Kelly the Culinarian: Ragnar Relay Race Recap

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Ragnar Relay Race Recap

If you have an specific questions about the race or preparing for it, leave me a comment. I will be writing a detailed post with my tips later this week.

The Ragnar Relay is a race unlike any other and an epic undertaking: 36 legs, 200 miles, six to 12 runners, two vans and one goal. Get from Madison to Chicago as quickly and safely as possible.

Our team had nine runners and two drivers who were absolutely crucial to our ability to pull this off. We also had three volunteers on the course, which was required by Ragnar or else they would charge us extra.
Our weekend started Thursday afternoon in New Lenox where we took pictures to send to our sponsors for their support. Then, we drove our vans up to the hotel in Madison where we were crashing for the night. We also decorated our vans to match our American Sweathearts theme.  Delightfully tacky is what I would call our style sense. We also had to sort out our safety gear to ensure we had enough for all our team members.

Major props to the Holiday Inn Express: the complimentary breakfast usually starts at 6 a.m., but the party was in full swing by the time we met downstairs at 5 a.m. I didn't want to miss the glories of this magical printer that birthed me a pancake.

Then, we headed the block over to the start line to receive our first safety briefing, check in and shop. I didn't buy anything, but I thought Baby Wilson needed something for his/her troubles.  Baby's first Ragnar!

It wasn't long before 7 a.m. was upon us and our first runner was off! I was in the second van, so this was the kick off of the waiting game.

We proceeded to the start of leg 6, which is where we would drop the first runner in our van. It was also where we had to check in our second van and go through the same safety briefing. At six, there was also a booth for Clif bars and Nuun, along with a little food station manned by volunteers.

Once we started dropping our van's runners at the exchange, it got a little more focused as Kelly drove and we navigated her to the next stop. Some of the legs were as short as 4 miles, so we had to hustle. Thanks to Kelly's prowess, we had only one near miss.

A major snafus we faced is that one of our runners was initially slated to run just more than four miles. We knew her stretch was extended to 7.4, which she said she could handle. While she was out running, we got a text from Ragnar that it had been extended to 11.3. That's nearly triple what she initially planned to run! Thank goodness for smartphone tracking apps so we could find her, drop another runner and then support both runners via van. It was a bit disorganized.

My first run was leg nine and didn't start until 3:30 p.m. Friday. It was hot by then, so my American flag shirt had to go. There are times when it pays to be modest, but this wasn't one of them. My first leg was exactly seven miles and I felt so good during the first half. It was on country roads and I kept thinking "this is what I've been waiting all day for." I unfortunately had tummy troubles and had to make a pit stop, but still finished the miles in an 8:48 pace before handing off the slap bracelet to Kate.

After my first leg, I immediately used a wet washcloth I stored in a plastic bag to wipe myself down before putting on clothes for my next leg. The nasty clothes went in a plastic bag to keep the smell down in our little van.  This is key, future Ragnarians.

We stopped at exchange 12, which was a major interchange where we got dinner (we paid for) from a Boy Scout troop. Ragnar put together a candy bar, but it was very picked over by the time we got there. Our van decided to proceed to check point 18, which was a designated sleeping area. It was a school that had air conditioned areas for us to sleep. I passed out on a wrestling mat in the basement, and my team was incredulous to how easily I can sleep. I think I got in two hours before it was time to get our van's first runner ready. 

My second run was leg 23, which started at 2:30 a.m. Saturday in Racine. It was really cool because this is where I'll be doing the half Ironman in a few short weeks (insert panic attack here). I was freezing and it was very dark, and again I had to make a pit stop.  Unfortunately, it was a pattern. I finished this 7-mile loop in a 9:20 pace, then repeated my Kesha shower and changing routine. By the time our final runner was completing her nighttime lap, we were watching the sun rise over Lake Michigan. It was a gorgeous, glorious sight.

