Tips for Your First Ragnar Relay Race

I've always been a little intimidated by the idea of creating a "Bucket List" that's life-long and experience-based. A NYC Restaurant Bucket List? Sure. A Margarita Happy Hour bucket list? Yep, I've got one of those. Doughnut Bucket List? Going strong.

But putting pen to paper and coming up with a list of the things I want to experience in a lifetime is overwhelming to me. I fear it would get vastly out of control and end up being pages long and then I would feel like I'd failed when I looked back and saw the things I hadn't checked off. 

I tend to take my experiences as they come. Opportunity to go to Barcelona? Leggo! Random idea to walk the Brooklyn Bridge at 2:00 AM? Sure! Is there such thing as a reverse bucket-list? Where I make a list of the top experiences of my life after the fact? Cause that's something I could do! 

This is a really long way of getting to the point of this post, which is something that I HAVE actively been wanting to do and check off my list for about three years now - running a Ragnar Relay Race.

Running a Ragnar Relay

HOW WE GOT HERE

My friends and I even made a Facebook group in May of 2015 where we would bounce dates and races off of each other. The page eventually began to look like this:
"OH, this one looks awesome! Down?"
Me: "Damn, I have a work trip then."
"What about this one?" 
Me: "Traveling then too." 

Cape Cod Ragnar Relay

Then, months ago, my friend Kayla and I were sitting in a coffee shop attempting to do homework/blog work when we got on the topic of Ragnar. It went from a conversation, to some serious procrastination as we started to look at dates and details and eventually escalated into us entering the lottery for the 2017 Cape Cod Ragnar Relay. We had absolutely no idea how competitive the lottery was or what our odds of getting in were. We didn't have commitments from anyone about joining our team. We kind of shrugged our shoulders and said, "We know lots of runners and we really want to do this so, let's give it a try!"

I think we both kind of forgot we had even entered until Kayla's credit card was charged over $1,000 and she got the "You've Been Accepted" email. 

A small part of me had a moment of panic, but mainly we were excited and confident that we could recruit 10 people to join us pretty easily. 

Turns out, even if you're part of the running community in a giant city, getting together 12 people excited to run 190 miles while being crammed in a van with no personal space and even less sleep is not an easy task. 

Not to mention the weekend of Ragnar happened to be a pretty big weekend race-wise. Our two friends who we'd figured would join us would be off completing their first HALF IRONMAN (CONGRATS ABBY AND CALLIE) and it was also the same weekend as the Bear Mountain North Face Endurance Challenge - a favorite of November Project teammates. Plus, it was the weekend before the Brooklyn Half Marathon - the largest half marathon in the country that tons of people were training for and making their top priority for the spring. Oh, and it was mother's day weekend. 

Our strategy became, fill one van, give one away. Meaning we'd fill and captain one van and then pass the reins for a second van over to someone else who would be free to ask whoever they wanted to join their crew of 6. We contacted Ragnar to see if there was any way of reaching out to the "lotto losers" but they weren't very helpful. 

Fast forward to days before the race and we were legitimately still scrambling  - people were dropping out left and right due to injuries and we were prepared to compete as a team of just 11 runners. Miraculously, we pulled it together. 11 female runners, 1 brave boyfriend of a teammate, and 1 driver converged on Kayla's house in Boston and the adventure began.

THE NIGHT BEFORE

I flew from a work trip in Pennsylvania into Boston on Thursday night and was picked up in our rental mini-van by Melissa, Kaitlin, and Mr. Monks who had all gone to Enterprise to swap out the van they had driven from NYC --> Boston - the tires were low. Joy. 

TIP: We had found out days before we left that we wouldn't be able to rent our reserved 12 person van from Enterprise because none of us were insured owners of a vehicle. We were able to get a mini-van for the same cost after some negotiating, but make sure to ask questions when you initially reserve your van! 

New van + me made it back to Kayla's house where I bee-lined it to the fridge for some leftovers. Kayla's mom makes the most incredible couscous salad, which went wonderfully with dijon salmon. 

My van-mates had already done so much work to get us ready to Ragnar - a shopping trip to Costco, splitting up all the food between boxes for Van 1 and Van 2, slicing, dicing, car packing, float-blowing (I'll explain later...), and they had even brought my duffel bag from NY for me! 

