In Septembers of 2001, just after I started trail running weekly with a group of gals, I asked if any of them might be interested in running Ragnar Northwest Passage, a nearly two-hundred mile relay race that begins in Blaine, Washington, near the Canadian border and ends in Langley on the south end of Whidbey Island. It didn’t take long to find twelve women willing to run thirteen to twenty or so miles each, after which I registered the team, collected money from participants and started wondering how we, an all-novice team, might pull it off. Surprisingly, over the next six months, not a single participant dropped out and the race went off without a hitch. Everyone was glad to have run the race and we had few mishaps save one runner completing the last mile of another (pre-race signup) injured runner last leg. Afterwards, in my first post ever, I blogged about what I’d learned, Ten Things I Wish I’d Known about Ragnar before Captaining an All-Rookie Team.
The following year I agonized over the dilemma of who to ask back. I wanted to invite some novices who I thought would enjoy the challenge, but I knew that a number of the past year’s participants wanted to run it again. Fortunately, things worked out. The second year’s team, Intrepid Bipeds (another learning experience, trying to choose a name that everyone can live with) consisted of six gals from the 2013 team and six new gals which was a great way to mix up veterans with newbies. A former van mate “offered” to “take Van 1,” that is, be the Van 1 Captain, which wasn’t exactly doing me, Van 2 Captain, any favors. For NW Passage, being a part of Van 1 is much easier than being part of Van 2, not only because of the difference in climb and distance, but also because you get to sleep during normal sleep time instead of running through the night.
As the captain, I knew I needed to act like it and agreed to captain Van 2 for a second year (the third year I participated). Although Van 2 covers a little more distance, a lot more climb, runs more legs in the dark has a shorter sleep break at an inopportune time, Van 1 runners must be up at the crack of dawn on race day to get to the start and, if the team sets that rule, must kill several hours after finishing their legs in order to meet their teammates at the finish.
At Exchange 6, we collected our race numbers, tattoos, window stickers, race mag, and flags, attended the required safety meeting, bought some gear, applied our tattoos and decals and hung out with the Van 1 gals while we waited for Runner 6 to arrive.
The first legs seem easy, even if they aren’t, because everyone is excited to get started. The weather is usually great in July, as was the case in 2014. After completing our first legs, we went to Anacortes to “Eat” “Sleep” at a vanmate’s house. We drove to La Conner High School to meet up with Van 1 when we expected them to be done. Running at night might sound scary, but nearly everyone who does it ends up liking whatever that leg is the most.
Once Runners 7 through 12 had completed their legs and we’d handed off the wrist slap band to Van 1 at Oak Harbor High School, we headed to my place for another round of “Eat” “Sleep” except that it’s hard to sleep when you know you’ll be running again in only a few hours. In 2013, this bothered me (and I slept only about half an hour). In 2014, I didn’t even try, just rested for awhile before eating breakfast, checking on the Van 1 Runners’ progress, packing up the van and heading to Coupeville.
At this point, Van 1 was done, but we’d agreed that they would meet us at the finish line in Langley so that we could all cross it together as a team. Thirty and a half hours after Runner 1 crossed the start, we all joined Runner 12 as she crossed the finish line. Each finisher receives a medal and each van receives a free pizza, which teammates take to a table in the beer garden for some post-race refreshment and rehashing of the race.
Another year, another successful session of Run.Eat.Sleep.Repeat. Because two of my long time runner friends from out of town joined us, one from San Diego and one from Bellevue, I had more fun the second year. After the second year, I posted this on my Facebook page:
Once again, I hope to have half veterans and half first-timers on the team. To make things fair, we’ll pick two groups of six gals and then draw straws to determine which group ends up in each van.
Although I’ve run races of all sub-ultra distances on the roads (5k, 10K, 15k, half marathon and marathon), and a few trail races, Ragnar is one of my favorite all-time events. It’s challenging enough that some gals think they might not be able to make it, but they always do, which is really rewarding for everyone. In my opinion, a person who is physically prepared to complete a half marathon can handle Ragnar. And for the hardcore, there’s the Ultra division, consisting of a team of six, meaning each person must run about thirty miles.