Category Archives: Advice

The Best Marathon in Every State

My marathon schedule as laid out last April is already off (missed Missoula, only did half of Blerch, and 2015 is all over the place).  But the schedule was not so much about hitting those exact races in those exact years but rather seeing how long it could (would?) take to run the 50 States, and to create a list of the top races to do.  The whole goal is to enjoy this quest, so I want to make sure to pick the right races.  How can I know if I’m picking the best race?  Random internet lists to the rescue!

 

The venerable website VacationHomeRentals.com (“by Trip Advisor”) recently posted a list of the Best Marathon in Every State in the USA.  I agree with the sparse comments more than I do with the list – not that I’ve run that many of the listed races, but the fact that they included my least favorite marathon to date (Marshall Marathon in West Virginia) leads me to suspect they just randomly threw this list together.  Shocking, I know, considering what a leading runners’ resource VacationHomeRentals.com is.  Is my sarcasm coming through?  This thing on?  <thump thump feeeeedback!>

 

Since that wasn’t a reliable list, I decided to suss out (aka Google) other lists of the “Best Marathon in Each State.”  There aren’t all that many.  Interestingly enough, FlipKey.com (also “by Trip Advisor”) posted an unannotated list of the 50 “top marathons & races” in each state here (dated April 9, 2014).  Not all are full marathons, but it looks like most are.

 

The 50 States Marathon Club also has a “favorites” list from suggestions from members, but it’s unclear how many members have actually given input or how often they update it, plus it often includes more than one marathon per state.  I only found one comprehensive 50 Marathons in the 50 States list from a site that actually has to do with running – Active.com’s Top 50 Marathons to do Across America – which also includes a short description on each race.  There’s no date and no comments, so I have no idea when they put this list together.  I also hate that it’s spread across 7 pages so you have to click-through everything, making it difficult to compare this list with the others – so, I did it for you!

Best marathon in each state page 1 of 3Best marathon in each state page 2 of 3Best marathon in each state page 3 of 3In alphabetical order by state, here are the 50 “best” marathons in each state from VacationHomeRentals, FlipKey, the 50 States Marathon Club, and Active.com.  Click the images above to expand, or click here for a 3-page PDF of the compiled lists.  I also included my tentative “to do” list but did not highlight when my selections overlapped with another’s.  Someday I hope to be able to create a compact review of a race in each state myself!

 

I highlighted those races that appeared in more than one list (and bolded the races in my list I’ve completed).  It’s interesting to note that no race was included in all four lists, but several races were included in three (Little Rock, AR; Hartford, CT; Mesa Falls, ID; Boston, MA; Steamtown, PA; Myrtle Beach, SC; & Richmond, VA).  Are those 7 races the best of the best, or do those states just not have a lot of great options?  There were 10 states that didn’t have any overlap on the four lists (Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, & Washington).  Not surprising for those states that are full of natural beauty and/or a lot of runners (e.g. Alaska, Colorado, Montana, Washington, etc.), but I was surprised there were that many “best” races in Maryland and Missouri.

 

For the sake of thoroughness, although I did not include these lists in my compilation:  here’s Men’s Health’s 2012 article 11 Races to Run Before You Die, clearly written by someone who was asked to name every race that he could name off the top of his head, with a couple of randoms thrown in (if you hate the slideshow format like me, here’s a spoiler:  Chicago Marathon, NYC Marathon, Honolulu Marathon, Boston Marathon, Big Sur Marathon, Mt Desert Island Marathon, Indy Mini Half Marathon, London Marathon, Bay-to-Breakers, Miami Half Marathon, & Covered Bridges Half Marathon).  But it’s no worse than the TopEventsUSA.com’s list (updated Feb 2014) of the “Top 20 Marathons or Marathon Events in the USA,” presented in such a maddening non-list I can’t bother to re-create it here.  There’s also this crowdsourced list of marathons by month, but the links simply send you to comments made on MarathonGuide.com.  Finally, here’s Marathon and Beyond’s 1998 list of the top 26 Marathons in North America.  Surprisingly I think most are still being run!

 

As always, I think the best resource for information on marathons in the US is MarathonGuide.com – bless all those people who write detailed reviews – but now you have a color-coded compiled 50 “best” list, which is better than actually training for anything, right?

Hazelnut chocolate wafer candy bar

And for a bonus candy review – the candy pictured above was one of the new candies I got in Houston.  It’s super delicious, like a delicate Kit Kat with chopped hazelnuts on top.  The wafer is airy, the chocolate and hazelnut flavors are good, and the chopped nuts go perfectly with the wafers and chocolate.  I could easily eat 50 of these things in every US State.  Too bad I have no idea what this candy is called, even though I’m looking directly at the wrapper.  (Ion Chocofreta?  It’s all Greek to me!)

 

Do you have a list of the top 50 marathons by state, or a list of races you’d like to do?  Do you have a list of the 50 best candy bars?  Which list would you rather research and compile?  Share in the comments!

8 Years of marathons for the 50 states

A Schedule to Run the 50 States

To finish a marathon in each of the 50 States, I’ve had the vague idea that I’d run about 4 marathons a year and finish in about 10 years, give or take a few years.  That’s not to say I haven’t been doing research on how to accomplish this.  In fact, I’ve spent countless hours reading reviews of marathons, listing races in a Google spreadsheet, making notes, and choosing my favorite(s) for each state — but I’ve never written out an actual schedule.  I knew that I wanted to finish in Hawaii (with, ideally, some friends & family to celebrate), and I also wanted to save Alaska for the end (ideally as the 49th state but knew that might be difficult with scheduling).

 

Last night I finally unleashed the hyper-planner in me and mapped out exactly which races I could do in which years, and how fast I might be able to cram the approximately 40 necessary marathons into the next several years.  You can see my schedule below.  The marathons that are in bold simply indicate races that I’m particularly keen on doing for one reason or another (could be because of location, or race reputation, or just something stuck in my head probably because I saw some commercial somewhere).

 

8 Years of marathons for the 50 states

 

It turns out I can cram all my needed marathons into 8 years, assuming I run 5 marathons each year for 8 years in a row, which is a huge, GIANT assumption, especially with my tendency towards injury.

 

On paper, my biggest hurdle was Continue reading

Where's the Finish Panda

Training page updated with resources

Wanted to let you all know that I updated my “Training” page with a lot more information, including a long list of free marathon training programs available online, ready and waiting for your next marathon adventure.

 

I also uploaded two PDFs I made – one of a running log you can use to keep track of your training, and another one-sheet of my interval training exercises (modified and expanded from the recent NY Times article citing research indicating that these simple body-weight exercises can improve cardiovascular fitness as much as longer bouts of steady-state exercise).  It’s the only at-home workout that I’ve actually stuck to, since (1) it doesn’t require setting up a video, remembering complicated exercises, or using any equipment, (2) it’s very quick (even when I throw in a couple extra exercises from the “additional” section it only takes me about 22 minutes to go through the entire cycle twice), and (3) it’s a legitimately good workout (I’m literally dripping sweat by the end – definitely do the exercises on a towel if you’re like me!).

 

To try to stay organized, I use a binder to hold photocopies of the running log (52 copies, one for each week of the year), and use the clear pocket on the cover of the binder to hold the list of interval training exercises so I can reference it with sweaty hands.  There are lots of free apps available to help you keep track of your intervals.  I use “Interval Timer – Timing for HIIT Training and Workouts” that’s free (with ads) for iPhones.  It can be set to sound a bell every 30 seconds, 10 seconds, 30 seconds, etc. so you don’t have to look at a clock or your watch.

 

I hope these resources help you get to the starting (and finish!) line of your next marathon!

 

In case you had me confused with someone else, I’m not a certified trainer or fitness professional.  Please consult a doctor before beginning any exercise plan.

Ragnar Adirondacks start for Where's the Finish

Updated Ragnar Relay Packing List and Tips (now with PDF!)

Ragnar Adirondacks start for Where's the Finish

Ragnar Adirondacks 2013 Starting Area, when all our clothes were clean.

After finishing my first Ragnar Relay (Ragnar Adirondacks, September 27-28, 2013 – find my on the road posts here and finishing post here, and recaps of Leg 1, Leg 2, and Leg 3), I emerged with some strong opinions on my original Ragnar packing list.  My number one thought was that it was way too much stuff.  We barely touched any of the stuff in the “essential” van kits, and a couple items I didn’t emphasize turned out to be pretty important.   If you just want a one-page, unannotated Ragnar Packing list in PDF, you can find it here.

 

There were some good tips in the original post.  Definitely pack your running outfits in separate gallon zip-lock baggies and write LEG 1, 2, & 3 and your name with a sharpie on each bag.  Definitely put your sweaty clothes back in the bag (baking soda optional – Van 1 used a lot of baking soda but Van 2 didn’t touch the stuff) and then you can zip it up and toss it in the back – since it’s labeled you’ll be able to easily claim it later.

