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Featured Review: Ragnar Relay, Cape Cod 2018

For the fifth consecutive year, I had the privilege of running Ragnar Cape Cod with the New England Spahten Ninja team. For those who have not participated, Ragnar is a 12-person relay race that covers approximately 200 miles. Runners take turns running “legs” and hand off from person to person. Each runner runs three times over the course of around 36 hours as the team makes its way from Hull to Provincetown, Massachusetts. The team of twelve is divided between two vans, with runners one through six in van one and runners seven through 12 in van two. As a team, you are running continuously, which means there is always a runner out on the course. Generally, this means that each runner has one overnight run. You are just as likely to be running at 5:00 p.m., as you are to be running at 2:00 a.m. Each runner is assigned legs of different distance, and the captain of your team can customize who runs what based on interest and capability. This year we were lucky enough to have a team of reliable runners who were all a blast to be with.

The NES Ninjas team for 2018 was a great group. In van one, #teambreakfast, we had (in runner order): Bobby, me, Pete, Wes, Shaina, and Kelly. In van two, #teamdinner, there was Sean, Geoff, Paul, Josh, Jess, and Aaron. My three legs were 5 miles, 3.6 miles, and 4.5 miles, making me one of the runners going a shorter amount of distance. Our captain, Jess, is great about assigning us our legs, and with most of the people on the team interested and able to do long distances, this year I was assigned some shorter ones. (Note: Last year, I had some high mileage and one of the longest legs to run.) Both running long and running short are fun – in truth the real “test” of Ragnar is mental and not physical. Going 36 hours with irregular food and few hours of sleep and then having to wake up for a 3:00 a.m. run is the real challenge. The main focus is on being a good teammate, supporting the group, and running without drama. I cannot overstate how important having a good team is to the Ragnar experience. The NES Ninjas are so lucky to have a group of super cool folks who I am always pumped to spend 36 hours with unshowered and under-rested in a van winding our way towards Provincetown.

The NES Ninjas Ragnar experience began at 3:00 a.m. on Friday when we pulled ourselves out of bed in the hotel where the six of us stayed for the night before the race and dragged ourselves to the start line for a 4:00 a.m. check-in, an hour before our 5:00 a.m. start. We pulled into Nantaset Beach in Hull almost beating the Ragnar crew. Things were not set-up, and the safety video was experiencing technical difficulties. We, in fact, ended up having to go over and get our bibs and other registration items before the video got organized. Though we were an hour early, Bobby ended up running to the start line just as the announcer was sending folks out because of the lack of coordination of the Ragnar team for check-in. If racers are coming to check-in for 4:00 a.m., I would hope everything can be in place in time. Ragnar being a bit behind in getting exchanges set-up was a bit of a theme for the weekend and something that ought to be rectified for next year.

Regardless, we weren’t going to let Ragnar’s lack-of-organization spoil our fun. Bobby did a great job getting out in time. The rest of our van took a few quick pictures in Hull, as the sun came over the horizon. We grabbed the first of many coffees at Dunkin’ Donuts and headed on our way to meet Bobby at the first exchange.

I was up next for a 5:45 a.m. five miler through Hingham. Bobby arrived a couple of minutes ahead of schedule, we did our traditional team chest bump, passed off the slap-bracelet that served as a baton, and I was off. The weather was great for running. The sun was just up and temperatures were mild, in the 50s. I started by running through some nice neighborhoods. I cruised along at a comfortable 9:45/mile pace, feeling good and doing some “house hunting.” With a couple of miles to go, the course sent me down a dead-end road which led into Wompatuck State Park. I ran along an access road through the woods. It was a beautiful run, and I enjoyed myself entirely. The leg terminated with a final short hill. I rounded one last corner and came into the exchange where I passed off to Pete for his “Wicked Hard” leg, an 11 miler. I had felt good about my run. I enjoyed myself, saw some sights, and easily maintained my pace. I had put myself down for 10:00 miles, knowing that would give me some flexibility. Ragnar, for many of us, is not a race. It’s an experience, and I wanted to run well – reliably – for my team while also having a blast.

For the rest of the morning, we jumped from exchange to exchange dropping off runners and picking them up. In a great show of success, we managed to make each exchange perfectly without having anyone waiting. Getting lost (vans and runners) and missing exchanges totally happens in Ragnar, and it’s good to be prepared for things to not go perfectly, but who can complain about success.

Our last runner of the morning, Kelly, headed off for a four miler, and the van headed to the first major exchange at Duxbury Beach, where we’d trade off to van two. The weather was amazing. It was sunny and around 60 degrees. Our team had started in the first wave of the day, even though we had a solid team of runners. We had to keep an eye on the clock to make sure that we didn’t reach the exchanges too early and risk being held back. Fortunately, we were just after the cut-off time for Duxbury when Kelly ran in. We cheered her on with our van two mates. It was great to get some time with van two. The one sad part of Ragnar is that even though you’re part of a team of 12, you basically only even see the six folks in your van. Major exchanges are always festive because you get to group up and say, “Hello,” to everyone.

