I don’t remember exactly how I got myself into this. I do recall several of us were standing in the hallway at work chatting, and the Cape Cod Ragnar came up. Soon after, we decided to form a team and register. My friend Lauren ran it last year with 11 strangers and loved it. And granted, I had always found the very idea of the Ragnar intriguing. (Side note: If you’re entertaining the idea of running a marathon, you’ll definitely want to check out Lauren’s blog series, Running Up that Hill. It doesn’t get any more real.)
Recruiting a few others to complete our team of 12 was easy. Apparently, the lure of running all day and night, living out of a van, and not showering or sleeping for 30-plus hours was hard to resist. I knew I was excited. To top it off, our good friends Gemma and Veronica agreed to drive us to and from the Cape and throughout the course. This was definitely welcome news, as these ladies are known for their bubbly personalities and fantastic sense of humor – must-haves when you’re pulling an all-nighter and need to stay motivated.
Ragnar? Say What?
If you’re unfamiliar with the Ragnar, you’re not alone. I had to explain it to my parents and a few others and they all had the same reaction: I must be out of my mind. Basically, the Ragnar is a long relay race (about 200 miles, give or take) that’s held in a cool city or area. Teams of 12 runners, or if you’re really ambitious, six runners, take turns running various legs until everyone reaches the end. We chose Cape Cod for a number of reasons: timing, proximity, the fact that much of the course is along the ocean, and finally that it ends in Provincetown, a fun, adorable city that’s brimming with things to do.
Preparation and Training
The training part wasn’t bad. It’s recommended that participants prep for a half-marathon and mix in some cross-training, like a boot camp class a couple times a week. Given that most of us had either run a recent half or full marathon, or a past Ragnar, we weren’t too worried.
Other items on our to-do list included booking two large vans that were roomy enough to accommodate seven people, including a driver, gear, and food; reserving hotel rooms in Provincetown; deciding on a team name (credit goes to Laura for coming up with the oh-so-appropriate Whine Now, Wine Later idea); designing T-shirts and magnets (major props to Heather, graphic designer extraordinaire); and coordinating supplies, like food, water, safety equipment, a first-aid kit, phone chargers, etc. Lauren, who graciously volunteered to be our team captain, was also tasked with figuring out who would run which legs based on pace and preference, making sure we were all properly prepared for what would surely be one of the toughest challenges most of us had faced, and assigning us to a van according to the legs we chose. I was in van 2, which meant we had a later start time, but we would also finish our last run later.
Day One – Morning
We all agreed to meet at work, park our cars, and hit the road. As I was driving to Albany, I couldn’t help but think of my friends in van 1 and how the first runner was already well into her first leg. I tried to send some positive energy her way.
The drive to Duxbury Beach, Mass., one of the major exchange points where we would kick off our first round of legs, was uneventful. We were all rather talkative and animated despite the early hour and the fact that we already weren’t operating on much sleep. I don’t know about the others, but my stomach felt like it was wound into a ball of nervous energy. I attribute it to not knowing what to expect and the anticipation of at least two long, difficult runs ahead of me.
We finally arrived and were immediately overwhelmed by the sea of humanity before us. The excitement was palpable, as runners and volunteers scurried amid the vendors and registration tables while a driving beat pounded through the speakers. Our comrades in van 1 had finished their legs ahead of schedule, so it was just a matter of registering and watching a safety video before we could send off our first runner, Julie.
As she prepared to begin her run, I was coming to terms with the fact that this was it. This was what we had been planning and gearing up for the past six months. I’m not religious, but at that moment, I closed my eyes and said a quick prayer for Julie, and my other teammates, that everyone would finish their runs in one piece. Looking back, I feel somewhat silly, as safety is of the utmost importance at these events, but I’m a worrier by nature. Kristin and Amy were up after Julie, and then it was my turn.
That’s not a typo. I guess the Ragnar folks were having some fun and decided to capitalize on the Massachusetts/Boston parlance, and accent, when describing this particular leg. Also, I’m sure the fact that it’s ridiculously long and hilly had a lot to do with the nomenclature. Anyway, I knew this going in, and I think that’s why I was so nervous. For me, a successful run means completing it without stopping to walk, especially when the course is difficult. That’s all I wanted – to not have to stop and walk.
I set out and immediately noticed the nonstop traffic and what looked like a half-inch shoulder that separated the runners from almost certain death. I tried my best to stay inside the yellow line for fear of being plowed over by one of many speeding cars. The hills started almost instantly, but I managed them pretty well. I have to say that for just about every incline, there was a nice, steady decline, and even some flat surfaces. So far, so good.
I think it was mile 7 when I felt my energy start to wane. And, it was at this point when I encountered one of the steepest hills known to man. I tried my hardest to make it to the top, but when your legs feel like lead and your breathing is horribly labored, sometimes you have to admit defeat. So, Dear Reader, it is at this moment that I humbly confess to you that yes, I walked. However, I was able to resume running only after about a minute or two. Not a total loss in my book.
