Story and Photos by Andrew Jason
Iâ€™m crammed into a 12-person van with five sweaty, tired, hungry runners. Weâ€™re all going on our 24th hour of no sleep. Our bodies are aching from running, our motivation is waning from exhaustion but friendships are growing and our determination hasnâ€™t wavered for a second.
These feelings were shared by thousands of runner who ran the Ragnar Relay from Madison to Chicago. Like most people I had no idea what the Ragnar Relay was, so let me educate you. Ragnar is a 200-mile 12-person relay race that takes place in 15 different locations around the USA. These locations vary from the Florida Keys to the West Coast. The race goes overnight where the only sleep comes in short increments crammed into your van seat or on the grass among dozens of other strangers. The motto of Ragnar gives a pretty accurate description of the experience: â€œRun. Drive. Sleep? Repeat.â€
My team was found through the Ragnar Web site. My friend and I decided we needed a running adventure that regular races just couldnâ€™t fill so we logged into Ragnarâ€™s Web site and found our team, the Cheeseheads. After e-mailing back and forth for several weeks my bags were finally packed and I set off for something new and exciting.
Running. Sleeping. Beer Drinking.
One of the charms of Ragnar is that everybody is there to have a good time so the vans and the costumes show this. Each team has a different name and they are encouraged to wear costumes, decorate their vans and show any other type of foolishness that will gain them attention. People even vote on the best teams.
To get in the spirit I wore all my favorite Packerâ€™s apparel I had for this race while I decorated our van with flags, stickers and our favorite Packer players. We then found ourselves at the start line anxiously waiting. The time teams start is based on their projected finish time. Since we were fast our time was the second to last one. Our first teammate took off while our team of four women and seven guys took off in our two vans to wait at the next stop.
Each person on a 12-person team runs three legs. My legs were divided into three different legs for a total of 13.6 miles. All of the runnerâ€™s distances were between 13 and 20 miles.
When my first, 6.9 mile, leg came up it was a surreal experience. Iâ€™ve run in many races but this was the first race where I didnâ€™t see anybody around. I passed one person the entire leg. It is hard to motivate yourself because unlike other races thereâ€™s no one else to push you to go faster. It is just you and your determination.
After the leg I hopped in the van and waited several hours before my next run. As most people have discovered the waiting is the hardest part. In most races, waiting for your race to start can take forever but with Ragnar the time flies by because you are driving, talking, trying to sleep or even stopping for supper and a beer. The time flies because you are with new or old friends who share a common interest.Â Time never slows when you are doing what you love. Despite all my attempts to slow it down I found myself getting ready to cross the finish with my team/friends with whom I just ran 197 miles.
The finish line
When the race was all over I exhaled a deep breath and waited for all the emotions to set. When all those emotions finally came I was overwhelmed by exhaustion, a sense of unity, hunger but mostly I was filled with a feeling of pride. The pride that comes from becoming one with a team. The pride from creating lasting friendships. Mainly pride in myself though. The pride one gets when you do something rare, something new, something you think you can never do.