Friday, October 29, 2021

How to Prepare for a Ragnar...

My last post detailed the experience of the Ragnar, but I did a LOT of Googling before our Ragnar adventures to find out how I needed to equip myself for a Ragnar race and hopefully, this will be that post for you.

Reasons to run a Ragnar:

-you're crazy. 
-you really love the 5/6 other people in your van.
-you have a medal obsession.
-you want to have an adventure.
-you're tired of the same old distance.
-you want to make new friends.

Reasons to not run a Ragnar:

-48 hours with the same people in sweaty/tired/achy conditions.
-Said sweaty/tired/achy conditions do not bring out your best self.
-Weird food things.
-It will destroy a regular routine
-No one is a stranger.

Things I wish I knew:

1.  There is no stranger danger at a Ragnar.

When I first heard of a Ragnar years ago, I knew it was crazy which is why I wanted to do it.  For years, the logistics scared me away.  I couldn't find 11 other crazy people.  Maybe 2 others, max.  Fast forward several years and now we have social media groups where we can find teams/other runners to fill a team.  It was a risk to decide to run with complete strangers, but I had faith that it would work out, I mean obviously these people are as crazy as I am since they are running this same race, right?  Right.

Don't be scared to join a group of strangers.  Definitely talk to them through group texts/email/FaceTime before the race to make sure they aren't assholes or completely repellant to you, but definitely be willing to take the risk on strangers.  The people that were strangers in my van were AWESOME people and I'm so glad they are now in my circle.  Same for the neighbors near us at the Sunset Ragnar.  I became Facebook friends with them and told them to let me know if they ever need another runner.  

Also, it doesn't matter if they are your teammate or not, people will talk to you at the exchanges.  If you are in some type of costume, you are inviting attention to yourself.  I was wearing a unicorn onesie and happily accepted photo/selfie requests.  We are all there for a good time and I was glad to be part of that.

2. Remind yourself WHY you are running this race.

There will absolutely be times that you will have to dig DEEP to keep going.  With minimal recovery time and wonky eating and no sleep and who know what the course will hold, you will be challenged.  Add into that being with 5/6 other people for 48 hours?  REALLLLL DEEP.  Adele's Rolling in the Deep DEEP.  When you are ready to just jump out of the van or, worse, have the van pick you up on the 900th hill on your leg, remember why you are there.  

If your team is more about participation than winning, slow down and appreciate what is around you.  Appreciate the experience.  Sometimes I get lost in the pace, not the race.  I participate in races so I can experience the location, when I focus on just getting to the end, I don't appreciate the journey to get there.  Even if the journey is me running down the side of a busy highway with transfer trucks passing me at 55+ mph.

For me, I wanted to see New England in the fall (just call me a Leaf Peeper).  I wanted to challenge myself with something different than a half marathon.  I wanted another medal for my rack.  Did I absolutely dread getting out of the van to run leg 3?  Fuck yes.  Am I glad I powered through?  Fuck yes.

3. The only way to prepare is to run a Ragnar/relay.

This sucks, but it is true, because your race is different from everyone else's.

I was not afraid of the distance (which you can prepare for) and running at weird times (which you can also prepare for), but I was afraid that I was going to be cranky and someone else would be cranky and the van would vote to leave me on the side of the road to Uber to my next leg if they didn't just drop me off at public transit with my shit and tell me to go home.  I tend to escalate quickly, so this wasn't an unlikely scenario in my head.

I also wasn't prepared for was being so poorly fueled (while being SOOOO TIRED).
I was so tired and dehydrated I had a headache for most of the race.  That super sucked.  It was hard to remember to keep drinking water because we were in/out of the van so frequently and when we were stopped for a while, it was hopefully for sleep and that one time for food.  IDK why our servers were afraid to keep our glasses filled with water, but that was an issue when we did stop for food.

I didn't know how to properly fuel myself.  There's lots of talk about van snacks, but I'm not a snacker.  I usually eat 3 meals a day.  Snacks don't fill me up, but there isn't TIME for meals.  I didn't realize that.  The other problem is that I didn't want to run with a meal on my stomach.  It's complicated, yo.  For my next relay race (because I'm glutton for punishment, I guess), I will insist on an insulated cooler to pack sandwich meats or something so I can take in something besides mini muffins and fruit snacks.  I wonder how well I would have done with a protein powder as a meal replacement, but hadn't tried it and wasn't about to try it DURING the race.

I did bring my post-workout powder and I believe that helped me a LOT with recovery because I usually have it after my workouts.  I only drank it after my first and second legs, knowing that after my 3rd leg we'd be getting a meal.

