Ragnar Relay Chicago Race Recap

(I kind of wish I had done some Ragnar with an “R” city so that title could be perfectly alliterative 😛 )

Many times over the course of my running career I have found myself in a less-than-pleasant position, whether it was due to race conditions, the race distance, my personal training, random whims of life, or any other of a host of possible reasons. Despite that, I have rarely finished something related to running and been able to say with confidence, “I am never doing that again.”

Ragnar turned out to be one of those rare instances.

Now, to be fair, this has nothing to do with Ragnar as a company, the race as it was organized, or any other circumstance that normally leads a runner to say, “I hate you and will never give you my money again.” I, truly, have no ill will towards Ragnar at all. But just like 5Ks aren’t some people’s thing and marathons aren’t other people’s thing, after last weekend, I am more than willing to say spending 32 hours in a van with others in order to travel between Madison and Chicago on foot is not my thing.

On the off chance that anyone reading this isn’t entirely familiar with Ragnar, a Ragnar relay involves teams made up of 12 idiots people who divide themselves into two vans and, collectively, run approximately 200 miles from Point A to Point B. Each person runs three legs of varying distances and degrees of difficulty. It takes most teams somewhere in the neighborhood of 25-30 consecutive hours to complete this challenge.

I was Runner #11 on my team, which meant I spent Friday and Saturday in Van 2. After meeting up with my team, we piled into a Chrysler Town and Country and drove up to Exchange 6, located at Lake Mills High School in the bustling metropolis of Lake Mills, Wisconsin, population 5,708.

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Here, my team picked up our necessary gear (flags, t-shirts, safety know-how, etc.) and waited for Runner #6, the last runner in Van 1, to arrive. I did this race with my marathon training group, a collection of people more insane than I ever realized, given that we had few problems finding 24 willing souls to take part in this race. My team was definitely the “B team,” if you will, but despite this, we did manage to run into Van 1 from the other team at this exchange, which was exciting.

After leaving Lake Mills High School, my team wound through rural southern Wisconsin, hitting up all the exchanges along the way to collect whichever runner of ours was finishing his/her leg and drop off the next runner. We also watched Mean Girls while this happened, because the van had a DVD player and it would’ve been a cryin’ shame to not take advantage of that. (This also turned out to be excellent preparation for running through the North Shore the following day, as Mean Girls is based on/takes place in the North Shore). Distracted by what is obviously the best movie of 2004, we got super lost on our way to Exchange 8 and ended up in some itty bitty down absolutely nowhere near where we were supposed to be. Thank goodness for smartphones and Google Maps for being able to correct our errors!

After retrieving Runner #9, who we accidentally abandoned due to our detour, we continued on with substantially less drama and eventually made it to Exchange #10: my first leg of the race. We also ran into Van 2 from the other team of my marathon training friends here, which was very exciting for me personally, as my marathon training BFF was in Van 2 for the other team.

And then it was time to go! My first leg, inexplicably labeled “Hard” (there was nothing hard about this leg), had me running 5.7 miles down the Glacial Drumlin Trail from Sullivan to Dousman. This portion of the Glacial Drumlin Trail was primarily gravel and surrounded by woods and marshes. I was in heaven. It reminded me of running at home, and I loved it. I did not love how many times I got passed, but I was holding a good pace for me, so I tried to not get too bent out of shape. I did manage one kill on my leg (“kill” is the Ragnar term for passing people), which made me feel a little less inept.

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Near the end of my leg, the trail turned into pavement. Because it was a straight shot, I could see and hear the exchange well before I got to it, and I loved all of the energy. I took off the slap bracelet (the baton used for the race), handed it off to our Runner #12, and met up with my team to drive to Exchange 12.

Every sixth exchange in Ragnar is a “major exchange,” because this is where Vans 1 and 2 switch off. Exchange 12 was hoppin’, let me tell you. We actually had a fairly difficult time getting into the parking lot and finding parking, though the fact that this exchange (and its parking lot) were located by baseball fields where high schoolers (I think) were playing games probably didn’t help matters.

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Exchange 12 was also where one of our runners began to get cranky (not this runner 😉 ). Even though I had never run Ragnar before, I knew crankiness would happen probably for everyone at one point or another, which I think made a world of difference for me personally in the patience department. It’s a lot easier to recognize that someone’s grumpy because it’s been a long day and they’re tired/sweaty/hungry and just roll with it, especially when you don’t know that someone (which was the case for me with this runner), and not just write them off as a raging jerkface.

Once our last runner finished, we continued on to Waukesha, where we stumbled into the MainStream Bar and Grill for cheese curds, Spotted Cows (for the beer drinkers, aka not me), and other incredibly healthy food, like this BLT which haunted me hours later (as I expected it would. Worth it, though).

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We left dinner around 9:30 or so, at which point sleep started to be a topic of discussion. Being in Van 2 meant that our runners were on deck to run between about 11:30 p.m. and 5 a.m. – prime sleepytime hours. We got to Exchange 18, located at Martin Luther High School in Greendale, about an hour before our first runner needed to take off, so we all attempted to get some shuteye with varying degrees of success. I managed to sneak in my first hour-long nap during this time.

