I had my alarm set for 5 AM for the day of my drive to Minnesota, but I fully awoke at 1 AM. I grabbed 4 running miles, showered, finished packing, and hit the road at 3 AM. The drive to Minnesota went well. I enjoyed a bunch of podcasts via the Stitcher Radio app on my iPhone.
My first Minnesota stop was Twin Cities Running Company in Eden Prairie. The store is managed by my good bud Kurt Decker. I love stopping in to check out all the gear and get a glimpse of Kurt's work life. Dave Kleyman (Ragnar teammate and long time friend) arrived at the store at the same time as I. We enjoyed visiting and browsing through all the product. I managed to depart without spending much.
After visiting Kurt's store I had some time to spare before getting together with the team. I used the time to do a bit of a memory lane tour that included driving by the house I grew up in and the various local schools I attended.
The team meeting and carbo loading at Marcello's Pizza and Pasta was very enjoyable. I worked at Marcello's for a few months when I was in high school and their food has been a long time favorite. I enjoyed my favorite meal: Rigatoni Supreme with cheese on the toast. The big highlight of the evening was our high school running coach Rick Kleyman stopping in for a visit. Our team shirts featured Rick's image, so it was great to be able to give Coach Kleyman an honorary shirt.
I woke up Friday morning in Steve Hibbs basement, and soon Steve and I were in the rental van heading out to pick up the Van 1 runners at various locations in the Twin Cities area.
We made it to Winona, MN a good hour and 15 minutes before our noon start time. This allowed us to participate in our team check-in and safety briefing with minimal stress.
Steve Hibbs got us started with the noon starting teams and he soon had a solid lead on the other teams that started at noon.
Kris Hugdahl (Mike Muehlhausen's friend and co-worker) ran the 2nd leg very impressively.
Mike McMahan glided smoothly through the 3rd leg and I was waiting at the exchange charged up and ready to consume my first Ragnar miles of 2011.
My 1st leg: Van 1 Leg 4
I came into 2011 thinking I had found a good balance between Rob-the-racer and Rob-the-runner, but a few months into the year I was losing some of the running enjoyment. After a very positive experience at the Galveston Marathon and a very negative experience at the St. Louis marathon, I was wanting to go totally zen with my running and get liberated from running with a concern for the clock. I believe I landed on a refreshing approach, but the commitment I made to the Armstrong Ragnar team was at times weighing heavy on my heart. We committed to being a competitive team this year, and we all intended to average at least 7 minutes-per-mile. I was tempted at times to give up my spot on the team, but my desire to make the Minnesota trip and to share this journey with friends helped me overcome that temptation. For this event I intended to use my Nike+ app on my iPhone for logging purposes, but I did not intend to try and pace off it or any other timing device. I intended to run a solid up-tempo pace and make a solid contribution to the team. I also intended to avoid the heat sickness I experienced in 2010.
I started this leg at a comfortable up-tempo pace. I was thinking: leave some in the tank for the last mile, and keep in a heat-sickness-free-zone. I felt great throughout the first 4 miles, and since I ran this same leg in 2010 I was able to compare how I was feeling at the same locations. I felt much better. I knew I was moving a little slower than 2010, but I was placing a higher value on avoiding heat sickness. The temp was in the 80s and the sun was blazing. I used the water my team provided as a coolant poured on my head and down my back.
Coming into mile 5 I felt like I was running smart (the way coach Kleyman taught us). I was running on the white line trusting it to be the cooler portion of the road. I still wanted to wait until I saw the 1 mile to go sign before I really shifted gears. Our information indicated that this year this leg would be 6.2 miles (last year it was close to 8 miles). The Nike+ app communicated to me that I had covered 5 miles and the 1 mile to go sign was nowhere close to being in sight. After covering at least a half mile, the sign finally appeared and after I finished the last climb I finally made my strong finish gear shift.
I was glad to pass the team slap bracelet to Brian Preus, and I was also glad to finish my 1st leg without getting sick. I did peek at my pace for my leg and I was a little disappointed with that, but I opted to shake that off and be thankful that I had plenty left in the tank for my next 2 legs.