We next stopped at an interchange that had coffee, hot cocoa and a built your own granola bar. This was a highlight for me.  Something about granola sounded awesome.  We also visited an exchange that was having a flapjack breakfast and hung out there for a while before it was time for our final legs.

My last run was a double of legs 33 and 34, which started in Highland Park and ended on Northwestern's Evanston campus. It was beautiful and lovely, and just a touch hot at noon on Saturday.  This particular leg was really tough for me, digestive wise. I was just glad to have the thing done, but I wish I could have run faster than my 9:10 time for eight miles.

After we dropped our final runner for leg 36, we drove to Montrose Harbor so we could rejoin her for the final stretch and cross the finish line together. It was a great experience to come in together and get our giant medals.

Every team got two pizzas at the finish and every runner got a beer, which we decided to pass on in favor of getting home and cleaning off the vans.  It seemed like some teams brought their own coolers and hung out, but just as many did what we did and got out.

Overall, I thought it was well-organized and executed considering the sheer scope and distance of this race. I had a lot of fun running this, and would recommend every runner/walker/jogger do it at least once. This race is far more about having a good time than getting a good time and can be as competitive or casual as you like.

One thing that really rubbed me the wrong way, though, were all the teams focusing on how many "kills" they got. At Ragnar, when you pass someone, they call this a kill. It seemed very unsportsmanlike to me and went against the grain of the running community overall. But I guess some people are really motivated by that.

Also, this race is damn expensive. Our team cost was relatively low thanks to our awesome sponsors and the fact that teammate Kate's stellar parents used their miles for our hotel. Also, we only rented one cargo van and received a deep discount on it with a family connection. We also didn't have to pay for our volunteers, which would have been crazy expensive. A woman on my team said her team paid $600 per person last year. If that was the case, I'd be out.

Cost: $175 per person (but we had myriad discounts)

Time: Eh, it's hard to tell. My leg averages were 8:58, 9:22 and 9:10. I know our team captain said we came in right at our projected time, despite the four-mile addition one of our runners faced. They'll post team rankings later. (Edit: Our team finished sixth in our category!)

Pros: Really fun, high-energy environment, tons of volunteers, activities to do along the way, a team environment to help you push yourself. Awesome medal and gender-specific shirt and stories to tell for years. This race is an experience I think every runner should try once.  Just do it.

Cons: Expensive and requires tons of coordination.

Would I do this again: Does anyone need a team member somewhere?

Read my teammates recaps: Maggie, Kelly, Amanda, Melanie Part 1


Losing Lindy said...

sounds awesome!

Beth Ann said...

Running a Ragnar sounds like it would be so much fun. I've never been a participant on a relay team before, but I think it would be a lot of fun as long as my teammates had the right attitude about it. Bummer that some runners have such a bad attitude...I had never heard of "kills" before but that sounds awful, and you're right, is totally against the spirit that I think most runners carry. Glad you ladies had an awesome experience!

dukie46 said...

Hi. I really enjoyed following all your tweets this weekend! I'm running my first Ragnar in August. Two questions: 1) What did you use to write all over your van? 2) I've heard the women's Ragnar shirts run small. Did you guys find that to be true? Thanks!

dukie46 said...

Hi. I really enjoyed following all your tweets this weekend! I'm running my first Ragnar in August. Two questions: 1) What did you use to write all over your van? 2) I've heard the women's Ragnar shirts run small. Did you guys find that to be true? Thanks!

Erin said...

Ragnar does require a ton of coordination, especially if you do a team of less than 12! Still, the second time around is much easier coordination-wise, FYI!

Sounds like you guys had a great time! And, yes, the "kills" thing is a bit obnoxious but it is fun to pass people :-) I found that very motivating toward the end. But we didn't count them up on our van or anything.

Katie Adams said...

Wow, this looks like so much fun! Next year when I'm better I want to join in! Am I a loser for inviting myself? I don't really care. :)

I also think the "kill" thing is kind of unsportsman like, but lets be honest- I do that in races anyway. And even in bike rides with my own husband. :)

Just keep running! said...

