Okay I changed my mind – I want to write about my race at Ragnar. Scott did an excellent job capturing the importance of the event, what it meant to us, how such strong bonds were formed, and how hard it was to part ways when we wanted the positive energy and emotion to last forever (www.runvegan.wordpress.com). I too felt that this was going to be a fun and laid back event where 12 vegan runners (and 1 vegan driver) came together to do “their thing”, only to find out that our “thing” was way bigger than all of us. We were role models for veganism – a role that we all took very seriously and took great pride in. I too felt that this wasn’t going to be one of my normal competitive races, only to realize that once our whole team arrived at the starting line the competitive juices started flowing in all of us as we wanted to show everyone what we are capable of. And I too felt like I made 12 new lifelong friends on this trip, and once the realization came that our journey would have to come to end (for now), it was a heavy feeling. Which is why we are keeping the momentum going as we plan big things for the future… On to the race!
We watched MA Bell line up at the start to kick off the adventure for Team Strong Hearts Vegan Power. And his thunder could not be stolen by the shirtless guy next to him in the sarong, who we would refer to as Team Banana Hammock the rest of the trip after his big “reveal” once the starting gun went off. Our team shirts looked sharp! We said quick goodbyes to the Van 1 team members as they had to scurry along to the next handoff. We loaded into Van 2 and Jonny opened the bag of Mint Newman O’s, telling us all we were having one, to which we proceeded to toast with said cookies. That set the stage for the fun we were about to have. We decided that the Newman O’s would be used any time “crankiness” started to rear it’s ugly head in the van. And guess what – we never had to use those Newman O’s for anything other than celebrating good times. There was nothing but positivity & encouragement throughout the whole trip!
We set off for exchange #6 where we needed to check in, get our gear, show that we had the proper safety equipment, and attend the safety meeting. With all the logistics out of the way we had some time to kill and decided to go Four Seasons in downtown Saratoga Springs. With as much food as we had packed into our van this seemed like a crazy idea, but we figured this was the only time we would have access to a store that carried vegan food, and one last hot meal would be a good idea. They had a great selection of pre-race fuel and it was nice to be able to sit down as a team to eat – outside of the van! Next we were off to Jo-Ann Fabric after Jonny sweet-talked Joyce over the phone (we decided Joyce sounded like a “crafting” name). We needed to do a hit and run for some markers to decorate the vans – “we need to show some spirit for our volleyball team”.
We arrived back at exchange #6 and met up with Van 1 as we waited for Alan to arrive and hand off to Joel. We got to hear about how well the members of Van 1 ran on their legs – if there wasn’t already enough excitement, it was now growing as we heard about how each of our teammates was absolutely crushing it! Before we knew it Alan was rounding the corner and Joel was off! This meant I was next, but with Joel running the longest leg I had some time to prepare. It was now time to load into the van and play leapfrog with our runner. At our first stop to cheer for Cappy, his energy was off the scale! He was running faster than he ever had before and feeling great. And this carried through the whole 15k. My first handoff was at a dairy farm – this was unfortunate for the vegan team, but a positive came when another vegan runner approached us to thank us for what we were doing. Tom Holowka was the only vegan on his team, so we quickly offered him some of the abundance of treats we had in our van. We were quickly making friends!
The nerves were setting in for me. The projected pace I gave my team was what I could expect during a typical “race”, which this was not. I feed off of competitors, and when I’m alone in a race I struggle to hit the pace I’m capable of. And with all of my teammates bettering their projections, I did not want to let them down. All I could do was my best… Joel slapped me with the wristband and I was off! Other than feeling like I ate too much for lunch (a recurring theme for me throughout this trip) I was feeling good. The competitors were few and far between, but I picked them off any time I got one in my site. I had 6.1 miles to run, but since there was no designated spot for my hand-off, it was a choose-your-own deal. When I saw a group of vans on the side of the road nearing the 6 mile mark, I started my kick. I hit the 10k mark at 38:50. Passing through the line I’m looking, and looking, but no SHVP Van. We had discussed that they may move ahead a little further, so I pressed on. I saw another silver van and figured this must be them. Nope. Next van, same thing. I will admit I started using some choice words at this point, as my “kick” was not sticking. Then I started to panic – did I miss them, did they miss me? Soon enough (1 mile later to be exact) I spotted them and passed the wristband to Jonny. Leg 1 done!
Time to play leapfrog with Jonny, as the van did for my run. Not only is it great to have your own van passing you and cheering along the way, but I cannot express how great it was to have every other team’s van shouting words of encouragement. I never tired of hearing “GO VEGAN” shouted at me throughout each of my runs. Jonny is an entertainer, and even while he is putting out a blistering pace he does not disappoint. At our first stop there was a creepy old man standing outside of his half-boarded up house, making some of the female runners feel a bit uneasy. Not Hero – no, he invited the man to run along with him, and when he didn’t, Jonny proceeded to shout “he is not a patriot! He’s Al-Qaeda!” The kangaroo pouch juice was working its magic!
