August 26, 2010

Ragnar Relay! (super long and tons of pics)

This is going to be a long entry, so let me start by apologizing for that! I'm really excited about finishing this race, so I want to remember all the details.

First, let me explain what the Ragnar Relay is. It's a 200-ish mile relay race, done by teams of 12. In my case, the course went from Winona, MN to Minneapolis, MN (cutting through Wisconsin in the process). The teams each have 12 people. The race is divided into 36 "legs"--from 3.1 miles up to 8.8 miles each. Each runner on the team is responsible for running 3 of the legs--in my case, I was runner #9: I had to run 3.2 miles, then 5.4 miles, then 4.2 miles. I had asked for the easier legs because it was my first time, and I'm not exactly a marathon runner!

Anyway, runners 1-6 are in Van #1, and runners 7-12 are in Van #2. Runner #1 starts the race at the starting line, runs the distance to the next station, and passes off a slap bracelet to Runner #2 (who got there by van). Then Runner #2 runs to the next station, and passes the bracelet to runner #3... and so on. Meanwhile, the people in Van #1 drive about halfway through the runner's leg and stop to give them water and cheer them on. Then the van drives to the exchange station to wait for the runner. The runner passes on the bracelet, then joins the team in the van while the new runner does their leg.

When all of the runners in Van #1 have completed their legs, then it's Van #2's turn to start where Van #1 left off. Van #1 then has about 5 hours to kill until it's their turn again--usually they will go find a place to sleep or eat. Once Van #2 is complete, then it goes back to Van #1. Each van takes 3 turns of running. Does this make sense so far? So someone from our 12-person team is constantly running, even though the distances vary. The team members in the van cheer you on and bring you water while you're running. So that's the explanation of what the Ragnar is. You can get more info at

I had no intention of doing this race until about 2 weeks ago. My brother (a pilot who lives in Minnesota) said that he had two team members drop out of the race and he needed to fill the spots, so he asked if I'd be interested. I said no. Over the next couple of days, I really thought about it, and decided to go for it. My biggest fear is flying, and I knew I'd have to fly to Minnesota to do the race, so that is what I was worried about the most. I called my friend Stacie to see if she would do it with me, and she agreed (sucker!!)


My brother listed us on a late flight Wednesday night (we were flying stand-by on my brother's buddy passes). I was SOOO nervous to fly. My mom took us to the airport, and we got there early. We decided to have a couple of drinks before getting on the plane (to calm my nerves!) We went to a restaurant/bar at the hotel and I ordered a glass of red wine and Stacie got a pina colada. A really good-looking man sat down next to me and ordered a beer and dinner. Stacie and I were talking, and I said something that made her laugh.

Her drink shot out her nose and all over the bar! It was hilarious. It even landed in the man's food, but he was really cool about it. He said, "That's the highlight of my trip!!" We started chatting, and I told the bartender I wanted to pay for the man's meal. (Side note: I have a list of 30 things I want to accomplish by the time I turn 30, and one of them is to pay for a stranger's meal at a restaurant. This was a great opportunity!) The man said absolutely not, but I insisted. He told me he'd buy me a drink on the plane, which was really nice of him!

We boarded the plane, and I was scared to death, but feeling better after the wine. True to his word, the man from the restaurant bought me a drink in flight. The flight was uneventful, which was a good thing! We arrived at MSP at around 11, and Brian (my brother) picked us up. We went to his house, sat in the hot tub, and had some more wine until about 2 AM.


The next day, Stacie and I decided to go to the Mall of America for the sole purpose of riding a roller coaster there. It was really fun!

Then we got a frozen yogurt and went back to Brian's. We all went grocery shopping for the Ragnar, and I bought some healthy food: crackers, peanut butter, yogurt, carrots, nuts, peaches, bananas.

For dinner, we met up with the rest of our Ragnar team. Our team name was Max Continuous Thrust (with the exception of Stacie and I, the team was made up of pilots). I ordered the "Low Calorie Chicken Pizza" without the chicken. It was AMAZING--whole wheat crust with a tomato sauce, mozzarella, basil, roasted garlic, feta and parmesan cheeses, caramelized onions, bruschetta topping... YUM! We went to the hotel to get some sleep for the race.

On Friday morning, I woke up at about 6. We had some coffee, got dressed, and went to the start line about 10 minutes away. We had a 10 AM start. Our first runner was Tonya. She took off when the horn blew.

The course map:

When we first pulled up to the race, we heard a siren and someone talking through a megaphone. I laughed my ass off when I saw this team pull up!!  This is team "Ragnar 911"... they were SO funny!! They stayed in character the entire time, writing bogus tickets and everything. Their van was decorated like a police car.

Our team at the starting line (we were missing 2 people). I'm on the left:

The starting line and awesome scenery:

Since it was Van #1's turn to run, we (Van #2) got to go back to the hotel and relax a little, eat breakfast, drink some more coffee. Then we had to go to Checkpoint #6 to be ready for the hand-off to our van.

