(note: this post contains no jokes about Boston accents or use of the word “wicked.”)
Back in 2017, I ran my first long-distance relay race, American Odyssey. Then this year, I did it again. Instead of Gettysburg-to-DC, this route was from Groton, CT to Quincy, MA, but it featured some of the same players.
See, what had happened was: Erica and I were just finishing our beer 5K and she got a text from her friend Kim, who’s captained multiple Ragnar teams before and got our team recruited into American Odyssey. She had some openings for Ragnar New England, and were we interested? Erica certainly was, but I had a business trip to Copenhagen planned that weekend. However, a little poking around on Google Flights showed that I could combine the two, so off we went.
Ragnar races are typically about 36-hour events. The team size can vary, but it’s most common to have a team of 12, divided into two vans of 6 runners each. Each run leg varies from about 4 miles to 7 or more; the idea is that runner 1 from van 1 runs, and van 1 drives to the exchange point at the end of that leg. When runner 1 arrives, runner 2 starts out, and so on. While 1 van is running, the other can be sleeping, sightseeing, etc.
Van 1 consisted of team captain Kim and her husband Tim, plus multiple-Ragnar veterans Travis and Ciri Corbin and their son Devin (another multi-Ragnar finisher), an active duty airman. Van 2 was me and Erica and two other couples from Huntsville, Megan and Zach and Amanda and John. I knew Amanda, and Erica knew Megan, and Amanda, John, Megan, and Zach all knew each other.
We arrived in Boston on Thursday midday and Kim and Ciri picked us up at the airport. Kim had arranged an Airbnb in Plymouth with enough sleeping space for the 11 of us, so after a quick stop for a sandwich and a beer, we headed to the house to drop off our bags. Some teams sleep in their vans but that just sounds (and smells!) terrible. The house was terrific– big kitchen, 4 bathrooms, 6 bedrooms, a hot tub, and full-size arcade games in the basement. Better yet, it was located so that the van that wasn’t running could drive there in a reasonable time between legs.
After the bag drop, we walked around Plymouth proper, including visiting Plymouth Rock (which is a lot smaller than I expected) and taking some pictures of the Mayflower II, a full-size replica that is still terrifyingly small.
Kim had booked us dinner at a nearby restaurant, which was great for team socialization.
Of course I had to have lobster, in this case a delicious lobster mac-and-cheese. Extra credit to Sea Dog Brewing for their blueberry ale and their hilarious logo. Both the beer and the entree were delicious.
It’s traditional to decorate team vans, so after we walked back to the house, we got started on that. Our van was labeled “VAN HALEN” across the front (team 1 was “VAN MORRISON”) and then we started adding random pictures and text, each according to our own artistic abilities.
After the decorations were finally done, we all trooped off to bed. The race start was 9a Friday for van 1, but the start point was about a 90-minute drive away. Van 2 needed to be at the exchange point (“exchange 6”) around noon to check in, pick up our road-safety flags, and stage runner #7 (that would be me) for the run leg. This gave van 2 a little extra leisure time, but we’d be paying for it overnight Friday.
We met up with everyone at exchange 6 and checked in. You may notice in the picture above that we’re missing someone– that would be Travis, who was out running leg 6. As soon as he came in, I started out on my first leg, which was #7 overall. Because the race segments are built around 12-person teams, I also had legs 19 and 31. Erica got to be our anchor runner, so she had 12, 24, and the finishing leg, 36.
The exact start time for each subsequent leg would vary according to the runner’s pace; Ragnar provides a pace calculator sheet but it was pretty quickly evident that we had some sandbaggers. Both Devin and Zach ran much faster than predicted, and most of the rest of us were a little faster (at least on some legs). Shout out to Kim for being precisely on her predicted pace, even though she ran double legs to make up for us being one runner short.
My first leg started at Misquamicut State Beach in Rhode Island and covered a little over 7 miles. I ran right on-pace and enjoyed the sunshine enough that I took off my shirt about halfway. It was mid-60s with a nice breeze– the perfect weather for a leisurely run along the coast.
