EXTREMELY early tomorrow morning (as in like 7 flipping hours from now) I will start my journey (5 hour drive) to Wawayanda Lake in New Jersey. What for? Only my fourth Ragnar Relay with Strong Hearts Vegan Power.
“But Nate, you do these all the time; why is this one different?”
Let me tell you!
Wawayanda Lake is part of the Ragnar Trail Series. Rather than cram into 2 vans with 6 racers (12 racers total), you camp out with 8 racers. Rather than running from point to point, Ragnar creates three different loops varying in distance. This one has the red loop at 6.7 miles, yellow at 5.1 miles and the green loop is 3.9 miles for a GRAND total of just under 18 miles in less than 24 hours.
Again, rather than drive point to point, racers run different loops . As they finish their loop they tag the next runner to start their loop. This goes on and on all through the day and night. Each racer has to finish a lap of each loop. Depending on what runner you get depends on when you do each loop. I’m pumped that I will do mine from hardest to easiest. I’d much rather get the distance done and out of the way so I can really push myself to finish strong on a shorter loop.
When we are not running we get to eat all the vegan food! My wonderful wife, once more made a couple loaves of her AMAZING vegan banana bread, I made my BBQ seitan ribs and I picked up 5 boxes of Tofurky slices. Everyone is tasked with bringing a variety of items so their will be all sorts of goodies. I can’t wait to try Dana’s Toasted Marshmallow GU Rice Krispie Bars! Ya, you read that right!
More importantly, when we are not running we get to spread the message of ethical veganism. We were lucky to have been chosen to win the REI outfitted campsite, what that means is prime location. Foot traffic should be at a high and we will be super visible. Not that a whole group of people in black with the words “Vegan Power” emblazoned on our clothing isn’t visible enough. The location will afford us time and opportunity to do things right. Thank you to Ragnar and to REI for hooking us up.
If that doesn’t answer what makes this race different, check out the video below and pay attention at the end; our team from last year makes a cameo!
Now that I’ve had a few days to let everything settle down, including the achy legs, I’m ready to put down on (metaphorical) paper what would become one of my favorite races so far. That’s a hefty way to start this but you will understand by the end.
I heard of this race, The Vegan Power Ultra, last year and had wanted to run it. I was already running a 50k though (The TARC Summer Classic) and figured doing two within a few months (when I had never done 1 to begin with) might be a bad idea. It was my first attempt at an ultra and I wanted to make sure I finished. So I passed and waited until 2016.
For 2016 though, I decided against the 50k option and did the 25k. I’m really glad I did. Even before the race I hadn’t run enough for 30+ miles and I knew it would result in a DNF with the lack of training. So rather than do that, it was the 25k for me. I’m glad I chose it because it gave me an opportunity to hang with my new-found teammates on the Strong Hearts Vegan Power team.
I also met a bunch of people I’ve chatted with online. This group of racers, volunteers and spectators were all genuinely kind and considerate. I don’t think I saw a frown the whole day. Even when racers got injured and had to drop out, they did so with a smile and didn’t beat themselves up over it. The overall feeling of the day was amazing, I haven’t felt that calm and centered since I went on a meditation retreat a few years back.
But I digress, let’s talk about my night before real quick. Driving to Pittsfield, MA from Cape Cod is a 3.5-4 hour drive depending on traffic. Upon my wifes recommendation, I went up the night before so I didn’t have to drive up that morning and could get a good nights sleep. Being the cheap prick I am I booked a room at the Motel 6 in Chicopee. I got there at roughly 6:30-7pm and quickly check in and headed to Northampton to grab something to eat a highly recommended place, Paul and Elizabeth’s. I decided on the Thai-Style Seitan and Udon Noodle Sauté and took it to go. Honestly, I had tried to order from a place called Bela first but they don’t allow to-go orders and are super high-end, which is kind of bullshit, but whatever.
On the ride home I saw a Target, and we don’t have one of those near the Cape. Why mention Target in a race report? Well this has nothing to do with the race but has EVERYTHING to do with cookies. You see, they are one of the few places to sell Hamptons Creeks “Just Cookies” and I had to have some. So, I bought some.
I got back to my room, and tore into my dinner. I had such high hopes and was let down. First, I was told how spicy it was and that it’s a “good thing I like spice because it’s spicy.” That’s what I was told at least. It wasn’t. The seitan was super soggy and was just like hot mush. The meal was a complete let down, but I finished it because I needed the veggies, carbs and protein for the race the next day. After trying an AMAZING cookie, I went to bed.