 

I want to emphasize that Van 1 used different items than Van 2, and even within the same van we used/needed/liked different items, which brings me to my number 2 lesson – you don’t become a different person during Ragnar.  If you like or don’t like a certain food or article of clothing, that’s not going to change just because you’re doing an overnight relay.  If you never spray your shoes with sneaker spray, you probably don’t need to start now (despite the cramped van, it didn’t really get that smelly).  If you think moleskin is too thick and you never use it, you won’t suddenly use it this weekend.  All of these packing items are suggestions only, and the list is more inclusive than exclusive so it gives you ideas of what you might want, but ultimately all you need are running shoes and clothes – the rest is gravy.

 

Now here’s my updated annotated packing list for Ragnar Relay!  Clean PDF version is here. [Comments added post-race are in brackets in bold italics.]

Clothing

  • Running shirts – 3 at most and remember, you will be getting a tech (short sleeve) Ragnar shirt at the starting line, so you could count it as one shirt that you don’t have to pack [In general your clothing should be as bright and reflective as possible – it’s not only safer to wear bright clothing on open roads, but it’s also easier for your teammates to spot you.]
  • Running bottoms – 3
  • Running shoes – 1 or 2 pair [I packed only 1 pair because I knew it wouldn’t rain, and I’m glad I only had 1 pair to deal with, but if there might be rain, pack 2.]
  • Running socks – 3 pair [I’d say bring one additional pair to wear between legs, too – especially if it will be cold at night.]
  • Sports Bra/Undies – at least 3 pairs each [I went through more clean underwear this weekend than I thought I would, so definitely pack enough.  Also, I kept my clean underwear in my “between legs” bag instead of my “running legs” bags – it was easier organizationally this way since then I didn’t have to dip into both “between” and “running” bags to get fresh clothing post run(s).]
  • Hat/visor for rain or sun (the bill of the hat/visor also helps keep the headlamp from falling down) – 1 or 2 hats, depending on how much you sweat [2 hats worked well for me, one bright one for day and reflective one for night.]
  • Non-running shirt to wear in-between runs in the van – 1 or 2 comfy shirts (can always wear the next running shirt, too) [1 shirt for between legs was fine – I’d put on the same shirt after each leg and it didn’t get wet or gross by the end.]
  • Non-running bottoms to wear in-between runs in the van – something comfy like sweats or yoga pants [I wore the same pair of capri pants between each leg, which was fine.]
  • Non-running shoes – something to air out your feet and that you can be comfortable in and shower in [I wore slip-on crocs, not flip flops so I didn’t have anything between my toes, which allowed me to go barefoot or wear socks when it was cold – they worked perfectly.]
  • Warm jacket or sweatshirt – it will be cool at night [DEFINITELY bring something warm for cool-weather Ragnars – I wore both my sweatshirt and quilted jacket for almost every minute I wasn’t running, and I wished I had an additional jacket or a warmer one, but I’m also a person who hates to be cold.]
  • Rain jacket/windbreaker [I didn’t bring a rain jacket because I knew it wouldn’t rain and I knew I wouldn’t wear it.]
  • Costume items – anything fun you want to run in or cheer in! [Even though it was a little bulky to pack, I’m glad I had my costume, and many other runners ran the entire race in tutus and such, which was cute.]

Safety Gear (required) – check that all work and batteries are good [and take all gear for a test run – even if you look foolish testing it in the daytime, you’ll want it to be comfy during Ragnar]

  • Headlamp – strongly recommended to have your own, sharing headlamps is gross (they get sweaty) – you can get a small, lightweight one for $6 with shipping, or a more substantial one for $19, or the first one I linked which has a red filter for night-vision, at $29 [A good strong headlamp was helpful – I’d say don’t cheap out on this item.  They also seemed to sell them at the start, so if you do forget yours they might be available on-course, but don’t count on it.]
  • Tail light/blinking lights, if you have them – I found the best little light called the Vizlet LED by Amphipod – they’re only 10 bucks each on Amazon, very lightweight, and can clip-on anywhere [The Vizlets were fantastic, very visible and very lightweight – worth getting several of them.]
  • Reflective vest for night running – I got a cheap one and also this fancier one with a small single pocket in the front [The “fancy” one was a nightmare of choking and chafing, but I had leant my cheaper one to another runner, so I was stuck with my nightmare.  Definitely test your gear!]

Running Accessories – Keep in one separate Ziploc bag with night safety gear for easy of finding in van before each run [Yes!  Definitely keep all your accessories in one place – it was much easier for me to access those little items all in one spot and not spread out across my “leg” bags or general bag.]

  • Handheld water bottle/water belt/Camelbak/SPI belt – whatever you normally use when running [It was essential for me to have my Camelbak on my longer legs.]
  • Watch or GPS [My Garmin kept its charge for the whole race, but I’d sometimes forget to turn it on in time, so my distances and times were a little off.]
  • Road ID – for your shoe, in case of emergency
  • Sunglasses
  • Hair ties/hairbands
  • Ipod & headphones [I’d say only use these if you absolutely must.  Only one runner in our van used headphones, and she only used them in one ear.  The roads aren’t closed to traffic, and it’s helpful to be as alert and aware of your surroundings as possible.  Also, relays like Hood to Coast prohibit them.]
  • Phone numbers of all teammates & maps of your legs of the run – in a small ziplock bag, a “must carry” when running (other people sometimes remove course markings and runners get lost, so reviewing your segments and having little maps to carry with you are an excellent idea) [I carried this but luckily never had to use it, but another runner on my team did, so definitely better to carry this small item for peace of mind.]
  • Cell Phone – see above – you should pre-program your teammates numbers into the phone, and you can photograph or screenshot the legs of your run – but hard copies are advised in case your phone dies [My phone almost never got service so I used it as a camera instead of a phone – it wouldn’t have helped me get rescued, but at least when they found my body they could have enjoyed some pictures of scenery.]
  • Cash – small bills (in general people said to have a decent amount of cash in small bills for food and drinks and random stuff you’ll want to buy at kiosks and stuff along and at the end of the course) [The $3 I spent for bathrooms and sleeping was maybe the best $3 I’ve ever spent.]

Miscellaneous

  • Cell phone – yeah, don’t forget this
  • Cell phone car charger & cords [Our van oddly came with a USB port, so we actually didn’t use the chargers very much, but you still should have at least one dual charger available and don’t forget the charging cables.]
  • Water bottle – something you can refill from the van’s large water supply (so you don’t have a million empty bottles floating around) – this is my favorite water bottle for refilling and tossing in my purse as the locking mechanism is very secure, but it also pops open easily and has an easy drinking spout (no wide mouth to splash you, no straw to get dirty).  [Definitely used my bottle a lot, refilling it from the gallon jugs of water we bought at the grocery store.]
  • Camera – can have one “team camera” [Should have used it more.]
  • Body Glide/anti-chafe – I like Blue Steel Sports [Should have used it more.  Ouch.]
  • Toiletries – your standard travel toiletries, pared down to a minimum (toothbrush & paste, small soap & small shampoo, etc.) [I only used my toothbrush & paste, since I didn’t take a shower until the end.]
  • Sunblock – see my post for more on sunblocks [I used a lot of sunblock.]
  • Chapstick with SPF [Yes.]
  • Deodorant [No.  I only used it before and after my showers – didn’t need it within reach in the van.]
  • Towel – for showering and also to sit on in van (so the seats aren’t gross) [CHAWEL!  Skip the standard towel and bring a Chawel instead.  This turned out to be an essential item for me, allowing me to change in the van between legs and get into clean, dry clothes quickly.]
  • Ear plugs & Sleeping Mask – highly recommended if you want to get any sleep at all [Yes to mask but I used my marshmallow headphones as ear plugs instead, so I could set my phone alarm and wake up without waking everyone else.]
  • Small pillow – inflatable camping pillow? [Inflatable worked well for me since I didn’t want a bulky pillow in the van, but you may or may not want a traditional pillow.]
  • Small blanket or compressed sleeping bag [More important than I realized.  My sleeping bag and AIR MATTRESS allowed me a couple good hours of sleep in the gym instead of struggling in the van.  Even a warm blanket would have worked either in our out of the van.  Give some thought to your sleeping items.]
  • Any medicine you need
  • Any prescription glasses/contacts you need
  • Food & Drinks – specific stuff you’ll need, e.g. GUs/gels/sport chews, special snacks, special protein powders or electrolyte tabs, etc. and any special snacks you’ll want (e.g. for me it’s Pop Tarts & Bonk Breaker bars) [I didn’t eat as much of this as I thought I would, plus they give you some gel and chews at the start, and I forgot to eat my chews during my long leg, so I had to take most of it home again.]

