So..how to describe Ragnar?
I almost feel like I can't. You have to experience it to know how it feels.
The whole weekend was just that...such a crazy, fun, exceptional experience. Even with the sleepless nights, miles run in full sun, and the fact that we practically started as strangers, I can say this was one of the best weekends of my life, hands down.
And I can't wait to do it again. (PS, our team is already registered. Ragnar Chicago again in 2018!!!)
It honestly felt like the weekend of a lifetime, from start to finish. All of the logistics and organizing was well worth it, and I somehow landed myself with this amazing group of people to experience it all with.
So three months later...here's the story! I've included a bit about captaining and logistics at the end too, in case you're interested in that part of Ragnar. This really is a race like no other and you have to plan differently...but I'll do a separate post about Ragnar tips and tricks in case anyone is interested in that.
What is Ragnar (and how we came together)
If you're not familiar with it, Ragnar (Rag-naar, not Rag-ner) is a relay race that takes your team 200(ish) miles over two days. They have trail and road (and mixed) relays.
Ragnar Chicago 2017 was a road relay that started in Madison, WI and ended in Chicago, IL on the lake front (Montrose Beach). For Ragnar, your team runs relay fashion from start to finish, handing off a slap bracelet at each exchange. This means that, for the entire 200 miles, someone on your team is always running. For a standard 12-person team, legs are 3-10 miles at a time (I think the longest for anyone on our team was 8 or 9 miles). I personally covered 15.5 miles over my 3 legs.
The standard Ragnar team is 12 people, though you can have "Ultra" teams of six people. It turns out you can really have any number of people on your team (not exceeding 12) and we actually ran into a 2 person team! That means each of the two runners ran FOUR marathon distances (26 miles) over the course of their race! Insane!
Everyone asks how our team came together - and the truth is we met online! I've written about the Hogwarts Running Club (HRC) before - well sometime last summer someone posted the idea of an HRC group doing a Harry Potter themed Ragnar team, and we *ahemm* ran with it. So our team was mostly HRCers, and we filled any open spots with friends from outside HRC. So aside from chatting online, we really were strangers! The majority of us met once for a potluck/planning sesh before the race, and the rest of us met the day of!
The Day Before - Thursday, June 8th
Ragnar Chicago was a Friday/Saturday race (you start Friday morning), so on Thursday, June 8th the majority of our 12-person team met up at a van rental place outside O'Hare airport and began our trek to Madison. After Dana and I secured the vans (and argued with them a lot about some extra hidden fees they tried to throw at us, hrmph), we piled everything into those vans and started driving. We made one pitstop at my house to get my forgotten IPASS (whoops) and a second to pick up our teammate Meghan at a Starbucks in Rockford.
We asked a very nice RANDOM STRANGER!!! to take our first team picture for us too!
|Left to right: Chad, Eli (in stripes), Ramon, Dana, Meghan (purple hair), Nikki, Annie (with the fro :P), Sonja, me, Anthony (fearless driver!), Denise, Sam - the only one not pictured is Aimee, who got to our hotel late late that night!|
|Van 2, headed to check in once we got to Madison. I'm pretty sure I took this picture just for proof that a brake light was out TWO HOURS after we got the van, lol.|
After we checked in, we checked out the swag and spent all our money (you'll see in the following pictures the sweet gray zip up hoodie I bought), and then headed back to the hotel to drop things off before going to dinner. Dinner was delicious and we ended with an early night, since we were planning to leave the hotel at 4:30 the next morning to make our 5:00am start time.
Race Day start! June 9th
Well, we missed our 5:00am start, but it didn't matter. We rolled into the start area a little late, checked our team in to get going, and waited around for the 5:30 wave. Fun fact about Ragnar - your entire team and anyone with you (drivers) are required to wear safety vests when out of your van during "night" hours. So here we all are in our safest outfits, sun rising behind us!
|Apparently we can't take pictures without someone abandoning...Annie is missing here! Left to right, me, Nikki, Ramon, Meghan, Sam, Eli, Denise, Aimee, Chad, Dana, Sonja!|
|Start area from the porta-potties|
|Ready to get rolling!|
|Sam was throwing a dance party behind me :P|
Since our team was Harry Potter themed, we got to work decorating the van with all things HP and HRC. Slogans, HPisms, all the HRC hashtags, and more! It was really fun coming up with the different things to put on the van. I really only have pictures of Van 1 because that's the van I was in (Runners 7-12 were in Van 2).
|We included lots of HRC shout outs #hogwartsrunningclub #somuchgood #onehrc|
If you want to know more about Ragnar terms, they wrote a whole blog post!
