Monday, July 26, 2010

RAGNAR Race Report

Many, many months ago, a piece of expertly marketed advertising arrived in my mailbox at our apartment: a postcard with two scratch-and-sniff vans, one that smelled great, one that smelled terrible, and a dotted line labeled "187 miles" connecting the two. So it was that I was introduced to the Ragnar Relay Series - a dozen gigantic relay races throughout the country in which 12-person teams pack into two vans and leapfrog their runners to the finish line over a series of 36 legs (3 per runner). The Northwest Passage Ragnar starts in Blaine, up by the Canadian border, and goes all the way down to Langley, a small town on the south end of Whidbey Island.

I think Ragnar got my address from my Seattle Marathon sign-up, but more power to 'em: the scratch-and-sniff postcard hooked my interest. I posted it up at work and asked if anyone might be interested in putting together a team. Within a month, I had 11 hooligans interested in joining me for a two-day fest of sleep-deprived, pavement-pounding madness. After many months of organizing, reorganizing, planning, training, and the occasional team run/BBQ, this past weekend finally plunged us into the craziness of running a huge relay in one of the most stunning parts of our country.

To those who know me well, it may come as no surprise that our official team name, "Alpacas by Day, Ninjas by Night" was my doing. Four years in Ohio cemented my slight obsession with alpacas...and as for the ninja part, I really have no idea. But it worked; our competition included team names like "Runners with an Eating Disorder", "Blood, Sweat, and Beers", "Postpartum Aggression", and the "IT Bandits", and costumes and van decorations ranged from Robin Hood-themed warriors to a van with a three-foot cardboard shark emerging from the top.

Seeing all the other vans was inspiring and awesome.

We met up in Seattle at 7 a.m. on Friday to decorate our vans, don ridiculous noses and starry glasses (which, of course, have nothing to do with either alpacas or ninjas, but who cares?!), caravan up to the starting line, and torment/amuse drivers in other vehicles along the way.

Ron started us off at our staggered start time of 10:30 a.m., taking off for the first of 36 legs total. The two vans, one with runners 1-6 and one with runners 7-12, alternated being "on" and "off" vans - so for the first six hours or so of the relay, my van was "off" and able to just wander around downtown Bellingham, stroll around by the beach and boardwalk, grab some lunch at the Colophon Cafe, and pick up some IPA's and Scotch-style ales from the infamous Boundary Bay Brewery in anticipation of our post-race celebration (still more than 24 hours away at that point! And as for how to make room in our coolers for the beer...who needs cold Gatorade anyway?)

In the meantime, Van 1 was leapfrogging our first six runners all the way from Blaine down to the first major exchange point in Bellingham, where around 4:40 p.m., I laced up my running shoes, lined up in the exchange chute, took the baton (err, slap bracelet) from Jenica and took off running.

Tempted as I am to write a play-by-play of the whole 28-hour ordeal, I understand that might get tedious. Instead, I'll summarize the highlights, and rely heavily on photos to bring the event to life for those who weren't there in person to run under a full moon, watch sunrise over Deception Pass, smell the sweat, feel the aches and pains, and experience the drunken stupor of total sleep deprivation. (1.5 hours of sleep during the entire event, AGHHH!!!!)

Washington state is gorgeous. It's more diverse in its landscape than anywhere I've ever visited, let alone lived, before. We ran by all of it: mountains, volcano views, lakes, bays, beaches, forest, farmlands, everything. Each leg of the race brought new scenery, new places to ooh and ahh over. When our van was "on", we leapfrogged our runners, cheered and hollered as they ran, blasted bluegrass from our van, danced along the side of the road, took photos of our antics, and ate snacks pretty much constantly. When our van was "off", we also ate snacks pretty much constantly, hung out, laughed ourselves silly, and occasionally tried to pile into sleeping bags and catch a few winks of sleep, generally in vain.

First and foremost, our stellar team of volunteers, without whom our run wouldn't have even been possible.

My van mates broke out their best "Yitka pose" by the side of the road.

Don't we look like fun?

At sunset on Friday: 4 of our van's 6.

Elodie got both the sunset and the sunrise run.

75% of the team, pictured at Exchange Point 12.

...where they had free s'mores!

In our blazingly attractive reflective vests.

Getting sleep during the relay meant getting creative about beds.

Homeless? Nah, just runners. Notice the Pringles can and stack of bagels on top of it.

Eating salty chips and guzzling Gatorade at a convenient store in the middle of the night. Just about sums up the whole Ragnar experience.

Sunrise over Deception Pass.

Post 1.5-hours of sleep: Breakfast, sunshine, listening to bluegrass, waiting for Van 1 to arrive.

Jenica arrives!

Greg kicking butt on his last leg.

Exchanges ranged from smooth to messy; this one was speedy, sweaty, and largely a failure of coordination on our part, but Greg's sprint at the end succeeded in giving me the leg up on the team that was even with us at that point.

Peter and I toast at the finish line...

...while Jeff hops on a treadmill and takes 7th place nationwide for Most Elevation Climbed in 5 Minutes. Crazy man!

Overall, it's just impossible the put the experience into words. No worries, though; the Alpaca Ninjas fully plan on returning next year for their second Ragnar, so let me know if you're interested in joining the team for next year! We ran hard, averaging a team pace of 8:51 overall, with our fastest legs paced at a ridiculous 7:17 pace (go Jeff and Elodie!) There were some blisters, some sore knees and shins, some seriously taxed muscles, some general heat exhaustion, some Sunday work shifts that needed calling off...but overall, I think it's safe to say we had a blast with it. Couldn't recommend the Ragnar series more highly to anyone thinking about doing one.

Ragnar 2010: Alpacas by Day, Ninjas by Night


  1. We don't run (real gangsta-ass beavahs don't run fast), but we will volunteer next year! So bummed about missing this one. Dumb family reunion timing ... But now RAGNAR 2011 is first in line! I love alpacas! I also love The Colophon, Boundary Bay, and Sunrise Over Deception Pass (tm). Sunset is pretty epic too. That's what's so awesome about a pass. You get water to the east and the west. Mountains too! WA state ftw.

  2. I feel so inspired and so, so excited. Thank you for sharing this entry, Yitka. I'd be honored to join your team. I'm not even kidding a little bit..