Rather than write a point-to-point recap, I decided to write a guide to answer some of your possible questions about this relay and why it was so awesome. Alas, it ended up as a novella because I wrote it while jetlagged last night, but TL;DR I went, I loved it and I want more.
Defining a Ragnar in one sentence: A 200-ish mile running relay (ours was 194) designed to be completed by teams of 12 (or 6 if you’re hardcore) over 2 days without stopping. They have Ragnar relays all over the U.S. for now, but mine was the “Napa Valley,” winding a pathway from San Francisco to Calistoga, California.
So it’s like: A team sport mixed with a van-camping trip.
How did I find my team? TL;DR I took over a partial team from a woman in my running club and then spammed a lot of people. I also checked the Ragnar website’s section for “Runners Looking For Teams” (worthless) and the Ragnar Facebook page (ok, not great). It ended up being an amalgamation of friends-of-friends and strangers.
Some adjectives and phrases I would use to describe this race: Exhilarating, tiring, dirty, sunny, HILLY, nutritionally poor, collaborative, crazy, satisfying.
How good a runner do I need to be? In terms of distance experience, I would say anywhere from “ran a half-marathon at some point” to “ultrarunner/ elite.” Assignments for runners on my team ranged from 11 total miles (over the 3 legs) to 23 miles, and it’s definitely possible that you could do this on less training than half-marathon — but that’s what I would recommend. As to pace, teams for our race needed to have an 11:00/mile average, but I don’t think there was an upper limit to how slowly runners can run.
But wait, it’s over 2 days straight? When do you sleep? Each team van takes turns picking up the active runners and being off duty — during which time we mostly slept or ate, depending on the time of day. (And occasionally both.) At certain stops there are indoor or outdoor sleeping areas where you can bring an air mattress and sleeping bag, but I just slept in the team van.
Isn’t running at night crazy? Yes, but I was hoping for better. My night run ended up being my worst run because I was so terrified of getting lost I kept slowing down to read my directions. I had hoped to have a clear enough head to Think Deep Thoughts while Gazing At The Stars and so on, but mostly I was trying to cross 6-lane highways and not linger in empty strip mall parking lots. What I did enjoy about night running though: Afterward, 2 of my teammates separately pulled me aside and said, “I didn’t want to tell you this while you were out there, but [seriousface] you ran past a cemetery last night.” Hee!
One thing I wish someone would have told me: Have a better exit strategy. Don’t wait until you and your entire team are exhausted, hungry and cranky to figure out how everyone is getting home (or back to their departure points of choice). Note for next year…
One thing I didn’t bring but should have: A blanket for the car, if I wasn’t going to have a sleeping bag. I forgot how cold northern California gets at night.
One thing I brought but never used: A book to read in the car — I wouldn’t leave home without one but it never left my backpack.
Some good reasons not to do this: You absolutely cannot function without 6 (or more) hours of sleep; whenever you work out you need to shower immediately after; you get extremely carsick; you like running only when you can control the conditions (weather, terrain, fueling, recovery).
That said, I’d do it again because: I got to see (and run in) a beautiful part of the country that was new to me, in the company of a bunch of mostly-strangers who by the end were my friends. Spending time running and talking about it made me all jazzed up about it all over again, which is quite a feat given that I’m in the middle of marathon training (less than 50 days to go! crap!)
But also because (to get hyper-personal for a second): my track record with team sports in life has been pretty ignominious. The most I ever hoped for was not to be embarrassed or stand out. Old Me would have found any excuse to avoid being in that place again, which is pretty easy when you’re an adult. What if I disappointed everybody and they all hated me for the rest of the ride? New Me did my best to shelve those fears, because New Me is going to do all that fun stuff and not be afraid.
Did we win? No, but we placed in the top 50 teams in our division, frankly far better than I would have expected.
How do I feel today? Excellent, apart from still being sleep-deprived. Recovery for this was smoother than any other race I’ve done; I was ready to hit the sidewalks again on Monday (and did, because I am a sick freak). That said, I fell asleep in a cab yesterday morning so maybe none of this makes sense.
And if you made it this far… thanks to you, and also to my fellow Tumblr teammate, the eminently awesome katiewashere; markicksass and her Napa ultra team; and my sister who, in a pinch, came straight from tailgating to pick me up on Saturday.