I found a $49 flight that left for Atlanta two days before the race, so I actually spent two nights with my brother Dave before I got to wake them up at 4:30am on Friday so they could drop me off in downtown Atlanta with the MegaBus crowd. Besides being the only white person in a two mile radius, it was a completely normal bus experience. Plus, I was on my A game and took a dramamine before I got on and let me tell you, besides getting braces, it was the best decision I ever made.
Once I got to the bus stop in Chattanooga, I took a free bus shuttle for a few blocks and then hoofed it for about six more to the starting line, all while pulling my suitcase and sleeping bag. I am 90% sure that most people who saw me thought I was a homeless person just trying to find my next place to sleep. But I finally made it to the bridge and found Xanadu.
I arrived at about 10am, and because the rest of the team was driving over from Nashville, I had about an hour and a half to kill, all while taking my suitcase and sleeping bag with me everywhere I went. I looked like I just stumbled upon the race and wanted to watch everyone over by the port-o-pottie. But finally everyone arrived and the fun began.
I was not prepared for how much everyone in my van was going to be "into" the whole Ragnar experience. Yes, this is a race where crazy costumes are encouraged, but I was not sure to what extent we cared. Oh man, we cared. We cared A LOT.
With only my personalized Jessatello shirt, eye mask and stuffed turtle shell to my back, I was a little underdressed.
Everyone else started wearing these bad boys:
Our team was made up of Brian, Kelly, Me, Jonathan (from Brian's ward) and Brandon and Lori (Kelly's cousin and her husband from Utah.) He has run over 25 marathons and she has done the Utah Ragnar about 7 times. So pretty much they are professionals, from the actual running to the van driving to team spirit. Without them, I think we would have all been lost. They were crucial.
The other tidbit that needs mentioning is that Ragnar has an instagram contest at each race location. And even though Brian had never used Instagram and barely knew how to even use it, he signed up that morning and was determined to win. And he did! (He was promised $150 worth of Ragnar gear, however I have yet to hear the rest of the story and whether that meant 150 can koozies or (hopefully) something of greater value.)
First we decided to decorate the van, and consequently, ourselves:
Like a good infomercial, the before and after was quite amazing.
|Sad because you don't have a cool van and costumes?|
|Wham-O! Then run a Ragnar Relay!|
Next, we headed back to the starting line to check in. No better feeling in the world than walking into a crowded race dressed as six ninja turtles and then telling the volunteer that your team name is "The Chronicles of Ragnarnia." The look on their face was totally worth the fact that Brian missed the deadline to change our official team name and we had to keep the first one he thought of back in August.
|First name, Michael, last name, Angelo|
|Don't mess with us, Ragnar|
I actually got to be runner #1 and start us off! I decided to wear the stuffed turtle shell. I mean, you only get the opportunity to run in downtown Chattanooga wearing a turtle shell once, am I right? Note to self: As you run, the weight of the shell pulls the shirt down in the back and the collar of the shirt up in the front, thus creating a nice choking sensation for 4.7 miles. Next time, pins in the front.
As runner numero uno, I got to run over the giant pedestrian bridge!!! Which happens to be a place I have visited before. My family stopped at this very bridge while on our road trip to Utah a few years ago and now here I was, running in a race over the darn thing. Life is so interesting that way, isn't it?
Again, I was running in the exact spot where I had walked with my family a few years earlier. Only this time I didn't have time to freak out and be scared.
I ran with my camera in my hand the entire way, snapping pics as I went.
Here are the longest switchbacks in the world that I had to run down. That guy in front of me there was dressed as Tom Cruise from Risky Business only his team name was "Whiskey Business."
I have learned that a lot of runners are serious drinkers.
This is one of Brian's winning Instgram pics. I didn't see it till the last day and I barely remember him taking it of me as he passed me in the van. But the colors, the smile, the goofy poetry- way to go Brian!
And here is the best sight in all of Ragnarnia:
And here is the second best sight in Ragnaria:
Seriously, my van was amazing when it came to team spirit and support.
Even though they immediately went to a donut shop the minute I started on my first leg.
(and took this awesome photo:)
For a group of people who mostly just met each other hours before,
the loyalty was immediate. Go team!
