That’s right, I said it. Best. Ever. Am I over-stepping my bounds with my hyperbole? Maybe. Could it have been better? Sure. But Ragnar delivered far beyond what I ever expected of it. Before I get to explaining why, I’ll answer those questions that I’m sure you’ve got puzzling you already, because they were my first questions.
“What’s a Ragnar Race?”
A Ragnar Race is a 200-ish mile relay run completed over 2 days and 1 night, split between 12 team members- each running 3 legs of the relay, with leg distances ranging from 3 to 13 miles. Over the course of the 30+ hour race, each runner will log between 11 and 24 miles. Our particular race took us from Madison, WI to Chicago, IL.
“What does ‘Ragnar’ stand for?”
I don’t know. Let it go.
“What does the Ragnar logo symbolize?”
No idea. I think it looks like a rocket, and some frog legs, and somewhat like a gladiator’s helmet. If you can make sense of that, let me know.
“I’m not a runner. It’s just another color/obstacle/gimmick run… why should I care?”
I don’t identify myself as much of a runner, either. I still don’t find a significant source of satisfaction from running long distances, but Ragnar gave me my first running experience that actually felt like a team sport. When I signed up, I thought it could be another chance to see how my current fitness stacked up against my former self. Fortunately, I got a lot more out of the race than I expected.
The CFER team of 12 set out from Sheboygan on Thursday evening (June 9th), bound for Madison to settle in for a hotel night’s sleep before the 6:30am start time on Friday. Our team wasn’t an established running club by any stretch- we were just a bunch of CrossFitters (with a few runners sprinkled in) that thought the race sounded like a cool experience. In fact, some of the runners hadn’t even met before our first planning meeting a few weeks before. That evening, we each organized our gear so the essentials would be accessible in a crowded, moving van. We divided up food, water, and ice so that we had something to refuel on while out on the road. Fortunately, our team leaders, Tom and Danielle, had helped us plan and pack well. With very few expectations for our next 2 days, most of us went to bed hoping for the best and assuming everything would work out just fine. Whether we had done the recommended training runs or not, whether we were 6 months pregnant or not, and whether we were in a ‘running mood’ or not- it was running time early tomorrow morning.
Race Day. Van 1 held the first 6 of our 12 runners, and they were due at the starting line around 5:30am. I didn’t hear otherwise, so I pretty much assumed they made it there. Van 2 (my van) wouldn’t be picking up the ‘baton’ (a snap bracelet) until around 12:30 Friday afternoon, so we decided to grab some breakfast at my favorite place, the Original Pancake House. (Goofing off and getting fed would become the pattern of Van 2 when not out doing miles.) While we fueled up on carbs and coffee, the race was already unfolding into a warm one. Van 1 saw Friday’s temperatures moving into the mid-90’s, even early in the day. There was clearly more our team would have to deal with than just running. And they did. From heat exhaustion to suspicious characters creeping around the race route, challenges continued to arise and were dealt with. Through the 34 hours it took CFER to complete the course, the baton changed hands over 37 times, temperatures soared, waned, and soared again. Lightning descended on the course and all runners got shut down for 2-1/2 hours while the weather cleared the area. Runners got lost and found their way back to the course. Some of us caught a movie on our ‘off’ segments, some of us got some sleep (not much), and some even got a shower along the way. Through it all, every challenge, annoyance, and frustration forced the team to come together, solve a problem, and overcome the hurdle. In pretty much every problem we encountered, another team member was eager to lend a hand or share the burden. It was through these struggles that the Ragnar changed from just a run into an invaluable experience. Our shared fears, pains, and triumphs became the means by which 12 gym acquainances turned into a running family.
I learned a lot over Team CFER’s 34 Ragnar-running hours: Running CAN be a team sport. CrossFit DOES get you ready for pretty much anything. I discovered that I’d rather run twice the distance in sub-80 degree temps than any mileage in 90+ temps. The journey is more valuable than the destination. Yet through all the epiphanies, I realized that there was one reason I had such a good time. (Well, 11 actually.) My teammates. I suppose for some teams, they could be the 11 reasons the Ragnar is the WORST ever, but in our case, I couldn’t be more thankful for the crew that tackled the wrong-way-border-run with me. I hope that you’ll share in my appreciation to these awesome friends who made my experience great.
