Ragnar Relay 2012
It’s taken me over 4 days to start this blog. I don’t know how to describe 34 hours and 21 minutes of running with a team of 11 women, across states in 100 degree heat in some sort of succinct way. So, screw it. I’m just gonna write. And if this post gets too long and you get bored, I ain’t mad atcha. This is therapeutic for me, whether anyone reads it or not. That being said, it’s a good story. So I encourage you to grab your coffee (wine?) and settle in.
The Ragnar Relay is an 198 mile race starting in Madison, WI and ending on the Lake Michigan Beach in Chicago. Start times are based on the paces you provide for your team as the organizers would like everyone to roughly finish around the same time. (Ours was at 7:30am on Friday.) The typical team consists of 12 people who transport themselves in 2 vans. Van 1 runs the first 6 “legs,” the van meeting at each exchange to drop a runner off and pick up the one that just completed. When Van 1 is done, Van 2 begins. Each person runs 3 legs. The legs are labeled as “easy,” “moderate,” “hard, “very hard” which are based off a number of variables like hills, time of day, isolation, and lack of sleep. Vans cannot “shadow” a runner (drive behind the runner) but they can “leapfrog” which means driving a few miles ahead to cheer for the runner along the course. Speaking of, the course is not marked off. Cars still drive along the roads. And you aren’t ever running in a pack as other runners are few and far between. Things like healthy meals, sleep, water- stops and sanity do not exist in this race. It’s not for the weak at heart.
Our team truly consisted of Perfect Strangers – a smattering of girls I run with every weekend to girls I knew not at all. That, of course, changed quickly.
After much planning by our team captain, Kelly, the two vans left Indianapolis around 2pm. Jessica, Stephanie, Karen and Meghan left from my house as the “southsiders” and Bri, Kelly, Jaime, Rachel and Sandi left from the northside. They picked up Donna and Megan around the Chicago area on the way up. Our van took about 6.5 hours to get to Madison and we spent the majority of our time getting to know each other, eating Skittles and telling stories. There were also at least 3-4 playings of “Call Me Maybe” as it was no doubt the theme song for our team. It was evident very early on that the girls I was teamed with were incredible people – all with their own battles and challenges. All with amazing spirits. All inspirations.
Upon arrival in Madison, we went straight to dinner at a lovely Italian restaurant. The girls from the other van were already seated and enjoying an adult beverage. We couldn’t wait to get out of the van and see/meet the rest of our team. As Meghan (our awesome driver for the entire route) pulled into the parking garage next to the restaurant, I made a joke about how “I hope our van doesn’t hit the garage ceiling.” Hahahaha we all thought. But as she drove further into the depths of shallowness, we all got quiet. And then we heard the screech when the van roof scraped the ceiling. Without thinking, all 5 of us ducked as Meghan pressed the brakes. As she cleared the low rafter, I suggested she just park in the handicap spot to our right. We couldn’t risk going further down so I popped out to direct traffic. But when she started to maneuver the van in that direction, she stopped. Put the van in park, hopped out and said “I’m done.” After 6.5 hours driving a 15-passenger van, who could blame her! So I got into the driver’s seat and thought I could clear the hanging light and get into that spot. It only took about 12 inches of moving forward before I realized this van was going nowhere. The girls in the back of the van agreed: it was time to retreat.
So after some three-point turns and more scraping, we finally got back to where we could see the light of day. But you know how most garages have that bar that hangs down and tells you how tall the ceilings are so you don’t scrape the the roof? Well we managed to ignore and avoid it completely on the way down (obviously). And with a truck doing essentially the same thing and blocking our exit, our only way out was to drive “under” the bar. Meg tried to hold it up for me to clear it but we eventually had to ask the other car to move and we were finally ready to exit the garage.