My first run was at Noon, my second run was at about 9pm and my third run was at about 4:20am. So while I was kind of bummed that two of the three runs were in the dark and I didn't get to see any of the scenery, two of the three runs were in the dark! Which is kinda what I like anyway :)
(For reals, you have to keep a safety vest and headlamp on when it's nighttime and anytime you are out of the van, running or not.)
This is Jonathan. He is in the ward with Brian and Kelly and he is the happiest runner on planet earth. He is also a stay at home dad and rocks the man bun. He was hilarious and such a great person to have on the team. Did I also mention he is a very, very good runner?
At each exchange we did our best to make our infamous "Turtle Tunnel" for the incoming runner.
We got wildly creative and used blankets to honor Kelly for her successful escape from a murderer. Honestly, she had part of her night run that took her off into the woods by herself and she was pretty sure she was a goner. Until she met another fellow female runner with equal anxiety and they bonded and possibly talked about the Gospel, for which Kelly is infamous. Brian then continued to make jokes about Kelly trying to "convert her kills."
|Best missionary ever!!!|
And speaking of Brian and killing time, this lovely photo was snapped outside the donut shop, which we all visited again before hitting up the first complete van exchange. Not only was Brian impressive, but Brandon was equally impressive with his ability to take this picture at just the exact right moment. It was a highlight, for sure.
We took this photo outside a really cool old time theater, but the lights got a little crazy in the background.
Good news, Ragnar! We found a ridiculously photogenic volunteer to take a photo with.
I don't have any pictures, but at about 2 in the morning we made it to a high school where we could sleep on the floor in the gym for a few hours before we all had to get going again. Since I inherited the "I cannot sleep anywhere but my own bed and sometimes not even there" gene, I knew it was going to be pretty futile to try and actually sleep. However, I brought that darn sleeping bag all the way from Florida and I was going to use it! And then we entered the school and walked into the gym and the fire alarm was going off.
Thanks for nothing.
Okay, so it stopped ringing after about 20 minutes and our team found some floor space and tried to get some shut eye. I don't think I slept, but maybe I drifted for five minutes, who knows.
Kudos to Brian for being the ultra responsible team captain and staying awake to monitor the other team and get us up and ready at 3:40am for our next runs.
This picture is awesome because it shows Brian running his last leg in a turtle suit- which he did for over 5 miles. Also notice the girl behind him RUNNING IN COWBOY BOOTS.
What. the. heck.
|She was regretting her decision with every step.|
We finally finished at about 10am and our reward was Chick-fil-A.
And Kelly decided in the parking lot before going in that she was going to put back on the full costume before having breakfast.
Brian is right, her staying power is unmatched.
|Kelly probably got a good 6 hours of sleep. She can sleep ANYWHERE.|
|And this was not just because he eat too many biscuits.|
The cool part of the finish line ceremony was that our entire van got to go home and shower after breakfast and then put on our full ninja turtle apparel before meeting up with the team to run in the final 100 yards together. The other team was out running that entire time, so I felt kinda bad at how amazing we were feeling and how tired they were. It's good to be van #1.
The finish line was in downtown Nashville. And I mean, downtown. Right across from the Country Music Hall of Fame and everything. It was a pretty awesome sight.
As we walked down the street to the party, we were a pretty big deal. We got our photo taken with more than one adoring fan and everyone really loved our spirit.
And this photo below was featured on the Ragnar Facebook page more than once.
There was pizza!
|It's every turtle's dream|
There was dancing!
This photo was to highlight one of the sponsors, Brooks running shoes. It will never not make me laugh to look at Kelly in this photo. The bag, the face- but more importantly the pointed turtle foot.
The medals they gave out were no joke! Super heavy and when you flip them all over and put them together, It said, "Ragnar 2015, Together we ran 200 miles." Heck yes, we did!
|All for one and one for all!|
And there you have it! The most amazing race experience for me to date.
When you consider the fact that no one on our team got injured, sick, missed a plane or a bus, forgot their shoes, ran out of gas, got lost on the course, etc. etc. etc. it is down right remarkable!
That was a blast ;)
David Bingham, you are next.