Posts Tagged ‘safety’

Rules for Ragnar and other relays

June 1, 2017

chugging along Lake Ontario

The smell hit me and nearly made my eyes tear up: it was something acrid, like a solvent. Great, I thought, it’s impossible to hold my breath and run at the same time. Maybe the chemical in the air will kill me before some ax murderer steps out of the bushes and grabs me. (It happens, read this.)

This sort of fatalistic thinking is not normal for me, but nothing was normal that day. I was in the midst of a 36-hour relay race with people I didn’t know, in an unfamiliar place, it was nearing midnight and I was on a dark, desolate stretch of industrial road between factories with no one else in sight.

Compounding my growing panic was the following calculation: I was probably on the wrong road, headed in the wrong direction (what race director would send runners down an isolated, unlighted industrial road on the fringes of a city?). The course was sparsely marked and it would have been easy for someone to move the relay race’s last directional arrow, sending me to my death. Even better, I realized —  if I got lost in Toronto at midnight and couldn’t find my team of near-strangers, I wasn’t carrying any identification or money or a working cell phone (mine stopped functioning at the border). Great.

Doesn’t this sound like fun?

Believe it or not, I paid for this experience. I was doing one in a series of popular “Ragnar” relay races that each covers 180 miles (or so). They’re all over, this one being along the shore of Lake Ontario in Canada, ending at Niagara Falls. Six of us decided we could take turns running 4-9 mile portions, each covering a total of about 30 miles in 36 hours. Other teams had 12 people in 2 vans, each covering approx. 15 miles.


Obviously I survived being on this side of Toronto.

However… in the 6 years since I ran my first Ragnar (Greenwich Conn. to Boston) the emphasis has apparently shifted from running to a silly group bonding exercise on wheels. It’s a trap. My observation is that lots of people get sucked in by the party atmosphere, the option of wearing silly costumes like tutus and viking hats, decorating their vans, as well as buying all sorts of Ragnar branded crap to show that they’ve done one of these expensive weekends … and the running is secondary.

That’s not the way it works.


Viking hats, how original.

Oftentimes the “bonding” experience flops when people are tired, cranky, and wishing they hadn’t bought into this trip. The fun part of spending two days in a van with 5 other people lasts for about the first 4 hours, and after that you need to focus on running. Sadly, lots of people are not prepared to deal with the less-fun parts of completing their portion.

Here are some suggestions to make your decision to run a long relay race go smoothly:

No smelly food in the van: it’s one thing to share the aroma of your favorite dish with those around you, it’s something else entirely when the smell is amplified by your moist breath when you fall asleep. Nix the jalapeno chips and garlic chicken in favor of bland, energy-rich food like bananas. Please.

Control your mess: before the race I saw a great article about giving each person a bin for clothes and shoes to limit the piles of cast-off gear that others had to climb over between seats. Whether that might work in practice is still unknown to me, because our van devolved from orderly to chaotic, leaving us crawling across seats layered in clothing and others unhappy about people falling asleep on our stuff..


Van management and navigation should be required courses.

Train the driver: Part of the issue with my team was the isolation of running an hour through unfamiliar territory with the same misgivings I described above. There were several desolate stretches on this race. However if your van actually stopped midway on each leg or otherwise accompanied the runner when possible, thoughts of axe murderers might be alleviated.

Stop: Part of getting cranky and uncomfortable was the lack of facilities. Filthy port-a-potties were easy to find, but running water and actual soap was elusive. With a little planning and flexibility, everyone would be happier using a Dunkin Donuts/Tim Horton’s bathroom (and getting hot coffee) once in a while. We didn’t do this often enough.

Change: dry clothes make a huge difference in a runner’s attitude and comfort. Strip off the wet layers when you’re sitting in the van waiting for your next running leg. Bring warm layers even if you don’t think you’ll need them (our weather turned cold and rainy).

Plan for priorities: Costumes and markers and group t-shirts are not even secondary to logging training miles. Things like 18557438_1827871270863859_1406266920653950139_nappropriate food, access to your stuff, and small comforts (like coffee) become far more important once the race starts. These are the important things to plan for, as well as having a fallback if someone gets hurt and can’t run.

Van necessities: Get a vehicle with separate controls for heat and ventilation from front to back. We had a van with lots of room (for lots of crap) but temperature was controlled on the dash only, and windows only opened at the far ends (front and back). Discomfort and noxious smells resulted in further unhappiness.