TIP: Pre-purchasing all of our food saved a lot of mental energy. We didn't have to think about stopping to eat or grocery shop once during the trip. I honestly don't know how teams manage to go for sit down meals during a Ragnar Race! Here's what our food situation looked like: 
  • Apples - PRE SLICED (thanks, Rebecca) which made them so much more enjoyable to snack on
  • Bananas, duh, runners here! 
  • Peanut Butter - also duh 
  • Trail Mix
  • Couscous Salad 
  • Bagels
  • Bread (the most amazing bread, from When Pigs Fly Bakery! Get the Blueberry Granola) 
  • Rice Cakes 
  • Carrots
  • Hummus
  • Hard Boiled Eggs - Michelle made these for us and it ended up being a GREAT addition to our food spread) 
  • Peanut Butter filled Pretzels 
  • Dried Fruit 
  • Bark Thins
  • Chocolate Covered Cashews 
  • A variety of our own gels, gus, chews, energy bars, etc. 
  • Yogurts 
  • Gallons of water!
  • And post-race snacks like kettle corn, tortilla chips, champagne, and an aggressively large bottle of vodka 

Soon, the folks from the other van arrived and although not everyone knew each other, it was all hands on deck unloading their things from the van, getting it parked down the street in a family-friend-neighbors driveway (they had a 12-passenger monster), and talking about our plans for the morning. We were scared that our start time wasn't going to leave us enough time to finish, so Van 1 planned to head out early and try to get a head-start. 

Kayla and I headed to bed fairly early, hidden away in the attic and with the help of a melatonin I got a decent amount of sleep! 

THE MORNING OF

In the morning, we helped Van 1 pack their van, their cooler, cleaned up the various air mattresses and blankets, and Kayla's mom cooked a delicious breakfast for Van 1. By 8:30 AM they were ready to roll out. We took a team picture ("Big Apple Cod Squad"), wished them luck, and off they went. We heard from them around 10:15/10:30 that they were being allowed to start early and the race was on! 

Tips for a Successful Ragnar Relay

While Van 1 started their 6 legs, Van 2 continued to prepare at Kayla's house. That preparation included our own delicious breakfast made by Enid - a fritatta, toasted baguette, avocado and fruit salad. 

Then we set out to get bread at When Pigs Fly (Blueberry Granola & Baby Spinach + Onion + Garlic Ciabata) and plenty of cold brew coffee from CVS. 

TIP: You're not going to have a coffee maker in your car, you're not going to want to make extra stops or go out of your way to find coffee,  but you are definitely going to need coffee. Having cold brews in the cooler was a God send (even though I really couldn't have used a HOT cuppa joe) for energy, and, uhm, #2. 

 I showered, got dressed, packed up all my things and then it was time for DECORATING! 

Cape Cod Ragnar Race Recap

We had pre-purchased car markers and were ready to beautify our van. This is also where the floats came in play- we had bought a giant avocado pool float and an even bigger chocolate covered pretzel pool float in the hopes that we could attach them to our van as decoration. Sadly, we didn't have anything strong enough to feel confident that our float was fully secured to the roof - next time, we'll buy bungee cords or rope. There were plenty of vans that used floats to decorate. We just needed a better game plan. 

TIP: Another thing a lot of teams do aside from decorating their vans is creating team magnets that they put on other teams' vans throughout the race! We loved seeing the different magnets that got left on our van - and next time would love to make our own!

Either way, they provided a lot of fun pictures before we left Boston. I had also insisted on ordering 4 mini doughnut floats that were the most awkward size and color. But they got me featured on Ragnar's blog. 

Cape Cod Ragnar Review

The car markers worked GREAT (we ordered these) and I loved the way our van looked by the end. 

TIP: During Ragnar races, people track their "kills" during each leg - these the people that you pass as you run! Every van tracks their kills somewhere on the van. Isn't my skull and crossbones stellar?
Tips for Ragnar Relay

After much contemplation, we had named our van the "Big Apple Cod Squad" - which got us named to the Top 30 Team Names list!

After our decorating was done we headed inside for a quick lunch - a delicious open-faced sandwich on the spinach, onion and garlic ciabatta bread with arugula, hummus and cheeeeese.