Denise handled the other side of the van and perfectly drew the HRC Charity Miles logo. More on Charity Miles here if you want to know.
|I decided to be funny and let everyone know Anthony would be traversing the entire 200 miles with us :P|
|The Marauder's Map - this flew off about 5 minutes later.|
|My ONLY picture from the decorating of Van 2, which I stole from our Facebook group.|
First Legs, Van 1
After decorating, we headed off to the first exchange to wait for Meghan. While you wait, there's someone from Ragnar about a quarter mile up who's radioing the volunteer at the exchange to let them know which runners are coming in. So this person is constantly yelling out numbers, and you wait and listen for your team to be called.
Well...let's just say "THIRTY EIGHT" has a whole new meaning to our team, because we all ended up frantically yelling "38 38 38 Annie get out here!" because Annie kept running to the porta potty thinking she had to go. You had to be there...but it was HILARIOUS to all of us.
|People waiting for their teammates to roll in.|
|The start of the handoff....|
|Annie takes off!|
When we got to the second exchange we hopped out, watched (and did not at all make fun of) this guy we deemed "Crossfit dude" stretching TO THE MAX outside his van, and then wandered down to the exchange point to wait for our number to be called!
|38 38 38!!! We heard our number and watched Annie run in! Sam was such a great cheerleader, even as she awaited her first leg!|
|Runner 2 in, Runner 3 is off!|
|Sam slapped Ramon extra hard at every exchange. And he deserved it!|
|In he comes!|
|And off goes Runner 5! Go Denise, go!|
We made it to Exchange 5 with some minutes to spare, and that's where we found out about the 2 man team! The first guy would be ending his first leg (ie legs 1-5) and the second would be starting. Fun fact that he doesn't know - I got to be his first kill!! He started maybe 30 seconds after me, and as he blew past I was like, "You know what...I'm okay with that."
|Getting ready to go!|
|The hand off!|
|And off I go!|
Well...my nice shady run lasted approximately .5 miles before the path opened up into wide, bright sun. And it continued in the sun and growing heat for miles. At this point I realized my leg had been marked "HARD" by Ragnar, not because of elevation but because of the distance/trail material/full sun combo.
One mile passed in the sun. The second mile passed in the sun. The third mile loomed, full of sun.
Honestly, by mile 2 I was seriously regretting my decision for Nuun instead of water, because all I wanted to do was dump water on my head.
Somewhere around the second mile (when I was seriously contemplating walking) I heard someone coming up behind me and she passed me momentarily before saying, "There. I killed you, and you killed me back!" before stopping to walk. I laughed and decided to slow down and walk with her - which she protested at first saying she didn't want to slow me down - but I told her, "Look, I'm pregnant and it's hot, I think I'm gonna do run/walk intervals the rest of the way anyways." And that was how I met Sheri!
We walked for about 1/10 mile before we picked up the pace again, remarking on how nice some water would be, and how we wish we had bug spray for the millions of mosquitoes chewing us up on when the trail turned from prairie to swamp land.
We had no clue if there would be any kind of water station - Ramon, who had run almost 8 miles on his first leg, reported that there was no water stop on his leg, even though legs over 4 miles or something were promised water stations by the organizers. Fortunately, right around 3.5 we came upon on a parking lot where a water stop had been set up. In an effort to be green Ragnar wasn't providing cups at water stations, so I dumped out my Nuun, filled my hand held with water, and then dumped it on my head. I filled it again and drank from it, then dumped more on my head and chest. And finally, I filled up, and Sheri and I continued on our way.
The miles after that were a bit easier because they were partially shaded. When we made it to the "one mile left" sign I decided to run the rest of the way, and Sheri bid me adieu while she continued walking. The course turned off the trail into a subdivision and I made my way up some elevation towards Lake Mills High School (Exchange 6), encouraging other runners I was passing who were just starting leg 7.
All those long, hot miles later, I came in to the finish line of my leg, clocking just over 12 minutes per mile (very good, considering). Exchange 6 was a "major" exchange (and a bit of a party area) because it was where one van of runners would stop for their first break and the next van would start their journey. It was also where the race check in was held so there were tons of tents (which we had all visited the day before). I was extra excited because my mom was volunteering at this exchange, which meant I'd get to see her for a few minutes before she started her shift!
|They had to have us running on grass, didn't they?|
|Making the hand off!|
I ran it in, passed the bracelet to Eli, and I was glad to be done. My "one mile left" turned out to be more like 1.5, and I was hot again when I finished running but there was no chance I was going to stop and walk when I was so close, so I just kept running. As soon as I slapped the bracelet on Eli's hand I was looking for water to dump on myself. I found an aid station and made that happen, and then drank some of the Gatorade Anthony had for me.
After we left the exchange we headed out to find somewhere to eat lunch before heading to the next major exchange (12) to meet the rest of the team. I finished around 10:40am and we guesstimated that we had until about 4:00pm to just hang out and rest.
