Race Recap: Ragnar Napa Valley

How does one recap a 33.5 hour relay?  In the interest of my time and yours, I’m going to try to keep this as brief as possible.  “Try” is the operative word — y’all know that brevity is not my strong suit!

Let’s begin back in the late spring, when Cathryn started organizing a group of runners for Ragnar Napa Valley.  I officially registered in May.  Over the course of 4 months, we decided on a team name (“You’re the Wine That I Want!”), had 1 team get-together, exchanged hundreds of emails, and lost then gained runners more times than I can count.  In the end, we had 11 runners (well, technically 10 2/3 runners – I’ll explain later) and 1 intrepid driver.  Due to our ever-changing circumstances, I changed runner spots 3 times and finally settled in at the runner 9 spot on Thursday morning.  With that settled, I finally began packing.   To my surprise, I actually did a decent job packing everything I needed in a medium-sized timbuk2 messenger bag.  I didn’t forget anything and used everything I brought.  (If anyone cares about such things, here’s a link to my Ragnar packing list.)

Cast of characters:
Van 1:

  • Amanda – blogger, scientist, duathlete.
  • Matt – Amanda’s husband, probably the fastest runner on our team.
  • Sabrina – blogger, visiting all the way from Texas!  Her recap can be found here.
  • Cathryn – our fearless team leader and endless fountain of positivity.  Her recap can be found here.
  • Rich – a.k.a. Cathryn’s IronHusband.
  • The one and only MILF Runner – driver extraordinaire.  I was quite jealous that she wasn’t in our van…we should’ve made a plan to kidnap her.  I blame my lack of follow-through on the sleep deprivation.  Her recap can be found here.

Van 2: (aka Van J)

  • BT – *VIP status*: she took on the most hardcore legs in our van, if not for the entire race.  26+ miles on sketchy roads, relentless hills, and scorching sun.  She totally rocked it, by the way.  Her recap is here.
  • Jen H. – friend of BT, who flew in from a last-minute work trip out East in time for her 2nd and 3rd legs (she was our 2/3 runner).  *VIP status*: she started off with the least amount of sleep out of anyone.
  • Jim – Jen H.’s significant other and self-described “elderly statesman” of our team.  Despite being a relatively new runner, he jumped in head-first (feet first?).  *VIP status*: he crushed his predicted total run time by over 30 minutes.
  • Janet – a very courageous stranger from the internetz who stepped in last minute to help us out.  *VIP status*: she ran 5 miles at 3am in thick fog with only a handheld flashlight!
  • Jess – *VIP status*: Van J leader, sleepless driver, speedy runner, and all-around badass.
  • Jen L. – Me!

The Race:
course overview copyVan 1 started in Golden Gate Park at 9:30 a.m.  Van 2 had a leisurely morning, then headed to College of Marin-Kentfield, where the first van exchange would take place.  It was about 2pm and a hot, sunny 80 degrees when Sabrina took off for Leg 7 (Jen H.’s first leg).

Almost 2/3 of Team YTWTIW at Exchange 6, waiting for Cat to finish her first leg.  I was terrible about taking photos! #badblogger  (photo courtesy of Jess)

Almost 2/3 of Team YTWTIW at Exchange 6, waiting for Cat to finish her first leg. I was terrible about taking photos! #badblogger (photo courtesy of Jess)

After a morning of waiting and sitting the van, it was finally my turn to run.  I recapped my runs fairly succinctly on Daily Mile, so I’m just going to copy them here. #lazyblogger

Leg 9: Leg 9 copy

Janet handing off to me as I begin Leg 9.

Janet handing off to me as I begin Leg 9. (photo credit: Jess)

Hilliest leg of 3 runs – good thing my legs were fresh! The descents were fun but caused blisters to start forming on the balls of my left foot. A new pair of my trusted Merrell Pace Gloves in a 1/2 size bigger also contributed to the blister problem – too much friction.

It was a scenic run on Nicasio Valley Road but a little sketchy, as there was little to no paved shoulder in spots (about 2 feet on average) and some fast moving vehicles. It was also Friday afternoon at 3:30, so it was pretty darn hot! I was glad it was a relatively short leg.

