Thanks to my amazing husband, I got the chance to run the Ragnar Relay from Miami to Key West this year. See, a girl I had volunteered with at the Palm Beach Marathon had posted that her team was looking for a runner about 2 weeks prior to the run on February 7. I had mentioned it to Kert since I had planned on running it in 2015. He told me to go, but I was hesitant because I had 3 halves in February already and I don’t train and do long runs & then there was the logistics of our daughter. I let it go and then 5 days before I would have to be in Miami, we were talking and he had obviously thought it out already. He said “just go”, and had a whole plan of who was going to watch our daughter. I said ok and within a couple hours, I was officially part of the Moxie Ladies and a Dude team!
So what is a Ragnar Relay? Well to put it shortly, it’s complete awesomeness!! There are typically 12 runners and 2 drivers in 2 separate vans. Each runner will run 3 different “legs” of the race in a relay style while handing off a slap bracelet baton. You live in the van for 36 hours, or however long it takes your team to get from the start to the finish. You don’t sleep right and you don’t eat properly, so those last runs can be pretty hard. And a shower? Hahaha! Good luck getting a real one.
It was Thursday February 7, and it was time to go. My daughter was picked up and I hopped in the car to head south. I dropped my car off at one of the other girl’s parent’s house and they took us to the Fort Lauderdale Airport where we met the team captain and some others. This is what it looked like while we waited to get our rental vans.
After getting the vans all packed with our supplies & clothes, we headed to the hotel in Miami.
So what do you do when you meet a whole bunch of strangers that you’ll be stuck in a van with for 36 hours?
Go get a shot of Fireball of course.
Welcome to (most of) Team Moxie Ladies and a Dude!
Lucky for me, I was in van #2 which did not require an extra early wake up. Our van #1 had to be to the start line by 5:30 am, and we had to be to our exchange start at 9am. The exchanges are where one runner comes in and the next runner starts. Then there are the major exchanges where the last runner from van #1 comes in and the first runner from van #2 goes out. After grabbing some quick Dunkin Donuts for breakfast around 8am(remember this for later), we got to the major exchange and got our van checked in and through a safety briefing. One of the good things about Ragnar is they are very big on safety! Every runner and driver has to have a reflective vest for night time hours, and the runners are required to have headlamps and blinking rear lamps on during the night runs. On top of that, they have course officials randomly driving through to make sure the runners have their safety equipment on.
I was the first runner in our van, so once our van #1 group arrived at the exchange we knew it wouldn’t be long before I was off. Here’s (most of) our team, minus 2 runners and 1 driver. I didn’t meet all of our team members until half way through the run.
It was about 10am when I set out on my first run of 4.2 miles through Miami. I figured I would just run how I felt, but man was it hot. It was already hovering around 80° with no shade. So what did I do? Took off faster than I should. I slowed it down after the first mile and kept steady. Although you don’t think about the long stop lights you have to wait at to cross some of the roads in Miami. Here I am half way through my first run.
And here I am marking off my first run as done!
Um, so why are we writing on the van? I’m not really sure how it all started, but I guess it’s just tradition when you run a Ragnar Relay. You “decorate” your van to represent your team. You also keep track of finishing each leg of the race that you run, “kills” which are when you pass another runner on your leg, and a certain bodily function. Yeah, that’s too much info. I know. But seriously, you do it a lot when your running on water, snacks, and energy gels/shots/chews.
Since each leg is a different distance, we would stop at every couple miles to cheer on our runner and see if they needed any water, Gatorade, etc. while running. Everyone has cowbells! The locals probably get tired of hearing them. One of the fun parts is that you cheer on every runner you see, not just your own. That’s such a great thing about the running community. Since it was unusually hot, we had made sure we had ice in our van at all times and cold water. There were a few people on our first runs who were struggling with the heat, so we gave out ice and water. There were also other teams who gave out cold waters to our team members too. Again, the running community is awesome!!
Remember when I had breakfast? 8am at Dunkin Donuts. Well, I finally got some Pollo Tropical around 4pm just after our final runner went out for her run. I was STARVING!! That was essentially me for three days. This girl eats! Three meals a day and snacks, so the pretzels and cookie butter weren’t quite cutting it.
We got to the next major exchange where our runner came into the Homestead Speedway and I finally got to meet all of our team! Once our final runner finished, we were on our way to find the others in the van food and then headed to our next exchange.
We got to the exchange in Tavernier around 7pm I think. We had the option to donate $3 to the high school that was the exchange to get a shower in their gym. I opted to take a shower, but it’s more like camping showering and I didn’t get to dry my hair. Oh well. After the shower it was time to try to sleep. Don’t get me wrong, I was tired, but since I knew I would be running 10 miles around 3am, I just couldn’t go to sleep. I had laid out a tarp in one of the grassy areas, had my pillow and blanket and tried. Crystal joined me on the tarp, but she wasn’t sleeping either. Every so often we would both roll over and just look at each other and laugh that we weren’t sleeping. Thankfully, it was a beautiful and clear night in the low 70’s that was perfect for an outdoor relaxation period.
About 1am I was a little hungry. I tried to get in the van and get a bagel and peanut butter, but I didn’t want to wake some of the other girls. Instead, I bought the pasta dinner the high school was serving as another fundraiser.
Our first van came in around 2:30am, so I knew it wouldn’t be long before I was off. Safety first! I was prepared for my run!
