Friday, October 16, 2015

DC Ragnar Relay

If you have never heard of the Ragnar Relay series before, they are 12 person teams that work together to run about 200 miles.  My journey took me on the DC Ragnar Relay which started in Cumberland, MD and traveled about 200 Miles to Washington, DC.  You can see the details on the route, the runner legs and other great information on their website.

There are various ways you can pull your teams together, and there are various locations throughout the US in which to participate.  If you go with the full 12 person team, the team is broken up into 2 teams of 6 each in their own van.  Van 1 does the first three legs, then passes off to Van 2 while Van 1 rests.  This "leap frogging" continues until all 36 legs have been completed.  If you can only find 5 other friends to run with you, you have two options.  You can have the Ragnar staff pair you up with another "6 pack" to create a full team, or you can go all out and do the distance yourselves as part of an "Ultra Ragnar" team.

While Van 1 had to go to the starting line the night before the race since we had an 8:30am start time, we were able to follow later in the afternoon since we wouldn't start until around 2pm or so.  Once we got to the Van exchange point (Leg 7) we had access to the mandatory safety video/briefing, port a potties, and tents of merchandise, gear and giveaways.

Our starting location for our safety gear check and safety video as well as our first run

Seeing all the vans decorated in various themes was great.  I am sure there would have been more variety if the weather had cooperated and it wasn't such a downpour.  Vans had christmas lights strung up in them, designs and names written over the outside, mottos, and of course Ragnar provided temporary stickers of inspiration.

A inspirational van sticker

I was runner number 8.  Since we were a full 12 person team, I would run legs 8, 20 and 32 and would be in van 2.  While I didn't actually add up the elevations and distances for all the various runners, it seems as though I had the most elevation gain, or at least one of the top two.  Overall I would climb around 2,000 feet over my three runs in just over 20 total miles.

My first leg started North of a small town called Little Orleans, MD at around 3:30pm.  I would run just over 6.5 miles and climb just under 1,000 feet (Sideling Mountain).  What is cool for me is that I used to drive this exact route with my parents as a young child on my way from New Jersey/Maryland to my Grandparents house outside of Cumberland, MD.  I always thought the climb was impressive and fondly remember the "hairpin" turn at the top of the mountain.  Especially during bad weather and snow.  Being able to actually run this same route was cool.

A view of the mountain I was about to concur on Leg 8

According to the Ragnar rules for the race, this leg had no van support.  Some my van mates couldn't follow me along the route, jumping ahead, to provide water or other assistance.  The route did have one water stop setup by the Ragnar volunteers because of this limitation of van support.  The distances I was running didn't really require a lot of stuff to carry, but I did always have two Gu's with me along with my Skratch Matcha and Lemon hydration.

DC Ragnar Relay Leg 8 Strava Map

Since the course runs by my house (literally) I had my wife pick me up at the end of Leg 8 and drive me home. I was able to change cloths in the car, did I mention it was in the low 50s and pouring rain, then get a shower.  We went out to dinner, I packed for the next day and tried to get some sleep before my van picked me up again right before 1am.  I took off on Leg 20 around 2:45am

Leg 20 took me from the shopping center in Middletown, MD over Braddock Mountain to Route 340 for the next exchange.  According to Strava that was about 6.8 miles and just under 500 feet of elevation.  Since I live near by I had run this twice in the month leading up to the Ragnar to practice and get familiar with the route.  Of course running it in the middle of the night in the pouring rain was a unique experience.

DC Ragnar Relay Leg 20 Strava Map

As with my first leg, I had my wife meet me at the end of this leg so I could quickly change clothes into my running gear for my last leg and grab my bag for the trip home and my other supplies for the rest of the day.  The vans get crowded with the supplies for 6 team members, so this allowed me to have a minimum amount of stuff with me for the rest of the journey.

The rain continued and the so did the legs.  My team did a great job of getting things done and really pushed themselves along the course in the less than ideal weather conditions.  In fact, the rain had been going for so long prior and during the race that Leg 23 was cancelled due to fear of flooding.  After Leg 24 was completed we got to the next major exchange where Van 1 would be getting ready to start their last 6 legs and we would be on our break.  While we were in the middle of transition we were approached by a Ragnar volunteer that informed us we were allowed to get an early start on our last legs if we wanted too instead of waiting for Van 1 to finish.  This offer was being made due to the cold and rainy weather so teams could finish earlier in DC.

After a quick discussion we decided to take them up on this offer and quickly drove to our starting point at Leg 30.  My last leg took me from South West Bethesda to North West Arlington.  According to Strava it was a total of 6.9 miles and about 530 feet of elevation gain.  I was concerned about the Capital Crescent Trail and C&O canal portions because of all the rain.

Here is a shot of me from the Ragnar photographers as I head out on my last leg.  The rain had finally stopped and you only got wet at this point from wind shaking the water off the surrounding trees.

Shot of me heading out on my last leg

I expected large amounts of mud and puddles. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Capital Crescent Trail was paved.  The C&O canal was messy, but manageable with some carefully chosen steps.  The ascent off the C&O back to paved roads was almost straight up.  After already running through the night, I had to take a few walking steps and take a few deep breaths before I could push up that incline (according to Strava over 30% grade).

DC Ragnar Relay Leg 32 Strava Map

At this point I was done and could support the remaining runners on my team and relax as we made our way to DC for the finish line and festivities at the Navy Yard.  As we walked to the finish line area we passed the final one mile marker for the last leg of the race.  Each leg had these markers so we knew we were almost done our leg, so they became a beacon of hope.

The final mile maker for the DC Ragnar Relay

Once we got to the finishing area I took advantage of the merchandise tent and picked up a Ragnar jacket.  I figured I deserved it as a wearable memento.  Once our final runner arrived we all ran across the finish line together (which is customary), received our medals, and then headed over to the photo booth.  The Ragnar medals are huge and heavy.  A testament to the work involved in earning one of them for sure.  Additionally, if you turn them over each one is unique and can be assembled together as a puzzle.

As I put on Twitter, 12 runners, 12 medals, 1 goal
What an amazing experience.  I only knew one of my fellow van mates at the start of this adventure but ended up really enjoying the company of everyone.  Hopefully I as just as easy to get along with and get to know.

All 12 members of team "We Run Better Than the Government"

Would I do this again?  I think so. Better weather would be helpful as would a larger van, but overall an amazing experience.  Would be cool to run all the legs as part of a Ragnar race and make the complete trip, but that would take 11 more years.  Oh boy.

I will wrap this up with a link to a short video that shows some highlights from the 2015 DC Ragnar Relay.  I think it really captures the scenery, the comradery and the weather.  Enjoy!

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