Our first ever Ragnar experience is nearly indescribable in words. It’s an experience that I will never forget and although there were several times throughout the 30 hours of racing that we questioned why were doing this, the race itself is weirdly addictive…it makes you want to do another one. And we probably will but I will also remember how glad I was when our race was finished and I didn’t have to mentally or physically prepare for my next leg. It was a fun team experience and something that I really can’t compare to anything else. So here’s what I can put into words:
Thursday night was not spent at FareStart but instead all of the van drivers met at Avis downtown to pick up our GIANT 12-passenger vans. Trying to maneuver these through Seattle rush hour traffic was the first challenge but after nearly an hour Bryan and I were at Grocery Outlet to pick up bags of ice for the cooler and bananas before Bryan helped finish packing the vans with all of the team’s gear and food. We had a super fancy potsticker dinner at home on our deck before trying to get to sleep early enough for good rest.
Friday morning Bryan headed out at 7 am to meet Van 1 at the Greenlake Park and Ride to ride up to the start line in Blaine, WA at the Peace Arch State Park at the Canadian Border. Team No. 402, Shouldn’t We Be Running To Canada?, started the race strong at 10:30 am. From there Van 1 was on the move and Van 2 was just leaving Seattle to our check-in at Bellingham High School. We started receiving team race time updates, Van 1 individual nicknames, and pictures of all of the action through group texts and I was now ready to get there and be a part of the action. Van 2 arrived for our safety briefing and check-in at 2 pm. Our van’s expected start time was 3:30 pm. After getting all of our race gear we eagerly waited for Stephan’s handoff of the slap bracelet to our van. Soon enough Van 1 was there to watch and cheer on the handoff with us and now Van 2 was on the move. From there our van went through the order of Stephen running, handing off to Andrew, who handed off to David, who then handed over to Jason, who then handed to Bryan before finally getting to me. Each person ran really well and we were quickly 10 minutes ahead of our projected time.
Bryan’s first run was a fairly flat 6.8 miles while my first leg was an extremely flat 4.2 miles. For some reason 4.2 miles has never felt more difficult for me. It was a flat straight course on farm roads, beautiful mountains in every direction, but mentally this was my toughest run as there were few other runners on this leg to chase down and I was really trying to run as fast as I could. My pace ended up being a pretty quick 7:49/mile but I was hands down exhausted after that run. As soon as I handed off to Sarah for Van 1 to take over, our van was in the hunt of our first real meal of the day and made our way to Chipotle for burritos and burrito bowls and then drove to La Conner High School for a quick sleep. Bryan, Stephen and David made their beds with their sleeping bags outside behind the van while Jason, Andrew and myself found a row in the van to sleep. None of our van set up camp in the high school’s gym.
After roughly three hours of sleep it was our turn to continue the race. And we all had pretty lengthy second legs. IT WAS ALSO BRYAN’S BIRTHDAY!!!! I hope Bryan enjoyed his birthday. Stephen started out with a dark and long 10 mile run starting just after 1 am. Our night runs were good ones for our entire van, thankful for the cooler temperatures, yet it was an experience to run with headlamps, vests, blinking taillights, and difficulty distinguishing which runners were our runners when trying to offer van support on these long runs. Bryan had an extremely difficult second leg of 9.8 miles with something like 900 feet of elevation gain. However, he did amazing! He ran over beautiful Deception Pass just as the sun was rising over the Cascades and really kept a strong pace. No, actually he killed it. I just barely made it to the handoff in time for him to get there. But soon enough I found myself on my longest leg of the race; 9.0 miles with over 400 feet of gain.
I started running just after 5 am so the sun was already out but I was still required to wear all of the nighttime gear until 5:45 am. My first few miles actually felt pretty great. I quickly got a lot of “kills” (Ragnar speak for passing other runners on the race) and the first few miles were pretty. About three miles in the route became a lot more trafficked (on a highway shoulder) and a lot less scenic. I started losing interest in the scenery and started getting annoyed with the hills. Just before I hit five miles Bryan was there to give me van support with water which was much needed. I continued on, more hilly and uninteresting scenery. I was still feeling pretty good and was keeping a steady pace. The last mile was more through neighborhoods and I was ready to hand off the bracelet and take a break. I arrived at Oak Harbor High School where my team was there again to cheer me on and I handed the bracelet over to Sarah.
Yes!!! I could break again, but I honestly couldn’t imagine running for a third time. After a long rest at the high school we got in the van and made our way to Whidbey Coffee for a coffee and yogurt parfait and found our way to the next major exchange, at Coupeville High School. Some of my teammates napped while I drank my coffee and refueled. I was tired but didn’t feel like napping. We had until 10:30 am to enjoy our rest time…as well as the bathrooms. At around the predicted time Stephan came with the bracelet and Van 1 was done and ready to enjoy themselves.