We found somewhere to eat (I changed when we got there, and then had my order forgotten and messed up by our waiter), we all pounded water during the meal, and then we piled back in the van to the next exchange.
I remember one main thing about this exchange: IT WAS HOT. AND SUNNY. AND THERE WAS NO SHADE. #mottooftheweekend
Oh hey, that's three things. This exchange experience (and the finish) drove my post-event review content. Not only did Ragnar not provide ANY shade via tents for the participants, there was very little shade to begin with. There was one large oak tree that most people laid under (we tried and ended up in the sun anyways), and one sheltered picnic area by a park.
To be honest, I was miserable and trying not to show it. I was SO hot and the combo of being pregnant and fatigued and hot and unable to cool off really got to me. Anthony and I ended up walking over by the water tents so I could sit in some shade for a bit while I drank actual cold water. We also went back to the van for a bit and put the air on to cool off in there too. I did manage a 30 minute nap though, which was helpful.
|Anthony (trying to bring out his Guatemalan side with some sun :P), me, Meghan (in the back), Annie (hand up), Ramon, and Denise (on the Pink Floyd blanket). All of us feeling hot and lazy.|
I took off into a small park/forest preserve at exchange 17 in my reflective vest and headlamp/tail light ensemble, with the promise from my vanmates that there would be pizza waiting for me when I handed off the baton to Eli at Exchange 18 (which also promised showers).
At "just" three miles I knew it would be an easy run, and I already decided I could manage without walking. It was still a bit humid, but the air was cool and the moon was bright, which made for a calming run. I started on pavement, moved to a bike path that ran through some prairie, and then it took a creepy-af turn under a bypass that I was praying no one was hiding or sleeping in. I did actually have to walk the 20 feet through it too, because there was some kind of hard, dried mud covering the sidewalk and it was too difficult to navigate while running without breaking an ankle.
The rest was easy though, with only a small portion that had to be run on the road, and one intersection staffed by police officers for runner safety. The last half mile or so was uphill before a merciful turn towards the school hosting Exchange 18. I actually almost missed the turn too, but someone just starting their leg saw I must be finishing mine and told me to turn instead of crossing the street. Good thing too!!
A few hundred feet later I slapped Eli with the bracelet (11:45 average pace), waved farewell to our Van 2 teammates who would be running through the night, and found my van mates sitting on a bench with three Toppers pizza boxes between them. We made our way inside, away from the bugs, devoured our pizza, and then grabbed our stuff from the van for showers and sleep.
By the time we got there, there was NO room in the gym to sleep (Annie, Ramon, and Denise actually slept in our van - don't blame them). The rest of us found a spot in a hallway right outside the gym that was only moderately loud and we got set up, then I left Anthony to guard while I showered and brushed my teeth. A few people opted not to shower but I was more than willing to sacrifice some sleep for that amazing clean feeling you only get after post run showers. I was in and out as fast as possible, then curled up on my air mattress.
Due to "noise pollution" I got a whopping 90 minutes of sleep before my oh-so-responsible Captain's alarm went off at 1:45am so we could wake everyone up and pack to leave again. The school and parking lot were entirely deserted when we did wake up, which was shocking and eerie given how packed it had been before. We had a solid 45 minute drive to the next major exchange, and we had to plan time for parking, walking, bathroom finding, etc.
We got there way too early (texting with the other van told us we had at least an hour to spare) and parked a few blocks away from the YMCA the exchange was at. We stayed in the van until it was obvious we should leave, donned our vests, and trekked to the start of Meghan's last leg, running inside to utilize the facilities before she left.
We learned when we got there that the exchange point was FIFTY FOUR steps down to a path that ran along the lake. Which meant FIFTY FOUR steps back up after she started. The guy directing people was entirely too cheerful when he was telling everyone how many steps there were.
Final Legs, Van 1
We had a minor mishap in communication during this exchange, and the only people who actually saw our Van 2 teammates were Annie and Meghan (Meghan was leaving for her last leg). Everything got figured out though, and we eventually piled back into the van to drop Annie off for her leg.
Anyways...Annie took off on her run, and on our way to the next exchange to meet her, we crested a hill in the van and we honestly all gasped as we were greeted with this beautiful sunrise over Lake Michigan...
|Lots of people got out of their vans heading straight for the beach to take selfies, and we were no exception! I love him so much!! Dragging him along to drive was honestly one of the best things during Ragnar!|
|Final handoff from Runner 2 to 3! Only a few legs left for our van!|
|Sam takes off!|
|I got him to smile AND laugh even on so little sleep! ;) He's handsomest when he smiles!!|
|Ramon comes in and Denise starts her final leg!|
|Go go Ramon!! Our powerhouse gets his prize for finishing all three legs!|
Apparently Anthony decided to steal my phone and take some selfies while we waited for Ramon to roll in :P Little did he know, they'd end up on the blog!