Optional

  • Compression socks/calf sleeves/arm sleeves/tights for recovery [I got the Ragnar compression socks and they were great – some compression socks are too tight and uncomfortable for me, but Pro-Compression’s socks were comfy for many hours.]
  • Buff or headband if your ears get cold/are sensitive [I wore my reflective buff around my neck for both night runs and my reflective headband around my ears for my night/morning run.]
  • Running gloves – probably won’t be that cold, but if you get cold hands easily, toss ’em in there [I ended up wearing gloves between runs when I was cold.]
  • Swim suit – not sure if there will be an opportunity, but if there is an ice bath or hot tub available, you’ll be glad you have it [I couldn’t have been paid enough to use the gross hotel pool.  HOWEVER, for those very shy folks, someone mentioned that the shower situation at the schools was just a giant open room, and they would have felt more comfortable if they could shower in a swimsuit.  So if you’re a nevernude, definitely toss in a pair of denim cutoffs.]
  • Dry shampoo [Skip it.  Didn’t touch the stuff.]
  • Glow sticks/fun stuff [Surprisingly didn’t use the glow sticks because I had enough LED items – I did buy a last minute Halloween flashing pumpkin necklace that I enjoyed, plus some of those “finger lasers” that worked well as mini-flashlights in the back of the van – you can get 40 of them at Amazon for under 8 dollars.]
  • Any additional reflectors or LED bracelets you might have – I got this LED slap bracelet which is quite bright (brighter than the Nite Ize slap bracelet) [This was great – wearing a colored light at night (that’s not red or white) can help your team spot you when every other runner looks the same.]
  • Jumper cables [Did not bring and luckily did not need.]
  • Car power converter [Did not end up using, but if you have a water boiler or Christmas lights or other things that need a traditional outlet, you’d need it.]

Kit for Van – One Kit per Van (so everyone doesn’t have to bring everything, also helps with organization – amounts below are per van)

  • Race bible in binder – 1 per van required [Required and used a lot to navigate – we actually used the written directions more than the GPS.]
  • GPS unit – another tip I heard was to pre-program all the exchange points into the GPS so you can just select them when it’s time to find your runner (could be very helpful when you’re tired at night) – the locations can be found at the Ragnar website under each leg [We never programmed in the exchange points, and actually used the GPS very little during the actual race, preferring instead to follow the Race Bible and roadsigns.]
  • First Aid Kit for blisters, cuts, etc. (include Vaseline, instant ice packs, rubber gloves, bandaids and antibacterial cream/spray, ibuprofen, aspirin, Tylenol, tums, immodium, tweezers, scissors, day time cold medicine, cough drops, moleskin, tampons/pads) [We didn’t use a single item in the first aid kit besides one instant ice pack and the scissors to open a package of Chomps – but I guess I’m glad we had it.]
  • Safety pins – several [Ragnar provided safety pins for the bibs at the start, so these weren’t needed.]
  • Flashlight – 2 handheld [Didn’t use the flashlights – used the internal van lights and headlamps/finger lasers instead.]
  • Colgate Whisp one-time use toothbrushes (no water required) [Used a couple of these but mostly just used the sinks with real toothbrushes at the major exchanges.]
  • Hand sanitizer – 1 large pump bottle [Used this quite a bit.]
  • Toilet paper – 1 roll [Neither van use this at all – all the porta potties were well-stocked.]
  • Kleenex – 1 box (especially handy if it might be cold outside and warm inside, which always makes my nose runny) [Used a few tissues, but could have just used the baby wipes, so I’d skip both the TP and the Kleenex next time.]
  • Trash bags – 1 box (for trash, ground cover, emergency poncho, etc.) [Used a few for the final clean up, but mostly used the same grocery bag as a small trash bag during the race.]
  • Ziploc bags – 1 box quart & 1 box gallon [Used a few of these, but not that many.]
  • Sharpie marker [Didn’t use – a pen would have been better, and luckily we had a few pens floating around.]
  • Duct tape – 1 roll [Didn’t use, don’t bother bringing.  A roll of scotch tape would have been nice to put up a couple decorations I had, but it wasn’t a big loss, either.]
  • Shoe anti-odor and drying spray – 1 can (optional) [Didn’t use.]
  • Baking soda – 1 box [Van 1 used but Van 2 did not.  Personally, I’d bring again.]
  • Baby wipes – at least 2 tubs per van, unscented – for on-the-go “showers” and general freshening up, cleaning hands, etc. [Definitely used these – almost finished two full containers.  A must.]
  • Bug spray – 1 bottle [There were tiny annoying bugs at some of the exchanges, but nothing that would have been deterred by spray – so we didn’t use.]
  • Febreeze – 1 bottle (optional) [Didn’t use until the drive back – but even then it wasn’t really necessary – so I’d say skip it.]
  • Van window markers/decorations/sidewalk chalk [A definite yes on the Loew Cornell Simply Art window markers, and a pass on the Crayola kind because they’re not very good.  We only had one pack of the Loew markers and we shared between vans, which was fine (the white and yellow colors showed up best on the tinted windows).  We forgot to use the sidewalk chalk but next time I’d definitely use it.]
  • The Stick (massage stick)/Foam roller [We used the Stick a bit but never the foam roller – there was never a time I wanted to set up on the ground and roll, although I did see some other teams doing it.  If you know you’ll use it, then bring it, but I shouldn’t have because I’m not a foam rolling fanatic.]
  • Snacks for the group – bananas, apples, nuts, pretzels, Twizzlers, granola bars, PB and J, etc. & gum [We ate a lot in the van, but not what we expected – we didn’t touch the PB&J and bread but Van 2 made several sandwiches.  We guzzled down a lot of chips and chocolate and made a second stop to buy more of those things.  I ate several apples, several granola bars, and one banana but no one else in my van did.  We finished almost an entire loaf of cranberry walnut bread.  The Nilla Wafers, Oreos, and peanut M&Ms and other chocolate candies were popular all around.  Having gum was nice.]
  • Drinks – powdered sports drink mix, water (purchase water on the road) [Van 1 bought 6 gallon jugs of water and used about 5 of them during the race – but that was with perfect cool weather, so if it was hot we definitely would have drank more (they did have water at the major exchanges, but it was easier to just refill in the van).  We bought a few individual bottles of Gatorade and some people drank them but I stuck with water and Nuun, which I got at Exchange 6.]
  • Soft-sided cooler – for semi-perishable foods (optional) [We had a couple mini soft coolers and didn’t use them at all.  Skip.]
  • Water cooler – very optional, if someone already has one you can fill with ice and water and use it to refill bottles (otherwise can just pour from gallon jugs) [We didn’t have coolers and just used jugs, which was totally fine.  If you’re doing a “hot weather” Ragnar, ice would have been nice, but ours was so cold we didn’t miss it.]
  • Cups & paper towels – 1 roll towels, a few cups [It was a good idea to have a roll of paper towels, especially for van clean-up.  We only used a couple cups and could have done without if we didn’t have.]

 

Should Have Been on The List or I Things I Wish I Had

  • Chawel.  Yes, you could make one yourself by sewing together two thin towels, but let’s face it, you’re never going to get around to doing that, plus it’s bound to be bulkier than their “sport” version which also has a nifty little pocket and elastic strap.  I swear I do not work for the Chawel company and am not getting compensated for what I say about them.
  • Warmer jacket.
  • Air mattress or foam pad for sleeping.
  • Team Shirts – It was really nice to have team shirts at the end, and it’s a nice souvenir (the team voted on what kind of shirt to get, and we ended up with soft cotton shirts with a small team logo – very easy to wear again and very comfy).  We used Custom Ink for printing and for about 13 shirts each shirt was about $14.
  • Jambox bluetooth radio – I brought mine and we used it on the drive up and also to cheer our runner.  It was a good thing, although obviously not essential.
  • Walkie Talkies or a Phone that Worked – People tell me there’s no such thing as a walkie talkie that works over miles and mountains, so basically I want more cell phone towers to be built, because not having a working phone was an inconvenience to me but would have been a major problem if everyone in the van had Sprint as their service provider.
  • Painter’s Tape for decorating the vans
  • Personalized Magnets for tagging other vans
  • A fun team name and theme – We had a great name/theme.  Breaking Ragnar got photographed a lot, because Breaking Bad is a popular show and the finale was the same weekend as the race.  Plus Runner 4 ran in his tighty whities and green button-down the entire race, while still managing to knock out 7:30 miles, and who doesn’t want to take a picture of that?  I also had fun handing out little baggies of “blue meth” candy to other runners and volunteers, who always said a polite “thank you” even if they had no idea what I was giving them.  We’re already joking about our team name and theme for our next relay race, so if you haven’t decided on a team name yet, I urge you to pick something with multiple “fun” possibilities.
  • Crepe Paper (maybe…) – to make a fake “finishing tape” for everyone’s last legs.
  • A special food and/or beverage for the finish line – We saw one team with multiple bottles of wine at the finish, and while I didn’t want wine after the relay, something special would have been nice to share with the whole team, like a cake or even sparkling juice.  Others on my team wanted cocktails, though, so that’s always a thought, too.  Yes, you have the pizza and beer, but they ran out of pizza so we had to wait, and the beer lines were endless.

