Last weekend was a whirlwind. An amazing, fun, exhausting and eye opening whirlwind. I participated in the 2015 Cape Cod Ragnar with a huge group of over 40+ ethical vegans. I was pushed to my limits physically, made tons of new friends and had an experience of a lifetime. But first, what is a Ragnar?
I’d never heard of Ragnar before Scott did his first one in 2013. A Ragnar is a relay race of roughly 200 miles; point-to-point, for a team of 12 runners. Or 6 if you’re an ultra team. We had three teams this year for Strong Hearts Vegan Power after the first two years garnered so much interest. Each runner is assigned a number (1-12) which designates which legs they run. The first 6 runners pile in van #1, the last 6 pile in van #2 and once the first runner starts the race is non stop. Someone from your team is running until the race is over. Meaning we run through the night and get very little downtime. I was runner number 3 in my van, so I ran legs 3, 15 and 27. Not all legs are equal distance or difficulty. My legs were 6.3, 4.0 and 9.4 miles, respectively, for a total of 19.7 miles in less than two days.
The aim of running as a team of vegan runners wasn’t just to have fun. We organized this to benefit Tamerlaine Farm; an animal sanctuary run by one of the team members. Tamerlaine has rescued dozen of chickens from a Kaparot ceremony (a ceremony in certain Jewish communities where chickens are waved in the air and then slaughtered brutally, this is for some reason still totally legal in NYC), factory farms and school hatching projects. Recently they just welcomed two pigs to their farm and continue to expand. Our team shirts boldly stated “FOR THE ANIMALS” on the back and “VEGAN POWER” on the front. People immediately knew who we were and what we stood for. As someone who has not ever participated in any sort of activism this was thrilling to be a part of.
I was on Team C, van 1 and we started around 8:45 am Friday. I was excited and nervous for the race to start. I knew I could run all those distances, but I’d never done so much consecutively. But excitement really prevailed as there were so many people to meet and stories to share. My van was full of amazing people doing such diverse things. A musician, a nurse, a personal trainer, the owner of Strong Hearts Cafe, the director of the podcast Our Hen House….. seriously amazing people. I was so impressed with how we all have approached veganism in different ways, but shared the same message.
Our run kicked off with Carrie, a personal trainer who had such great enthusiasm and positivity, and happened to be celebrating her birthday. We quickly hoped in the van and drove to the first exchange ahead of her to prepare our second runner. Carrie came in strong and we sent of Michael and headed to the next exchange. Which meant I was up next! Michael’s first leg was a shorter one so I didn’t have too much time to get nervous, but I did anxiously bounce around at the exchange waiting for him to come in. When he did we had what I would say was the ‘perfect slap’ (the baton in this was a slap bracelet, a dangerous dangerous slap bracelet) and I was off. I had just over a 10K to cover. It was maybe around 10 am at this time and it was sunny and warm. I felt really strong for the first half of this run that took me along some suburban streets. Eventually the hills started to take a toll on me and I found I slowed down but finished with an over all pace of 8:45/mi for the 6.3. My leg finished on a steep downhill and I passed the slap bracelet to Joel. Ok, first leg done. I was happy to have it out of the way. That last 9.4 mile leg kept jumping to my mind. “Can I do that?” “How can I do that after running all this!?” “I’ll be fine.” “When will I sleep?”
I caught my breath, jumped back in the van and got interviewed by Jasmin of Our Hen House for their weekly podcast about my experience being a vegan scientist. I’ll put the link below – I don’t sound too rambly thank god! There is something about living in close quarters with people that turn you into instant family. I was constantly laughing in my van, even when I thought I might pass out from lack of sleep. Our next exchanges went smoothly – much due to the excellent navigation of our driver Molly who always kept her cool. We were never late to an exchange once! When our 6th runner passed off the bracelet to runner 7 (the first runner of van 2) we finally had a good 4 hour break before we needed to start our second legs.
We found a great park on the route and had a picnic lunch. Joel, being a restaurant owner, provided us with a complete gourmet spread of vegan sandwiches and snacks. I had NO complaints about my van placement. Ha. After replenishing calories we all spread out languidly in the park, taking naps, observing wild turkeys, stealing toilet paper from the park bathroom (desperate times people)…Jasmin conducted a few more interviews and I tried to take a small nap in the van. Not too successful.
Before we knew it, it was time for us to start our second leg. We headed over the the exchange point where van 2 would finish and Carrie would start again. By now the sun was going down and we were required to put on all our safety gear. Headlamps, reflective vests, blinkers. It also became surprisingly breezy and cold at this point and I cursed myself for not bringing any sort of blanket or pants. I think it was about this point that I started to get nervous about continuing to run and it being cold. I also felt nervous to run in the dark, even with all the precautions. I am not sure why my anxiety started to get so high at this point – I’ll say it was probably due to the accumulating fatigue.
