9 Lessons Learned at Ragnar Del Sol

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Ragnar Del Sol 2015 was a challenge of a lifetime. A voluntary testing of physical limits and mental toughness shared with thousands of like-minded people. Basically, a unique blend of crazy that I brought on myself.

That much I knew going in. What surprised me was how much I would learn about myself my others.

After running Ragnar Del Sol, I know …

Runners are good people. We get to the first exchange point under total darkness. Then, with runner 1 in and runner 2 out, we hop in the van to head to exchange 2. Turn the ignition and nothing. Click-click-click. Our battery died an hour into the race. Two teams came to our rescue, one to lend us a cable and one to give us a jump. In a time when I normally would have been losing it, there was a sort of calm. Somehow, I knew my fellow Ragnarians would hook us up. And they did.

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Arizona scenery can be gorgeous and boring as hell. We’re having our van jumped at exchange 1. The sun is coming up, finally. Runners from all over have their cameras out, taking pictures of the spectacular sunrise. I’ve lived here almost 20 years, and Mother Nature’s daily fireworks display still gives me goosebumps. Fast-forward an hour to my first leg, a 7-mile straight stretch of Vulture Mine Road in Wickenburg, and I can’t get away from the mind-numbing monotony. Hardly a car on the road to make it interesting. Give and get.

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Our bodies can do amazing things. Ragnar conditions can be harsh. And running was the easy part! Harsh is running 7 miles and then hopping right into a van so you can jump ahead to cheer on your teammate during his leg, leaving your sweaty self to cool down and collect thoughts on the way. Harsh is running 9 miles, or any miles, on two hours of half-sleep.

With the right mind-set, it’s possible to turn a bad run into a great one. My second leg ventured off the streets of Peoria and into the sandy, rocky, godforsaken Agua Fria riverbed. The conditions were treacherous—with my headlamp insufficient to show the way and no street lights in sight, I literally had no idea what I would encounter with each stride. I tweaked my ankle twice and stubbed my toe once. Not surprisingly, my attitude went south. Finally, out of the wash and back onto sidewalk, I had a choice: I could either continue to grumble and gripe or I could ditch my negative thoughts and focus on the 5 miles ahead. I chose the latter. I regained my footing, steadied my pace, focused my breathing, boosted my confidence and finished my leg strong.

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Headlamps are not for show. Ragnar requires a head light for night running, and for good reason. They want you to see and be seen by drivers on the open streets. I prefer hat clips over headlamps, because I’m already used to running with a visor but otherwise hate having things on my head. Turns out my meager two-LED hat clip works well in the familiar confines of my neighborhood but not in the pitch black of the Agua Fria riverbed. If you know of a bright clip light, hit me up.

There is no camaraderie quite like 2 a.m. camaraderie. With runner 6 on the course, our van was nearly finished for the night, so the six of us could finally break and (try to) get some sleep. We’re at Anthem Community Park. It’s so late, and it’s so freakin’ cold. But I’m there, and my teammates are there, to support our runners in the exchange. Runners from both vans getting together, swapping war stories. These are the moments I’ll remember.

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When people tell you to dress warmly, you need to dress warmly. Ragnar was all like, “Bring a blanket” and “Bring a sleeping bag,” and I was all like, “Pssh, it’s cold but not THAT cold. I’m from Arizona. I know better.” I did not know better. What Ragnar knew that I didn’t was the amount of time I would spend in the dark and cold not running—waiting for my teammates and cheering them on.

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Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep every night to function properly. The operative word here is properly. I edit healthcare publications for a living, so I’m well aware of the National Sleep Foundation’s recommendations. At Ragnar, I did not heed them. Trying to curl my 6-foot-4 frame on the middle seat of a 10-passenger van, I couldn’t. If Ragnar had been one day longer, I would have been in real trouble. Thankfully, I lived to sleep another day.

Ragnar is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and you’re going to want to do it again. I figured going in that I would enjoy myself. I had no idea what kind of hold it would have on me. A week removed from the finish line, I can’t get my mind off Ragnaring.

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What’s Next?

Ragnar Relay has a sister series, Ragnar Trail, and there is a trail race in McDowell Mountain. It’s in my backyard, and if that weren’t tempting enough, Ragnar is offering a double medal for anyone who finishes the Phoenix-area Relay and Trail in the same year. I’m so doing this.

There Are No Comfort Zones at Ragnar

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On Friday, I’m going to take turns running 205 miles across the desert with 11 total strangers. I’m so excited!

That is, I’m running Ragnar Del Sol, a two-day, 24/7 relay race from Wickenburg to Mesa, Arizona.

And I say I’m so excited, but I’m also uncomfortable. Sometimes, discomfort is part of the appeal. I’m not talking nagging-foot-injury discomfort. I’m talking way-out-of-my-comfort-zone discomfort.

Physically, I’m feeling good. I’ve trained well, and I’m particularly amped up for what awaits me on the desert roads.

How Ragnar Works

Each team comprises 12 runners, divided equally between two vans. Runners 1–6 take turns getting out of the van and plodding a predetermined distance (a segment or leg), anywhere from 2.3 to 13.5 miles each. When one runner finishes, a baton is passed and the next runner begins. On the sixth exchange, runner 6 in van 1 passes on to runner 7 in van 2, and runners 7–12 take it from there. Eventually, runner 12 in van 2 passes to runner 1 in van 1. And so on. (Ragnar explains it much cooler than I do in this 60-second video.)

My three legs are 7.1 miles, 7.6 miles and 9.0 miles. I’ve run all those distances. I’ll be running these legs around 7:30 a.m., 9 p.m. the same day and 7:15 a.m. the next day, respectively (depending on the collective pace of my team). I’ve run at those times.

When I say I’ve trained well, I mean I went so far as to simulate my legs, running this past Saturday morning, Saturday night and Sunday morning—not the whole distance, mind you, but enough to give me an idea of what I’m in for.

The conditions are nothing new. The race is on an open course and will consist of sidewalks and shoulders and side-stepping traffic. Been there, done that, got the technical T-shirt.

The question is …

Can I lighten up and just have fun?

Given my affinity for comfort zones, I’m a wee bit anxious about joining a whole team of people I’ve never met. Literally, they’re all flying and driving in from out of state today and will return from whence they came after it’s all over.

Given my respect for prerun regimen—like eating certain things at certain times, warming up, cooling down—I’m preoccupied with being at the mercy of five other people in my van who probably have their own prerun regimens.

Given my inclination to keep to myself, I get twitchy thinking of all the high-fiving and other close-quarters bonding that is to come.

Given my desire to look into something as much as possible before I leap, my answer to a lot of questions about this weekend has been “I think” and “Actually, I don’t know.”

One common denominator I have with my teammates-to-be is we’re all crazy enough to do this thing. I need to give myself permission to have fun with these 11 strangers. Based on everything I’ve been told, they won’t be strangers for long—36 hours cooped up in a car has a way of breaking down the walls of personal space.

So I’m trying to loosen the reins a bit and be OK not knowing all the answers about my Ragnar weekend. As long as I’m at the start line on time (alarm goes off around 3 a.m., BTW) and have my running gear on, everything else—well, a little mystery never hurt anyone.