Ragnar Reach the Beach ’23 – Race Recap

It’s dark and I’m running on the side of a New Hampshire freeway chasing a blurry blinking dot a half mile in the distance. The wind whispers rumors of a hurricane as I crest a hill and start down the other side, slowly closing the gap on that dancing light.

The kill will come soon. All those runs up and down Indian Hill are going to pay off. I will conquer the light. I will swallow it whole and eat its glowing heart. I will show no mercy. Just a curt nod and wave and a slight acceleration. I will skip any pleasantries if the person is in costume.

I pick up the pace as I visualize marking up the van window with another blue tally mark. This is the moment when the little sprites leap out of the darkness and attack my hips and knees with their tiny, sharp Ginsu knives.

I am halfway through my second relay leg.

This is when Ragnar gets real…this is when I ask myself why the f*ck am I doing this?

Ragnar Reach the Beach 2023 will be remembered mostly as the Hurricane Ragnar. Or, the Hurricane that Wasn’t. Or, more likely with this group, the Lack of a Beer Tent Ragnar.

But we’ll get to the that. Let’s start this running diary at the beginning.

Thursday Sept. 14th (the night before)

5:15 pm – While frantically searching the house for where I put my Nox gear in my post-Ragnar delusional state last year, I contemplate my personal goals for my fourth Reach the Beach and come up with three that I feel are achievable:

  1. Eat less than 18 antacids even if I’m craving a little chalky Pineapple hit.
  2. Finish without fertilizing a New Hampshire field (even if it’s at night and well concealed – you never know when a Ring doorbell camera is watching).
  3. Avoid having to hitchhike to the next transition zone.

8:22 pm – I found the Nox gear. It was in the other pocket of my duffel bag. Past Mike was too smart and prepared for Future Mike.

2:41 am – I wake up slightly damp after a vague but disconcerting nightmare involving the coffee at a Circle K convenience store.

Friday Sept 15th

5:34 am – Does how you pack for this type of…event say something about your personality? This might require further study.

Our 24 team members are spread across a the spectrum. There are minimalists. Maximalists. Optimists. Pessimists. And Plastic Bag packers. Do they save the plastic bags now for these occasions?

Personally, I fall into the prepared camp. Maybe too prepared. I’ve packed a steamer trunk like an 1870s heiress going on a White Star Line cruise across the Atlantic. My bags are full of various plush clothes and puffy towels. It looks like I robbed a spa on the way to the van meet-up.

But when that hurricane hits, I’m going to be warm and dry. [foreshadowing]

6:02 am – We are on our way and we haven’t cleared the town limits yet when there is the first back seat forecast. Much like our van packing, this group has a wide variety of opinions. Two think it will be virtually a non-event. One thinks we’re going to get pulled from the course. One brought wellies in addition to three pairs of running shoes in case of flooding. And one believes at least one of us might be killed.

Someone needs more coffee. Just not the Circle K variety.

6:58 am – A moment of silence is observed at the site of the 2021 van breakdown.

7:04 am – As we approach the NH state line, I am scrambling to place a few final online sporting wagers. More on this in a moment.

7:39 am – Five out of six of us in Van 2 have done at least one Ragnar with this group. There is one newbie who claims to have run the race before but offers no real proof. It rings as true as the middle school kid with the Canadian girlfriend. We give him a little shade. A Ragnar van is much like prison. You gotta earn trust and respect.

I’m back in the third row where I can keep an eye on everyone. Also like prison, always watch your back in the van. As far as I can tell, this is what the new guy has packed: a family size bag of kettle potato chips, a bag of Milano cookies, and one running shirt for all three legs.

8:11 am – My frantic tapping on my phone (and perhaps occasional salty language) did not go unnoticed. I did not intend to ruin the virtue of my van mates but if they ask, is it really my fault?

In the last couple months, three things collided in spectacular fashion. First, I had a sabbatical from work and a lot of free time. Second, earlier this year, online sportsbooks were legalized in Massachusetts. Third, a friend really got into the credit card points and miles game.

