In September, I found myself in an ultra line-up of six runners attempting to run almost 200 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge to Calistoga in the Ragnar Relay Napa. It was something of a fluke, having vacationed in Napa the previous September where after a casual 6-mile run on a Saturday afternoon, I discovered that my course had stumbled into the mouth of the 200-mile relay finish … ahead of the field. From the time I entered Calistoga’s downtown strip, I achieved rockstar status, thanks to a boisterous convoy of colorfully “ragnarized” vans spewing Greek, playful nicknames and inspirational phrases in my ear. As I turned the corner of the strip, making my way to a picturesque track of land, the hero-worshiping subsided until I was directed into an open field where inflatables gathered to meet a large gaggle of tireless runners.
Of course, in September 2011, I was not a Ragnar participant. I was clueless about Ragnar and overwhelmed with the idea of stretching my typical running distance beyond a 10K. I was protecting my knees from such races. “Yes, feel free to call me a woos.”
It didn’t take me long to check out Ragnar online, but admittedly it was several months later (thanks to a yahoo client ultra runner which I’ll save for another post) that I felt compelled to run Ragnar. Surprisingly, fielding a team of six wasn’t terribly difficult. Today, we stretch comfortably from coast (Atlanta) to coast (San Fran) and somewhere in the middle (Jackson Hole/Alpine), communicating regularly about our 32 hours of sweaty Ragnar.
For many people, running something like an ultra relay falls into one of three buckets. Bucket One — regardless of whether you run it as an ultra relay team (six or less) or a “juicer” (for another post) relay team, many do it as a bucket list check. Bucket Two — those juicer teams of 12 people run for the camaraderie of knocking out 16 or so miles over three legs over 36 hours with reduced sleep.
Bucket Three — running as a relay team, you quickly discovered that marathons, 5K and 10Ks, Spartans and Tough Mudders are all great events, but they simply can’t compete with the challenge, the stress, the fear and exhilaration of running 30-40+ miles in 24 hours with NO sleep. And as a result, you don’t start and finish your ultra career. You run one to launch your career and along the way, you throw in some marathons, half marathons, 5K and 10Ks as stepping stones for your next “Great Ultra.” For us, it’s Ragnar SoCal in April before we trek to Epic Tetons in August.