October 16, 2011

Ragnar Relay Napa Valley

We recently got the opportunity to do Ragnar Relay Napa Valley. So what is Ragnar Relay? It's when 12 runners run about 200 miles, day and night, relay style. The Ragnar tag line is “Run, Drive, Sleep? Repeat”. Make special note of the question mark. So how about a few more details. The 12 runners split into two vans or other similar vehicles. Van 1 starts the relay and after each runner runs once, they then hand off to Van 2. Each runner in Van 2 runs once and then they hand back off to Van 1. This continues until each runner runs three times and the team as a whole completes 36 legs, passing a slap bracelet at every exchange. Each exchange has a parking area for the team vans and a designated area on the road for the two runners to hand off. Most also had porta potties which definitely came in handy. The exchanges where one van handed off to the other van were considered major exchanges and aside from the parking and porta-potties, many of them also had food for sale from local groups, water, sometimes coffee and hot chocolate and one had a sleeping area inside a high school gym. Each individual leg varied from the shortest being around three miles to the longest at about nine miles and have varying levels of difficulty. Each runner's total mileage varied from 13 to 22 miles. Most legs did not have any aid or water support but the team van was allowed to give aid to their runner. The few exceptions were those legs that were on roads where it would have been too dangerous for team members to provide aid and on those legs there were hydration stations. Most teams finish the race in around 30-something hours.
Ragnar Relay has been around for several years but this was the inaugural race for Napa Valley. The race began in San Francisco at Marina Green Park. The race took us from SF, across the Golden Gate Bridge, through the north bay and eventually ending 186 miles later in Calistoga. In San Francisco there were staggered starts every 30 minutes starting at 5:30 am until about 3pm. Slower teams usually started earlier as they needed more time to complete the race. We reached the start an hour before our start time. We had to check in, show our safety gear and go to a safety briefing. Come 8:30am our first runner along with runners from 30 other teams took off and the race for us was on. Now the thing about Ragnar is that it's not really a competitive race, it's more about having fun. Teams usually come up with creative and funny team names. Many get custom made shirts for their team. Some teams are even out there running in full costumes. Van decorating are also a must do. Running is normally an individual sport and as runners we spend a lot of time running the roads by ourselves. Ragnar provides the unique opportunity to get 12 friends or even strangers and run as a team, supporting and cheering each other along the way. The fun aspect along with the challenge of the day and night race is what attracted us to participate. This was our first Ragnar, so despite researching as much as possible beforehand we didn't really know what to expect.
First thing that surprised us was how rushed everything was. Not in a bad way. We thought that there would be a lot of time to kill, but there wasn't. It seemed like we were always in a rush to get ready to run, or get to the next exchange or get some food. Running in the middle of the night was something I had really looked forward to. Some members of our team were worried about the night running. After doing it, running at night was a non issue. No problems, but not that exciting either. Running with oncoming car headlights in your face gets old pretty quick. The other issue with running at night is if you're running then you're not sleeping. If you're doing Ragnar you should expect to only get a couple hours of sleep. In our team, Van 1 just slept in their van. Not exactly very comfortable but it was easy. Van 2 slept in a high school gym at one of the major exchanges. While it was a chance to stretch out in our sleeping bags, a gym with 100 other runners who are all coming and going at different times doesn't make for a peaceful nights sleep. Food was another issue. I personally didn't eat enough during the race, probably didn't hydrate enough either. I didn't exactly get to keep to my usual meal schedule. So it was a lot of snacking, cliff bars and gels. During the last leg for the runners in Van 2 the temps actually got pretty high and they struggled to stay hydrated. We saw lots of other teams having to walk during this stretch of the race. But eventually we all made it to the finish. For Ragnar, the whole team joins the last runner to run the last 100 yards so that everyone gets to cross the finish. After crossing the finish line everyone got their medals and a team photo is taken. I must say Ragnar has some very cool medals. There is a finish line expo to checkout as well with a few product samples and actually every team got two free pizzas. Much needed as everyone was pretty hungry. There is also a merchandise tent at the finish. But I think the trick is if you want to buy some Ragnar gear purchase it at the race start as many things ran out by the time we got to the finish.

Overall Ragnar Relay is a very unique running experience. We had an absolute blast doing it. We had a great time with the friends on our team. We had a great time meeting runners from other teams. And we had a great time cheering for and getting cheered on by complete strangers. We will definitely be back for Ragnar Relay Napa Valley 2012. Actually we will probably try to do one of the other Ragnar Relays located around the country.

Ragnar Relay Website