From Duxbury we headed off for breakfast. It is a van one tradition from the first year of Ragnar to head over to The Blueberry Muffin for giant pancakes while van two runs, especially because van one has about five hours off. This year, as always, breakfast did not disappoint. We had been up since 3:00 a.m. and all done some running; we were hungry.


In past years, after breakfast, we would head over to the next major exchange in Sandwich. However, this year, there was a gap in the relay. I heard a number of reasons proposed for this. People said it was because of construction or an alternate event taking place in the area. Another theory was that the towns in this area had opted not to participate due to an incident last year where a female runner was assaulted by a man in the area. (Note: As I understand it, the female runner was not physically harmed and was able to complete the race. Ragnar implemented an optional buddy system for 2017 in response.)

The gap in the course map in Sandwich meant that the teams would be doing a virtual exchange. When van two arrived at their exchange in Carver, Ragnar HQ would radio to exchange 13 where our runner would be waiting and then Bobby would head off.  To add an additional complication, the areas where the exchange was to take place was different from where we were designated to wait, plus, the exchange wouldn’t open until 4:00 p.m., which was also the end of the hold time, and when we expected our exchange to happen.

A well-fed #teambreakfast, headed over to the Pop Warner field in Sandwich for a few hours of napping and relaxation. Mostly we napped, read, and generally chatted and hung out, enjoying the sun. At around quarter to four, we hopped in the van to head a mile and a half down the road to the virtual exchange point, at a nearby school. When we arrived at 3:50 p.m., the volunteer turned us away stating that the exchange hadn’t opened yet, despite the fact that runners should have been allowed out at 4:00 p.m. and we were expecting Aaron in around that time. This meant we had to drive around for 10 minutes, since the Pop Warner field rest area was filled with vans that were taking their break.

We arrived back at exchange 13 at 4:00 p.m. and were allowed to park. It was clear, once again, that Ragnar HQ was not organized here. Our runner had arrived, and we should have been allowed to have Bobby head out, but the exchange was not set-up, and we ended up having to wait while volunteers organized. Finally, at around 4:20 p.m., 20 minutes after runners should have been able to go out and after our runner had arrived, people were allowed to begin running. The runners were oddly sent out in waves seemly at random, but at least we were up and moving again. The virtual exchange was somewhat disorganized and having it meant that we missed an opportunity to bond with our van two teammates, so I am hopeful that we will be back to the old arrangement for 2019.

My next run, a quick 3.6 miler, was fast approaching for around 4:50 p.m. With Bobby out on the course, the van headed to Mashpee where I would start. Again, the weather was nice. It was sunny and in the 60s. When Bobby came in I headed out at a 9:35/mile pace down the main road that made up a lot of the course to the next exchange.

While my second run wasn’t very scenic, it was festive. Since I was going down a main route there was lots of traffic and a bunch of people waved and cheered. I think it was because I was wearing my extra festive NES running tights, an item of clothing so highly decorated that my boyfriend, Ben, refers to them fondly as “dazzle camouflage.”

Half way through the run, I turned off the main road. The next bit of course was a bit lacking in markers, and when the final turn came for the run up to the exchange, I would have missed it were it not for a fellow runner coming out of the exchange who directed me correctly. In a few other instanced members of my team mentioned that clearer course markings would have helped. Particularly confusing where instances where Ragnar wanted the runner to cross the street but instead of having a crossing sign and then an additional directional sign (i.e. straight), there were signs that said right and then left and the like. Fortunately, I made it into the exchange without incident and Pete headed off. Van one finished up this set of legs fairly quickly, since the only longer run was Shaina’s 6.5 miler. We were afforded some time on Craigsville Beach while we waited for her. I allowed the Atlantic to kiss my toes. It was frigid. I hastened back to my socks and shoes and curled into my Dryrobe and, in that manner, enjoyed the beach.

Kelly had the last leg, into Barnstable High School in Hyannis, and was scheduled to arrive around 8:45 p.m. She ended up being in a little later than anticipated since she was misdirected by a well-meaning but incorrect crew in another van. They had told her she was going the wrong way when she was in fact going the correct way.  They then brought her back a ways and mistakenly pointed her in the wrong direction. They soon realized their mistake and came back to pick her up and put her on the right path again. To Kelly’s extreme credit, she took this with a great deal of equanimity and was totally chill about it. She had them drop her back off and finished her leg only a few minutes past the time she was expected to arrive. Kudos.

Our van was off until 1:30 a.m. so we quickly headed off to exchange 24, Harwich Community Center where, it was promised, there would be showers. One advantage of running really far ahead…I was the very first person in the locker room and had the entire place to myself to shower. It was amazing to wash away a day’s worth of sweat, sunscreen, and dirt. I felt amazing. I was the best shower ever. Then I brushed my teeth, and it was the best time I ever brushed my teeth. Then I got to wash my hands, and that was the best too.