Resist the urge to succumb to Ragnar’s increased commercialism. Do you really need to pull out your credit card at a (lousy) transition area and buy a hat, sweatshirt, or souvenir with the Ragnar logo on it? Really? Why not withhold that additional cash until the race director(s) supply decent (clean) facilities, frequent and reliable route markers, or, God forbid, a snack for runners along the way. That way, when you get to the finish line and find that they don’t give you so much as a freaking free beer and burrito you don’t feel like so much of a chump for buying their brand along the way.


There were no “extras” for the runners — no hot coffee, power bars, and not even a free beer at the end — but they’d take your money for branded crap even at a transition area in the middle of the race.

Be honest: are you in it to push your physical limits, to test yourself, or are you in it for the silly costumes and party atmosphere? Think about it. If it’s the latter, do a 5k. Don’t screw up another person’s budget and training just so you can wear Ragnar gear and say you were part of a team.


A cynical take on a sweet sentiment

November 29, 2011

Orange just isn’t my color. It makes my skin look sallow. Ask any beautician. So why am I wearing an enormous blaze orange vest and equally ugly hat — with a Bass Pro logo no less — but didn’t get the free beer belly that I thought would come with it?

Same reason I now own a ski helmet, the first in my life. Because a guy is insisting on it.

It’s interesting, this dynamic: men who can’t or don’t want to be out on the trails with me but impose their presence in other ways, on when I go, what I wear, and especially, what I carry.

Sure, it’s hunting season, but the latest guy, a bonafide outdoorsman by anyone’s standards, insists I have a pack full of safety equipment with me anytime I’m out of sight of my house: the phone, car keys, blaze orange outfit, and even pepper spray. What am I gonna do, lie to him? Well, maybe. If I have to.

The last guy’s idea of getting close to nature was putting his elbows on a bar. Thank God his obsession with getting me an impact-activated rescue beacon for mountain biking was never realized. I’m sure I would have made front page news for a multi-town rescue for a simple handlebar stand that way. Come on, guys, when my mom’s known my outdoor antics forever and is only concerned that I wear a mouth guard to protect her 30-year-old investment in my front teeth, doesn’t that tell you something? You just can’t live life encased in bubblewrap.

is it the color or the control that isn't sitting well with me?

The safety sentiment is sweet on the surface, yet getting out on the trails to run or ride loosens my ties to daily life, recharging my batteries. The lighter the gear, the faster I go and the better I feel. To him it means that I’m in danger. He wants to pile on safety devices, to be able to call anytime and get an answer. I want to ignore my phone and tell him (again) that I’ve been doing this all my life and somehow never got seriously hurt, stuck or attacked by wild animals. I’ve done nothing to support this assumption that I’m a danger to myself: the last time I stayed too long in the woods I did have a headlamp. (But I also loved the trails in the dark, information that would probably elicit howls of objection if he knew.)

He has been charged by a moose and bolted when he disturbed a sleeping bear. But God forbid I go for a trail run in the middle of the afternoon. It didn’t help that I dumped my bike on a trail right in front of him last weekend. Think I should’ve ridden like somebody’s grandma so he wouldn’t spend time worrying? I think that would be the same as lying.

The situation prompted an interesting philosophical exchange with the OutdoorNinja. He wears a helmet when he skis and climbs, he says, and the scars on the helmets are proof they’re necessary gear. Yet he refuses to carry his phone when he bikes.

Subconsciously, doesn’t carrying or wearing all this safety crap prompt you to take risks that you otherwise would not? Doesn’t its very presence impede on your enjoyment of the freedom you seek, I wondered. The Ninja and I agreed on principle that risky behavior could result if one felt protected by gear or the ability to phone in a rescue ‘copter. Ergo, I could argue that self-preservation is justification for prevaricating to those who worry about me. I’m just not sure if that would be good for the ongoing relationship. Hmm.

Then this came in while I was writing: “I see hunter’s trucks along the road so just go road biking the next couple weeks …” That means the blaze orange fashion statement is no longer enough. Where will it end? Sigh.

There has to be a happy medium somewhere. I’ll wear the orange, OK, but don’t call me, I’ll call you. And, about the helmet: Dude#1, did you ever pay attention? I cross country ski. Duh.

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