No sooner had I gone to sleep, ok maybe a couple of hours after, the flippin fire alarms started going off and multiple fire engines rolled. The alarm went off for nearly 45 minutes and made it impossible to go back to sleep until it was done. Once they left and reset the alarm I was about to fall back asleep made 30 minutes later. The alarm clock on my phone came way too soon and I was not ready to get up, but I had to.
I ate some breakfast and started making my way toward Pittsfield. It’s been some time since I’ve been in any sort of mountain range. I realize the Berkshires are no Rockies, but I was still humbled by the mountains and their grandeur made my heart flutter a bit. I think I lived in the mountains in a previous life. Maybe I was a mountain yogi or something, I feel really at peace around mountains. But anyway…
I arrived and said hello to my brothers and sisters of SHVP and went over to registration. I finally met Ana Wolf, the RD, and she is just as genuinely nice in person as she is online. I wasn’t sure someone could carry that kindness into the real world, but you have to be real person to do so and she is. The event, while somewhat small, takes some major work to do. From co-ordinating volunteers, getting medals done up, designing and printing t-shirts, co-ordinating with the beneficiary of race funds, etc. Ana did it all and with grace, it was never about her but about everyone else. She is amazing.
10am came rather quick and it was go time. I was as ready as I was going to be and hit the first hill, the only major hill on the course, as hard as I could. I had heard people saying how it should be taken slow and I did on lap 2 and 3. I wanted to get out as quick as I could, which time and again, proves to be my downfall as I can’t seem to sustain that energy the whole race. Regardless, it’s how it went this time, again.
The trails were absolutely gorgeous and were marked extremely well, probably the best I’ve seen at a race. They were dry but not dusty. There were spots that were quite rocky and were also filled with roots. At times you could see people who looked like they had been running a mud run as they were quite dirty from clipping a root or two.The days weather was great and was warm but no muggy. The flora and fauna was green and healthy. It wasn’t until later that I noticed I probably touched some poison oak at some point. Yeah, It’s really itchy right now!
Lap 1 went off pretty well. I was 5-6 minutes slower than I really wanted to be but I was having fun and I wasn’t really looking to push it, I just wanted to finish. The third lap, during the last mile, the wheels started to come off a bit and I’m really glad I stuck with the 25k option. I finished my race in 3 hours and 48 minutes. Not an awesome time, it’s not competitive in the least. But again, that was not my goal. I hit my goal; I finished.
I had so much fun. After the run there was all sorts of vegan grub to be had. There was pizza from Baba Louies, rice and curried veggies from Veggie Galaxy. There were other items that folk brought such as brownies, bars and all sorts of treats. I absolutely devoured my bowl of curries veggies and rice. Having burnt nearly 1,500 calories I was famished.
Overall, I would do this race again and again. I hope to make it next year and might even dare to try the 50k option and make it my second 50k race. I don’t think I could pick a better race to support and accomplish that goal. I want to thank my teammates who supported me, supported each-other, supported other runners, supported Ana and more importantly supported Vine Sanctuary, who was the beneficiary of the race funds; over $6000! Thank you to the volunteers who were all gracious, and thank you to Ben Kimball for all the amazing race photos.
I can’t wait to go back next year!!
ps. Congrats to SHVP teammates Jason and Samantha for winning the men’s and women’s 50k races and to our first relay team for taking home the crown.
It’s taken a few days (a week) to digest this years Cape Cod Ragnar Relay. Ever since running it for the first time last year, I knew I had to run it again in 2016. I’m sure I’ve told the story more than a few times but let me preface this post with how I first met Strong Hearts Vegan Power and how I ended up running with the team.
They were impossible NOT to spot on the course. The very in your face design on the gear was 100% noticeable. The other racers were buzzing about them; who were they and what was their deal? It was at the last major exchange (Nauset High School) that I was able to approach the team. I walked up to Peter Nussbaum (I also met Julie Henderson, Scott Henderson and Kathleen Froico), introduced myself and asked how I could get one of the cool shirts the team was wearing. “You have to run with the team to get one,” he said. So, my next question was an obvious one, “how do I run with the team?”
Fast forward a year I got the opportunity.
