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2017 Washington, D.C. Ragnar Relay
Lindsey N. Dyn
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I have to be honest, it has taken me a much longer time than I’d like to admit to finally post this race review… perhaps it was the negative flashbacks, or a writing burnout…but it’s finally here for your reading pleasure.
After hearing so many positive raving reviews about Ragnar relay races and a late night talking about crazy running experiences, I impulsively jumped at the chance to check an endurance relay race off my bucket list. Running can be an introverted sport, which has largely been my experience during marathon and ultramarathon training. I really can’t complain, I often use the peaceful solitude of a run to work through problems or burn off stress, but I can see how the comradery of a relay race could be appealing. Ragnar was a name I’ve heard as ‘the’ relay race for years, so naturally that was my first choice. After tracking down friends and some strangers (friends of friends) for a team we bit the bullet and threw down the almost $1300 for team registration.
There is much planning that goes into preparing for a Ragnar relay. Beyond just training for the miles, logistics are a large consideration as well. Much of this will be handled by the captain and co-captain (so be nice to them if they seemed a little more stressed out than usual). There are numerous blogs and websites out there that highlight Ragnar preparation but some of the logistics include runner/van assignments, driving directions, meal planning, budgeting, etc. The rest of this post will be specific to my and my team’s experiences at the 2017 Washington, D.C. Ragnar Relay.
Packet Pick-up & Runner’s Expo
Ragnar Relays are different than any other type of race I’ve done. There is no formalized Runner’s Expo, if you will. Instead, packet pick-up and a limited showing of various running or nutrition-related products were done at the beginning of the race. Each van had to sit through a mandatory safety briefing recapping some of the more important rules highlighted in the Ragnar Race Bible. After that the captain or co-captain was able to pick up the team’s T-shirts and some of the sponsored snacks/nutrition. The main gathering for Van 2 which I was in, was at the first van exchange point (were the last Van 1 runner passes the ‘baton’ to the first Van 2 runner). Our team was staged pretty early in the grand scheme of participating teams, and even then it seemed the race organizers failed to adequately plan. Porta-Potties, while plentiful, lacked toilet paper, even at the early hour.
Course and Race Support
The course and race support aspect of the Washington DC Ragnar was severely lacking (and that’s putting it nicely, in my personal opinion). As a captain, I saw several points of failure throughout the Ragnar experience. Website updates and responses to email inquiries were not timely. There were initial issues and glitches with team member registration. Important logistical updates were not disseminated properly or in a timely fashion (i.e. closing of bathrooms in a limited access area were posted to the Ragnar website only days before the race and not emailed to team captains). Driving and parking directions to the finish were incorrect. As a company touting the importance of safety, there were several failures on that account, too. The course was not adequately marked in several portions (I and several other runners from different teams got lost/off-course). While obviously impossible to close down a 200 mile course, several portions were run alongside major roads or active highways with little or no shoulder, and sometimes without any cones. Per the Ragnar Race Bible, for legs over 4 miles without van support, a minimum of one water stop was required; 2 water stops for everything over 8 miles without van support. The first leg for Runner 12 was estimated at just under 7.5 miles, without a single water station. The last leg for Runner 12 did actually have 2 water stops but both were positioned prior to mile 5 (during an approximately 12 mile run without van support). The last leg was also one in which multiple runners got lost, so really 12+ miles. Luckily I had my Camelbak, but several other runners were struggling.
Race support was manned by volunteers. Each team was required to find 3 volunteers, or if unable to, pay Ragnar an additional $120 per volunteer. Volunteers were then assigned specific portions of the race course at certain times. Poor planning by Ragnar resulted in our volunteer being staged in the middle of the night without seeing a single race participant. Not once did I see a representative from Ragnar anywhere on the course. I feel bad for the volunteers as they took the brunt of the anger from some other teams for Ragnar’s poor planning. It wasn’t the volunteers’ fault, they were just the messengers. A prime example of Ragnar’s poor planning was the last-minute decision to eliminate Porta-Potties at the juncture of two long nighttime legs. With no bathroom facilities for nearly 17 miles and a strict policy of only using the designated facilities or being disqualified, several runners were understandably angry. Ragnar had advised to ‘plan accordingly’ but this wasn’t possible when you’re in rural Maryland at 3 in the morning.
Hot and humid as all get-out. Beyond the race director’s control, but adjustments (such as properly manned water stations) could and should have been made.
Swag and Medal
Swag was largely lacking. Aside from a T-shirt and window decal for every runner, each captain was provided with a few snacks for the team. Nut-based nutrition bars and an energy drink called Hot Shot were distributed, with enough for each teammate. I personally did not try the Hot Shot drink; smelling it and the testimonials from my teammates were enough. One of our runners likened it to eating Mace or Pepperspray, which if anyone would know what those tasted like, it would be him since he’s a police officer. Why anyone would think that’d be a good flavor for an endurance event is beyond me. At the major exchanges throughout the course, some other sponsors distributed their products (Coconut water, for example) and hot meals were available for purchase at local schools as a fundraiser.
The official Ragnar T-shirt was actually very nice; probably one of my favorite race T-shirts. It’s incredibly soft, and is a medium gray color with a rough sketch of the race course on the front and Ragnar’s motto on the back. The finisher’s medals were also a nice addition to the race wall. Each finisher’s medal measured approximately 4 by 3 inches and was a part in the collective team’s puzzle to form a larger image. The medal included a bottle cap opener in the design, as well as a glow in the dark Ragnar logo on the back.
Post Race Party
Little Cesar’s pizza (2 per team) were provided with some water and non-alcoholic beverages. Overall, like the rest of the race, poorly organized. Photos at the finish for the entire team seemed thrown together last minute, with other teams not even being afforded the opportunity.
While I generally try to find the positive glimmers of races, my experience with the 2017 Washington D.C. Ragnar Relay is far from that. I apologize if you have had wonderful experiences if this or another Ragnar event. In theory it sounds like it could be an enjoyable event, if executed properly. Ragnar, I had such high hopes for you…only to be sorely disappointed. One and done for this lady!
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Until next time, happy running!