Life Lessons Learned at Ragnar Relay

Wow, it has been forever since I have blogged! This summer got very busy, but as Missy said last week, we really do plan to get back to blogging. That said, I have quite a few things to play “catch up” on, the biggest of which is last month’s Ragnar Relay Great River! So without further delay, here is my Ragnar recap.

We decided to turn this trip into a mini vacation, so we drove up to Minneapolis on Wednesday morning to hit the Mall of America on Wednesday night. I love the MOA and we try to get up there every year or two. Thursday we caught a Twins day game before I had to head out to meet my team captain for the drive to Winona where we would start on Friday morning.

Friday morning started early, but not crazy early. I am a big proponent of staying near the starting line at Ragnar if at all possible. Much of our team drove to the start that day and had to wake up really early. I felt like I got to sleep in by comparison and actually woke up around 6:30 a.m. before my alarm went off. (You will not know until about 2 a.m. on Saturday morning how thankful you will be for those extra few hours of sleep!) This was my first experience being in van 1 for Ragnar, so it was the first time I got to fully experience the starting line hype. I was runner 2, so once we sent off our first runner it was off to the exchange to get ready to run.

Ask anyone who ran this event to sum it up in one word, and you would likely get the same answer – HOT. I was thankful to get to start my first run fairly early in the morning (I think around 9:30 a.m.), but it was already a scorcher. It was one of those days you could feel the temperature rising as you ran and kind of felt like you were baking in the sun by the end. The heat index was already well into the 90’s by the time my run was completed. My first leg was a mental dialogue with myself weighing not wanting to be so slow that I set my team back (and left my teammates running in even hotter temperatures), but not wanting to push too hard and not be able to run again (which would have been even worse for the team). I decided early on that I would do 5/1 intervals (5 minutes running, 1 minute walking) just to make sure I didn’t crash and burn a few miles in. I managed to finish that first run within 20 seconds per mile of my “estimated” pace which I was pretty happy with considering the heat. I soon realized that everyone was going to be off pace and felt much better about my conservative strategy.

Lots of great river views along this course!

Lots of scenic river views along this course!

As the day went on, it was apparent that this would truly be a team event. If you are not familiar with Ragnar, most of it is self-supported, meaning that you are your teammate’s “water stops” and “aid stations.” This was more important than ever on a day like this, and between both of our vans we were trying to check in on our runner just about every mile. (In past Ragnars I have run, we typically stop every 2-3 miles.) The temperature was quickly in the high 90’s with a heat index over 100. Ragnar issued a heat advisory, but thankfully the race went on. It was so hot that at one point we feared our air-conditioning in our van was broken. The air was just not that cold – turns out it just couldn’t keep up.

An early exchange.  This was how much of the course was - VERY limited shade.

An early exchange. This was how much of the course was – VERY limited shade.

At some point in the evening, we heard that van 2 had a runner down from the heat. She was violently ill and would not be able to run her overnight leg. The juggling began, and somehow I ended up swapping my 5 miles at 9 or 10 p.m. for 6 uphill miles at around 1-2 a.m. I have run in the wee hours of the morning at my previous Ragnars, so the time didn’t bother me as much as the uphill part. I have no physical reason I can’t run hills, I am just bad at it. That said, I did put in a decent amount of hill training for this race once I committed to running it. Last year I had no clue just how hilly this course was and was taken by surprise. But since this race was a last minute decision, I still felt very under-trained. Running hills is just not something for which you can “cram” in training.

In both of my previous Ragnars, my middle of the night runs are something I go back to as a “highlight.” This one did not disappoint. This run has become something I go back to as a metaphor for my life right now. Those who know me in “real life” probably know I am a classic “type A.” I like to plan. I like to know exactly where I’m going and how I’m going to get there. I don’t like surprises and I am not particularly patient. I have had a lot of things thrown at me in life this year that are requiring patience and trust in a lot of unknowns. This is hard for me. Much like running uphill in the pitch black dark of night was hard. The hill was not particularly steep (there were 2-3 parts that got steep, but it was always just a short stretch), but it was constant. I had no idea when the flickering lights of the next exchange would come, but I knew that I had to keep putting one foot in front of the other until I reached that point. Now when I start to panic about something that I am unsure about, or need to be patient for, I picture that uphill climb. It may sound cheesy, but that hill at 2 a.m. taught me a lesson in persevering when things get tough or I have to face the unknown. If I am one thing, I do not want it to be a quitter.


After that run, it was time to head to an exchange to get a few hours of sleep. The school we were at did not have air conditioning, so it was HOT in the gym we were provided to sleep. After setting up inside and deciding there was no way, I moved outside and fell asleep pretty quickly. The only “problem” was that by this point we were only about 2 hours away from sunrise which woke me up. Note to self: Do not forget an eye mask and earplugs for Ragnar!

My accommodations for the night...

My accommodations for the night…

My last run was mid-morning on Saturday. It was my flattest and shortest run of the weekend. It started out alright, but the day was getting hot in a hurry again. The first mile of this run had a stretch over a bridge with black top and I remember feeling like I was baking in the sun and knowing this was going to be another tough run. I intervaled my way through it, and eventually was excited to see the infamous “One Mile to Go” sign that Ragnar posts on each leg. And then it happened. I hit the wall. I have run two Ragnars and two marathons and have never felt like I truly hit this wall you hear runners speak of. Until now. I didn’t feel sick or hurt, but my body just wouldn’t run. It was so frustrating to know I had less than a mile and I wanted to just bust it out, but my legs felt like lead. I started to play mind games like “just run up to that tree and then you can walk again” and slowly plodded along. At some point, with maybe a half mile to go, my teammates were there to encourage me. It was just what I needed in that moment and gave me a little push to finish a little bit stronger.

One of the most welcome sites you will see during Ragnar!

One of the most welcome sites you will see during Ragnar!

That was my second big “life lesson” learned at this Ragnar. This particular race could not have been completed safely without great teammates. You had to trust your team to be there when you needed them. This is something else I sometimes struggle with – letting others help.

My awesome team :)

My awesome team :)

We ended up finishing an hour or so later than planned, but really could not have been much happier with our overall pace. We all finished in one piece. We had a great time along the way! Another fun Ragnar Relay in the books. I don’t know when or where, but I definitely hope to add more Ragnars to my resume!



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