I was an Exchange 35 as a volunteer but left about 1pm.

Wow, I am amazed you did legs 33 and 34!

Great job and congratulations!!

Just keep running! said...

I was an Exchange 35 as a volunteer but left about 1pm.

Wow, I am amazed you did legs 33 and 34!

Great job and congratulations!!

Just keep running! said...

I was an Exchange 35 as a volunteer but left about 1pm.

Wow, I am amazed you did legs 33 and 34!

Great job and congratulations!!

Declan Xavier said...

Great recap with the pros and cons! Baby Wilson is lucky to get that shirt! Man, if I had to shell out 600, I wouldn't do it! 175 thought is probably worth it considering the length of the event! I wish I read better before where you guys finished! I am so close to there!

Glad you all had fun! Sucks about all the "kill" gloating.
I still want to do this now!

Kelly @ Running Kellometers said...

Loved reading your recap! I hope you get your stomach issues figured out. I'm sure that is very frustrating! It was so much fun being part of the experience. I'd love to do this sometime, but actually running it! :)

Anonymous said...

oh, your pup, my heart... :)

Xaarlin said...

Sounds like you gals had a blast out there! I enjoyed following on twitter and FB and everything. I have no desire to ever do a relay like this, so I'll keep living vicariously through your adventures :) congrats!!

Anonymous said...

I loved reading your recap! I also did the Ragnar this weekend and had such a great time. It is refreshing to hear you were also turned off by the "kills" and "deaths" on the vans. I thought I was the only one to think that was strange. Man I bummed I missed that granola bar, that would have been delicious! Congrats a great race!

Anonymous said...
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Deanna Grimes said...

Glad you enjoyed it. I really had a good time myself. I think it is def takes a lot of planning for sure.

Maggie Wolff said...

I think we finished in 32 1/2 hours, which is around a 9:45-9:50 average pace.

I'm sorry you had stomach issues. I think I had the opposite experience, in that I was backed up for quite awhile, which wasn't normal for me. But I wonder if your body is just stressed out right now, what with intense tri training, starting a new job and planning the Run for Boston 5K, all at the same time. Hopefully in a couple weeks, you'll feel more relaxed and things will go back to normal for you.

I saw a van that tracked both "Kills" and "Craps." I think tracking kills is silly, but whatever. I know that I got passed WAY more than I passed other runners. However, I got great encouragement from many of the runners who passed me, which I thought was great. I tried to offer the same to the few who I paased.

Kelly Janowski said...

And that has been my experience with the running community - most people are supportive and helpful, so it was a bit jarring for me when we were waiting at an interchange and these bros were screaming at their runner "Just one more kill, get him!"

Maggie Wolff said...

OH geez, I didn't hear anyone encouraging their teammates to do kills. That's dumb.

Also, another note on the cost, we got a decent discount because Kate was a Ragnar veteran. I forget the exact numbers she said (what we paid vs what it would cost), but I think it was like 30% off? Also she registered really early, I assume the price goes up closer to the event.

Kelly Janowski said...

Someone just told me via Twitter that the volunteers would have cost us around $360. We owe them big time.

Amanda said...

I had such a good time! It was great getting to know you a bit better in person! (Except we were in separate vans! lol).

Kelly Janowski said...

Lol, you might be singing a different tune if you were in my van. The lack of showering might necessitate you knowing me a lot more than you would like to. Ha!

Unknown said...

This is so cool! I've always been fascinated by Ragnar and hope to run it one day. The thought of conquering so many miles as a team of runners sounds like an amazing bonding experience...especially for runnerds :) I'm completely shocked at the cost though! You guys rocked out by saving so much $$$ but $600?!? WOW. Anway, congratulations!!


Jerry Brankin said...

I want one of those pancake printers. Great recap. Makes me think maybe next year.