To be fair I only did a fraction of the relay. And I did it in October.
Yeah, I’m behind the damn times.
For those of you who don’t know- Ragnar is a series of 200 (ish) mile relays you complete with a team of runners (ideally friends).
You can have anywhere from 6 runners (this means you have 1 van, and you’re always moving), up to 12 runners (2 vans, and you will have some time to rest/get out of the van, etc).
I have honestly wanted to do a Ragnar race since 2014, and the biggest barrier has been finding 11 other people (plus 2 drivers) who are crazy enough to join you. Earlier in the year a group of 10 of us, all committed to doing the Bourbon Chase as a means to honor a great man and friend who ran with us.
One of the biggest misconceptions I think is out there is that you HAVE TO have 12 runners – not true – you can have less, you just need to assign extra legs.
Our day started on a Friday morning at Jim Beam, where we all met to see off our first runner and Van 1. Since I was in Van 2, I opted to try a few bourbon samples (highly recommend the Jim Beam Honey).
Once we saw Badge off, Van 1 headed out to their first exchange point, and we (Van 2) headed out to Makers Mark- which is where the first major exchange between van 1 and Van 2 took place. We had a few hours – so we stopped along the way at Willet Distillery, and found a fantastic dive bar: Clarks Tavern.
We did need to get to Makers early enough to get checked in. I was worried that this was going to be a messy process because there were SO many people!! However, I was wrong, they hand your captain a check in clipboard, everyone in that van shows their I.D., and mandatory safety gear. Once that happens we get a stamp, and are allowed into the tent to view a safety video (getting another stamp), once these steps are completed we are allowed to get our bibs.
Considering the amount of people milling around it was really simple and organized.
Once the first runner in our van was off it was time for van 1 to rest and get something to eat, and van 2 to hit the road. When your van is moving TIME FLIES because you constantly have something to do like searching for your runner as you drive to the next exchange point, making sure your next runner (runner on deck) is ready to go, we also tried to take care of one another and would get water ready for whoever was coming in. Depending on the distance the runner is going (3.5 versus 9 miles) that determines how quickly you need to move to the next exchange point.
Around 9pm we handed off back to van 1, this was our time to sleep – so we went to a local high school that charges $5/runner to let you sleep in the gym. I maintain this was the best $5 I spent all weekend since it was the only time between Friday morning and Saturday afternoon that I was horizontal. I think I was one of the only people in our van who slept at the gym. We had a really hasty wake up because Van 1 decided to be fast (to be fair it was night and raining)- so we rolled out of that gym faster than a snow cone melting in hell.
So yeah, be prepared to have naps, and snacks in your van, and piss in ditch.
My first leg was around sunset, and 7.3 miles, it was nice to have light for most of that leg. My second leg, was around 2-2:30 am, and 5.4 miles, and my last leg was early Saturday afternoon, and 6.5 miles.
They were all challenging as Kentucky is by far MUCH hillier than Lansing.
We were able to see Jim Beam, Makers, Four Roses (I think – I slept through that) – but some angel in our van brought back Four Roses bourbon truffles (drools) & Wild Turkey. The relay starts in Louisville and ends in Lexington, and is approximately 204 miles.
You finish right in downtown Lexington, and the post race party is just everything, there was pizza (I’ve never been so excited to see chain pizza), and we had 4 bourbon tasting tickets, and an opportunity to get some Ragnar Merchandise.
Overall this was one of the most amazing running experiences I have ever been apart of. The level of camaraderie between (most) vans, and runners is just so cool, I’ve never been told “good job”, or “hey” so many times. It’s important to note this isn’t really a race – I mean it is and it isn’t, you’re really just trying to push yourself to help your team. I had runners around me for legs 1 & 2, meaning I was passing and being passed. My last leg was challenging as there was no one around except the horses. By that point I was only getting passed by the SUPER FAST people who don’t even start until Friday late afternoon evening, which was a little sucky, but what was also cool is almost every single one said something along the lines of “hey”, or “good job” (as they were flying by me).
In terms of the racing aspect you are really racing yourselves – your captain submits an overall time that is based on each runner’s estimate of a pace they can maintain for their legs. You’re supposed to be realistic, and must be within 60-90 minutes either way of the time you submit – to prevent people being on the course too long, or teams sandbagging (that was us).
No headphones are allowed, and safety gear is required even if you’re not running at night. You can still listen to music – but it just needs to be playing openly – sorry to anyone who doesn’t like Kid Rock.
When we sent our last runner out onto the course, we told her to take her time- for several reasons: 1) she’s fast and needed to be told that, 2) we wanted to ensure we had enough time to meet up with van 1 in downtown Lexington, park, and get to the finish line to meet her; as it is allowed (and encouraged) to finish as an entire team.
Which honestly was the most emotional part of this entire journey, because we all wore our team shirts, and were able to toast our dear friend Nick.
Once you finish you have access to the post race party – which was insane. There was food, and bourbon tasting – which in retrospect was maybe questionable as we were all starved, exhausted, and mildly dehydrated.
All I can say is I’ve never devoured a Papa John’s pizza and bourbon so fast, and the shower I had a few hours later never felt so good.
In the end- I would highly encourage anyone who is considering it to get a team together and do a Ragnar Relay.
*Remember, I am not cool enough to have been paid by Ragnar for this – all opinions are my own.