“Meg, do you have the ticket?” No. She didn’t. We searched the entire van. Meghan’s purse. Her person. NOTHING. So as the line behind us accumulated and the “call for help” button did nothing but ring, a man came to our rescue. “What’s the problem ladies?” I explained how we couldn’t find our ticket and we had only been in the garage for 4 minutes but we couldn’t get out without it. He found an old ticket on the ground, inserted it and for $11, we were finally free from the garage. Our hero.
Alas, dinner awaited us. Sitting on the patio, staring across an amazing lake I looked at our team. Some were complete strangers to me. Some were complete strangers to me a year ago. But what we were about to embark on would bond us for life.
After dinner, we spent time in the hotel parking lot packing our respective vans and decorating the outside. And within minutes of completion, we were nestled in our beds, ready to sleep. After about 10 minutes of silence in our room, I bursted out with “Guys. I really can’t get “Call Me Maybe” out of my head.”
We woke up bright and early and changed into our matching outfits. Van 1, wearing yellow, consisted of (in order of running) Bri, Kelly, Meghan, Karen, me, Jaime. Van 2, wearing purple, consisted of Sandi, Stephanie, Jess, Rachel, Megan, Donna. We met in the lobby to take a team picture and then Van 1 headed to the start while Van 2 rested.
At the start line, we picked up our materials, attended a safety session and then lined up at the start line to support Bri. When they announced our team name, the 6 of us erupted with cheers and then started singing Call Me Maybe to help calm the nerves of our first runner. But she didn’t need any calming – our Boppy Fairy killed her first leg! As she ran, we took off towards exchange 1 with a quick coffee pit stop on the way.
At exchange 1, Bri came in strong and passed off to Kelly. Though it was early, we could tell it was pretty darn hot. And on the drive to exchange 2, we noticed how sunny Kel’s run was. It was just the beginning of the heat element we’d all deal with over the next two days. There was no letting up.
As we waited for Kel to round that corner at Exchange 2, we saw a man take off who clearly had trouble running. Watching him race after it, with his awkward gait and clearly struggling, the first tears came. Jaime and I laughed that it only took 72 minutes before I cried. But he inspired me. If he was going to do this, so were we. Kel ran in strong and passed to Meghan.
On the way to Exchange 3, we saw that man again and Jaime said “Quick! Someone distract Meggie before she cries again!” I love how these girls know me so well. Meg passed to Karen after her fast first leg. And as we waited for Karen to complete her 7+ mile run, we decided it was time for a dance party.
And as we started our trek to the exchange point, we spotted the Oscar Mayer mobile. So of course, we posed.
My first couple of miles were on a trail so though it was boring, it was at least flat. But when we turned onto the country roads, it was rough. The temp was 81 degrees with not a cloud in the sky. The roads were rolling with hills. And the scene in front of me was nothingness. Just miles and miles of road. I took a walking break at mile 2. And again for water at mile 3.6. At this point, I texted the girls “This is effing brutal.” They heard my cry and came to my rescue at mile 5.35 cheering their heads off. It was exactly what I needed to continue running and to make it to the exchange chute without another walking break.
Jaime was up next and the minute I got into the van I told the girls that we had to help her. It was too hot and this was the longest leg of the race– 11 miles on those country roads….she was going to need us. She ran the first 3 on her own and felt good. As we waited for her so that Karen could jump in with her for the next two miles, we started choreographing our Call Me Maybe (CMM) dance routine. The van next to us loved it and ended up videotaping us as Jaime rolled in. She stopped for at least a couple minutes to break it down in the middle of the road with us. We danced next to barns and cows and had other runners cracking up. I tell ya – this group knows how to make running fun.
After the song wrapped up, Karen took off with Jaime. Then Meghan ran two miles with her. Then Kelly ran a mile alongside her. And then, as the 5 of us navigated our way to the first major exchange (where we’d meet up with Van 2), Jaime knocked out the final one by herself.
