Before I ran Reach the Beach, everyone warned me that I would get addicted to Ragnar Relays. Now I understand why people do. It’s tough to compare a Ragnar to a traditional race (like a half or full marathon), but Reach the Beach might be my favorite race to date. While it’s easy to describe the logistics of a Ragnar, it’s much harder to share the atmosphere of the race with someone who’s never run one. I’ll do my best to try. For those who haven’t read my recent blog posts, New Balance asked me over the summer to run Reach the Beach with their blogger and media team. I had no idea what to expect but was slightly concerned that everyone else’s pace would be much faster than mine. Regardless, I accepted the offer and started a training plan for the race after SeaWheeze in August.
Last Thursday, our team toured the New Balance Factory, Sports Research Lab, and Innovation Studio in Boston. Following the tours, we drove to the beautiful (and haunted) Bretton Woods Ski Resort in New Hampshire. The plan was to stay overnight at the resort before starting the race at 6:30am Friday morning. Ragnar arranged for a staggered start with the faster teams starting later in the day, so that all teams would finish around the same time on Saturday. The photos in this post are courtesy of Reach the Beach. New Balance followed our team (#GirlsRunBeta) around with cameras all weekend, but the video won’t be ready to share for another week.
First, I need to explain the relay logistics. Ragnars are a series of overnight, 200-mile relay races that you run as a team of 12 (or 6 for ultra teams). One runner races at a time. The other runners follow along in two vans. Everyone races 3 legs of the relay. Van 1 started the relay in Bretton Woods. Runners 1-6 ran their first legs. During that time, Van 2 (my van) ate breakfast at a restaurant and drove to meet at the transition area after their legs. At that point, Runners 7-12 of Van 2 completed their legs. Vans switched back and forth to complete three legs each. When my van was not running, we were eating, sleeping, or driving to a transition area. When we were running, we would follow our runners along their routes to offer water and moral support. There were over 500 other teams running the race (1,000+ vans).
Leg 1 – 8.1 miles // Friday @ 3pm // Madison, NH — As Runner 10, I had quite a bit of time to relax before my first leg. This also gave the temperature time to climb to 90 degrees. I’ve mentioned before that I have a difficult time running in the heat. I also don’t love to carry water. As my luck would have it, this 8.1 mile stretch was a No Support leg. On most legs, vans were able to pull over on the side of the road for support. On these roads, filled with rolling hills and no tree coverage, it would be unsafe to pull over. I started out running strong but was quickly overheating. Thankfully, Van 2 found a spot to pull over at Mile 3 to give me water. I continued on and felt myself slowing down for a bit until I saw a water station around Mile 6. Somewhere around Mile 6.5, I started to fall apart because of the heat. I had to break my run into walk, jog, and run intervals to keep myself going. Thankfully, I pulled it together and sprinted the last .5 miles to meet my team at the transition. I felt dehydrated but relieved that my longest leg was done.
Leg 2 – 3.5 miles // Saturday @ 3am // Barnstead, NH — Yes, you read that right. I ran at 3am with a headlamp, lighted hat, reflective vest, and blinking beacons. Many people get nervous about this leg because you are running on back roads in complete darkness. And there may or may not be any runners near you. I decided not to stress about the darkness and instead felt grateful that the temperature had dropped to 55 degrees. This leg was also my shortest and had an elevation loss of nearly 300 feet. After having slept for about 2 hours, I changed into my night gear and waited at the transition area in Barnstead with very few runners. I’ve always been a strong cool weather and nighttime runner, so I wasn’t surprised at my quick pace during this leg. I opted to listen to hardcore rap music while I ran as fast as I could under the stars. Interestingly, I didn’t feel like I was running outside. I felt like I was in an empty bubble or tunnel of darkness where I could only see 3-5 feet in front of me. I passed two runners along the way but was mostly alone and moving as fast as I could. As I came off the highway and into the next transition area, I was shocked to find that I PR’d my 5K at an average pace of 8:59/mile on this leg. It was an incredibly fun experience.
Leg 3 – 4.1 miles // Saturday @ 1:30pm // North Hampton, NH — By the time my final leg rolled around, I was tired and stressing about the 95-degree temperature. I also found that I’d be running a hilly, No Support leg on the freeway. At least this leg was half the distance of my first. I applied a generous amount of sunscreen and set out to crush my last few miles. I felt strong for the first half of this leg and was thankful to have a water station. In the middle of the leg was a long incline onto an overpass. I told myself I would make it to the top without walking. While my pace slowed, I made it up and over the hill. I did take two quick walk breaks but ran a much faster average pace than I did during my first leg. I again sprinted toward my team when the transition area was in sight. There were only two legs until the finish line at Hampton Beach!
When the final runner was nearing the finish line, all 12 of us crossed together. We were given medals and enjoyed burritos and beer before heading back to Boston. With two very hot and difficult legs, you might be wondering why I consider this race one of my favorites. There are two reasons. First, I’m incredibly proud of myself. Before being invited to Reach the Beach, I thought that Ragnars were only for intense runners. I mean, who wants to sit in a van for 24+ hours, run in the middle of the night, and brave unexpected weather? It turns out, I’m an intense runner. I can run and recover (and PR!) under challenging circumstances. That girl, the one who hadn’t run more than 3 consecutive miles two years ago, contributed 16 miles to a 201 mile relay. The second reason I loved this race was because of my team. #GirlsRunBeta was stacked with inspiring women. All of the invited bloggers also have a second job. All of the editors are quickly climbing the ladder at their publications. While some ran faster than others, every woman supported the team with water, a cowbell, or a silly dance at any hour of the day. I’m a big advocate of women supporting other women. This team was an excellent example of that.
I want to close my recap with a few packing tips. Before I left for Boston, I referred to Ragnar packing lists online and want to comment on what I used most and least during the race. What should you definitely pack? Pack three full outfits (down to socks and undies) for each leg in individual Ziploc bags. Also pack a foam roller/stick, comfortable clothes for downtime, phone chargers, headphones, fuel, sunscreen, wet wipes, and a sleeping bag. What might you leave at home? My team’s biggest mistake was buying so much food at the grocery store, as there is time to stop at restaurants. I also didn’t use any of my entertainment, such as magazines, along the way. There was plenty going on to keep the team entertained. The only question I’m left with is whether it’s too soon to start planning my next Ragnar? Hawaii, SoCal, Austin, anyone?!
A huge thank you to New Balance for sponsoring this life-changing experience!