Van 2 was now on our last leg and we were all dreading it. Stephen had a tough but beautiful third leg. The sun was out and strong and it was going to be a hot run for all of us. Andrew had a tough third leg as well with a bunch of hills. Unfortunately, for David’s third leg we received a text that he had injured his hip. Our van turned around to pick him up two miles into his 7.7 mile leg and Jason and Bryan volunteered to cover the last 5+ miles, splitting them an additional 2.5 miles each. They both did great, even considering that they each still had a leg to run. Bryan’s last run was a 3.8 mile run with mentally tough highway terrain and full sun. Just after 3 pm Bryan rounded the corner to hand the bracelet off to me for my last run and the last leg of the race.
I had 4.6 miles to the finish line with one steep 250 foot climb. I started off pretty fast for the first mile but then began a gentle climb that quickly turned into a steep hill that was grueling. I didn’t want to but I had to stop and walk three times to catch my breath and my motivation. I kept a good pace doing the hill this way though as I kept myself ahead of the other’s climbing the hill at the same time. I finally reached the top of the hill and my whole van, plus two FareStart volunteer friends volunteering the water station, were there to cheer me on. Fortunately after the hill I had a lot of downhill. I was picking up speed but now desperately had to use the bathroom which was affecting how fast I could run. I didn’t think I was running fast and my body was tired. I had made my way into the town of Langley and was hoping with every turn that I would see the finish line. Finally I was there and my team was there cheering me on before then crossing the finish line with me.
We were done!!! We had delivered a slap bracelet from the Canadian border, 200 miles, by sheer human power. Team pictures, baby wipe shower, changing of clothes and then we were ready to celebrate. We picked up our free team pizzas, had a beer in the beer garden, moved onto the Taproom for more drinks and snacks and to share van stories. Once Van 1 had decided that they were ready to make the drive back to Seattle, Bryan, Jason and I headed over to Andrew’s brother’s house. We were greeted with ribs, salads, and Bryan’s birthday cupcakes that the girls made for him; his own creativity played out to make pancake, Nutella, pb&j cupcakes that were actually amazing. We moved out to the firepit with a variety of whiskeys while we were all treated to our first showers of the weekend. We enjoyed the fire a lot but by 10 pm we were all ready for bed. Bryan and I put up our tent to sleep and slept for a solid 10 hours, waking up at 8 am to leave for the ferry by 9 am. We were fortunate to get on the first ferry and were back in Seattle by 11 am to return the vans.
Bryan and I got brunch in Fremont at Rockcreek after returning the vans. We had an amazing comfort food brunch on their patio. We shared some very indulgent and delicious ricotta and apple beignets with a vanilla bean cream sauce. Bryan got their take on the chicken and waffles which were fried game hen on jalapeno johnny cakes with the best sausage gravy and I got a phenomenal shaved cauliflower, parmesan and farro salad with a side of creamy scrambled eggs. Our brunch was super filling and delicious. We were finally back home at 2 pm with our van to unload. The rest of the day was spent putting stuff away, lounging, hanging up patio string lights and then ordering Thai delivery to enjoy at home while watching Grumpier Old Men.
The weekend was packed full of activity and nothing that I will soon forget. It has still been fun to talk about with friends and coworkers and I know that I will have many memories of the race weekend for a long time to come. Here are a few takeaways from our first Ragnar experience:
- Team nicknames keep the fun going in text messages. Our team was comprised of: tickle42, Polish Plow, Bloody Nip, Steve, Ukrainian Uncle, Cat Mom, Tendertoes, Agent 007, Heisenberg, BREAD!, Wedding Weight and Useless Chick.
- Van food was crucial for our van in particular as we only stopped for one full meal. The pb&j sandwiches, bananas, watermelon, grapes, pretzels, and all the mini waters were much appreciated by me at least.
- Next time I would try to give my body more sleep. I need to learn to nap.
- You really don’t see much of the other van, which was a bummer for our group, but if you have two very different groups that works.
- Ample leg room in the vans is a good thing. We took out one row in the van but next time we might take out two.
- Van decorations are important and fun. Next time I am going to find the right markers to use, the Crayola window markers just weren’t vibrant enough.
- Pepto Bismol was used by all on day 2. It seriously seemed that everyone was having bathroom problems. Must just be due to the stress put on your bodies.
- The baby wipe showers were a good idea and really I was okay not showering until after we finished the race. The plastic baggies for our worn and sweaty clothes were also a very smart idea.