After we parked, a woman yelled after us “Hey! I follow your blog!” which made us all so excited. She recognized the Perfect Strangers! We hugged our other teammates and wished them luck. It was the first time we had seen the other van since the hotel that morning and it felt weird that we were all a team, yet had spent so many hours with just the 6 of us. On the way back to the van I said “It doesn’t feel like we are a 12-person team. It feels like we are two separate 6-people teams” Ha! Little did I know….
During our break, we ate Qdoba (great idea right?) and went to Target for more supplies. We stood in the Target parking lot, wiping ourselves down with baby wipes and using spray baby powder to feel fresh. Only during Ragnar is such behavior acceptable!
It should also be noted that Christi, who couldn’t be on Ragnar because of her 10-year college reunion, was an incredible cheerleader from afar throughout this entire race. She texted us pictures of signs she made and always had the most inspirational messages for us. We definitely felt her presence and missed her on our team.
From there we went to the major exchange to wait for Van 2. We had plenty of hours to wait so we played a game that Meghan brought, I asked random questions and once people got their second wind, we started choreographing our Call Me Maybe dance routine. You’ve probably seen the Harvard Baseball team’s video. And there are plenty of others out there, so you better believe we had talked all week about making our own. We memorized the lyrics and brainstormed our moves. And trust me when I say that practicing outside our 15-passenger van, wearing matching yellow tanks and spandex got a lot of other teams’ attention. When we finally felt ready, a stranger offered to videotape the dance for us but upon review, we realized we needed to tighten up some things. So when Jaime’s brother Robb came by with his teammate Brad, we knew we had our videographer. And without further ado….I present the Perfect Strangers Call Me Maybe video.
After our masterpiece, we rested in the air conditioned van and waited for updates on Van 2. We also tested who could make the better lioness. Clearly the sweat and lack of shower made for some awesome hair.
After a quick bite to eat, we all took another baby-wipe shower and got dressed into our nighttime running gear. Rules stated that from 7:30pm to 6am, we were required to wear reflective vests. And when running, we had to have a headlight and taillight. At this point, the second van cruised into the exchange and we heard the awful news about Rachel’s mom. An emergency at home, we were all scared for what was happening. Her strength and attitude were incredible and the fact that we had 3 nurses on our team didn’t hurt. I was once again in awe of the women I was running alongside. Each one is both beautiful inside and out. We lined up at the corral to wait for Donna to come through and took a team picture.
As Donna came running in like a speed demon, Bri took off. Our van was back in action. At the next exchange, we found a playground and of course, we played.
Bri rocked another great leg and Kelly did too. As we waited for Kel to show up, Bri and I started “tagging,” which basically means writing our sign or team name on other teams’ vans without them noticing. We got through at least 5-6 vans with “PS4eva” and felt so scandalous doing so. Meghan was up next and had 5+ miles to run so Karen vowed to run the last couple with her. The night had fallen. Though we were all thrilled that the temperatures had dropped significantly, it was very dark and a bit scary.
When Meghan finished, she jumped on the bike we brought so she could ride alongside Karen and keep her company. This was right around the same time I was crying silently to myself.
I only had 3.9 miles to run but I was supposed to start at 9:30pm. Given the heat, we all ran slower than expected so were at least 2 hours behind. And the thought of running at midnight, by myself, in the dark, scared the shiz out of me. I didn’t want to do it. I wanted a friend. A biker. A van behind me. And once I let those emotions start, they didn’t stop. But the last thing I wanted was for my team to think I was weak. So I wore my sunglasses at night to hide the tears. And I texted the only person I knew to be awake – my bestie Dan. He quoted Game of Thrones and told me “The only way you can be brave is if you are afraid.” It was what I needed to hear. So as I stood in the dark, waiting for Karen to arrive, I vowed no more tears. K & M had gotten a bit lost but arrived in good time. I turned on Bri’s knuckle lights (which, btw, are amazing!) and took off. No music this time as I wanted to be aware of my surroundings. My legs felt strong and so I ran fast. The more afraid I was, the faster I ran. I had borrowed Kel’s GPS watch and didn’t understand her settings so couldn’t figure out the distance or the pace but I knew that I was flying. Each time I heard a bush next to me rustle, I propelled myself further into the middle of the road and turned the feet on turbo. I passed a couple of runners and when I ran through the chute, passing the slap bracelet to Jaime, I was just thrilled to be done. I am not sure of the exact distance -it seemed shortened but I did the math and think I did around 8 min/miles (which is fast for me!). I guess it pays to be a scaredy cat.
