As I sit here and reflect on the whirlwind that was Ragnar, it occurs to me that after you read this blog you may still not understand why we all found this experience so rewarding and, dare I say, fun. However, I am hoping that you will be inspired to do something a little crazy in the name of fitness, and in that process you can see how much enjoyment you can get out of exercising. So the story begins...
Let me begin by explaining what a Ragnar race is. According to the website, "You and 11 of your craziest friends pile into two vans and tag team run 200(ish) miles, day and night, relay-style. Only one runner hits the road at a time. Each participant runs three times, with each leg ranging between 3-11+ miles varying in difficulty. So, from the elite runner down to the novice jogger, it's the perfect race for anyone."
The journey began in the early morning hours of the last Friday of our spring break. We all gathered together in a parking lot adjacent to the Huntington Beach pier to pack our bags of clothing and food into the Suburban that would be our traveling hotel room for the following 36 hours. We were Van #1 and we would begin the almost 200 mile run from Huntington Beach to Downtown San Diego. At 7:15 AM Pat, our first runner took off and it was our job to drive to the next exchange where we would pick up Pat and drop off the next runner who happened to be his wife Darcy. Because of some last minute packing, preparation, and a little traffic, we basically had to push Darcy out of the SUV as she ran to meet Pat at the exchange. She barely made it to her start as Pat ran in and handed off the orange snap bracelet that would signify the current runner.
Our next task was to retrieve Pat from this first stop and then drive to the next exchange for Darcy. We were able to drive Darcy's leg to cheer her on and even take a few pictures of her along the way. As we raced to drop off to meet Darcy, we happened to notice a runner that had collapsed on the course and was surrounded by fellow runners. We stopped to help, but I was struck by the caring and generosity of the actual racers who had paused their run to take care of a complete stranger. Runners are amazing that way, and none of them would go back to their run until they were sure professional help was on the way. The runner did survive, but it reminded me of the importance of hydrating and fueling before running, but most importantly, of carrying a phone and/or some sort of ID--he could remember his name, but could not recall a phone number for us to contact one of his loved ones. I carry my phone, but if you don't, please think about carrying some sort of emergency info on you when you run or bike on the road.
After waiting for the emergency service to arrive to take care of the runner, we finally rushed off to meet Darcy and drop off Kay for her run. We cheered Darcy in, sent Kay off, and then it was time for me to get prepared for my leg. I tightened my new running shoes, put on my Suck it up Buttercup team shirt, and I waited for Kay to run in, she handed off the team bracelet, and then I was off for Leg 4--my run around Disneyland to the Angel's Stadium parking lot. My run was a little frustrating because just when I would get going, I would hit a long light at an intersection. One of the things that is paramount in Ragnar is safety. We have to follow all rules of the road when in the van, and we had to obey all pedestrian rules as well. So at every signal we had to wait for our turn to safely cross--and I waited to safely cross about ten times before it was my turn to pass the bracelet off to Mark. It took me almost 30 minutes to run 2.6 miles, not my best time, but I vowed to push it even harder on my next leg to keep with our estimated finish time.
Mark and Gabby ran their legs at around noon, and then it was time for us to rest and let Van #2 take over. That is the way Ragnar works. The first group of six runs while the second van waits, and then the first van gets to eat and relax until it is their time to run. Another important part of Ragnar is having a good navigator. Ragnar takes running skill, but if you cannot get to the next stop in a timely manner, your team can lose precious time while the runner waits for the next racer to take over. With our Van #2, they accidentally went to the wrong exchange, and our second runner had to wait about 30 minutes for the next runner to arrive to take over. Easy mistake, but with the number of racers going in and out of the exchanges, the traffic was packed and could be very difficult to maneuver.
Kay began her nighttime leg at around midnight running along the bike path that parallels the 76 freeway in Oceanside. We had these amazing LED vests that our team captain Emily ordered for us, and while we looked a bit like space aliens, we were well lit and difficult to miss out there on the course. It was easy to spot Kay running into the exchange with her vest, and then I took off for my 4 mile, past my bedtime leg. I am a little afraid of the dark, and after watching the man collapse earlier in the day, it occurred to me that if I fell off the edge of the path, they might not actually find me--thank God for the vest! I pushed myself so hard so that I could be back in the nice, warm van, that I ran a 9:07 pace, which is pretty fast for me. Mark took off and rocked his leg of the run despite a ridiculous hill at the end of his 7 miles, and then Gabby had a quick down hill run before it was once again time for us to rest and let Van #2 take over.
We were so tired after our night racing, that all any of us could think of was sleep. Food was not even an option at this point! So we drove directly to the area where we would once again take over, and we did the best we could to sleep with six adults in a Suburban. Luckily, no one snored and we all managed to get about 2-3 hours of sleep. When I awoke in the morning, Mark and I went out to greet the incoming runners and we actually found some fresh coffee for our effort. I took this as a sign that we were in for a good day.
Before long it was once again time for Van #1 to take over--Pat took over from Emily and was off on another long run (by the end of Ragnar he had run over 23 miles total). Next Darcy and Kay ran their legs along the coast and I took over near Del Mar. This was my longest leg at over 6 miles, and I was running on nervous energy and coffee after having only 3 hours sleep in the last day and a half. The first part of my run was a little hilly, but when I turned my first corner I hit one of the longest, steepest hills I had ever tackled in a race. It was so steep that I could hardly breathe at one point--we are talking San Francisco-like steep hill. I actually started to walk at one point, but a fan along the road told me to push through it, and that was enough to push me forward to finally complete my Ragnar running experience and hand the orange band off for a final time to Mark.
After Mark and Gabby ran through La Jolla, we were finally able to let Van #2 take over, get a bite to eat, and get a little rest at the finish line while we waited for our final runners. We were so exhausted that we collapsed right on the grass adjacent to the bay for another couple hours of shut eye. When Emily finally ran in, Van #1 and #2 joined together at last to run Emily across the finish line. We were all stinky, tired, but so very excited to have worked together to complete the Ragnar race from Huntington Beach to the San Diego Convention Center. It was an amazing experience, and while I know I have probably not been able to completely convey how much fun this really was, I hope that it might still encourage you to take that next step in your fitness journey. I guarantee that it will be worth the effort!