Did I mention I had hours to fill each day where I would normally be at work? And it was too hot to bake bread.

By the time we reach the first NH rest stop, I’ve explained the concept of matched betting as an investment strategy and queued up two potential referral bonuses for Chase Sapphire credit cards and mentioned how easy the checking account sign up incentives are at Eastern Savings Bank.

It’s Glengarry Glen Ross in Van 2!

8:48 am – The first bag of beef jerky is opened. The smell makes me twitchy with PTSD. Three of us are survivors of the Row 2 jerky buffet from last year. In my best hostage negotiator voice, I relate the tale of Mike from Pennsylvania.

Mike didn’t return this year.

It’s the last bag of jerky opened in the van.

10:00 am – We arrive at the start and check-in. After receiving our strangely tight t-shirts, we peruse the shops and swag.

After 77 people died last year while chocking on Kodiak granola bars, the race switched over entirely to liquid swag. There is an intriguing tart cherry juice sample but after someone mentions the potential of cherries as a laxative, I drop it like it’s scalding my flesh. Cheribundi! now takes on a whole new meaning this weekend. “I just cheribundied in the honey bucket!”

10:08 am– Six intelligent people try in vain to figure out the business model and viability of the mobile fitness truck acting as the staging area emcee. We come up empty other than the fact that the employees might have other, um, more tawdry side hustles that finance their day jobs based on their physiques and tight jean shorts.

10:35 am – I give my lower intestines a little pep talk. This is the last reliable indoor plumbing we are going to see for awhile.

10:44 am – We are officially underway and I have approximately 8 hours before I run. One small silver lining of having a rare chronic disease that includes bouts of random fatigue is that you quickly develop compensating powers. I can nap hard and fast. I’m almost as good at it as sweating. I am the Jakob Ingebrigtsen of napping. [Ed note: you readers, Norwegians, and the weirdos on the letsrun.com boards are the only people that would get this reference.]

12:04 pm – The van is moving. I’m still napping. I’d be a great kidnap victim.

1:06 pm – The vicious crunching of the ridged kettle chips from the second row fully wakes me up.

1:15 pm – I eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Unlike new guy, I didn’t pack any Milanos, Chessmen, or Nantucket cookies. Given the scorched earth war between me and my stomach the past few years at Ragnar, I went with the nursing home diet. PB&Js, bananas, gummy probiotics, egg whites, and pouches of puree in questionable colors.

4:04 pm – Our van is about to start running and Danielle, Van Mom and my unofficial medical advisor, breaks out the puppy pads in preparation. After the new guy gives her a quizzical look, it’s clear he hasn’t looked at the advance reading material she’s sent out. She launches into her prepared speech. It’s well-honed after four years. In short, Mike sweats. A lot. “You’ll thank me later.”

6:00 pm – I am off on my first leg. It’s a net downhill of over 1,00 feet. I know I shouldn’t complain, and I’m certainly not, as I cruise along a very pleasant bike trial. Is it a deal with the devil? Is it too easy?

7:02 pm – My run is over. The weather is cool. I only need one puppy pad. I feel like I didn’t exert myself enough.

7:32 pm – Full dark. Full belly. But 50 bucks for two large pizzas? This really offends me for some reason. I think they saw the Massachusetts plates on the van.

8:16 pm – While munching on overpriced pizza, there is talk about growing up as an adolescent in Scotland and England. This topic continues for quite some time. There are a lot of descriptions of streets filled with bars, fist fights, grudges, and court appearances. I think. The accents make some of the conversation opaque.

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In my mind, I see a cross between Roadhouse, 28 Days Later, and The Last of Us.

For van clarity, we then also cover UK specific vocabulary including the subtleties of: to nick, bog, bloke v. lad v. mate, chips v. crisps, biscuits, daft, and dodgy.

Also, Craig re-iterates anyone who microwaves a cuppa is a bloody muppet.

9:46 pm – Three hours of sleep blessedly uninterrupted by Circle K nightmares. Though it was interrupted by bloody backup beeps from cheeky van drivers. Pro teams do not rent vans that sound like an overbearing hospital heart monitor.

