If you often find yourself around and amongst runners and running groups, you have likely encountered someone who has run some manner of team relay race. Ragnar, because they put on over 15 of these sorts of races each year, has become the Kleenex of the genre in that "team relay race" and "ragnar" have become nearly synonymous. Races that fit the genre are referred to as "Ragnars" regardless of their corporate affiliation.
"What are these races?" you might ask your crazed acquaintance. Well, they typically are run along courses that are approximately 200 miles in length and divided into 36 legs. Traditionally, those legs are split among 12 runners such that each runner runs 3 legs totaling, usually, 15-20 miles. These things take anywhere from 25-30 hours for most teams to complete and involve sleepless nights, smelly van rides, and general physical discomfort. I bet you're sold!
It certainly sounds miserable, but, as a veteran of 4 Reach the Beach Relays--sponsored by New Balance and held in New Hampshire--and 1 Ragnar Adirondacks, I can say that you should do one regardless of your competitiveness, fitness, or even commitment to running for any or all of the following reasons.
A Reunion with Friends
For Reach the Beach, I enter on a team of runners who mostly attended and ran at my alma mater, Haverford College. My teammates have all gone their separate ways since graduation and this is an easy enough event to book on our yearly calendars to keep in touch and relive the social and competitive experiences of running together in college. Our team also now consists of Haverford alumni who are older than I am to an extent that we never overlapped on the team. We've also pulled in a couple of runners from other schools over the years. It's a great way to maintain that network of friends and acquaintances who share the common interest in running.
Regardless of whether you've run on a team, you most likely have a number of running friends who have moved or fallen a bit out of your milieu. A Ragnar-type race can be a great way to stay in touch and hang out with people whose company you enjoy, or can at least tolerate for 30 consecutive hours.
An Opportunity to Meet New People
I mentioned that I also ran the Ragnar Adirondacks one year. I got roped into that by a co-worker who had a group of friends who were looking for an additional runner to complete their team. I think, of that team, I knew my co-worker Mike and was acquainted with two other runners who trained with the group based out of the running store at which I worked. Basically, I knew no one. It was still a blast. I'm not going to pretend that I made friends for life out of this experience, because I didn't, but that group was built of formerly total strangers who found a Ragnar team a couple years back. My anti-social behavior is less the norm in this setting.
I also told you that our Reach the Beach team has pulled in runners from other schools in our conference who we only knew of prior to joining forces with all of us. One of these guys has been on our team three years now and meets regularly with the other members of our team who recently moved in near him in Boston. I believe there are ways to sign up solo and be picked up by a team looking for an additional runner. I would encourage this option if you can't coral 11 other crazy people to join you.
Running as Part of a Team is Amazing
After high school and college, there are not many opportunities for the non-elite among us to run competitively with a team with any regularity. Everyone should be able to experience that level of camaraderie and support that you receive as part of a team. I don't mean to take anything away from the rush you get from hearing a parent, partner, or even a group of random onlookers cheering for you in the tough miles of a marathon or half marathon, but that feeling is amplified when those cheers are coming from others in a shared struggle. The rush you get when you see your team's van parked up ahead on the course and hear your 11 teammates cheering on the side of the road at 2 am is unmatched.
The Beer Tent
To my knowledge, all of these events feature a beer tent at the end. After 25 hours of gatorade, water, clif bars, and PB&Js as the staple of your diet, nothing feels more necessary or refreshing than a cold beer. This goes with the previous points in that it is a great chance to catch up with everyone on your team who you weren't able to really talk to throughout due to incompatible leg schedules and well-intentioned attempts at getting a couple hours of sleep. You'll all cross the finish line and, in your weakened, broken state, hobble over to the beer tent and enjoy the longest, most refreshing beer of your life.
Each team typically rents two large vans for the endeavor and most teams put considerable effort into decorating them in accordance with the theme of their team. The decorations range from a list of team members to inspirational quotes to christmas lights to even strapping giant inflatable dinosaurs to the roof. The process of decorating the van is a great way to get to know your teammates. Even better is seeing the spectacle of every other team's vans and marveling at the creativity and humor of others.
Additionally, your time in the van mimics the atmosphere of a road trip. At various points you love everyone in the van, hate everyone in the van, and the entire spectrum in between. Do you like to hear the mix CD's everyone made? Do you like smelling everyone's BO? Are you jumping at the opportunity to be in close proximity to a bunch of sweaty, sleep-deprived people? Your answers, of course, are yes. You get all of these in the team van.
Traditionally, all 12 members of the team cross the finish line together. This not only provides a great photo opportunity, but also a chance to culminate the shared experience of pain and misery--this entire thing is a classic example of type 2 fun--with all 11 of your new closest friends.
Scan the list of locations of these events. Hood to Coast, White Mountains, Napa Valley, Adirondacks, Florida Keys, Nashville, Cape Cod, Hawaii. These are all amazing places to see and you will get to see them as you run or slowly drive through them. Whether you want an excuse for a vacation or a place to explore close to home, there is probably a location in the United States where you can find a team relay race that suits your needs.
So, what are you waiting for? Sign up for one now. Find your closest friends or choose to meet new ones. Either way, I bet you'll have a great time. I mean, you certainly love running if you're reading this site, and, at the very least, you will get plenty of that. Anyone else doing it is at least as crazy as you, so you will probably enjoy their company too.
If you've run a Ragnar, Hood to Coast, or some other similar event, share your experiences in the comments. Everyone has their crazy story.