Next up was Laura R., who put out an amazing run and for hours after refused to believe she ran the time she did. Then Becca who also pushed herself to a pace she doubted she could hit, getting faster with each subsequent mile. As time drew near for Jared to start his leg, we watched him go to another place, and we knew to just get out of his way! He was like a man possessed – I will never forget the look on Joel’s face when Jared came blazing through our cheer spot – Joel holding out the water bottle that he probably almost lost due to the sheer force that whizzed past him. Whoa! We all knew that Jared wasn’t messing around! And with his handoff back to Van 1 – Team SHVP had sealed their reputation as a team to watch!
The nighttime legs were the most fun to watch. Our van enjoyed creeping up on 2 of our Van 1 teammates, and then blasting Firestorm as we pulled up and drove alongside them. If a little Firestorm doesn’t get your blood pumping to run, you better check your pulse! By now we’re all feeling a little tired, but way too excited to want to sleep. My 2nd leg started at 12:37 am – it was cool and crisp but totally clear. There’s something magical about running at night with only a headlamp to light your way, and tonight was no exception. With millions of stars lighting up the skies and an amazing moon off to my right it was hard to want to push the pace while I tried to enjoy the views without ending up in a ditch! I kept hoping to see more red blinky’s to pass but there weren’t many out there – press on! After my leg I rested in the van before going out with Becca for her 2nd leg. It was great to get the chance to run alongside one of my teammates. The energy and emotion carried on throughout the night as Van 2 cycled through its runners and passed back off to Van 1 so they could complete their final runs.
As a whole our team was still crushing it, and we could now focus on trying to get some rest as we knew Van 1 would turn out amazing splits once again. But only after enjoying the most delicious lasagna we ever tasted (except for Jonny, who we learned is very anti-lasagna) courtesy of Peter’s wife. If anyone was walking by our van they must have thought there was some serious action going down in there as we gushed over our meal. It was so good we had to leave Peter a voicemail as he was running, raving about his wife’s skills!
The sun was rising and momentum was building as we received updates on Van 1’s progression. But at the same time the race pace efforts we had put out, the improper recovery, the cramped quarters in the van, and lack of sleep were taking their toll. At this point we were all excited to run our last leg and celebrate our team’s accomplishment at the finish line. Laura had spent the time after her 2nd leg elevating and icing a mounting knee injury. She had a hard time even walking, but she wasn’t about to throw in the towel, and we weren’t about to stop her! Becca was also feeling the love from a recurring hip issue she’s been dealing with. But both were ready to tough it out for their last runs – they had come this far, and they weren’t going to give in to the pain. If you read about what Scott had to endure on each of his runs, you get it. With a little help from Van 1 teammates Alan and Mario, and driver Sean, Laura and Becca had just the push they needed to get them through.
My last leg was definitely my slowest. My legs felt tight and heavy, but with the sun shining, the temperatures rising, and with the awesome views of Placid ahead of me I was having a blast! Hitting the last mile of the run I heard someone coming up behind me. What? No one passed me during the 20 miles I had run, and this is not how I wanted it to end. He mentioned something about finding a more fitting name than Wonder Woman, because I was flying. But obviously not fast enough to respond to his pass. Not ready to give up, I put in one last effort to try to catch him, but came up empty. I passed off to Jonny and both vans loaded up to get to the next exchange.
As our last few teammates ran their final legs the 2 vans followed along and got to spend more time together than we had the whole trip. After the final pass to Jared was made, it was time to make our way to the finish line for the moment we had been anticipating. Hero had the flag and GoPro at the ready – we were going to show Ragnar that we were here for a purpose! As we see Jared closing in, quickly, we lined up to run him in for the finishing stretch. All eyes were on us as Jonny unfurled the flag, Jared came blazing through and we all jumped in behind him. An amazing end to an even more amazing adventure!
After we snapped some finish line photos, we met up at the vans beaming with joy and pride. Awards were presented to Scott as the Bad-A$$ Mother-F*cking Runner (have you read his blog?!?) and to Joel for putting this whole thing together. There weren’t many dry eyes but there was nothing but love and respect between this whole crew! As a team and as individuals we accomplished way more than we had set out to achieve. The bond we formed and the impact we made is indescribable, and I will always hold this experience close to me.
And now, it was time to celebrate – back into the vans and off we went to Little Anthony’s in Albany to enjoy vegan pizza, calzones, sandwiches – you name it! We were all a-buzz as we talked about future races and growing our outreach – rest assured you will see a lot more of Team Strong Hearts Vegan Power in the future. Check back often as we make updates to http://www.strongheartsathletics.com/.