I also felt tired. We’d been up since 3:00 a.m. It was time for some much needed shut eye. I grabbed my sleeping bag from the van, told Bobby where I was and to come wake me when he was ready to roll and snagged a spot on the gym floor where I promptly passed out for the next three and a half hours. I woke up when Bobby came to get me, fell asleep for a few more minutes, and then dragged myself up so I could brush my teeth again in the locker room and change into running clothing before we left.

Bobby had a 6.6 miler for his night run, so I had some time for a quick snack before my 4.5 miles in Brewster. The night was cool with temperatures in the lower 40s but less humid than in past years, so visibility was good. I was waiting when Bobby arrived and headed out, maintaining a 9:52 pace for my night run and feeling pretty decent for someone who’d dragged themselves out of bed and decided to run for 44 minutes in the middle of the night.

In the past I have really enjoyed my night runs at Ragnar because they are such a unique experience. This year, thinking of the assault that occurred during this event last year, I was a bit more on edge than in the past and very mindful of my surroundings. In past posts I have written about night running saying that it feels like floating in space. It’s fun to run at night, look up at the stars now and again and totally dissociate and just enjoy the wild experience of it all.

With the events of last year in my mind I found I couldn’t really do that. I was 100% focused. Being a woman, and a small woman at that, I am conscientious about running alone and while I don’t generally run feeling fearful and don’t consider running to be dangerous, I am always mindful. I was fortunate that my night run went well. The course was well marked, I saw a runner or two from Ragnar but was untroubled, and I went along feeling good and at a decent pace. I should note how appreciative I am that the course had very frequent markers along the night leg. In the past this has not always been the case, but it was this year, and it was welcome. My run finished at an elementary school where I passed off to Pete. I was done. I changed into pajamas and napped on and off as the van made its way along the course.

Our van was slated to finish up a little after 6:00 a.m. The sun came up as we waited at Cooks Brook Beach in Eastham while Shaina ran. I enjoyed some coffee from a group doing a local fundraiser as we cheered Shaina’s arrival and Kelly’s departure for the last three miles van one had on the course.

The van made its way to Nauset Regional High to join van two. We hung out and chatted; before long Kelly had arrived and passed off to Sean. Van two was live, and we were done. Time to change and head to Provincetown for breakfast at our second traditional breakfast location, Post Office Cafe. There were four plus hours to kill before we could expect van two to finish-up. We grabbed some Dunks on the way out to P-town, knowing that we wouldn’t be able to get into the restaurant until after it opened at 8:00 a.m. This gave us time after we arrived to nap. We grabbed a delicious breakfast and then headed over to the beach for a #teambreakfast photo in the world’s largest chair (unverified).

With a couple of hours left to go, we took time to clean the marker off the van and prowl the festival area. Ragnar has significant merch, though I find it to be a bit of a high price point, especially considering that Reebok is their sponsor, and one of Reebok’s virtues is their general affordability. I decided I was all set with my free race shirt and opted out of grabbing any other items in the store, as usual. We convened with the van two crowd and waited for Aaron to finish his final leg. The wait wasn’t long. Our team has either gotten seriously faster or I’ve gotten much better at how I feel about the downtime during Ragnar. (Perhaps five years has made me better at managing unstructured free time, which, honestly, in my post-graduate-school-life I realize is a gift. How often do you get to sit around outside and do nothing for hours? Not often, and it’s pretty good.)

Aaron cruised up the hill and we joined him for a final run across the finish line. Ragnar 2018 was in the books.


As always, Ragnar is all about your team, and I am so lucky to have a great group with the NES Ninjas led by a terrific captain, Jess. These are folks who I can spend a few days with having little sleep and enjoying the entire time. We’ve really upped our running game, as a team, and can now be reliably counted on to get some decent running done – a bonus to be sure. Ragnar is a must do race for me. Five years ago, it was my introduction to the NE Spahtens. I don’t think I even realized my luck at the time to get to meet this fantastic group in such a cool way. Ragnar 2019 will be on my race calendar for sure. See you there fellow Ninjas.

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Ragnar Relay – whats all the fuss about?

This past weekend, I finished my third year of Ragnar Relay, Cape Cod. We run from Hull to P-Town, just shy of 190 miles as a team of 12.

The basics:

6 people per van, 2 vans per team. You go from person 1 to person 12, three times – and by the end, you’ll have run three times and anything from 15 to 25 (or more!) miles.

You start Friday morning, you finish Saturday afternoon – and yes, you run all night.

This isn’t my review of the 2017 Cape Cod Ragnar. You can find that here. This is my thoughts, feelings and guidance from several Ragnarians on how to best enjoy and experience Ragnar – especially if this is your first time as a team captain.

Because it is entirely possible to do it all wrong – and that will ruin your experience.

There are three things that will make, or break, your first Ragnar Experience.

  • Your ability.
  • Your attitude.
  • Your team captain (or if thats you, how you act as team captain).

Lets start out with the LEAST important one. Ability. Ragnar Relay is a running race, so you should be capable of running – however, it’s not necessarily competitive, so it doesn’t particularly matter how fast you run. What is important though, is that you are aware and honest about how fast you run. Ragnar will base your team start on the average running pace of the team, and your team mates will base their arrival at your exchanges on how fast they expect you to complete the leg. So if you run 11min/miles, put your time down as such – rather than pretending you are quicker, or getting in your own head and claiming you suck and run slower. Also, a team full of power walkers needs to know and prepare for a longer time on the course, than a team of hyper fast, competitive athletes. Be honest with yourself and your team.