At the major exchange point, we waited for Jaime to come flying through and talked with Van 2. Sandi was night-ready with all her accessories! To see what it’s like running at 3am, check out our teammate Rachel’s video of her 2nd leg in the middle of the night. Now you can understand why I was so scared.
Van 1 was done with 2 legs and we were ready for food and “sleep.” We found a Denny’s on our way to Racine so we pulled in. It dubbed as a truck stop so a few of us went in and changed into our comfy clothes after another baby wipe down. Jaime, Meg and I went into Dennys for a late night meal. The other girls slept in the parking lot. Oh….Dennys. We ran into another Ragnar team who came up and said “Which one of you is Meggie Dials. I just started following you on Twitter.” I laughed that I surely looked nothing like my Twitter handle. I mean….just look at this amazing fro.
Shelly, our waitress, was bitterly hilarious. We ordered pancake poppers. And I ordered off the Senior Citizens menu. And as we rewatched our CMM video, Shelly scolded us “I hate that song!” At one point, Jaime curled up on the bench and I yelled at her “Under no circumstances will you fall asleep at Dennys at 2am in Racine Wisconsin. I will not let that happen.” The laughter was constant.
On the drive to the exchange point, the back four benches were full of sleeping beauties. Jaime drove, and I kept the conversation going. Meg later said she could hear us talking and thought “Why on earth is Meggie asking Jaime about her 4th of July plans at 3am?” But I was doing anything to keep us both awake. Sleep teased our eyelids. The minute we pulled into the YMCA, we both crashed in the front bucket seats. I wish I could tell you we slept for hours….but it was actually just one, single hour. When I awoke at 4am, I was stressed about missing our exchange. I knew we were super far behind from our predicted times, but we hadn’t heard how the other team was doing so we weren’t sure when their final runner would arrive. Jaime turned to me and said “I’m done. I want to go home” and I lost it. It as everything I was feeling but not saying. But I too was homesick. And yet we had so many hours before we’d even be on our way back to Indy. Bri and I went into the Y for the bathroom and saw showers. Glorious, beautiful showers. But we aint got time for that.
When we returned to the van, Karen was talking to Rachel and we got the bad news. Their entire team felt sick. Donna and Sandi were vomiting. Everyone else was feeling sick too. But our van also didn’t feel well. No sleep. Unhealthy food. Running in the heat. Our bodies felt hungover and our tummies felt rebellious. Kel made the dreaded call back to Rachel “Hey Rachel. So we kind of feel like we are being prepped that not everyone in your van is going to be able to complete their 3rd leg and we just need to be prepared if we are going to need to run more miles.” Rachel was the only one feeling good out of that van and was confident they would rally. So we did too. With about 30 minutes before go-time, I crawled into the back bench and slept like a baby for 20-30 minutes, only to be awoken by a horsefly. Don’t worry. He paid the ultimate price.
We made it down to the beach to see Bri off for her final leg. She felt awful but looked adorable and by the time we got back to the van, all of us were committed to finding our second (third? fourth? fifth?) wind. We changed into our final running outfit and took a few pictures as we waited for Boppy Fairy to come through.
We had some time to spare when Kel was running, so we hit up the gas station for more water and ice. And then we frolicked near this beautiful lake. We took pictures. We did a cartwheel contest. And we were approached by a man who recognized us as “the dancers.” By this time, we were up to 600 hits on our CMM video and Ragnarians were loving it. Maybe it was the yellow glasses that gave us away, but we didn’t shy away from the attention.
