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get in the van: how to run 200 miles in 24 hours

May 13, 2015
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About a year ago I was asked to participate in a relay race called Reach the Beach–a team relay race that takes place over 24 hours spanning 200 miles from Bretton Woods to Hampton Beach. From the Ragnar Reach the Beach website:

Reach The Beach consists of 12-person standard teams and 6-person ultra teams that will rotate through 36 transition areas as they cover the approximate 200-mile course. Each relay team member will run 3 legs (6 legs for ultras) of varying lengths and difficulty, and will cover an average total distance of about 16.6 miles (about 33 miles for ultras). Runners rotate in a set order once the race begins and will be obligated to follow this rotation until the final runner reaches the beach.

So this sounds pretty awesome, except I was also told, “there is no sleeping, the van becomes pretty smelly pretty fast, it’s uncomfortable, there’s mostly only a lot of cold weird runner sustenance, remember to bring a roll of toilet paper because there won’t be any… but, it’s so much fun!

Maybe it wasn’t the best sell, but regardless I had a difficult time imagining myself not sleeping in my super comfy bed, being far away far away from my Nespresso machine and not having access to a nice hot shower with all of my nice smelling bath products.

…except I was also told, “there is no sleeping, the vans become pretty smelly pretty fast, it’s uncomfortable, there’s mostly only a lot of cold weird runner sustenance, remember to bring a roll of toilet paper because there won’t be any… but, it’s so much fun!

I can’t deal with glamping much less vanping.

Honestly, my first reaction to the concept of a 24-hour relay race was, “Ah to be 20 again,” that somehow Ragnar was something reserved exclusively for the unshackled freedoms only youth can provide. But life is funny.

I was recently asked to run a Ragnar race a second time–Ragnar Cape Cod. I decided to reconsider and after much deliberation committed to the team.

Upon hearing the news a mutual running friend said, “wait, David doesn’t like camping,” to which someone else replied, “they have a cute house on the Cape with a place to shower and sleep between transitions.” So, yes, this did have some bearing on my willingness to participate.

We arrived on the Cape the evening before the event giving us time to organize and prepare for the race in the morning. I was in Van 2 so in addition to having time to prepare we also had some afternoon down-time to relax and enjoy the warm Cape sun before eventually heading out to meet up with Van 1 to take over our running duties.

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One of the valuable things about running with other people is geeking out on what other runners eat, how people fuel, what people are wearing on their runs, what kind of shoes people run in… I shared the source of my Nike Labs Jun Takahashi shorts and was given the lowdown on the Swiss compression short maker Compressport.

I’m very interested in sports nutrition and the intricacies of athletic-minded diets. In our group, most were vegetarian–but veg in a way I completely relate to, which is to say mostly vegetarian, but not exclusively vegetarian. For example, after a couple of days of assuming no one longed for carnivorous delicacies I was surprised when at the end of our carrot fueled race surprise turkey sandwiches surfaced. One thing is clear–peanut butter is, was and always will be king. On our 200 mile journey we must have had a 2:1 ration of peanut butter, at least two jars for every runner; although, the Trader Joe’s creamy salted peanut butter I brought was the hands down favorite as it was the first to go.

When our van arrived at the transition meet-up area the weather took a strange turn for the worse. The warm basking glow of the Cape sun quickly morphed into a frigid, damp, fingertip-numbing, gray cold-front. Unfortunately, I had prepared for a mild run bringing only my Summer running essentials–singlet and split-shorts. Brrr! While shivering against an Andrew Wyeth landscape come to life, we attended a race briefing wherein a volunteer read to us the rules into a microphone that was clearly not plugged into anything, nor providing (what would’ve been unnecessary) amplification.

IMG_3641 IMG_3645 IMG_3652 IMG_3657 IMG_3659 IMG_3662My order in the line-up of our van was the #2 spot. I was a little nervous and despite my team’s assertion that this race was strictly for fun, I didn’t want to fall below my 10k PR pace, a time figured into the Ragnar computer model (A mysterious algorithm designed to determine a team’s placing so that all 500 of the Ragnar teams participating end relatively at the same time).

My first leg of the race started at 7PM and required the use of a headlamp. In fact, all runners racing between the times of 6:30PM and 6:30AM are required to wear a reflective vest, blinking lights and a headlamp per Ragnar rules. I was very excited about my leg because it took me through Plymouth passing by all of the things one would want to see in Plymouth, including, yes… Plymouth Rock. It was mostly nightfall by the end of my run which ended up being a little under 8 miles, and I was able to stay below my 10k pace with no issues.

It was very cool waiting to be handed off the baton, but even more fun to hand off the baton to the runner after me. It was also fun to cheer on my fellow teammates as we passed them in the van as we sped to the next transition area. (Vans are not allowed to follow their runners). My first hand-off had to be reenacted because my teammate was using the port-a-john when I came in, but it made for a fine photo.

IMG_3670 IMG_3674 IMG_3677 IMG_3688 IMG_3692 IMG_3695 IMG_3706As the night wore on, so did the fog. We finished our first stretch and handed off the baton to Van 1 and then headed back to base camp (to our cozy little cape house) for a nice hot shower with nice smelling bath products and a few hours of sleep in a comfy bed. Other Ragnar racers were not so lucky as I saw people camping out on the cold, hard ground of a thawed ice rink floor or just randomly and miserably passed out in the middle of a parking lot. Yikes.

I was actually excited for my second leg which took place at 3:45AM because how random is it to run at almost 4 in the morning that doesn’t include a backstory that started with Tequila shots? My run took me through some trails and a pitch-black shrouded wooded area that was completely engulfed in a Jack-the-Ripper fog. The headlamp I wore created a bizarre effect with suspended beads of moisture in the air whizzing by, not unlike driving in the snow at nighttime.

…how random is it to run at almost 4 in the morning that doesn’t include a backstory that started with Tequila shots?

Kills. This is Ragnar speak for when you pass another runner. I didn’t hold the most kills on my team, but I think I was up there. I am proud to say no one killed me, but I was a certified Ragnar kill machine. Off in the distance I could see my prey–a red blinking light barely breaking through the fog–and I would just mercilessly track the blinky down. Tripping on the swirly fog visuals, running at 4AM through Mordor, tracking blinky prey… this was hands down my favorite part of the race.

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Morning came, the fog started to clear and the day warmed up. Soon we would wrap up our last and final leg ending in Provincetown. Our team name was The Ragnerds so I decided for my last leg, a short 2.2 sprint, I would wear my nerd inspired leggings covered in formulas that I can only believe may be the same formulas Ragnar uses to determine a team’s outcome.

I may have mentioned my assumption that Ragnar was “for the kids”; this couldn’t be farther from the truth. I don’t have an average age of the participants involved, but there was a considerable contention of runners much older than me. Not just a few teams… many, many teams of folks in their 50’s and 60’s. I also appreciated the team names (oh the puns), the van decorations, the costumes… the potty humor. Lots of potty humor, not sure what that’s about.

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Despite our team insisting we weren’t competing, we finished 9th out of 500 teams, and 3rd in co-ed mixed teams. I think that’s pretty darn impressive and I feel pretty lucky that I was able to race as part of this team. Most would argue that running is largely a solo sport carried out by one’s self, but in reality so many aspects of running is social. Without surrounding myself with other runners, I wouldn’t have the knowledge that I have today–whether it be cool compression shorts from Switzerland or how to improve my running form.

Would I race another Ragnar race? Definitely, as long as a cute Cape house is involved, but probably even if it isn’t.

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1 Comment

  • Reply Ghost Moose September 27, 2015 at 12:22 am

    This recap is excellent, really excited about 2016!

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