Ragnar del Sol – EPIC or Just Crazy?

Ragnar

What is Ragnar?

Ragnar Course Overview

Ragnar is an overnight running relay race that makes testing your limits a team sport. A typical team is made up of 12 individuals; each individual runs 3 legs. The legs of the race vary in difficulty and distance, from 3-8 miles, allowing elite and novice runners to run together. Over 2 days and 1 night, teams run across 200+ miles of the country’s most scenic terrain. Here in Arizona it starts in Wickenburg, runs down towards Tonopah, winds back up through Anthem, all the way out around the McDowell Mountains into Fountain Hills and then meanders down through Scottsdale to end in Tempe. Each team has 2 vehicles that leap frog each other. There is also an option to do an “Ultra” team with 6 individuals, with each runner still running 3 legs each, they are just longer.  It is a great experience that is very socially entertaining. Many teams create a theme for their vans and do not hold back when it comes to decorating.

It did not take me long to answer yes when I was asked if I wanted to participate in a 3 man Ragnar team.  To me that screamed, not just Ultra but,  EPICALLY Ultra.  Contemplating covering 202 miles with 2 other people did not even phase me.  I knew the mileage could be done, it was going to come down to how the lack of sleep and severely disrupted eating habits would effect me.  There really is no training to get ready for an event of this magnitude.  The twelve legs that were assigned to me as the 3rd runner ranged anywhere from 2.8 miles to 13.5 miles, totaling out to be 71.5 miles.  The key was to start out slow and steady to avoid blowing up to soon in the race.

Before I jump into telling you about the race, let me share little bit about my two crazy teammates and amazing support crew. Toby Baum, who also happens to be my triathlon coach, was the creator of this event.  He created a spreadsheet of the legs with estimated times, was very prepared and excited to pull this event off. I knew I’d be in good hands doing this race with him.  He was very diligent about coaching Dave and I to be smart with how we tackled this adventure. The other teammate was a very close friend of Toby’s, Dave Gibson.  I have never met anyone as determined as Dave.  You put a task in front of him and he will not only complete it but conquer it.  I am so glad I have a new friend that is as crazy as me, probably more crazy.  Our support crew was absolutely amazing and we could not have had the success we did with Ragnar without them.  They got us from point A to point B, they filled water bottles for us, kept us entertained, helped document the whole experience and simply supported in every way possible.  Tabitha and Carl started out with us and drove into the night until about 2:30am and then Tom took over and was exactly what we needed.  In those wee hours of the morning our cognitive skills were definitely not as sharp and he made sure we were where we were supposed to be and on time.  He helped at each exchange because one of us was always sleeping, or at least trying to.  I am so grateful for Tabitha, Carl and Tom for taking time out their lives to support us.

A few days leading up to Ragnar there was this talk of a gas mask and I simply thought, okay, lets just wait and see what the fuss is about.  Dave is part of the Special Forces and is a Green Beret with the Army and trains periodically with a gas mask.  To keep things epic, Dave said he would run his legs with the mask.  The Mask became part of the team very quickly.  I’ll share more on the Mask a little later.

Race preparation: Really?

Race prep was a little odd for an event of this magnitude.  I needed to pack food that was easily digestible but could sustain me for thirty plus hours.  Plus I was unsure about what would sound appealing at 3am completely exhausted.  It ended up being peanut butter and agave mixed together spread on benign wheat bread, bananas, oranges, pretzels, cookies, jolly ranchers, PowerBar gels, PowerBar Perform and water.  Also needed a couple changes of clothes to accommodate temps of mid 30’s to low 70’s.  A couple pairs of shoes, blankets, pillow, and a flexible attitude.  Oh, and I did pack my toothbrush too, thank goodness.

Race start through my 3rd leg: Excited to start this adventure.

The start to an EPIC day with our faithful drivers.

The start to an EPIC day with our faithful drivers.

