Falling in Love with Running Again

“As the dawn began to break
I had to surrender
The universe will have its way
Too powerful to master.”  -- The Flaming Lips

When Joe Bowers returned to the van from his final leg of the Ultra Ragnar Relay, he boldly proclaimed: “I am different, now!” At the time, Ryan and I just laughed it off, but as the day unfolded the thought began to crystallize what he had just experienced.  Running, suddenly, became relevant again.

When I was first approached by Ryan L. to join his Ultra Ragnar Team that would run 188 miles from Huntington Beach to San Diego, I did not hesitate to say yes. Mainly because I had no interest in doing the regular relay with a team of 12 people because I thought there would be too much down time. At the same time my thought was that If I was going do something crazy—that it should be extreme. I was expecting to run approximately 30 miles for the 30 hours, but as we got closer to the event I learned that I would be running 41.8 miles in a 20-hour period. This scared me a little bit and it’s what motivated me to try and train just enough to survive the ordeal.

My first leg came in the middle of the first day and it also turned out to be the warmest time of day reaching in the low 80’s. I was happy with those conditions, knowing full well it could have been worse running inland. 21.7 miles doesn’t even come close the total number of miles one runner runs in a regular Ragnar team so I knew I had my work cut out for me. My goal was to run an 8:00 minute mile to ensure that my team was competitive and all I could think about was not letting them down. The pace felt ok from the start. It got tougher as the temperature climbed. Stopping at traffic lights made it more challenging to stop and then go again. I lost close to 15 minutes waiting at lights. This leg for me was the most mentally challenging. The course reminded me of my last road marathon that I did at Ironman Boulder in 2015 because the number of miles we ran along the river path meandering up and over under passes and overpasses. I made only one stop and that was to refuel with the team waiting for me after the longest leg of the entire race.

The recovery after the first leg made it feel like I would never be ready. I could barely move. It took me the same amount of effort as an elderly person with a broken hip to get in and out of the van. Fortunately, Cathie Ichigee provided us in our van a set of Recovery Compression Boots that we used to our fullest before and after each leg of the relay. The main purpose of the boots is to enhance blood flow and speed recovery so that we can be ready for our next leg. Part of the recovery process was getting our calories replenished and our glycogen stores replaced also. There is nothing like a carne asada burrito as a recovery meal after a 21.7 mile run. We took turns in the van getting each runner to the start line for the next in line and then pick up the runner that just completed their leg. We had just the right amount of time in the recovery phase to recover, replenish and then assist our teammates with their preparation. By the time my 2nd leg of the relay came I had forgotten about the gimpness of running over 20 miles in the first leg. It was dark and it was chilly with some fog. My 2nd leg was only 7 miles, but it was a hilly course. It started with a fast descent and after a few stop lights it was a lot of climbing. It felt great to be running through the night and I was able to maintain an 8:30 pace and avoid tripping or hitting potholes in the limited light. My headlamp was dim so I had to use my iPhone light to help guide me on the route.

As I finished my 2nd leg, the soreness, tightness and inability to walk normal was similar to the end of the first leg. Just before I had gone out to the 2nd leg, we had stopped at a McDonald’s to use the restroom and I ordered a Big Mac and French fries that I was hoping would taste amazing after my 2nd leg. The last time I had a Big Mac was probably 10 years ago—I didn’t even know they had a choice between a small and a large one. For my recovery, it hit the right spot! The next 6 hours, it was difficult to sleep in the uncomfortable split benches of the van. I got 20 minutes here and 10 minutes there, but nothing solid. There was a lot of quiet time while others slept. In my new reality as a first-time father, this lack of sleep didn’t bother me.

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I was looking forward to my third leg mainly because it was going to be my final run. The distance was a half marathon and I was hoping to feel much better running this distance at the relay compared to my run the previous week at Oceanside 70.3 triathlon. That day I started off strong and lost my energy in the last 5 miles. Luckily for me, the first two miles were downhill starting at Torrey Pines and going through La Jolla Shores. When I reached the first 5k something happened and suddenly I felt like a machine, a robot. My watch gave me my average pace and the footpod gave me my cadence. The goal was to keep my average below 7:59 and my cadence around 90. Whenever I glanced at my watch and wasn’t hitting the targets, my mind just willed my body to stay focused. In the meantime, my eyes kept me motivated as I was running along one of the most scenic legs of the relay. Running down the hills of Torrey Pines to the bluffs of La Jolla Shores and then along the sands of Mission Beach with a light drizzle, a breeze and some sun peeking behind the clouds made the pain of running 41.8 miles dissipate. Running at that moment became relevant to me physically, mentally and emotionally. When I reached the finish line of my final leg I realized the meaning of Joe’s proclamation “I am different, now”. I used to avoid doing my long runs for training on the road. Even for all my marathons, I rarely did 20 miles on the road and did as many miles as I could on the trails. The moment that Joe finished his final leg, as the dawn had turned into morning, I understood that I just needed to surrender to the universe, so that I could run my final leg of the relay with no worries in the world. It’s what allowed me to have a great experience while pushing my body and mind to the extreme of 41.8 miles. In the past, I have run two 50 mile trail runs where you just run to finish and walk when you have to, but this weekend, I set a pace goal and worked hard to not let my teammates down. We finished in 2nd place in the Ultra Corporate Division and in the top 10% of all teams in the race.  

On April 7, 2017 I participated in the Ragnar Ultra Relay with Respawn Entertainment along with Ryan Lastimosa, Joe Bowers, Shawn Wilson, Brian Stump, and Bradley Snyder.