We did it! We shoved ourselves into a minivan with strangers (whom soon became friends), ran three times in less than 20 hours, and traversed the length of Cape Cod as RAGNARians. It was a whirlwind of an adventure, and one I hope to do again someday.
It’s hard to describe RAGNAR with words and photos. The entire aura of RAGNAR is unlike anything I’ve ever felt, whether at a race or at any other event. Our team—one of the 500 teams taking place in this epic logistics whirlwind—was split between two vans with six runners in each van, but we competed as a whole unit. While I strived to do my best as an individual runner, I was equally invested in cheering each of my van-mates at the start and finish of their runs. It’s a team event, but so much of my time was focused on preparing myself for my solo runs because I never knew exactly when I’d be running again. It’s more mental than physical, and that was a challenge for me.
Maybe I should start with a little more background about RAGNAR. A team of 12 runners is split between two vans (six runners per van). During the course of the race, there will always be one person running. Each van has all their runners compete in a progressive order: all six runners from van 1 run their legs, handing off a slap-bracelet-baton from one runner to the next, and then they hand off the slap bracelet baton to the van 2 runners. The van 2 runners run their legs, then hand back off to van 1.
While your same-van-teammate is running his/her leg, the van drives to the next exchange point (so the next runner can stretch and get ready). Normally, the van cheers their runner along the route as some extra motivation. Since there are 500 teams all running (and driving) along the same route, the odds of running around other people and passing other RAGNAR vans are quite high. In other words, it’s easy to remember you’re running a race even if you’re on a run by yourself, because there are a lot of people and vans around the entire time (even on the night runs).
Major exchange checkpoints are for handoffs between van 1 and van 2 runners, and the smaller exchange checkpoints are for runners handing off the baton to the next runner in their van. As the seventh runner, I always started the van 2 runs because I received the bracelet baton from the sixth runner in van 1. Subsequently, I always handed off my baton to the eighth runner—Sam—at the end of my leg. When the last runner in our van finished his leg, he handed back off to the first runner in van 1. This cycle repeats so that every runner completes three legs.
While this information defines RAGNAR in layman’s terms, it’s hard to describe what I felt during RAGNAR. My body revolted in so many ways, my brain felt fried, and I spent so much time driving around in a van that it became a home of sorts. Along the way, I saw some of the most incredible scenery and bonded with some kickass people, many of whom I’d never met before sharing a van with them.
As much as I’d like to try and find the words to quantify RAGNAR and all its rollercoastering emotions, I think this tale is told best with videos and accompanying text insights. Let’s give that a whirl!
Sam, John, Matt 1, Matt 2, and I all stayed together on the Thursday night before the race. Lucky for most of us (except poor Matt 2, who left with van 1 for a 5:30 am start time), we rested well on Thursday night and grabbed breakfast with our other van 2 teammates. Once we were well-fueled, we hit the road and made our way to the first major exchange point.
As the first runner in van 2, I received the baton from the last van 1 runner and jolted across a scenic wooden bridge, spurred to life by the peaceful quaintness of Cape Cod. I settled into my pace, snapping blurry pictures from my phone (kinda like that scene from Yes Man), completely enthralled by the seascape dream around me. I ran through the town of Duxbury, up and down some rolling hills, and didn’t let the little drizzly rain interfere with my overwhelming adoration of Cape Cod.
Like most runners know, the biggest battle to face sometimes is the one in your intestine. I tried to come prepared to face my stomach and gut barriers that frequently make an appearance on my vacations, but I still went into my run on Friday “backed up,” so to speak. My insides were in a bit of pain, but I finished at a good pace. I hoped my issues would work themselves out—literally—before my second run, which took place during the night. (Spoiler alert: they definitely did not.)