Kel came running in blasting CMM from her phone and saying “FML” the minute it ended. It was hot already and none of us were too excited about what that implied for the rest of our day.
Meghan took off on her trek and this was her hardest leg – in both difficulty and distance. As we waited for her at the exchange, we all decided we would weigh in on this little concept called “kills” at the Ragnar Relay. We noticed a LOT of vans had this tallied on their windows and quickly realized this mean how many people they passed as they were running. And it infuriated us. First, no one likes being passed. Secondly, to know when it happens that someone is counting you in some fictional competition? Makes it only worse. Not to mention, when did this become an actual race? We were out there with our team, getting through the grueling miles. And if we passed someone, we said hello, good job and kept on. We never once thought we were better than that runner. In fact, it made me want to baby-wipe-off every tally count I saw. Also at this exchange, I entered a porta-potty that was occupied. As I ran away in embarrassment, I ducked behind Jaime and said “You did that, not me” as I hid in the background. We erupted into giggles.
Meghan came in running strong but feeling emotional. We all were. Lack of sleep, hot temps, long miles. None of it was easy – and Karen knew that all too well as she took off on another 7.7 mile run. She was a machine this entire race – with fast splits and tough legs. So this time, we made sure we could see her halfway through. But before we leapfrogged her, we took some group shots. One of which referenced a late night conversation.
We stopped on a trail and hung out with some other teams about halfway through Karen’s leg. We cheered for every person who ran through whether they were Rangar runners or not. And when Karen was spotted, we told everyone around us to yell for her.
My leg was up next and I was nervous about my 4.9 miles. Mainly because of the heat and lack of sleep, but Karen came in strong and I cranked up Pandora. I was off.
My third leg was on the most boring trail imaginable. There was shade for only 1/2 a mile. The rest was sunny. Next to a train track. The miles dragged on but I was running decently fast given the heat and came in at a 9:35/mile pace.The hard part is that when you are running a normal race, it’s all about you. If you need to walk, you make that decision. You let yourself down. But in a relay, you know everyone is eager for you to finish so when you walk or slow down, you feel like you are disappointing 11 other people. Though I felt strong in all of my runs, I still wanted to be stronger for my team. And when I finished, I wanted to jump up and down with my team and celebrate and relax. But you can’t do that. Because another runner has to go and the van has to get on the road. This isn’t a race for the weary. When I entered the chute, the girls were waiting for me with their hair teased like lions. I love them.
We met Jaime halfway through her “final” run and gave her (as well as the man running behind her) some fresh baby wipes to clear the sweat. And from there, we went to the final major exchange. We met van 2 and we could just see on their faces the anxiety they had over running in the heat. It was hard to be excited about being finished with our legs when our teammates still had so much to go. Also at this time, Rachel got an update about her family situation and needed to leave the race early. Kelly immediately volunteered to take her leg. And then the wheels started turning.
Jaime pulled in strong and Sandi started running in her hilariously large hat.
And Van 1 grouped together and made a decision. We could go to the finish and relax for 5+ hours. OR, we could stay with Van 2 and help them get through their miles. We could split them up. We could cheer them on. And we’d all probably be done sooner. With this decision, we were finally going to be a 12 person team, not two 6 person teams. So even though we had all scratched off our final leg, we were going back for more. It’s the Perfect Strangers way.
So with this change in plans, we started strategizing the next 5 legs. Sandi was rocking hers out alone but from there, Van 1 was going to be present in some capacity with Van 2. As Steph took the next leg, we met her halfway and Kelly jumped in. During this time, I somehow crashed and got another 20 minutes of blissful sleep. When Steph jumped into the van with us she told us how appreciative she was that Kelly and her split the 6 miles. It was so brutally hot. At the next exchange, Kelly was struggling. We had all planned to eat lunch during our break but with our new plan, there was no break. So none of us had eaten anything other than Skittles. Jaime came to the rescue and when they rounded the corner, Meg and I took off.
