My finisher medal says it best, “The wildest experiences become the best stories”. And after 200 miles, and very little sleep, this is 100% on point!
It’s called RAGNAR. Here’s the skinny. You put together a team of 12 people, and run roughly 200 miles. From city streets to sidewalks, to bike paths and blowing beach sand. Through the day, and through the night. Rest is optional. Bathrooms are a blessing.
I completed my first RAGNAR in 2018. When I originally signed up, I really didn’t know what to expect. And, I think that might be the coolest part. To simply expect the unexpected. We assembled a 12 person team, (many of which I never knew until this RAGNAR event) rented 2 vans, bought a ton of food, and tried to plan the best that we could. We bought everything from peanut butter filled pretzels, to fruit, snacks, lots of water, and hydration drinks. The van was packed, and we were ready to make a memory.
Our team, “Better At Running Up A Tab”, got our instructions, and were ready to run! We began our race Friday at 11:30am from Muskegon, Michigan. The finish line was 200 miles away, in Traverse City, Michigan. Pretty daunting. But my team was up for a challenge, and ready to make some serious memories.
We split our team into 2 vans. I was in van 1, and was set to run the 3rd leg of the race. Each teammate runs three separate legs of the race, with downtime in between, for a total of 11 to 24 miles per runner (twice that for ultra teams of 6). In my van was Andrew, Spencer, Gretchen, Betsy, Holly and myself. In Van 2 was Jennifer, Tim, Alec, Kristen, Lindsey and Peter.
As Spencer ran first, we drove our van to the 2nd checkpoint. And man did Spencer run FAST! So fast, that Andrew, who ran the second leg, wasn’t expecting him to be there that quickly. As Spencer hit the checkpoint, Andrew was still in the van with the rest of us. (I guess when you find a good pace, you nail it!) He flew out of the van, grabbed the baton, and headed to the 3rd checkpoint, which was mine. After Andrew’s blistering pace, he tagged me, and I was off.
I was set to run 4.7 miles for my first leg. This was to be the lowest mileage of my 3 scheduled legs. It didn’t quite turn out that way. After about 2 miles, I approached a sign that appeared to point for me to go right. I was following another runner in front of me, who was about 1/2 mile ahead, and he also turned right. I was feeling good about everything until I noticed that he began to slow down, and stop. He kept looking left and right. As I approached him, I asked, “You alright?” In a confused tone, he said, “Yeah, but I’m not sure if we’re supposed to go left or right. And, I don’t see any signs.” Uh-oh. I didn’t see any signs either. That meant one thing. The only way to know if we took a wrong turn, would be to run back the way that we came, which was 1 mile back, and look at the sign again. We decided to stick together for that 1 mile, and tackle it together. His name was Josh. We chatted, consoled, and encouraged each other for a very long mile.
We finally approached the RAGNAR sign. Suddenly I heard the quote from “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” run through my head, “You’re going the wrong way”! I did! I ran an extra 2 miles out of my way. The good news is that I was now back on course.
Josh took off, and I ran the final 2 miles alone. I felt so bad for my teammates waiting for me at the next checkpoint. They had to be wondering if I passed out, gave up, or got hit. I spent a good amount of time praying while running through the streets. I asked God to guide me to the next checkpoint, since I got lost on my own. (insert sermon idea here!)
As I arrived, I heard the cheering from my team. “Tommy!! You’re alive!!” It was like they just had their own prayers answered. I tagged Gretchen, then did the “runners walk of shame” to the van. I felt awful. I lost about 20 minutes of time for my team. Yet, they NEVER made me feel bad about it. They were just thankful that I was OK. Overall, my scheduled 4.7 miles turned into 6.7.
Fast forward a bit…Our team made up for my lost time, as Gretchen, Betsy and Holly ran faster than anticipated. Then there was Van 2 – stocked with speedsters that really kicked some asphalt! They really were flying. So much so, that as we stopped to grab a bite to eat, we had to cut time short at the restaurant to get back to the race course for the official exchange.
Enter night time running. This was tough! Dark. Quiet. Alone. All we had were our lit vests, headlamps, and flashlight. Some areas had street lights, but many miles were consumed in pitch dark.
When I got the baton from Andrew for my 2nd leg, it was about 9:30 p.m. My mission was to run on a road through a very dark Manistee Forest. Talk about a freaky feeling. I kept waiting to hear the sound of a chainsaw, or see some dude in a hockey mask. Neither happened. But, due to the freaky surroundings, I knocked down another 6.7 miles faster than my normal pace.
Fast forward again…it is now about 1:30 a.m. and we parked the van to try and get some rest. Not so much. Cramped quarters, and rumors were flying that I might’ve snored. (Sorry, but I never heard anything.) At about 3:30 a.m. we met up with Van 2 for another exchange. This would be the final legs for Van 1, and we were ready!
Spencer grabbed the baton and took off for a VERY challenging, hilly run. Especially in the middle of the night, on very little sleep, and already having several miles under him. Andrew mowed down his miles in epic fashion, and I was sitting near lake Michigan, trying to stay warm, waiting for him so that I could tackle my last leg – another 6.7 miles.
As I grabbed the baton, it was about 5:30 a.m. It was still quite dark. The only lights I could see ahead of me were headlights, and a few blinking lights from the vests of other runners. It’s probably best that it was still dark so that I couldn’t see the gigantic hill that awaited me. And I do mean gigantic!
The hill is in Empire, Michigan and is literally 1/2 mile straight up. I kept running and asking God for strength to get up that hill. “Help me God! No walking! Don’t stop!” Then, there it was, the top of the hill. I made it. (here’s a partial view from near the top)
From there, it was a long gradual run down the hill with a beautiful sunrise greeting me. I shed a few tears, as I had a “moment” with God. He helped guide me when I was lost. He surrounded me when I was scared. He pushed me when I was tired. It was pretty amazing. Thank you, Lord!
As I tagged Gretchen, I had an amazing feeling of accomplishment wash over me. I did it! I knocked down another 6.7 miles for a total of 20.1 miles for all 3 legs.
One final fast forward…we drove to Traverse City and awaited Van 2. Of course they were blazing fast. At this point, we actually began to calculate that maybe, just maybe, our team did quite well overall. As we saw our teammates running down the road, we all ran to the finish line together. We crossed the line as we heard, “Team 262 : ‘Better At Running up a Tab‘!”
We did it. And, we did it in style. A few days after the completion of RAGNAR, we learned that our team finished in 3rd place. And, if someone didn’t take a wrong turn, our time was fast enough that we would’ve actually won!
The medals are amazing. And, when all 12 of them are put together, they say, “We Are Ragnarians: We Believe…Together We Can Accomplish Anything.”
When’s the last time you attempted your own, “wildest experience”? It’s completely worth it! After 200 miles, 2 vans, and very little sleep, RAGNAR made for one of my best stories.