Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Running Crazy -- Ragnar Relay Ultra!

I have become a Ragnar junkie.   In 2013 I had never heard of Ragnar Relays.  In 2014 I ran in 3 of them -- Cape Cod, Reach the Beach (which became a Ragnar last year), and Adirondacks (my local Ragnar).  Leading up to my first relay I wasn't sure what to expect.  It seemed like a lot of work and a lot of money and honestly I wasn't sure why I was doing it.  But do you know what?  I had such a good time!  It seemed like a crazy thing to do but I loved it. 
What are Ragnar Relays?

If you are not familiar with Ragnar Relays and have not heard me talk about them constantly, let me tell you a little bit about them.  Ragnar Relay races are about 200 miles of running.  Usually you have a team of 12 and have 2 vans (My team this year was an Ultra -- little more on that later).  You tag team the relay over the course of 24-30 hours.  Each runner has 3 legs made up of different distances -- usually from 3 to 8 miles but it could be more, it could be less. You basically live in the van when you are not running and drive from Exchange to Exchange as your runner is on the road.  You run day and night and you don't stop until you are at Exchange 36!  You can decorate your van and tag other vans.  You can try to get "kills" by passing other runners when you are out there running your leg. There is not a lot of sleeping but you catch a few winks when you can.  Although there may not be much sleeping going on there is tons of laughing while you are driving through some beautiful parts of the country!  

My Obsession

In 2015 I am running in another 3 relays!  I ran Cape Cod again, I also ran in the New England trail relay and I will run in the Adirondacks again.  The Adirondack Ragnar starts in Saratoga, close to my home turf so its an easy one to commit to running.  I am even signed up for the Florida Keys Ragnar in 2016!!!  Yes, I am obsessed.  
They each offer something different but I decided that I needed a new challenge.  Runners always are looking for a new goal.  Whether it is a faster time or longer distance.  I have a few Half Marathons under my belt and I need something new.  So....I decided to run Cape Cod as an Ultra team.  I really didn't want to be team Captain but I really wanted to run it as an Ultra and knew if I didn't organize the team, it wouldn't happen.  
I had to find teammates.  Finding teammates for a regular Ragnar team where I live is not difficult.  My community is FULL of runners.  But I thought getting people to want to run one as an Ultra would be more challenging.  Well, it wasn't and I not only filled 1 team but I was able to fill 2 teams so we ran with partners!!

Running a relay team as an Ultra can be scary and overwhelming but if you have desire and can commit to training, it is possible and you will have FUN! When you are finished you will have an unbelievable sense of accomplishment!!  And the memories!  My sides hurt from laughing so hard.  And you better believe I would do it again!

A little about the Ultra

1.  3 legs vs. 6 legs

When you run a Ragnar with a team of 12, each runner has 3 legs.  When you run with 6 runners you have double the legs so you would have 6 legs.  However, you don't have to go out 6 times. You can do three legs but each runner stay out for 2 technical legs at a time.  For example, runner #1 would stay out for the first 2 legs, runner #2 runs legs 3 and 4, etc. There is a lot to consider in deciding.  Can everyone on your team do high mileage each time? If you stay out for 2 technical legs there could be some HIGH mileage.  We actually decided to only do 3 legs for 2 reasons.  The mileage turned out to be too uneven (some people in the 40s and others low 20s) with 6 legs and the thought of getting in and out of the van and changing 6 times sounded exhausting.  But seriously, the first leg for someone was 17.9 miles.  Yes, you saw that right!!  The last leg for someone was 15. 0 miles (that turned out to be me -- more on that later)!  So decide as a group based on what your team can handle. 

2. Everyone on your team plays a key role.

You all need to be committed and you need each other to get through it.  So support each other.  You will only be successful if your teammates are successful! This is not an individual race.

Getting ready to drive to the Cape

3. Get a driver!!  

It is possible to run a Ragnar without a driver but it is so much better if you have one, especially for an Ultra.  You will hear different things about this but we had a driver and a 12 passenger van for both teams.  We felt this gave us the room to stretch out and time to rest/recover. Our driver rocked!!  

4. Think about 2 teams

For your first Ultra, think about a partner team.  It might be difficult to find 12 crazies but I did.  Since I had 2 teams and I paired runners of similar pace, I was also able to divide the vans differently.  Instead of the team going in one van I paired partners together.  So runners 1, 2 and 3 from both teams were in van 1 and runners 4, 5 and 6 from both teams were in van 2.  This gave us an "off" van.  My van was actually able to take advantage of the tent city and get a few hours of sleep! That is hard to come by in general but nearly impossible in an ultra!  Running with a partner also gives you someone to "lean" on when you need encouragement!

What was it like?

It was awesome! I was runner #1 so my partner and I started the party!  That was pretty exciting.  We had a start time of 8:15 but it started about 10 minutes late.  It was really sunny out and warm for 8am.  My first leg was technical legs 1 and 2 and my garmin has it as 7.66 miles.  My partner and I took a nice and easy pace and I made sure to hydrate since it was so warm.

Went through the safety talk and now waiting for the start

And we're off!

My second leg started around 7:30pm and started along the water...I had technical legs 13 and 14 and my Garmin showed 10.45 miles. The weather was perfect -- not too cold but not warm either.  I thought it was pretty cool to run along a bike bath along side the water and then into a residential area once it got dark.  A great leg with a great partner. 

My last leg was a surprise.  I was supposed to run 26 and 27 but another runner on my team was having a bit of a hard time with the mileage.  I agreed to swap for his last run which totaled 15 miles.  I'm really glad I brought my sleeping bag and decided to sleep in tent city (the tents provided by Ragnar).  I got a good stretch of sleep (relatively speaking) and was ready when my turn was up.  

Now let me just say this was the leg, other than the 17.8 mile leg, that I said I would never run.  I mean 15 miles for your last time out.  Ugh.  BUT, I also viewed it as a challenge.  We started off a little too fast averaging 8:45-9 min/mile.  Normally that is perfect for me but not after all of the previous miles and lack of sleep and the fact that I had 15 miles on this leg.  We kept it up but around mile 11 I actually started to feel sick and needed to walk a minute for each of the last miles.  Hey, we still averaged 9:30 per mile and FINISHED!  It was one of the best experiences I've had. 

My team also finished 2nd in our Division of Submasters Mixed.  Woot!! 

My van mates were awesome.  The BEST.  I laughed and laughed and maybe even cried on the last leg but mostly laughed. We all supported each other.  One runner twisted her ankle just before her last leg (she tapped it and ran) and we just made sure to follow her and her partner and stop every 2 miles to see how she was doing.  

If you haven't done a Ragnar, you SHOULD!  And if you are a distance runner you should really consider doing it as an Ultra team after you've done a few.  You will feel badass for sure.  I will admit, I LOVED when I ran through the chute on my last leg people all oohed and aahed that we were an ultra team.  It felt good!  It's what I used to do when I saw ultra teams.  
teammates finishing their first leg

We are DONE! Getting ready to celebrate in Ptown!

Although you shouldn't care about kills when running an Ultra, we did get just a few -- 209!

So next week is my Adirondack Ragnar.  Not an ultra team but just plain fun!  Stay tuned! 

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