After our first runner took off, I fell asleep for hour-long nap #2. I would have loved to have slept longer, but I had work to do: specifically, I had 5.9 miles to run through the neighborhoods of Racine at 3 a.m.

But first, we had to go retrieve Runner #8. Sometime during my hour-long nap #2, my team got confused and drove ahead an exchange, where we waited and waited before realizing that we had blown past the exchange where Runner #8 finished and gone straight ahead to the exchange where Runner #9 was supposed to finish. Oops. So we backtracked, picked up Runner #8, returned to the exchange where we had accidentally gone earlier, and all was well…aside from the fact that it was like 1 a.m., and we were all exercising.

So anyway. 3 a.m. 6(ish) miler. I was absolutely dreading this leg, and even though all of my teammates who had run their night legs said it wasn’t too terrible, I HATED this. I had two thoughts for the just-less-than-an-hour I was running, “F*** this s***” and “I hope that car traveling down this road does not kidnap me.” My biggest complaints about this leg:

1. My headlamp didn’t stay up, and I literally had to readjust it once every 20 steps. This was probably my own fault.
2. I was utterly alone for the VAST majority of this leg, and that was terrifying.
3. One stretch of this leg required us to run with traffic, which seemed like a REALLY BAD IDEA, considering that it was 3:00 in the freaking morning and black as, you know, night. Because it was night.
4. There were lots of turns, and while they were all marked, I was s.t.r.e.s.s.e.d. that I’d miss one and be wandering the streets of Racine by myself at 3:00 in the freaking morning.

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I will say, however, that people were much nicer about passing me during this leg. I’d estimate that 95% of those who passed me said, “Good job!” as they went by. It made for a nice feeling of solidarity. Then there were also the overacheivers who blew past me at probably close to a 7:00 pace, and they made me inexplicably ragey. Obviously I understand that some people just run that fast naturally, but I took their speed very personally, because no one has normal thought processes at that hour.

I handed off the slap bracelet at Exchange 23 at The Prairie School, then helped our driver navigate to North Beach Park in Racine (which, according to a bystander, is where Ironman 70.3 Racine takes place, in case anyone was curious). This was a major exchange and where my van decided to put up for the night. Because I had just run almost-six miles, I was wide awake, so I volunteered to go meet our runner at the exchange to bring her back to the van.

Okay, fine. That was far less about me being a good person and far more about this:

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This exchange had a huge setup of tents (“Tent City”) that were free to use if you so chose, but far more importantly had three fire pits and S’MORES. omg. This was, without question, the highlight of the entire nighttime portion of the race for me. You guys. I was beside myself with happiness. I wanted a s’more SO BAD, and being able to roast one for myself over the fire at like 5 a.m. was the best thing of my whole entire life (or at least the best thing of my whole entire 5 a.m.).

We stayed at this exchange until 8:30 or so the following morning, where I slept, by which I mean constantly adjusted my position in an attempt to get comfortable for approximately four hours while the van got hotter and stuffier and I went from uncomfortable to irked to angry to FULLBLOWN HULK RAGE.

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Instead of sleeping, I spent most of this time reviewing my photos from my trip to Baltimore and D.C. and thinking about how much I wished I were there instead of in a van in Racine, Wisconsin. Good times.

We hit up Starbucks for breakfast (where I discovered what might be my new favorite KIND bar: Almond Coconut Cashew Chai. WHAT. Where has this been all my life??) and then headed back to ILLINOIS!

The remainder of our drive took us through the North Shore, which, for those of you not from around here, are the FANCY suburbs of Chicago — and when I say fancy, I mean fancy. I had never really driven through the North Shore before, and ho.ly. smokes. The opulence. The privilege. The conspicuous consumption. This is the 1%, people, and man oh man did my sleep deprived, middle class self have OPINIONS on all of this. You know how in Mean Girls, you see them drive up to Regina George’s house and you’re like, “lulz, right. No one actually lives like that.”? You’re wrong. People do live like that, and those people live in the North Shore, and go to high schools that look like country clubs.

Annnnnnyway. I ran through Kenilworth, Winnetka and Evanston on my portion of this. My exchange took place at a lovely little lakeside park and took me past MANSIONS that morphed into big houses that morphed into, “Okay, yeah, I understand how people can have the income to support this kind of house…kind of.” This, actually, also reminded me of running at home, as there are some enormous, 7,000-square-foot monstrosities not all that far from the not-even-2,000-square-feet home of my youth.

Judgment aside, this was actually my favorite leg. I was in shade most of the time, which helped keep me comfortable, and there was a nice breeze coming off the lake when I was close to it. The last portion of it took me past a lot of Northwestern’s campus, including Ryan Field, which I thought was pretty cool.

