18 July 2015

Ragnar Relay Northwest Passage – ultra style

I love Shelley. Any event that starts with me finding a note like this in my bag of race nutrition is going to be good.


Why was it 'ultra style'? Read on to find out.

The Ragnar Relay races are obviously hugely popular! Not sure how long the Northwest Passage edition has been around but each team usually has 12 runners and there were about 350 teams – if you do the math that is a boatload of runners.

How did I end up here? It was a classic friend-of-a-friend story. The Whistle Tips (the name of my team) had one of their members drop out because of an injury. They asked a friend of mine (Bill Huggins) if he'd like to run. Bill was not free but recommended me. Bingo.

Like most relay events, this is a VERY BIG DEAL and requires a LOT OF VOLUNTEERS. This event is 200 miles in total. The way most teams do the run is to divide the team up into two vans; legs 1-6 go in one van and 7-12 in another and you keep switching vans until you complete all 36 legs. This means there are five massive transitions where you are not only handing off from runner to runner but also from van to van. It was at this first big transition that my van (van #2) started out. It was a zoo.

There were long lines where each team had to check in.


We had to not only get our safety gear approved (reflective vest and headlamp), we also had to watch a safety movie.


Imagine an 80 degree day, you're outside, and Taylor Swift is blaring on the speakers. This safety movie was not super effective.

ASIDE – why do these safety movies always try to be comedies? This one starred three fake cops, two of which (men) were bumbling clowns and one of which (a woman) was the sensible one correcting all their mistakes. Slapstick abounded. One word: riveting.

I learned that everyone needs to decorate their van. If you don't you get made fun of and if you do your van gets tagged by other teams because then they know you are in the race. It's a real win/win. Truth be told they would know anyway because every vehicle has to have a Ragnar sticker on the back but I didn't figure this out until later. Apparently it's also a requirement of every team to list the names of each runner on your van.

[Note tag on bottom, left corner of window.]

Next to each name is the leg they are running. If you look closely, you will notice that there are two legs next to mine. Just two days prior to the race one more Whistle Tip had to drop out due to a work commitment and the rules state you can have different people make up each of the three legs or one person run them all. Of course I volunteered for the later. Smile

After checking in, painting the van and taking some pictures of other vans (sexual innuendo or just straight up dick pics were the norm this year) we took the first team picture.


At the start, each of the van transitions (where we were now) and at the finish, they had these giant, inflatable arches. Everyone was cheering all the runners on and it was really cool. The 'baton' you handed off was a bracelet with a metal core. You could straighten it out and if you slapped someone's forearm, it would curl up and wrap itself around the wrist. Slick! Here is how that works.

How did it go? It was a blast! Yes it was hot and yes it was tough to get rolling on some of my legs but my team was so positive and van #1 was rock solid so we never had to worry about the other half of our team. Here are some highlights.

  • On my first leg I had a massive tailwind! I can't remember the last time I looked at my watch and saw this pace but it didn't feel like I was taxing myself too much so I just went with it.
  • I feel like I just crammed one year's worth of tempo runs into a single weekend!
  • At exchange #12 this guy stumbled in, handed off the bracelet and promptly projectile vomited all over the transition area. Then he stumbled over to the grass and threw up some more. His team just kind of stood around like they were embarrassed for him and didn't say a word until he picked himself up.
  • The "Dick Horse" team had a picture of a horse's head on their van and the nose of the horse was a penis. Only the penis was pointed at the body of the horse so the tip of the nose was two balls. GET IT?! #inyourfacehumor
  • Passing an eight year old boy on my second leg. I guess it's also traditional to record all your 'kills' (people you pass) on the side of the van and I was not going to be denied this one. Queen takes pawn. Booyah!
  • Showers! There were showers at all the van exchanges which was absolutely dreamy. Nothing like the ability get cleaned up before you pretended to sleep for a couple of hours.
  • The sunset we experienced while leaving La Conner. My camera did not do it justice but damn… the colors were over the top.
  • All the night legs. Not only did we get relief from the heat but it was very peaceful to run in the middle of the night with very little traffic and no streetlights.
  • Crossing Deception Pass. The entire bridge sidewalk was decorated with flashing lights, it was an amazing sight.
  • At the finish they had a Ragnar backdrop you could take your picture in front of. The photographer was super fun and when I asked her to take my picture with my camera she was more than willing. Then she said, "Give me a gun show!" Behold an ultra runner gun show. Embarrassing.

The finish line expo explains why this event is so successful, every other tent was selling Ragnar paraphernalia and I was not immune – I purchased a visor. Unfortunately there were no showers at the finish but that was okay. You got one beer ticket and had to buy your own food. At least I managed to acquire two additional tickets. Thank you Sierra Nevada for supplying the beer.

Thanks to the Whistle Tips for a fantastic experience!


To anyone contemplating running this, I recommend it. For sure it requires a bit of effort to organize everything but from my perspective it was very worth it.

I received some new Brooks Launch 2 shoes a few months ago but had not used them yet. I took them out for a couple of runs last week and that was all it took – this is my new road race shoe! It isn't just the lower weight, these things feel incredibly fast. AND they feel substantial enough for a road marathon! I'm psyched. They performed really well.

Relay races where you need to go hard multiple times are all about treating each leg like it's a one-day event. You need to fuel properly in advance of each leg, you need to warm up, you need to hydrate, recover and then repeat the entire process while adjusting for the time of your next leg. Having gear and nutrition that works so well takes a giant load off your mind. My shoes and Brooks shorts were fantastic and so comfy – zero issues there. Regarding nutrition I'm so grateful to have support from Hammer Nutrition. They make products for every part of the day and every stage of the workout. I was able to eat and drink without concern for whether or not I was having something that worked or if the amounts were correct. Done and done. Omnibar provided the savory snack during significant down time. Thanks also to The Balanced Athlete for the ongoing support, the warm, fuzzy jacket that turned into an awesome pillow and for the help in getting my Garmin Fenix 3 which has been an amazing running watch/smartwatch.

Here are all my pictures and video.

Sleep perhaps one or two hours at the half way point…
Waking HR  
Body Weight  
Body Fat  
Nutrition leg #25 – large Water Bottle w/2 scoops Hammer HEED and one Endurolytes
throughout – Hammer Gel, Perpetuem, Hammer HEED, Hammer Bars, Omnibars, two real meals at van exchanges when there was significant down time, lots of plain water
Recovery Recoverite and a Hammer Recovery Bar after each set of two legs
Therapy stretching throughout
Time of Day  
Workout Type race
Weather upper 80s during the day, upper 50s at might
Results 32nd – Mixed Open
official results
Time 27:16:11
Distance 200 miles total (my six legs officially totaled 28.5 miles)
Pace leg #10 – 6:52 (flat, tailwind)
leg #12 – 6:38 (flat, tailwind, I held back less)
leg #22 – 6:52 (night leg, almost all slightly uphill, I pushed hard)
leg #24 – 7:10 (night leg, my longest leg, big rolling hills)
leg #34 – 7:08 (climbed a wall right at the start, downhill finish)
leg #36 – 7:11 (steep climb in the middle and an uphill finish, ran low on gas)
Equipment Brooks Launch 2
Clothing Brooks Essential Low Quarter Sock, Brooks Infinity Short III, Hammer Nutrition JackRabbit Visor, Hammer Nutrition Men's Sleeveless Running Shirt

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