200 miles, 24 hours, 2 vans, 12 running warriors. This weekend Team Fresh participated in the Ragnar Northwest Passage relay race. It was a unique and amazing experience like no other and here are some reflections from life out on the road.
This was my first Ragnar and there was a bit of a culture shock as our van rolled into the first major exchange point around 3:30 in the afternoon. For starters, our first van started the race at 10:30 in the morning, and we were already getting periodic updates. Twitter was already alive with other racers photos and updates, so I almost felt as if I was late, already eager to run. Secondly, the Ragnar culture is definitely a “fun” culture. You have serious runners out there, but a lot of them are in tutus, unicorn hats, prison outfits, and even Santa Claus outfits. I felt a little under dressed. After some orientation and a bit of catching up with our other van, it was time for our segment to start! Melanie took the first hand off (a cleverly utilized slap bracelet) and we were away in our van to cheer and support her.
Each leg follows a similar pattern, regardless of distance. Drop off your teammate at the exchange point, pick up the completed runner, then drive on to a midway point or so to cheer on your runner and provide water/snacks if needed. “Run. Drive. Sleep? Repeat.” is the mantra used. While there were nearly 400 teams in this relay race, you are very much focused on your team, and even just your van, during the event. All of the teams are stagger-started over the course of the first day (as early as 6:00 AM) so runners you encounter during your leg may or may not be close to your time. This makes for a great environment where you are able to cheer your teammates on, have plenty of bodies to pass, but not worry about where you are in the standings. This also makes for some camaraderie between teams. Our “high five lines” often extended to a couple of close runners after one of ours had passed. It was also encouraging to get some hoots and encouragement from other vans on the side of the road, especially when the sun started beating down during my last leg. To my knowledge there are no prizes based on place, just for finishing. Believe me, this is an accomplishment in itself.
About 7:30 in the evening I started out on my first leg. This was a 6.8 mile run that was downhill and flat, but still a little nerve wracking for me at first. I’ve been putting in training since February targeting distances about this long at an 8:30 minute pace. However, that still doesn’t prevent the race jitters, especially with the thought that in about 10 hours I’d be running close to the same distance again with potentially no sleep. After about a mile and a half of my mind racing and trying to figure itself out, it stopped for a moment and said “Hey! Look around!” As I took a moment to get my bearings and the site was beautiful. I was on a simple two lane road with farm land as far as the eye could see. The weather was perfect. My mind shifted from all of the jitters and queued up “The Girl from Ipanema”. Oddly enough this song allows my stride to stay long and smooth, maximizing my efficiency, but also keeping my energy reserves relaxed for the long haul. Everything clicked into place and the run was beautiful. I managed to pass a few people along the way. I wound up finishing my run with a 7:36 minute pace, nearly a minute faster than I planned! I was greeted by my team at the exchange point, and even my father-in-law who had tracked us down. Shortly after, it was back in the van to cheer Rachael on, who I had handed off the slap bracelet too. “Run. Drive. Sleep? Repeat.”
Rachael’s leg finished about 9 PM and it we were off for our night shift. After finding some food at a local grocery store, we made it to the next major exchange point and found a spot to park amidst the crowd of vans that had arrived. After touching base with our other van, making plans, and a quick shower, I climbed into my sleeping bag around 11:00. Sleep was mixed. While Steve had found a great corner outside that was dark and quiet, there was still the clang of a flagpole and the occasional “Whooooo!” to be heard as teams continued to have their exchanges through the night. At 1:30 AM my alarm goes off and I check in with van 1. They are a bit ahead of schedule (always a good thing, go Team Fresh!) and we start to get things together. By 2:30 Melanie is off on her next run and the cycle repeats itself again.
24 hours, 46 minutes, and 14 seconds later, we all jog in just behind Rachael as she crosses the finish line for team Fresh! By now there a mixture of exhaustion and excitement. For me, my last leg was particularly difficult because the combination of fatigue, and opening hill climb, and the sun beating down on the highway made for my most difficult run. However, the encouragement of my teammates along the way, and the focus of finally being done made possible to still finish with an amazing pace. As we all gather around the “finish banner” to have our group picture taken, I realized how great the Ragnar is at so many levels:
- The Fresh team has had a great experience outside of work to do something crazy, encourage each other.
- Each van had a little more intense time to bond with each other, regardless of how stinky it was in the van (or so they say). I got to have some good conversations and get to know some people better than I had ever had a chance to before.
- I conquered some personal challenges that I had set for myself with being able to train, participate, and conquer for this event.
- We were all able to connect and encourage fellow runners that were out on the course as well.
So there’s a recap of our fresh adventure we had this weekend. It was enjoyed by all and if you were there, make sure to let us know below. Here are also some more pictures of our adventure. Enjoy!