Average pace: 9:45/mile.  Average HR: 159, max HR: 171.   Obviously, I took a break from MAF training during Ragnar.

Ticking off our completed legs on the van, and drawing in an airplane for Jen H.'s first leg.

First leg done!  Ticking off our completed legs on the van, and drawing in an airplane for Jen H.’s first leg. (photo credit: Jess)

Intense action shot at Exchange 10 between BT and Jess.  One of my favorite photos from the relay!

Intense action shot at Exchange 10 between BT and Jess. One of my favorite photos from the relay!


Leg 21: Leg 21 copy

A 4 a.m. jaunt around downtown Santa Rosa.  I was a little apprehensive about this leg (running around in the middle of the night in strange place, etc.), but it ended up being fine.  I found another runner who was keeping the same pace, so we kept each other company for most of the leg. The “scariest” thing was running on the uneven sidewalks — I had visions of falling flat on my face.  (Just before my leg, I found out my friend KP had done just that – she had taken a bad fall after tripping on a curb.)  I probably could’ve run at least 10 seconds faster per mile if I wasn’t staring down at the ground the whole time. 😉  I was very grateful when there was finally a bike lane so we could run in the road.

Average pace; 9:15/mile.   Average HR: 154, Max HR: 169.


Leg 33: Leg 33 copy

As Cathryn would say, “OH MY WORD.”  This was the toughest run I’ve done in a long time.  9.4 miles along the beautiful but totally exposed Silverado Trail.  The heat was the biggest factor – I believe it was in the mid-80’s with full-on sun.  I wish I had done some heat training.  The 2nd biggest factor was fatigue — not just in my legs, but I had hardly slept and I was exhausted. To make matters worse, I started off way too fast and by the end of 6 miles at ~10:15/mile pace, I knew I was in trouble.  I then made the mistake of taking a too-early walk break, which set the tone for longer walk breaks until I was consistently run-walking for the last 3 miles.  Even though my HR felt like it was through the roof, the HR data shows that I was in the 165-170 range, which for me is approaching 80% max — high but not crazy.  However, considering that my pace was in the 11:00-12:00/mile range, which I usually run at 120-130 bpm, it was very elevated.  At the moment, I didn’t care to push myself that hard.  I was doing Ragnar for fun, after all, and I didn’t think it would be worth it to get heat exhaustion.  Despite the run/walking and 2 water stops, I still came in 5+ minutes ahead of schedule.  FYI: Ragnar padded the 3rd leg estimate by adding 10% to your estimated pace, in addition to whatever elevation you might be running during the leg.  My one regret is that I probably should’ve stopped to take photos — there were some amazing wine country views that were a nice distraction.  I saw a professional photographer on the course around the end of the 9th mile.  Exactly what I wanted after 100 minutes of hot running.  #sarcasm

Trying my best to exude confidence and enthusiasm, only to look a little constipated.

Trying my best to exude confidence and enthusiasm, only to look more than a little constipated.

For these hot, no Van support legs, I wish that Ragnar had supplied the water stations with ice.  I saw so many runners out there struggling and many were not carrying their own water.  Luckily for me, another Ragnar team decided to break the rules and handed out paper towels that had been soaked in icy water.  It was perfection!

Average pace: 11:07/mile.  Average HR: 166, max HR: 174.

Post-run double-fisting crotch chop.

Post-run double-fisting crotch chop. (photo credit: Jess)


The one photo I took of the vineyards and mountains (Exchange 35).

The one photo I took of the vineyards and mountains (Exchange 35).

At about 6:18pm, our runner 12 Jim set off on his final leg.  We rushed to the finish line — thanks to Google Maps, we managed to avoid the traffic and get there with plenty of time to meet up with Van 1.  As Jim approached, we formed a tunnel for him to run through.  Then, chaos ensued as Jim continued to sprint toward the finish arch, with the rest of us trying to keep up in our flip flops.

Blurry finish line team photo.  I think we were all too tired to care.