ON THE ROAD

Once we were all packed and our last teammate arrived, we rolled out in our mini-van ready to meet Van 1 at the first "Major Exchange." 

But first, Kayla thought she had left her phone behind at the house. As Kaitlin navigated down a dead-end to turn around, we were boxed in by a giant UPS truck, only to realize that Kayla was sitting on her phone. This was a theme of the weekend - Kayla couldn't find something, we'd ask if she was sure she wasn't sitting on it, she usually was sitting on it... 

Cell-phone found, we were on the open road. 45 minutes later, the GPS told us we had arrived at our destination. 

But there were no fellow Ragnar vans to be found. Errr? 

Turns out we had driven 45 miles in the wrong direction. All we could do was laugh. Our mini-van was more like a struggle-bus leading up to that first run (but, things definitely improved once the race started!) 

Luckily, we had plenty of time to get to the right place and eventually we spotted other vans and knew we were in the right spot. As we drove up to the exchange we rolled the windows down and started cheering for runners, which got us all pumped up. 

TIP: Something that would have helped in pumping us up was an aux cord to play the music on our phones through the van's speakers. We were left listening to the radio or our phones placed in cup holders in an attempt to make it loud enough. During the actual race, we didn't listen to music much because we were all talking and the driver/navigator didn't need any more distractions - but for the longer driving portions, it's definitely something I'd add to our "next time" list. 
How to Run a Successful Ragnar Relay

Registration was easy and the "safety orientation" was a big of a joke - we listened to about 2 minutes worth of a video and were on our way to getting bibs, t-shirts and free samples of KIND bars and HIGH BREW COFFEE. I was so excited. I love that stuff. 

I was frozen, and would remain frozen for the entire 28 hours it seemed. Kayla had packed her NYC Marathon poncho with her and I didn't realize it was amazingly fuzzy and warm inside - it was a lifesaver and I broke my vow to never wear anything NYC Marathon branded until I actually run the NYC Marathon - it seemed necessary as I shivered. 

Ragnar Relay Secrets

We used the porta-potties (by the end of 28 hours, I was so excited to use a real bathroom! Also, porta-pottying in the middle of the night is NOT easy - those things don't have lights) and gathered at the Ragnar inflatable to await our teammates from Van 1. Soon, all of us were gathered together waiting for Joey to come through the finish of his leg - we cheered, he handed off the slap bracelet to Kayla, and Kayla was off - signifying the start of Van 2's Leg #1. 

TIP: I never ran into TP-less porta-potties but it's definitely a possibility. Doesn't hurt to pack your own roll to keep in the van! Also - hand sanitizer! 

We talked to Van 1 for awhile before heading back to our van. I didn't realize how "on" we were going to have to be for the periods of time that our van was running. It was a whirlwind. We drove and navigated to the next exchange - passing Kayla and cheering for his as we drove by - parked, and got right to helping the next runner prepare. 

Since we didn't have a ton of trunk space, there was constant reshuffling of bags, constant "hold the box of food so it doesn't fall when I open the trunk!" and constant, "do you see my...?" "can you get me a..." 

TIP: It might sound like an "easy" job, but the navigator's gotta be ready to wear a lot of different hats. The Ragnar directions can be somewhat mediocre - so paying attention is important. You can't just use your iPhone to get to the next exchange because there's a specific route you're supposed to take. People are also going to be asking the navigator a million things like, "Can you put the AC on?" "The windshield is fogging up, help!" "OMG I cannot handle that air freshener please take it down." "Can you plug my phone in?" "Can I have my phone back?" (ORDER THIS!) Definitely set up a rotation and don't take your navigator for granted!

Before we knew it, Kayla was finishing her first leg and Zoe was off for hers! Then, the process shifted to helping Kayla get settled, changed, fed, re-hydrated, etc. while simultaneously helping runner #3 (me) get ready, while simultaneously helping the driver navigate to the next exchange, while simultaneously looking out for the current runner to give a shout (and capture it on Snapchat, duh), while simultaneously needing to get an update from Kayla about how her run went. 

Ragnar Relay How To

Like i said, whirlwind. 

And it didn't stop until all 6 Van 2 runner's had run their first leg! 