It’s been a long time since I was really nervous to run a race. I’m somewhat of an introvert so to have to introduce myself to people I didn’t know at all was, well, it was a daunting task. I arrived to the Park and Ride in Rockland where we were meeting up to leave our vehicles and then divide into our vans before heading to the start line. I recognized some faces so I went to say hi. I recognized some faces from Facebook and Instagram, so that helped break the ice a bit. The one thing that was clear, especially among us new to the team; we were pumped to get our team gear!
Kaitlin was handing out all the gear. Besides the race itself, this was the moment I was waiting for. She handed me some gear and it was magical, no fuck that, it was MAGNIFICENT! I unrolled it and slid on my new hoodie. I felt like a damn superhero! Not only did I have the power to pound pavement three times in 24 hours but I had to power to be a representative for those that lack the voices to represent themselves; the animals. That’s truly why, like the badass vegan superheroes we were, we had all assembled.
In a flurry I met teammate after teammate and was soon introduced to those in my van, which was the B Team, van 1. Our driver/ navigator, and seemingly most important person, was Meghan. The other 5 were Skott, Jay, Laura, Suzie and Lia. We instantly got along and it seemed like the next 24 hours should go off swimmingly. It did.
After sending off Laura on her first leg we all piled in and it was off to the races (pun intended). What I really like about Ragnar is all the searching. Yes, we know where they are going and where we are supposed to go, but it kind of feels like a treasure hunt of sorts. You follow the clues and there’s the exchange, and most of the time; your runner. It went on like this for a bit until it was my turn to go.
My first leg was through the town of Marshfield and was 7.3 miles. That was better than 12.8 I had started out with last year; that was a leg killer for sure. I cranked out my 7.3 the best I could, handed off to Jay and he took off. After his leg it was off to our first major exchange in Bourne, the Gallo Ice Arena.
After devouring all sorts of yummy food, including Tofurky sandwiches on Pretzilla buns it was time to figure out the plan for the next few hours until our first runner had to get back out there. The rain had started to settle in and we were all going to try to get some rest since our second set of runs would be in the middle of the night and quite possibly in the rain. Mine would be at 3am, and was 5.5 miles, so I needed some z’s. The ladies took the sleeping bags into the arena and the guys stretched out in the van. It was less than an hour later and some jokester thought it would be funny to mess with the handles of the van and jiggle them. I was awake after that, until I started to slowly slip back under and then… the girls were back. Huh? It seemed another jokester thought it would be funny to pull the fire alarm and ruin it for everyone. So, until they could clear the arena of any hazards, no one was allowed in. Needless to say, not one of us got any sort of true restful sleep.
After a bit we got Laura over to the exchange point and off we were again. My leg was until we hit the Cotuit area but it came sooner than I had hoped. I had rolled out my quads a bit, as they were tightening up after sitting in the van for a while. I had to get some food in me besides the pumpkin seeds and trail mix I was snacking on so I devoured a bag of Rhythm Superfoods Ranch Kale Chips for some green fuel. At roughly 3:30am Suzie passed me the slapband and my run was on. I didn’t take my headphones this time as I wanted to be aware of my surroundings, especially at that time of night. The run was fun, but it was Friday the 13th and my mind played a couple tricks on me. As you can imagine, I heard things in the woods and freaked out. You’d think my pace should have been better as I felt like I running a million miles a minute, but alas, that was not the case.
As I ran through a very desolate downtown Osterville it was a sight I’m not used to seeing as a Cape Codder. Osterville is usually bustling, even in the off-season. But all the stores were closed, there were no cars parked anywhere or driving anywhere for that matter. The only people who were awake and alert were other Ragnarians. I handed off to Jay and headed back to the van. Minus Meghan, they were all out cold. I stayed up with her so we could find Jay at some points to cheer him on and get through the waning hours of the night. Lucky for him the sun was starting to come up and he caught that second wind. After he passed the slapband to Scott Spitz of Van B we were off to Harwich and the Monomoy High School.
I have not been back to the school since I graduated in 1992. It was much different back then. Heck the building isn’t even there anymore, it was demolished and rebuilt for the new regional school, Monomoy, which is shared by Harwich and Chatham. It is a beautiful school, with all sorts of green tech, etc.
I don’t remember much here except falling asleep, finally.
I woke up to see Laura off on her third and final leg and the treasure hunt started all over again. My third and final leg would go from Orleans into Eastham, an area I know very well as it’s where I work most of the time. I was pumped to get this leg as it went down Bridge Road and went across a beautiful bridge over a marsh. It’s one of my favorite spots. A short bit after the bridge my wife and boys caught up with me. I really needed to see them and the boost they gave me with their cheers and encouragement was more welcomed than I thought possible. While this leg was only 4.6 miles, it was brutal as there were a couple decent hills and my legs were shot. I needed to see them. I shuffled quite a bit but picked up the pace where I could.
