Dear Novice Ragnar Runner

Posted April 25, 2016 in
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You’ve followed through on your New Year’s resolution of getting fit, feeling healthy and strong, and you’re looking for your next challenge. A friend suggests a Ragnar Road Relay, a 200ish-mile race, with 6–12 other people. An endurance race, a run-cation, a party—the Ragnar Relay Series is many things to many people, which can make it challenging to articulate what to expect. With a hint of sarcasm, they say, “It will be fun.” Having completed 10 Ragnar Relays, I offer my guidance to you, the Novice Ragnar Runner, to the ups and downs, fun and straight-up craziness that you should expect.

SLUG writer Mariah Mann Mellus surveys the view from the top of Ragnar Hill.

Of course you wanted to start with the hometown race, so you’ll be running the toughest one first. The Wasatch back is the mother of all Ragnars—the one that started it all. As the relay series continues to gain popularity around the country, participants, also known as Ragnarians, flock to Utah to test their legs out on our beautiful and rugged mountains.  With high elevation climbs, steep descents and hot Utah summer temps, this race is touted as one of the hardest that the series has to offer, but you’re a Utahn, so you’re up for anything.   

Being prepared is key to having fun on a Ragnar. First things first: you must train. Don’t think that just because you run three to six miles a few days a week that you’re ready to Ragnar. These courses are not set up to be easy. Repeat Ragnarians demand a challenge, and Ragnar HQ always delivers. The race directors frequently change the courses to optimize resources, decrease traffic and sometimes, they do it just for shits and giggles, literally—port-a-potties and ambience are always a consideration.  As a runner, it’s your job to look over the course maps and distances, though they may change before the race. Get in a mind set of how far you’ll be running and the elevation of each run. Runs are labeled “easy” to “very hard,” and elevation is a big determiner in that classification. 

Begin pacing yourself. You’ll be asked to enter in your 10K pace into your team’s registration page. Don’t try to be a hotshot and underestimate that time. Ragnar uses that time to assign your start time and determine your team’s approximate finish time. Given that this is a relay race, everyone uses that pace calculator religiously to estimate when to be at the next exchange.  An accurate pace is essential to a successful and smooth relay race.

Your indoctrination into Ragnar Nation begins the minute you pick up your race packet. Ragnar has an infectious energy. From the required safety video that resembles a Reno 911 episode to the neon-orange slap bracelet used in lieu of a relay baton, everything Ragnar does has flair. Don’t fight it—just join in, get silly and pack a wig, crazy socks and extra glow sticks. Everyone’s a winner in this race, so relax and have some fun. What couldunspecified-2 be more fun than dancing around in light-up wigs and tutus in a parking lot with a bunch of sleep-deprived strangers?

Running is typically an individual sport, but not a Ragnar Relay. Something about cramming in 6–12 super charged, sweaty, highly decorated bodies into a vehicle makes everyone fast friends. My first Ragnar was the Vegas relay. My childhood best friend drank the Ragnar Kool-Aid and was singing its praises! I joined her and 10 virtual strangers on an all-girls team, and 32 hours, later I had 10 new friends and a lifetime of inside jokes. Of course, there are times when everyone doesn’t get along. I’m no longer allowed to be the navigator if I’m slightly tired, and I have faked being asleep to avoid a conversation or two, but somehow, as the team ticks away the miles and we cheer each other on, you shake off the annoyances and monotony of life and focus on enjoying the moments. 

Every Ragnarian talks about the magic of the Night Run. Running in the dark in an unknown place can be scary. For safety reasons everyone is required to run with a headlamp, a reflective vest and what we lovingly call a “butt flasher” or a “rear taillight.” Under the cover of night, armed with your safety reflectors, you take off alone. Distances vary for each runner’s position, so you could be out there for 30 minutes or an hour and 30 minutes. I find it best to just settle in and enjoy the solitude afforded by the cover of night: just you, the moon, the stars and the blinking lights of your fellow night runners.

After surviving the close quarters of van life, creatures of the night, the hot sweaty days and little access to indoor plumbing, you do have a right to brag, and Ragnar offers lots of opportunities to become “Bragnars.”  Ragnar temporary tattoos are handed out in your race packet before you even begin running. Throughout the race, teams compete in a Instagram photo contest and upon finishing the race, you receive the infamous Ragnar window sticker, aka a runner’s car’s tramp stamp.

It’s bittersweet, entering the finish line. As thrilled as you are to finish, you wish it didn’t have to end. Luckily, Ragnar has dozens of road and trail relay races across the country, so grab your new friends, pick your next adventure and tell them, “Don’t worry: it will be fun.”