Running Ragnar - November 5-6, 2010
Back in early summer, my aunt suggested I get a team together to run the inaugural Tennessee Ragnar Relay. Ragnar does these overnight relays but this was the first one in Tennessee and my aunt’s company, Healthways, was the major sponsor. After a little investigation, I was intrigued with this relay that runs from Chattanooga to Nashville, 195 miles overnight over the course of two days. Ragnar’s tag line? Run, Drive, Sleep? Repeat. Who doesn’t that appeal to?
Though I wasn’t excited about the idea of “captaining” a team of 12, which requires lots of work and organization, the prospect of having a new running adventure with friends who share my passion urged me on. So I set out to assemble a team, tapping into all my Facebook running friends… it’s difficult to get people to commit to something months out… especially moms with a million other responsibilities. With a few “maybes” and fewer “definitely yeses” I eventually gave up on the idea. Unbeknownst to me, my friend Caryn was also approached by another group of moms to run this relay, she joined us all together and within a week we had a team of 12 committed moms, paid and ready to train. It really was “meant to be”. The best part was that I did NOT have to captain this team – we were already equipped with a fearless (literally) leader.
Our team name? The Lava Ladies – not too fast, oh so hot. Go ahead and laugh. We set up a blog to communicate through. Most of our runners are located in Atlanta, but then there are a few of us scattered throughout the rest of the country. The blog provided us a means to share our training struggles, answer questions we had about the race and training, and was basically a central location for us to share info and support each other. We each chose the legs we would run, the race is divided into 36 legs, each runner responsible for 3. But you have to run in the same order, so runner one for example must run legs 1, 13, and 25. Ragnar divides the legs and gives you distances and elevations, which vary by runner. We had two runners that were running the Marine Corps Marathon the Sunday prior to our Friday start, so we knew they would need the shorter legs. We also had some really strong runners who chose the more challenging legs.
As the race drew closer, we settled details about hotel arrangements, Van rentals and overall logistics. There are lots of logistical challenges with this race. Especially since you are ending the race 200 miles from where you started. In the end it all came together. Each team is split into two vans of 6. The first Van runs their six legs in order, then passes off to the second Van. The Vans leapfrog to the finish. Along the way, the running van is basically following their runners and cheering them on. At each exchange, there is a chute where the runners hand off the baton (slap bracelet) to the next runner. There were usually port-a-potties and water available at the exchange locations. Ragnar did a great job with the directional signs (which blink at night) and the volunteers were all friendly and helpful.
One of the best parts of the race is seeing all the van decorations and team names. There are awards given for best team name, best van decoration, and favorite team. You really get to know the other teams. Everyone is very chummy and supportive. There inevitably are some mini competitions that arise between teams… trash talking and such. It’s very entertaining, especially when you have a team of moms like we did, busting past some of the men teams. One of the teams we had a little friendly competition with was a mixed team of men and women known as the convicts. Their van looked like a van full of prison workers. One of their runners “the sheriff” got passed by one of our stronger runners, and as our van drove by him we all sang, “I shot the sheriff…”
Each time you pass a runner is, in Ragnar World, considered a road-kill. Probably a bit inappropriate but it provides some mini goals. For me, it seemed most of my legs were pretty lonely without many runners around. On my last leg, the last 300 yards or so, I heard a runner coming up behind me. I could see the finish line and my legs were dead after running 17 miles in the past 10 hours. However, I had broken even in “road kills” and was not about to have this guy put me in the negative. I yelled “no you’re not” at him and he started sprinting, laughing and taunting me to “come on”. Of course my competitive nature turned on the jets, which I really didn’t know still existed at this point, and he could not get by me. His teammate friends claim he will never live this down. Every time he and I saw each other after our little “race” he gave me a fist bump. Just an example of some of the fun, friendly competition that happens during the race. There really is a lot of camaraderie and support among the other teams running. You have this insane race in common and you are all in it together.
Many times, especially during the middle of the night, the decision to run this race is questioned. “Why are we doing this?” crossed my mind more than a few times. The weather turned cold this past weekend. Our second van had to run up a mountain and it snowed and sleeted on them at the top. I am sure they thought, “Why are we doing this?” My second leg was run at 7:30 pm in the dark on a busy, busy road with hardly any shoulder. I had a headlamp on and a blinking vest. As cars and trucks whizzed by I prayed to see my kids again and thought, “Why are we doing this?” I ran my last leg starting at 3:30 am with temps in the upper 20’s - “Why are we doing this?” Another runner had dogs charge out at her barking ferociously - “Why are we doing this?” There is no sleep to be had. You have small opportunities to catch an hour here or an hour there, but rarely are you comfortable enough to do so. Again, “Why are we doing this?”
In the midst of the post-race haze the answer to this question is clear. We had a great time. It was an epic adventure none of us will forget. Many times before the race when we would explain to non-runners where we were going and what we were doing with this Ragnar relay, “Why?” was the common response. Though it was difficult to answer before the race, afterwards it is easy. We are bonded now for life through an experience like no other. Yes, it is uncomfortable, it is physically challenging to say the least, it is what some would consider insane. But to us runners, it is worth it. It is a team effort, which rarely is experienced in this sport. It is surviving the environment, loving the scenery, running to get somewhere, and making memories with friends. The question we ask ourselves now that it’s over: Which Ragnar relay is next? Perhaps the Keys next year, or Napa Valley… we aren’t sure where this adventure leads next, but we are sure of the experience it will be – and that’s an unforgettable one! If you have a chance to run one of these – do it. Get your team together and run. Make memories and experience a thrill. By the way, the Lava Ladies… we finished first in our division.