I finally made it to Arnold’s Clam Shack, the next exchange, handed off to Jay and was done!
We met Jay over at Nauset High School, the next major exchange and, going back, the place that started it all for me and Strong Hearts Vegan Power. I felt accomplished, the team felt accomplished. We took a team photo and headed off to Provincetown to meet the next van when they got there.
When their runner arrived we all followed them toward the finish line and crossed together. It was absolutely mind numbing how great it felt. But at the same time, I knew from last year, that the high would pass and I would start missing the team soon.
After the last team came in we all went back up to the Park and Ride for an award ceremony and to say our goodbye’s. It was bittersweet to see my truck there, I knew it was over. That said, in that very short period of time we spent as a team I feel like I made some really good new friends. And that’s not just our van alone. I f*cking love everyone we met. This was where I was meant to be for the period of time, I felt it in my mind and in my heart. Both were full as I headed back to the Cape and home. I was excited though, it would only be another 24 hours until we were all reunited again, at Maple Farms Sanctuary, the beneficiary for all the funds we raised at Ragnar. That post is coming soon. I’m already at 1,600+ words and this is a blog, not a book.
Below is a small album of the 24 hours, and a great video by Rachel.
I’ve written the intro to this post 3-4 times and am still hitting a block. How do you honestly introduce an event that is as epic as Ragnar is? After running a bunch of different events from Obstacle Races to this years Winter Death Race, there really is no comparison with the package Ragnar offers up.
For those unfamiliar:
Ragnar is the overnight running relay race that makes testing your limits a team sport. You and 11 of your craziest friends (or 5 of your crazier friends for an ultra team) pile into two vans and tag team running 200(ish) miles, day and night, relay-style. Only one runner hits the road at a time. Each participant runs three times, with each leg ranging between 3-8 miles and varying in difficulty. So, from the elite runner down to the novice jogger, it’s the perfect race for anyone. – from https://www.ragnarrelay.com/ragnar
I’d like to point out one glaring omission from the description above. Absolutely, the distances vary, and anyone can run a Ragnar if they’ve done a 5k or 10k before. BUT… there is one leg that they called the “Wicked Hahd” leg, I’m assuming they added that nickname cause it was a New England located race. That leg is for runner 10 and is 12.8 miles of near half-marathon torture. Add in .3 and you get the half-marathon status, right? Please tell me yes because this would be my first. Haha!
My work takes me all over Cape Cod; all year long. For the past few years I have noticed Ragnar blow through the Cape like a whirlwind. It wasn’t until I started running and racing OCR’s that I was truly focused in on it, and or, wanted to participate in it. After hearing about it last year from teammates I really, REALLY wanted to do it. Being the procrastinator that I am though, by the time teams were put together I had lost out. I held out hope, and I know it sounds bad, but I held out hope that maybe someone would not be able to make it and a spot would open up. Luck has it, someone had a calender conflict and he offered his spot up on the Spahten Men’s Team. I jumped at it, and got in.
I should have known I was over my head when I realized I was running with others that are a lot more “runner fit” than I am, but I accepted the challenge to get my rear end in training. I cranked up my running and was continually hitting my pace goals on training runs. My pace is usually around a 9-minute mile. I can hit under it when feeling good, but I try to stick around that pace. After mentioning this, another teammate said that was about their pace. That made me feel a bit better and I started ramping up my distance as I was replacing the runner who would be runner 10 in the race.
Last weekend, my family and I drove about 30 minutes, the shortest drive to an OCR yet for us, to conquer and decimate the Hero Rush. Ever since our Spartan Race in Georgia last month, we had been dying to get down and dirty and get our race on again. Normally, we would have worn whatever we could to represent the team, New England Spahtens, here in Tennessee but with all that happened in Boston, we (was my wife’s idea) decided to wear our Boston gear seeing as we are Massachusetts natives. We got many hoots of encouragement from people, lots of talk about Boston, especially from the PA announcer.
Waves were going off every 30 minutes. Leah lined up and was off on her heat.
We arrived and went right to check-in. It was so smooth, no complaints, they really had their stuff together. We walked over to the midway which was awesome. Tons of firetrucks and other first responder vehicles, which my 5 year old, Colin, loved! There was the usual merchandise table, which has all sorts of Hero Rush goodies. Alex was psyched to see the hoses on the outside of the pool racers had to run through. It was up to the kids to blast the racers with water as they came by, he was very happy to oblige!