LEG ONE 

Leg one for our van went really well. Like, really really well. Kayla kicked things off with a wonderful 6+ miles and her excitement and energy when she got back to the van really got us off on the right foot. 

She marked off her kills on the back window and checked off the first of three boxes next to her name to signify the completion of her first leg. She was the guinea pig for changing in the car and using a "shower pill" to clean off - a process that was hysterical and not one of us managed to do very gracefully. 

TIP: We bought a big pack of these wipes to use after each leg and thought that they worked really well! 

Zoe absolutely CRUSHED her first leg of 10 miles. After Kayla got changed, we set out to the next exchange and kept expecting to see Zoe but by mile 3 we were scratching our heads, "Could we have missed her?" "Could she really be this far along alright?" "HOW FAST IS SHE GOING?" 

Turns out, she was absolutely killing her 10 miles at a 7:30 pace! 

We got to the exchange and I started getting ready, knowing that Zoe was speeding right along. I was totally dreading my run, to be honest. But I knew that once I started, I'd be happy to be moving. 

Zoe passed off the bracelet and off I went. 

Way. Too. Quickly. 

When my watch buzzed at the first mile split, I looked down to see a 7:30.

Logical thought process: "Lauren, this is only your first leg - if you want to be able to run all 12 miles in the next day, pump the damn breaks." 

Actual thought process: "Lauren you haven't run this fast in so long, NEGATIVE SPLIT, I DARE YA!" 

Factor in the motivation of earning "kills" along the route, and I recklessly ran my first leg of 3.9 miles at a dumb dumb dumb 7:27 pace. For awhile it felt OK, but by the end my lower legs were tightening up and I was feeling shin pain with every step. My thought process had switched to, "Well, this might be the only leg you're running - KEEP GOING FAST." Oy. 

I handed off my bracelet to Melissa totally spent. It felt good to have pushed myself that hard for the first time in a long time, but I was also disappointed that I had jeopardized being able to run the rest of my legs in any sort of comfort - I was hurting, and it was the kind of hurting I knew was just going to get worse when I sat down in the car and tightened up - an unavoidable reality during a Ragnar Relay. 

TIP: Look for the Lindt Chocolate van! 

Regardless, I tried to embrace the burn in my lungs, that metallic taste of blood that signals you gave it 100%. My splits had been 7:31, 7:26, 7:16 and 7:34. 

Melissa and Rebecca both had 4ish mile legs next and they both got back in the car grinning from ear to ear after crushing them! 

Kaitlin was the last of our van to set out on Leg 1 and she had a not-so-easy 9 miles that would end in the dark. As we navigated to the exchange we realized she was going to get to run over the Bourne Bridge at sunset! 

Ragnar Relay Review

We got to the Major Exchange and parked next to Van 2 - I made myself a gourmet meal, practically (cous cous salad, rice cake with hummus + hard-boiled egg and baby carrots) and we put on our safety vests as darkness fell. 

TIP: The Ragnar staff were actually very strict about people walking around the exchanges without their vests on - so make sure you have enough for every member of your van! 

We waited for Kaitlin to emerge, literally, from out of the woods. Her leg had taken her over the bridge onto the Cape and then along the water on a paved path. She would end by leaping over some railroad tracks and charging up a narrow dirt path. 

Not to brag, but I'm pretty sure the combined cheers of Van 1 and Van 2 to welcome Kaitlin back and send Monique off were louder than any other teams! 

Ragnar Cape Cod

Once Kaitlin was settled we all breathed a sigh of relief - we'd made it through Leg 1 and now had a few hours off to rest as Van 1's six runners cycled through their nighttime runs. 

We were also slightly nervous for running in the middle of the night, and after fast first legs, all a little scared about how our bodies would feel when we told it to run again. 

The next exchange was a school where we were able to pay $3 to sleep on the gym floor. Luckily, I had come straight from a work trip so I had my travel pillow with me. I unrolled my yoga mat, popped a melatonin, and fell asleep wearing about 8 layers and still shivering. 

TIP: Bring comfy shoes for in between your runs - you're not going to want to be wearing your sneakers the whole time! 

I slept for about an hour, woke up, checked the time, and fell back asleep for mayyyybe another hour. 

