(If you’re not familiar with Ragnar, my race report from last year has a brief description of how it works.)
Ragnar Cape Cod is a relay race from Hull, MA to Provincetown (aka “P-Town”). It’s a little under 200 miles shared between 12 people on a regular team (or, 6 people on an ultra team). My team, CopacaVANa, is made up of 12 women. This year, I was going to be in Van 2 as Runner 10, which had the most mileage and the hardest legs – but not by much. My team was mostly the same women from last year with one exception, so we knew one another and the event very well.
I didn’t train for Ragnar. I ran the 2016 Boston Marathon a month ago. I ran off and on for the next couple of weeks and then abruptly got my mileage up to 50 miles a week. I suppose I could have done some doubles but I felt like I was in good shape for it.
It’s hard to run true race pace at this event. On a personal level, I wanted to run sub-8:00 pace since that seemed to be what my hard runs have been at lately.
Last year, I listened to the same three or four songs for the whole race. This year, I went the same route.
The forecast called for rain during the race. I’ve never run a Ragnar in the rain. I packed a hat to keep the rain out of my eyes and a water-resistant jacket and pants to wear when I was outside the van.
We arrived in Boston around noon on Thursday. Everyone on the team who was traveling arrived at the same time and we headed to the car rental place. Having just been in Boston for the marathon, I felt an expert on Logan Airport.
The race starts in Hull, Massachusetts, which is about an hour or two outside of Boston. We got stuck in some traffic and stopped for a late lunch in the afternoon. I wanted dinner to be my heavier meal of the day, so I just had a bowl of clam chowder and some of my teammates’ french fries.
We arrived in Hull at about 4pm. Our first van was starting at 5am the next day and went to the safety briefing that night to buy a little sleep the next morning. Three of our teammates were local and joined us for dinner at the hotel. I had a salmon dish that also featured potatoes and vegetables. A few of us stayed out for drinks at a bar nearby. It was great having the team together.
2016 Ragnar Cape Cod
I woke up earlier than was probably necessary. Van 2 didn’t need to be at the location for the exchange with Van 1 until around 9am. There was a Dunkin’ Donuts near the start so a teammate and I got coffee and bagels for our room. I felt headachey – probably from the red wine I had with dinner. We drove to the location of the first major exchange and got there with plenty of time to spare.
Our first task was to go through our safety instructions. However, when we got to the tent, the staff wasn’t ready. We waited anxiously with a bunch of other teams. It was probably a good hour until we signed our waivers and watched the safety video that all of us – as Ragnar veterans – had already seen before. Luckily, we finished all the administrative requirements in plenty of time to do a little shopping before making the exchange with Van 1 at around 10:30am.
We gave our first runner some van support since it was almost 10 miles. Afterwards, we treated ourselves to another trip to Dunkin’ Donuts. I got my second coffee of the day and the Egg White Flatbread sandwich. At our first exchange for us there was a “donate what you’d like” tent with all kinds of goodies. I got a banana and some potato chips for later.
I was a little anxious before starting my first leg. We were going to support Runner 9 but somehow lost track of her. That meant I had no idea when she would be arriving at the exchange to hand off to me. It was a little warm – almost 70 degrees – so I wore my favorite Saucony singlet and Brooks shorts.
Leg 10 [Log Details]
The leg started in the Myles Standish State Forest in South Carver, Massachusetts and finished in Elmer Raymond Park in Plymouth, MA.
As I was watching the teams come in, my competitive instincts started kicking in hard, which helped with the nerves. When the guy who was leading left a little after 1pm, my teammate – Runner 11 – made a remark about beating him. I said, “10 minutes over 10 miles, might be hard“. We talked with other racers which also helped relieve some of the tension as two more teams came and left. I looked at my watch after one of them came in and my teammate said, “Don’t be so obvious.” We laughed. Our Runner 9 came in and I left the exchange at 1:17pm.
I took off and was immediately confused. There was a path to the left that just looped around on itself and a path to the right that went up to the parking lot, which didn’t seem right. A guy in a van yelled to me, “That way!” and pointed straight ahead onto the grass. That didn’t seem right either. It took a few more times of me pointing left and right and him pointing ahead for it to register – YES! You need to run through the grass!
Rattled, I started off way too fast. My Garmin showed sub-7:00 pace! The course was hilly and it was warm, so it wasn’t long before I felt pretty taxed. At the first mile, I look to my left and see the runners doing Leg 9. One looked like she could be a master. I fought to keep the pace strong.