 

Clean, unannotated, one-page version of the Ragnar Packing List in PDF is here.

 

And that’s all I’ll say on Ragnar ADK for a while, I promise!  I can’t wait for my next relay race, but first I have a couple marathons scheduled (yikes).

 

Have you run Ragnar?  What packing or other tips do you have?  Share in the comments!

Breaking Bad costumes at Ragnar Relay

Race Recap – Ragnar ADK Leg 3 & The Final Five Lessons

Team Breaking Ragnar found the finish of Ragnar ADK

Team Breaking Ragnar found the finish of Ragnar ADK!

Now I know why so many people break their Ragnar recap into three parts.  You can read my two “on the road” posts here and here, my leg 1 recap here, and my leg 2 recap here.  For good measure, here’s my original Ragnar packing list, but I expect to update that later this week.

 

When I last left you, it was 3:00 am in a dark high school gymnasium, and I had suddenly woken up feeling oddly alert and refreshed.  I tried to go back to sleep but wasn’t getting any traction on that, so I decided to pack up early, change, and head out to the van.  My phone hadn’t gotten service in many, many hours, so there was no way to communicate with my team (and vice versa), but I wasn’t too worried since they basically knew where I was, plus I knew I’d be ready in time.

 

As quietly as possible, but still with an audible hiss, I deflated my air mattress and pillow and crammed my sleeping bag into its stuff-sack.  Just as I was finishing gathering my things and about to leave the gym, I noticed someone going around with a headlamp checking on people.  He approached me with a whisper, and I realized it was Runner 6 looking for me.  “Oh no,” I said, “Am I late?”  “No, but we have to go,” he said.  We hustled out of the dark and mostly empty gym and I asked him if I should head straight to the van or if I had time to change in the bathroom.  He said I had time to change, so I quickly put on my running gear and hightailed it to the van.  I learned that Runners 1, 3, 4, and 6 all slept (or tried to sleep) in the van, while only Runners 2 and 5 slept inside (I specifically brought my sleeping gear so I could free up space in the van for those who didn’t own air mattresses or sleeping bags).  They said it got really cold in the van, and Runner 6 only slept about 30 minutes.  Lesson #11 – Bring something comfy to sleep in or on (if you don’t have an air mattress, a cheap pool float can work in a pinch), and sleep outside the van if possible.  And even if you plan to sleep in the van, bring a warm sleeping bag or blanket.  I heard Van 2 all slept in the van, just sitting upright in the seats instead of lying on the benches, and I don’t know how they did it.

 

We didn’t have much time to make it to the next exchange, plus it was dark and foggy.  We made a wrong turn out of the school but quickly turned ourselves around and headed to Major Exchange 24.  We drove past a surprising number of runners on legs 19 to 24, and I did not envy their nighttime fog run.  At this point we were definitely late and our first runner needed to use the bathroom before her run.  We tried to tell her not to worry, that it didn’t matter if there were a few minutes between handoffs, that we obviously weren’t going for time, but it was a little stressful anyway.  We finally made it to the exchange and Runner 12 was already there, but we learned he had only been waiting for about 2 minutes, so it wasn’t that bad.  That turned out to be the only real “mistake” we made during the weekend, which was so minor I was surprised we emerged so unscathed.  For a team full of newbies, I expected a lot worse.

 

Runner 1 was not terribly excited for her final leg, but she took off like a champ.  We leapfrogged her several times to check that she was ok, and we all noticed her leg was fairly hilly.  I was up next, and since it was my shortest leg at only 4 miles, I decided not to wear my Camelbak and instead requested my van to meet me at mile 2 with water.  I still had to wear all my night safety gear since it was still dark (and well before 7:30 am which Ragnar considered “morning” when we didn’t have to wear the vests anymore), and before I knew it Runner 1 was passing me the bracelet.

 

sunrise Ragnar ADK for Where's the Finish

Sunrise during leg 26 of Ragnar ADK

My final leg started on a dirt road, which was surprisingly treacherous in the pitch dark, but I was rewarded with an early morning sunrise, which I stopped to photograph.  Only one runner passed me on this leg (not because I was suddenly fast – it was oddly deserted both in front of and behind me), and she said something philosophical about how we had to enjoy these miles since it was our last leg.  I turned off the dirt road and onto the highway and pushed my legs as fast as they would go.  I felt like I was flying!  Turns out I was running at a 10:30 pace.  I tried to pick it up even more, and ultimately averaged about 10 minute miles for my last leg, which was fast for me.

 

Where's the finish Ragnar ADK

My stretch of empty road during my final leg of Ragnar ADK

At mile 2 my van was there with water and cowbell, and I dumped some warm weather items on them, guzzled my water, and took off again.  I only stopped for one other photo op, and I tried not to leave much in the tank as I made a few more turns into town.  When I got to the exchange, Runner 3 wasn’t quite ready for me yet.  But a few seconds later he took the bracelet and started his final leg, too.  It was really, really nice to be done running, as the pressure was off, and I promptly ate two frosted blueberry pop tarts (my first of the weekend), an apple, multiple chocolates, a granola bar, salt & vinegar chips, grape-flavored Nuun, and some other stuff I can’t even remember.  I was hungry but also not worried about making myself sick anymore.  Huzzah to eating lots of junk food without hesitation!

 

Where's the Finish at Ragnar ADK

Beautiful scenery while waiting for Runner 5

It took us until the final leg to realize we all should have been cheering for each other more (unfortunately legs 27 & 28 were “no van support” legs which meant we weren’t allowed to stop and cheer, although many, many teams seemed to break that rule).  We did a slightly better job of cheering for Runner 5 and a much better job for Runner 6, when we finally broke out the Jambox bluetooth radio and orange safety flags and danced and cheered for him along his final 8 miles.  We should have been doing exactly that every chance we got, and I know if we ever do another Rangar together we will be a much more cheer-oriented team (not that we didn’t cheer – we did cheer our own runners, plus we rang the cowbell for many other teams’ runners, but we didn’t make as much of an effort as we could have).  The cheering isn’t only good for the runner – it was a lot of fun and probably the highlight for me of the final leg.  With the perfect weather we had, we definitely had no excuse.  Lesson #12 – Just like taking photos, cheer more than you think you should, and be ridiculous when you do so.
We lucked out with perfect weather for the whole weekend – temps in the 40s to low 70s, overcast on Friday and sunny on Saturday.  It was a bit chillier than any of us expected, so next time I’d bring an even warmer jacket to wear between legs, but otherwise I was pretty good clothing-wise (I wore long-sleeved shirts for all three of my legs, but I like to be warm when I run).  Lesson #13 – Don’t overpack, but make sure to bring something warm for those chilly nights and mornings.

 

Checking off the final box on Van 1 for Breaking Ragnar

Runner 6 checking off the final box on Van 1 for Breaking Ragnar

And seemingly just like that, we reached Major Exchange 30 and the end of Van 1’s running!  When we met up with Van 2 they were making the same jokes we were about offering to sell their final leg to the highest bidder, and some of them were nervous about a hilly course ahead, but they all ended up flying through their legs despite the hot sun (and they had some really gorgeous scenery during that section, too).  While they were running we headed to Country Bear Diner to get some breakfast.  Unlike the last place we went, Country Bear had some seriously delicious food.  I’m still dreaming of their thick-cut French toast (it had a slight sweet crust on it that made it extra crazy good).  It’s a small diner, and we split up to eat (sitting in separate groups of 3), but I’d definitely recommend it if you’re in the area.  Plus it’s right on the running route so you can watch fellow Ragnarians run by as you pour the syrup on your stack of pancakes and sip coffee with cream.  Lesson #14 – Say yes to Country Bear.

 

Breaking Bad costumes at Ragnar Relay

Runners 2, 4, and 3 with serious faces in our “Breaking Ragnar” costumes at the finish (photo credit Runner 6)

After breakfast my van-mates really wanted to check into the hotel for showers before we headed to the finish.  I was worried we’d be late but they insisted we could quickly shower and be there.  So the three girls went to one of the rooms and the three boys went to the other, and we all showered as quickly as possible.  All three girls were finished while the second boy was still in the shower.  What were they doing in there?  Shaving their legs?  Deep conditioning their hair?  Luckily, despite the high-maintenance boys, we got to the finish line in time to take a few photos and sit in the shade while Van 2 made their way to the end.  We all wore our team t-shirts except for Runner 4 who was back in his Walter White/Heisenberg costume (and I was wearing a yellow hazmat suit, blue gloves, and gas mask and goggles on my head). Runner 3 wore a rubber chemistry vest and blue gloves, but he didn’t strip down to his underwear, much to everyone’s disappointment (ok, maybe not his girlfriend’s disappointment).