While she was off and running we found a mini course of sorts, one perfect sized for Colin, even though he did the kid’s heat and was the youngest on the course! It was a very small version of the adult race, but was fun for him none the less. Alex blasted right through it, a mere warm-up for the kids heat I’m sure.
We took a walk around the course, it was very spectator friendly, and then we hunkered down to wait for Leah to pass us by. She blasted by, looking really good, not gassed at all. There were only three to four obstacles left from here. There were 21 total, and the distance was 4.1 miles. We followed along and met up with her at the finish line, where, with a huge smile she happily accepted her medal!
It was my time, unfortunately right at the same time as the kids race, but the heats stopped at 1:30pm. That is probably my only complaint, the day should have been much longer. The air-horn went off and it was on.
I raced up the platform, down the fire pole and hit the ground running. My legs felt great and my breath was in sync, this was going to be a great race. As we rounded the first corner it was the up, under and through walls obstacle. A short distance later was a creek with freezing cold water, but it was already warming up outside so the cold was refreshing. I tried to run, but Leah had mentioned that it wouldn’t be a great idea. Here in Tennessee a lot of the creeks and river have rock beds, or limestone beds. They can be sharp, they can drop off at any given moment, etc. Needless to say, it slowed me a bit to have to walk fast. The next obstacle, in the creek, was a bunch of swinging tires hanging from the trees, not difficult but fun.
There were a ton of other obstacles, many of them typical for an OCR. What they did have that was different was a smoke house that they called the hoarders house. It was full of smoke, a vapor of sorts, and as you can tell by the name, had all sorts of mess everywhere. It was dark on top of the smoke, so it was really hard navigating around, I can just imagine what a fireman has to go through when they face this type of challenge in the real world.
There was also an obstacle I oddly enough had a rough time time with. There were two large tubes which were filled with foam/ suds. You were supposed to go in one, cross through and come out the other. I would have had to do burpees had this been a Spartan because I did it twice. The first time I felt very claustrophobic and could not breathe, I started to panic and needed to get out. I got right back in though and got it done. Another obstacle was a two person “buddy carry” of sorts. There was another racer with me as I hit this obstacle and she grabbed one side of the dummy as I got the other and we had to bring it up and over a few obstacles.
I was starting to gas a bit, but the woman that did the dummy carry with me hung out for a bit and we paced each other, trying to encourage the other to not slow down and keep it nice and steady. We hit the hill where the boys and I had seen Leah before, but from my vantage point before I had no idea just how rough the hill was. Now, coming at it from the other side, it was muddy as all heck and there were multiple fire hoses to help you climb up. Although it was a slight bit daunting, I just dug right in, bypassed the hoses, and spidered my way up the hill. Only a few more obstacles to go and it was done, nearly there.
The last couple obstacles ws one that you had to shimmy up a pipe, get to the platform and slide down a tarp like slide into a pool of water. From there you rounded the corner where the kids were waiting to blast me with the firehoses. I jumped in the pool, took the water right in the face, jumped out and leapt over the three sets of firelogs and it was completion glory, I got my medal!!
The only other complaint, the last I promise, was that I had ordered before hand a medium size finisher’s shirt. By the time I reached the end, there were no more. But, I was assured they would fastidiously send me one out in the mail, so soon enough I shall have it.
All in all, I would 110% recommend this race. It was so much fun, not only for us adults, but for the kids as well. It is a family friendly environment. This particualr location was abundant in hills, which were quite the challenge, loved every minute of it!!
Ok, last complaint, but this seems to be at ALL OCR’s, the concession stand had nothing but fried food to offer afterward. To me, this needs to change, at every OCR. It’s great if that’s what you want to eat, but after an hour (my official time was 1:04:30.02) the last thing I want to put in my body is a hot dog, french fries and fried chicken.
Ok, we know this isn’t in MA, but Spahten immortality is to be attained throughout the New England region. The Vermont Beast is a 10-12 mile obstacle race that is not only adventurous and grueling, but it is a test of pure will. Are you prepared to face the Beast and attain Spahten glory?
Yes, you heard it, the Spartan Race is coming back to our area. Again, because of the immense interest the race brings, it will be two days, August 11th and 12th. You can find out more info by checking out THIS LINK.
Are you planning on going? Did you go last year? How are you training for it?