4.  Be compassionate and show appreciation.

This sounds like something your mom told you growing up, but your captain, and if you have them, your driver/navigator, are busting their asses to help YOU run this race.  Make sure you show these people appreciation and if they need something, MAKE IT HAPPEN.  

Also, the other van is also your team (if you're not an ultra team).  Don't be selfish.  Think of how your actions will affect others.  We had 2 runners in van 1 that weren't able to make it to the race and van 1 ghosted the long runs, not necessarily the legs of the missing runners.  This sucked for van 2 because it meant even less recovery time, even though van 1 was able to get in all their recovery time.  Our van had 7 people and theirs had 4 and when we asked to put something into their van, they said, "Not our problem."  Yall, I'm sassy on a good day, but I'm outright bitchy when I'm exhausted, sore, and hungry.  But even I would have never said that to anyone, especially people on my team.  

Also, everyone is tired.  Your bad attitude isn't helpful.  But also, if you had the best race of your life and none of your teammates are at the exchange because they all fell asleep in the van and you didn't text that you were a mile out and you bang on the windows in excitement and wake everyone up, do NOT expect your vanmates to be excited for you.  They might love you, but they also might kill you.


This is in all caps because it is imperative to surviving 48 hours with anyone, especially strangers.  These people might not know you.  They don't know that your hanger is on another level.  They don't know that when you have a headache, them shining their headlamp directly into your eyes could result in a maiming.  By communicating your situation/needs, you are telling people what is going on with you so THEY can be compassionate to YOU.  

If you tell them that you are extremely tired and you're not thinking straight they know to probably not take directions from you.  If you explain that you're still sweaty from your run and every time they roll down the window you almost become hypothermic, they will understand why you're asking them to roll up the window, even if they really want to cheer on all the runners the van passes and air out the stink.  If you don't like when people cheer you on as they pass, tell your team that so they can cheer quietly for you or so they at least know not to be offended when you're just in the zone, kthx.  I straight up told our team that I would prefer no van support during my runs because it's distracting to me and that if I had an emergency, I'd let them know or flag down a passing van.  So I'd set off, they'd cheer me on as they eventually passed me on the way to the next exchange, and I'd meet them there.  

Prioritize the current runner and the runner-on-deck over everyone else.  

6.  Be flexible.

Nothing about a Ragnar race is exact.  Everything is an estimate and depends on soooo many different factors.  The pace of a runner determines how long it will take them to run the leg, but if they want support during their leg, it means less stopped time for the van.  If a runner ghosts a leg, it will affect the timing of the overall event.  Sometimes, there will be holds on start times so participants don't arrive too early/late at exchanges and your team can get strikes (3 and you're disqualified) for violating the rules.  If a runner is struggling, they may go slower than their estimated pace.  It is what it is.  

The captain will be getting texts from Race Command to keep them up-to-date on the situation.  During our race, there was a car fire along the course.  Runners had to go around it, which was sketchy.  There was also a gap in the course.  It happens.  Just roll with it. 

Some of the major exchanges were full-service (you could go inside to sleep/shower/use the bathroom), some were only half-service (you could go inside to use the bathroom and there was a hang out space, but no showers/sleep space).  Take advantage of the full service exchanges.  Sleeping on the hard floor of a warm gym is better than sleeping in a field when the temp drops and the wind kicks up... and both are better than sitting in the van for another second.

7.  Prepare what you can.

-Have a meeting (virtual is perfectly fine, it's the way of the future!) with your team a few weeks prior to the race.  If you're running with strangers this is a good way to get to know them, but also you can coordinate who is bringing what so you don't end up bringing duplicate items and wasting precious van space.

-Coordinate with your team if you are doing costumes/etc.  It's perfectly acceptable to not, but you don't want to leave someone out of a team plan.

-Decorate your van BEFORE the race starts.  Doing it during the race is stressful.

-Have dinner with your team/van the night before.  KNOW the PLAN.  Everyone being on the same page eliminates a lot of drama when you're all tired.  

-Having dinner with your team means arriving at a decent time and having a hotel room the night before.  It may seem like an extra cost, but you'll appreciate that you were able to be horizontal the night before the race.

-If you can recruit someone to drive your van, DO IT.  I honestly do not know how we would have survived without a driver.  None of us were at our optimal condition and I cannot imagine driving the van on such little sleep is actually safe (not that the driver is getting more sleep, but at least they aren't running) in a place you don't know trying to follow signs that may or may not be there.

