Ragnar Ultra Relay Northwest Passage Race Recap

Holy Moses I need to get this post up!

It’s been two weeks since all the epicness of Ragnar Northwest Passage commenced, and I need to nail down my recap before it all falls out of my brain.

I did this same relay last year with this same* team, and although I knew a bit more about what to expect, I was still apprehensive about how 35+ miles of running in 30 hours was going to feel.

*our team name and three of the team members were the same…there were also three new peeps!

Regardless of my nerves, I was so excited to be in Washington with some awesome running friends and to be doing what I love. I was also lined up to be the first runner in the relay, which I was ecstatic about. In the two ultra-style relays I’ve done, I’ve always been the last runner which is a giant mental battle to deal with on top of the physical challenges. Needless to say, I was carrying a “one and done” attitude with me.

Our Team: Six Pack with Racks

startline

Here’s the quick-and-dirty of who comprised our small team of 6…in runner order!

Runner #1: Me, boring.

Runner #2: Lauren —the incredible captain behind the whole operation. Lauren ensured everything ran smoothly and tackled some high mileage herself.

Runner #3: Marilyn — the “relay rookie” who dominated basically the entire time. She had lots of miles and ran them all with a smile on her face.

Runner #4: Jordanne — the “underdog” who hedged her running abilities before we even started, and then managed to kill all her runs and made us all laugh the whole time.

Runner #5: Nicole — the comeback kid. Poor girl had some bad stomach problems early on, but by her last run was proclaiming her love for running and dancing with animals, literally.

Runner #6: Bethany — the closer. Bethany took my spot from last year as the 6th runner, and she proved to be incredibly resilient and determined as she tackled some tough and long-awaited legs.

Driver: Travis! Having a driver this year was huge, and we were all in awe the entire time of how patient and easy-going Travis was. Thanks for loaning your husband as our chauffeur, Marilyn!

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Leg 1

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I kicked off our race at 9 am with a 13.1 mile run starting in Blaine, WA, which is right on the border of Canada. I was excited about this leg, but I also knew it had the potential to take a lot out of me for the rest of the race — so I decided to just take it easy and enjoy the running.

I loved starting at the actual start line of Ragnar, and everyone’s energy was on fire as we made our way out of the shoot. I quickly fell into step with another ultra team runner (number 129 in the photo above!), and we starting chatting away about our teams, our relay experiences, and everything under the sun. The two of us stayed together for NINE miles, talking the entire time, which made the time fly by. I found out that her (Amy) husband works for the same company in Seattle that I used to work for, AND they live in West Seattle which (as most of you probably know) is my former beloved neighborhood. Bascially…besties.

But, besties aside, this was still a “race,” and when Amy started to slow down a little bit, I decided to finish the leg on my own. Bye bye! When I broke away from her, we started running along the water and I was completely overwhelmed with a joyous feeling. Ocean! Running! Washington! All of it merged together into a giant cloud of happiness, and I was loving it! I also started passing a lot of people, which only fueled the run-love I was already basking in.

Before I knew it, my own personal half marathon was done and I handed off the slap bracelet to Lauren. I was ecstatic to be done with my first (and longest) run and to have felt SO good the entire way. When Amy came in I thanked her for all the miles we spent together, and good news…she didn’t begrudge me for leaving her behind 🙂

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Onto the next!

Leg 2

My second leg started around 8 pm that night, and after a long day of waiting around, I was ready to run again! This leg also started from a major exchange, so there were lots of runners and people to get energy from. This leg was 8.6 miles or so, and while that distance on its own wasn’t really overwhelming, the thought of running it after my 13.1 that morning was little scary.

Pre-run 2, finding friends!

Pre-run 2, finding friends!

But, the show must gone on, and after Bethany came running through the exchange, off I went.

Photo Jul 18, 7 56 04 PM

Immediately I could tell that this run was going to be different than the first. The scenery beforehand had been beachy and full of little snow-cone shops and kayak huts. This second run was along city streets in a town that was full of projects and closed businesses. Needless to say, it wasn’t exactly scenic, and honestly if I had been running it out on my own…I probably wouldn’t have felt particularly safe.

But with decorated vans and headlamps abound, it was all good. My legs were definitely fatigued though, and after 4 miles or so, I could feel all the hills that covered this leg. My energy was draining a little bit too, and I tried to just focus on getting to the end.

Around mile 6.5 or so, in an effort to boost my mood and energy, I took a couple of chews which immediately improved just about everything. My form straightened up, my pace quickened, and my attitude brightened. I knew we were over the bigger hills on this leg, so I decided to push it to the end a little (mainly to get things over with…). And pushing it was so fun! I was running a mid-low 7 minute pace, which isn’t anything wild, but it felt great to turn my legs over and crank out some faster miles.

