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Updated: Apr 18, 2022

What do you get when you take 10 friends, 2 vans, 200ish miles and a side helping of torrential rain? A whole bunch of fun, almost zero sleep, and lots of wet socks – AKA a Ragnar Relay!

The Ragnar Relay is a pretty epic US-based race series that kicked off in the UK for the first time in 2017. The premise is as follows: build a team of 10, rent two vans, and have everyone run three relay legs along a pretty stunning route!

The ten of us, some of whom meet regularly at City Runners, decided to tackle the Ragnar White Cliffs Relay – 177.4 miles from Sittingbourne to Brighton. This would be our captain Soumya’s sixth Ragnar Relay, but for the rest of us, there was a bit of nervousness and trepidation as none of us had ever done one! The captain’s words of advice? Be sure to eat proper meals (don’t just snack!), be prepared for little sleep, don’t hesitate to stop and take a picture if you want, and most importantly have fun!

Team ‘Dover and Out’ pre-race photo

In typical English fashion it was set to pour with rain the entire weekend (and of course, the week either side was lovely and sunny). Luckily we were all able to see Soumya off at the start before the heavens really opened (so much for our lovely van decorations though!)

Van 2’s decorations before the rain washed them all away!

Vans 1 and 2 then went their separate ways – Van 1 was off to the next exchange to collect Soumya and drop their next runner, leaving Van 2 with quite a few hours to kill. In a Ragnar Relay, one van is in action, dropping and collecting each of their runners at predetermined exchange points along the course, while the other van rests, eats and waits to swap with the other van at a major exchange.

As the time approached for our van to start its first leg we found ourselves getting inexplicably nervous – but there was no reason to be, as we all absolutely ended up loving the race!

Getting the ‘baton’ (slap bracelet) from Ivana

My first leg was about 3.5 miles, and while the first part was through neighborhood streets, the route finally ended up popping out along the coast and I found myself running towards a stunning castle situated on the cliff top. As I love castles and anything to do with medieval times, it felt like this leg was made especially for me! It was over far too quickly, and I found that I had run so much faster than I thought I would – and hadn’t even noticed!

After our afternoon legs, the next up would be the ones in the middle of the night. While we’re often running around in the dark on any given Tuesday with City Runners, there’s something different about running the well-lit, busy streets of London and running in the pitch-darkness at midnight with only a few signs to guide you!

Steph getting ready for her leg at 5:30 am

I think many of us would agree that the nighttime legs were our favorites. Most of my leg was along the coast, so although you couldn’t see the waves, it was quite peaceful to be able to hear them. It was just so vastly different to the running I do in London and made me nostalgic for runs along the beach in California.

My last few miles were along an elevated sea wall – that’s where it was almost pitch black. My head torch was pretty much completely useless and as a result, I almost fell twice stumbling over uneven ground. I ended up having to run with it in my hand and pointing it at the ground so I could see where I was going!

It was extremely dark and quiet, and I passed other runners only occasionally. Across the water in the distance, I could see the faint glow of the White Cliffs of Dover. It was a pretty incredible experience – even though the leg was 7 miles (longer than the 6.5 stated) I felt like I could have just kept running forever.

One of the night exchanges

Alex, the last runner in our van, finally finished just before 3 am and we were looking forward to finally trying to get some sleep! We wished Van 1 well (they had the hard job of running the legs between 3 and 7 am) and headed to the next major exchange. It was in a sports center, so we had the luxury of spreading out our sleeping bags in the reception area for a solid 1.5 hours of sleep.

You’d be surprised how well adrenaline keeps you going! None of us found that we were that tired when it came time to push through our final legs. They were beautiful but challenging – we finally found the serious hills! Luckily my last leg was short, only 2.5 miles, but those hills were seriously painful and the torrential downpour and winds didn’t help. I did get rewarded with a stunning view of the cliffs at the top of the climb though.

The most serious leg of the course, though, is what’s called the Ragnar Leg – it’s always the hardest, so in this case it was the hilliest. That one was up to Philippe to tackle, and he was in some serious pain afterwards!

Once we arrived at the very last exchange before the finish, we found out that they had closed legs 26, 27 and 28 (the Ragnar Leg) after we had already run through them. Earlier in the day they had already shut leg 13 after Helen ran it. They were all closed due to dangerous conditions – heavy rain, mud, etc. After the race, it would come to light that we were one of the few teams that had actually run every single leg of the course! All other teams behind us were being held at the affected exchange points and sent further down the course to resume running where it was safe.

Finally, it was time for Leo to hand over to Alex for the home straight! 8.5 tough miles stood between him and the finish line in Brighton, but like a champ he managed to absolutely smash it and we were the second team over the line (in Ragnar, you have staggered starts based on your team’s average pace – slower teams start earlier and quicker ones later, so teams invariably get passed along the way).

Running alongside Alex to the finish

I loved Ragnar, and so did every other person on the team! It was an amazing weekend, with lots of great memories, which the rain certainly added another layer to! We didn’t expect anything in terms of our finishing place, but the provisional results had us as third place in the mixed division and seventh overall!!! For a team that went in with no expectations and no other goal besides to have fun, we were pretty darn happy.

No sooner had we crossed the finish line, than we were already planning our next Ragnar…

-Natascha Starr


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