This past weekend, I ran in the DC Ragnar Relay. What is a Ragnar Relay? It’s a 200-mile relay with up to 12 runners on a team. Each runner completes a leg from 3-8 miles of varying difficulty….and the run continues through the night for about 36 hours of non-stop craziness.
Weather? Doesn’t matter. Fatigue? Get used to it. General mayhem? Comes with the territory. While the run is physically demanding, it’s more of a sleep deprivation exercise, since you’re always on the move, and team members are either running, getting ready to run, just finished running, driving or navigating.
Our team consisted of 12 members in two vehicles, that leap-frogged each other to the different hand-off points. Our van was tagged as the start team, so we left Virginia at 2:30 AM. I had finally finished packing at 11PM the night before, so I was running on about 2 1/2 hours of (restless) sleep. We drove through the dark morning towards the Cumberland, MD start.
Since the event was in early October, we had hoped for cool weather. What we had NOT hoped for….was constant rain, fueled by a cool front and the approaching Hurricane Joaquin. Any plans we had of getting restful sleep in a tent were quickly washed away, along with a lot of the trails.
The first leg was a trail run around Lake Habeeb in Rocky Gap State Park. Not 30 minutes into the run, we lost our first runner (and my sister) to injury. Running in the dark and rain made it impossible to see some of the obstacles, and an unfortunate injury took her out of the race. We sent two runners to locate her, and we loaded her into the van. She had to sit in the back, watching her teammates run while we traveled to a point where she could be recovered and transported home (and to get checked out by an actual doctor).
After that, we assigned her remaining runs to other team members, and kept going. At our first major exchange, we were able to get into some (slightly) drier clothes, get some real food and (for some), a quick nap. Once my sister was safely transferred to a ride back home, we were back on our way.
The second leg of a Ragnar Relay consists of running through the night. Every team member has to have a reflective vest, and all the runners need a headlamp (to see the road), and a blinking tail light (so anyone on the road can see them). The constant rain and moonless night made for an eerie sense of isolation. As I ran through the night, I saw a ghostly path of blinking lights in the road ahead, showing me the way. I heard a train horn in the distance…..and as I ran under the train bridge, I saw a 100+ car freight train rumble overhead.
We finished our 2nd leg, and headed for our final transfer point. Since camping outside was out of the question (due to the downpour and the rain), we all shoe-horned ourselves into the SUV. The only advantage of losing one of our runners was that I could curl up in the 3rd row seat in a semi-fetal position and actually get a couple hours of sleep.
My final leg came up, so I got into a dry set of socks and running gear, and got ready for the run. Our course started in the mountains, so the first leg was pretty hilly…and I had an average time of around 10:40 per mile. Slower than my normal 10K pace, but considering the steep hills, I was OK with it. The runners before me had some REALLY steep hills, so I wasn’t complaining. Yet. My 2nd leg was rolling hills, but no major climbs, and my time was faster (around 9:40/mile). The final leg, I was a little more alert, it was daylight, and I knew it was the LAST run. I took off wearing a rain jacket, but quickly shed it, since it was only drizzle at that point. I felt good on the run, and pushed the pace a bit, ending up with a 9:17 pace overall…I even had one mile at a sub-9:00 pace, so I was definitely feeling good (and glad that I was done).
After that, I caught a ride home with one of my team mates. I didn’t make it to the finish line party, since I needed to get home to attend to my sister and make sure she was OK. Other team members posted lots of pictures, and we all got our finisher t-shirts and medals. It’s always good to get a little bling for the effort. Got home, showered and out for a celebratory post-race dinner…..but afterwards, I was so tired I was asleep less than 2 minutes after hitting the pillow….and for the next 12 hours, I was in dreamland.
What’s next? Who knows….maybe we’ll try another Ragnar Relay. My sister wants me to try a Spartan Race – I’m eager to attack another physical challenge, but I’m not a big fan of mud. I’m thinking of doing another triathlon, possibly moving up to the 1/2 Ironman. Whatever it is, It’s going to be crazy, challenging….and fun.
What about you? Are there challenges that you’ve faced, or thought you couldn’t accomplish because they were outside of your comfort zone? Sign up for something bigger than you think is possible…because many times, it is. We had a great support team, lots of camaraderie, and a lot of fun, despite the shared misery. What may have seemed impossible became possible…..just because we signed up.