Saturday Sept 16th

12:49 am – I’m brusquely woken up by our Van Mom. She is saying something and flashing four fingers in my face. I’m disoriented and confused. She keeps waving her hand. She’s from Lowell. Is that a gang sign? Are we about to throw down like an 18-year-old Mancunian after last call? What’s going on? I pop out my headphones.

TL;DR – It wasn’t a gang sign. It was a sign of our sleep being drastically cut short as the other van is doing a quad group run. What’s that? Good question.

You know when Bill Belichick decides to punt the ball backwards and when it hits the left goal post the Patriots get 2 points and the ball at the opponents 4 yard line because of some obscure 1952 by law that everyone’s forgotten about? That’s the Ragnar equivalent to a quad run. For various reasons our team has slipped far behind schedule, so they buddied up to catch up.

I pieced all that together later. In the moment, all I understood was that I was getting less sleep.

Oh, there was also a bear warning and a 45-minute course closure because a vehicle drove into a restaurant.

But mostly less sleep for van 2. Good thing I’m the Ingebrigtsen of napping.

5:08 am – Time for leg #2. The first three miles are a gentle uphill and I’m feeling positive. That turns upside down when I reach the highway and start downhill. That is when I’m at my weakest. That is when the Ragnar sprites come with the knives.

My mantra becomes “If I’m hurting, they’re hurting.” I eventually catch up to the blinking light in the distance and spend the next mile wondering if I’m hallucinating because the runner appears to be wearing cut-off jean shorts. I skip the pleasantries on the way past.

6:23 am – I hobble into transition at sun rise. It was a 2 puppy pad run and I’m completely knackered. I think I used that correctly.

While I’ve been running, the new guy has hit a milestone. Half the bag of chips are now gone.

8:19 am – The first dashboard light on the van comes on. Van Mom cheerfully tells us that from experience we can safely ignore the first six or so. “It’s when they start blinking that it’s serious.”

9:12 am – The group stops for breakfast and plumbing at Dunkin’ Donuts. I demur. A DD coffee would be like throwing jet fuel on my GI tract. I take advantage of the quiet van to nap.

9:55 am – The light is on again. The navigator digs around in the glove box for the van’s owner’s manual.

9:57 am – We stop at a gas station for air. We all learn a lot about van tire pressure.

10:06 am – We are low on potable water in the van. We have a spirted debate in the grocery parking lot about whether it’s worth an extra dollar to pay for a case of name brand water or opt for store brand. We might need that dollar in the future to help buy a new van tire.

11:48 am – A honey badger has somehow infiltrated the van and is eating Craig’s foot. Wait, no. That’s not what the noise is. Turns out Tottenham scored a late goal to tie it.

Remember the Seinfeld episode where Puddy paints his face for the hockey game? It’s sort of like that.

3:47 pm – The chip bag is down to crumbs. No one knows where any of their stuff is. At least one participant is speaking gibberish.

In the final few hours, a Ragnar van can go one of two ways. Giddy and surreal with exhaustion or quiet and surreal with exhaustion.

With the incessant crunching almost done, our van is leaning toward the latter.

Either way, the van always smell like hard boiled eggs, feet, and Cheribundi.

4:01 pm – My final leg is less than 3 and half miles and because of the hurricane alterations, I get to do a buddy run. I’m relieved. I need short miles and a partner. It’s about all I can take. I’m ready for it to be over but mildly dreading what my IT bands will have to say about it.

As I exit the porta-potty for what I hope is the last time in a long time, I hear another runner calling out our van number. Remember that injury I mentioned back at the beginning? Yeah. He’s pulled his calf and can’t finish. It turns out my last leg will be a little longer…

4:51 pm…but I make it. We make it. And cross the line as a bleery-eyed group of Sole survivors.

Why the f*ck do I do this?

I’ll give you a hint. It’s not for the puppy pads, or GI distress, credit card referrals, or van repair trade school prep.

Will I sign up next year? Of course.


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