For those of you who aren’t familiar with the relay races that have swept the country in the past few years, Ragnar runs a series of 36-hour events based on the same general concept – 12 people, two vans, and 200 miles (ack, look at lawyer Joyce, automatically following Bluebook rules on writing out numbers, even in her blog). Basically, everyone’s assigned a number (Runner #1-12). The first six runners (Van #1) run their six legs in order, passing off the magical slap bracelet “baton” at exchanges. Then, Runner #6 passes the baton off to Runner #7, who kicks off Van #2’s legs, while Van #1 has 5-6 hours to rest, eat, and generally recuperate. This process continues until everyone has run three legs.
A few weeks ago, I ran Ragnar: Northwest Passage, a 196-mile (or more, depending on whether you got lost along the way) race from the Canadian Border to Whidbey Island. Back sometime in the spring, I was asked to join the Ladies of the Green Lake team, which needed a few new members to make up for people who hadn’t returned from last year. I knew a few of the women and, after they assured me that they didn’t care about my pace (I was definitely one of the slower members of the team), I signed on. BEST choice EVAR.
Ragnar Tip #1: if you have the option, joining an experienced team is kind of great – they know how things should be done already and can calmly deal with all of your “OMG, I’M SO NERVOUS/WHAT IS GOING ON/WHY DID I SIGN UP FOR THIS/WHAT IF I GET LOST” freakouts. Thanks, guys!
I was Runner #3, so I was in Van #1 (which I picked because a vet told me that the first van has a more normal sleeping schedule). My three runs were:
- An 8.3 miler at 12:45pm, so I was completely exposed to full sunlight, no shade, in about 80-degree heat. Oh. And there were hills. And I got passed by a million fasties (your start is based on your team’s anticipated pace; we started relatively late, but I was one of the slowest on the team). It was HARD. But there were stunning views of Mt. Baker!
- A 6.6 miler at 10:45pm. This one was pitch black and flat flat flat flat flat. It was actually kind of cool. I spend the first four miles of it tucked right behind another guy. Every time I got close enough to pass (that’s called a “kill” in relaying), he’d speed up juuuuuuuust enough to stay ahead of me. But, at about 4 miles, his legs fell off and I got around him. I can’t say that I managed to maintain my early pace for the rest of the leg either, but I had more than enough to never see him again. Oh. And my calf started cramping again, like it did at Lake Sammamish. Apparently my legs actually hate flat running. Pity. Most of the run, it almost felt like I was drunk (I definitely wasn’t) and it felt really hard to keep running in a straight line, which I chalk up to running in the pitch black with pretty low energy reserves.
- 2.4 miles at 8:30am. Which I killed. Not gonna lie. I paced the first two runs cautiously, knowing that I had to hold something in reserve to get me through all three legs. And, since I didn’t have to do that anymore, I turned on the burners for a smokin’ run.
I feel like there is SO MUCH more that I could say about Ragnar. I did really enjoy the experience, especially getting to know my vanmates and OMG COWBELLING AND YELLING FOR EVERY SINGLE RUNNER WE PASSED ALONG THE WAY (note: lots of vans didn’t do this – they just drove past you. Which is LAME and ought to be against the rules)! But my biggest takeaway from the whole thing was: “It was HARD.” I’m proud of the runs I pushed out and knowing that my teammates were waiting was both exciting and came with it’s own kind of pressure. I enjoyed and hated that at the same time.
Ragnar was also special in another way: about two weeks before the race, I’d taken over Seattle Green Lake Running Group’s defunct twitter account (@sglrg, hollah!). We’d had one for a while, but no one was manning it. And that’s not cool in social media world: we definitely needed to make sure that someone could at the very least, answer any questions that someone might have about the group or one of our runs. There are some amazing social media/twitter users out there in the running community (oh hai, @oiselle) and I felt like I’d been watching them long enough to get a very, very basic sense of how to use twitter to engage with current and potential members. I knew Ragnar would be a big opportunity for us on twitter, so I spent a lot of time during the race (with some help) sending out updates and retweeting things that our runners had posted (btw, a really small percentage of our runners have twitter accounts and most have no idea how awesome twitter is…I need to spread that gospel). The social media aspect of it was really fun and I definitely learned a lot about how to use it as a tool for promoting our group!
Ragnar Tip #2: Take your phone. And take a photo of your leg map. It makes you feel a lot less anxious about the possibility of getting lost and it might just help your team avoid adding an extra 10 miles to the race, therefore finishing fifth in your division, instead of first. It will also help you avoid being the girl who got lost and ended up running on I-5. That really happened. No, it wasn’t me!
I would, hands down, say that SGLRG MADE Ragnar for me! We had about 150 runners out there, including 11 teams made up of our runners exclusively. And it was the coolest thing, when we’d run into each other out at the exchanges or running. There was a lot of friendly smack talk and a lot of van “tagging” going on and it was just so much fun to see everyone! Ragnar felt like a big old party to hang out and act like little kids! It was just so awesome.
Ragnar Tip #3: Take a sleeping mask for the gym where everyone sleeps at the major exchanges. There’s a lot of ambient light and the mask blocks that out. It also helps if you manage to still have the ability to sleep anywhere, as long as you’re lying down. Even a little helps you feel less like a zombie. The free coffee is even better for that, though.
Finally, I’d like to list of the things that kept me sane and running through Ragnar, in case it helps anyone else plan for a future relay (or just so I can refer to it next year):
- A warm cozy hoodie and sweat pants. It gets cold.
- PILLOW. I mean, you need a sleeping bag, too, but the pillow is KEY. I couldn’t believe that some people thought that they didn’t need it!
- Snacks. Obviously. My favorites were peanut butter pretzels and pouches of banana applesauce from Trader Joe’s. And my shelf-stable chocolate milk “juice boxes.” The milk and the smoothies were great for when I didn’t feel like eating real food right away after a leg: I could at least get those down to start the recovery and ensure that my fuel reserves didn’t get too low.
- Foam roller and stick. The stick was great, because you could do it even when you had to hop in the van immediately after finishing your leg, because the next one was short (usually you had at least 5-10 minutes before you needed to book it to the next exchange). Jasyoga’s vanyoga was also a hit. Legs up the seat in front of you!
- Jugs of water. It was great to refill as often as we wanted to, from our own reserves, rather than having to worry about finding water along the way. I also carried water on my two longer runs – I couldn’t believe that a fair number of people opted not to carry it on that long leg! I knew that ifI started the race by dehydrating myself, the next 24 hours were not going to be fun.