This weekend was definitely one of the funnest weekends I have had in a while. I was thinking about it on my run this morning (yes, already back to the grind – and I know Emily was, too!), trying to decide which was the funnest running event I’ve ever done: the Nike Women’s DC Half-Marathon or the Ragnar Relay. I think I am most proud of my time at the DC Half, but Ragnar was more fun (or at least more prolonged fun).
Did I explain what Ragnar was? I don’t think I did. For those who don’t know, it’s a 12-person, 200-mile relay. Each person runs three legs and the total distance for each person is somewhere between 13-21 miles. You have two vans with six people each and you run through the night. You put in your 10K time in a calculator and they predict how long each leg will take based on elevation, length and time of day so you can kind of plan where you need to be when. What’s wild is that our projected finish time was only 30 minutes off, so it took us around 30 1/2 hours. Yes, you run through the night. When you pass people you call it a “kill” and each team keeps their kill count on their van.
We left Pittsburgh at 5:30 Friday morning to make it to Cumberland, MD at Rocky Gap State Park for our 9:30 start. You have to be there an hour early to check in and have a safety presentation, i.e. learn that you have to carry an orange flag to cross any street, wear a safety vest from 6:30 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. and run with a headlight and tail light at night.
Fun fact: You’re about to see photos of me in sweatpants. It was really cold and I wanted to have something I could slip on and off over my running shorts. This is not a normal occurrence. These pants have never seen the light of day outside of my house until this trip.
We started decorating our van and cheered on our first two runners before packing up and going to exchange three, the hardest leg of the entire course. It was over eight miles and straight up hill and miserable. Matt, our third runner, was a champ and killed it. The views were really gorgeous and we stopped half-way to cheer Matt on.
We continued on to leg four where Emily’s mom would run and then pass off to me at leg five. I got dressed in actual running clothes during her leg, looked over the directions (but you know me, not a planner, so I thought I wing it) and hoped DMX would end up on my playlist again (he didn’t show up until Saturday morning).
So this leg was basically a mile down hill, a mile and a half up hill, then another mile down hill on this ridiculous rocky road with vans trying to go by you. It reminded me of the infamous road in Nicaragua that I fell on running one morning (and in true Cassie fashion, went back out later in the day to run down then run on the Pan American Highway into town).
I looked down at my watch on the first mile and was just seeing ridiculous times, like a sub-seven minute pace. I am lucky to run 7:30 miles so this was just silly. Running four years of varsity cross country in high school in West Virginia will teach you how to run downhills – just ride the gravity. I started catching people around mile 3 or so, uphill, which I would refuse to walk (because I never walk in a race), even with an elevation change of 590 feet. I passed a girl and four guys… the last guy was probably the most satisfying because I had been chasing him for at least a half mile and finally in the last quarter mile or so I passed him. I then passed off to Emily. While Emily was running, I changed out of my gross running clothes, wiped the dust off my teeth (true story) and used a Shower Pill, which I totally recommend if you’re going to run a Ragnar.
Em is wonderful at finding delicious food. She probably picked every restaurant we ate at in Miami last year and each one was delicious (I think Yardbird was my favorite with this crazy coconut key lime beer, though). Anyway, she realized our 6th exchange to Van 2 was near Berkley Springs in West Virginia and we had a real meal there. (I’m going to recap how I ate tomorrow.) Also I just love being in West Virginia, even for a few hours, it makes me all nostalgic.
Our next van exchange was at a high school in Clear Springs, Maryland. We tried to take a nap in the grass but it didn’t really work. Then we had to go put on our ridiculous vests and it was almost time for Ginny, our 12th runner, to come in so we got ready to cheer her on. Then came our night runs, which ended at South Mountain Creamery. Emily and I had been plotting our ice cream choices for weeks, as we are apt to do. Before our night run we stopped and got a coffee, which definitely helped perk me back up.
I had a weird nervous energy before my night run. It was 7.3 miles, which is a mid-distance run for me. (I typically do 6-8 before work on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday mornings, 6 Tuesday nights and then 12+ on Saturdays). I am going to attribute the fact that I ran a 8:40 pace on a hilly course at 11:30 p.m. – 12:30 a.m. to my two-a-days on Tuesdays. I knew what it was like to run on tired legs and knew that I could get through it. I think I was just concerned about getting hit by a car or getting lost in the dark or seeing an animal or just being scared. I’m kind of scared of the dark, being completely honest.
The course was hilly and it was just so weird not being able to see what was coming. I had a headlight, but I could really only still see maybe 20 feet ahead of me. I ran over these cool old stone bridges and past farms and old stone churches and allegedly, Antietem Battlefield. Making your body run at a time you are usually asleep is a weird feeling. I still enjoyed this run and had 8 kills, so I felt good about it. It was just weird. But a fun weird.
I passed off to Emily, she ran up Ice Cream Mountain (our name, not the official name) and we ate ice cream and then some other things at 1:30 a.m. Whoops. Our van then got a few hours of shut-eye. Emily and I got real cozy on the bench of a 15-passenger van. We woke up around 5:00 and went to the next exchange, but not before a coffee stop. I was still feeling tired before my run (obviously) and Emily had the smart idea to drink Nuun with caffeine. This was honestly the best decision ever.
I once again had a weird nervous energy before this run. It was only 3.6 miles but I was already sore and tired from killing myself on my first two legs and running up and down hills, which I’m not used to. Oh, and did I mention I only slept like three hours? Emily told me to treat it like an easy Saturday run, but once I got out there, I just wanted to run fast and finish, so I ran around an 8:40 pace again. I seriously thought i was going to get lost though, I didn’t see signs for a while then watched some guy make a wrong turn. I only had three kills on this leg, all near the end, and passed off to Emily.
Emily completely killed her last leg, it was really impressive – she had 20 kills! She just looked great out there. We stopped halfway to give her water and a hat (because it started raining) but she didn’t want either, she was so in the zone.
We went straight to the finish line after passing off to Van 2 for the last time. Emily luckily found Mexican food nearby and I ate my weight in guacamole. Then we went down to the finish line to cross together as a team, which was really cool. The weather was cold and rainy, which was depressing, but we hung around for a few, everyone had a beer (except me, because I’m a Team Beer failure) and we went to the hotel to shower and have dinner.
All in all, I would totally do another Ragnar (or race relay in general), just not DC, because ignorance is bliss. If I had any idea about those hills… I still probably would have ran, I just don’t think I would have been quite so calm. The whole weekend felt like a weird combination between a cross-country meet and a photo shoot (because of the 15-passenger van vibes).
The other interesting part to me: everyone here was a pretty serious runner, but I guess you have to be to run 13-21 miles in 30 hours. I’ve never seen so much casual foam rolling, rolling with a stick, compression socks and limping. Also I just looked it up, but the average age of a Ragnar runner is 33. Emily and I had a feeling that we were definitely two of the youngest people there.
Come back tomorrow to read about how I ate for Ragnar plus some more tips!
Chat with me:
Would you ever run a Ragnar Relay? What is the coolest fitness-y thing you’ve ever done? Am I turning into a crazy runner girl? (Spoiler alert, I have been for years.)