Lets move onto the most important – your attitude. Because this, and this alone is what will ruin your experience. You are going to be running three times. You are going to be hot and sweaty. You will not sleep much (or at all) and you will be in a van – potentially a small cramped minivan. How do you react to that situation? If you react poorly to stress, you should be aware. Do you get grumpy when you’re sleepy? Let people around you know. Do you get confrontational with people under duress? Skip Ragnar all together! Ideally, you want to be relaxed, roll with the punches, enjoy the experience.

Team Captain is the toughest job of the lot. It starts well before the race weekend, ensuring everyone is on the same page, assigning legs, dropping and adding runners to your teams roster and communicating like it’s your job (hint: it is!). Then, on race weekend you have two vans and 11 other tired, stressed, sweaty runners to keep moving and motivating and on track. How you communicate with your team, or how you communicate with your captain will change your entire experience. Remember that there WILL be drama along the way, and you can respond to it well, or you can let it get to you and ruin your weekend. People will run late. There will be traffic. People won’t sleep. Someone will get an injury. There will be challenges.

For Ragnar 2017, we had 8 teams made up primarily of New England Spahtens and our friends. From a really competitive and fast mens team, to an experienced team of NES Ninja’s to several totally new teams, and new team captains. I asked them to give me their guidance – what lessons did they learn this year?

“If your runner doesn’t care to carry a cell phone while running, they should at least have the phone number for someone in their van on their person to call with any issues.” – Jessica Wohlen, Team NES Ninja’s

Jess is one of the most experienced Ragnar captains out there, and our team gelled well. Even so, we found ourselves losing 20 minutes when a sign wasn’t in place and we went to the wrong exchange. Our runner didn’t carry a phone, or have anyones numbers – and ultimately, shit happens. We backtracked, got our next runner out, and moved on with no drama.

 

 

“Leave your sh*tty attitude outside of the van in Hull somewhere.” – Sara Norman, Team Shut Up And Run

Wether it’s because of lack of sleep, or things not going “right”, or the weather, or injuries – so many things can work against you and bring out the worst side of people’s personalities. Always remember to take a deep breath, think before you speak and trust your captain! They want the same thing you do, and they generally have a plan to follow.

 

 

 

“Communication is key. I asked for a volunteer van captain and kept in a text communication all race. Every time a runner came in and out the Time was texted to me and we kept up the Google time doc. Checking in with the other van captain helped them feel supported too.” – Shaina Brooks, Team Wicked Unicorn Snack Masters

Communicate, communicate, communicate. About everything – how you feel, how fast you are, what you need – between vans you should communicate start and finish times of every leg, pacing, injuries, problems – the road to a bad experience is paved with the lack of communication!

 

 

“Be honest with team. We have had some replacements over the years and as long as you let everyone know where you are it’s fine. Don’t tell everyone your fine when your not and don’t fudge your pace.” – Scott Sweeney, NES Mens Team

Scott has captained the very successful, *very* competitive (and damned fast!) Mens team for four years, and the key – communication! If he can keep those guys pointing in the right direction, and on track – listen to his advice and be honest about your pace, your injuries and anything else going on, and trust that your captain will keep things moving along.

 

“When the captain posts ALL of the Ragnar documents and updates and details and advises you that you need to participate in the group chats, none of it is an option.” Margaret Hatch, Team Loch NES Monsters

You are ALL there for the same reasons. Know your legs. Know your timing. Know the rules and safety regulations. Read the race bible and talk to your captain if you have questions. Ragnar HQ do an amazing job bringing info down to team captains, so they will probably have the answers for you! We always have a Facebook Group for our whole team, and group txt chats for each van – with a Captain in one, and a co-captain in the other – it’s a solid way to stay in touch!

 

“Don’t over pack. Holy Christ the amount of things that came into my van that I said we wouldn’t need…” – Niki Leonard, Team OCR Rehab

It doesn’t matter how much you think you need, you don’t. I packed light, and still overpacked. The van has limited space and when you’re “that guy/gal” with FAR TOO MUCH stuff, it’s a pain for everyone, and you’ll never find all your stuff.

 

 

“Learn about your team. Get to know their personalities and quirks. That is a huge factor in grouping together the vans.” – Nicole Elizabeth, Team Worst Pace Scenario

How your van “gels” will make or break your experience – find your people, find your tribe!

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Realize that a positive attitude can be the difference between a good experience and a bad experience. 12 runners = 12 personalities.” – Mike Hastie, Team Mike McNeil

Lets wrap this up with the best advice of all. Your own attitude will make or break your experience, and as a Captain you have to handle everyone else’s attitudes. Check a bad attitude at the start line, relax and go with the flow.