Tom: I probably knew Tom the best before we embarked on our Ragnar journey. As the captain of our team and one of the experienced Ragnar runners, we all looked to Tom for guidance on how to prepare, what to expect, and what to do at any given moment. Always the even-keeled and selfless provider of help, the CFER Ragnar team wouldn’t have happened if Tom didn’t make it go in the first place. Tom also represented our team well by wearing a CFER coach’s T-shirt on every leg he ran, ensuring that every runner he passed was inpired by his ‘lead from the front’ style of coaching.
Becky: Yup, the picture pretty much sums it up. I, too, will (sometimes) flip into a handstand when I can’t contain my joy any longer. Becky not only exceeded her own expectations for her race, but she let the emotion flow freely to those around her, reportedly giving many sweaty hugs along the way. You can decide if that’s a good thing or bad thing… remember we were all running for hours, packing it into a van, then running again, and again after that. But Becky exemplefied a truth for life: attitudes are contagious, and it’s way more rewarding to surround ourselves with positive ones. Thanks Becky.
Lindsey: If you’re the perceptive type, you might have picked up that we had an expecting mother as one of our CFER runners. If you’re the VERY perceptive type, you would have picked up that Lindsey was that person. (see picture to the right) First by signing up and then by staying on the roster as she entered her third trimester, Lindsey automatically picked up the ‘determination award’. Granted, the entire team insisted that she let us know at the slightest discomfort or uncertainty, especially in the heat we were experiencing. (This baby was part of our family, now- we had to watch out for both of them.) But Lindsey just taped up a little extra support and took on her running like a champ. Some day we’ll regale her child with stories of how we ran to Chicago with her and her mom before they were even born. Ah, treasured memories in the making.
Dawn: Even though Dawn was in the other van, her legend was unmatched. When she was on the road, no need to worry- she could run three of these Ragnar races all on her own, with no support van, and only 16 ounces of water. She was the “Energizer Mommy”. When she wasn’t out running a carefree marathon in Sahara temperatures, she was tending to her Van 1 brood, ensuring that everyone was well taken care of and happy. For those of you following our Facebook Group, CFER Runs Ragnar, I found the following exchange beyond funny, and I think Van 2 ran with an extended, hypothetical dialogue for quite some time after reading this:
Kay (being supportive from back home in Sheboygan): “You guys are amazing! I hope one day to be half the athlete you are.”
Dawn: “You are 10 times the athlete I’ll ever be Kay!! You are amazing!! ❤”
Kay: “Oh Dawn, you are just the sweetest ding-dang person I know. 😇”
Joe: When you ride with Joe, you ride in style. We hadn’t even left for Madison before Joe pissed me off. I pulled into Joe’s driveway on Thursday evening, ready to embark on the weekend, when I observed the deluxe conversion van with leather bucket seats, large screen TV and a convertible couch in back. Joe: “Oh yeah, my (business) partner let me use his family’s van for the weekend. They’ve got 14 kids, so I thought it would work for us.” It looked like the Van 1 runners would be sipping mimosas and watching movies while Van 2 was scanning for spotty AM radio stations. Thus launched a weekend-long tirade on how awesome Van 2 was compared to “rickety old Van 1”. “I’ll bet they don’t even have cool window shades like us.” “I know they don’t have this awesome sweaty-Nick smell over in that Dee-lux mobile home.” So while I stewed in my mini-van jealousy, Joe was doing what he always does: taking care of his people. Joe assumed most of the driving duties for Van 1, no small task when your drive time is easily over 18 hours in a 2-day stretch. In more ways than one, Joe’s generosity and concern for those around him helped everyone enjoy the most amidst a challenging situation.