 

Van 2 arrived and soon after we spotted Runner 12 coming down the road.  The 11 of us gathered together so we could run with Runner 12 across the finish line as a team.  We whooped and cheered, ran down the grassy hill and under the inflatable arch, and finished our first ever Ragnar.  Right after we finished we got our medals and our picture taken by the professional photographer (you get one free photo as a team), and as we posed several other runners stopped to take our picture, too.  I’m sure it was because we were all so good-looking…

 

Enjoying our hard-earned pizza and beer at the finish

Enjoying our hard-earned pizza and beer at the finish

After some milling about, we entered the beer area to redeem our beer coupons (each bib got you one beer for $1, and regular beers were available for $4) and eat our pizza (1 free pizza per van), but we didn’t stay long.  Soon we headed back to the hotel to shower (again) and nap (for most… I was way too amped up to sleep and never felt all that tired until Monday afternoon).  In the parking lot of the hotel we met Van 1 of Herd O Turtles, including blogger Jen is Green, which was super exciting for me because I had read her blog in preparation for this race!  Later our team tried to get dinner as a group but every restaurant in town was full, so we ended up getting Subway and eating leftovers from the van.  Lesson #15 – If you think you’ll want a hot meal at the end, make reservations in town early.  I was totally fine with PB&J since we didn’t eat any during the actual race.

 

The next morning we cleaned the paint off our vans and had a team brunch at the ADK Cafe (super-excellent despite slow service and their running out of lots of food, including hashbrowns!  But the giant portions and great food made up for it) before driving back down to the city and returning the vans that served us so well.  It was definitely a letdown for me to be done, and when I got home and watched the Breaking Bad finale that night, I was doubly sad for two awesome things ending in one weekend.  But just as there will most definitely be other TV shows in my future, I think there will be other Ragnar Relays, too.

And that concludes our first Ragnar Relay!  Stay tuned for an updated packing list including all the items we used, didn’t use, and weren’t included on the list but should be on there (cough cough Chawel cough cough), because the 50,000 words I’ve already written about this race is not enough.

 

For all my Ragnar ADK coverage, find my on the road posts here and finishing post here, recaps of Leg 1Leg 2, and Leg 3,  my original Ragnar packing list, and my updated Ragnar Packing List.   If you just want a one-page, unannotated Ragnar Packing list in PDF, you can find it here.

Team Breaking Ragnar at Exchange 6

Race Recap – Ragnar ADK Leg 2 & Five More Lessons

Team Breaking Ragnar at Exchange 6

Team Breaking Ragnar all smiles at Exchange 6

After Van 1 collectively finished our first leg (read the leg 1 recap here, plus on the road posts here and here) we relaxed a bit at Exchange 6 by enjoying free granola, stretching in the grass, and using the indoor toilets and sinks (where once again I realized just how amazing indoor plumbing and fresh running water can be).  But pretty soon we headed out to Major Exchange 12 at Million Dollar Beach on Lake George to make sure we knew where to go, and also to get a real lunch with time to digest.  We expected the next exchange to be at 6:00 or 6:30, but since we were already 30 minutes ahead of schedule and we thought Van 2 might knock off even more time, we wanted to make sure to be there early.

 

Ragnar Relay ADK Lake George

Our first view of Lake George through our “Better Call Saul” decorated window

Pulling up to Lake George we were greeted with even more beautiful scenery.  We were also greeted by the sight of dozens of people in sleeping bags dotting the lawn and beach.  We all wondered how they could possibly sleep now, after only one leg and in the early afternoon, and I still don’t quite get it, since our van started on the early side and we weren’t remotely sleepy yet, but maybe they were all jetlagged Australians (just kidding – I didn’t hear a foreign accent during the entire race).  After making sure we knew where the exchange was, we pulled back out of the lot and drove into town for lunch.

 

Adirondack Pub & Brewery at Lake George during Ragnar ADK

Breaking Ragnar Van 1 chowing down between legs 1 and 2

We circled a few blocks before choosing Adirondack Pub & Brewery, which I can wholeheartedly not recommend if you’re in town to eat and not drink.  The service was terribly slow and the food was anti-delicious (and my standards were pretty low at that point), plus the amount of chicken on the chicken sandwich and chicken salad was literally laughable (I wish I took a picture of the tiny half-puck of chicken on Runner 3’s sandwich – it was about half the size of an iphone 4 and able to be hidden by a strip of bacon).  That’s not to say I didn’t scarf down a huge amount of food, and I don’t think my van-mates were quite as disappointed as I was, so you can take my review with a grain of salt (if there is any left after I tried to drown my food in it to make it palatable).  Lesson #6 – Don’t eat at the Adirondack Pub & Brewery.

 

Lake George Million Dollar Beach Ragnar ADK

Lake George’s “Million Dollar Beach” with lots of sleepy runners

Immediately after lunch we drove back to exchange 12 and slipped into a food coma in the van.  Two of our runners fell asleep.  I didn’t fall asleep but I also didn’t want to move because I was full, it was warm in the van, and it was cold outside.  But I forced myself out of the soporific van to look at the beautiful beach, take a few pictures, and to enjoy the bathrooms and sinks again.  They had showers available but I had no desire to take one, plus I would be running again so soon it seemed pointless.  I changed into my running gear and was nervous and slightly dreading my next 8 mile leg in the dark.

 

This is the exchange where I spotted the disco ball van (Team “Roadside Dance Bandits”), which was decorated with lots and lots of tape.  Before the race I had spent a considerable amount of time searching Google to see what kinds of markers could be used on van/car paint (versus just the windows) as there were many photos online of Ragnar vans that had decorated doors and hoods as well as windows.  I never found a brand that advertised itself as safe for car paint, and we ultimately used Loew Cornell Simply Art Window Markers (which worked well, but you really have to push and squeeze hard to get the paint out, but not too hard or it will drip) and Crayola Washable Window Markers (which my team said basically didn’t show up) on the windows only.  However, I do think it would have been fine to use the Loew markers on the van’s painted surfaces, but we didn’t risk it.  Also, it all washed off surprisingly easily with water and paper towels (no special cleaner needed), so if you do decorate your van with those markers you won’t have to worry too much about washing it off the next day.

 

Ragnar ADK disco van

I forgot to ask how long it took them to do this

At any rate, upon seeing this beautifully decorated disco ball, I literally chased after the van to ask them what they used for the shiny disco ball and also for the other colorful decorations.  The driver told me they had been doing Ragnar for years and they always used – wait for it – DUCT TAPE.  I asked him if he was just trying to trick me into putting duct tape onto my car, but he swore it left no mark and didn’t harm the paint.  He told me team Kings of Neon used it to decorate their van, too.  I thanked him and went back to my van to report, but there’s still no way I’d use duct tape on a rental van’s paint.  Painter’s tape, however, I’d use, and I think next time I’d definitely pack a roll or two of that for decoration.

 

Also, now is a good time to mention tagging – it’s basically when another team puts something on your van without you realizing, usually drawing or writing something with window markers or putting personalized magnets on your car.  By the end of the race, we had several window decorations and a tidy pile of magnets, and not once did we actually see anyone do it.  Our Van 2 would wash off any tags they got, but we left all of ours on, partially because they were clever (Kings of Neon drew a periodic table Neon symbol with a crown, sticking with our Breaking Ragnar theme, and someone else wrote #RunnersHigh on our van, also sticking with our theme) and partially because we thought someone else on our own team drew them.  Lesson #7 – Next time I do Ragnar, in addition to the Loew markers, I’m bringing painter’s tape and (hopefully) getting some cool team magnets printed up to tag other vans.

We kept getting text updates from our Van 2 and pretty soon they arrived and we all gathered at the exchange point to bring in Runner 12 and send off Runner 1.  Van 2 seemed in high spirits and was waiting for their runner with a bag of Oreos, explaining that they developed a system where the runner going two slots after the runner coming in would “pamper” the arriving runner with whatever he or she requested.  Runner 12 requested that Oreo cookies be waiting for him at his exchanges.  Another requested a certain jacket and bottle of Gatorade. I thought it was a great idea, but Van 1 never implemented it, partially because we didn’t have a driver so we were spread a little thinner than Van 2.