 

 

 

Do you have advice from your Ragnar experience? Want to leave your own review? Our Community Reviews are right here

 

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The NE Spahtens Show – Episode 6, Ragnar Relay special!

On this episode, we talk about Ragnar Relay – having just finished the communities third year at Ragnar Relay Cape Cod, and bringing four full teams (and filling spots on several more!) – Paul and Sandy are joined by the Worlds Greatest Team Captain, Jessica Wohlen (Josh was having dinner with New Kids On The Block. For real!).

We talk about what Ragnar is, and tell some stories from our respective vans (not too many stories – “what happens in the van, stays in the van!”) – then we answer several of your questions.
Hopefully this helps answer some of the questions and concerns a new Ragnarian has – and is entertaining for those who’d participated already!

https://www.runragnar.com/home

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Featured Review: Ragnar Relay, Cape Cod 2015

CC-NB-logoI made a single new years resolution this year (I never make resolutions) – “Don’t die at Ragnar”. I’d signed up for the 2015 Cape Cod Ragnar Relay – but hadn’t run in some time.

Some considerable time.

Injury, busy OCR weekends, a loss of focus on fitness and more excuses had all gotten between me and the road, and 2014 wasn’t a year that saw much running for me. In fact, RunKeeper shows a single 5k road race in May, and a very slow 5 mile Turkey Trot (admission: I walked a bunch) – and thats it. So, I was going to train for this one, and be sure I didn’t enter the event with no miles on my legs – and primarily, don’t die.

Of course, life got in my way, running took a back seat, and training always started tomorrow – so this years Ragnar saw me very unprepared for the running, and having done no training, beyond three 4 mile runs, two weeks before.

This was going to be interesting, then.

So – what is Ragnar Relay? Why is it different from “normal” road racing? A quick break down, for the unfamiliar:

Ragnar Relay is approximately 200 miles of road running – split amongst 1 team, in 2 vans, consisting of 12 people. Every person has 3 “legs” to run, of varying distances, and you rotate through the people and vans.

#nesninjas - Van 1Van 1 – our van – started out in Hull, MA at 6am on Friday morning, meaning we had a 3am wake up call at our Braintree hotel to make it to the starting line, go through the extremely well organized (and funny) briefing and safety procedure and pick everything we needed up – from our safety flags, to race specific T Shirts for the whole team – before lining Jessica up for the 6am departure, and her first leg – and Ragnar Relay was underway!

#nesninjas - Van 1

Here’s the thing with Ragnar, it is full of moments of high activity – like sending a runner out – and longer moments of downtime – like us immediately hitting dunkin donuts once she was out of sight. The whole event is like that – as you drive your 15 seat van from exchange to exchange and wait. But, thats also it’s big attraction – every exchange is a social melting pot, and a chance to get to know your van mates a little better. By the end of the 200 miles, you know them well.

#nesninjas from Van #1
#nesninjas from Van #1

#nesninjas - Van 1Personally, I was very nervous about my running. With my lack of training, and lack of distance in recent memory, I was going to be covering three legs, totaling about 16 to 17 miles, with not much more than gut and memory to go on – I really wasn’t sure what to expect, and in the run up to the event, I’d been lowering my expectations from 10 minute miles, to 11 … rumor has it, I may have mentioned 12 minute miles at one point. To say I had low expectations is an understatement.

Being runner #4, I could watch a couple of exchanges and get my legs before my run. Leg 3 and 4 had a last minute change – leaving us to pick our own exchange point. We made the call to split leg 3 and leg 4 in the middle – with Jes doing a 6.5, and me taking over for a 6 mile.

My first 6 mile run since 2011, that is. With a slap bracelet being handed over, I was off, running through the streets of Marshfield. I had no idea what to pace at, it was hotter than I expected – but I just kept running.

run1

#nesninjas - Van 1Somehow, it didn’t kill me. Even when I hit some hills. Even when I got dehydrated and over heated. I was actually doing this. I even managed a few kills (Ragnar speak for people you overtake), even if two of them were people peeing in the woods. Totally counted them. I even finished sub 10min miles, catching my team on the hop, as they made the mistake of listening to me, and planning accordingly. Bracelet slapped over to runner #5, Wes was off and we were moving to the next exchange.

This is the fun bit about Ragnar. Once you’re done running, it’s time to chill. In my case, re-hydrate, put on clean clothing, and mentally pat myself on the back for running the longest distance I’ve done in years, at a pace that surprised everyone (me included!). I knew I was basically done for nearly 12 more hours – and could focus on driving the van, and supporting the next runners in our van.

By 11am, Van #1 was done. With Nicole transferring over to the first runner of Van #2 at Duxbury Beach, where we could hang with our other van for a bit, and do some walking, shopping and relaxing at the major exchange point Ragnar had setup. Music, beach, people!

Exchange 6. Van 2 taking over! #nesninjas #newenglandspahtens #ragnarrelaycapecod

A photo posted by @ninjajessi on

But we were hungry. We’d been on the road since 4am, with little more than banana’s for fuel. We found a breakfast place, we ordered the lumberjack, we were blown away by pancakes the size of our faces – and knowing we all had more running to do, we called defeat and gave in – no face sized pancakes for us (I managed 1/2 of ONE – and was stuffed!). The Blueberry Muffin breakfast place? We’ll be back!