I think I got a little too carried away though, because when I trotted into the exchange…there was no team member to be found! I stood there like a lost child with a slap bracelet in hand and no one to hand it off to. Luckily, my team was on their way over, and quickly hopped-to as soon as they realized I was already there.

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2 runs out of 4 done! Now it was time to “sleep” and get through those long nighttime hours.

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 Run 3

This was the run I was probably the most wary about out of the 4. I was scheduled to start around 4 am, and this would be my hilliest run by far; mainly climbing and not a lot of descending. It was 7.3 miles, which again isn’t bad relatively, but after 21+ miles the day before and very little van sleeping, I knew it would be a challenge.

Keep smiling friends! It's 3 am!

Keep smiling friends! It’s 3 am!

Photo Jul 19, 3 53 01 AM

And right out of the gate, it certainly was a challenge. My legs were heavy and tired, and there was a sharp head wind combined with rain hitting me right in the face. Just lovely. The first part of this run was a straight shot on a paved bike path along some railroad yards, so it wasn’t exactly scenic. But that didn’t really matter, considering it was very dark anyway and all I could really see was the ground 20 feet in front of me.

Once I ran through the first exchange and continued on to the second leg of the run, things started to improve a bit. We entered a very woodsy area, and the familiar smell of damp bark and pine was super comforting and gave me a nice little boost. We were climbing and climbing seemingly forever, but I did what I could and managed to keep a steady pace. At one point I looked up and saw a long stream of blinking red lights all along the road in front of me, which was a nice reminder that I was definitely not alone.

I savored any minor descent I got, which seemed to only be met with an even longer climb. Eventually though, the lights of the exchange came into view, and after trudging up what was the steepest hill of the run, I handed off to Lauren as she sped off to traverse the rest of Whidbey Island.

Only one left!

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Run 4

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I was supremely ready to be done when it came time for my last run around noon. It was a 6.2 miler, and I wanted to see if I could push my pace a little bit—namely to just get ‘er done (I’d been running between 8:30-45). After nearly 30 miles though, I knew it would be a challenge.

"Do I have to?"

“Do I have to?”

I tried to psych myself up as much as I could, and when Bethany came around the corner, it was go time…time to finish this biz!

Pretty sure I said, "Oh shit" as this photo was being taken.

Pretty sure I said, “Oh shit” as this photo was being taken.

The start of this leg went all along an open field, which was pretty but really exposed and a wicked headwind was making any kind of “speedy” pace I’d been wanting to run a struggle. I was clipping along around an 8-minute mile and then I’d get blasted by a gust that would totally throw off my groove. Let it be known: I really, really don’t like the wind.

After a couple miles though, we turned left at the coastline and once again I was running along the water. Hurrah! This lasted all of three minutes, and immediately the course routed back inland up what was easily the steepest hill of my race. Womp womp. But, I knew that this climb was going to be rewarded with a nice long gradual downhill, so I didn’t waste any time attempting to power my way up.

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Once reaching the “summit,” I immediately quickened my turnover to take advantage of the descent, and all remnants of fatigue in my legs seemed to disappear. I was flying! It felt so good to move a little quicker, and with just a few miles to go, the delicious knowledge that I was about to be done started to seep happiness into my brain — which then worked its way through my whole body.

I looked down at my watch as I continued to trek closer to my own personal finish line, and while the speed wasn’t anything wild, it was still the fastest I’d run all weekend. I felt strong, I felt so much gratitude, and most importantly…I felt like me. After months of not feeling quite like myself, I cannot describe the joy of finally feeling like the runner I know I am. After 35 miles of running, a 7 minute pace magically felt effortless and freeing, and once again running proved that it can have magical powers.

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I turned a corner, and there was my team, ready to finish their own runs. I couldn’t contain my smile…I was DONE. All hopped up on run love, and ready to bask in the adrenaline of a great relay.

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It was so fun spending the remainder of the day cheering in my teammates as they finished up their legs. We had such a great team dynamic, and spending 32 hours with them was easily the best part of this whole shebang. Relays have a funny way of bonding people; through the abnormal nature of these beasts, there’s a unique camaraderie formed through a shared passion, shared pain, and shared experience.

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We finished in just over 32 hours, and every minute of it was a blast. I loved this group and I loved the fact that just a few months ago, I didn’t think I’d be able to pull this off. And in case anyone was keeping track…I did not have to stop for a bathroom once on any of my runs. Not…once.

Thank you SO MUCH to Six Pack with Racks for including me once again on this adventure. I loved spending time with these gals (and guy) in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

When’s the next one?? 🙂

 

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2 thoughts on “Ragnar Ultra Relay Northwest Passage Race Recap

  1. Pingback: 2014: The Year of Everything | Run Birdie Run

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