Real World: Ragnar

Well, friends, after months of planning and training (and a few anxiety attacks), it finally happened: we ran the Ragnar Relay!

Last weekend, 152 teams headed to Copper Mountain to begin our 194-mile journey through the Rockies, bound for Aspen.  Our 12-person team, which we named “Real World: Ragnar,” was divided into two vans – while Van 2 rested, Van 1 would drop off each runner at the start of their leg, meeting them at the next exchange to pass the baton (which was actually a sweet slap bracelet).  Each runner ran three legs over the course of 36 hours, so we all got to run through beautiful scenery, during all hours: sunset, sunrise, and by the light of a full super moon.

Ragnar - Glenwood Canyon

Dancing by the light of the moon.

I rode in Van 2, which meant our Van 1 comrades tackled the 6 a.m. start time – we rotated in around 1 p.m.  As we coasted into Copper, Jock Jams Volume 1 blaring on the minivan radio, I had a belly full of very agitated mutant size-XL butterflies.  We all gathered around our first runner, Ben, as he awaited Van 1’s final runner, Kristen.  She rounded the corner still looking strong at the end of her 8-mile leg, and we all waved pom poms and shook mini tambourines as she slapped the bracelet onto Ben’s wrist, and then he was off!

Ragnar exchange

Work that tutu!

As runner 11, I got to cheer on three more teammates before I stood next to two Ragnar volunteers and a couple of orange cones.  I stood anxiously pulling at my safety vest and adjusting my headlamp, watching for the first sign of teammate Emily.  Even though I’d been training, it never felt like enough, and the longest race I’d ever run was 4 miles.  At sea level.  This was the moment – would I do alright?  What if I had to walk the whole time?

Emily ran up and passed on the bracelet and our team’s shared tutu, and I followed the signs to my trail.  The nerves made my legs feel shaky, and a chorus of “what have I gotten myself into?” circled in my mind.  Many family members and friends had sent messages of encouragement, and one sent the following quotation:

“I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious.” – Vince Lombardi

As I felt the wind blow against me, the still-warm evening sun raise a sheen of sweat, and the high-altitude air burn in my lungs, I remembered those words.  I remembered how hard my teammates had worked – my friend Katie had crushed her first leg, which was longer than my three legs combined.  I remembered how excited my mom sounded when she wished me luck that morning.  I remembered to put one foot in front of the other and just keep moving.

It was hard, and I failed to pass an actual child who ran a few hundred feet ahead of me (in my defense, she was in a creepy clown costume, and I didn’t want to get too close), and as I passed the bracelet and tutu to Felicia, I was so afraid that I had run slowly and dragged our time down.  My team threw high fives (pity high fives, I assumed) as I sat down in the grass and checked the time.

“Wait,” I said to Emily, “how did that happen?  I came in under my projected pace!”

She and the others looked at me, nonplussed, and one said, “Uh, yeah, you killed it.  Let’s go to the next exchange!”

There was nothing left to do but start believing in myself, and start having fun.

Ragnar - last leg

One mile to go!

After an hour of fitful non-sleep in a community center aerobics room, our next leg took us through Glenwood Canyon, as the full moon parted the clouds to shine on the river.  Three more hours of sleep on a middle school gym floor prepared us for our final leg into Aspen.  The scenery was so beautiful, I almost didn’t want it to end…except for the free beer and the hot tub awaiting us at the finish.

Team captain Felicia ran us home with an 8-and-change-mile trail run – we joined her a few feet from the finish line and crossed it as a team, exhausted and victorious.

Ragnar - finish

Ragnar strong!

We checked off our final legs and marked our final “kills” – each person you passed on the trail, which was much less cutthroat than it sounds – and celebrated our victory with a few pizzas, a soak in the hot tub, and an 8:00 p.m. bedtime.  The weekend was challenging, rewarding, and ridiculously fun, and we can’t wait to do it again next year!