No longer hungry, we had hours to kill. We moved to the next major exchange point – this would be where the last runner of Van #2 handed off to Jess – but not for several hours. Nap time. Music. Full Contact Dots.

I liked this bit – when I’m tired, I like quiet and slow – and being able to curl up in the front seat, doze, watch some people – right then, at that moment in time, that was my speed. Bobby took the opportunity to tag some vans (the process of sneaking your magnet onto a van is called tagging – get caught, take your magnet back!), and honed his ninja tagging skills. #nesninjas - Van 1 But – finally it was time to move again.

We sent Jess off, with a chest bump from Josh (#teamchestbump!), and we were back on the road – and the evening legs began. Ragnar safety rules are clear – when night falls, you wear a safety vest any time you’re out of the van, and runners wear headlamps and blinkies at all times. We followed the letter of the law, but quickly found that many people got creative. Christmas lights, LED clothing, light up hats – the brighter, the better. Couples with the silly van markings, costumes, tutu’s, inflatables – another reminder that Ragnar is about FUN and being silly – and Bobby and I are making plans for next year that involve LES tutu’s and homemade light up lobster hats. We will be stylin’.

This ended up being my shortest leg (4 miles), along with being my only night time leg. Running at night isn’t something I’m entirely unfamiliar with, but being lit by not much more than a headlight and the moonlight, it’s tough to really see the bumps and holes in the pavement, and while this leg was a tiny bit slower than my first – it was still faster than projected. I also dealt with some AWESOME crotch chafing picked up during my first, incredibly warm and sweaty run that morning. Thankfully, Jess had magic ointment, which I liberally applied through the rest of the weekend, and it helped. TMI? Welcome to Ragnar 🙂

run2

It’s at night you realize just what an epic course marking job Ragnar needs. Every single turn of 192 miles needs to be clear. Every single point that could cause confusion, 30 some exchanges – and it needs to be visible both in daylight and night time – done with a blinker on top of every single course sign. They do a good job too – and the communities we run through left them unmolested and unstolen – something my tired ass self appreciated, while running through the night!

Night time legs were fairly short, and by this point we were actually running ahead of schedule. When we handed over our last runner to Van #2, we knew we only had about four hours to wait, before we were being handed back off at 3am, so we moved to the next major exchange, and took advantage of the facilities – Wes and I crashed on a gymnasium floor for a short while (I was cursing myself for not bringing a sleeping pad and pillow), and with showers and tents available, despite being a dark, late at night stop, there was still lots to do here.

Sleepy time #ragnargrelaycapecod #nesninjas

A photo posted by Paul Jones (@nespahtenspaul) on

By now, we’ve run two legs, been awake close to 24 hours – the van is stinky, we’re stinky, and this is where you find out if you picked good van mates – I’m very happy to report that every single person in Van #1 tolerated me the whole time! Yay! 3am rolled around, and it was time for Jess to head out on her final leg – getting everyone moving at the crack of dawn was rough enough – but after our van completed a couple of short legs, it was time for Jes to go and do her longest – 9 miles at 4am.

Huge kudos, I wouldn’t have liked to have that particular one – by now, it was very cold, some of us were under dressed, expecting warmer weather – and 9 miles is tough at any time of day, let alone 4am! I had my last leg to go, and the Ragnar rules state that if you leave before 6am, you need your night time gear, and as the minutes ticked down, and Jes was due in from her 9 miler, we were closer and closer to the 6am window.

I was shivering with cold, my legs were stiff by now, and I had 5.6 to do – Ragnar had marked this as a “hard” leg, and I was a little nervous. 6:01am – I took off my vest, headlamp and blinkie as Jes came around the corner and slapped off to me – what perfect timing! Off on my 5.6 mile “hard” and final leg. I immediately felt fast. The leg was held on paved rail trail, that was pretty much a straight line – totally paved – and slightly down hill – the “hard” rating mis-leading, because it was the easiest leg I’d done, but unsupported with little to no access to the van.

I managed a few more kills, and despite running like my legs were made of sticks, I kept a pretty good pace up – which, when I came into the final stretch – up a bridge, over a road, then down to the transition I kicked as high as I could and sprinted the final section, snagging my last, final and most satisfying kill of the event.

run3 I was done.

Paul is done. Wes (5) is up! #nesninjas #newenglandspahtens #ragnarrelaycapecod A photo posted by @ninjajessi on

After a couple more short legs, our van was wrapped up and our legs complete. I had run almost 16 miles, in about 24 hours – from the heat of a sunny, summery day to the crack of dawn and the rising mist. Rocking a New England Spahten’s drill shirt for each leg, and spending time with a van full of pretty incredible people, who I got to know better as we went. We hit up a Dunk’s, drove to the finish at P Town, and slowly unloaded, resorted and re-packed the van, cleaned some of our markings from the outside, and wandered / shuffled to the finish festival. I grabbed one of the ubiquitous Ragnar jackets, we had some very average free food and a couple of beers overlooking the harbor and docks, and slowly decompressed.