My van pulled up to offer support but I waved them on. I was feeling pretty miserable and didn’t need anything this early on anyway. I passed one woman soon after. She was the runner who left at 1:14pm. Nice!
I saw my van again. This time, I asked them if I could get water at Mile 6 or 7. The conditions were warmer than I expected and I was getting thirsty. It was a little boring not seeing other runners but I had to keep focused on the oncoming traffic – I was running on a sliver of asphalt. I passed the second woman. I couldn’t believe it!
The worst of the hills were over and I started to get a second wind on every downhill. The course left the paved road and went on a dirt road. When cars drove by, the tires would kick dirt in my faces. Next thing I knew, I saw a runner ahead of me! How is that possible?, I thought. My turnover looked faster than his and I felt confident I could catch him. Sure enough, I passed him at around Mile 8. Then, I couldn’t remember, Were there 3 teams ahead of us or 4?
As I approached the exchange, something in the air told me I was first to arrive! I took off the snap bracelet and pumped my arms up in the air. I was leading (but not winning because of the staggered start) Ragnar Cape Cod! Everyone seemed shocked and impressed that I beat all the teams ahead of me. I was pretty proud of myself but then also slightly embarrassed for feeling proud. I got a special medal for finishing the longest leg of the race.
Overall pace: 7:59. (I stopped my Garmin when I stopped). Kills: 3/Killed: 0.
We drove to the next exchange to wait on Runner 11. There was a little drama when the first team to arrive at the exchange told us she never passed our runner. We were worried that she got lost but, thankfully, she showed up a few minutes later. She went a quarter mile off course but found her way back with another van’s help. She apologized for losing the lead but I told her it was going to happen eventually anyway.
The next major exchange was at a ice arena in Buzzards Bay. Once again, there was some tension as we were afraid we might have reached the exchange too soon. In order to encourage teams to submit accurate pace predictions so that don’t have to staff the exchanges longer than necessary, there are penalties for arriving at exchanges early. We talked with race official and after some calls, we assured we were okay.
The exchange was on higher ground than the course so we couldn’t see which team’s Runner 12 would arrive at the exchange first. Had we regained our place at the head of hte pack or were we second still… It’s our runner! We handed off to Van 1 in the “lead”.
I snacked on random items in the van – peanut butter pretzels, Kind bars, and the potato chips I got earlier in the day – but I was more than ready for dinner. We found a good restaurant in Hyannis thanks to Yelp! I had another salmon dish with vegetables. You could tell we were tired because our ordinarily non-stop chatter had waned a bit. We picked up supplies at a CVS and then headed to the next major exchange to rest.
The van went down for a nap a little after 7pm, which is also when it started to rain. I couldn’t sleep but it was nice to stretch out my legs after that long, hard run.
Our van was up and running again a little after 9pm. We supported Runner 7 and 8 but once again, somehow lost track of Runner 9. Since I wasn’t sure when she would arrive, I waited in the cold rain. As we waited, I noticed there were a few new teams as the faster ones started catching up with us.
Leg 22 [Log Details]
The leg started at a church in Brewster, MA and finished at the Sand Lake Recreation Area in Harwich, MA.
My second leg was only 4 miles. My intention was to run it a little easier than the previous leg to save a little energy for the last leg, which was 7 miles.
It was dark when I took off at around 11:50pm. And it was still drizzling. I changed into one of my new Lululemon long-sleeve shirts and wore a hat. I didn’t pack a second pair of shorts so I stayed in the Brooks shorts. I didn’t listen to music on this leg since the conditions were so bad.
Again, I took off faster than I should have. I noticed my left hip hurt quite a bit. Similar to my night leg last year, I had vision issues with the head lamp as I seemed to outrun its beams. Without music and with limited visibility, my breathing stole all of my attention – three, short labored breaths in and one long, strong breath out.
Midway through, I saw a blinking light. A little while later, I passed an ultra runner who had run through the last exchange. There was no joy in that, though since he was running more than 8 miles.
For this segment, the runners followed a different path than the vans for part of the course. Half the time, I thought it would have been nice having cars next to me in the dark but then every time I saw a car I panicked wonder if the driver saw me.
I handed off to the next runner knowing I ran that leg a lot harder than I intended. But, I wasn’t running again until mid-morning so I had a lot of time to rest.
