• 2013-07-19 01.34.52
July 30, 2013

What I Learned From My Second Ragnar Relay

Ragnar Relay, teammates, Northwest Passage

My Ragnar Relay team consisted of some of the best people I have ever met in my life.

The second time is always better than the first. No doubt. I don’t care what it is – re-watching a movie or re-reading a book – the second time you do it, you always see something that you didn’t see the first time around.

That same reasoning applies to Ragnar Relay. After my mind-boggling first Ragnar Relay last year in Napa Valley, where  I was instantly thrown into this hugely fun phenomenon called relay running, it was not a matter of if I’d be doing another Ragnar Relay, but when it was going to happen. Well, it happened last week, in Washington state’s Northwest Passage. Boom.

For those who are unfamiliar with a Ragnar Relay, here goes the world’s quickest synopsis: It’s a continuous running relay in which 12- and 6-member teams race to the finish line. Winning isn’t always the objective, and there’s a tremendous amount of emphasis on fun and clowning around. Runners’ legs are divided up into three runs, and teammates drive in vans to meet you at a checkpoint, relieve you of your running duties (until your next run, that is), and have the next runner continue with his or her leg of the race. And this goes on over and over again until the end of the race. If you’re a 12-person team, you’re caravaning in two separate vans and leapfrogging one another at major exchanges. Typically speaking, total distances are about 196 miles.

So we decided to get the old band back together again this year – this time with a few mergers and acquisitions. Team You Wine Some, You Booze Some was back at it and looking to represent!

And while last year’s Napa Valley race was memorable for a boatload of reasons, the Northwest Passage one somehow managed to trump it. First off, we were running in absolute serenity. Pristine lakes, snow-capped mountains and rolling green hills dotted the runner’s vision. Second, there’s something pure about the Pacific Northwest, like if we humans even thought about marring it, God would strike down and bitch-slap the hell out of us. The purity extends to the people there as well. Everyone is super-friendly and gracious, and there’s a beauty to their kindness that I don’t think I’ll ever tire of.

Ragnar Relay, Northwest Passage

How could you not love this 196-mile course? One of our runners got to run alongside this picturesque lake, just one of the many unbelievable views we saw during the run.

Ragnar Relay, Washington state, map

The official Ragnar Relay Northwest Passage course had us start at Blaine, WA – right at the border with Canada and about two hours north of Seattle – and end at Whidbey Island, WA.

Our team did fabulously – despite having my under-par running skills holding us back. We finished 34th out of our whole division of 217 finishing teams, clocking in at a total of 27 hours and 54 minutes. My individual racing legs, while some of the easiest of our entire team, challenged me in ways I didn’t expect. I ran my first leg (3.1 miles at 7:30 p.m.-ish) at about 1 minute and 30 seconds faster than I’ve ever run a 5k before. Same with my second leg – 4.8 miles at 4:30 a.m.-ish in my best time at that length. My third leg, however, was the kicker. I finished about 1 minute and 30 seconds longer than I projected. While we didn’t take first place like we did last year in Napa and we didn’t get to take home the fancy baton, the race was still a blast.

So with a second Ragnar Relay under my belt, I feel I’m slowly emerging from rookie status. My absolutely memorable sophomore Ragnar experience made up for all the debilitating knee and ankle injuries I picked up while training for it. And here’s what I learned from it:

You Won’t Find Better Friends Than Your Van Mates
I know I got lucky. For 27 hours and 54 minutes, I got to spend time with some of the best people on this planet. At best, I get to see most of these people once a year (only during Ragnar races) – and it’s like we’ve never skipped a beat when we rendezvous. My five van mates and I supported each other through hills and valleys, ran extra miles alongside a teammate to ensure she got through her leg uninjured, concocted peanut butter and banana sandwiches from the passenger seat of the van, and never once minded if we had to stop for a potty break.

And, I don’t doubt there are other Ragnar team vans who did the same. For whatever reason, Ragnar brings the best out of people. Even if you only get 30 minutes of semi-quality sleep during the duration of the race, somehow that doesn’t affect affability and graciousness. At least not for us.

Don't the people in this van look like family members? Maybe not quite, but that's how you may feel after being in a van with these amazing people.

Van 2 in the house! Don’t the people in this group look like family members? Maybe not quite, but that’s how you may feel after being van mates with these amazing people.

Ragnar Relay, van

Here we are inside our van/hotel/kitchen.

Ragnar Relay, Northwest Passage

Here are the girls of our van (me, Emily and Maureen) posing before Maureen’s first run.

Better Defined Training Schedule
Three months seems like a long time away. Two months seems not too far out, but not that close either. That was exactly my mentality when I was training for my first Ragnar. I felt I could start training seriously just a couple months out. And, boy, did I (and my quads) pay for that mistake. The race snuck up on me, and my performance waned last year.

This time around, I never let the excuse “I can do it tomorrow,” get in the way of training. If I was scheduled to get a training run in, I was going to do it no matter what. And ultimately, I think that’s what prepared me for three running legs that I ran with only about 7 to 8 hours to rest in between.

The Third Leg
There is only one good thing about your third racing leg: That it’s your final leg of running, and you won’t have to do this silly act again for a long, long time. Everything else just sucks. Keep this in mind, you’ve previously ran, say, 10 miles, and you’ve had maybe about 30 minutes of sleep in the last 36 hours (and the sleep took place inside Hotel Econoline Van at a crowded parking lot). So the last thing you really want to do is run. I mean, really?

I made the mistake of electing to have my last leg be my longest and toughest. Smarter runners probably would have front-loaded their racing legs with more difficult runs. I, however, being the not-so-clever one, decided to run my final leg on a 5.8-mile course that included three large hills in the middle of the hot afternoon (with no cloud cover). In truth, I don’t remember too much about that run. Other than it sucked. And running up the hills sucked. But finishing was absolute elation.