Van #2 of Max Continuous Thrust (from left: Crystal, me, Brian, Jerry (not my hubby!), Stacie, and Marty):

On the way there, there was a car in front of us that was swerving all over the road, speeding up, slowing down--basically either really drunk or really old (I think he was just old).  He came REALLY close to hitting a couple of runners and a few cars. So we called 911 and we followed him for about 8 miles waiting for the police to come. I felt like my heart was going to pound out of my chest--it was SO nerve wracking watching him drive alongside the runners. Finally, we went to the checkpoint.

Crystal was our first runner, and she had a REALLY difficult leg. The elevation went up about 2,000 feet in a matter of 5 or 6 miles. We met her halfway up the hill to give her water and cheer her on, then we went to Checkpoint #7.

Jerry waving Crystal up the hill (it's much steeper than it looks). Can you tell he's a pilot? :)

Giving Crystal water--she was EXHAUSTED, but only halfway up to the top!

Crystal handed off to Brian.  We drove halfway through his run to give him water and cheers.

After Brian, it was my turn to run. Brian handed off to me, and I started running. It was just before sunset, and it was really pretty! I ran my 3.2 miles, then handed off to Marty.

My brother handing off to me, for my first leg:

Running my first leg:

Handing off to Marty:

I was relieved to be done with my first run. I changed my clothes in a really nasty bathroom. I was trying to find not-so-dirty spots to set my stuff down while I changed--and I set my cell phone on this little half-wall. Later discovered I left it there!  Before we left, there were these girls (a team called The Diva's) that were REALLY into my brother. They had seen him running and stopped to give him water. They were super excited that he had his shirt off, so they started calling him "The No-Shirt Guy". We kept running into them along the course, and they got all excited to see Brian, and told him to "Take off your shirt!"  Hahaha.

As we were driving to the next checkpoint, Brian got a call on his cell phone from some girl saying that she found my cell phone. She said she'd meet us at Checkpoint #12. Brian said, "Okay, we're in a van called Max Continuous Thrust" and the girl said, "Ohmygod, are you the No-Shirt Guy?!"  Brian said yes, and you could hear all the girls scream :)  So it was The Diva's that found my phone.  Later, I would discover that they were texting my brother from my phone for the next few checkpoints--they even sent a boob picture! LOL

While Marty was running, we took the time to revamp our van decorations. They were really lame! lol

All those dots you see are little magnetic lights all over the van, so our runners knew which van was ours. Clever!

After Marty ran it was Stacie's turn. It was dark by this time, and she had to wear the required reflective vest and head light.

After Stacie was Jerry, and then our van was done for a while, and Van #1 started again.

At this point, it was pretty late (11?) We drove to Checkpoint #18 (where we would have to meet up with Van #1 after they finished their legs). Halfway there, we got pulled over by the cops. Real ones, not the Ragnar 911 team :)  They made us take all the lights off of our van! 

Checkpoint #18 was at a high school. The school was offering showers for $3, spaghetti dinner for $7, and sleeping in the gym for $3. I chose to sleep! There were about 100 people in the gym sleeping on sleeping bags. I spread out my bag (right in-between two other people--awkward!) and actually fell asleep pretty quickly. But I only slept for about an hour before I woke up and couldn't fall back asleep. I went back to the van at 2:45 and ate some yogurt and nuts. At around 3:30 AM, Van #1 showed up for the hand-off. They then got to sleep/eat/shower while we (Van #2) ran our legs.

My second leg started before sunrise, and finished after sunrise. I was SO tired and my pace reflected that. But I finished my 5.4 miles and actually felt much better afterward.

Just before my second leg... it was about 4 AM, and REALLY foggy! The specks you see are actually fog droplets.

We were required to wear these vests and a headlamp while running in the dark. This was just after my second leg (5.4 miles):

Stacie's second leg was difficult for her. She had a hill.  Here is the hand-off from Marty to Stacie:

And Stacie finishing up her second leg:

Jerry finishing up Van #2's second legs. He was really goofy and SO much fun! (Did I mention that already?):

After the 6 of us finished our legs, we went to Checkpoint #30 to wait for Van #1. Everyone decided to try and sleep--on the grass, in the van, wherever. Stacie and I walked across the street to a Borders to look around and kill some time. I had eaten some junk food (trail mix and chips) after my previous leg, and it caught up with me at this point. I got diarrhea. Yup, and the only place to go to the bathroom were port-a-potties and public restrooms. My stomach was killing me. Anyway, we ate lunch at the van, rested a bit, and then it was time for our LAST legs of the race.

Stacie and I were in fresh clothes and ready for our third legs:

People sleeping wherever they could!

Giving Brian water during his third leg:

My last leg was at about 2 PM. It was still a little overcast when I started, which was nice. Not too hot, and my leg was right along the Mississippi River.

The hand-off from my brother to me:

My third leg. My brother was giving me water. I wasn't nearly AS miserable as I look here! But my stomach was still killing me. Junk food will do that to you, I guess! :)

Finishing my last leg:

DONE!! My brother and me.

At the end of my 4.2 mile leg, it was REALLY hot. I was THRILLED to be done though! I could just relax in the van and cheer on my team. Our last runner was Crystal. She had to run 6 miles and it was SO HOT.

