If you follow me on Facebook or on Twitter this weekend you saw that I was doing Ragnar Chicago, the 12-person, two-day, 195 mile relay race that starts in Madison, Wisconsin and ends at Montrose Beach in Chicago with team number 411.
This was my second time participating in the event. When I did it back in 2011 I ran with a team of guys and gals from work (and my best friend) and we planned for months before the race. This year, though, someone I know from the Oak Park Runners Club was looking for people to join her team raising awareness for Be Fido's Friend, a local dog rescue organization. I offered up my running services and joined the team about three weeks before race day. I was the only person the team who had done Ragnar before but, unfortunately, because I joined so late I was unable to make any of the pre-race meetings with my teammates so I didn't have a lot of information about what details they had already worked out.
The only detail I did have was that we were starting at noon on Friday. I thought this was a bit odd considering the way start times work with Ragnar is that the slower teams start earlier and the faster teams start later. Since our team's average pace was around 10:00 minute miles I was surprised that we were starting so late. In 2011 our team's pace was 9:00 minute miles and I believe we started at 10:00 AM.
When I expressed my concern to the team I was told that our team co-captain had been trying to get a hold of the Ragnar Chicago race director for about a month to request an earlier start time and had gotten no response. After the fact I realize that we probably should have just gone to the start line as early as possible and demanded that we start then. But, we didn't and instead just hoped for the best.
We left Chicago at 7:00 AM on Friday, June 7th to drive to Madison. Twelve person teams are split up into two vans and technically both vans don't need to be at the start line. But we had a volunteer in our vehicle who was working the start line so even though I was in Van 2 and we wouldn't actually start running until around 5:30 PM in Lake Mills, Wisconsin we had to go to the start line to drop off our volunteer. Yes, you have to provide your own volunteers. Just a quirk of the race.
Anyway, I could write a novel about how the race works and each of my three relay legs (which went great, by the way) but that's not the point of this post. If you want that kind of post then read my 2011 Ragnar Chicago Recap.
No, the point of this post is to tell you why I was disappointed with the 2013 Ragnar Chicago event. And most of it has to do that with that noon start time.
Because of our team's pace and because of our late start my van got a text message from the team captain after we'd finished our first six relay legs informing us that our team was either last or second to last overall and that we were being asked to skip relay leg 23 in order to make up some time. Skipping a leg is against the rules so basically they were telling us to cheat. And by cheating we were technically being disqualified. On purpose.
The guy who was suppose to run leg 23, though, wasn't too upset since that just meant he got to sleep even more. The problem was that because we were so far behind every time we got to a new relay exchange point it was just us and one or two other teams. No cheering. No camaraderie. No fun atmosphere that Ragnar is known for. Heck, one of them had even closed up shop on the food stand!
This was not the Ragnar experience I remembered. Not to mention the fact that a good portion of the team in my van had very little interest in getting out to cheer for one another.
Then while my van was waiting at what's called the last major exchange point, where the last runner in Van 1 finishes his very last leg and hands off to Van 2 for the last six legs of the race we got another text that they were telling us that we had to skip that last leg. Which meant no cheering as our last Van 1 runner crossed his finish line. No celebrating with Van 1 that they had conquered all their legs. Just Van 1 pulling into the parking lot and one of their runners handing over the relay baton and our runner leaving.
That was the straw that broke the camel's back for me. I found a Ragnar staff person and told her exactly how I felt about this situation. She agreed with me that it sucked, said she would look into what happened, and wrote down all our team's information. Nothing we could then, though, but finish.
Admittedly, there was a part of all of us that just wanted to hop in the van and drive to the finish and call it a day. But another part of us did want to finish. Although we made the executive decision to skip the second to last leg and have our last two runners do the last 8 mile bit together instead.
Overall, I felt as though Ragnar Chicago screwed over team 411. Even if our team captain made a mistake due to being uninformed when she chose our start time, we did our best to get it corrected. But due to Ragnar Chicago's lack of response to our situation my team ended up missing out on some key aspects of the event which left me quite disappointed in the experience.
Granted, there were some other outside circumstances that I believe led to my team's lack of enthusiasm but those aren't my stories to tell. You can ask me in person some day. I mean, I got recognized by a guy at Exchange 33 (hi!) so I'm pretty much a celebrity now. So if you see me on the street it's okay to flag me down and chat.
Still, it wasn't a total wash of a weekend. I learned a lot about what I want in a team for future Ragnar events and how to handle situations like this in the future. And, yes, I would definitely do it again even though I was disappointed this year. Which leads me to ask, who's in for 2014?