 

A little more on our Van 1 versus Van 2 – Van 2 was all co-workers who we had met only briefly (or not at all) during a few team meetups this summer.  Van 1 was filled with basically strangers all connected by our Team Captain, Runner 6.  Van 2 had a driver who made them hot coffee and ramen in the middle of the night using his camping stove.  Van 1 was driven by Runner 1 and Runner 6, with the majority of navigation by Runners 1, 6, 3 and 4.  Runner 2 basically just sat in the back wearing her Chawel.  Surprisingly, I think both van experiences worked out well and everyone had a great time.  I do think the race was significantly more difficult for our driving runners, especially our captain Runner 6, who only got about 30 minutes of sleep the entire weekend.  I would never had been able to do this race without the organization and driving by the other runners, so I’m super grateful to them for that.  (I mean, I have a driver’s license, but haven’t owned a car in 13 years and have never driven a giant 12-passenger van through narrow parking lots filled with other runners milling about and driving giant vans for the first time, too.)

 

At any rate, our first runner was off again on her second leg which took her through the town and up and down a bunch of hills for 4 miles to Exchange 13, where I was anxiously waiting, wearing every kind of reflective and flashing device known to mankind (besides the required reflective vest, headlamp, and tail light, I had a fully reflective hat, two additional blinking Vizlet LED lights, additional hat light (which I can’t recommend enough – it’s so small and light and for 7 bucks gave me peace of mind about seeing past my brim and backup in case my headlamp died), a “finger light,” and a flashing blue LED armband – my team told me they could see me coming a mile away, and I was definitely a lot easier to recognize in the dark, when we quickly learned that every runner looks the same).  Lesson #8 – If you want your team to recognize you, wear additional lights, especially ones with colors other than red or white.

 

While I was warming up I noticed my knee was hurting, and I was pretty sure it was going to bother me during my run.  Moments later Runner 1 handed the slap bracelet to me, and I was off, flashing and blinking in the early twilight.  The beginning of my second leg did not start well at all.  The first section was downhill, and my knee was definitely hurting.  My reflective vest was also a major headache, sliding around over my Camelbak and riding up to choke and chafe me.  I struggled with it for several minutes before finally giving up, tucking my buff into my shirt as much as possible to limit the chafing, and tried to ignore the vest as well as work through the knee pain.  Lesson #9 – Despite my standard joke about “everything new on race day,” definitely test your reflective vest before Ragnar, even if you feel like a total dork wearing it during a daytime run (especially dorky if you have to wear it over a hydration backpack to test it properly).  Eight miles of being choked and chafed were my punishment for not testing the dang thing.

 

I stopped to walk several times, quickly getting passed twice, the second time by a guy in a flashing cowboy hat who asked if I was ok.  I told him it was just knee pain and I’d be fine.  Eventually I started running again, and at some point around about one mile my knee felt better.  I also noticed I was gaining on the cowboy, and pretty soon I had caught up to him.  Somehow we started chatting and running together.  I told him about my knee pain and he told me about his ankle pain.  We were going at about the same pace and it had gotten pretty dark at this point, so we basically started running together.

 

The miles slowly ticked by.  His van (Team “We thought this was a 5K”) leapfrogged and cheered for him many times over the 8 miles.  (My favorite was after many miles of running together his van shouted “don’t let her pass you!”)  We chatted nonstop, and while my knee felt better, his ankle just kept getting worse and worse.  Eventually he had to stop to take a walk break, and then the walk breaks grew more frequent and longer.  My knee felt fine at this point and he told me I could go on without him, but I stuck by his side for a couple of reasons.  One, it was kind of a fun, unique experience to run and chat with a stranger wearing a flashing LED cowboy hat.  Where else but at Ragnar would I ever have a chance to do that?  Two, I was a little worried about him and wanted to keep him going.  I wasn’t seriously concerned for his safety or well-being, and his team seemed to be staying on top of him really well, but I do think my inane chatter helped keep his mind off his ankle.  And three, his company was helping me, too.  It was dark, and not terribly scenic, and there were still a lot of cars on the road so it wasn’t relaxing, and my team was AWOL (they drove past me once on the way to the exchange, and later I learned they had gone to the grocery store for chips and chocolate – after my run, eating M&Ms in the back of the van, I weighed moral support against chocolate, and it was a close call).  Eight miles is a long time to be running for me (especially at our slow pace), so it was nice to have some company.  And really, I was never doing this race to shave off a few minutes of my time – it was always for the experience, and for fun, and this was both.

 

So I ran with the cowboy for about 7 of the 8 miles, walking up a lot of the big hill at the end (and getting passed by a lot of runners, all of whom were swearing under their breath at that freaking hill), until we eventually crested the hill and saw the exchange point.  We were no more than 20 feet away from the exchange when suddenly he pulled up in a limp.  I still stuck with him, and after almost an hour and a half of running, we reached exchange 13 together.

 

The other runners said their night runs were really special – beautiful, quiet, nature and star-filled experiences.  My night run on leg 14 was not like that, but I’m glad it was what it was.  (Lesson #10 – Be open to whatever your individual legs might throw at you.)  After that, our runners quickly knocked out their second legs and suddenly we were on our Runner 6.  Legs 15 through 19 were “no van support” legs, plus they were during “quiet hours,” so there wasn’t a lot of cheering or anything our van could do.  We drove ahead to Major Exchange 18 at the middle school to get some rest and/or hot food for dinner (they had a spaghetti dinner that looked delicious but I skipped it to get some sleep in the gym).  I felt terribly guilty not staying up to cheer the end of Runner 6’s second leg, but I knew he’d have Van 2 there to cheer, and I thought I could serve the team better by getting some rest than knocking myself out to stay awake all night.

 

Bathroom showers and sleep for $3 at Ragnar ADK exchange 12

So much promised for only $3…

So a little after midnight I paid $3 for access to the indoor bathrooms (skipping the shower again because my priority was sleep if I could get it), brushed my teeth, and went into the very dark, less crowded gym.  I found a good spot on the floor, blew up my air mattress & air pillow, set up my sleeping bag, set my alarm on my phone for 3:45 am (using my earphones as ear plugs and as a way to wake me up without disturbing others), put on my eyeshade, and tried to relax myself to sleep.  Eventually I did fall asleep, waking up once because I was freezing on top of my sleeping bag so I climbed inside.  I fell asleep again until 3 am when I suddenly awoke, completely alert and wide awake without my alarm.

 

And that concludes leg 2.  One leg left!  Onward to Leg 3!

 

For all my Ragnar ADK coverage, find my on the road posts here and finishing post here, recaps of Leg 1Leg 2, and Leg 3,  my original Ragnar packing list, and my updated Ragnar Packing List.   If you just want a one-page, unannotated Ragnar Packing list in PDF, you can find it here.

Runner 1 using my Chawel

Race Recap – Ragnar ADK Leg 1 & the First Five Lessons

Breaking Ragnar Van 2

Team Breaking Ragnar’s Van #2 decoration

I’m finally back at home, with two loads of smelly, wet laundry agitating in the basement, and ready to start “officially” recapping my experience at Ragnar Adirondacks.

 

The journey started with my commute to Jersey City to get the vans our captain had reserved (he did good research and scouting many weeks ago to find the best deals on the vans and hotels).  I took the subway to midtown, then had to go aboveground (or at least I thought I did) to get to the PATH train to NJ, then had to walk from the PATH stop through an office complex and a mall before reaching Dollar.  I was carrying multiple heavy bags (including all my running clothes and supplies, plus half the van kit, plus extra food and gifts, plus costume items) which I had to set down to rest my hands occasionally.  By the time I arrived, I was literally soaked with sweat.  There went my idea to be fresh for at least part of the van ride!  First lesson learned – I should have taken a cab or car service to the rental car.  I don’t know why I forgot this was an option, and I did take a car back on Sunday night.

 

After a quick stop at the grocery store (to get apples, bananas, nuts, chips, goldfish crackers, PB&J, bread, Nilla Wafers, water and Gatorade), we hit the road around 7:30 or 8.  After another quick stop on the highway for dinner (to eat in the van), we reached the hotel in Saratoga Springs around 11:30 pm.  I showered before bed so I could start the race as clean as possible, and set up my morning items so I could quickly get dressed and ready and out the door before 6:30 am.  Van 2 met us in the lobby to send us off, and the hotel had a surprisingly good free breakfast spread where most of us grabbed something (oatmeal, muffins, bagels and bananas) before Van 1 went to the start (had to get there by 7 am for check-in and the safety briefing before our 8 am start time).

 

Ragnar Relay start ADK

Listening to safety briefing at RagnarADK start

The starting area was well-organized and not very crowded, since all the teams start in waves (I think starting at 6 am and throughout the afternoon).  We checked in by showing we had the required safety gear, listened to the safety announcements  and picked up our supplies:  bibs (each runner had to wear the team’s number, one bib per runner for the whole race, so you had to re-pin after each leg), ID number sticker for the van, Ragnar shirts (very nice short sleeved technical t-shirts with the Ragnar logo and no sponsor logos), and a bag of goodies (shot blocks, gels, mini Clif bars, sponsor headbands, a cowbell (which got a LOT of use) and Ragnar stickers and temporary tattoos for the team).  They also had free apples and bananas and were selling all sorts of Ragnar merchandise in a giant inflatable tent.

