For those who don’t already know, during a Ragnar Relay, teams of 12 (6 for Ultra-teams) run 200-ish miles over 2 days and one night. They have races scheduled across the US, including their original race Wasatch Back in Utah and one of their most popular running the Florida Keys. For many runners, they are the perfect destination race.
Teams typically divide into two vans of 6 runners each, so that Van 1 gets some time to rest and eat while Van 2 is running, and vice versa. Each runner tackles three different legs in their race over ~24h from the time they start running until the time they’ve finished. The total mileage for each runner varies from ~10 to ~26 miles.
Recently, Ragnar held their annual SoCal race, running from just south of the Huntington Beach Pier to the finish line in Mission Bay, 183 miles and many hours later. It is almost impossible to review a race like this since every runner on the course has a different experience depending largely on the legs they run, their start time, and their teammates. No two runners will have the same Ragnar experience, and this is part of what makes it an exciting and unforgettable experience. Instead of a comprehensive review, I’ll share some of my experiences and highlights, and hope this provides a taste of the event as a whole.
I was the team captain of the Californicators, and managed to put together a team very quickly from my friends and fellow Weeple Army members, who are legion in southern California. We spent Thursday night at a teammate’s house who happened to live a short distance from the start line, and got to know each other over a potluck dinner and a pre-race hot tub, then tried to get what sleep we could before our 6 am start time.
The entire team made their way to the start line to see off the first runner and take a couple of team photos, then the six of us in Van 2 went back to the house to get our stuff together and have a real breakfast, since it would be several hours before we were needed. We checked in at Exchange 6, did the mandatory gear check and safety speech, got our bib numbers, and checked out the Ragnar swag for sale and the vendors on site. While the start line was very subdued as it was early in the morning in a residential area, Exchange 6 was loud and energetic, and before we knew it the first runner from our van (runner 7) was off. The next few hours were spent finding the next exchange, waiting on our runner to arrive, then piling back in the van and doing it again. The course wound through Irvine and into Laguna Niguel before ending at Exchange 12 in Dana Point, and we arrived just as the sun was setting and the night gear (reflective vests for all, headlamp and tail light for the runners) was now required.
Exchange 12 was a “virtual exchange”, since we were not allowed to run across Camp Pendleton, so as the runner arrived at Exchange 12, video screens and radios confirming the arrival of different teams sent their respective runners going 20+ miles south at the Oceanside Pier. While we were there at least, this system seemed to work seamlessly.
It was now our time to rest again, and following our runs we were starving, so we headed to a restaurant to socialize and refuel. All too soon, we got the message that Van 1 runners were crushing the course, and we needed to be at the next major exchange before long. It was now ~11 pm, and our second legs took us on a winding course through Vista and Carlsbad. Some people look at the night runs with trepidation, but this was my favorite run as it was very peaceful and temperature was ideal for running (~60’s instead of 80-90’s). Following a minor adventure of one of our runners getting temporarily lost and adding a couple of extra miles by the time she reached the checkpoint, and a nightmare parking scenario (45 min to leave a parking lot), we were done for the night and handed off the slap bracelet to Van 1 to run through the wee hours and into the dawn.
We met up again at the Torrey Pines gliderport, which offered some of the best scenic views up and down the coast, along with a couple of the most difficult legs of the race. My last ~9 mile leg was definitely a tough one, but also likely the prettiest of the race, running into the village of La Jolla along the coast and past the very smelly Children’s Pool which was overrun by seals years ago. The last runners ran down the Mission Beach Pier and around Mission Bay and SeaWorld to the finish line on the beach at Crown Point Park.
Here, Ragnar had setup a huge finisher’s party with free pizza and (a) beer for all the runners, loud music and a definite beach party vibe. Ragnar has some of the best and most creative medals in the business; this year, they’re designed so you can “build your own” double medal with a simple connector piece if you run more than one (they also provide special double medals for particular race combinations like Wasatch Back and Las Vegas, which gets you the Saints and Sinners medal). In addition to this, the 12 team medals fit together like a puzzle to provide a giant medal with “Together, we ran 200-ish miles”, the Ragnar Symbol, and “Ragnar Relay Series” written across the backs of the individual medals.
Ragnar’s byline is: “Run. Eat. Sleep? Repeat.” and this certainly held true; although some managed to catch an hour or two of sleep here and there, we all finished the race elated but very tired. It is a study in human nature to see how different people react when sleep deprived; some get bossy, some get grumpy, others just get quiet. A few get more cheerful. Finding a good group of people with positive personalities is vital to having a great Ragnar experience and I would argue is much more important than finding the best runners. The bottom line is that a Ragnar Relay isn’t just a race; it’s an experience that will provide rich memories for a lifetime. You will laugh a lot and bond with and learn new things about your teammates and yourself, all while ostensibly running.
*Photos By: Chris Cow’s Fellow Teammates and Ragnar Relay
Chris is a research scientist for Novartis Pharmaceuticals, but on weekends he is an avid runner, endurance athlete and OCR junkie. He runs mostly with his wife, Anne. He is a 44 year old father of two gorgeous teenage daughters, and wants to help them adopt a healthy outdoor lifestyle.
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