Ragnar Relay Review

Then, it was time to get moving again. I took a little bit of hot coffee which was the most glorious 3 sips of my life, we used the porto-potty, repacked the van and again, waited to cheer Joey in and send Kayla off! 

TIP: Ragnar is a cup-free race meaning when there are water jugs, you'll need your own water bottle or cup to fill up! 

LEG TWO 

Leg two was the over-night run. Ragnar runners are required to wear a vest, taillight and headlamp for this portion of the race (they set specific hours where all runners need this gear). We looked pretty bad-ass, just sayin'. 

Cape Cod Ragnar Relay

When Kayla got back, she told me I should take the small flashlight we had packed with me on my run and THANK GOD she did. It was really dark, and the headlamp along didn't provide a ton of light. Plus, it created tunnel vision that made me feel a little off-balance. 

My night run (which started at 2:37 am) could have gone worse considering the pounding I had put on my legs previously in the day, but I certainly didn't feel good on these 4.7 miles. Still - it was just shin pain, nothing I'm not used to running through already. I was still picking off a good amount of runners as the course started to get more crowded during this part. But towards the end, it was more than shin pain as my IT band tightened and I started to get that all familiar pain in the side of my knee.  I finished with an 8:55 pace and a grimace on my face instead of a smile. But leg two was done and I had just 3 more miles to push through later in the day. For now, I could rest. 

TIP: Pack the clothes and gear you'll need for each run in a separate zip-lock bag. Then, when you're done, use that bag to seal up your sweaty, wet clothes. 
What to Pack for a Ragnar Relay

I am not a very confident driver - and luckily, my teammates picked up my slack in this area. The exchanges that we had to go to during the middle of the night seemed to be much more crowded, confusing and tight than the ones during the day, which wasn't a great feeling in the dark. We did our best to navigate them safely and stress-free. 

When we were done with our night runs and again handed the slap bracelet off to Van 1, we again went to a school with a gym where you could sleep. The only problem was, the gym was open, and it was COLD. I slept maybe 30 minutes before I had to go back to the van. 

5 of us attempted sleep and while I may have dozed off for a few minutes at a time, it wasn't quality sleep. One more leg! We told ourselves. 

TIP: Buy some good smelling air fresheners! And keep the plastic on half of it so it's not totally overwhelming! We had also packed Febreeze but honestly, we never ended up using it. We stayed pretty clean-smelling all things considered. 

The wait to start up again felt looooong and slow. This is also when we realized we could have easily been sleeping at Kayla's house during this break...d'ohhh. Looking back, it probably would have just made it harder to start back up again if we had gotten super comfortable and really fallen asleep in beds. 

THE FINAL LEG

As the sun rose and the birds started chirping, it warmed up and we got ready for the final 6 runs. We obviously check out the photo booth, and again cheered for Joey as he finished strong and signaled the end of Van 1's race! 

Tips for Ragnar

Kayla comically ran in the wrong direction for a few feet before we got her attention by shouting, "WRONG WAY!" She henceforth became known as Wrong Way K. 

Up until this point, we had been driving straight to each exchange, but on these last legs we got into the habit of pulling over on the side of the road and waiting for our runners to pass by for pictures, high fives and the added bonus of cheering for other runners.

It was odd - during my run I passed a few other teams pulled over on the side of the road and they just watched me go by without a "woo" or anything! RUDE. We overcompensated for these people by going absolutely nuts for every runner that went by. 

It made them all smile, and it also got US more pumped for our last runs.  

I think one of my favorite parts of the race was seeing Kayla run by on her last leg - she was SO emotional and happy and shouted, "I LEARNED TO RUN HERE!" It was the coolest. 

Ragnar Relay Race Tips

We had decided that I was going to switch last legs with Zoe - so that I only had to run 2.3 miles. But even those 2.3 miles were too much. I came ridiculously close to crying during the 24 minutes and 20 seconds and I took a lot of walking breaks. I was full on limping at this point and although every "YOU GOT THIS" "SO CLOSE TO THE FINISH" was meant to be encouraging, I just wanted to shout at everyone who passed me, "I'm only walking because I physically CANNOT run. I don't walk!" It was frustrating and painful and disappointing but I finished at a jog/hobble and Kayla had the announcer use her megaphone to yell "LOWO" which made me really happy (Tina, I'm trying to make the nickname spread). 

