If you’ve never heard of a Ragnar Relay, let me give you a quick summary of the race style (if you have, feel free to jump to the next paragraph). Ragnar races are a relay style race with teams of 4-12 people depending on the type of race you complete. I did a road race with a team of 12 that covered ~187 miles from Hull, MA to Provincetown, MA. Each team always has someone running so there are runs through the night and rest periods are limited to a few hours, dependent on the speed of your team. Each runner runs 3 race legs which vary in length; I ran legs of 4.3 miles, 4.4 miles, and 3 miles for a total of 12.7 miles. Our team completed the race in 26 hours and 50 minutes (and came in 5th place in the women’s division!).
I embarked on this journey knowing 3 of the 11 women I was teamed up with, none of whom were in the van with me so it was a bit scary for me to prepare to spend so much time in close quarters with women I didn’t know. On top of that, I am in the midst of switching from stability shoes to neutral shoes and am not in the best running shape I’ve ever been in, so I was a little nervous about the running aspect of the race as well. There were even times I thought about backing out completely. Fear is definitely one of those annoying things that likes to hold us back.
But I am so elated I didn’t give in to fear. Running Ragnar was a transformative experience and a reminder of all the things I love about running and racing. The women on my team were incredible, especially those who were with me in the same van for over 24 hours. It seems that being connected through mutual friends in various ways and having a love of running and a willingness to do such a crazy race means you’re likely to get along. Nothing brings people together quite like racing in unusual circumstances! So here’s what I learned along the way:
1. Nothing compares to the adrenaline and motivation of a race when it comes to speed
I’m normally a 10 minute mile kind of runner. Pretty much every distance I’ve ever run, that’s been my pace. With some changes in my stride and overall mechanics I’ve been able to run pretty comfortably at a 9:30min/mile pace lately which has been great, but my first leg of the race was, at most, a 9min/mile pace, if not better! Who knew I could do that for 4.3 miles? I sure didn’t!
2. When the distance isn’t the challenge, I’m self-conscious about my speed
I was, quite literally, the slowest runner on our team. So while I had some great runs compared to my usual, I was still slower than my teammates. I found myself frustrated and self-conscious that I was letting the team down because I wasn’t contributing a lot of distance either. At least when I ran a marathon the distance was impressive, so doing it slowly didn’t take away from feeling accomplished. What does this mean? It’s time to put that self-conscious energy into a focused plan to increase my speed.
3. Athletic prowess and body type are not as closely linked as you might think
The women on my team are incredible runners both in distance and in speed. Some also do yoga, hike, bike, swim, etc. But despite the similarities in activities and talent, they are not cookie-cutter copies of each other in regards to shape or build. Too often we think, myself included, that looking a certain way indicates a certain level of skill. Surely, there are some advantages to a specific body in each sports arena, but the relationship between body type and ability are not that closely linked. I still work daily on my body positive mentality and this was a great reminder that how you treat and train your body is so much more important than getting it to look a certain way.
4. I will take a muscle pain/injury over a connective tissue one any day
Unfortunately, during my second leg I developed a painful cramp in my left calf. It was a struggle to keep my pace up and I had to stop to stretch/massage it a couple of times just to be able to keep going. Going into the race I had concerns about my IT band and my quad tendon, so this was a bit unexpected. After some rest and lots of smashing (massaging) it felt decent for my 3rd leg, but it wasn’t really ready and cramped up on me again. As frustrating as that was to experience while racing, I am so thankful it was a muscle issue and not a connective tissue (tendons and ligaments) problem. Muscles recover a lot faster and and are easier to heal than connective tissue. This also means I fixed the issues with my stride and movement patterns that had been putting my connective tissues at risk of injury. So we’ll call this one a win.
5. I can do hard things
What I really love about Ragnar is that while the distances run, even for the longest legs, are not outlandish in the world of running (though you can do it as an ultra which is another thing), there is a unique challenge to running 3 races in a 24 hour period, not sleeping much, and coordinating with a team of 11 other people. This race was a chance to see what I could really do, when pressure is on and circumstances are challenging. And I’m happy to report that I did it. I did the hard things, I ran all three legs at great to good paces for me even with injury, and I grew as a person in the process. Whatever that hard thing is that you’re facing down, do it. You’ll be glad you did.
I will most definitely be doing another Ragnar Relay at some point in the future, and while I know this type of race is not for everyone, I hope some of the lessons I learned will help you no matter what challenge you’re facing down! Have you run a Ragnar? Comment and tell me what you thought of it and if there are any lessons you learned that I missed!
As you probably know, I identify as a runner despite not having participated in a long distance race in a couple of years. I’ve run several half marathons and a marathon and running is how I got into fitness way back when (at 12, in case you were wondering). But now, at almost 31 I’m looking towards my running future and figuring out how I can do it for the rest of my life.
Most runners suffer some sort of injury. Common ones you may have experiences are: pulled muscles (hamstrings are especially vulnerable), stress fractures, IT band issues, and various forms of knee pain.
