Google's team blog for the Ragnar Relay Northwest Passage

July 20-21st 2012 Google's 6th year at the Ragnar Relay Northwest Passage! This is a two day, 190 mile relay race from the northern tip of Washington in Blaine, through farm country and along the coast, across Deception Pass and finishing at the southern end of Whidbey Island at Langley. This isn't your average team offsite!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Results are posted

There were eight teams in the "male corporate" category.

NameCat PlacePaceTimeCategoryStartTime
103Google 159:1328:24:39Male Corporate11:00
117Google 279:2428:58:25Male Corporate9:00

Full results are here (PDF).

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Enterprise Rent-A-Car FAIL.

**UPDATE: I've come to an agreement with Enterprise! More details at the end of the post. **

Amanda's Note: Before I get into this, I just want to make it clear that I had an AWESOME time doing Ragnar. It literally is the most fun I ever have running. Once I was on the relay I didn't let any of the Enterprise hell get to me, and I focused on what really matters: the best sleepover race ever! I also don't resent Enterprise, or anyone I spoke with there, all of which seemed like nice guys. However, I think it's good to know who is "going the extra mile" with Enterprise Rent-a-Car. I tried hard to make this post as short and painless as possible, but it is difficult to do when the experience was long and painful.

I took Wednesday and Thursday off from work so that I could spend time with my family, who had come out from Arizona for the race. Thursday morning Matthew called me at 10am. The Kirkland Enterprise had left him a message at 9:30 reporting that the vans we were supposed to pick up in 2.5 hours were not there. The vans we had reserved weeks in advance and that were required for participating in the relay. None of them. The story was that the people who had rented them the day before decided not to return them. We were screwed. He and our other teammates as well as sympathetic co-workers were searching for an alternative, because without vans we can't run! Every rental business in Seattle was called, and mass emails, tweets, facebook updates, and frantic calls were being made with a plea for help since Enterprise had failed us.

I dragged my parents, sister, and 4 nephews (who were all visiting from Arizona) to the nearest coffee shop (I don't have internet at home) so I could get online and start looking for a solution. First I called Enterprise to hear the story for myself. Doug from Enterprise Kirkland told me that he was doing everything he could to find us vans. I asked if he called the other Enterprise offices. He said yes, but they had no vans. I asked if he called the other car rental companies, he said yes, but they had no vans. I asked what we were supposed to do. He suggested we rent 8 sedans instead. Really. I tried to explain how 8 sedans are not actually equivalent to 4 minivans. He said he would keep looking, but made no promises that he would honor my reservation.

I started calling other rental companies, and frantically searching online for a solution. Meanwhile, one of our awesome admin assistants tracked down 4 vans available from SeaTac with Dollar. Saved! Doug had told me that he tried other rental agencies, but he must have missed this one. I called Doug back at Kirkland Enterprise. I got Patrick instead, but he was familiar with our case. I told him that in fact Seattle was not completely out of van rentals and that Dollar had 4 we could use. He said great and told me to have a nice day. I said, "Well, I have their phone number right here, would you like it?" and he responded, "Why would I want that?" I explained that since I had made a reservation with the Kirkland Enterprise weeks ago, I would still like them to honor their reservation. They claimed they could not get any vans in Seattle, but our admin (who is apparently better at finding car rentals than Enterprise Rent-a-car) had found them vans. So now Enterprise could rent vans from Dollar car rental, and still be a company that takes car rental reservations and provides cars for rental, instead of a company that just takes car reservations. Patrick said Doug would have to call me back.

Eventually Doug called me back and I explained the situation again. He responded with something about how Enterprise can not rent cars from other agencies. So Enterprise would not accept my solution. I tried again. I explained that I would be happy to help them out as a go between. I would rent the cars from Dollar, and then Enterprise could reimburse me for the extra cost. (Renting a van on the same day from Dollar was more expensive than the reservations I had made weeks ago with Enterprise.) Doug didn't really understand why I would want that, so I explained again how we had reserved 4 vans from Enterprise at a set price, and that means I would still like 4 vans from Enterprise at the same agreed price. A bit more arguing and he said he would call me back.

Doug eventually called me back and said that while he could not help me to rent vans at the same price Enterprise had originally agreed to rent me vans, if I rented the vans from Dollar he could give me the difference in price in the form of credit towards future Enterprise rentals. Really. As in, I could go through this kind of hell all over again, and make an agreement to rent cars that isn't actually honored, but at a discounted price!

I explained how we needed these vans for 24 people running in a relay race, and this kind of event requires a lot of careful planning. One van is required for every 6 people, which is why we made sure to reserve 4 vans well in advance, instead of reserving 8 cars. We reserved vans at a set price, and collected money from each of the 24 runners to pay that set price, and not a higher price with the promise of future rental credit. The non-refundable entry fee for the race was over $2000, and I was getting a little stressed that Enterprise didn't seem to think their failure was a problem. We ended with an agreement that Doug would talk to his manager and call me back.