Our start time was 8:30am on Friday.  Several people have asked me how we divided the 202 miles up and we decided to keep the legs the same as the race director had divided them up; that way we were exchanging at each of the organized exchange sites.  Toby was runner #1 and started the race with the Mask, followed by Dave and then I was runner #3.  Since the boys declared they were going to run their legs in the Mask, I, of course, followed suit and ran my first leg, 7.1 miles, with it.  Holy cow, that was very interesting and enough time in the Mask for me.  The one great thing was it kept me on pace and from flying through my first leg.  It was not uncomfortable it just seriously regulated my breathing and was very warm.  I was excitedly anxious to get my first leg underway.  The looks I received as I passed by people was priceless, they could not figure out why I was wearing a gas mask. Coming into the exchange with the mask on and swapping it with Dave left people speechless.  We were off to a great start and our spirits were high.  My second leg was a rather uneventful 4.6 miles.  All I could think about was my 3rd leg, which was my longest at 13.5 miles up a mellow hill. As I ran down other runners I made it as fun as I could and had a few conversations with other runners to help the miles pass.  Finishing my 3rd leg was fun as I received a separate medal for it being the longest leg in Ragnar del Sol history.  Even though I still had nine more legs to go, once I finished that 13.5 mile leg I knew I could relax mentally for a bit. I had completed a little over a third of my total milage at this point with 25.2 miles.

My Cool Medal for completing the longest leg in Ragnar del Sol history.

My Cool Medal for completing the longest leg in Ragnar del Sol history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Legs 4 and 5: This is starting to show it’s true colors.

My 4th leg was only 2.8 miles, a nice relief after my previous 13.5. My legs were starting to feel a little tight.  My 5th leg was my longest leg for the night, it was 7.2 miles.  The first mile was on street but then the course went to a riverbed with huge river rock and sand for about 1.5 miles.  It was a definite challenge and slightly scary because it was so dark.  Once we were back up on the road I just focused on reeling in other runners and before I knew it, 7.2 miles had passed.  Thankfully, I was finishing that one about midnight which mentally was easier to stomach than being into the next day.  I knew once I had my long night one down I could tick the others off the schedule one by one.

Leg 6: Energizer bunny

This one was fun because I made a new friend and chatted the whole 5.7 miles with her.  Plus, I knew at the end of this leg I would be pulling into a major exchange.  It was leg 18 on the course in Anthem and it is where all the teams converge because the 6 man and 12 man teams are tagging each other’s vans.  Major exchanges is also another place to see friends that are racing.  Plus, by this time, people knew who we were and were watching us in amazement.  Or they just thought we were stupid.  We had so many people ask us in disbelief, “Is there really only 3 people on your team?”

Legs 7 and 8: The darkness of the night is swallowing me up.

Leg 7 was only 4.7 miles but felt so lonely and cold.  I was exhausted and saw only 2 runners and lots of cows on this leg.  Because there were no street lights and my headlamp only illuminated so much, I rolled my ankle and the edge of the road.  It was all I could do to stay focused and just get to the exchange.  The 3-6am window was a challenge.  Sleeping was very difficult and I wanted to eat normal food, not snacky food.  I just wanted the sun to come up.  My 8th leg was only 2.7 miles and I did not watch my pace I just blew through it to get it done.  I wanted to start preparing myself mentally for my 9th and most challenging leg. My accumulative mileage to this point is 48.3 and my legs are definitely feeling fatigued and a little sore.

Leg 9: I will not break.

Most people think running downhill is easy, and it is for a short distance, but the longer the distance your quads start taking a beating.  This leg, thankfully, was 2 miles uphill first before the punishing 7 miles downhill.  My crew asked me what my pace was going to be so they could be prepared at the next exchange. I was unsure what I was going to be able to hold so I asked them to stop on the side of the road at about mile 3 and I will tell them.  I surprisingly was holding 8 minute miles, the faster I moved the better my legs felt.  By this time it is almost 9am and the sun is warming the air.  I am feeling better as the sun is energizing and there is something spectacular about desert mornings.  My legs have already pounded the ground for close to 50 miles and are pretty tight.  I knew if I could get through this leg I was on the home stretch.  As the miles ticked down my quads were screaming and wanted to be done.  I could feel myself mentally slipping.  At about mile 7, I was overwhelmed with emotion and pain.  I stopped for a second, stretched my legs, took a deep breath, and pulled it together. The lack of sleep and poor eating for the last 24+ hours was showing the toll that it was taking on my ability to cope.  As I started to run again I felt myself surge to finish the last 2 miles of this leg.  Once I reset my mindset, I knew I was going to be fine.  The pain I was feeling was temporary.