Everyone was so encouraging and positive and no one made me feel like I had just gone 2.3 miles at an 11+ minute pace, but I limped to the car and immediately started crying. 

It was a complete moment of feeling sorry for myself, feeling betrayed by my body that never seems to want to keep up with all the athletic endeavors I have planned, the slipping away of the NYC Marathon in the fall, and the realization that this wasn't just a bad run, I was seriously hurt and would probably not be running again for awhile. 

Tips for Ragnar

But I had to snap myself out of it. Because my teammates were crushing it, and we were having a great time, and I was seriously SO happy and proud of all of them. Kayla ran 20 freaking miles after the LONGEST fight with injuries. I knew she knew exactly what I was feeling as I cried in the back of the van but at the end of the day, I wanted to celebrate with my friends because we were so close to finishing this thing and I didn't need to be bringing the mood down. 

Everyone finished their final  miles strong and happy and we even got to meet Kayla's aunts in a parking lot on the Cape. 

Ragnar Relay Tips

With Kaitlin out on her final 9 mile leg (she was the champ who ran 22 MILES TOTAL) we parked the van, took the shuttle to the finish line (after holding the bus while Kayla SPRINTED to get the safety flag we needed to return) and met up with our Van 1 teammates to wrap this thang up!

The finish line was straight up a massive hill (rude). We gathered at the base of it and watching team after team jump in with their final runner and push them up that final stretch. Finish lines are so emotional and fun and amazing. We spotted Kaitlin, formed a tunnel, and followed her up to the finish line. Afterwards, she wondered why we were so far behind her - she was movin' and it took all of our tired legs a hot sec to start up again!

TIP: Next time, I think we would definitely try to coordinate our outfits for this final part of the race! So many teams had matching t-shirts and costumes and it was so fun to see! 

The finish area was great - we got our medals, more free samples - there were free massages available if you wanted to wait in line - and took lots of pictures. 

Ragnar Relay Tips

POST RACE

We said goodbye to Van 1 and enjoyed our free sandwich and soup (there was beer and cider available too for $5 each - but our stomachs weren't ready for that yet) before taking the shuttle back to the van and getting back to Kayla's house. 

Showering never felt so good - and somehow, napping didn't happen. We powered through the night, which included pizza, Ben & Jerry's, kettle corn, cards, flip cup (team vodka vs. team water), 4 bottles of champagne, vodka and so. much. laughing. 

Ragnar Relay Cape Cod Race Recap

In the morning we all woke up and had a leisurely breakfast while doing laundry and cleaning up the house. We stopped by the beach on our way home, and for croissants, and I even got a hug from Allison when we stopped for food at the Hartford Whole Foods. 

THE MUSHY, SENTIMENTAL CONCLUSION

Honestly, I was expecting the journey home to be miserable - full of tired, cranky, sore girls. But somehow, for 10 hours, we all laughed pretty much non-stop. My stomach seriously hurt. 

Saying goodbye as we all got into separate Ubers from the car rental place was WEIRD. We had just spent 48 hours straight together in extremely close quarters and yet still weren't ready to say goodbye.

A week + later, I think we all feel that Ragnar was an incredible bonding experience. As a team we conquered 190 miles. Through the logistics, the planning, the constant "doing," the running - we had gone through something together that we really couldn't explain or describe to anyone that hadn't been in that mini-van with us. The endless inside jokes, the laughter, the crying, the cheering, the farting (I said it), the support - it was all such an amazing experience. 

Most of my teammates had great runs, loved their runs, felt happy with their runs. Me - not so much. But Ragnar was like some alternate reality where that was literally the least important or impactful part of the weekend. I ran a race for 28 hours and looking back, I didn't give a damn about the actual running...

Do I want to do another Ragnar and negative split my legs (GO KAYLA) and do more than 11 miles and smile at the end of every exchange? Yes. But did I have THE time of my life even though I walked? Sure did. 

There are experiences you go through with people that form a bond you really can't put into words. Maybe it's your cabin from summer camp when you were 13. Maybe it's the cast of a musical you were in. Maybe it's your sorority sisters that you went through rush with. Ragnar is one of those experiences that transcends words and I can't wait to do it again. 

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