Hours had already passed and the kids had been well behaved at the coffee shop but I couldn't make them stay any longer. As we began walking home it really hit me that Enterprise viewed their failure as my problem, and if I didn't solve it we would forfeit the 2k race entry fee, months of training, and 2 days of expected awesomeness for 24 people. Enterprise may have been fine with this, but I wasn't. I called back and asked to speak with Doug's manager. I was told he would call me back.

Doug called me back and said that his manager had found 4 vans at the SeaTac Enterprise branch that we could rent. I don't know where those vans were 2 hours ago when Doug had told me he tried other branches, but what mattered was that we had vans! He said that his manager had even agreed not to charge us the airport tax on our rentals, so it would be just like we had made a reservation for van rental from the Kirkland Enterprise and rented vans from Kirkland Enterprise, but it had taken me additional hours of work and the vans were over half an hour away instead of 5 minutes away from my teammates in Kirkland. But we were saved! I asked if we could pick them up from the Kirkland Enterprise instead of SeaTac, so it would be even more like this whole nightmare had never happened. Doug would have to call me back.

The response was that I could either go pick them up from SeaTac myself, or they could have the vans driven to me that night. I was really tempted to have the vans driven to me, given that I had already wasted an entire morning of my vacation trying to fix the Enterprise fail, but I reminded myself of their recent track record in honoring their promises. We had to have the vans by 5:30 the next morning, and if Enterprise failed us again there wouldn't be anything we could do at that point. I didn't think we had any choice but to make sure we had the vans before Enterprise closed their office. Doug said I would have to arrange the rest with the SeaTac branch, but that his manager had offered to give me $50 off my bill for the hassle.

Since it was already around 2pm and my coworkers had already wasted enough time on Enterprise fail and wouldn't be able to leave the Kirkland office to drive to SeaTac to pick up the vans in that kind of traffic, I figured my family would have to handle it. I asked my dad, my uncle (who was also visiting from Arizona on vacation), and my cousin who had just finished her classes for the day. They were able to do it, but we still needed a way to get down there. My mom reminded me to "Pick Enterprise. We'll pick you up." So I called Enterprise. They told me to call a cab instead. I responded that I would be happy to call a cab if they would pay the fare. They said they didn't see why they should have to do that. Sigh.

I explained the whole story to the SeaTac enterprise branch. They really didn't want to pick us up. They suggested that I rent from the Capitol Hill branch instead (I live in Capitol Hill). They suggested that I find someone to drive me. After more wasted time arguing they agreed to pick us up from my apartment in Capitol Hill, but only there. So my cousin and uncle would have to drive 30 minutes from Issaquah to my apartment so as not to inconvenience Enterprise any further. The feeling I got was that they really felt like they were doing me a huge favor.

We argued some more about whether I could return the vans to the Kirkland Enterprise, as Enterprise had originally agreed to weeks ago. They really couldn't put up with that kind of inconvenience and insisted that I bring them back to SeaTac. We had more arguing about whether I could get a ride home on the return trip.

When I got to SeaTac Enterprise I rented the vans from Keo. He apologized for the Kirkland Enterprise failure and we had more discussion about whether they could honor their original agreement for a Kirkland return, and when I lost that battle, whether I could at least get a ride home. He promised me that if I could return the vans to SeaTac I would get a free ride home. When we started discussing the bill he suggested that we leave it open for now, and he promised me that he would talk to Kirkland Enterprise about how much they should charge me and have it all sorted out when I returned.

After an awesome two day relay race I was happy yet exhausted beyond belief. My family had lovingly offered to meet us in Kirkland to help take the vans back. I called the SeaTac Enterprise to let them know that we would be returning the vans in an hour and would need a ride home to Capitol Hill. They told me to call a cab instead. Sigh. On 6 hours of sleep in 3 days I explained the situation again. They again tried to weasel out of a ride, making me feel as if it really was all my fault that I didn't rent the vans from a branch closer to me. I was pretty downright cranky so I didn't budge and explained that the really just needed to find a way to give us a ride. They put me on hold.

When they came back they explained that I must be mistaken because they don't give rides to Capitol Hill and if any manager agrees to such a thing he puts it in the notes. Since Keo didn't leave any notes they don't need to give me a ride. I offered to remember this if I ever become a manager at Enterprise.

Eventually I was told to just "Go ahead and return the cars and we can discuss the ride when you get here." After 16 miles of running on 6 hours of sleep in 3 days I didn't want to discuss the ride again. How come it never goes like this in their commercials?

After all this arguing I hung up and realized that I was no longer in a state where it was safe to drive 30 minutes to SeaTac. I was simply too tired and too angry to drive safely. It was really tough to ask another person to join me in the Enterprise nightmare but Enterprise wanted their vans back that night, and refused to come pick them up from Kirkland.

