At 4:30 a.m. the sky is mostly still dark but pale spots hint that it’s about to be morning. The trail ahead runs from a field through a forest and weaves around the backyards of country homes. This stretch is slightly more than 5K and mostly flat with a hill here and there. Running right before dawn, the visibility is low. Ahead of me, I see the bright red lights on the backs of runners’ vests bobbing up and down. My competitive personality comes into play—I kick a little getting closer and closer to these lights until I can eventually make out the shape of the runner. Then, I fly past.

I’m running the Cape Cod edition of the Ragnar Relay—a race with teams of runners that alternate along the 309-kilometre beachy Massachusetts route north of Boston from Hull to Provincetown. Typically, each member runs three times. At 4:30 a.m., this is my final leg. I’m enjoying New England views on the run for the first time in years and this weekend, I’m also the only Canadian on our team of 12 women and confusing them by referring to my distances and paces in kilometres, not miles.


One third of the way through #ragnarcapecod!

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The Ragnar Relay is an endurance event well-known to our distance running neighbours in the U.S. It’s the brainchild of Steve Hill who, while living in Utah, imagined a 24-hour race that would take runners into the surrounding mountains and have them run through the night. That idea became a reality in 2004 when the Wasatch Back Relay did exactly that along a 302-kilometre route. Now, just over a decade later, there are 34 full-day road and trail Ragnars held across the U.S. Once, they brought their race north and had a Canadian edition. It didn’t quite catch on with the Canadian crowd though explains current CEO Chris Infurchia. But he’s trying again. Over the Victoria Day weekend of May 2017, those driving the stretch between Toronto and Niagara Falls are likely to see decorated Ragnar vans hustling eager runners to and from relay handoffs.

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In purple marker, I draw a Toronto skyline on the side of our van the day before the action. We’ve spent the afternoon decorating the vehicle to make it stand out. In bright colours there are our names, blotches of orange, little runners and the Reebok logo—the official sponsor of the race. It’s an all-female team and so to cap off our decorating, one runner jumps on top of the van and scrolls “No Man’s Van” in green—it’s now our team name. The van becomes one of many driving from Hull right up to the cape. It’s a change room, space for sleeping and where we recover after each run. Needless to say, we get to know each other fast. Regardless of where you’re racing, this feeling of camaraderie is usually a theme in running.

The next morning, we park the van by the shore near the start line well before the 10:15 a.m. kickoff. I’m running first. Before I line up underneath the inflatable orange Ragnar arch though, we take time to appreciate the salty air and coast crowded with slate grey rock. But it doesn’t take long before I’m pinning my bib and lining up in the pack of runners. We get a countdown—three, two, one and I’m off. I make my way to the front of the pack to see how long I can hang in up top.

Van decoration ✔ Tomorrow morning we race the first leg of #ragnarcapecod!

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Running through the night ??#ragnarcapecod #ragnar

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Here’s the thing about Ragnar (or any relay race for that matter): you better be cool with getting real uncomfortable. Also, don’t treat it like your average race with regards to sleep, fuelling and recovery. I start to realize this less than an hour into it when I complete my 11-kilometre leg and have to jump in a van immediately after. By my second run, it’s raining, chilly, my legs are a little dead from hills and I’m fuelled on crab cakes and kettle chips (when in New England, these things come first). Despite that fact, I appreciate the night run along the river on a path that momentarily ducks underneath a bridge covered in lights. By my third and final leg, it’s right before dawn and I’ve had two hours of sleep in a packed school gym. (Heading into that sleep I had to wonder what I had signed up for and if sleep deprivation would lead to me faking an ailment to get out of my extra early run. It didn’t.)

These things are just part of it though and actually, it fits well with the Reebok mandate of exercising as means to accomplish more than just admirable competition results (#BeMoreHuman is the slogan they use to express this). If you’re fine with these conditions, you’re set for a Ragnar weekend.

Race swag earned! Tomorrow we fly back to Canada? #ragnarcapecod #RAGNAR #BeMoreHuman

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By the last mile of my final leg at Ragnar, the sky has lightened to a washed out blue. It’s officially morning and runner two is waiting for me to pass off the baton bracelet. I turn left past the blue Ragnar sign and cruise in to the finish. My running is done but our team as a whole still has over 60 miles remaining. With each mile, the scenery becomes more and more beachy. With its dollhouse-like cottages, lobster shacks at every other corner and cherry blossomed trees, Provincetown is the ultimate spot to finish a hard run—or three. We revel in it for a while before it’s time to fly home, sore, blistered and sleep deprived but planning for another one.

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