Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My abbreviated -- and awesome -- Ragnar experience

Road races can be memorable for a variety of ways.

If you trained hard and ran a good race, you might remember it for a personal best running time. If it's something like a costumed Halloween run or one of the increasingly-popular mud runs, maybe you'll remember it for the unique atmosphere and fun activities surrounding the race. If you ran it with a group of friends and made a day out of hanging out afterward, maybe the camaraderie is the first thing you'll think of.
You've got to love a race where the medal
doubles as a bottle opener.

Or if it's something like Ragnar Relays, maybe you'll remember it for being a whirlwind experience; a flurry of activity packed into a few short hours that left you both mentally and physically exhausted.

Ragnar is the first race I've ever done that can be described in that way. The rollicking relay run from Winona to St. Paul finished up a few days ago and the residual aches and pains from the running I did for it have long since subsided. However, the race still hangs prominently in my thoughts as I try to sort through everything that happened during it.

Most other running events are pretty straightforward: you show up, you race, you go home. That's not the case with Ragnar. There's long van rides, lack of sleep and excruciating waits between runs to endure. And strangely enough, it's all enjoyable. REALLY enjoyable, in fact.

My first Ragnar was actually an abbreviated experience. I didn't ask off work enough in advance to get the full weekend off and was stuck in the office Friday evening while my Ragnar teammates covered for my first run. My plan was to finish designing the Saturday edition of the Northfield News, drive over to Ellsworth, WI and meet up with my team -- dubbed the Shady Characters -- in time to run my last two relay legs.

It certainly wasn't an ideal situation to be in. I signed up for Ragnar intending to run the full race and hated the thought of someone filling in for me. I also hated the fact that I was relying on accurate race pacing and decent cell phone coverage -- neither a sure thing -- to locate my team.

However, it was the hand I was dealt and I intended to play it.

The situation also set the table for a pretty hectic 24 hours. From 11:45 p.m. on Friday to 11:45 p.m. on Saturday, I:

--drove from Faribault to Ellsworth and back, a three hour round trip

--spent roughly 10 hours riding in a van with five relative strangers, the majority of which was accented with the smell of sweat on body odor typically associated with running

--ran 14 miles collectively between two relay legs

--indulged in a post-race scene that included quirky costumes, free pizza and a chance to finally utilize the free beer tickets that were attached to our racing bibs

--sent out about 30 tweets encapsulating my Ragnar experience (follow me @AGVoigt if you wish)

--hitched a ride from one of my teammates to go get my car in Ellsworth after our team van got back to Faribault

--got about 80 minutes of sleep on a hardwood gym floor in Stillwater, MN

Now, that's a lot of activity -- and not a lot of sleep -- packaged into one day. And as you can probably guess, I slept like a rock once I finally got back to my apartment late Saturday night.

My particular situation had the added awkwardness of not knowing anyone on the team prior to race day. My coworker Stacy approached me about joining a Ragnar team in March and would eventually be unable to participate in it herself due to injury. Thanks to a evening-centric work schedule, I also didn't get a chance to do any training runs with teammates ahead of time.

A lot of people might question the wisdom of going through all that for one road race. It's a lot of effort and time commitment, to be sure, and the experience left me sleeping off the effects of it for most of Sunday. In all honesty, I still don't think I'm completely caught up on sleep from it.

So what makes Ragnar so enjoyable? Why do so many people -- including numerous teams in the Faribault and Owatonna areas -- sign up for it every year?

Part of the answer is a slight twist on an old saying: Misery loves company. Arduous runs with hot temps and steep inclines are a lot more bearable when you have teammates supporting you and cheering you on. Likewise, it's an awesome feeling to hand the baton off after giving it your all for your part of the race.

Beyond that, the race just has a fun atmosphere. Team names like Nine Inch Snails and Pothole Surfers bring a smile to the face of anyone checking the race results and many groups put as much effort into their costumes and van decorations as they do into their training. One man ran the entire race dressed like a bear, another wore a can-can dress with a corset for his final relay leg.

Running is a sport that can get pretty intense at times, but aside from a few elite relay teams, Ragnar never takes itself too seriously. Thanks in part to that laid back atmosphere, I had a blast running in the race and thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the other people on my team as the day progressed.

It might have been a whirlwind experience, but it's one I'll look back on fondly for years to come.

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