It was dark at this point (maybe around 8 or 9 pm) and I was just not sure of my abilities. Once Michael came in to the exchange and gave me the bracelet I took off with a vengeance. Half to get it over with, half to warm up my body. I knew this leg should be easy. It was 4 miles pretty much all downhill. I told myself to just run it as fast I could so I could try to get some sleep right away. Most of this run was on sidewalks so I really didn’t have much to worry about but there were some very dark turns where I would hold up my blinky protectively for cars. This leg was probably the best leg for me since the chill in the air was actually great once I got going. I finished it up with about a 8:40 pace and handed off to Joel again.
Here is really where I think delusion sets in. I think I mostly stayed in the van through the next few exchanges since in my mind I figured any second possible I should try to be sleeping. I didn’t know how I was going to run 9.4 miles with little to no sleep in between. How do people do this race?! How do people do ultras?! I don’t really recall getting any actual sleep at this point since we were still very on the move. Once our last runner came in for the second time we had a moment to relax. Since it was Carrie’s birthday we had a mini celebration with cupcakes from Strong Hearts. I don’t think a cupcake has ever tasted so good to me. The sugar was all my body wanted at that point. Pure energy, nothing hard to digest. I then conked out in the backseat of the van for what I guess was 2.5 hours before I had to prepare for my last leg.
I was SO nervous at this point. I felt spent but I had my longest leg to go. I hadn’t really eaten much other than cupcakes and lunch seemed so far away. It was still cold out and I couldn’t remember that I would warm up while running. I just knew I was cold then and I didn’t like it. The sun rose just before I started off my last leg so I was mostly running through the hazy morning air. Michael came into the exchange still looking strong, maybe fatigued, and handed me the bracelet. I took off at a much more reserved pace than my other legs. I knew this leg was just about staying upright. I needed to keep my pace easy and consistent to finish it at all. The cold wind slapped me awake before I knew what was happening and I actually enjoyed those first quiet 3 miles a lot. Pace maintained around 9:05-9:10 and I got to take in some really scenic views of Cape Cod houses and the coast. I slowly passed people – which gave me confidence that I could endure this leg. But then of course; hills. What looked like nothing on the elevation chart proved to be constant undulating hills through these sleepy streets. My next two miles were much slower, but still I felt I had energy in the tank. Once I hit mile 6 and turned onto a paved running path I started to really start feeling fatigue. My left knee started to feel a little too much and it worsened with every step. I knew my form was suffering as I got more and more tired, but I had to keep pushing.
At 1.7 from the finish I was dragging. I had NO more energy in my legs. I couldn’t make them turn over any faster. My knee was wobbling. I had given my team estimated pacing of 9-9:30/mi pace. I knew I was well off that now and they were probably wondering where I was. I tried to muster any last reserves here, but it really didn’t help that these last two miles were a gradual incline. I tried to pace with an older man that was still trucking but I couldn’t keep up. This is what it must feel like to run a marathon or an ultra. Complete energy depletion. In hindsight I should have absolutely taken a gel or calories of some sort with me. I was a good 10-15 minutes off pace at this point so I texted my team to let them know I was having some issues but I was close. Joel, the runner after me, immediately ran out to me with water. He met me at about 0.7 miles to go, and took off on his now extended last leg. I never intended to make him run extra, but from what Jasmin tells me he didn’t even hesitate. This is what I mean with my van became family. I shuffled into to exchange point to my teammates and collapsed into the van. I was done. Done running. Such a bittersweet end.
I refueled and started feeling back to normal relatively quickly. It was really just my body saying “No more. We’re tired.” Our van finished up the final handoff to van 2 and we were DONE! We were now free to head to the finish line and meet up with other team members, some of whom had already finished the whole race. Our Team A was purposefully organized to include the fastest runners so it was more competitive (naturally Scott was on this one) and they ended up coming in third place OVERALL and first in their division. There were over 500 teams and they came in THIRD. Our B team came in a few hours later and our C team (my team) about 1.5 after them. When our last runner crested the hill to the finish and all 40+ of us slowly joined her, until it was a massive mob of vegans. I couldn’t have felt more love or pride over my new group of friends. We were so supportive and positive for one another.
And then, the aftermath. So I mentioned before this was the most I’d ever run at one time. It was a new experience for me to feel complete shutdown of my body. Not to mention after effects. I winced every time I got into a car or use stairs. My knee had to be treated with care. But the worst for me was dehydration. When we finally got back to our hotel room I had a massive headache almost to the point of tears (I told you this kind of made me delusional) and could barely eat dinner. All I wanted was a shower and bed. We all fell asleep by 9 pm.
Once those basic needs were met (food, water, sleep, shower) I rejoined the human race. We met up with a group of teammates the following morning for amazing vegan breakfast in Boston and by sheer coincidence – I saw my mom on Mother’s day! She happened to be in New Hampshire, a 1 hour drive from Boston that weekend, so I was able to have a brief visit with her and my grandparents.
Last weekend was epic in all meanings of the word. I would do it again in a heartbeat and wish I had more reasons to hang out with this amazing group of people.
|Just about everyone before the start. Photo cred: who knows!|