The 2015 Cape Cod Ragnar has been run. Ragnar is a relay race, generally lasting about 200 miles, usually run in teams of 12 runners. The course is broken into 36 sections or legs, and each runner gets to run three of them. Basically you find 11 running buddies as crazy as you are, rent two vans, and as soon as you start running, you do not quit until you’re done. That means anywhere from 24 to 36 hours of running. You take turns running, but there is not a lot of sleep to be had when running a Ragnar.
Last year I had the opportunity to run Reach the Beach, a Ragnar style 208 mile relay from the White Mountains of New Hampshire all the way down to Hampton beach. I wrote about it here, and had a LOT of fun with the team from Google. My personal share of the relay was about 17 miles, and I was in pretty good shape as the Marine Corps Marathon was less than two months away. I was very happy when I average sub 9:00 miles for that relay.
Fast forward eight months, and I have a completely different but kind of the same report to file. Together with nine of my colleagues from Electric Insurance and two members of the Google team from last year, we ran Ragnar Cape Cod. 192 miles of road relay from Hull to Provinceton.
If you’re not an endurance athlete, this is the part where you usually start to look at me like I’m insane, and I try to convince you that it’s life changingly fun. Did I just coin a phrase?
And the first thing I’ll tell you after saying how much fun it is? Ragnar is so hard. As the van in this photo says, if it were easy… heh, well, never mind. Let’s just agree that it is hard. I think that’s half of the equation; the challenge of Ragnar is part of what makes it so amazingly rewarding. You have to work for it if you want to perform well. The training is pretty intense, somewhere between half marathon and full marathon for most people, and you have to be able to run a lot, rest just a few hours, and then go run again. Then rest a few hours and go run again. The relay never stops, so you don’t get much sleep.
The other part that makes this so rewarding is the teamwork. These big relays take endurance running, which is typically a solo sport, and turn it into a team event. That’s where a lot of the fun comes in. You decorate your vans, dress up, and act like a kid again. Pack your rubber chicken and road-trip turtle, and just flat out go for it. The support you get from your team mates is off the hook. You have fun, eat poorly, sleep even worse, and when it’s all done, you can’t wait to do it again.
I guess I should show you Walter and Pedro the Goat now. Walter is the turtle. The rubber chicken’s name is Pedro the Goat. That’s them on top of the van in this photo. As with all of these little images, click to enlarge. More on them later…
You can also see a lot of magnets on the back of the van in this photo. It’s fun to “tag” the other teams’ vans on a Ragnar. It’s not fun to damage their vans. In that spirit, a lot of teams have magnets made up, and then you put them on other people’s vans during the race. You can see we turned the back of van 2 into a kind of self serve magnet exchange in this photo, inviting other teams to take a magnet if they wanted. Other ways to tag a van include using window paint to scroll a message on an empty window, or in one case, someone left an extra rubber chicken on the hood of our van.
On a personal level, this was a tough race because of the pneumonia diagnosis received six weeks before the relay. I had given myself one of the toughest rotations, leg 10, which has a 12.8 mile run to start things off. Runner 10 also runs legs 22 and 34, and while those are easier it’s still a lot of running. I was pretty much knocked on my butt for three weeks, and the timing was perfectly aligned with when I should have been ramping my training up to the highest levels. Instead of turning in 35 miles of training per week, I was resting on the couch. Even after I started to get better, I never got in two runs in one day, which I consider essential for people training for a Ragnar. I never got more than 24 miles of running in a single week, and even then I only got above 20 twice.
Not good if you’re planning on running 20 miles in one relay!
Let me see if I can straighten this narrative out a little. Last October I started recruiting coworkers to see if I could find enough crazies to run Cape Cod with me. I’d never run this particular relay, but I had run Reach the Beach, so I knew enough to be informative to my recruits. It didn’t take long to form a team… and I knew right away we were going to have a good time. We ranged from young to me, and had runners of all skill levels. The best part though was that we had 12 easy going people that were all going to go out and have a great time conquering Ragnar Cape Cod. We chose the name “Undertrained and Overconfident,” which I almost immediately changed to Road Hazahds (the shirt designs with the original name sucked). Here’s a photo of the back (and front) of the shirts I designed; I think they turned out pretty nice.
The team then decided we wanted to rent 12 passenger vans, but by the time we had the decision, the price had gone up, so we rented minivans instead. It’s a tighter squeeze, but we saved a bunch of money. If you had more than six people in the minivan, it wouldn’t work, but we were able to pull of six per van with no trouble.
I think the budget for a Ragnar team is pretty important. The race itself costs about $125 a person, and that’s without ANY supplies. You need two vans (plus insurance and gas money). You have to have reflective vests and lights for running at night. It’s a good idea to have binders to keep your relay information organized, and each van can use a first aid kit. You might want to have shirts and magnets, noise makers, or even team costumes. Custom temporary tattoos. Some people are traveling to participate. Maybe you’re renting a beach house to crash at after the race is over. There’s a few things you HAVE to spend money on, and way more optional things. I set the budget on my own for this relay; with so many rookies, it worked out well. If we run as a team again next year, it will be more of a democracy. Our budget was $3,000, so $250 a person (including race fees). That paid for shirts, magnets, vans, gas, first aid kits, a team meal, and lights.