I am exhausted but will not break!

I am exhausted but will not break!

Legs 10 and 11: Reawakening

After finishing my 9th leg I knew I could finish my last three legs.  Shifting my mindset was critical.  I knew I needed to refuel, rest my mind and body and stretch.  I used every second to do just that until the start of my 10th leg.  We were now in my area of town and everything looked familiar, which provided mental strength.  My 10th leg started in the McDowell Regional Park and headed toward Fountain Hills.  The rolling terrain was nice and I managed a sub 8 minute mile for 5.5 miles.  My legs at this point were hurting but, like before, it felt better the faster I moved.  I could tell though that my running gait had shifted and I was using more of my supporting muscles rather than my main muscles to run.  My stride was definitely not as smooth.  Luckily my crew was pushing through with me.  My 11th leg actually ran through my neighborhood and was only 3.1 miles.  My legs needed about 8-10 minutes to warm up and feel like they could run fast but once I got there I was holding 7:30’s.  I knew this route like the back of my hand and I intentionally blew through it as fast as I could.  All I wanted to think about was finishing my last leg and running through the finishing chute with my team.

Leg 12: Get ‘er done.

Wow.  I am here.  Only 5.6 miles to finish and WE are done.  Once again it took my body about 8-10 minutes to warm up to the idea of running AGAIN.  Mentally I was prepared to run and run as fast as my body would allow me.  After being out for over 30 hours I was ready to cross that finish line.  My route was down the greenbelt that hugs Hayden in Scottsdale. Prior to my leg starting my very supportive husband called me to see if he could catch me with the kids along my route.  It was a nice boost to see them about 3 miles into my leg.  After kissing each of them I was back on my way as I did not want my legs to think we were done yet.  With a little over 2.5 miles left, I slowly trickled it on by increasing my pace.  My mind and body clicked and I was now running low 7 minute miles, the pain was still there but it was as if my body didn’t care.  As I ran on the north side of Tempe Town Lake I could see the finish on the south side. I had a feeling I was going to beat my team to the finish as they had to park the car and get over to me to run through the finishing chute together.  Sure enough as I approached I did not see them and knew I had to wait.  Moments later they arrived, we celebrated our victory and we walked through the finishing chute.  The feelings of accomplishment and triumph were awesome.

WE DID IT!!

WE DID IT!!

From post race on Saturday through Sunday afternoon had you asked me if I would ever do a 3 person Ragnar or any relay of that magnitude again, I would have said, “Nope. I checked that off my list and feel really good about it.”  I tested my limits, had a great time and felt I had fulfilled a desire of mine.  Well, thoughts have changed, I am already looking at other Ragnar.  Despite the pain, lack of sleep and overall ridiculousness of this event I would totally recommend Ragnar as a 3, 6, or even 12 person team depending on how far you want to push yourself.  If you ever do an event of this magnitude I strongly recommend doing it with people that you can spend a lot of time with in close quarters and can handle being reduced to functioning at low levels.  My ability to deal with discomfort and pain was revealed, I spent more time in the ‘pain cave’ than I have in any other race or event I have ever done.  I enjoy pushing my limits in extreme circumstances and that may sound crazy but that is who I am.  For me the feelings of triumph trump the feelings of discomfort.

Thanks for reading and happy training!

About sherianne

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is SheriAnne Nelson and I am happily married to my husband Mike. I’m a mother of three beautiful children ages 9, almost 6, and 3, am a passionate fitness professional, and a Star Diamond Level fitness coach within the Team Beachbody program in Scottsdale, Arizona.



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