, dry and COLD. Perfect running weather right? The jury is still out on what I will wear, I’m not sure if I’m tough enough to wear shorts in 30 degree weather. But until then it is rest, food, and (mind) relaxation.

Here we go…

I did it. I signed up for the Monumental Half Marathon for November 1st.

Scott won this in ’08. NBD. Ok, no just look. Look at my boyfriend.

And speaking of people that are amazing at running…. I picked up a copy of Ultrarunner over the weekend and I know not one but TWO people in it. Duran’s (of enDURANce) 5th place Umstead 100 results and Alex (of baristing) make an appearance.

Eeek now I’m excited for training.
 

Race Recap: Indianapolis Women’s 5K

I signed up for this event maybe 3 weeks in advance after not finding any road 10Ks I wanted to try. I wanted to race SOMETHING this summer. So if it is 5Ks, so be it! I knew I could probably churn out a new PR from February and possibly break my 2011 standing PR of 26:01.

Scott and I headed downtown around 6:30. He ran, I drove and parked about half a mile away. When we met up again, we jogged to the start which provided a nice warm up. The half-marathon (a larger event) started 15 minutes before the 5K, so I had some time to kill and did some people watching. I’ve not ever done a women’s only race before and some of the aspects were nice; the camaraderie, the diversity of types of participants. But other aspects were frustrating; the prevalence of ‘feminine’ imagery, butterflies on the shirt and medal, the choice of pop songs played before hand. But of course, not everyone is into running for the same reasons that I am, and an environment like this is comfortable for them to run in. Scott wrote an excellent summary of some of the issues with this event here if you want to consider the subject further. Honestly, I was there to race, to challenge myself and if there was cheesy music playing – so be it.

I jogged around a little bit right before the 5K start, but I was feeling super nervous waiting for the countdown. We’d discussed a general race strategy before (mostly – don’t think you’re going too fast and hold back) but I was still nervous I’d go out too fast and blow up. The countdown started and we were off.

Mile 1: 7:47 – I started maybe two or so rows back, this race wasn’t huge (maybe about 500 participants) and I felt more middle-of-the-packer than other times. We looped around the downtown circle then immediately met up with the slower starters of the half-marathon, some of whom were already run/walking. I might have started out at 6:30 pace just to pass this crowd, but eventually settled to just under a 8:00 pace. Scott showed up in two spots here to give encouragement and snap some pictures. The first mile went by quick, and almost all of it ran with the half. When my Garmin chimed I was happy and a little surprised to see 7:47. The fastest timed mile I’ve ever done before was 8:00 flat. I still felt a little nervous about going to hard, but my breathing felt comfortable so I maintained the pressure.

Mile 2: 8:03 – The second mile started to wear on me. The crowd thinned to only a few people, I was passing less people and had settled behind a group of three, then four when I was passed. I kept this woman that passed me in sight and very close and glanced to see that my watch was reading above 8:00 pace. I wasn’t feeling too fatigued, so I made sure I kept it as close to 8:00 as I could and kept my breathing in check. I eventually re-passed the woman, but we stayed close until about the end.

Mile 3: 7:49 – There was a portion where we were running east, into direct rising sunlight and up a small hill. This really wore on me. But gratefully, the course turned south right after the hill and I followed Scott’s instructions to no longer look at my watch. I was getting close to the group of 3 in front of me, had left that other woman far behind and could see the finish way down the road. I pulled out as much as I could and really kicked it after the 3 mile marker.

Mile 0.1: 0:43 – I saw Scott again near the last mile marker and I threw everything out I had. I managed to pass two of the three women a head of me and came in at 24:22.

I felt seriously trashed after finishing. I let a man in Army fatigues put a butterfly medal around my neck and give me a rose (WTF) then met up with Scott and some PBT teammates. I learned that the leaders of the race were drawn off course towards the end by the course biker who didn’t fully know the course. They didn’t seem too upset by it…. I think their finishes were honored accordingly with prize money. So there is definitely some reward to NOT coming in first. Ha. Get those kinks smoothed out.

I ended up 17th overall, and 3rd in my age group. I am really happy! I met my goal of sub 25, I really felt like I raced smart and the t-shirt fits. I have no complaints. Well, ok I do have some complaints on the treatment of women in sports and women-only events.

We hung around to watch a PBT teammate come in 4th in the half-marathon. (Winner ran a 1:17:11, 4th was 1:19:59). And of course I got all excited and started the whole “I’m totally gonna sign up with PBT!” “I want to race half-marathons” blah blah blah that I do after every race. But still, watching those women finish with serious pain and tenacity on their face is SO MOTIVATING.

Note to self: they run more than 20-25 miles a week.

Today, something slow and easy to keep everything loose. And now a picture for your viewing pleasure…. I realized profile running pictures is where it’s at.

24:22, 7:51 pace. New 5K PR!

 

Race Recap: Sweetheart 5K

First race of the year on the books – I would say a success! I signed up for the Sweetheart 5K back in January as it was a few weeks out and gave me a bit to build back up, and also the t-shirts didn’t look too hideous. It was in Overland Park, about 45 minutes away – so my parents and I left shortly after 7 to get there and do packet pick up. I had a cup of coffee, a piece of toast with half a banana and some water before we left. It wasn’t too cold, 28 °F, and there was no wind so I’d say it was pretty much as good as it could get for February.

The only goals I had in mind were; 1 – don’t go out too fast and crash before it was done and 2 – run this in less than 28 minutes. Having a race strategy is a completely new thing for me since usually all I care about is completing the distance, but I learned really fast in my half-marathon that I went out way too fast for the first 4 miles, just about collapsed running huge hills in miles 8-10 and then shuffled to the finish with no remaining dignity. So, I wanted to keep about a 9:00 pace for the first mile, then see how I was feeling and go from there.

Mile 1 – 8:50

The start of a race is always full of excitement so I probably ran the first .2 of the mile at like, an 8:00 pace before I told myself to calm down and let people distribute themselves. I found myself near a group of 4 moving at about that pace so I kept up with them and only glanced at my Garmin a few times. There were some hills that slowed me down a little bit, but really nothing much.

Mile 2 – 8:44

After I passed the first mile marker and felt fine going at a sub 9:00 pace, I continued with a comfortably challenging pace. A few more hills in this section, but again – nothing that steep.

Mile 3 – 8:21

This mile started off with a slight downhill, and I was still feeling totally fine at this pace so I tried to push it a little more. At 0.5 miles to go I really tried to lay out anything I had left. I have this mental mantra to ’empty the tank’. I read this line (I want to say it was in Once a Runner) that a runner aims to run out of gas at precisely the right moment; not too soon, but also not have anything left when crossing the finish. So if I am feeling that there is plenty left in the tank, I better start burning.

Mile .1 – :50

Kick to the finish. I kept in mind to ‘make it hurt’ (thanks Scott) and passed some dude in the chute. Don’t quit ’til its over man!

My official time was 26:45, so well under my goal of 28:00! This tells me that I can run faster than I think and I need to start kicking my ass in workouts. Next goal will be under 26:00, which I think will be a good challenge.

Afterwards I went to Mudpie bakery in Kansas City with my parents, and we enjoyed some scones, muffins and one very large oatmeal cookie. Suffice to say I’ve had my sugar fill for the week. This race also came with a nice long-sleeve shirt and a medal (for a 5k?!). I came in 15th in my age group out of 104.

Overall I feel pretty satisfied, but also am really looking forward to pushing myself more and getting a new PR. I also am interested in the 10K distance so I need to do some planning for the future. I would love to get a sub-60 minute 10K one day.