the ragnar report

I should have written this post a few days ago. I tried. But this darn thing called “work” kept getting in the way.

Ragnar was amazing. I didn’t expect it to be. In fact, in the weeks leading up to the event, I was worried about sleep deprivation and missing work and school and wondered why I’d signed up.

What is Ragnar? you might ask. Up until a year ago, I had no idea, either. Ragnar is a multi-stage, point-to-point relay race in which teams of 12 runners (or fewer, if you’re crazy) cover 200ish miles in one straight shot. Teams typically split up between two vans and stagger shifts of runners. Van 1 has runners one through six; Van 2 has runners seven through twelve. When your van isn’t running, it’s either eating or sleeping — or trying to! Ragnar Tennessee goes from Chattanooga to Nashville and covers everything from mountain climbs to farmland to city scapes. It was an amazing way to see Tennessee, but even more, it was an opportunity to meet some incredible people.

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Outside the Blue Chair coffee shop after our first run

I signed up for Ragnar last summer before I moved to Knoxville. Back then, an old college friend in Chattanooga was looking for teammates. I’d heard good things about the event from friends in Santa Rosa who’d done it and thought it’d be a good way to reconnect. I was right. Ragnar is a bonding experience like no other. Your van-mates quickly become close friends, and the more sleep-deprived you become, the funnier everything gets. You said whattt?! Ohhh. That’s not what I heard! (And so on.)

You have a lot of down time between runs. The course typically takes about 30-36 hours to complete, in a team of 12, everyone runs three legs. My three totaled 18.5 miles. If that sounds like a lot, it’s really not, but it is when you space them so closely together! I always push myself during races, and in my first two runs (8.5 and 6.5 miles, respectively) I managed to maintain sub 8-minute miles. By the third leg, however, I was tight and sore and came in at an 8:03-minute mile pace. Thankfully this was also my shortest leg (3.5 miles). Not sure I could have run much more!

Below is the start of my second leg. It was 12:30 a.m.-ish.

It’s the “people part” of Ragnar I’d like to focus on most, though. I ended up in a van with five other wonderful and wildly different people — some I’d known before, and some I was meeting for the first time. It was a group who probably wouldn’t have hung out under normal circumstances, but in those moments, we became the best of friends. This was greatly refreshing for someone who’s been incredibly lonely for months (me, lol), as it was companionship I relished and found I greatly needed. Because the truth is . . .

Whether we like it or not, we’re social creatures. Even introverts like me need companionship, and it’s been tough to readjust to my normal routine since Ragnar ended. I keep hoping that by getting out and doing things I’ll gradually create a strong friend network here in Knoxville. These connections get harder to make as you get older, though. People have busy lives and kids and careers. “Real life” isn’t the same as life in college — or in a van!


11 p.m.-ish Friday night just before my group began our second leg.

In all, my team came in 95th out of 231. There were other “ultra” groups (teams of 6 or 9) whose individual members ran greater distances, and there were incredible groups of runners who were amputees. But whether you were an ultra runner or a beginner, an amputee, or somewhere in between, something else I loved about Ragnar was the lack of competitiveness I felt between the teams. True, some groups were counting “kills” (the number of times their teammates had passed other runners) on the sides of their vans, but they were also counting “poos” (self-explanatory), and everyone was cheering everyone else on. It evident that people were there to have a good time. This was in stark contrast to most triathlons I’ve done — where it’s all about doing your personal best and “get out of my way” in transition and on the road, etc. — and if ever you have a chance to compete in a Ragnar event, I’d highly recommend it! You’ll make memories that will last a lifetime. (I hear it’s coming to Britain soon!)


Troy showing off our Ragnar sticker symbol on our van.


At transition 6/7, before my van’s first runs.


The real heroes.


Joe and his dad passing the baton for the LAST LEG!!


Waiting for Joe a quarter mile from the finish line.


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27 thoughts

  1. You mention something that I think is incredible about all of the fun runs and 10ks and halfs and marathons that go on almost every weekend in my community. Even within the competitive spirit that drives some of the participants, there is such a sense of community and support for everybody who participates. Because at the end of the day what matters is that you are out there. Running. Walking. Fast. Slow. It doesn’t matter. You are a part of that community and nobody is going to question or challenge that you are there.

    • I agree with you Mark. There *is* a great sense of community within the “active” world. I think that’s a big reason a lot of people do it. I think Ragnar took this spirit to the next level, though. Perhaps it was because it was a team effort, or because it was an overnight event, but everyone out there just seemed happy to be alive. It was refreshing.

  2. Happy for you… making great memories and possible life long friends. Definitely not sitting back and waiting on life. That says a lot! I’m going to do one of the crazy things one day!! Whether I’m counting “kills” or “poos,” I hope I garner the same insights and feeling from RAGNAR that you derived. Well done!!

  3. Ragnar sounded like such an amazing time for you. Lol, the more sleep-deprived the funnier everything gets. Have to agree because the more sleep-deprived we are, we have more of an imagination :D Lovely to hear that everyone in your team finished and it wasn’t about coming in first or getting ahead of the competition – and you will all finish at the same place anyway. That isn’t always the case in the normal routine world where everyone likes to get ahead in terms of work and life in general.

    I think as we grow older, meeting people is still easy. You just have to go out and put yourself out there, maybe socialise at the pub a bit more. But it’s making friendships and lasting ones at that that is the hard part. As you grow older, people drift away doing what they do with their lives…and you might end up comparing yourselves to them and wonder who have you got left. Hope all is well and good luck juggling life :)

    • Hi Mabel, you’re so sweet. Yes, Ragnar was great. Definitely a way to get out of the ordinary, day-to-day routine in life. I wouldn’t be surprised if they started doing them in Australia someday, too. So look out for them!

      You’re right that it’s not so hard to meet people but that it is harder to make friendships that last. Deep friendships take time spent and memories made together. This gets harder as we get older as we have increased obligations outside of our friendships. It’s definitely a challenge for us introverts, too. I dislike small talk and large groups. More intimate settings with close friends is much more my style!

      Hope your weekend is starting off well!

      • The older you get, those who walk in your life and stay become all the more meaningful. Certainly challenging for introverts…because deep down we all want friends, or just even that one friend, to count on. Enjoy the weekend, Jess!

    • I would love to see your photos of Ragnar! The slogans on the vans pictured were just the beginning. It would be amazing to see pics of participants in the U.K.’s gorgeous countryside, too. It would be a lovely place to participate in any form or fashion! Cheers, and happy weekend!

  4. Great read Jessica, your description of Ragnar is what life is all about ~ finding those special moments and making them your own. You seem to have a pretty great gift for this. In the Northwest, we have the Hood-To-Coast relay, Cycle Oregon and the Seattle-to-Portland bike ride which sound similar, a place to bring like-minded people together. Wonderful photos & video, get to see you shine in your element. Wonderful to hear from you and that you are on another adventure :-) Take care and enjoy the weekend.

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