We drove to the finish line and waited for the announcer to say that she was on her way. When she was about 200 yards away, the whole team went to her and we all ran across the finish line together. Crystal kept saying she was going to throw up, and she called a cab to leave right away. I felt so bad for her! There was free pizza and $2 beers at the finish. I ate 1 piece of pizza and had a beer. I bought a couple of shirts, too--a hooded sweatshirt that says "Run. Drive. Sleep? Repeat." with the Ragnar logo on it. And I got a t-shirt that says, "200(ish) miles, 36 legs, 12 friends".

My medal (it's SUPER heavy! And the top part under the ribbon is also a bottle opener, lol)

We crossed the finish line at about 5, and our flight was at 9 (we had to be there at 8). After our pizza and beer, we went back to Brian's, took a super quick shower, and then headed to the airport. I got stopped for a while at security--they confiscated a can of pumpkin from my bag! LOL I had bought it at the grocery store in MN because we have NO canned pumpkin in MI--and I was so excited to find some that I bought a can to bring home. But security took it from me. They patted me down, went through my bag, rescanned a bunch of stuff, used some sort of wipe to see if there was any residue inside my bag, etc.

Stacie suggested getting milkshakes from the airport, and I was excited about that. Then I thought to myself, "I'm SO not hungry. In the past, I would have gotten the milk shake anyway, just because I've already eating lots of junk today. But do I really really want it? NO. I'm not hungry!"  So I chose not to get one, and I just took a sip of Stacie's instead. That's big progress for me!

We ended up getting first class on the way home, which was cool. Of course I couldn't pass up free drinks! I just had a glass of red wine. And a Reese Cup, because that was free too... not the best choice, but I was so exhausted I didn't care. We arrived at DTW at midnight, and Stacie's mom drove us home. I got home at 1, went to bed at 2. Slept until 10:15 on Sunday morning--I NEVER sleep that late!

The race was SO AMAZING, and I met some really great people. I'm really thinking about doing it again next year--maybe in Chicago or Boston.  Anyone interested in meeting up there for the race??  It was a great time, and I'm so glad that I got suckered into doing it :)


  1. that so awesome you did a relay!!! I am going to do a mud run next year with my brother! I am so excited!

  2. Ok this sounds SUPER fun! Exhausting, but fun. :-)

  3. So, we had a Ragnar Relay run through Corona this Summer! I couldn't figure out what was going on and why were people running in tutus? Lol. I looked it up online after I asked the tutu guy the name of the race. I think it went from Long Beach to San Diego or something. This would be SO FUN! Did you do one this year? I want to do a Ragnar Relay race!! I can imagine that you were SO exhausted!!

  4. ps - I was cracking up at the "no-shirt guy" stuff! Why did he have his shirt on in the last pic? jk. ;) Are your sister and brothers married?

  5. I loved reading that! Ive never heard of a race like that before!

  6. @MamaMericle

    That would be the SoCal Ragnar--my brother has done that one a couple of times. I didn't do one this year, unfortunately. Maybe next year? It would be super hard to put a team together, so I might just have to hop on a team with a bunch of strangers!

  7. How many people do you need for a team? It would be SO COOL if you got a firm commitment from some of your most loyal readers(like even collect registration $ or something!) and everyone trained on their own (you could provide a training schedule) and then we all meet at the designated race location and do the Ragnar together! Hmm...something to think about! I'd be totally up for it! ;)

  8. I loved reading this post. I did the Madison to Chicago Ragnar in July. We had so much fun. What an awesome experience!

  9. So excited I found this entry! I just discovered your blog from the ever popular Pinterest. ;) A friend of mine in Chicago recently told me about the Ragnar races & said I should join her if she could get a team together. I'm a new runner though, so this kinda makes me nervous. :)
    If you don't mind me asking, where do you live? I'm in Macomb County, so my ears perked up when I read you're in Michigan. :)

  10. @Stef

    Stef, You should definitely do a Ragnar! I've been dying to do another one. It's unlike any other race you'll ever do.

  11. i smiled so big while reading through this! i'm super excited, i signed up for a northwest passage raganar team a few weeks ago. thanks for such a detailed description of what to look for :)

  12. I just recently started following your blog and friended you on Sparkpeople, thank for accepting :) Decided to come right back to the beginning and read through and I could not stop laughing about the girls texting from your phone to your brother and the boob picture. I keep imagining someone else seeing it and being like "dude, why is your sister sending you boob pictures??" hehehehe. You have done so amazing. I love races and I'm just starting back to running again. Registered for a 10km in October. A goal!!

  13. Re-read this today because I am so pumped for Ragnar NW (July 20-21st!!) woohooo!!

  14. This is Andrea from Harbor Light Healthy Moms!! I just started following you and I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to do this race with you one year!! I am also from Michigan but I live about 30 minutes south of the Mackinac Bridge. I also read about your 500 Festival, I am signing up for the training series and the half marathon next year!!! Thank you for being such an inspiration!!


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