We weren’t done yet – Van #2 had to get their last runner in, and we still had a tradition of running across the line together to complete, before some final photos, hugs, and the long haul home.

Team #nesninjas crossing the finish line of #ragnarrelaycapecod #nespahtens

A video posted by Paul Jones (@nespahtenspaul) on

#nesninjas - Van 1I genuinely didn’t know what to expect going in. I was nervous, due to my own lack of training and preparation. I was also curious, because it’s an event that seems to speak to people, and pull them into the Ragnar life – and I can see why it does.

We’ve all had the Monday Blues. Maybe you went to a convention, or a retreat, or a race. With Ragnar, you spend two days with a small group of people – who, hopefully, all get along and like each other. You go through a lot together, and share moments together. On Monday, you have that feeling in the back of your mind – you can’t wait to do it again.

Neither can I.

#nesninjas - Van 1

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Featured Review: Ragnar Relay (Cape Cod 2014)

Huge thanks to Jeff Wohlen from the NE Spahten Mens team for this review of the recent Cape Cod Ragnar Relay!

76864_459595874402_4865546_nIntroduction
Ragnar Cape Cod is relay road race that runs from Hull, MA to Provincetown, MA on May 9 and 10 2014. Teams of 12 (regular team) or 6 (ultra team) took on a course that was broken down into 36 legs. Members of the regular teams each ran 3 legs while members of the ultra teams each ran 6 legs. The legs varied in length from a little over 2 miles all the way up to 13 miles. For regular teams, each runner took on between 12 and 22 miles of running.

Our team of 12 was broken down into 2 vans. Van 1 covered legs 1-6, 13-18, and 25-30 while van 2 covered legs 7-12, 19-24, and 31-36.

I was runner 2 in van 1 so this review will be written from that perspective. This means I only saw half the course and will be relying on accounts from members of van 2 to fill in the blanks.

Registration and Checkin
The registration process for van 1 was at the starting line in Hull. The captain was asked to sign in and fill out an informational sheet that included a cell phone number so the team could be contacted in an emergency or if they need to be disciplined for a course violation.

The informational sheet was then brought to the safety gear check where a volunteer made sure the van had 6 reflective vests, 2 working headlamps, and 2 flashing colored lights to wear on a runners back. After the volunteer checked off our gear, we were sent into a 15 minute safety briefing. Here everything rule and safety related was explained along with how violations will be handled. Each team was given 3 “strikes” and then they will be disqualified. If a team violates a major rule like drinking on course they would be immediately disqualified and kicked off the course.

Once the safety talk was done we picked up our van number sticker, bibs, slap bracelet (the runners baton), swag bag, a copy of the Rag Mag (maps, rules, etc), and an optional case of bottled water. After collecting the goods we got our tech t-shirt and headed back to the van so runner 1 could take off.

For a very complicated check-in process it flowed very well and they managed to keep the confusion to a minimal level. Part of the reason this process went so smoothly was that Ragnar did a great job of communicating with the teams prior to the race. They sent out numerous emails and provided a “Race Bible” to explain all of the required items and what to expect on race day. Most teams that we saw were very prepared for the race. Our only complaint was picking up the shirts at the start gave us something else to not lose and find space for. It may have made more sense to give these out at the end.

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The Race
Ragnar staggers teams starting times based on the average 10k mile time of the team. This information was collected when we registered and a few weeks before the race we were given a time. Each starting time included about 20 teams. After the racers were in the starting corral, the MC announced each team and hyped the crowd for the start. This is not a chipped time event. The teams are timed based on the difference between their starting time and finishing time.
Unlike a normal road race, Ragnar does not shut down roads or put up a lot of course markings. The general rule of thumb is to follow the direction of a course marking sign until you see another sign. Most of the time these signs either pointed you in the direction of the course, told you to run on the road or sidewalk, indicated that there was only 1 mile remaining, or gave some humorous inspirational advice. The course markers all had a blinking red light attached which made it very easy to find the next marker in the dark. There were a few times the marking signs were confusing or got accidentally bumped by a passing runner but overall it was a very easy system to follow.

10329880_649937885094561_6942815632275004316_oMost of the major intersections had a police detail to help runners cross the street. This was especially true at night. There was one situation at exchange 4 where there was a major intersection with no detail and it caused some runners to wait a long time or chance getting hit by a car. This seemed like it needed a lot more attention to be truly safe.

Between each leg were exchanges where the baton was handed off. The current runner enters the exchange and slaps the bracelet on the new runner who exits the exchange. The exchange corrals were taped off areas and only the next runner was allowed to wait in there. The rest of the team could watch from outside the tape. The exchange process could have been very confusing but as the runner approached the exchange, a volunteer radioed ahead to the exchange and the team number was yelled out. Once that happened the next runner jumped into the exchange and got ready. There were a few times where we couldn’t hear the next runner or they didn’t yell at all but these were few and far between and most of the time the runner could be seen from a distance anyway.