Blurry finish line team photo. I think we were all too tired to care. (photo credit: Cat)

There was a problem with the medals — they hadn’t gotten there on-time, so we were given a consolation prize: a finisher’s belt buckle for Ragnar’s trail relay series.  HUH?  Completely random and sort of useless!  They also gave us extra beer coupons, which I appreciated but didn’t use.  While we’re on the topic of beer, I thought it was great that they served Sierra Nevada beer instead of the low-carb stuff you find at other races.  The last thing runners need to worry about after a 205 mile relay is carbs, am I right??  However, I found out later that wine was $6 for a tiny plastic cup, which considering the locale, you’d think would be FREE.  Ragnar Napa obviously needs to work on securing a wine sponsor/partner.

The original plan was to go out for a team dinner, but considering that we all had long drives ahead of us with very little sleep, we decided to part ways and hopefully celebrate at a later date.   It would’ve been nice to stay near the finish line (Calistoga), but the accommodations were sparse and expensive.

General thoughts – my running legs:

I went into the relay with a 10:00/mile estimate, knowing that 17.2 miles over 25 hours might be challenging coming back from my recent injuries.  According to the special Ragnar spreadsheet, my estimated total run time was 187 minutes (based on the difficulty of my legs).  My actual run time was ~177 minutes.  I didn’t get as many “kills” (or “roadkills”), i.e., when you pass another runner, as I would’ve liked.  I had maybe 15 kills total, almost all of them from the last leg where there were lots of people walking.  As for how my body held up, I was pleasantly surprised to not have any significant problems with my hips or back, despite the abuse I was putting it through between the constant running, sitting, and lying down on the van bench.  The only “injuries” I came away with were minor blisters on the bottom of my left foot, which have since reabsorbed/gone away.  Overall, I feel like I did well given the circumstances, though in the future I’d like to be in Van 1 just to get more normal run times.

General thoughts – my team & the relay experience:

I have nothing but good things to say about Team YTWTIW.  Despite being more or less a group of strangers, and in spite of the the lack of sleep and constant runger, there was zero drama.  I think the closest I came to being snippy was when Cat, Amanda, and MILF Runner individually texted me at 7am Saturday, about 5 minutes apart from each other, regarding the status of our runner, just as I was trying to get some rest.  I got progressively grouchier with each text, then felt badly and sent an apologetic note.  I didn’t see anyone else on the team behaving nearly as “bad” as that.  Considering the bitchiness from other teams that I overheard while waiting in a porta potty line, I think our team was #blessed.

I enjoyed the relay experience, but I can think of a few things that would’ve made it even more enjoyable:
– I hate to sound like a whiner, but I think Van 2 got the short end of the stick regarding the timing of the legs.  Most of us had 2 legs in the heat of the day and also had to run from 2-8am.  Compared to Van 1, who seemed to have more fun and inside jokes, etc. (and I’m a little jealous, to be frank), I felt like Van 2 was often too tired to focus on anything else besides staying awake and taking care of the next task at hand.
– I wish it was more evident who our “competition” was — i.e., teams who had similar estimated finish times.  We ended up randomly choosing a team to target as our “frenemies”, so that made it a little more fun, but it would’ve been nice to have several teams at each exchange to trash talk.  Otherwise, it just felt like a lot of random people in vans driving around instead of a relay RACE.
– On a related note, it would’ve been nice for Ragnar to encourage sportsmanship and inter-team comraderie. (Though, to be fair, I don’t know how they would do this… it seems more up to the participants themselves.)  I had about 10 people pass me on the first leg and as they passed me, I told them, “Good job.”  Only one person responded in kind.  That made me feel kinda crappy.  Luckily, the situation improved dramatically in my 2nd and 3rd legs.  As a team relay event, it seems like it’d be nice to have a happy running community vibe instead of individual runners in their own little cocoons.

Would I run this race again?

Probably not, mostly because I didn’t like the course.  I can’t speak for Van 1, but several of the legs for Van 2 were on very sketchy sections of road.  Also, the fact that there was not enough aid/support for Legs 33 and 34, the hottest and longest legs, was a dangerous oversight.

Would I run Ragnar again?

Mostly likely no.  I’ve never run a Rock ‘n Roll race, but in my mind Ragnar has that same corporate, for-profit feel to it.  If I do another relay, I’d prefer to run a smaller, locally organized race instead.  I know many people love Ragnar, but it just isn’t my cup of tea.

