Recalling the absolute awesomeness I felt from my recent inaugural Ragnar Relay in Miami, it took all of two seconds for me to say yes when my colleague, Armin asked if I wanted to be on his team for the Ragnar Relay Cape Cod. But, there was just one catch...
It was an Ultra team.
A few quick steps back, first. I won't get into what a Ragnar Relay is, other than to say it's 200 mile relay race that you undertake with your friends and have the effing blast of your life. Now, most teams consist of 12 runners (as was my Miami team). However Ultra's are different, they only have 6 runners, meaning most runners cover anywhere from 30-40 miles the course of the race. Not to mention, Armin (and the rest of the team) are monsters of the road. With my sad 7:00's, I felt like a sloth. However, Armin assured me it wouldn't be an issue and the team was all about fun and not about winning (more on that later), so I hopped on board.
We would be the Jackalopes (Team #380), part of a larger federation of Jackalopes, as there was also a 12 person team competing (#381).
I met my fellow Ultra Jackalopes early on a brisk Boston morning. The team consisted of Armin (el jefe), Lori (speed monster), Emily (the stable one) and Tim (who kept the mood light). I was pleased to see we ended up getting a sixth team member at the last minute, too. Alex, a speedy lady who was originally on the 12 person team, hopped in to our team to help out with miles. Having her really helped the team, not only time-wise (she fast), but morale as well. Thanks. 'Xandra!
We climbed into our minivan and headed down to Hull, MA for our 8:45a start. The course would start there, weave all through Southern Massachusetts, finally dumping us on the tip of Cape Cod (Provincetown or "PTown") and party central. Alex was the first out the gate for her two sections of the race (you see, Ultra teams would run two legs, instead of one), and then would hand off to me. My two legs of my first run were each 6.5 miles, so my first leg of a 200 mile race was essentially a half marathon. The mileage for my three runs would be 13, 8 and 15 miles, respectively. Alex handed me the baton (a slap bracelet) and I was off.
At first, the miles didn't feel like much, I kept a steady and easy pace, all the while enjoying the beautiful houses of the southern coast of Massachusetts. I was thinking, that maybe this Ultra thing was all in my head. Then, the hills came out to play. When I say hills, I mean hills with a huge ass "S"! These things were long, steep and nasty. I would be chugging up a mile long stretch of a curving monster, only to find there was more incline just around the bend. Finally, the end of Leg 1 was in sight, I handed off to an eager Lori and dove into the minivan in search of life sustaining Uncrustables (peanut & butter sandwiches) to replenish my exhausted tank. Understanding there were still a ton of miles ahead of me, I kept a steady 8:20 per mile pace, but thanks to the hills, it took more than I had originally imagined.
Lori braved the blustery wind of the coast and killed her miles like a champ. She handed off to Armin, who was about to tackle a monstrous 18 mile stretch of the course. We had a chance to catch him mid-leg and fuel him up with nourishment before driving to (what we thought) was the next leg to wait for him to finish.
Let's just put it this way, we were cursed by a 17th century witch, making us go to the wrong checkpoint, then got stuck in traffic trying to get back to Armin, forcing him to keep running (it was crazy cold). We finally caught up to him and Tim jumped out to start his leg. We had to do this mid-course, causing us to get a little slap on the wrist from Ragnar (they take a "three strikes and you're out" approach to the race for everyone's safety). Luckily, that would be our only strike of the race.
Tim crushed his miles, partly because of the crazy drama that just went down and partly because he's also crazy fast. He handed off to Emily to run her first leg, while the rest of us caught a very quick bite to eat. One Emily finished her leg, we all had finished our first of three legs. So, for those of you keeping score, the 12 person teams will all have each run half the miles we had just run.
Alex handed off to me about 9:00p for my second run, an easy (and downhill) 8 miler. The night was cold, but not windy, my ideal race condition. I was feeling rather boss and my time for this leg showed. I crushed this run, maintaining a 7:50ish per mile pace. For the most part, the rest of the evening went smoothly. I tried to grab some zzz's, but I knew my final run, a monstrous (and non van supported) 15 miler lay there lurking in the night.
Finally, at about 4a, Alex handed off to me one last time, completing her first Ragnar Relay. The pitch blackness of the night swelled around me, the only illumination from my headlamp, bouncing off the morning dew, making it look like it was snowing. I was literally in the middle of nowhere, and felt like I was the only runner on the course. Finally, dawn began to break. The forest was silent, save for a few birds arising with groggy chirps. I passed a pond that's stillness gave off the perception of glass. It was quite a sight.
By this time, I was about 10 miles into a 15 mile run and had just passed a checkpoint, where fresh (non-Ultra) runners jumped out onto the course and sailed by me like I was moving backwards. By this time, my exhaustion (a mix of no sleep and running Leg 2 too fast) had an evil grip on me. I couldn't tell which ached more, my powerless legs, or aching stomach pangs. I got to that point in every racer's head when you start doing "mileage math," trying to determine how much farther I had to travel. After what seemed like hours, I saw the glorious, life-changing "1 Mile Left" sign, not too much longer after that, there were the beautiful orange jackets of my fellow Jackalopes cheering me in. I handed off to Lori, grabbed some Chex Mix, hopped in the back of the minivan and slept like I've never slept before. Although, I had to walk I was able to sustain a 9:50 per mile pace. Not bad, considering.
The rest of team cranked their miles like only they could. Emily was the last to go, and her course took her into PTown and the finish. Just before finishing, we met up with her and finished as a team. Just like that, my first Ultra Ragnar Relay was in the books. It was a lot of work and I'm sure I could have been more prepared. But, I had an amazing and supportive team, that made all the difference.
Not too mention, we ended up winning our division! So, there's that.
After watching the 12 person Jackalope team finish, we all headed to Tim, and his wife Lisa's (she was on the 12 person team) summer home on the Cape. There, we all ate a lot, drank a lot, and most importantly, slept a lot. The next morning, Tim and I hit a quick 3 mile shakeout run to keep the legs fresh.
I absolutely loved this race. My team was amazing and the vibe was great all around. Yes, there was some drama, but everyone's great attitude quickly quashed that. If it's your first Ragnar, I'd suggest you get the whole experience, and join a 12 person team. There is more downtime allowing you to walk around, meet people and sleep. However, if you need more, and are a bit loopy, I'm sure an Ultra isn't too far off.
Enjoy the video below!