Danielle: About 1 week before the race, I asked Danielle if she had a good pack list I could use to get ready. She replied with “No problem, I should be done packing today.” As a ‘pack thirty minutes before I leave’ sort of guy, I was stunned for a moment, but then became thankful that Danielle was coordinating our race. Danielle and Tom were our experienced Ragnarians, and they planned the whole thing for us: organizing participants, drop-outs, transportation, volunteers, packing lists, travel and lodging arrangements, as well as all the contingencies that 12 athletes, 200 miles, 2 vehicles, and 100+ degree temperatures could deliver. All this she did with a smile and an attitude so positive you’d think she never had a bad day in her life. On top of it all, Danielle stepped up to take the longest leg of the whole race, right out of the gate. She made it look like a day at the spa… and then took some extra miles… and made a conference call for work while she was running. The only sign that suggested Danielle felt any stress from the race was when she commented “Balls, it’s hot out there!” with a smile on her face. I dare you to spend a weekend with Danielle and NOT have a great time. Can’t be done.
Rachael: Rachael is a unique blend of both competitive athlete and coach. What I discoverd about Rachael during the Ragnar was that she’s in an on-going competition for ‘most competitive person ever’. (I think she’s got a shot at it.) Joking aside, Rachael was the first person to pick up someone else’s miles when the going got tough or they just needed some relief. Maybe she wanted to pick up some extra miles when she discovered that someone was slated to do more than her (me). In the end, Rachael and I ran exactly the same disctance during the Ragnar: 22.8 miles. I’m willing to call it a draw if she is. Rachael is a fierce competitor, and she has prepared herself physically and mentally to compete at a very high level. When the team was in need, she was ready to selflessly share her strength to lift up the rest of us. My kind of teammate.
Sara: Sara was one of the newest CFER athletes to join the Ragnar team, and as a morning class-attending athlete, several of our runners had never met Sara before. Van 2 was fortunate to have her. Sara actually was a late addition to the roster when another athlete had to cancel their spot for work reasons. Sara stepped in without a second throught. From the back of Van 2, a steady background of laughter could be heard for 2 continuous days as Sara’s sense of humor kept the mood light, no matter the circumstance.
Nick: Watching Nick run is like watching the Hulk do ballet. His gait is not the most fluid thing you’ll ever see. At night, when all you could see of a runner was their approaching headlamp, we could tell which one was Nick because the light appeared to belong to someone frantically looking for their keys on the ground. Yeah, maybe surviving cancer and getting an artificial knee will do that to a guy’s running style… but whatever agility Nick lacked in the running department he made up for in grit. One year ago, Nick struggled to not walk on a 5k workout. One week ago, as we all applauded Nick’s performance and all-running effort over 13+ miles, his simple response was, “Yeah, but I didn’t get sub-10.” (average pace on his legs). I’m honored to hang out with a guy who takes his “Better Everyday” that seriously.
Kim: Kim was one of the actual ‘runners’ that we brought with us to Chicago. While some of us were wondering what it felt like to run more than 3 miles, Kim knew exactly what this was all about. Kim and Sara had been running buddies for some time, and now the 2 of them together in a van made for a treat of a trip. They even doubled up on their nighttime miles by having a buddy run together at 2am in the morning… and the wingman award goes to, by unanimous decision, … Kim!
Zach: Remember that time when Zach offered to treat everyone in the van to Great America? All we had to do was NOT run the Ragnar. We collectively declined. Then, remember the time when it got really hot out and Zach offered to take us all to Wisconsin Dells? He almost got us on that one. We did, however, let Zach treat us all to a movie during our first long break in running. I’m not entirely sure how Zach ended up registering for the Ragnar. He isn’t your typical runner. In fact, I think I overheard some ladies from another van referring to him as ‘Biceps and dimples guy’. Go figure. Zach didn’t bother to do much training for the Ragnar. His run training consisted of a single 10k run exactly one week before the Ragnar. In his own words, Zach tested my claims: “I guess we’ll find out if CrossFit really works, or if Marty’s been lying to us this whole time”. Thanks for proving me right, brother.
Our team didn’t necessarily win the Ragnar. After all, we were a bunch of CrossFitters that decided to go for a run. But we did hold our own and then some; passing people from the ‘running’ teams on every leg of the route, gritting it out to the very end, and enjoying (nearly) every moment along the way. Our success wasn’t a physical success, it was a mental one. When others could be seen cracking emotionally around us, this group showed what it was made of: selflessness, teamwork, encouragement, positivity, humor, grit, and friendship. Thanks to you, 2016 Ragnar Chicago was the best race I ever ran.