Guys Don’t Like Getting ‘Chicked’
I learned a new term at this Ragnar. It’s “getting chicked.” And guys don’t like it very much. In running context, getting chicked is when a girl passes a guy on the course. It’s the ultimate “in your face” that could possibly be delivered. It’s the equivalent of Scottie Pippen giving Patrick Ewing a facial in an NBA playoff game. And guess what: I chicked two guys. Boom.

Here I am, showing off my guns prior to running my first leg, and decked out in safety gear for the nighttime run.

Here I am, showing off my guns (and temporary Ragnar tattoo) prior to running my first leg, and decked out in safety gear for the nighttime run.

Tagging Other Vans
The one thing our team vowed to do next year is tag other teams’ vans. When we weren’t looking, our van got tagged multiple times with other teams’ stickers or their team symbol painted on with washable markers. … Watch out because we’re coming after you!

Food Stops
Thankfully, there were plenty of restaurants along the course for us to refuel. First there was Boundary Bay Brewery in Bellingham, then there was the surprisingly good bar food at Train Wreck Bar in Burlington, and lastly there was Coupeville Coffee & Bistro in Coupeville, where the yummiest blueberry pastries are found.

There’s Nothing Worse Than Finishing Your Leg – and There’s No Teammate There to Greet You
It happens more times than it should. And sometimes you can’t help it. But there’s nothing worse than running your heart out and speeding to the end of your leg, only to find out that you sprinted to the end for no reason. That you’re going to have to wait around a little bit longer for your teammate to get there and relieve you. So you’re just standing there, waiting. In front of everyone. And they all feel sorry for you that your teammates weren’t there for the immediate exchange.

Sometimes a teammate runs his or her leg much faster than the rest of the team anticipates and manages to arrive at the exchange point before the following runner does. Sadly, it happened with our team. And it happened at the worse possible spot: The finish line. Our last runner was speeding through his final leg like the speed demon that he is. Combined that fact with the rest of us lackadaisically approaching the finish line to meet him, and that resulted in a moment that will forever be the blemish in our Ragnar careers. The disappointment on his face when he was greeted by not one teammate was enough to crush us all. Remember, the man had just basically sprinted 4.7 miles, and the least we could have done was meet him at the finish line to congratulate him on that amazing individual feat as well as our team’s accomplishment. But alas, we were about 20 feet away in the beer garden. So what’s a team to do? Run the last 50 yards and cross the finish again. And this time as a team.

Ragnar Relay, finish line

Our team photo at the finish line – after our amazing teammate managed to forgive us for leaving him hanging at the finish line. Congrats to Aaron, Maureen, Deirdre, Emily, Shawn, Michelle N., Christine, Zach, Michelle E., Todd and Felix!

Pronunciation of ‘Ragnar’
For about two years I pronounced the race “Rag-NER.” Uh-uh. It’s actually pronounced exactly how it’s spelled: “Rag- NAR.” Oopsies. Leave it to getting corrected several times while at the Northwest Passage race for me to finally realize it.

Postpartum Ragnar Depression
I was told there’s a clinical illness called Postpartum Ragnar Depression. I might be suffering a tad from it. Treatment plans include writing blog posts about the experience and posting loads of photos. Here’s to getting better!

Ragnar Relay, start line

O Canada! Our team members (Zach, Aaron, Emily, Maureen, me and Todd) from the van 2 portion are posed right next to the border of Canada, where the start line was located.

Ragnar Relay

Todd, Aaron, Felix, Emily, Deirdre and Maureen are just hanging around before the start of the race.

Ragnar Relay, Northwest Passage

The amazing van 1 is represented by Felix, Shawn, Deirdre, Christine, Michelle E. and Michelle N.

Ragnar Relay, slap bracelet

The coveted slap bracelet has arrived! Instead of running around with a baton in hand, Ragnar Relay has slap bracelets for teammates to hand off to each other.

Ragnar Relay, directions

As a rookie in the Ragnar Relay, Felix wrote down turn-by-turn directions on his forearm so he wouldn’t get lost. Point goes to him for creativity!

Ragnar Relay, start

And she’s off! Our first runner, Christine (in the yellow shirt), gives us a quick wave after her 12 p.m. start.

Ragnar Relay, Northwest Passage

Todd hands off the slap bracelet to Maureen against the beautiful backdrop of Washington state.

Ragnar Relay, safety, major exchange

Safety first at Ragnar! Here we are adorned in our safety vests during a nighttime major exchange – in which we were able to meet up with the other van mates from our team.

Ragnar Relay, roller massage

There’s nothing like a little IT band and quad massage in between runs.

Ragnar Relay, exchange point

And he’s off! Here we are at a major exchange, and Michelle E. is handing off to Todd for his final run.

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Maureen is looking fresh after her 6-mile run.

Ragnar Relay, Northwest Passage

Maureen, Todd and Aaron are just hamming it up for the camera before Aaron’s run.

Ragnar Relay, exchange

Here I am in the pink exchanging with one of our all-star teammates, Maureen.

Ragnar Relay, kills

Over the course of 18 legs, our van proudly tallied 120 kills (i.e., when one of our runners passed another on the course), which we smugly displayed on our van’s window. Kills to pay the bills, son!

Ragnar relay, hardware

The hardware I took home from Ragnar included a captain’s wrist band, Ragnar finish medal and the slap bracelet we wore and handed off with each other.

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  1. Todd says:

    Nicely done Captain.

  2. Espo says:

    Excellent synopsis Captain Nila! I can’t wait to do it again!

  3. You are such a freakin’ rock star! Always amaze me. Congrats!

  4. Emily says:

    Perfect synopsys Captain Nila! 🙂

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