When we got to Enterprise it started all over again. We talked to Sean this time. I explained again the nightmare of failures Enterprise had subjected us to and the hours of vacation wasted for me and my family. He asked me what would be fair compensation. I said I felt 50% off was fair. He seemed surprised and said that was a lot of money for 4 van rentals. I think I told him I'd settle for having my vacation day back, with all my family, and if he could work that out I'd be happy. He said that since he didn't have the authority to give that much of a discount he would leave the charge pending on my credit card, send the case to his manager, and promised someone would call me on Monday to work out the charge. Starting to suspect the "Enterprise promise", I asked again if he was sure I should expect a call, and asked for a business card just in case. He said there was a chance his manager was on vacation, in which case it might not be Monday, but someone would call. He then went on to try again to talk us out of a ride home. I admitted that we now needed a ride to Capitol Hill and Redmond, and he eventually gave in, since it was clear no one was going to come get us. At this point he finally called for a ride, proving that my calling in advance so as not to waste time was just another waste of my time.

We sat in the Enterprise office for a long time waiting for the car. I had a chance to explore their office, and even take a great picture to commemorate the experience. I spent the time thinking about their mission statement: "We will strive to earn our customers' long-term loyalty by working to deliver more than promised, being honest and fair and "going the extra mile" to provide exceptional personalized service that creates a pleasing business experience."

Finally, the car came and we got in. The driver went in to argue with Sean first, and said that he had not been paid enough to go to Capitol Hill and Redmond. We gave in and said he could just take us to Capitol Hill, and my sister would take my cousin home from there. We got home exhausted after hours spent dealing with the Enterprise failure.

Monday I waited for the call Enterprise promised me. Another promise broken.

Tuesday the charges went from pending to posted. No call.

Wednesday I will call Erik or Dave to see what happened. Wish me luck, and wish me patience. I look forward to seeing Enterprise go the extra mile.

Time spent "going the extra mile" with Enterprise:
(or, how I spent my summer vacation)
Looking for vans Thursday: 3 hours
Driving from Issaquah to Seattle: 0.5 hours * 2 people
Picking up the vans from SeaTac: 1 hour * 4 people
Arguing over rides Saturday: 0.5 hours
Dropping off the vans at SeaTac: 2 hours * 5 people
Driving from Seattle to Redmond: 0.5 hours * 2 people

** Wednesday Update **
I spoke with Erik, the Area Manager today. He was very nice and apologized several times. We are still figuring out what the final compensation will be, but I am optimistic. He is going to speak with his managers in the morning and call me tomorrow afternoon!

** Thursday Update **
Erik called me Thursday before lunch. We spoke a bit more and were able to resolve everything in a way we both thought was fair. I am happy that despite the problems I had, Enterprise did recognize them and wanted to apologize and make it right! :)

Moishe's Notable moments from Team 2 Van 2:

6:15am, en route to the start, way too early for a discussion about vi vs. emacs. It happened anyway. At least we got it out of the way early.

Friday afternoon, looking at the course profiles in the race bible:

(discussion of how Van 2 got all the hillier parts)

Me: Wow, we have way more area under our curve than Van 1!
(4 nerds in unison): Why didn't we compute the integral!?
Kurt: Screw the integral, why did nobody do an FFT?

Early Saturday morning (or was it late Friday night? Honestly I can't remember) in the throes of massive sleep deprivation, the "try to hack me, my IP address is" story came up and we started reading stories of IRC pwnage on our iPhones. For about 30 minutes straight. All of us were in tears from laughing so hard (well, at least I was).

For reasons I can't explain, many of the teams' vans were decorated with some sort of sexual theme. Therefore, it was refreshing to see the G-Nomes team van decorated with what looked like a graph from a mass spectrometer. Nerd pride FTW!

The running was fun too. Highlights for me: running into Anacortes at 1am along the bridge/breakwater with distant lightning flashing above the mountains; the long, long climb on my 3rd leg and then the fast, fun downhill to the exchange; escaping the heat in the shade of the van; cheering everyone on from the van, and getting cheers from my team and other teams.

Can't wait for next year!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Run Shower Eat Sleep

There will be food service along the route at the following locations:
  • Exchange 6 – Hamburgers, potato salad, chips, fruit, Pepsi products and water for $6.50/person, in addition to hot showers for $5/person.
  • Exchange 12 – Pasta, salad and breadsticks for $8/person, in addition to free sleeping facilities and hot showers.
  • Exchange 18 – Full pasta dinner with either meat sauce or a vegetarian option, along with salad, breadsticks and fruit, sleeping facilities and hot showers for $10/person. We will also provide coffee and hot chocolate.
  • Exchange 24 – Coffee and hot chocolate
  • Exchange 30 – Breakfast with coffee and hot chocolate available for purchase.
  • Finish Line – Food available, along with a beer garden and other beverages.