 

We had a choice of three starting times based on our predicted pace and we chose 8 am, which I thought was a great time to start.  Before the race, each team member has to enter their expected average pace per mile online and Ragnar provides a pace calculator (excel sheet) so you’ll know approximately when each runner will hit each exchange.  Our team estimated a bit high, not accounting for the unexpected adrenaline and race-day excitement that made us all run faster than anticipated, so we hit the first major exchange 30 minutes earlier than expected, and ultimately finished three hours earlier than scheduled.  Luckily we didn’t fall outside any of the exchange times, so we were not penalized and “held back” for running too fast.  But lesson #2 – definitely try to be accurate in your projected times, and don’t underestimate yourself or the effect race-day will have on your body.

 

Ragnar Relay ADK start

Ragnar ADK’s inflatable (and inflated) starting line

The whole check-in process took a little longer than expected, and we were a bit scatterbrained that morning, so we almost sent off our first runner without her bib number.  Lesson #3 – especially if it’s your first Ragnar, give yourself as much time as you’ll need to get organized and comfortable at the start, including building in time to visit the porta-potties, get bibs pinned on, take some pictures, browse the store if you’re interested in that kind of thing, even getting yourself and the van organized.  I felt like our team was a bit rushed and disorganized from the start until my first leg was done (I was the second runner, and I told my team I would carry my own water and didn’t need support for my first 6 mile leg, and told them to take that time to decorate the van, get organized and settled, and relax a little).  Even with that, the first six legs flew by in a rush, and I felt like there was no downtime while our van was “on.”

 

Breaking Ragnar Relay ADK exchange 1

Runner 1 handing off to Runner 2 at the first exchange of Ragnar ADK, photo credit @ry_guy23

But I’m getting ahead of myself a bit.  Our first runner took off (after a brief delay when the generators died and the inflatable arch started to collapse at the starting line), and Van 1 took off after her.  We cheered as we drove past her, then pulled over further down the road to give her water and cheer her again.  Then we went to the first exchange and I got ready to run.  I had enough time to visit the porta potties and do some dynamic stretching, but before I knew it, runner 1 was streaking into the exchange, and I was off.  I never got used to the exchanges during the race – no matter how prepared I thought I was to run, they always caught me a little off-guard.  When you train, you decide when you’re ready to start running, and in a normal race, you have an anticipated clock time start, but in a relay it just depends on how long it takes the other runner to run their leg, and whatever moment they are ready to hand off, you have to be ready to go.  I know all that is obvious, but I was surprised how it kind of unsettled me, and definitely made the race-day adrenaline flow for longer than a typical race.

 

Also, a side note on the porta potties – I had read that there would be a porta pottie at each minor exchange and more at the major exchanges (“major exchanges” being the ones where Van 1 hands off to Van 2 and vice versa), but there were always at least 4 porta potties at each minor exchange and a bank of them at the major exchanges (and/or indoor toliets), and while there were often lines, the potties themselves were generally well-kept – they always had toilet paper and often had hand sanitizer dispensers inside.  That’s not to say that by the end of the race, I wasn’t fully sick of using them, but it also wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

 

Runner 1 using my Chawel

Loaning my Chawel for Runner 1 to use.

Also, I had a weird idea that people would use the porta potties to change inside, but I don’t think anyone ever did, and I certainly did not.  Before the race I even looked into buying a pop-up changing tent, but they seemed bulky, difficult to re-fold, and still had to be used outside of the van.  Instead, I brought a last-minute item I discovered from another blog – the CHAWEL.  The nice folks at Chawel were able to ship it to me before I left on Thursday, and I’d say it was the number one item I was glad to have during Ragnar (besides the essentials of running shoes and clothes).  It’s basically fabric sewn together with a small opening at the top for your head, so you can hide your body and change underneath it (they also advertise it as a makeshift sleeping bag, neck pillow, and of course traditional drying towel).  I used the “sport” version, which came down past my calves and worked exceedingly well to change inside, and rolled up into a surprisingly small package.  The fabric wasn’t particularly soft and didn’t seem super absorbant, so I’m not sure how nice of a towel it would have been after a shower, but it was a lifesaver in that it let me change in the van between legs (especially since I always had to jump into the van right after running, and inevitably I’d be soaked and gross, but I’d throw on the Chawel, peel off my wet compression gear, change into dry clothes, and feel like a new person).  Also, it made my van laugh every time I said the word “Chawel.”  Lesson #4 – Get yourself a Chawel.

 

Hay sprayer during Rangar ADK

This hay sprayer enchanted me for some reason.

My first leg passed without incident – the shoulder was a bit narrow and cracked in some places, and of course the road was open to traffic, but I never felt unsafe.  Many of the other team vans that drove past would cheer me on, and that helped tremendously.  There were sections of private construction and one weird hay-spraying machine I stopped to photograph, but for the most part it was a beautiful run right along Lake Saratoga.  I stopped twice to take pictures (which involved fishing my phone out of my SPI belt, taking off the plastic baggie, taking the photo, putting it back in the baggie, then back into the belt), which my team was later horrified to find out.  I was the slowest runner in the van by far, so to me it didn’t matter that I’d stop to take pictures.  I’m not sure if they were horrified because it ultimately meant they’d have to wait even longer for me to finish, or just that they would never penalize themselves by having to stop, thus couldn’t imagine why I’d do such a thing to myself.  Either way, they made fun of me, and the only leg I didn’t take pictures during was my second leg, only because it was mostly in the dark.  And even then, I regret not taking even more pictures, both during my legs and between.  Lesson #5 – Take even more photos than you’ll think are interesting.  Force your teammates to smile and pose if necessary.  You’ll be glad you did.

In no time at all we reached major exchange 6 and met up with Van 2.  They were there with their decorated van, looking very comfortable and refreshed, while we were already in the thick of things.  They kept asking us what to expect, or if there was anything they should know, which was funny because suddenly Van 1 was full of battle-tested experts. Our runner 6 soon arrived and handed off to runner 7 (for a punishing 9 mile first leg), with Van 2 chasing after him, while Van 1 now had a break for about 5 hours.  At this point I still had cell service so I posted my first “update from the road”, but soon thereafter my phone was worthless until basically the end of the race at Lake Placid.

 

And that brings us to the end of leg 1!  Two more legs to go!  Continue to Leg 2!

 

For all my Ragnar ADK coverage, find my on the road posts here and finishing post here, recaps of Leg 1Leg 2, and Leg 3,  my original Ragnar packing list, and my updated Ragnar Packing List.   If you just want a one-page, unannotated Ragnar Packing list in PDF, you can find it here.

Ragnar Relay packing tips and advice

Ragnar Relay Packing List & Tips

Ragnar Relay packing tips and advice

The important stuff to pack for team Breaking Ragnar…

In just two weeks I’m running a Ragnar Relay (Adirondacks) for the first time, and I’m excited and nervous and don’t really know what to expect.  To ease those nerves, I focus on things I can research and control – like packing!  In fact, the final spark that made me start this blog was all the helpful packing advice for the Ragnar Relay that I found online – lots of good advice, but I felt like it was scattered, and I wanted to compile it in one spot.  So, here’s my Ultimate Compiled Ragnar Relay Packing List, annotated! [EDIT:  FOR POST-RACE, UPDATED PACKING LIST, PLEASE VISIT HERE.]

 

This list assumes you’re running a standard Ragnar, not an ultra (so 3 legs, not potentially 6 legs).  Also, post-Ragnar I will let you know what items I found essential, what I thought I could have done without, and which items I wish I had.

 

In general, the two main tips I found were (1) not to overpack & (2) to be organized. The van gets crowded with all the people and stuff, and it sounds like you don’t end up using much stuff besides your running clothing and baby wipes.  A soft-sided duffle or backpack is recommended (no luggage with wheels – too bulky).

 

Everyone said to pack each running outfit in a separate gallon ziplock bag (socks, undies & bra, bottoms, top) & write LEG 1, 2, 3 on each bag with a sharpie – that way you can grab & go quickly, and post-run you can put sweaty clothes back in the bag along with some baking soda to combat odor until you get home to wash them.

 

As for food, each van can decide if/when you stop for meals, and it sounds like there are opportunities along the Adirondacks course, so the snacks are for fun but many people reported not eating as much as they thought they would.

 

Also, the Adirondacks are dark at night – and a lot of the roads don’t have street lamps.  So a decent headlamp is important, and make sure your flashing/reflective gear is comfy if you’ll have a long run in the middle of the night.  I bought a couple of Vizlet lights which weigh almost nothing (compared to those traditional red blinking lights with 2 AA batteries).  The Vizlets are thin and magnetized and can snap on to your hat or even the neck of your shirt without bouncing around.