After Denise, it was time for my last leg! Another leg labeled "hard" and I was pretty sure that, once again, it would be because of sun and surface. Spoiler alert: it was.
|Taking off for my final leg!|
Worth mentioning: Part of this run took me past the naval base, which was really cool. There's actually a whole trail that runs along there, and someone mentioned that there's a race there every year too...might have to go on my bucket list!
I managed four kills on my final leg - some beasts like Annie and Ramon averaged like 7-10 per leg- but I was proud of my four (making 5 total for the whole relay). By the time I reached Mile 4 though I was SO hot and my heart rate was well over 150, so I decided to stop and walk the entire mile. When I resumed running at Mile 5, it was in short bursts that I alternated with walking because my heart rate was uncontrollable - and I ran out of water. Around mile 5.5 spectators started to appear, and someone looked at me a bit concerned and asked if I wanted a popsicle.
Dear God, bless that angel, because that firecracker popsicle she handed me was the best thing I tasted in my entire life. Between the cold and the sugar I had enough in me to finish out the 6 miles relatively strong for a hot, dehydrated, sleep deprived, first-trimester pregnant lady (13:07 pace average), and I was so grateful to slap the bracelet onto Eli's wrist to start Van 2's final legs.
And then I looked at the first teammate I saw (can't even remember who it was) and said, "I need water right now." One of them walked me over to the water tent where I filled my bottle and dumped it over my head twice, before downing an entire cold bottle that Anthony had picked up for me at a gas station.
And with that...our van was done running. I finished my run at about 10:30, so we had plenty of time to make it to the beach at Montrose before our estimated 3:30 finish time. All that was left for Van 1 was the trip to Chicago to wait for our last runner and Van 2, and to cross the finish line as a team!
The Finish (ie the last long wait)
My mom was coming in for the finish (she was having lunch with Mrs Pillar, a friend who lives very close to the beach) and we asked her to stop at our house and pick up Token so he wouldn't be stuck at home all day. Anthony and I walked over to Mrs Pillar's condo (well, we got lost and then I got too tired so he went part way without me while I sat under a tree) and came back over with our boy who was ecstatic to see us - there was much butt wiggling.
The beach finish was not the most fun, although we did get 2 free pizzas per van. What made it not-fun was Ragnar once again didn't provide enough shade. They had one large party tent with tables under it, and then an equal number of tables and chairs set up on the beach...in the sun. The same sun we had all just been running in. Water and beer were available for purchase (and expensive to boot), and the actual water station was a long wander away down the beach.
After a few hours I did manage to score a table for our team under the tent, out of sheer desperation knowing I could not sit in the sun anymore. People were descending on open tables like angry flies - at one point when I was looking around for someone and I dared to put my hand on a chair some woman glared at me and very rudely said, "WE WERE HERE FIRST!" I stared at her and said, "Uh sorry, I'm just trying to find my friend"...and then I kept standing there looking around, just to annoy her. I mean, it wasn't exactly a secret that we were all hot, tired, and looking for somewhere to sit down in the shade, but she didn't need to be that rude about it.
So anyways, we got a table in the shade to wait it out, and a while later our Van 2 teammates started to appear which meant Chad (Runner 12) would be arriving soon! As we went to wait for him to run across the finish my mom and Mrs Pillar held our table (which I actually felt really bad about, given that I wanted them to be able to see us cross the finish line...but we needed to keep that table!).
We ran it in and snagged some pictures showing that we did, indeed, finish as a team!
|The Team That Must Not Be Named, coming in strong!|
|Team picture! And Token photobombing, of course :P|
We got our medals, went back to the table and immediately assembled the puzzle so we could see what they said all together:
|Pretty cool knowing we all have a piece of this!|
Everything got done, I picked up my car (which took forever because I didn't have the printed tag they'd given me, only my emailed receipt - dumb), we got the van cleaned out and washed off, and then we returned them (that at least went smoothly).
After that we said our goodbyes, and made our separate ways home.
It felt amazing to take a shower and get all of the sweat and sand off me. After the shower, Anthony, Token, and I laid down on the couch and didn't move for the rest of the night. For all of Saturday night and Sunday we were about relaxing and cuddles (and soothing our very burnt bodies!).
|My boys, all tuckered out. This picture melts my heart!!|
|Seriously, check out that sunburn!! And my using Tokes as a pillow :P|
|Still super tired. Naps and cuddles all day!!|
And the great part is that he loved it too...and next year we'll be teammates too!!
To end...I leave you with these. My extremely sunburnt face, my medal, and all the nostalgia in the world. Here's to next year and Team 43...The Runners who say Ni!
Oh! And since it shouldn't go without mentioning...Runner 13 got some swag as well ;)
|Sam, you're the best!|
Now it's really the end ;)