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!
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