Our most brilliant move of this race was the bike/running combo. I wish we had started it much earlier! I ran for 10 minutes with Meg next to me on the bike. Then we swapped. While I got to rest and feel the breeze on my face, she ran. Then we’d swap again. We did 4.8 miles this way and not only was it much easier on both of us, we also could run much faster. We knocked that leg out in record time and actually it was quite glorious. We were on a beautifully shaded trail almost the entire time and had fun chatting and laughing together.
As we approached the chute, we called Jaime and told her that every leg should do the running/biking combo and so they did. The next group was Jess with Steph on the bike. Jess ran her entire leg but loved having the company.
While we parked the van to wait for the next exchange, I could see Lake Michigan. I said “I am going to shower in that lake.” All I wanted was to be clean. To change clothes. To tame the Lion Mane. So with a baggie full of toiletries, we snuck down to this private, secret beach. Bri and Jaime sat in the sun while Kelly, Meghan and I went to the quiet part of the water. It was absolutely freezing but we didn’t care. Well we didn’t until we got in trouble with the lifeguard for bathing in the dog section of the beach. Ooopsies! Meg and I did a little investigating and found a hose by the bathroom. So I stripped down to my sports bra and running skirt and showered. It felt incredible. And was the boost I needed.
And from there, Megan S. rocked out while Steph biked alongside her. And then….the FINAL leg. Jaime ran the first 3 miles with Donna on the bike. We drove to meet them and Jaime jumped in the van, Kelly jumped out. Kelly and Donna biked/ran the final 5 miles together.
There aren’t a lot of pictures during these last few legs because we were all just trying to get through them. Our spirits were down. I was crying on command. We were all just wiped. And because I was an emotional wreck, I managed to miss our exit to Montrose Beach where the finish line awaited us. With a 20 minute detour and quick driver change, we pulled in after Donna and Kelly. They waited for us to arrive so we could all cross the finish line together – 11 strong women, with Rachel in our hearts.
The finish line was anticlimactic. We got our medals. We took some pictures. And then we GTFO. But we felt like a 12-person team. We were no longer 2 separate vans.
We stopped in Merriville on the way home to clean off our van and to get some lunch (at 6:30pm) finally. It was then that we all started to become our normal selves again. Bri had been so quiet since noon. Karen had a migraine. I was constantly crying. But at Chick-Fil-A, we laughed. We were feeling normal and surprisingly, were already entertaining thoughts of next year’s Ragnar.
The drive home was long but we kept the spirits high with 90′s rap songs and Disney showtunes. And when we said our goodbyes, we weren’t sad. We were all so happy to be home, we didn’t feel empty leaving each other. At least not yet.
But at 1am the next day, I felt uneasy about not being in the van with those girls. I was clean, comfy and in my own bed but I wanted to be with them. They are another family to me. What we went through was crazy emotional and physically draining and mentally exhausting. We all felt “hungover” for days and the tears (at least for me) didn’t stop until Monday afternoon. I don’t know how to explain why this is so hard. I ran a total of what, 18 miles? So the distance wasn’t that bad. But when you add in no sleep and long hours of waiting and constant adrenaline and the fact that you can only control one little tiny part of the whole big equation….it just takes a toll.
It was an incredible experience and I applaud any of you who made it through this entire post. If you are considering a Ragnar in the future, a few things you must have:
- A wonderful planner (we had Kelly!)
- 41 oz of Skittles
- Lots of baby wipes
- Plenty of water bottles
- A few people always willing to drive and a couple navigators
- An AUX cord for the van so you have good tunes
- Cheerleaders on the outside who can talk you off a ledge
- Best friends
Want more? We’ve got your back. Two more blogs from other Perfect Stranger Ragnarians.