The medals all together to create an awesome message.
I’ve been dragging my heels on writing this post for three weeks now. I could blame the end-of-the-year craziness, or my son’s nonstop sport’s schedule, or lazy summer days. All of those excuses would apply. I think the biggest reason I haven’t attempted this post, however, is that I find it overwhelming to consider how to capture the magic of Ragnar for anyone who hasn’t experienced it firsthand.
For those of you who may not know, Ragnar is a racing series that takes place in about 40 locations around the country. They have both trail and road events, but both types of races are team relays. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to focus on the road events, since that’s what PA was. For a road race, you compile a team of 12 (or 6) friends and run approximately 200 miles nonstop, which takes teams between 24-36 hours. There are 36 predetermined “legs” in the race, which means that each runner runs 3 different times. The total mileage usual ends up being between 12-24 miles per runner.
I ran Ragnar DC, another road Ragnar, back in 2014. I ran with a team that was largely strangers, and yet for this introvert, it was an incredibly awesome experience. When my team captain from DC invited me to join his team yet again for Ragnar PA, I jumped at the chance. There were eight of us returning from the original team, which means that we invited 4 newbies to join us.
Our team didn’t have a chance to meet before race day, so the first time that I met my new teammates was when we arrived at our van at 5:00 am on Friday morning. I knew that three of our four new teammates were female and I just assumed that most were somewhere in the 35-50 year-old range, since that’s where our team basically averaged last time. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the two new women in my van were actually high-school seniors. Our team captain’s daughter was the youngest member of our team back in 2014, and this time around, she convinced several of her friends to join us. All in all, our team ended up being composed of 7 high school/college students and 5 middle-agers (how did I get into that group)? It gave the team a markedly different feel from my one previous experience.
Usually I try to go through a race report in a chronological fashion, to give you the full experience of the race. That’s not really possible with Ragnar, unless you’re willing to write a race report that goes on for 10 pages. Instead, I’m going to try to put into words why you should consider running a Ragnar race of your own.
There’s a magical feeling about covering such a large distance on foot, and the way that Ragnar is set-up helps you to truly internalize the length of each and every leg. I began the race as runner 1. That means that after I took off from the starting line, my teammates hopped back into the van and drove alone the course until they got to the start of leg 2, which was just about four miles away. Four miles is not that long a distance, but it certainly seems longer when you are driving it slowly and passing numerous runners along the way. We repeated this pattern for just about every leg, and I was repeatedly awed when I considered how awesome it was that our team was working together to cover this cumulative distance.
The sleepy members of van 1 at the start of the race.
The course itself was incredible. We began in downtown Lancaster before quickly moving out into the rolling hills of Amish country. It would be hard to imagine a more beautiful, peaceful setting. Lovely tilled fields spread before us, barns and silos were plentiful, and black-and-white grazing cattle dotted the bright green grass. We saw numerous Amish families working the fields or digging in their incredibly tidy gardens, and they graciously gave us a wave or a head nod as we passed by. I never realized that brightly colored laundry could look so lovely when it’s flapping in a gentle breeze over a green lawn.
Just a few of the shots we took along the earlier parts of the course.
After the first twelve legs, the farms and fields began to turn to more wooded landscapes. As we moved through the night, and our second round of legs, the course gradually began to climb into hillier terrain as we approached the Poconos and the finish line. A steady rain began right around the start of my final leg, and it followed us for five of the first six legs we ran that morning. The gray, foggy start to the day added to the surreal feel of running for more than 24 hours on barely any sleep.
Many people cite the sleep deprivation as a reason that they are not willing to take on a Ragnar. I won’t lie – it’s pretty brutal. I got about 3 hours of sleep in my first Ragnar back in 2014. In this race, I think I managed closer to 2 hours, and it was broken up in two separate stints. There were definitely moments when I could feel the lack of sleep hit me like a brick. There were also large blocks of time when I felt an incredible amount of energy, however, even with so little sleep. You see, for 36 hours you are continually surrounded by hundreds of other teams of runners, who all share your love of the sport. Running is so often a solitary activity, and Ragnar allows it to feel like one big running family. It’s a fantastic way to bond with total strangers that you will likely never see again. In my mind, it’s worth it to give up a little bit of sleep to experience that kind of magic.
One of the best parts of Ragnar is that teams traditionally cross the finish line together. Our final runner came into sight and we greeted him, handed him his team shirt, and jogged with him across the finish line just after 6:00 pm on Saturday morning. Our team had its fair share of adversity along the course and so it took us nearly 35 hours to complete the race. Even so, we crossed the finish exhilarated and proud of our accomplishment. On the ride home, all I could think was that I really wanted a shower, some sleep, and to plan out the next Ragnar that I was signing up for.