This past weekend I ran my first Ragnar Relay from Huntington Beach to San Diego, officially known as Ragnar So. Cal. I wanted to share my experience but please note that it’s hard to capture it all on paper. The feeling of camaraderie, teamwork, adrenaline and exhaustion create a unique and wonderful experience. It’s harder than a straight marathon or any other endurance event simply because it’s non-stop. You don’t go for 4 or 5 hours and stop. You go, take a short break, keep going, break again and go again. You have downtime in the van but it’s not relaxing.
Here’s some race details that will help this make sense. There are 12 person teams split into sub teams of 6 (known as van 1 and van 2) and they cover almost 200 miles in a 24-36 hour time frame. After each runner’s leg, they transfer the baton (slap bracelet) to the next runner and then the van zooms down to the next hand off point. Once all the runners in Van 1 finish their first leg, they transfer to Van 2. Van 1 gets a few hours break to sleep or eat and when Van 2 is done with their leg there is another transfer.
Each team decorates and has a theme for their van. There was Team Awesome, Dude! Where’s My Van?, Moms on the Run, Will Run for Beer, Green Leggs and Hamstrings, etc. Super creative and fun to see along the road. Some vans had lights (ours were duct-taped to the roof of our minivan), others had things taped, affixed or painted. At night it looked like a rave and during the day like a circus.
Each van had the names of their runners names and 3 boxes next to them. After each leg, a runner would check off their box. There was also a spot for “kills”. This is a fun little game that the Rangarians (yes, that’s what we call ourselves) play along the course. Every time you pass a runner, it’s called a “kill”. At the end of your leg, you mark your “kills” on the windows of the van. My highest “kill” number was 19 on my last leg of the race. Trust me, this doesn’t go to your head because if I passed 19 people, I was passed by double that number. A Ragnar or any race for that matter is a very humbling experience!
I flew down to Burbank on Thursday morning and spent the day with some teammates picking up the rental van, hitting the grocery store for water, ice, Gatorade, pretzels, fruit, bagels and cream cheese. We boiled eggs for the ride and each person had their own supply of fuel for the road. Gu, Gel blocks, sport beans, etc.
Our team, the Crazy Beaches started at 6am on Friday morning. Our group in Van 2 (Heidi, Lisa, myself, Terry, Vida and Amy) drove straight to the first transition station where we’d take over from Van 1. At the transition station, we had to check in, get our night gear approved, watch the safety video, decorate our van and collect our goodies such as Ragnar stickers, tattoos, blue foam #1 finger, cowbell and snacks.
At 10:30am our Runner #6 came through the chute and Amy, our first runner got the bracelet slapped on her wrist and she was off. Her leg was 12 miles so we had some time. We visited with the gals in Van 1 and then got on the road. There are options to follow the runners or take the van route to the next transition. If we had a long time between runners we’d follow the runner path and honk, wave and cheer on our runner otherwise we’d dash to our next transition.
My 3 legs totaled 23 miles. First run was 9.3 miles (labeled “very hard”) and had a delightful climb of 500 feet. The course was pretty as I left Irvine and ended up in Laguna Hills. Yep, the high rent district! I was really warm during this leg and hunted for shade along the course. The hills didn’t bother me and there were some doozies, but it was sunny, warm and not a lick of breeze. Regardless, my time was pretty good, about a 9:30 pace per mile.
I handed off to Terry at the end, grabbed a chocolate milk (ugh, big mistake) and a ton of water. We climbed back in the van and zipped down the road since his leg was only about 3 miles.
We handed off until our last person finished on the beach at Dana Point and we “virtually” handed off the bracelet back to Van 1. Virtually because Camp Pendleton didn’t “ok” a relay through the base. Van 1 watched on a video monitor for our teammate to enter the chute and “handed off” the bracelet. Kind of cool and techie.
After that we headed to a hotel in Oceanside, ate sandwiches, salad and chips from Panera, showered and took a catnap for an hour. Then we headed off the the exchange point where our van would begin our second leg.
Leg 2 for our team started about 11:00 pm. Completely outfitted in our night gear (headlamps, flashlights, neon bracelets, vests, etc.) we met Van 1, transferred the bracelet and set off. My run began at close to midnight – just a short 5.4 miler labeled as “moderate”. As many of you know, I enjoy running in the early morning hours so running at midnight wasn’t a problem. I just imagined I was doing my 5 mile loop up and over Las Gallinas onto Idyllberry and back home.
We finished running our 2nd leg at 4:50am and we’ll just say we were all exhausted. We went back to the hotel and was able to nap for 2 hours. In full disclosure, I was so tired I didn’t even shower this time. And I’m sure I drooled and snored. I apologize to my new friend Vida who shared the pull out bed with me.
Dragging a bit, we got up and packed up the room and got to the van. Using the back as a makeshift prep station we made bagels with cream cheese or pb and we headed out. When we came to the final transition you could tell people were tired and sore. There weren’t many people with that pep to their step. Lots of limping, lots of ice bags and lots of sore runners!
My last leg was a ‘very hard’ 8.8 mile one with the largest incline (800 feet). By the time I got the bracelet handed off to me it was about 11:30am. I headed into La Jolla and crosswalk hell. Run, stop, wait, run, stop, wait. There was a slow incline for a few miles then some very intense hills – it was about 3.5 miles up, then a lovely swooping downhill. That continued for 2.5 miles. Ouch!
At the bottom of the hill we entered La Jolla and I headed toward the reward for my running; the La Jolla cove. Kayakers and canoes were dotting the dark blue and green ocean. I hit a trail that ran along the side of the cliff and dropped into the beach at La Jolla. Imagine Fisherman’s Wharf. Tons of people that we had to dodge around and bob and weave through. Luckily that was just for about a mile until we headed up into town and I ended up at San Diego High School.
At the very end I sprinted to try and get a “kill” before the finish line. I didn’t catch him but suffice to say I gave it everything I had.
I was so happy to be finished with my run. 23 miles in about 24 hours. Not bad 🙂 I rounded it up to 24.3 miles later that day when our 12th runner needed a break. I hopped out and took part of her “leg” for a bit and then she went back out and we met her at the finish line.
Ragnarians know how to party. Every team received 2 free Little Cesars Pizza (it tasted awesome) and a Sierra Nevada beer at the end of the race. We also got our medals that when you turn them over fit together like a puzzle. We hugged our Van-mates and high-fived our achievement.
After resting for an hour or so we crawled back into the van and headed back to Pasadena. I dozed a bit here and there, we ate at In-N-Out and landed at the house by 9:30 or so. The next day we cleaned the van, returned it and had Bloody Mary’s and brunch to celebrate. Then to the airport and back to my real life.
The only residual from the race was that I was pretty tired for a few days after. Not too sore just tired. I think because I had been training for my marathon up to this race helped with my performance and recovery.
People ask me what we did in the van to pass the time. We figured out how long it would take our runner to get to the next stop. We looked for an open 7-11 at 2am (only 1). We tried to find the right transition spot (we only messed up once). We sat in some gnarly traffic at a transition spot and we looked for our runners. And discussed what food we were going to eat when we finished.
The only nerves I had for the race was being in a van with people I didn’t know very well and if I would be too sore running so much in a short period of time and my fears were unfounded. It was ok. I went outside of my comfort zone and now I encourage you to do the same.
Start with a 5K or a 10K or a half marathon. Figure out how to train for the distance, work hard to meet your training goals and see if toeing up to a starting ling with like-minded folks doesn’t light a fire for you. I bet it will.
For myself, I’ve got my 9th marathon on May 3rd in Vancouver and it looks like it’s “Hello Napa!” in October.
Now go run!