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However, the best part about this leg was how strong I felt. From a running standpoint, this was FAR and away my best performance. I maintained a sub-10 pace the entire time (I had a couple 10:30s in my previous two legs) and I killed seven people (WAY better than my 1 and 3 on my other two legs). The real highlight for me, however, was chicking this one broseph not once, not twice, but three different times. Dudebro in his CrossFit tee passed me maybe a mile or so into things, which I really didn’t think that much of, though he did seem to be putting in a fair amount of effort to pass me. But whatever. I cared more about finishing than I cared about him. Right after Ryan Field, however, I noticed I was getting awfully close to him. We had less than a mile to go, so I knew I could pass him and then hang on for dear life for the last mile, which is exactly what I did (not counting it as a kill, since he had already killed me. It neutralized things at best.)…until we got to a stop light. I, being the upstanding citizen that I am, stopped my watch and myself to wait for the light to change, but dudebro plowed forward, effectively passing me in the process. I rolled my eyes, as I am apt to do at dudebros with something to prove, and, once the light turned, continued on my merry way and passed him again…until we got to another stop light. Once again I, and my fellow non-dudebro Ragnarians, stopped at the light, and when dudebro caught up to us, he said, “F*** it,” and went through the light. Everyone else kind of shrugged and followed him, while I said, out loud but not loud enough to be heard, “You know I’m just going to pass you again, right?” Which I did. Take that, CrossFit caveman. How’s your paleo diet now, huh??

(I should note that I know nothing about this person whatsoever other than the fact that he was wearing a CrossFit shirt and apparently couldn’t maintain his original pace. However, I am vehemently and unapologetically anti-CrossFit and judged this guy accordingly, because I am a terrible person. Sorry not sorry.)

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I wrapped up my portion of Ragnar right outside Northwestern and then headed to Montrose Beach with the rest of my van, where much unnecessary drama ensued (like a heated argument over whether we should go meet the people from Van 1, who were standing approximately 25 meters closer to the finish line than we were, or if they should come to us — really. Mind you, where we were standing was still 200-300 meters away from the finish line itself, so those 25 meters were not going to make any sort of difference whatsoever). Eventually, however, we got everything sorted out and crossed…

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…the finish line.

Thank. Goodness.

We hung around the post-race party for-freaking-ever before finally heading back to the van to retrieve all of our stuff and head our separate ways. My rain coat and CTA pass were temporarily lost during this time (one of my teammates accidentally took my coat since it looked like hers), and I did my best to contribute to the steep elevation in f-bombs dropped as a result. Hahaha. (I theorize that there is a direct correlation between the time you’ve spent in the van during Ragnar and the incidence of swears. Don’t tell my mom 😛 ).

Once I got home, I made a beeline for Trader Joe’s, where I bought just about every single stereotypical breakup food you can imagine (I almost told the cashier I didn’t just get dumped, but I was too tired to care what he really thought of me), and, at long last, satisfied what was quite possibly one of the most intense cravings of my life.

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ICE CREAM SUNDAE. This was all that I had wanted since like…7:30 Saturday morning, and MY OH MY was I a happy camper once I assembled this thing of beauty. I was such a happy camper that I made myself a second one, because #yorro (You Only Run Ragnar Once…or at least I sure do 😉 ).

So, to conclude this novel: I’m glad I did Ragnar so that I can say I did it. I cannot foresee any circumstance whatsoever that would motivate me to do it again, unless my life literally depended on it, which seems…unlikely. I’m more than happy to keep my crazy to marathons, thank you.

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13 thoughts on “Ragnar Relay Chicago Race Recap

  1. Congrats on the Ragnar. I have yet to run one, but based on your experience, maybe I never will. Also, when I drive down Sheridan Road I have to be careful to not gawk too much at the houses, lest I get in a fender bender. By the way, the “Home Alone” house is near there and Risky Business was shot in the area as well.

  2. That s’mores looked delicious though! Congrats on finishing and I really appreciate your honest review of the race. I’m sorry it wasn’t a better experience for you !

  3. Pingback: Thursday Things | accidental intentions

  4. LOLing at your dudebro crossfitter reaction. I would have made it my mission to pass him again too. I’ve done Ragnar twice now and last year my coworkers signed up for Ragnar Tennessee and I was all “no thanks, I’m good”. It was fun but not fun enough to do it again. I like sleep too much.

    • Yeah, seriously. I’ve had several people tell me they’re convinced they can talk me into doing another one. I’m often pretty susceptible to running peer pressure, but I cannot fathom ever willingly doing this again. LIke you said, I like sleep too much!

  5. I always wanted to do a Ragnar but now I’m rethinking… hahaha! (Also, it would help if I had run more than once or twice in the past year, whoops) Do you think that it would have been more fun with a different group of people?

    • I think it would have been more fun if I had actually wanted to do it. Haha. I will fully admit that I got peer pressured into doing this and it wasn’t something that I personally wanted to do. Had that not been the case, I think the whole experience would’ve been way different. On the other hand, I still would’ve been stuck in a van with five other people for 32 hours, so perhaps it would’ve been just as miserable either way haha.

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