Most of the exchanges were straightforward but there were a few times where the incoming runner and the outgoing runner had to go the same way. This led to a few almost collisions. There were also a few exchanges where the outgoing runner didn’t exactly know where to go. Both of these things could have been fixed with a little more signage. Overall it was a very smooth and painless process.

About 1/3 of the race took place at night (6:30 pm to 6:00 am per Ragnar rules). Once nighttime began everyone in the van had to wear a vest whether they were running or not. The active runner also had to wear a headlamp and a blinking light on their back. This led to some awesome views on straightaways of dozens of red lights running in a row.

Downtime
Unlike most races, Ragnar has quite a bit of downtime. Most of it comes when your van has completed its current batch of legs and the other van is on course. For us these breaks were 3 to 5 hours long. During the breaks we stopped for food at a restaurant or parked at a major exchange and relaxed/tried to sleep. A major exchange is one where van 1 ends and van 2 takes over. These are normally bigger to accommodate double the number of vans and they contain more things to do. Many of the major exchanges had sponsor booths giving away samples of anything from drinks to beef jerky. Many also had vendors selling larger quantities of the items being sampled.

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The later big exchanges offered places to sleep and shower. These were in high schools where runners could place sleeping bags on the gymnasium floor and locker room showers were opened for use. Other major exchanges offered tent cities where sleeping could be attempted. We chose to try and sleep in the van at a major exchange parking lot to mixed results.

The only major exchange problem we had was at exchange 24 which was really small for the amount of activity it received. They offered an alternate spot about a mile away to relax and once we were within an hour of our starting time we were allowed into the actual exchange. The configuration of the lot was odd and resulted in a chaotic scene. We parked at the opposite end of the lot from the exchange and didn’t actually get to see our runner off because we didn’t think there would be time to walk back to the van, navigate our way through the chaos of the lot, and make it to exchange 25 in time.

10321652_649939168427766_6378085206149463416_oAnother unique downtime activity was decorating vans. You were free to decorate your van to suit the personality of the runners inside along with “tagging” other vans to let them know your team was there. It was a lot of fun to see the various ways teams decorated their vans along with the crazy ways other teams tagged those vans. We saw tags that varied from simple magnets slapped on other vans to a team impaling marshmallow peeps on antennas. It was crazy, creative, and awesome all at the same time.

The Finish
The finish in Provincetown consisted of a giant inflatable finish line and a large festival area. While the final runner was out on the course the other runners made their way to the finish area to be there for the completion of their journey. Most of the teams waited several hundred yards from the finish line and watched for their runner. Once the runner got to them, the entire team would finish together. This led to some epic and emotional finishes as teams that have pushed themselves to the limit complete their journey. As teams approached the finish, the finish line MC would call out the team name and number. From there a Ragnar photographer would take a team picture and a volunteer would give all of the team members their medals.

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NE Spahten Co-Eds coming to the finish

The festival area consisted of many of the same vendors found at the other exchanges giving out samples along with a free massage tent (tips were welcome). There was also a large inflatable building that sold Ragnar merchandise. They handled the merchandise situation better than just about any race I’ve ever attended. While we were free to buy anything in the merchandise tent, they were also making it known that we would receive a code via email to get free shipping in their online store which contained all of the same merchandise. This allowed people to look and try things on but purchase later at the same price. There was no need to buy more stuff on the spot only to have to find room for it in the van. I have already received my code and used it to buy a hoodie in the store. I wish more races did this because many times at the end of a race I don’t have time to get merchandise or the merchandise I want is sold out and not available online.

10298214_649161148505568_4920112878961563581_oAlong with our bibs we received coupons for a free beer provided by Sierra Nevada, a free burrito from Boloco, and a free bowl of chowder. The food and beer was found off to the side of the main festival area on the other side of a gift shop selling local Provincetown merchandise. They had a fairly large tent with tables and chairs setup that allowed people to enjoy their food in a relaxed environment. There weren’t a lot of food options available but the options we had were of a very high quality and definitely welcome after 192 miles.

There were several options for parking at the finish area. There were parking lots close to the finish line that charged a nominal fee but they also had a free lot about a mile away that came with a free shuttle.

Conclusion
This was an event unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The amount of effort required to put on an event of this magnitude must be mind blowing. After seeing how epic a Ragnar event is, I have no problem with the $1200 team registration fee. As a team though, we did have an issue with the way volunteers were handled. Each team had to provide 3 volunteers or pay an additional $120 for each volunteer under 3. We felt that after spending $1200 on the race the threat of another $360 fee was excessive. This is not a knock on the volunteers themselves. Every volunteer we came across was friendly and awesome even when they were stuck directing van parking at 2:30 am. The volunteers deserve a lot of credit for how awesome this event was.

It took us all of 2 legs to realize we want to run this race next year. Ragnar did several things to the New England Spahten Men’s team. It challenged us in ways we have never been challenged before. It made us push each other to accomplish new personal records beyond what we thought was possible. Most of all though, it made 12 guys lifelong friends by giving them an unforgettable experience.