Sunset over Ragnar. (photo credit: Jess)

Sunset over Ragnar. (photo credit: Jess)

In summary: A+ for Team YTWTIW and C for Ragnar.


About the race:

  • Organizers: Ragnar Relay Races
  • Cost: It was ~ $179/runner  ($149 registration + $30 volunteer fee), plus van rental, gas, t-shirt, and food — totaling around $300/runner.
  • Aid stations: On the no van support legs, there were stations with water only.  On some legs, there were no volunteers and almost no cups.  At the 2nd water station for my 9.4 mile leg, they were running out of water and only let me fill my bottle halfway.  There’s no excuse for a road race to run out of water!
  • Bathrooms:  “Honey Bucket” porta potties at every exchange that were kept impressively clean the whole race.  My only minor complaint is that it was difficult to locate the porta potties at a couple of the exchanges, where they were located quite a distance away from the exchange.  Some signs would’ve been nice at those exchanges.
  • Swag: Medal(s) (official one to be mailed this coming week), short sleeve technical T-shirt, and 1 bag per van filled with snacks, shower wipes, and Ragnar tattoos.  There was one stemless wine glass per team that was the captain’s gift.
  • Post-race food/drink: Originally, we all had one beer ticket on our bibs, but due to the medal debacle, they gave us extra tickets that we didn’t end up using.  We also got 1 small pizza per van.  I thought it was a missed opportunity not to have food for sale at the major exchanges and at the finish.
  • Misc.: Despite all of my complaints, I will say that this is was a very organized event.  No one got lost – the course was extremely well-marked and our van didn’t have trouble getting to exchanges (though parking is another issue).



Howdy! My name is Jen and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I like to eat, run, and blog, but not usually at the same time.

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Posted in Race Recap
20 comments on “Race Recap: Ragnar Napa Valley
  1. Cathryn says:

    Great write up. Firstly, you were a running beast, you should be so proud of how well you and your body held up for your runs.

    Regarding the race, I agree with everything you say there. I def feel that Van 1 had by far the easier time – is that always the case, I wonder? Our running times were better for both weather and sleep and, as I learned with a baby, sleep is basically what makes your day good or bad. We were conscious of this throughout the race (although it didn’t stop us eating or sleeping in solidarity, I have to confess). I also feel that the mistakes that Ragnar made primarily affected Van 2. When I talked to Jess about the race afterwards, I was quite positive about Ragnar as we had had a well organized race. It’s only later, seeing the issues that the second vans faced, that I realize the size of the problems they had.

    I would def do another relay and actually I WOULD do Ragnar again but would also prefer a smaller, independent company like I used in Colorado. And I def want to be in Van 1 again 😉

    And yes, we were definitely #soblessed with the awesomeness of the people in our team!

    • Jen says:

      My impression from talking to other people is that Van 2 generally does have the worst running times/slots, but I supposed that can’t be helped unless you do a less hot race… which, in years past, it’s been 15-20 cooler for Ragnar Napa — which would’ve made a HUGE difference! I met a couple this weekend who ran the inaugural Ragnar Napa Valley and one of their runners got really lost during the race. So while things weren’t awesome, I definitely think it could’ve been worse!

      Jess and I are looking into other relays already!!

  2. Jim Kirkpatrick says:

    Um, uh, well… Jen H isn’t my spouse just yet, but so good to know we already look the part!! Fantastic summary of the race, agree all around. Only other comment I had, which may not have an answer, is that we ran through some of the best Napa/Sonoma/Marin has to offer, but felt like we had almost no chance to really enjoy much of any of it. That part was kinda torturous – passing by people sitting outside, drinking great wine and enjoying the scenery, as we go skipping past wearing PE clothes and reflector gear… Something just wasn’t right about that! 😀

    • Jen says:

      Oops!! Haha – sorry for the mistake. I’ve fixed it to “significant other”. 😀
      Totally agree about not being able to enjoy what Wine Country has to offer. It seemed strange to stick us in a random field in the middle of nowhere as the “finish line party” when all of the other wine country races I’ve done have at least 3 different wineries offering tastings at their finish lines. I also wished that they had granted us an earlier start time — it would’ve been nice to finish at 4 or 5pm and to have to enjoy the party and/or nap before heading home.