At this point I had been up for 21 hours with about half of what I normally eat in a day. I was still excited though. I’m not a night/morning runner, so I typically don’t run in the dark. I started on Tavernier and ran through Islamorada. For safety reasons I’m assuming, they had us run on some small non-lit side roads instead of down US1 in the Keys. I completely get that because I have seen some crazy car accidents in the middle of the night there, but every noise you hear, you never know what kind of critter may come along your way. Every once in a while I would hear a faster runner coming up behind me. Another great part of the running community, almost everyone that passed me asked how I was doing. About 6 miles in, I got the worst cramp in my foot. I have never gotten a cramp, but I guess it was because some of those side roads we were running on had pretty good embankment so my foot was landing weird.
Of course I had to try to take a selfie in the dark at the most well known spot to prove I ran through Islamorada!
Yea, it didn’t work out to well since I had no light to see.
One thing us Ragnar newbies were concerned with were getting lost. Mainly through Miami and not on the straight shoot through the Keys. Ragnar does a great job with posting signs on what direction to go. Supposedly, locals steal them sometimes, but we didn’t find that to be an issue. And then on your run, especially your long run, this is a welcome sign to see!
And two hours later I was done. Whew!! A little slower than I had hoped due to the lack of sleep and food and the high humidity, but only by 10 minutes. Thanks to the cramping on my left foot, I never felt this beauty developing on my right foot.
And again, I tried to sleep after my run in the back of the van. No luck though. I wanted to help cheer on our other runners, so no more sleep for me. Who needs it anyways?
I have no idea what time it was once our final runner finished. I was getting a little delirious. I do know that I did not have breakfast and had THE BEST LUNCH EVER around 10:30am.
Nothing beats a Publix sub and Sweet tea. Especially when you’re starving. In case you don’t know, Publix is our local grocery store in Florida.
The sun was out and it was a beautiful, but extremely hot day. So of course we couldn’t sleep now. We decided to wait for some of van #1 runners and soak up the sun. We stopped after the 7 mile bridge and took a dip in the ocean while talking to some other runners.
The 7 mile bridge was brutal for the runners. It was in the high 80’s with humidity around 75% that day. Runners on the bridge were getting sick and collapsing and almost all of them were running behind. We decided to head on to another exchange to cheer on our runners. Then we landed in a 5 mile traffic backup. We pretty much played leapfrog with a few runners and because of the heat we were handing out ice & water and letting them soak up our van’s a/c. I felt bad for everyone doing 9 mile runs in this and was thankful my long run was in the middle of the night. We got to the next exchange in case our van #1 couldn’t make it before our runner got there, so we could send out a runner if needed. Luckily, our van #1 made it before our runner so we were off to our major exchange.
At this point, we were running behind our planned time due to the heat and humidity. When our van #1 met up with us while waiting for their final runner to come in, we got to speak with a Ragnar official. One of the great things about Ragnar, is they want all the teams to finish. See, they have a cut off time to get to the finish. If you don’t make it, you don’t get your medal! There were sooo many teams that were well behind their planned times, that Ragnar let teams double up their runners. Essentially, 2 runners would run a leg to cover all the miles, and then they would use the team average time to cover the legs that were not run. If we had all run our legs separately, we would have made it to the finish in time, but it would have been close. We decided we were going to do double ups for a few, but I was off on my last 4.5 mile run while the rest of our runners figured out the last 5 legs.
About 2 miles in, my van was waiting to support me. Brandie ended up joining me on the last 2.5 miles, instead of running the next leg of 1.8 miles. It was awesome to have a running buddy to get me through, because let me tell you that was one tough run!! Remember, the no sleep thing? Yea, I had been up for 34 hours straight and all I had to eat was a sub at 10:30am. I physically did not want to run, but mentally I was doing it. Surprisingly, it wasn’t as slow as I thought, but having Brandie there to keep me talking was one of the greatest things!
Here we are crossing the finish line of my last leg.
And I was officially done!!!
The last couple legs were only a couple miles, so then we dropped off our last runner for a 5 mile run into the finish line.
We met all of our team at the finish line and waited for our runner to come in, so we could all run through the finish together around 7:30pm.
What do you do after running 200 mile? Sit around, have a beer, and talk for a little while of course.
We finally got dinner around 9pm that night and then headed out for a little Duval Street fun and getting to know some of the others.
So when did I finally get to sleep? Oh, around 2am. Amazingly, I was up for 44 hours straight. When you’re having fun, sleep’s not important!
We got up the next morning and grabbed a quick breakfast at Dunkin Donuts again before heading to the Southernmost point. We had to get one last team(minus 2) photo before heading home.
Apparently, we hadn’t spent enough time together in the van because we got stuck in traffic due to a bad accident on the way home. So we got out and chatted with some fellow Ragnarians on their way home.
And then more traffic due to 2 other accidents before getting out of the Keys! I finally got home at 10pm on Sunday and was so happy to see my daughter, husband, and bed!
Best Memories of Ragnar Key West:
1. Running my last 2.5 miles with Brandie and officially finishing my runs!
2. Trying to sleep before my long run and my random glances and Crystal.
3. Helping out other runners. They were beyond happy and made sure to find us when they finished their runs.
4. Our runner who had to go to the bathroom on their long run and got a stranger to let them in to use the restroom! Yea, there are no port a potties along these races.
5. Crossing the finish line with the team.
6. Learning that Speculous Cookie Butter from Trader Joe’s is one of the best things ever! Thanks Kari!
7. Pretty much the whole dang experience!
What an amazing time I had and I’m so glad I got to do it sooner than expected. Thanks to one person I had met for 8 hours one day, I got to have an awesome experience and meet some great people. Even if I never see some of my team mates again, I will always remember them all!
If you’ve never heard of a Ragnar or think you might want to do one, I say just jump in and go! It’s such a fun experience and really does push you mentally and physically. Check out if a Ragnar Relay is coming by you!
Have you run a Ragnar Relay or another overnight relay? I’d love to hear about it!
Enjoy Your Adventure,