After I tagged our next runner out, we went in search of lunch, first stopping for a quick coffee pickup at one of the ubiquitous Dunkin Donuts found everywhere throughout New England. Rural Rhode Island isn’t exactly overrun with restaurant options, and we didn’t have a lot of time, so we found a small grocery store with a deli and bought sandwiches, then ate them in the van while heading to the next exchange point.
This pattern continued until we met up with van 1 again at exchange 12– Erica finished her leg, tagged Tim with the relay wristband, and then the rotation started over. That left van 2 free to go back to the house; we had about 3.5 hours before the projected start time for my next leg, but about 1.5 hours of that was eaten up by driving from exchange 12 to the house. When we got back, after a quick shower, I went immediately to sleep with an alarm set for 1120pm. When it went off, I blearily got up, got dressed, and met the team in the kitchen for our departure to exchange 18, where I would start on leg 7.
If you haven’t ever run in the middle of the night, let me tell you… it’s weird. It’s not just the darkness, nor the reduced activity in your surroundings. At least for me, it’s like my body knows it’s supposed to be asleep and just acts uncooperatively. My leg started at a middle school and ended at a high school, which meant I was running through mostly neighborhoods. The night was quiet, still, and cool, and in some spots the only real light was what was coming from my headlamp. It was a little spooky. After my exchange, we continued through the night, with Erica taking the last leg that finished a little after dawn.
After Erica finished leg 24, we loaded up the van for the short drive back to the house. Because our team had put another ~30 miles on the odometer since the start of my leg 19, we were quite a bit closer to the house. After another turbo shower, I was sound asleep until the alarm went off, at whatever time that was, and we loaded up for the drive to exchange 30. That whole process was a little bit of a blur.
Unsurprisingly, my third leg was the most difficult– I was tired, of course, but it was also hillier than either of the first two legs, and I didn’t love the course. For much of the 7 miles, I was running on the side of the road with no shoulder or sidewalk, with lots of hills and blind curves. There were some fun sights to see en route, though.
After the exchange, we found a small coffee shop for breakfast and went on with our pickup routine. The skies continued to darken and it became clear that it was going to rain– the forecast had called for rain after 3pm, but the forecast time of the rain’s start varied throughout the weekend. The bottom line is that our last three runners got rained on, and poor Erica was inundated. She had to run the finishing leg in a hard, steady, chilly rain, and she did it without a word of complaint. This didn’t surprise me, since she’s the same athlete who ran the last leg of American Odyssey on a bothersome knee in 85° heat, but I was proud of her.
Finally, the finish… I wish I could write about how great the finish-line ceremony was, but it was lame. Because it was still raining heavily, there were no spectators; every team that had already finished got their medals and took off. There was no free food or beer, as promised (I guess the vendors took off?) but we didn’t mind, because we didn’t want to hang around anyway.
Instead of going out to celebrate, we made the consensus decision to order pizza. This turned out to be a brilliant choice– everyone had time to get a hot shower and dry clothes, plus hot tub time, and then we sat around visiting and eating pizza. I don’t think anyone stayed up very late; Erica, Tim, and Kim had early flights on Sunday, and I carpooled with them since I was flying to Copenhagen later. I figured I could drop my luggage and go see some sights.
As it turns out, Sunday morning is a terrible time to see sights in Boston because things are either closed because it’s Sunday or closed because it’s early. For example, the Old North Church has services all morning, so you can’t tour it; the Boston Fire Museum is closed, and so on. I walked around a bunch in the sunshine, had Mexican street cod at Legal Sea Foods, and then went back to the airport for my flight.
Overall, the race was a blast. I got to meet some interesting and fun people, listen to some great new music (thanks to John and Zach), run in some places I hadn’t been before, and have yet another adventure with my favorite adventure partner. All in all, a great weekend, and I’d do another Ragnar with this group any time, anywhere.