Heather and Abbie tell the tale of 12 women, two vans, 30 hours, and 200-ish miles. What could have been the premise for a reality show (The Real Mother Runners of Upstate New York!) was actually the Another Mother Runner team for Ragnar Adirondacks. And - spoiler alert - there wasn’t a single catfight.
For the uninitiated, Ragnar is a point-to-point relay race that covers around 200 miles split between twelve runners (or six ultrarunners, if you’re looking for more stress in your life.) Runners are divided between two vans. While Van 1 is running and chasing their runners, Van 2 can rest and refuel, and vice versa. Ragnar stages these relays all over the country — ours started in Saratoga Springs, NY, and ran north to finish in Lake Placid. With the beautiful fall scenery, it was a great few days!
One thing I love about Ragnar is how universal the challenge is. With each runner’s three legs averaging between 2 and 6 miles, it’s not out of reach for a relatively new runner. But the sleep deprivation required of an around-the-clock race means it’s still plenty challenging for a seasoned athlete. With only two hours (if you’re lucky) of gymnasium floor sleep under your belt, even the simplest tasks get hairy. For instance, Van 2’s child locks were on throughout the entire race. Exhaustion made this an obstacle too difficult to overcome, so those runners spent 1.5 days climbing in and out of windows or waiting for their front seat teammates to open the doors for them. (They swear it seemed reasonable at the time.)
Packing is also a challenge. No matter how many pairs of socks and underwear you include, it’s somehow never enough. As one runner feeling the scarcity noted, “I wish I’d thought more about what I’d need between my legs, literally and figuratively.”
The night before the race, we gathered in the greatroom of our rented home for a team meeting. I assumed we’d be discussing our favorite GU flavors and the softest toilet paper brands, but instead we discuss “the rules.” Our captain, Alison, was amazingly organized and on top of all Ragnar etiquette. The most important rule, we all agreed: You ALWAYS need more cowbell.
At 6:15 a.m. on race day, Van 1 is at the starting line. You can feel the energy and hear the 90s rock music pulsing, but thanks to well-orchestrated start waves, it is uncrowded and we move through the sign-in process quickly. We munch breakfast, NUUN up, watch the prescribed safety video, and comedically try to figure out how to use a port-a-potty in a tutu. (This becomes more difficult throughout the day as the porta-a-potties become...well loved.) Before we know it, the air horn blasts and Sara, runner #1, is off. The rest of us pile in the van and get our map and our cowbells ready.
The morning quickly settles into a routine. A runner comes in to an exchange point, the sweaty slap bracelet is transferred, and the next runner is off. After getting water and a snack to the weary runner while discussing her number of “kills,” which is Ragnar-speak for runners you pass, we pile into the van and drive. Scanning the road for signs of our BAMR, we watch for their familiar gait or, in the dark, for their reflective vests and blinkers. We cowbell like crazy and shout encouragement as we pass. As we cheer, most runners give us thumbs-up or a friendly smile and a wave, but we did get the stink eye from one female runner who didn't appreciate our cheerleader antics after the third time we pass her. Weird.
Down the road, we pull over to wait for our runner, and make sure she’s well-hydrated and happy. Or for our unfortunate runner with a bad cold, offer her tissues and make sure she is still moving forward. We pile back in the van, hurry to the next exchange point, get the next runner ready, and the cycle begins again.
A key Ragnar rule is to use two provided neon orange flags to alert cars when crossing the street to assist a runner. This quickly becomes a coveted job that involves throwback dancing and choreography from high school marching band days. Sleep deprivation seems to only encourage these antics. Oh, the stories that were shared! But what happens at Ragnar stays at Ragnar.
All told, the race takes us 30 hours to complete, and we place third (!) in the all-women division. (There were only six teams in that category, but who cares - third!) Fonda, our powerhouse of a final runner, comes blasting into the finish line field the afternoon of the second race day. Our arms form a tunnel for her to run through before we follow her into the chute and across the line.
As I link arms with my teammates, the fact that 48 hours ago most of us had never met is irrelevant. Tomorrow I will get teary as I leave these strangers-turned-friends. And these days, more than ever, it warms me to remember that sometimes all we need are one or two things in common to form a tribe.