Overall pace: 7:43. Kills: 1/Killed: 0.
Friday Night & Saturday Morning
I laid down on the bench in the van and tried to stretch out my left piriformis but it wasn’t having it. It hurt as much as it’s ever hurt.
After our last Van 2 runner finished and we handed the snap bracelet over to Van 1 for the overnight legs, we drove to the next exchange and immediately settled down to sleep. I don’t drive the van for Ragnar – I’m too afraid – but did a stint navigating. I visited the port-a-potty and then ensconced myself under two blankets in the passenger seat of the van by about 1:30am. Sleep didn’t come easy, though, and I would guess I got a little less than 2 solid hours between 2am and 5am since the sounds of cars arriving to the exchange and slamming port-a-potty doors kept waking me up.
The van started to stir at about 5am. We got breakfast at the exchange. I didn’t eat much that morning. I took someone’s coffee and ate the banana I got the day before. I also drank half a Gatorade before my next leg. Our van was running again by about 6:15am.
We reached the part of the course that feature spectacular ocean views. At each exchange, we took pictures of the sun rise over the beach.
Soon, it was time for me run my last leg! I felt very stiff when I got out of the van. I realized it was warmer than I thought and put my cold, wet Saucony singlet back on.
Leg 34 [Log Details]
The leg started at Wellfleet Elementary School and finished near a beach in Truro, MA.
For this leg, I wanted a finish strong for the team.
I left a little after 8am in the morning. I thought I was taking off slow but was surprised that my pace was low 7 minute!
On Route 6, I thought I saw a runner ahead of me. The thought of catching him motivated me to run harder. But, it must have been an illusion because I never saw “him” again. It was just as well because the course turned hilly and I started to fade. I couldn’t keep this pace for 5 more miles.
About midway through, there was a confusing sign. It indicated I should turn left but that would lead into a small park and then a pond! But, maybe there’s some kind of path through the pond? I ran a few dozen yards to check it out and don’t see anything. I go back to the road and see a subsequent sign that said straight! If it weren’t for my experience in the first leg, I wouldn’t have thought to run through the grass. I was supremely irritated by the sign.
At the 5 mile mark, there was a steep hill and I just about to lose the will to run hard. It felt like I had been climbing for so long that my legs couldn’t power through any more.
One of my biggest disappointments with previous Ragnar races was that I haven’t had scenic legs. Well, that changed this time because Truro was absolutely beautiful. I wished I had my phone with me to steal a picture of the views of the stately houses and serene marshes.
I start the count down, Come on! Just 2 more miles! Then 1.5, 1, and a half mile. I rounded the final corner and just ran as fast as I could. At the finish, I felt completely spent. A team congratulated me on my strong runs, which was really nice of them. I was glad I was done running but not euphoric. I was just so tired.
Overall pace: 7:58. (I stopped my Garmin during the trail confusion.) Kills: 0/Killed: 0.
We drove to Provincetown and parked our van at the hotel where we were staying. We made our way to the finish line festival. I bought more Ragnar gear while we waited for our Runner 12 to arrive. A wave of exhaustion hit me and I needed to sit down and rest. I think that last leg took a lot more out of me than I thought.
We ran Runner 12 in at around 11:20am. We did it! We finished 2016 Ragnar Cape Cod!
The finish line festival was at the Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown. The race bib came with a voucher for clam chowder and a salad. There was beer for $4. After running so much and eating so little, the alcohol went right to my head.
I went back to the hotel at around 2pm. I woke with a start after what felt like 30 minutes to me but had actually been 5 hours! I joined my team for dinner at the same restaurant where we dined the year before. It was our first opportunity to share stores from one van to the other.
The next day, we parted ways one or two people at a time. It was hard saying good-bye to people you’ve spent every minute with for four days!
Our time was 30:21:49. In the results, our team is listened 88th in the Open Mixed division. Unfortunately, we weren’t listed as a Masters Women team. Had we registered under that category, it looks like we would have been first place by 4 minutes but maybe other teams are also in the wrong division.
Updated: The results were updated and our team won 1st place in the Masters Women division. We received beautiful gold medals in the mail proclaiming our team “Numero Uno!”
My focus this week will be catching up on sleep! I have another month before I’ll start training for the New York City Marathon but I’ll try to keep my mileage in the 50 miles/week range and start working in a little speed work from time to time.