I cheered on the rest of my runners at their exchanges, and then we handed off to van 1. The whole thing went way faster than I anticipated. After checking into the hotel, we went out for some pizza and salad for a late dinner. Keep in mind, we were also eating our way through a bunch of snacks and fuel in the car, too, so we weren’t starved by any means. We tried to nap in the hotel for a few hours—no showers yet—while waiting for van 1 to finish, but the pizza was churning in my gut and my stomach felt worse. I had nearly three days’ worth of food sitting happily in my belly, uninterested in going anywhere. The night run was looming, and I was getting nervous.
We left the hotel a little before 10 pm and drove to our exchange to meet van 1. I got the baton bracelet and took off into the night with my reflective vest, headlamp, constipation, and tunes. It was a little scary being in the dark and running through an unknown place, but there were a lot of runners nearby and I felt safe. It was exhilarating and adrenaline pumped me through the entire run.
The five miles went by in no time, but by the time I made it back to the van, I added severe heartburn to my ailments. One of my van-mates tried to hunt down TUMS from another team at the exchanges, but in the end, I had to purchase some TUMS from the hotel when we made it back there around 3 a.m. I chewed five or six of them, took a quick shower, and plopped down into bed.
We planned to sleep until around 7:30 a.m., based on when we thought van 1 would complete their legs. Four hours of sleep in a hotel bed is a wild fantasy during RAGNAR: most sleeping takes place in the van, on the ground at longer exchanges, or not at all. We all decided a hotel room was worth the extra cash, especially when two rooms are split between 12 people and only 3 people are in a room at a time. I relished my time in that hotel room bed. It was such a sweet moment of true pampering after a shower.
Instead, there was pounding on our door before 6 a.m. from one of our teammates. Somehow, the van 1 team finished their legs two hours faster than we anticipated, and their fifth runner was already on the road. It turns out that one of our runners missed a turn, cutting off almost an hour and a half of runner time—skipping three legs—and putting us waaaay ahead of schedule. It also meant we had about 40 minutes to drive 40 miles to the next exchange. Enter: panic. We shoved all our belongings into our bags, sprinted down the van, and sped to the exchange point.
En route to the exchange point, my colon decided to start working. Excellent timing, right? Even though the sixth runner was finished with his leg by the time we made it to the exchange, I visited the port-a-potty before going up the exchange and starting my third and final leg around 6:30 a.m. on Saturday.
Needless to say, it was my best run of the entire trip.
In addition to finally getting my stomach problems under control, the weather was perfect, the course was relatively flat, I was running on an empty stomach in the early morning (my optimal conditions), Cape Cod was at its most Cape-Cod-y, and I knew I was on the final stretch to completing my portion of the race. I felt positively euphoric over that 10k distance and didn’t come down from my high until much later the day.
When our last runner came to the end of his third run, our entire 12-person team joined him and we crossed the finish line at the after party site. We hung out together for a few hours, grabbing awesome free samples and stocking up on post-race food, and somehow managed to climb the Pilgrim’s Monument at the top of Provincetown’s hill.
Some of our crew headed back to Boston, but most of us stayed at the end of the Cape for the night. We were all heavily sleep-deprived and dehydrated enough to make it a quick night of drinking. By the time John, Sam, and I made it back to our hotel on Saturday night, we were thoroughly exhausted and elated. We didn’t set an alarm and rolled out of bed almost 10 hours later. Our RAGNAR journey was complete.
Would I do another RANGAR? Admittedly, yes. Do I want to do one next week? Definitely not. But, I know how to prepare myself—inside and out, I hope—for another endurance event of this kind. I met some awesome people who I consider close friends even after knowing them for such a short period of time. I challenged myself mentally, physically, and emotionally in way I never thought I would. I saw a beautiful part of America by car and by foot, in a way that few people will ever experience.
In the end, I’m extremely happy with how the event went and my stamina for making it all the way through, despite being tired/sore/burnt out/backed up/overwhelmed by so many things. If you’re considering an event like RAGNAR in the future, I’d encourage you to do it! I’m happy to answer any questions or provide any insights. (Pro tip: baby wipes for “showering” between runs. You’ll thank me later.)