For the race itself, we met at work at 7:00 AM. Well, everyone but the team captain (I apparently don’t know how to set an alarm). I screwed up and was late, so Van 1 took off and headed to Hull, and Van 2 waited for me to show up so we could join them. Van 1 got to the start on time, and began running at 10:19 AM. Because Van 2 was running behind schedule, we caught up with Van 1 after they were already running, and got to see Matt coming in at the end of the first leg.
After that, Van 2 went to find breakfast. Whitney showed that she is the master of Yelp, and it was good.
If you’re in the second van, you have several hours to wait before legs 7 through 12 come up, so breakfast is a good idea… but then it’s time to get to work. A little after 2:00, Jenny came running into transition area 6, and Sean was on the road. Friday was a beautiful day, but chilly. Sean had to run fast to warm himself up. I think he logged 6:39 miles his first leg… Nice!
From there Van 2 settled into a rhythm. While Sean ran, we drove to transition area 7, and Ali got ready to take over for Sean. Then Rob, then me, et cetera. My first leg was 12.8 miles long, which is the hardest leg on the course, so I got a little bonus bling. Thanks, Ragnar!
For me, this leg truly was challenging. I haven’t been able to sustain my typical sub 10:00 pace recently. Instead, I’ve been hovering between 11:30 and 12:30, but the improvement had been steady, so I showed up with a goal of 11:15 per mile. In the first half, I varied between 9:43/mile and 11:21/mile. At mile six, I started coughing, and that was scary given my recent health history. Not “hacking up a lung” kind of coughing, more like a few coughs about once every quarter of a mile. I deliberately slowed down, and by the time I got to mile 12, I had dropped to 13:17/mile. My calves were starting to cramp, my gate was wonky at best, and I kept on. “Shut up, legs!” I finished my leg in 2:21:26, 11:07/mile.
Most teams put their strongest runners on legs 3, 7, 9, 10, and 12. Those were the hardest legs… and there were some pretty speedy runners on my rotation. I was passed 25 times over the course of 12.8 miles, but that was 25 opportunities to tell someone “good job” and be inspired by their fitness.
When I started my leg, it was light out. By the time I came off the course, it was dark. For the next 10+ hours, everyone who ran wore reflective safety vests, a headlamp, and a blinking light on their back. There is safety in numbers, and with over 400 teams running on these roads, all of which were wearing safety gear, it worked out pretty well.
Plus, we had Walter, the raving Ragnar turtle, so that was pretty sweet, too.
While Matt and the rest of Van 2 was out running the course, Van 2 could get some sleep. Some of my van ate while I was on the road, but Whitney, Craig, and I were hungry. We went to a Subway that advertised a 11:00 close time, but were turned away at 10:20 PM. We ended up at a McDonald’s, where Whitney had “the best meal in [her] entire life!” I swear she moaned a little eating her two “hold the meat” cheeseburgers.
After that we headed to transition area 18 (where we would come back on duty at 3:30 AM), and four of us slept in the van while two rolled sleeping bags out under the night sky. We woke up around 3:00 and got ready to take over. I think these are the hardest legs. You start to get a good night’s sleep, then are wakened to go run after a few hours. It’s the hardest rotation, but it’s also kind of the best. Running at night is amazing, especially when done in the company of several thousand complete strangers, all of whom are rooting for each other to succeed, quietly cheering each other on.
And then, the sun came up, the fog started to lift (both literally and figuratively), and it was good.
When day two rolls around, it’s magical. I think you get a sense of that in this next photo, which was taken at the end of leg 32. In this image, Ali is behind the team flashing a double thumbs up as she finished her last leg, and Rob was about to go, and Whitney put her Selfie Stick to good use to get a great Van 2 photo. Everybody was feeling pretty good by this point. Fully caffeinated and the sun was shining. Good times!
My final leg was only 1.6 miles. I went out way too fast and had to walk three times, but I still managed to average under 10:00/mile.
After I came off the course, we only had Whitney and Craig to go. It was warm, and they were ready to rock the last few miles. Van 1 made it to the finish area first:
Right around 5:00, We saw Craig coming around the bend, and the team gathered together and ran through the finish together, where we all got some sweet bling.
Here’s where we missed a step. The back of the medals come together to form a message. My friend Becka‘s team, “Revenge of the Nerd Herd,” did not forget to do this, so I’ll share the photo they took.
None of us had ever run this race before, but we came together and ran the relay very well. We traveled 192 miles, burned roughly 27,000 calories, and no one came off the course with any kind of serious injury.
Part of what worked for us is my OCD nature for planning something like this. Later I’ll type up my thoughts on how to successfully captain a Ragnar team, but suffice to say we were well prepared when we got to the starting line. Part of how we pulled that off was through ample communication, including calls, texts, emails, a private Facebook page, and the occasional survey. So far I’ve heard from two thirds of the team in the post-race survey, and it seems like everyone had a good time. While we won’t field the same 12 runners again next year (Sean’s getting married that weekend, so that’s not going to work!), but it does look like there will be Hazahds on the Road again in 2016.
But what REALLY made this work was the team I ran with. From left to right, in the back row you have Ali, Craig, Nora, John, Amber, Whitney, Jenny, and Christine. Taking a knee are Rob, Matt, Sean, and yours truly. Road Hazahds: you guys were awesome. I was so privileged to run with you, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat!
Here are some more photos from Ragnar Cape Cod 2015. Way to go, Road Hazahds, you guys crushed it!