First off, what is a Ragnar Relay?
Named after a 9th century Norse Viking commander, Ragnar Lodbrok, who was an adventure seeker, living life to its fullest, taking risks, and really pushing himself to conquer each and every obstacle placed in his path. Ragnar's founders were inspired by this limit-pushing Viking to create a series of overnight relay races across the United States. Meant to bring people together through a shared love of running, adventure, challenges and more -- Ragnar relays have taken off in the past few years. Whether its twelve people in two vans running the approximately 200 miles of the relay or six people in one van running an ultra, it sure is an experience.
Now that you know what a Ragnar relay is, lets get to telling you about my personal experience participating in Ragnar Key West - starting in Miami on January 4th and ending in Key West on January 5th. Prior to arriving in Florida, I had been assigned leg #4 which meant I would be running legs #4, #16, and #28 out of 36 legs divided into different mileage amounts. Pause for freakout when I learned that I would be running over a series of bridges leaving main land Florida and arriving in Key Largo. Second freakout moment, learn that I would be running these legs after sundown. Prepare self and get down to Miami on January 3rd to begin 2013 off right with an adventure of a totally unique sort.
4:30am, January 4th, ding ding, my alarm was going off letting me know it was time to get dressed and get in our van to drive to the starting line located at Historic Virginia Key Park Trust just a short drive over Rickenbacker Causeway from South Beach. Yes it was still definitely dark out after we received our safety briefing and we were waiting to send off our first runner to kick off our Ragnar race!
6:30am and our first runner was off! Adrenaline pumping, lets get going, the other four of us (yes we only had five in our van) had to get to our first exchange so that runner number two could be ready for the handoff. Getting in our van, we sped through the sleepy streets of Miami to arrive at Exchange number one with time to spare. Runner number one arrived and handed off the snap bracelet / baton to runner number two. Ok, I think we got the hang of this, we would send our runner off, hop in the van, drive to the next exchange and await our next runner. Three runners down and it was time for me to start running, I had a four mile leg that took me through the streets of South Miami starting at Fellowship Church and ending at Tropical Park. As the race had waved starts of the 500 teams involved, I was never really running with more than a handful of people at a time but that didn't matter, my race mentality kicked in the second that orange snap bracelet was placed on my wrist.
Running next to the large expanses of road in Miami, I got to thinking how lucky I was to have the opportunity to participate in this amazing experience, definitely a once in a life time moment. Pausing to recognize how running truly makes me who I am and that this relay race was a great way to start 2013 off right as a runner.
By 9am, I had finished my first Ragnar leg; thoughts buzzing through my head about how I would just be getting ready to go into the office if I were home in New York City. But no, I was hopping back into our white van to speed off to the next exchange.
Two more legs down and van one of Team 476 had finished our first round of running and it was just 10:15am. What were we supposed to do till we started running again in the town of Homestead, Florida?
How about breakfast - lunch - dinner all rolled into one?
Egg whites with spinach, sundried tomatoes, mushrooms, caramelized onions and Gruyere and a green salad.
Now what? With over another three hours to kill before we started again we decided to head to Exchange 12 where we would start our second legs hours later. Van number two was running behind giving us extra time to explore the ins and outs of the Homestead Raceway track (exchange 12). The race provided you with s'mores, water, and free massages at this stop should you feel the desire to fuel yourself or loosen up your muscles. Sitting and waiting at this race track in small-town Florida, you really had the time to think about what's come before and what was next to come -- both in the race and in life.
4:15pm, close to twelve hours since we woke up, the first runner in our van started running again. Reflective vests on, headlamps perched atop our heads and flashing butt lights for safety purposes were put on by the entire team. Time to resume our running and our van travelling, this time it was going to be in gator country and it was going to get dark before we knew it! Southern Glades Park was coming up -- runners two and three had the pleasure of running on a dirt trail alongside a canal populated apparently with gators and well nothing really to see.
8pm, close to two hours after I was supposed to start my second leg I started running at the base of the South Glades Canal trail, up a ramp and onto US 1, the highway stretching from one snowy end of the East coast to the sunny beachy other end of the coast. I was to run on the shoulder of the highway with cars coming towards me, with my headlamp, reflective vest, butt lamp and of course my tunes on full blast. Originally I had been worried about going over the bridges that connected mainland Florida with the keys but I did not have to worry remotely about that as I could not see much of anything besides the on-coming lights of cars, and when there were no cars, it was just me and the stars and of course the smells of low tide, not particularly pleasant when you are doing an 11.8 mile run at night. Water station one passed, symbolizing I was a third finished with my run, then came water station number two symbolizing I was half done. A quick stop and removal of my head lamp to pour water over my head and whoops the head lamp strap broke, fifteen minutes of frustrated fiddling later I was back on the road. Focusing on getting to Key Largo, I zoned out and started meditating to get through the remainder of my run. A whirlwind of one foot in front of another, I had arrived in Key Largo and was not far from the exchange. Minutes later I had handed off my snap bracelet to the next runner, it was past 9pm and we had two more runners to go before a quick respite at a hotel in Marathon, Florida, somewhat apropos of a town to stop in, right?
It was past midnight by the time we entered our hotel room, all of us exhausted and ready for a shower and a bed for a few hours of shut-eye.
Ding, ding, it was 4:30am and time to get moving to the nearby exchange. Our first runner started running just past 6am when our original projection was 3am, whoops, we were behind schedule! Runner one checked off the rest of Marathon, Florida and it was time for runner two to cross seven mile bridge, the bridge made famous by True Lies and truly the beginning of the keys! Sunrise running on a bridge, check! Runner three finished up his last leg and it was time for me to run 3.5 miles starting in Big Pine Key and finishing in Mariposa at National Key Deer Refuge. How was I going to do on so little sleep and over twenty four hours in a van? Time would only tell! 21 minutes later, I had finished my last 3.5 miles to conclude my three legs and my portion of the Ragnar Relay.
Wow! What a whirlwind! I had done it! I had decided to take on the challenge of an overnight relay of 200 miles stretching from Miami to the Florida Keys and had done better than I expected on each of my legs. People told me I was crazy for doing this and that it was a ridiculous way to spend a vacation but it was one of the best and most unusual and unique experiences of my life. A great way to start off 2013 on the right foot by a challenge unlike anything other -- pushing myself to my limits in more ways than one. Here's to a year of eye-opening experiences, unbelievable adventures, crazy challenges, and lots of laughter!