The Ragnar Relay is an interesting race, involving having a team of 10 people who are mad enough to run from Sittingbourne in Kent to Brighton in West Sussex in under 34 hours. So, when I was asked if I wanted to be part of the Backpackers team there was only one answer ‘YES!’
So, this is how the relay works – you split your 10 people into 2 teams, and give each team a transit van. Team one start, their first runner hits the road and runs their leg. At the exchange point you scoop up runner 1, throw runner 2 out of the van, and then runner 2 does their bit. Once all of Team 1 have run their legs, they hand over to Team 2, and then Team 1 go and get some well earned rest and food, before they start all over again once Team 2 have run their 5 legs – and so this continues, along the coast line of Kent and into Sussex until both Teams reunite 100m before the finish line to accompany the final runner over the line.
Sounds fairly simple doesn’t it, but wait until you get tired, your map reading skills leave you and you end up in a traffic jam in a country lane in a van you haven’t driven before that seems to have more pedals, levers and buttons than a space shuttle.
This blog is slightly more serious than for challenges 1 & 2, as it was during Ragnar that both grief hit me like a tsunami at the same time that the enormity of challenge I have set myself in completing 50 challenges to raise money for the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund really hit home.
So, lets back track a little to Friday 20th September, when I head off to Enterprise Car and Van hire to pick up our 9-seater. A Mercedes of some kind, with a confusing foot brake pedal, which had me stumped before I had even left their premises! Anyway I got the van home and on the driveway and I set about ‘pimping’ it up for the race!
Saturday morning Jenny appears at my door, we chuck our rucksacks in the boot along with water enough to sink a battle ship and head off to pick up team member Brackers and then hit the M20 to scoop up Ann-Marie in Sevenoaks and then we were Margate bound to find our Captain Celeste and check ourselves in at exchange point 5.
We soaked up the atmosphere (some more than others) and waited for Simone from Team 1, to come over the line – Ann-Marie then sets off on her first leg for Team 2.
The sun is shining – it is not supposed to be shining, it is supposed to be a cloudy and cool 15 degrees!
Heading to Joss Bay Car Park, Jenny hands over to me and I am off on my first leg – a supposed flat leg of the relay which starts with a steady incline for a mile. I am hot, I am bothered, runners are zooming past me up the hill and I am just not enjoying myself. I then start having a dialogue with myself that sees the wheels fall off!
‘Why am I putting myself through this?’
‘This was supposed to be a flat leg! there’s more inclines than the Yorkshire Dales!’
‘Dad I miss you!’
‘Its so blooming hot’!
‘I hate running’
‘I can’t let the team down’
Just 3 miles later as I run into Broadstairs my leg is over, but it was the longest 3 miles I have ever run. I handed over to Celeste, walked away and dissolved into a puddle of tears.
Grief just hit me like a truck and there was no stopping it for the whole weekend.
When you are holed up in a small space for a long period of time, you get to know your teammates very well, and we all had this massive realisation that none of us wanted to let the side down. In fact, that responsibility of not letting the team down was so huge for all of us that it was quite overwhelming.
I can honestly say that the crew love I experienced on the Ragnar weekend was like no other. We all had our low points, due to lack of sleep, sugar, tiredness, niggles, proper food but we just talked them all out and made sure everyone was OK and made light of those dark moments.
Our second runs were going to be in the dark, and we decided that we would buddy up rather than run unknown paths and tracks alone at 4am in the morning. Celeste and I ran from Dymchurch into Littlestone - and area I know really well, but it looks totally different in the pitch dark of the night!! My anxiety at being slower than I wanted to be, still being troubled by the grief I was feeling,meant I couldn’t get my breathing right, and I was thankful to Celeste for the company.
My second leg was over and I now felt kind of broken, percy pigs don’t really cut it when it comes to nutrition. Your body is in limbo it wants food, but it’s not sure what time it is and whether you should eat, and emotionally I was a little spent. We made our way to Eastbourne, bedded down in the van and tried to get to sleep to the hum of rain drops on the roof. By now the van was awash with empty water bottles, sweaty t-shirts, odd socks and cereal bar wrappers – detritus from 5 girls being holed up in a van for 24 hours.
We woke to the news that there were bacon rolls and coffee available but after a 1 hour wait we aborted and we all headed off to McDonalds were we over ordered on hash browns made the van smell even worse! (a first for me at age 50, going to a drive-thru!!)
Fuelled by carbohydrates our spirits lifted, as the rain clouds gave way to blue skies and we headed up to the top of Beachy Head. …. which is quite simply stunning!
Celeste and Jen headed off on their nice FLAT run, (according to Ragnar!) as I drove the van to the next exchange point - Ann-Marie, Brackers and I all chuckled as I navigated the van up and down hills to get to Birling Gap – their leg definitely wasn’t flat!!
The Seven Sisters, Cuckmere Haven and the road into Seaford was my final leg. When I found it that I had this hilly section back in the summer, I had done a recce on what happened to be the hottest day of the year – the 7 miles took me 2 hours that day!
So, setting off from Birling Gap, up a hill of course, I just told myself to enjoy the run. No sooner are you at the top of one of the ‘sisters’ than you are scrambling down the other side to go up yet another ‘sister’ – loads of people overtook me, but I didn’t really care (unlike my first leg). I just took in the views, took it easy and made it to the exchange point in 1.5 hours (just as well I wasn’t quicker as my teammates had gone to the wrong exchange point!!)
Coming over the line my Ragnar running experience was over – all we needed to do down was get our last 2 legs completed and regroup as a full team at the finish line in Brighton.
Brackers did a storming last leg of 8 miles and as she popped up by Brighton Marina, we all run the final 100 metres together – simply awesome.
Ragnar really is a unique experience - the ten medals come together and spell out ...
WE BELEIVE TOGETHER WE CAN ACCOMPLISH ANYTHING WE ARE RANGARIANS
Everyone was elated to have finished, but now came getting home. Sleep deprived, we headed to our sweaty, smelly vans for the final leg home from Brighton to London.
When I finally parked the van on the drive, I then climbed the stairs to my flat, had a bath, my head hit the pillow and I was asleep my 8.00pm – dreaming of never doing Ragnar again … but Ragnar and running, is a little like grief. When it hits you hard and makes you feel really low and tired you can’t see a way out, and then something as simple as a good night sleep can clear the decks and make everything OK again, and you remember the good times, not the bad times. (However I wasn’t in a complete rush to use the Ragnar discount code that they sent our the every next day for the 2020 race!)
Ragnar, I loved you and hated you in equal measure – you were a truly testing challenge, but I feel all the better for having experienced you.
50 at 50 for PCRF - completing 50 challenges in my 50th year for Pancreatic Cancer
And now for challenge number 4
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