ROAD RULES – Top Eight

  1. Each team must have two reflective vests and two flashlights (or headlamps), in addition to two LED tail lights/”butt lights.” These must be presented at the time teams check-in. Jackets and shirts with reflective piping are not reflective enough.
  2. All runners must run on the left side of the road (into traffic) unless directed otherwise.
  3. All runners must have their team number pinned to the front of their shirt. If you are running at night we suggest that you pin your team number to your reflective vest in a way that doesn’t cover reflective material. If you put a sweatshirt or jacket on in the colder hours, make sure to pin the number to the sweatshirt or jacket. The volunteers must be able to identify the runner coming in.
  4. Only one vehicle is allowed to park at each exchange point. Vehicle 1 is allowed at exchange points 1-6; Vehicle 2 is allowed at exchange points 6-12 etc. Both vehicles are allowed at every sixth exchange point (6, 12, 18, 24 and 30).
  5. Runners must run in the same sequence for each segment of the race. For example, if a runner runs leg 3 he must also run leg 15 and leg 27. In the event of an injury any, of the 11 remaining runners can replace the injured runner. You are not allowed to bring in a 13th member of the team to run the remaining legs. If you are a mixed team and a woman is injured, at least 18 of the legs must be run by women.
  6. Vehicles are not allowed to follow racers to illuminate the road for them, or to pace them. Bicycles are not allowed to accompany runners in the daylight hours. Bikes are allowed at night.
  7. Be Respectful. We depend on the cooperation of local communities and ask that you be respectful and help us maintain a good relationship. Any runners who violate this rule (i.e., littering, honking in residential areas at night) will be disqualified and will not be invited back. This is especially important throughout Anacortes, but especially near Exchange 22.
  8. No vehicles longer than 20', motor homes, pulled trailers, buses or limos are allowed on the course by any team or team support (15 Passenger Vans are allowed). If you have doubts about the legality of your vehicle, you must have it checked at the start by the Director.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Team 2 Timing

Team 1 Timing

Who is bringing what?

Group gear:
  • Coolers with ice for the four vans: AmandaH, Min, Jeremy, Nikki
  • Vests: KatyaR, Amanda (2), Nikki, KatyaM, Chrissie
  • Headlamps: KatyaR, Ken, Amanda (2), Thais, Kym(2)
  • Red blinking lights for the vests: KatyaR, AmandaC, Laura, Marcos
  • First aid kits: Matthew, Brie, Nikki, Chrissie
  • Computer with wireless access: Matthew, AmandaC
  • Van decorating pens: Matthew
  • Race bibles and emergency contact info for each van: AmandaC
Extra vests, headlamps, blinking lights, and first aid kits would be great!

Recommended things for everyone to bring:
  • Personal, labeled water bottle. Whatever you want to drink during your run.
  • Any snacks for between runs, or for Saturday morning breakfast.
  • Cash for restaurants (splitting checks is a pain)
  • Towel, for the showers
  • Spare clothes
  • Layers for running (take a look at the weather and what times you are expected to run)
  • Sunscreen (advil/moleskin/band-aids/icyhot)
  • Deodorant!
  • Sleeping bag (if you bring a pillow try to find a small one)
  • Cell phone/gps is nice!

Don't bring much bulk. The vans seem small when they have six people and everyone's stuff and runners keep rotating.

Bring your stuff to Kirkland on Thursday if possible. We'll send out an email Thursday afternoon once we have the vans (hopefully!) and we can do some packing then.

Meeting times and place!

We'll meet at the Kirkland office
720 4th Ave
Kirkland WA 98033

Team 1
  • Meet in Kirkland by 7:30 AM. We'll leave 8-8:30, check in by 10:30.
  • Start: 11:00am Friday, July 24
  • End: 3:11pm Saturday, July 25

Team 2
  • Meet in Kirkland by 5:30 AM. We'll leave 6-6:30, check in by 8:30.
  • Start: 9:00am Friday, July 24
  • End: 3:20pm Saturday, July 25
Note that we'll finish in Langley, but still have to get back to the Kirkland office, clean out the vans, and return them. After that you'll want to go home to shower and sleep. Don't make any other plans for Saturday!

Ragnar 2009 Runner Assignments

Team 1
  1. Wesley
  2. Vivek
  3. Omar
  4. Jeremy

  5. Andrew
  6. Min
  7. Amanda H
  8. Katya
  9. Matthew
  10. Shuichi
  11. Nikki
Team 2
  1. Chrissie
  2. Mike
  3. Kym
  4. Laura
  5. Patrick
  6. Amanda C
  7. Ken
  8. Moishe
  9. Brie
  10. Kurt
  11. Will
  12. Thais