The last few miles were, of course, hilly, but I eventually ended up in a quiet neighborhood – a far cry, and a nice break, from the traffic-choked highway. Then, all of a sudden, the smooth asphalt transitioned to a gravelly dirt road that went on for about a mile. On a shorter, less challenging run, this might not have been that big of a deal, but my degree of exhaustion was such that every step felt like 20. I tried to avoid tripping on the stones that littered the road while ignoring the fact that my feet kept sliding back every time they landed. The gravel eventually gave way to asphalt again and I knew I was in the homestretch. Just another couple of miles and this misery would end.
The word that perfectly describes what it felt like to reach the next exchange point has yet to be invented. Relief? Sure. Exhilaration? Definitely. Satisfaction? Absolutely. My van mates greeted me with some much-needed water and someone handed me a medal for completing this absurd leg. I think I said thank you, but in my delirious state, I couldn’t be certain. Wicked hahd, indeed.
Sleep is for Suckers
To get the full Ragnar experience, one must replace a good night’s sleep with running. Now, if you’re one of the lucky few who can fall asleep anywhere, more power to you. I am not so fortunate. After grabbing a bite to eat near Hyannis, we made our way to the next exchange and found a secluded spot to park. At this point, we were waiting for van 1 to finish their second legs before we could start ours. I tried to get as comfortable as I could in our cramped quarters and drift off, but to no avail. Instead, I just laid there with my eyes closed for a couple of hours. In the meantime, it had been raining hard, and once again, my thoughts and sympathy were with my poor teammates in van 1.
By the time my second leg rolled around, it was 2 a.m. I hadn’t stayed up that late since my 20s, and I had certainly never ventured out for a run at that hour. Overall, it wasn’t that bad. The 3.5-mile course was relatively flat, and I found the nocturnal sounds – insects and leftover rain falling from the trees – to be quite calming. I was so happy to see Theresa waiting to begin her run at the next exchange, for it meant I had a nice chunk of time to relax and attempt that sleep thing again before my third and final leg.
Day Two – Just 33 Miles to Go
We awoke to a beautiful, sunny day. Since van 1 was still completing their runs, we had plenty of time to kill and used it as an opportunity to grab something to eat, freshen up, and enjoy the nice weather. Before too long, it was time to make our way to the next exchange so Julie could tackle her last run. The poor thing literally had an uphill battle, but she managed to conquer those six-plus miles like a champ. Kristin’s and Amy’s runs weren’t much better, and by that time, the temperature was already in the mid-70s and rising. And then it was my turn.
My last run really wasn’t much better than the Wicked Hahd leg. Sure, the distance was shorter by about 2.5 miles, but it was still hilly as heck and along a busy highway under an unrelenting sun. I don’t mean to complain, but really? What I wouldn’t have done for an ocean view or something along those lines instead of strip malls and car dealerships.
I completed the first half without too many issues; the second half was a different story. At that point, the hills and my exhaustion level had a direct relationship. How could I possibly run anymore? I texted Lauren to update her on my progress and to reassure my teammates that I was still alive. I had about a half-mile to go when in the distance, I saw this angelic figure heading my way. It was Lauren coming to help me push through the final stretch. I will never forget that simple, yet so meaningful, act of kindness as long as I live. I wished Theresa one final good luck at the exchange and then I was finished. Hallelujah.
The Road to P-Town
It was now up to Lauren to complete the last leg of this insane journey, and it was not easy. She was just as tired as the rest of us, but somehow she crushed those remaining 9.62 miles with energy to spare.
In the meantime, the rest of us had gathered near the end of the course to wait for Lauren. We were surrounded by hundreds of other teams who were also anxiously waiting for their runners so they could cross the finish line together. After a few minutes, Lauren appeared, and we all rushed onto the course to join her on our team’s final path to victory. It was one of the most electrifying experiences I’ve had the privilege to be a part of. Together, as a team, we conquered 192 challenging miles and did so with little to no sleep and smiles on our faces.
With the Cape Cod Ragnar behind us, it was finally time to relax and bask in the glow of our accomplishment. That night, I slept soundly, as did the rest of my teammates, I’m sure.
A Word of Thanks
To the 11 smart, fearless, tireless, talented women I am proud to call my teammates and my friends – thank you. Thank you for your undying support, your camaraderie, your humor, and your positivity. I don’t think this experience would have been quite the same without you. A heartfelt thanks to our two drivers, Gemma and Veronica. Few in this world could keep us laughing while delivering us to our exchange points on time and without getting lost. Finally, on behalf of the Whine Now, Wine Later team, a sincere thank you to Lauren, our team captain. Your superior organizational skills pulled this adventure together, and your unwavering motivation kept us going.
So, what’s next, guys?