Race Recap: Ragnar Relay Florida Keys

Wow, I’m not quite sure where to even start with this one. So much happened over a couple of days and I don’t think I could even get all of it into a single recap. I’ve already decided to focus largely on the running and race aspects of Ragnar, with a few amusing stories thrown in. So this will not be a complete play-by-play of the adventure of doing a Ragnar Relay. I would prefer you still get some surprises whenever you complete your first one.

DCIM100GOPRO

No FL Ragnar is complete without a branded beach ball.

Our start time was 11AM (technically 10:30 but bad traffic made us push it back one start) and against our hopes, it was killer hot. As runner #2, I got to tackle legs 2, 14, and 26. While it was my first Ragnar, most of my teammates had done this before. The start time was earlier than in the past, in an effort to be with the bulk of the other teams throughout the race.

Leg 1: Miami

4.45 miles in 33:27, pace 7:29

Starting just before noon, I got to run from Bayshore Boulevard right on the water west into the city. I had about 4.4 miles cutting across Miami towards my exchange on the University of Miami campus. The route itself wasn’t too bad, though I did get slowed down waiting to cross the road at intersections.

DSC_0005This leg was a mix. On one side, it was my first one and so I was fresh. On the other, it was very hot and the middle of the day with very little shade along the route. After the team talking about actually being with other runners, I ironically only saw one other runner the entire leg. I spent it chasing him, but considering the guy was on an ultra team, I figured he was in better shape than me.

A big element to be aware of is that roads don’t close for Ragnar. When available, you run on the sidewalk. So moving around pedestrians was kind of interesting. It wasn’t that bad until I got to the outer edge of the University of Miami campus, which you run along for a bit before you turn in. There were tons of college kids moving pretty slowly and half of which with headphones in. Not a problem usually, but they seemed especially oblivious to their surroundings and I had to yell quite a few times to get a space to open up. I had to cut into the road more than once through this portion.

Still, considering the heat I felt like it was solid pacing to start off and I was definitely pumped to move along on the route.

Leg 2: Middle of Nowhere

5.22 (4.7) miles in 42:09, pace 8:04

No seriously, this leg was in the middle of nowhere. I got to run mostly along a canal access road. This portion of the Ragnar route fills the gap between Homestead and north Key Largo. Instead of the usual routes like US1 or Card Sound Rd, we instead got to take back roads and finally no road at all. I definitely understand the dislike of having runners on the main route into Key Largo as the road is dangerous, not even including that these sections will be at night.

This was an interesting leg because the exchange where I handed off was still along the access road. So the vans actually had to drive by, very slowly, all the runners on this leg. It was kind of nice since being in the middle of nowhere meant there was no ambient light, just the lights from the runners, so the headlights of the vans going by helped keep it from seeming too lonely. There was a little paranoia because the canal is right there and there were a few times I heard splashes. So definitely wondered if there were a couple alligators hanging around.

DSC_0091Running wise this leg was a bit tiring just because of the terrain. I was tackling it at about 8PM, after hours of getting in and out of a van. Then very little of it was on pavement; a small stretch of road connecting the field of the exchange with the canal access road. The biggest issue was the access road itself as it was loose rocks and gravel. Not wanting to risk injury and already knowing my knees are weak, slowed it up a bit on this leg. And as you may have noticed, I listed two different distances. It was listed as a 4.7 mile leg, but ended up being a half mile long. After the fact I learned that half mile came off of the next leg, which the runner after me thanked me for. Not sure if it was good or bad, but I managed 14 passes during this one.

Leg 3: The 7 Mile Bridge

9.5 (9.0) miles in 1:20:20, pace 8:27

As you can see, I definitely lost speed over the course of the relay. Which I expected, even if I wanted it to be different. There were a lot of factors for this leg. First off, I started just before 8AM so the sun was out and it was already heating up. I had only gotten about 2-3 hours of spotty sleep, most of which happened scrunched up in the front passenger seat of our van. Probably not the best location to try and sleep in, but I was fighting with 5 others for space in a 12 seater van.

Added to that, the first leg for our van was relatively short at about 2.5 miles. So I didn’t have much time to stretch out and get myself ready with the rush from exchange to exchange. I had mentally prepared myself for the distance, the bridge, the hump, and even the lack of shade. The one thing I hadn’t really looked at or considered for the leg description was the three sets of stairs I had to traverse to get going against traffic. Much rather would have just crossed the street, but they make you tackle stairs up to the pedestrian bridge, stairs down the other side to go under the actual 7 mile bridge, and then back up a third set on the far side so you are against traffic.

Biggest pains were in my quads and this is the one leg I wanted music on. It was stunningly beautiful with the sun only partway in the sky behind me. Even the closeness to cars going by didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this. Plus tackling the 7 mile bridge, one of the most hated legs on this route (I’d heard all kinds of stories about it), was just up my alley of going for the challenging.

DSC_0130Even carrying a water with me, I started losing a lot of speed about halfway through. What sapped my strength at that point was the hump. For some reason in my mind, the hump was in the later half of the bridge (like 3/4s of the way or nearly to the end). It was more like halfway, which set it at most around mile 5 of the leg. Though the curve of the bridge made it so I could see how much was past the hump, there was dismay at getting to the top and realizing there was still miles to go.

Once again, the route was a half mile long. I had already passed 9 on my Garmin (I do know that’s not exact) before I even reached the Ragnar Relay sign that said 1/4 mile to go. But there wasn’t much to do but keep going. Even with strain in the muscles bordering on pain with the heat and dehydration beating down, I managed to get one final pass before I made it into the chute for the exchange, bringing my total for leg 3 to 26 passes. Smart of the Ragnar organizers to have a canopy with water right there for runners coming off the bridge.

19.1 miles in 2:35:56, average pace: 8:10

DSC_0536But success!! I had completed my first Ragnar. Definitely learned a lot from it and struggled a bit towards the end. That said, I would do it again. I would even tackle the same legs so I could do better next time (especially on the 7 mile bridge). Not sure how it works out, but felt accomplished to total 40 passes across my 3 legs.  Can’t really complain about my overall pace for 3 legs spread out across 24 hours matching up with my marathon PR pace either.

Final thoughts: it was AWESOME and you should consider running a Ragnar!

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