Alright, I know you're here to read about the Ragnar, but can we detour for a second and talk about the fact that it's August 15th already? You guys, WHERE did the summer go?? I've been excited about this race for months, and all of a sudden it's over. And that's for the best, really, because that means I survived. But I just don't know where the time goes.
So, the Ragnar. Quick summary to get everybody on the same page here--the Ragnar Great River is a relay race where teams of 12 (or 6, if you're out of your freaking mind) run 200ish miles between Winona and Minneapolis, non-stop, which took our team about 29 hours. That means we started at 11am on Friday and finished just before 4pm on Saturday, and someone from our team was running consistently (yes, through the night) during that time. Your team splits up into 2 vans, with one van's runners actively running at any given time (and the van leap-frogs the runner to get to the exchange points where runners switch off). The van that's not actively running finds somewhere to stop and eat/sleep, change clothes, and maybe take a shower. The first big twist came when Ragnar sent out a notice on Thursday that part of the race course had to be closed due to flooding, so some of our runners' first legs were canceled. I wasn't one of those runners, so I ran all three legs, and instead of canceling my miles Ragnar tacked on an extra half mile to my last leg to run around some flooded areas. Thanks a bunch.
I was runner 4, and with the extra distance on my third leg my total mileage came out to almost exactly 16 miles. My first leg was 6.6, second leg was 3.4, and last leg was 5.9. With our start time, I ended up running at about 1 on Friday afternoon, midnight between Friday and Saturday, and 9:30ish on Saturday morning. Luckily, our van was led by two wonderful Ragnar experts, who had run the Great River several years in a row and completely ran the show (pun intended). They got us to the exchanges on time, knew where to stop for food and rest time, and told us what to pack. Plus, they did all the driving, like superstars, while the newbies sat in the back wondering whether we should eat or sleep or try to stretch something.
This race really is unlike any other I've ever run in basically every way. To give you a sense of what I mean, here are some of the oddities about Ragnar-ing.
1. You're almost alone on the course. At any other race, everyone starts at the same time and you're running near at least a few other runners at any given time. With Ragnar, they stagger the starts throughout the day on Friday so that everyone's vans aren't all trying to park at the exchanges at the same time (with about 500 teams that would be impossible) but for me this meant I was running alone for a lot of the race. On my first leg, I didn't see anyone until the last half mile of the leg.
2. You're running three times in less than 24 hours. I had a really hard time figuring out how to train for this race...my longest leg was 6.6 miles, which isn't a big deal, but my total mileage was 16 miles in 24 hours, which is a bigger deal (to me, anyway). I ended up focusing on doing training runs on consecutive days, and the week before the race I did three runs between Saturday and Sunday, just to get a feel for it, but I didn't do any training runs longer than 5.5 miles. That ended up working out fine, but I wasn't nearly as confident about my training plan for this type of race.
3. Your eating, sleeping, and all other normal habits are completely disrupted. When you're not running, you're in the van (or having some downtime somewhere else, but mostly in the van). According to my FitBit, I slept for a total of 2 hours and 42 minutes between Friday and Saturday (and they were glorious minutes, every one of them) so we weren't exactly well-rested. We stopped for food at a few restaurants when Van 2 was running, but mostly we ate things that could be kept in a cooler or not cold, and I ate a lot of peanut butter, crackers, bananas, and rice cakes. Plus, you have nervous race stomach the whole time, but you need to keep your energy up because the race lasts more than a day. Not super ideal.
4. I wasn't that worried about my time, which was great. First of all, our team was not caught up in being super competitive (thank goodness). But also, in the course of a 29-hour race I just felt like a few minutes here or there didn't really matter. This really came in handy when my last leg turned out to be all hills and I had zero energy left, because I didn't hesitate to switch to power walking when I needed to. And I did need to....a lot.
5. The course is beautiful, and changes a lot between the legs. My first leg was partly along a highway and partly along the river, and was mostly really pretty. Although, a semi did drive by and blow my running hat off at one point, and I had to run back and climb into the ditch to retrieve it. That was not awesome. My night run was on a gravel road through corn fields, and it was really still and beautiful and there were one bazillion stars shining. There was also an insane manure stench at one point, but just keep running, you know? ALSO, it occurred to me in the middle of that run that I could easily be grabbed by a serial killer and pulled into the cornfield before anyone could notice. It didn't happen, but it could have happened. I don't know, maybe I shouldn't have watched The Lovely Bones before the race.
My last leg started in Afton, Minnesota along the roads there and turned off into a state park, where we ran along the hiking trails for the last three miles. There were lots of hikers in the park with hiking boots and poles, looking at us like we were insane (because what are you guys even doing here??) That's a fair reaction. I can admit that. This leg also included a hill that spanned an entire mile. From mile 1 to mile 2 was straight hill. I mean, come on.
6. There aren't mile markers. This was alright for me because I use Map My Run, but if you don't use GPS not having mile markers can be really disorienting. The only markers along the route are these "one mile to go" markers that make you want to do a celebration dance, because they mean you only have one mile left on your leg. My last leg didn't have a one mile to go sign, but again, thanks to Map My Run, I knew I was almost done. My teammates who didn't use GPS lamented seeing signs giving directions (i.e. "Ragnar Relay turns right here") that they mistakenly thought were the One Mile To Go signs, only to realize as they got closer that there was...more than one mile to go.
7. The weather is bizarre. In past years, the race has been unbearably hot (apparently the heat index last year was close to 110) and even though the days were not outrageously hot for us, it was still about 85 degrees with considerable humidity. It didn't feel awful when you were standing still, but as soon as you started running it was HOT. And then, once the sun went down, the weather was pleasant for running but freezing for standing still. I was wearing sweatpants, a sweater, and wrapped in a blanket shivering in the van while my teammates ran their night legs.
All in all, the Ragnar was exactly what you'd expect it to be: a fun and insane experience that I'm proud to say I finished, and I'm happy to not do every weekend. Or maybe ever again. We'll see.
I hope everyone's weeks are off to a great start. I think it's going to take me several more days to catch up on the rest I missed this weekend, so mine is dragging a little. Wish me luck.