On Monday night as I sat and listened to my colleague teaching the participants of our Inside Out U workshop, the techniques for losing weight without ever again going on a diet, it occurred to me that the connection that so many of us are craving but usually left wanting for is exactly why Ragnar is so addictive.
A week ago this very moment, I was joyfully running 9.8 miles somewhere in Massachusetts, as my team of 12 made our way the 192 miles to Provincetown. We were competing in Ragnar Cape Cod, a relay event where our team of 12 each ran 3 times over the course of 32 hours. It was my 5th Ragnar and for seven of my teammates, it was their first. We were Team Brainstorm and we were running for The Avielle Foundation. The founder of the Avielle Foundation, Jeremy Richman, was the sole male on our team. We were all putting our bodies, schedule priorities, sleep and ego on the line because we love Jeremy and his wife Jennifer and we want their baby girl Imogen to grow up in a world that is different from the one Imogen’s sister Avielle left when she was murdered at the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Dec. 12, 2012.
The 12 of us each joined the team for our own reasons. Some of us knew Jeremy and Jennifer personally and wanted to do something for them and the foundation. Some of us had been deeply changed by the pain and suffering that comes with having a loved one die by suicide or struggle with brain illness. Some of us have at some point in our lives felt the desperation of depression, eating disorders, anxiety. All of us live in Newtown, CT or a neighboring town, and December 14th and the number 26 will forever inspire horror, profound sadness and bewilderment in us. We run from stigma, we run because it makes our bodies and brains healthy, and most of all, we run because Avielle and her 19 classmates and six heroic educators can’t.
But even if you do a Ragnar without a meaningful cause, if you just do it because your friends asked you over (after) a bottle of wine, or you want a big hairy scary goal in order to stay motivated to get in shape, or you love the super cool Ragnar jackets and you really want one, or you desperately need a weekend away from your domestic life and you aren’t one for spas – Ragnar is still a fantastic way to discover what you didn’t even know you were missing. Granted, not everyone loves Ragnar, and this is usually because they were in a van with 5 people that didn’t really allow them to experience the list below. Or maybe they had different expectations. Or maybe the timing was wrong. Or maybe they just don’t like to run (I know, weird). But for everyone else, this is what I think we are generally missing in our every day life, and what we can find at something like Ragnar.
1. Connection. You are stuck in a van for hours on end. You get out pretty much only to cheer on teammates or to do your own run, and showers are impossible until after your first two runs. You can change and clean up with wipes after your run – in the van, while someone else is driving. You are not sleeping, maybe a little nap here and there if you’re not a light sleeper. We do always get a hotel at the halfway point and each van gets perhaps 2 hours in the rooms, so you are sharing a room with 2 others. You are not eating regularly or solid meals. So basically, you are tired, less clean than usual, and your stomach may be a bit off. OK, you may be farting. Poop becomes a popular topic. You also tend to open up about stuff going on in your life, which you may not be likely to talk about in your daily interactions with peers. Perhaps you are too guarded and afraid of what people will think, or more likely, everyone is so rushed that it’s hard to get to that point where you feel comfortable having a meaningful exchange with someone. So, instead, you continue your day with your mask on.
In order to be authentic, we need to be brave enough to be vulnerable. Being stinky can be a source of vulnerability for a lot of women. Allowing others to help – such as if we have an injury and wonder if we can complete our assigned legs – is a very difficult thing for many people to do. Recognizing that we are not in control of everything – our body, our teammates, the van, the terrain – is a source of vulnerability.
At some point we must let go of it all and open ourselves up to vulnerability and that is when we are authentic. That is where we connect deeply with our teammates, and in the process, we connect to something deep within our souls.
2. Boundaries. This is a tough one for most of us, with our families, our work, our friends, our community. Ragnar is an extremely intense experience, physically, emotionally and mentally. When you aren’t running, you are (hopefully) cheering on your teammates, figuring out where the next exchange is so you can meet your runner and the next runner can start their leg, strategizing your food and water intake, interacting with other teams, getting to know your van mates better, etc. If you are really going to make the most of the experience, for your own benefit, as well as pull your weight as a team member, you need to have communicated with everyone back home that you will not be very available for them. This is essential to self-care, which is not selfish, it is necessary for our wellness. When I start my Poga class, I remind participants to switch off our phones (place on Do Not Disturb or on Airplane Mode) because we need the space for ourselves, and the world will go on without us for an hour. Ragnar is a chance to do the same. It is a chance to, for 2-3 days, participate in an adventure and an endurance test, a team effort. At the same time, it is a chance for those at home who normally rely on us and probably take us for granted in many ways, to figure it out themselves. If you meditate every day and block aside a chunk of time to basically sit and do nothing but focus on nothing, you know that what needs to get done will get done in spite of that break from the world. Ragnar is a chance to carve out that same sort of break. We all need it.
3. Play. We don’t play enough. We take ourselves so darned seriously. We work hard to pay bills, raise decent kids, have a respectable home. To exercise, we go to a gym and torture ourselves with the latest equipment or fitness method. I’m pretty sure aliens spying on us think we are totally stupid as we grunt and sweat and look miserable. Even our kids have about five minutes of recess and they aren’t allowed to run around much in case they get hurt and someone sues the school over a kickball accident. Their sports are endless drills and rules and rankings, and they rarely play pick-up anything anymore because all the neighborhood kids are too busy with their structured activities.
Ragnar is a chance to be as goofy and stupid and playful as you like. In fact, you are rewarded if you go nuts on your van decorations and wear ridiculous costumes. I wear a tutu at every race, ever since my third Ragnar, when my team wore tutus for the first time (Ragnar Cape Cod 2013). Simply, racing in a tutu is more fun. I did my first Ragnar after I had finished 2 Ironman triathlons and when people asked me which I preferred, without hesitating I said, Ragnar. A big part of that is because I prefer to engage in an adventure with a team, hopefully with teammates who include beginners because it is much more meaningful when you know you are part of someone else’s journey of transformation. The other reason I prefer Ragnar is that it is way more weird, ludicrous, zany. We all need to play, because that is when we are creative, we are courageous as we are willing to step out of our rigid daily lives, and we laugh. At others and ourselves. We all need to laugh more.
The downside to experiencing this connection with others, having the space to be ourselves and to step away from the demands of our daily lives, and being in a venue that encourages and celebrates our creative, playful sides – is that there is a finish line and after our free beer and clam chowdah we eventually need to return home. We need to catch up on sleep, emails, and hugs from loved ones who somehow managed to survive without us. We realize we now have an urge to cheer on every runner we see. Big white vans look naked without clever team names and sayings scribbled all over them. We have a new appreciation for large blocks of time in a bed and the ability to shower as often as we want, right after a run. But we also miss the camaraderie of our van mates, the sense of purpose that inspired our every step, the awe of watching our van mates overcome enormous physical and emotional hurdles. While Ragnar seems to fly by and be over before we know it, there is something about Ragnar Time that seems very slow because we are living in the moment. And we don’t normally do that in our rat race living.
So that is when we sign up for the next one. See you at Ragnar Adirondacks in September.
Motivational coach, athlete, mom, entrepreneur. I love helping people mindfully reboot their health & joy.