Ragnar, D.C., post-race recap: Lessons learned

Most runners understand the gist of Ragnar, and are familiar with the overnight relay series’ motto:  Run. Drive. Sleep? Repeat.

If you've seen the motto emblazoned on Ragnar tents and brochures, you get the gist of the race.

That motto accurately sums up my experience participating in Ragnar, D.C., last Friday and Saturday, so I’ll spare you the mile-by-mile race report (though I will be writing a first-person account of the race for the next issue of Washington Running Report, which I’ll post a link to here once it’s live on its website). Instead, I’ll offer some lessons learned for people considering the relay—and some reasons why it’s something worth doing if it sounds appealing to you.

Lesson 1: The sleep deprivation is worse than you’re imagining. Did you just readjust your idea of how bad the sleep deprivation will be? Good. But it will still be worse than you’re imagining. Sleeping bags, pillows, earplugs and sleeping masks seem like overkill before the race. Trust me—you will want them.

I get tired all over again just LOOKING at this picture, taken shortly after we woke up in a church parking lot.

Lesson 2: Your demons and physical quirks come along for the ride, so be honest about them beforehand. I have a sensitive stomach that flares up when I don’t sleep, during long runs and when I eat unfamiliar foods. I also get motion sickness on long car rides through winding and bumpy terrain. I get migraines, also exacerbated by sleeplessness. Why was I surprised when my body behaved accordingly during Ragnar?

Lesson 3: Bring a wide variety of food, and assume that you will crave whatever you didn’t bring. I brought some snacky foods (candy corn, gummy bears) and some healthy meals (whole-wheat couscous with veggies, apples and peanut butter), but resorted to a steady diet of animal crackers, Chex Mix and Pepto Bismol straight from the bottle by the end of the race.

I brought this stuff. I wanted other stuff.

Lesson 4: Staying hydrated is a physical challenge in and of itself, especially if you face record-breaking high temperatures, as we did last weekend. As one of my teammates put it, “you are not drinking enough water until it’s coming out your ears.” And you can never bring too much water. We wasted precious sleeping time finding a convenience store where we could buy several gallons to restock.

Lesson 5: The same teammate noted that “snacks are not meals, and will not sustain you as such.” Besides $6 plates of spaghetti from the Clear Spring High School cafeteria for dinner, we refueled by grazing on snacky stuff, which gets old fast.

Spaghetti dinner at Clear Spring High School.

All of that said, if you think Ragnar sounds like fun, it’s worth trying. Here’s why:

The costumes and van decorations are fun and outrageous.

Our trusty rental van.

It is one big outdoor adventure, from the trail runs to the pseudo-camping we called sleep. I ran up a mountain, through two state parks and forests, along quiet, winding country roads, through blistering heat and through the cool dark of night in a span of 24 hours—how many other races can you say that about?

Overlook courtesy of my trail run up an 800-foot hill in Green Ridge State Forest.

And there’s something to be said about the sense of camaraderie borne of teamwork, shared trauma and matching reflective vests.

My teammates greeted me with water and cheers at the top of the aforementioned hill.

Some things I’m glad I brought: Febreeze Sport. Deep Woods Off. Foot powder. A dry set of clothes to change into after every run. Lots and lots of baby wipes.

Would I do it again? Never say never, but … I’m going to go out on a limb and say never. When I finished my first marathon, I immediately started looking for my next one. I think this is more of a “cross it off the life list” kind of thing. Maybe I’ll feel differently in a week or so.

Am I glad I did it? Absolutely. And if the premise sounds like fun to you, you’ll be glad you did it, too.

Team cheer after crossing the finish line.

Have you run Ragnar? What did you learn from the experience you wish you knew beforehand?


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12 responses to “Ragnar, D.C., post-race recap: Lessons learned

  1. Kaveh

    Wow, earplugs and eyemask are a MUST for me even on regular nights in my own bed. I can’t even imagine if those weren’t enough for a normal sleeper.

    Looking forward to the other article because I’m intrigued by the logistics of the whole relay (who goes first? why? how many miles before each switch? etc.)

  2. After reading lesson 2, I wonder how you ever got the nerve to sign up for a Ragnar Relay. Your list of “demons and physical quirks” reads like the symptoms of an allergy to long distance relays. The only thing that’s missing is “I tend to explode when I run more than once in 24 hours”.

    Glad you made it through.

    I’ll second you on the snack food. We managed to make it to an IHOP and that big stack of pancakes really hit the spot. I’m not sure what we’ll encounter on the long road to Key West.

  3. Awesome job! Sounds like a blast. I’m glad you survived!

  4. Congrats, Amy! Well done 🙂 Thanks for the recap and the great photos (I feel like I was there, except for the sleep deprivation, fatigue, heat exhaustion and actual running part =P

    Btw, that van looks really shady 😉 Looking forward to more of your running adventures. Go girl!!

  5. Congrats, Amy!! I’ve heard both sides of the Ragnar reports (had a big grp of friends who did it last year) and really can’t make up my mind – ugh. That being said, this is the most I’ve read about it and actually thought “hm, maybe” 😉 And Nutella should always be packed as a just-in-case!

  6. It’s crazy how it is so torturous yet we find it so fun. Congrats to you and your team! Sadly there was a runner who perished in Ragnar DC, have you heard? :-/

  7. katekirk

    there’s something about ragnar that fascinates me, even as a very amateur runner…thank you for this honest look at the thrills and spills.

  8. I think this would be the most fun for a young, somewhat new-to-the-sport runner, who in regular life has the stamina to stay up late, doesn’t mind fighting crowds to get to the bar or crashing on a friend’s floor for the night. In short, I might be too old (read: attached to my creature comforts) for it.
    I think it’s great you had the experience! Congratulations on the race.

    • In a word: YES. You summed up my feelings about it exactly! While there are runners of all ages who love Ragnar, I kept thinking that this may have been more my thing in college, when you’re ALWAYS staying up late, eating weird stuff, sleeping on couches, etc.

  9. Pingback: Runner-friendly recipe: Butternut squash penne « Amy Reinink

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