I’ve been lucky and my injuries have been small and not enough to truly sideline me for more than a week, but I don’t want to be beating up on my body when I don’t have to. I just want to run several miles a week because it makes me feel good, it clears my head, and my body is its leanest and meanest self when I’m in running shape.
So what am I doing to be able to run injury free for life? Check out my list below:
1. Educating Myself
There are a lot of really brilliant people out there who have studied and researched running, injuries, and how to best move your body. I’ve started with the book “Ready to Run” by Kelly Starrett and it’s been eye opening! Even if you have some amazingly talented runner friends, nothing beats true science and experience with more than body.
2. Stretching and Rolling
I have known about stretching and rolling for a while now. Every workout DVD I’ve ever completed has a warmup and cooldown stretch, but on my own I always avoided them. Not anymore! It is about keeping my muscles and connective tissues healthy and a couple of minutes before and after a run is worth it.
3. Warming up
Besides my days as a member of the track team in high school, warm ups have never been a part of my routine. Who needs to warm up? It’s just running. The answer is, everyone! My runs and other workouts feel SO MUCH better when I warm up. It’s incredible what a few minutes of warmup can do.
4. Listening to my Body
I used to push myself, continue running even with some pain, and assume I’d just recover later. Not anymore. If I feel pain anywhere I will stop and do some stretches and then focus on my form when I start running again. If it doesn’t improve, the run is over. It’s not worth it to get injured on an easy run when it may derail me from a future race or any future running.
I was freaked out by the idea of some stranger touching me for the longest time, but then I got a massage when pain in my shoulder started inhibiting my ability to workout. It’s amazing what massage can do that rolling and stretching can’t! And I continue to learn so much from the massage therapists I go to. Just like a trainer can help with movement patterns, massage therapists can help you identify areas of tension and what muscles need regular work.
No matter where you are in your life as a runner, I encourage you to work on all of the above, little by little, to help keep you healthy and happy for years to come! If we can avoid injury in the first place, we really should do all that we can to make that happen.
What has helped you stay injury free or helped you feel your best when coming back from an injury?
Sir Mix A Lot had it right when he sang about liking big butts. There is so much more to your behind than just being part of your physical shape and some cushion for sitting. Here the top 4 reasons to work on those glutes every chance you get.
#1- Prevent/help knee pain
One of the biggest reasons for knee pain of all sorts is weak hips. Too often our posterior chains (the entire backside of your body) is under utilized and weak compared to your anterior chain. Sitting most of the day shuts off the glutes and they can fail to reengage when they are needed in activities like climbing stairs, running, and squatting. If your derriere isn't doing its half of the work to move your body, then the extra work falls to your quadriceps and puts excess pressure on your knees. This problem is especially common for women who tend to be more quad-dominant.
Strengthen those glutes, have less knee pain.
#2- Prevent/Help low back pain
Our joints are designed to alternate in stability and mobility. Your thoracic (upper) spine should be a mobile joint system, your lumbar (lower) spine should be a stable joint system, and your hips should be a mobile joint system. If your glutes are weak or underactive, all that movement they are supposed to be controlling while standing, walking, and running is potentially being transferred into your lower back. Suddenly you're asking small muscles meant to stabilize to take over the movement of the much bigger gluteal muscles which, not surprisingly, creates strain and fatigue. More strength and control of your glutes will mean your hip movement really comes from the hips and not the lower back.
Strengthen those glutes, have less lower back pain.
#3- Increase your power
Want to be able to bound upstairs with ease? Pick heavy things up off the floor like it's nothing? Jump higher or further? Sprint faster? You need strong glutes! These powerhouse muscles offer some incredible power from the bottom of a jump, through a lift from the floor, and through the hip extension of a sprint. You'll be surprised to see how much easier even walking feels when you've got more power coming from behind!
Strengthen those glutes, have more power.
#4- Improve your balance
Every single one of my clients works on balance with me because most of life really happens on one foot. You walk, climb stairs, and run one foot at a time. When it comes to icy sidewalks, unsteady trains, and any other obstacle of daily life that threatens to throw you off balance, the glutes are critical for staying upright. As the primary hip supporter, your gluteal muscles (especially the gluteus medius) offer stability and control when things get unsteady. Don't believe me? Try any single leg exercise and you should feel your glutes immediately start working to keep you upright (assuming they are turned on and working - see bonus comment for more info on this).
Strengthen those glutes, have better balance.
Bonus- how to turn on your glutes
Now that you're all excited and revved up to get to work on that booty, you should know that some people have a harder time than others getting their glutes to start working efficiently, especially if you sit most of the day and haven't been active in a while. If you perform a standard glute bridge and you don't feel your bum working, try some clam shells. Pictured below is without a band, but I recommend putting a mini/circle band on up above your knees to make the exercise more effective. Still not feeling it? Put your hips against a wall so your lower back can't try and help your glutes out when it comes to moving your top leg.
Happy booty building!
lover of fitness, sweets, veggies, adventure, travel, and feeling confident.
If you want something you've never had, you must be willing to do something you've never done. - Thomas Jefferson