  3. MILF Runner says:

    You guys definitely got the shaft at this race. We discussed it at length and felt badly about that. You all were the troopin-est troopers of all times. I really would have driven both vans! Then I could have had ALL THE CHECKMARKS!!! And you guys could have gotten some sleep. Great write-up 🙂

    • Jen says:

      That would’ve been epic for you to drive both bans, but it probably wouldn’t be awesome for your health to be up for 48 hours. Even if you didn’t drive, it would’ve been nice to have your energy in our van. Next time!!

  4. Amy says:

    Such a trooper and so very #blessed. Lack of sleep and smelly strangers on a van is just asking for drama.

    Basically, your recap confirms everything I believe about relays, and I am really glad that you had a buddy while running through Santa Rosa at night. The relay race is probs not my thing, but if you guys ever do decide to go on this crazy adventure again, let us know! I’ve always kinda wanted to do Hood to Coast…Anyway, glad your body held up and that you didn’t get mugged or run over!

    • Jen says:

      I was thinking at the end of it all of making t-shirts for our team that said “I survived Ragnar” — because I felt like we went through a lot!

      Isn’t Hood to Coast even crazier? Like 1,000 teams?

  5. Grace says:

    Great review. This was the inaugural Ragnar Napa Valley, right? I wonder if the sudden growth in Ragnar and other similar big commercial relays hasn’t hurt the logistics/ planning/ community atmosphere aspect of the original Ragnars. So little food? Running out of water? I like the idea of a relay (and have done one before – with a team from work for a marathon), but probably wouldn’t do this one – it just seems too long, too spread-out and too sketchy support-wise for me to be comfortable with it.

    • Jen says:

      I believe this was the 6th year that they’ve held this race, so no, not the inaugural year by a long shot. I think that’s why people were so pissed about the lack of support. (Go check out the Ragnar Napa Valley FB page for some serious complaints). My impression is that other Ragnar relays are more fun and well-supported. Ragnar NWP has indoor sleeping areas, for example — which would’ve been awesome for this relay. I’m a pretty good sleeper and even I couldn’t fall asleep due to the constant noise of vans pulling in and out of the parking lot.

  6. Bean says:

    This review is awesome! We were lucky that you all in Van 2 were so completely awesome and amazing runners cause you did have some tough conditions. Instead of water stations they should have had wine stations during the last part;). I really hope I get to do another running event with you and we can hang more!

    • Jen says:

      Wine stations would’ve been amazing! Or some sort of booze-icy/slush drink. 😀
      Thanks for being our honorary 1st runner! Hope to hang out with you more next time!

  7. Dominick S. says:

    Man, this thing sounds like it blew nuts. I hated mine because I was sick and it was grueling but once I was rested and healed up…I kinda looked back on it fondly. I wish I could’ve filled in for you guys…damn bachelor parties.

  8. Colin says:

    What a small world. I did Ragnar Napa this year too and our paths may have crossed at some point as I was leg 10. You may have seen or heard about me: I was the one running in flip flops (Luna Sandals) 😀

    Awesome race in which we did a heck of a lot better than anticipated considering our final team only had 3 of the original entrants and we only really planned things in the 4 days before the race. I’m still waiting for my medal though 😦 It’s probably stuck in customs somewhere.

    • Jen says:

      Oh, how funny! Maybe our paths did cross at some point. If it makes you feel any better, I still haven’t gotten my medal either.

  9. mandy says:

    Hey Jen, Can you tell me where you found the elevation maps? I’m seeing legs described as very hard but i’m not sure if it’s because of the length or the elevation change. Are you planning to do it again this year?
    Thank you!

    • Jen says:

      Hi Mandy! The elevation maps were in the runner handbook, which they might not publish until closer to race day (when they’ve finalized the course). Usually, when they describe it as very hard, it’s a combination of length, elevation change, and other factors (like whether the route is shaded or exposed). I’m not planning on running it this year. Are you? If so, good luck!

  10. […] and how much to eat. It was very confusing. I’ve never done an evening race, unless you count Ragnar Napa — which I think counts as its own special category. I think I ended up eating a couple of […]

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