Brian flew through leg 5, and Kurt Decker ran a very strong leg 6 to bring us into the first major exchange where the runners of Van 1 handed off the running responsibilities to the runners of Van 2. Mike Muehlhausen handled the big climb of leg 7, and then it was Scott Davis (leg 8), Wade Folske (leg 9), Dave Kleyman (leg 10), Matt Wendorf (leg 11), and Jesse Bryant (leg 12).
After handing off the running to Van 2, Van 1 runners advanced on the course to find a place to eat and rest. Along the way we saw Armstrong Alumni Erin Johnson Krech finishing up the killer leg 7 for her team and she was looking super strong.
We enjoyed dinner at the Garden Pub & Grille in Pepin, WI (where we ate last year too). After an excellent meal I started working on my first modifications to my hair. My hair had not been cut since April.
Van 2 did an excellent job covering their first legs and the team was on goal pace when the action came back to Van 1.
My 2nd leg: Van 1 Leg 16
When it was time for my second leg the temperature had cooled down and was very conducive for up tempo running. Prior to my leg I had requested that my team hit me up with some water two miles in. I was hoping to perform well during this leg, but I was also aware that this leg started out with a significant 2 mile climb. After the hand off from McMahan I took it out smooth and swift and quickly picked off three teams within the first 1/4 mile. I believe it was just past the 1/2 mile that the climb grade triggered my power-walking-gear. For the next mile and a 1/2 I did a mix of up-tempo running and power-walking. I was kind of hoping my team would not see me walking, thus every time I noticed a van I would go back into a run. I was pleased to finally hit the top of the climb and was ready to cut loose on the backside. When I hit three miles I was curious where my team was as I had yet to see them. It was cool enough out there that I was planning to pass on the water so I didn't think too much about the fact that I had not seen them.
Mile 3 felt real fast and half way into mile 4 the grade got steep enough that I had to apply the breaks a bit. According to my data I was coming down the backside at 4:30 pace at times. Coming off the hill I had a mile of my leg left. To my left was very high corn and in the dark I started thinking of "The Children of the Corn". I noticed some runners ahead that I thought I could possible pick off, so with the fear of something jumping out of the corn I kept the legs turning over and picked off 3 more runners before hitting the exchange. When I passed off the slap bracelet to Brian Preus I found out that my team had lost me and were out driving the course looking for me.
Brian Preus and Kurt Decker ran great legs and we picked off more teams and stayed ahead of our target pace. After handing the running responsibilities back to Van 2, we headed to Stillwater High School to grab a nap. I used most of my time to make more modifications to my hair. When I finished with my hair the gym that my teammates had crashed in was full so I grabbed a nap in a different gym. I woke up in a panic thinking maybe my team could not find me. My timing was perfect, because it was about 15 minutes before the running came back to our van. It was at this point that Brian Preus informed us that his knee was locking up and that he was going to need a sub. Steve Hibbs was quick to volunteer for the extra miles.
My 3rd Leg: Van 1 Leg 28
I did this leg last year and was well aware that the last mile included a significant steep climb. I enjoyed the first 3 miles and picked off a couple teams. I appreciated a beautiful view of the Saint Croix River on my left. Just like last year, I opted to employ some power walking during mile 4. During the climb I picked off a couple more teams. Thankfully the last 1/4 of my leg was runnable and I was able to come into the exchange strong.
The running for Van 1 was finished off by Hibbs and Decker. We got the hand off to Van 2 a good 12 minutes ahead of our target pace. Van 2 got to experience rising temperatures but worked hard to pick off more teams and to get us into the finish with a competitive time. Our goal for the event was to average 7s, we finished with a 6:59 average!
196 Miles 22h:39m:50s 6:59 average 9th Overall 1st in the Submasters Mens Division
We all enjoyed hanging out for pizza and beer at the finish. Saturday night for me included stopping in at Tom Horton's 40th BDay Bash, dinner at Hard Rock Cafe, and taking in the performance of teammate Michael Muehlhausen's band Angry at Numbers at First Avenue.
Sunday I enjoyed an afternoon with my cousins and spending the evening with my great bud Chad Jasper.