-Have someone who is willing to find the places to eat when there is time.  Finding a place to eat, in consideration to food limitations (i.e. gluten free, vegan, etc) of a group of people can be difficult, especially when everyone is hungry and unable to make choices. Having a person who is willing to do this to provide a few suggestions to everyone is much less complicated than everyone doing their own searches.  This needs to be done in advance of being AT a major exchange because time is precious.  I'd recommend eateries that are on the way to the next exchange or close to a major exchange.

8.  What to bring

Everyone wants to know EXACTLY what to bring, especially if you are travelling in from outside the race area with limited luggage space.  I can't tell you.  But I can tell you what I brought and used and what I brought that I didn't use and what I didn't bring that I wish I had.  The more you bring, the less room you have. Bring what you need, but see if you can't share things everyone will use like food, wet wipes, bandaids, etc.

What I want to figure out is how to pack so next time I don't have to pull out my suitcase after every leg to change.  I know some people suggest the plastic 3-drawer organizers, but our van definitely didn't have space for that.  Maybe it means more, smaller bags, but I also didn't want to have my stuff strewn about everywhere to get lost (because shit WILL get lost/crushed in a van with 6 people constantly getting in/out/shuffling).  It didn't help that we took the train to get there so I couldn't bring more, smaller luggage.  It's a weird situation that would only really be solved by driving there, which isn't always feasible. 

Didn't bring, then needed:

-KT tape.  The medic tent didn't have KT tape.  Fortunately, I walked from van to van at an exchange point asking if anyone had KT tape and eventually someone did.  Thank you, kind stranger for my knee bra.
-Paper towels

Brought, didn't use:

-Attaday roller
-2nd towel (although a vanmate said they wished they'd have brought a 2nd towel, one for sweat, one for shower, depends on you)
-Water cooler (like for a sports team, good idea in theory, but it took up way too much room)
-disposable teeth brushers (we had bathroom access at major exchanges and I just used my toothbrush)
-knuckle lights

Brought, used:

-3 full running outfits in individual grocery bags with some type of odor/moisture absorber (I had charcoal bags on hand, but shoe balls would probably also work).  I know the other posts say gallon ziplock bags, but they obviously didn't mean for a fall/winter race or have boobs.  I even put a sticky note in the 2nd and 3rd bags to remember to grab items used in other legs (my heel lift, for instance).

-2 pairs of running shoes (especially important if rain is in the forecast)

-a van outfit (I wore a unicorn onesie over shorts and a t-shirt that kept me perfectly toasty during fall in New England, but sweatpants/a comfy shirt are crucial.  I didn't want to always be in my compression leggings)

-non-running shoes that you can slip on/off (flip flops/sandals/clogs) as part of your van outfit.  Free the toes!

- regular pillow/blanket (but I'd trade this for a toddler pillow (smaller) and a sleeping bag instead since you don't know if you'll be sleeping outside or inside).

-recovery item(s)
...tens unit.  I knew going into the race that I was already injured so this was another recovery tool that I used. mat because sometimes you don't want to do child's pose in the dirt.
...foam roller; I wish I would have used it more, but the opportunities were low.
Whatever your recovery tool is, make sure you have it on hand.

-Fully charged battery packs for all the devices with the cables for each device you will need to charge (watch, cell phone, earbuds, etc).  Do not count on your vehicle having places to charge your devices.

-bandaids/blister patches/moleskin.  The medic tent will have some things, but it's best to have it when you need it.

-a clean outfit to go home in.  Even if you don't get to shower after your last race, this will help give you life back.

-ALL THE WIPES.  I brought toilet wipes because I had a lot on hand and they worked just as well as shower wipes or face wipes.

-a roll of toilet paper (by the end of the course, sometimes the porta-pottys are out of TP and that is no bueno)

-a popup changing tent

-back and head lights and a reflective vest for the night leg (the vest is NOT optional)
...I had knuckle lights that I didn't use, but I loved the clip on light instead of having to deal with a headlamp bouncing around.  

If you have room:

-sleeping pad/cot

Packing List (link to the Google doc below):

There could still be items this list is missing, because as I said, no one runs your race but you and maybe you require different things.  For me, I wanted a clip on light instead of a headlamp.  Also, no one else needed a tens unit.  You do you, but also remember space is limited.

Hopefully, if you're reading this post to prepare for your upcoming Ragnar event, or you're considering doing a Ragnar event, this has helped you.  If I forgot something, make sure to leave a comment to tell me what I missed!

Happy Running!!!!

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