 

Another tip was to have assigned duties for each person in the van. Jobs can rotate but it assures you’ll have a couple people on each duty.  For example, each van could have a –

  1. Van “Captain” – overall coordinator of van and between vans
  2. Navigators (2) – helps driver with directions, knows where & when to meet each runner
  3. Photographer – captures the memories (otherwise you might forget to take pics!)
  4. Food & Bev directors (2) – makes sure you have enough water/food, keeps van organized & clean

 

Without further ado…  THE LIST!

Clothing

  • Running shirts – 3 at most and remember, you will be getting a tech (short sleeve) Ragnar shirt at the starting line, so you could count it as one shirt that you don’t have to pack
  • Running bottoms – 3
  • Running shoes – 1 or 2 pair
  • Running socks – 3 pair
  • Sports Bra/Undies – at least 3 pairs each
  • Hat/visor for rain or sun (the bill of the hat/visor also helps keep the headlamp from falling down) – 1 or 2 hats, depending on how much you sweat
  • Non-running shirt to wear in-between runs in the van – 1 or 2 comfy shirts (can always wear the next running shirt, too)
  • Non-running bottoms to wear in-between runs in the van – something comfy like sweats or yoga pants
  • Non-running shoes – something to air out your feet and that you can be comfortable in and shower in
  • Warm jacket or sweatshirt – it will be cool at night
  • Rain jacket/windbreaker
  • Costume items – anything fun you want to run in or cheer in!

Safety Gear (required) – check that all work and batteries are good

Running Accessories – Keep in one separate ziplock bag with night safety gear for easy of finding in van before each run

  • Handheld water bottle/water belt/Camelbak/SPI belt – whatever you normally use when running
  • Watch or GPS
  • Road ID – for your shoe, in case of emergency
  • Sunglasses
  • Hair ties/hairbands
  • Ipod & headphones
  • Phone numbers of all teammates & maps of your legs of the run – in a small ziplock bag, a “must carry” when running (other people sometimes remove course markings and runners get lost, so reviewing your segments and having little maps to carry with you are an excellent idea)
  • Cell Phone – see above – you should pre-program your teammates numbers into the phone, and you can photograph or screenshot the legs of your run – but hard copies are advised in case your phone dies
  • Cash – small bills (in general people said to have a decent amount of cash in small bills for food and drinks and random stuff you’ll want to buy at kiosks and stuff along and at the end of the course)

Miscellaneous

  • Cell phone – yeah, don’t forget this
  • Cell phone car charger & cords
  • Water bottle – something you can refill from the van’s large water supply (so you don’t have a million empty bottles floating around) – this is my favorite water bottle for refilling and tossing in my purse as the locking mechanism is very secure, but it also pops open easily and has an easy drinking spout (no wide mouth to splash you, no straw to get dirty).
  • Camera – can have one “team camera”
  • Body Glide/anti-chafe – I like Blue Steel Sports
  • Toiletries – your standard travel toiletries, pared down to a minimum (toothbrush & paste, small soap & small shampoo, etc.)
  • Sunblock – see my post for more on sunblocks
  • Chapstick with SPF
  • Deodorant – deserves its own line-item because of the whole “36 sweaty hours in a van” thing
  • Towel – for showering and also to sit on in van (so the seats aren’t gross)
  • Ear plugs & Sleeping Mask – highly recommended if you want to get any sleep at all
  • Small pillow – inflatable camping pillow?
  • Small blanket or compressed sleeping bag
  • Any medicine you need
  • Any prescription glasses/contacts you need
  • Food & Drinks – specific stuff you’ll need, e.g. GUs/gels/sport chews, special snacks, special protein powders or electrolyte tabs, etc. and any special snacks you’ll want (e.g. for me it’s Pop Tarts & Bonk Breaker bars)

Optional

Kit for Van – One Kit per Van (so everyone doesn’t have to bring everything, also helps with organization – amounts below are per van)

  • Race bible in binder – 1 per van required
  • GPS unit – another tip I heard was to pre-program all the exchange points into the GPS so you can just select them when it’s time to find your runner (could be very helpful when you’re tired at night) – the locations can be found at the Ragnar website under each leg
  • First Aid Kit for blisters, cuts, etc. (include Vaseline, rubber gloves, bandaids and antibacterial cream/spray, ibuprofen, aspirin, Tylenol, tums, immodium, , tweezers, scissors, day time cold medicine, cough drops, moleskin, tampons/pads)
  • Safety pins – several
  • Flashlight – 2 handheld
  • Colgate Whisp one-time use toothbrushes (no water required)
  • Hand sanitizer – 1 large pump bottle
  • Toilet paper – 1 roll
  • Kleenex – 1 box (especially handy if it might be cold outside and warm inside, which always makes my nose runny)
  • Trash bags – 1 box (for trash, ground cover, emergency poncho, etc.)
  • Zip lock bags – 1 box quart & 1 box gallon
  • Sharpie marker
  • Duct tape – 1 roll
  • Shoe anti-odor and drying spray – 1 can (optional)
  • Baking soda – 1 box
  • Baby wipes – at least 2 tubs per van, unscented – for on-the-go “showers” and general freshening up, cleaning hands, etc.
  • Bug spray – 1 bottle
  • Febreeze – 1 bottle (optional)
  • Van window markers/decorations/sidewalk chalk
  • The Stick (massage stick)/Foam roller
  • Snacks for the group – bananas, apples, nuts, pretzels, Twizzlers, granola bars, PB and J, etc. & gum
  • Drinks – powdered sports drink mix, water (purchase water on the road)
  • Soft-sided cooler – for semi-perishable foods (optional)
  • Water cooler – very optional, if someone already has one you can fill with ice and water and use it to refill bottles (otherwise can just pour from gallon jugs)
  • Cups & paper towels – 1 roll towels, a few cups

 

Whew!  It seems like a lot, and my pile of supplies is already taking over a lot of my living room, even though I haven’t finished gathering everything yet.  It will be an endurance packing relay as well!

 

Have you run Ragnar?  What packing tips do you have?  Share in the comments!

Sunblock is a runner’s best friend

Lots of good sunblocks here.

Lots of good sunblocks here.  From left to right, Coppertone Sensitive Skin, Banana Boat Baby, Supergoop, and Neutrogena Beach Defense.

The one thing I wear no matter the season, no matter the distance, is sunblock.  I have sensitive skin and had one pre-cancer removed despite my shunning the sun, so it’s especially important to me, but it should be important to you, too.  Marathon runners are more at risk for skin cancer, not only because of their increased exposure to sun but also because of their “depleted immunity from all the high-intensity exercise.”  Yikes.  I’ll admit I don’t reapply during my long-runs or races, but now that they have these sunscreen towelettes, I think I’ll start stashing one with my gels to use on the go.

 

But before I head out the door (and even before I put on my running clothes, to avoid any spots I might miss from shifting clothing), I always slather on the sunscreen.  I used to use spray sunblocks but have switched back to creams because I think they last longer on my skin, don’t force me to hold my breath during application, and aren’t as sticky.  My favorites are pictured above and reviewed below.

  • Coppertone Sensitive Skin SPF 50 – I first bought this because it was listed as one of the chemically “safe” sunblocks out there, but kept using it because it works so well.  I use it on my face, neck, and ears.  It doesn’t sting and gives excellent coverage, but it will give you a white face until you rub it in (and sometimes even after, especially spots around your hair that don’t quite get rubbed in).
  • Banana Boat Baby SPF 50 – It’s labeled as tear-free and sting-free, and for me it is.  Much like the Coppertone, it takes a bit of effort to rub in (and when I sweat a lot it “re-emerges” as white streaks on my skin), but it seems to last longer than some other formulas, and in a pinch I can use it on my face, too, so it’s multipurpose.  Also, since it’s for babies it makes me think it’ll work better because if a product doesn’t work on babies, those parents will cause a ruckus.  I’ll use this on my upper body and sometimes legs.
  • Supergoop SPF 30 – Supergoop is one of the few chemical sunblocks that doesn’t sting even when my skin is sensitive (from heat or salt or a bad mood).  It rubs in easily, doesn’t smell like much of anything, and doesn’t leave my skin sticky or shiny.  While the big pump is initially expensive, it’s actually not much more ounce-for-ounce than regular drugstore brands, and the pump is very convenient, making application that much simpler.  I’ll use this on my legs and arms, especially when I’m going for a short run or when I’m not running at all.
  • Neutrogena Beach Defense SPF 70 – These yellow bottles cropped up in stores earlier this year and I couldn’t resist trying them.  They are not a “wet skin” formulation but rather a standard sunblock, but I like how easily it rubs in and I actually enjoy the beachy/fruity scent it has (but I don’t wear it when I know that fragrance would be irritating to others, and I don’t use it all over my body because then I think the smell would be overwhelming).

 

Whatever your distance, if you’re running outside, don’t forget to slop on the block!

 

What sunblock(s) do you use?  Share in the comments!