I spent this past weekend running 187 miles through western Washington with 5 friends at the Ragnar Relay Northwest Passage.
The short version: it was an awesome, epic adventure with a great group of runners that was easily the most fun I’ve ever had running, and I can’t wait to do it again!
The long version:
For those not familiar with it, Ragnar is a series of running relays all over the country, very similar to Hood to Coast. The Northwest Passage relay is from Blaine, WA (right on the border with Canada), down to Whidbey Island 187 miles away. Relay teams are typically made up of 2 vans with a total of 12 runners. For various reasons (insanity?), we decided to register as an “ultra” team with only 6 runners. This means that we each had to run twice as many legs as most teams.
I had the great pleasure of running this relay with 5 really awesome people. I already knew Sharla, Tara and Mac from their blogs/Twitter, and had actually met all 3 of them in person before this race. Then there was Lindsay who we picked up from the Ragnar website, and Ryan who we actually found on Craigslist. Lindsay was the only one of us who had actually run a relay like this before (also on an ultra team). For me, doing this relay was much more about the experience and spending time with friends new and old, than it was about the race itself – though that part was fun too!
As an ultra team, we each ran 3 sets of 2 “regular” legs back-to-back, leaving around 8-10 hours of downtime between legs. But with the stop-and-go nature of running a relay (the teams were encouraged to leap frog their runner in the van to cheer them on along the course), and the fact that as an ultra team, we had no “off” van, getting anything resembling quality sleep was difficult to say the least. I would say that the lack of sleep was more difficult to deal with than the actual number miles we had to run. I got maybe an hour of sleep in the van after my 2nd leg – if I’m lucky.
Leg 1: 9.56 miles in 1:29 (9:18 pace)
I started my first leg around 1pm on Friday, and oh boy were there some serious hills on this one! The Ragnar website has elevation profiles for all the legs, but sometimes it’s difficult to understand just how big or steep some hills are from those small images, especially depending on the scale that they use. It turns out I had really underestimated how difficult this first leg was going to be. Luckily I also got to run along several miles of trails during this leg, so that helped to distract me and (somewhat) made up for the difficulty. I also got to run on a boardwalk along the Bellingham waterfront, where there was even an Alaska ferry docked at the time, which was a nice reminder of home.
Leg 2: 15.0 miles in 2:21 (9:23 pace)
My longest leg started around 11pm on Friday and brought me straight through to early Saturday morning. At this point I had not slept any yet. It was a new experience for me to run in the pitch black like this. I’ve run plenty in the dark around Anchorage (since it’s pretty much always dark during the winter here), but everywhere I run is at least partially lit by street lights. Out on the back roads of western Washington, not so much. Ragnar required that we wear a head lamp, reflective vest, and LED “butt light” while running during night hours. Pretty much all you could see was the small area illuminated in front of you by your headlamp, and the bouncing butt lights of any runners ahead of you. It was also kind of eerie running through the darkness, having a faster runner come up from behind and pass you seemingly out of nowhere.
Leg 3: 12.6 miles in 2:15 (10:42 pace)
My 3rd and final leg was my most difficult. Not that it was a particularly difficult leg, but just that the lack of sleep had definitely caught up to me by this point. During this leg, I ran along with another runner for a while from a team called the Ragnarcissists. It was nice to have someone to chat with for a while, and take my mind off how tired I felt. We had never gotten each other’s names, but at one point I had told him that I was from Alaska. The rest of the day, our teams kept leap-frogging each other, and every time I saw him he’d scream out ALASKA! One other thing that just melted my heart and put a big smile on my face: after a particularly long hill, there were 2 young girls on the side of the road offering runners Gatorade and lemonade. I stopped briefly for a quick drink of Gatorade, gave them a huge thanks, and ran on with a bit of an extra spring in my step.
My total mileage: 37.2 miles in 6:05 (9:48 pace)
Running a big relay like this is a huge amount of fun. There is a ton of commeraderie, not only amongst your own teamates, but with the other teams as well. There’s lots of mutual cheering and encouragement, goofing off and having fun – with a little running thrown in there too 🙂
One of the most enjoyable parts of this race was seeing all the other creative team names, van decorations, and costumes. Some teams really went all out with this, especially the team that all dressed up as characters from Lord of the Rings, many even running their legs in full costume (their “You Shall Not Pass!” tagline on the window was genius, as was Gandalf proclaiming “You Shall Not Poop!” in a port-a-potty line).
I want to give a big shout-out to Sharla and Tara. Before this weekend, the longest that either of them had ran was a half marathon. Over the course of about 24 hours, they ran more than 30 miles each. Seeing the looks of sheer will and determination on their faces was an awesome thing to behold, and truly inspirational. You ladies ROCK!
And one last shout-out to our awesome volunteers/crew – Meegan, Jessi, and Michael (who was originally going to run with us, but had to have shoulder surgery). Thank you all so much, it was great to have you along on this amazing journey with us.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I had a hell of a lot of fun running this relay. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to do it with, and I sincerely hope that we can all do it again.