I cannot even begin to tell you how much I love doing Ragnar Relays. I love them so much that I was chosen to be a Ragnar Ambassador for this year – a post I hope to continue next year when I put together an all-gal ultra team. I’m assuming if you’re reading this you have an inkling of what a Ragnar is, but if not, it’s a point-to-point race with 12 runners spilt into two vans of 6. Each runner completes 3 legs and will run a total of between ~14-20 miles. You spend (in our case) 29 hours with some of your best running buddies bonding over incredibly strange things that only become funnier the longer you’ve gone without sleep (and showering, and brushing your teeth).
I organized my team (The Lincoln Squares) for the second year in a row – frankly after the miserable heat last year I’m surprised that any of them were willing to do this a second time, but out of 12 runners from last year we had 9 recommitted to the fun. I’ll freely admit that I’m a serious Type A person so organizing is, for me, a good time. Renting the vans, reserving the hotels, shopping for the food, making sure we had all the safety equipment, putting together a training weekend and yes, even collecting the money, was fun.
We picked up our rental vehicles on Thursday evening at O’Hare (I wish it was as economical to rent in the city nearby, but alas it was not) and then headed back to basecamp (my house) to pick up the other runners. Luckily everyone heeded my suggestion to pack light so we had plenty of room in the van & Suburban. The van had 7 occupants (6 runners & a driver) and the Suburban had 6. We headed up to Madison after a late start – it’s kind of like herding cats to get everyone into the vehicles, especially when two of the runners are old friends who came from Canada and San Francisco just for the race and everyone wants to chat. We finally made it up to the hotel around 11pm and went straight to bed – at least my room did.
I was in Van 1 and our start time was 8am so we woke up at 5:30 to take our last decent shower and grab some breakfast in the lobby. Our hotel was close to the start so we didn’t have any problems getting there an hour early for the safety check in and mandatory safety talk. I was runner #1 and it was really fun to line up at the start and kick off the whole race. Not to mention that the Runner 1 legs were pretty cushy compared to my Runner 12 legs from last year. My route took me around Lake Mendota and through residential Madison neighborhoods with really lovely homes and few hills to keep me on my toes. It was over before I even knew it and I even managed to beat my expected pace by a minute per mile – the cool weather was a real bonus. When all of our six runners were done we were in Lake Mills and would have about 5 hours before we needed to start again so we ate lunch at a restaurant that was totally unprepared for the influx of hungry runners that had descended upon them. Then we headed to the next major exchange to wait for our runners. We were at some park and we took the opportunity to stretch out and wait in the shade.
Leg 2 for me was mostly on a trail – the Glacial Drumlin trail I believe – and it was really pretty. I started out right around 6:30 and when I finished the sun was just starting to set. This year the Ragnar folks staggered the starts more so I didn’t see too many runners while I was out on the course. I’m proud to say that I managed to get a few ‘roadkills’ (when you pass another runner) on each leg and was only ‘killed’ 4 times total – not bad for a mediocre runner. This leg was my best leg ever – I was averaging 8:23/mile – which for me, in the shape I’m in right now, was a scorching pace. Our van finished up around 10:45-ish at a huge school of some sort. They had showers, hot food and a place to sleep but we wanted to get to the next major exchange to try to get some decent sleep so we found a local pizza place and placed an order to go before heading up to the next major exchange at the Racine YMCA. Our driver (my long suffering husband) and our nephew Matt (the only guy on our team) headed into the Y to take showers and sleep and the rest of us crashed out in the van – probably not the best idea. It was pretty cramped and there was a foghorn on the lake that made a long, sad honking noise about every 30 seconds. I probably got about 20 minutes of sleep – not necessarily because of the conditions, but mostly because I’m always afraid that if I fall into a deep sleep I’m going to miss the next runner when they came in.
My last leg started at the Y and headed out of Racine along the lake then through some semi-industrial areas, some residential, some commercial and finally onto a completely pitch-black trail. This was my slowest leg – not only was I pretty tired, but much of my leg was on sidewalks and I am a known tripper so I slowed down to make sure I wouldn’t wipe out. When Van 1 was done we had the luxury of heading into Chicago to one of our apartments that was fabulously close to the finish line. We had time to take REAL SHOWERS and have a decent breakfast complete with Bloody Marys before walking down to Montrose Harbor to wait for Van 2 so we could all run in together. My team finished in 29:08 which to me is amazing – it meant that every single runner had to do a little better than expected. I can’t lie and I must apologize for the cheese, but it truly makes me so proud and so happy. We finished 60th out of ~250 mixed-open teams. Considering that we only had one guy this amazes me. I didn’t stack the team with speedsters – except for our lone guy who runs 6:00/mile, we had everything from a gal who runs 10:30/mile to a couple of gals who run 8:00/mile with most around 9:00/mile. So proud.
Here’s the lowdown:
Cost: Not a cheap race – registration starts at $1260/team and only went up the later you registered. Plus you have to factor in van rental, gas, hotel, and food. Luckily we got some really good van prices and it only came out to $140/person for the rest of the necessities.
Swag: A short-sleeved tech-t and a nice bottle opener medal. There was plenty of Ragnar gear to be purchased at the start and the finish and their prices aren’t too bad. Not cheap, but you don’t feel like you’re getting bent over either.
Course: Supremely well organized for a race of this magnitude. There was one glitch where because of construction a runner had to do an extra 3 miles and they didn’t communicate that very well before the leg started, but other than that it all went very smoothly. This probably isn’t the most scenic Ragnar but the course is fairly flat and easy to run.
What I wore – Saucony Kinvava 3’s, Balega socks, and Nike Pro Compression sports bras on all 3 legs:
Leg 1: It was a little chilly but I knew I’d warm up once the race started so I wore a Moving Comfort Sprint running skort and an Icebreaker Zest tank.
Leg 2: Much warmer, so pretty much the same idea as Leg 1 – Oiselle Bum Wrap skort (probably the most comfortable running skort I own – the under shorts never ride up and are long enough to prevent chafing without needing Glide), a different Icebreaker Zest tank (these are not only comfortable, but really, really flattering).
Leg 3: Much chillier than I had planned for – in fact, I hadn’t even brought along a long-sleeved running shirt so I had to improvise. I wore Brooks Infinity capris, and a lightweight Ragnar Ambassador hoody that I had just thrown in to wear when I was lounging around between legs. I though the hood would drive me insane, but I actually didn’t notice it at all.
Downtime: A pair of ancient Nike long pants, an Icebreaker t-shirt, an Icebreaker Crush Hoodie and/or a Ragnar Ambassador zip jacket. Can you tell I’m an Icebreaker fan? It’s spendy, but it lasts and it’s good quality – consider it to be investment pieces for your running wardrobe.
I love, love, love Ragnar and if you have any questions about the race I’d love to answer them!