Race Report: Ragnar Relay Madison to Chicago

Read my review of Ragnar Relay Madison to Chicago. If you’re not familiar with Ragnar, it is a 200-mile relay race completed by up to 12 runners. This particular event starts in Madison, WI and ends in Chicago, IL and is typically held the second weekend of June.

TL; DR (too long; didn’t read): An exhausting but fun 195 (er 199) miles, 9 ladies, 2 drivers, 2 vans, 2 states, 32 1/2 hours and 0 showers. 

I was running with Team American Sweathearts, a 9-woman team mostly made up of bloggers and/or members of the F’N Runners. We convened with our drivers on Thursday afternoon to take some thank-you pictures for our sponsors before piling into a conversion van and a mini-van and heading up to Madison, WI.

Ragnar Relay Madison to Chicago Ragnar Relay Madison to Chicago

Haeleum (insect-repellant shirts) and Proud Runner (Bad Ass socks)

Ragnar Relay Madison to Chicago Ragnar Relay Madison to Chicago

Oiselle (Start Line tees and Distance shorts) and BodyGlide (shirts and product) + Bondi Band (headbands). All pics – sunglasses from Brooks

We arrived at our hotel, checked-in, decorated the vans, made sure we had enough safety gear for the night legs (Ragnar has minimum requirements) and then were in bed by about 10:30 for a 4:30am wake-up call.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express near the start line, and they were very accommodating and moved up their continental breakfast to 5am. That was very much appreciated!

We had to check-in at the start before 6am for our 7am start time, prove that we had enough safety gear, listen to a safety talk, pick up our bibs and shirts and then kill time in the Ragnar store and taking pictures before it was time for runner #1 to start.

Ragnar Relay Madison to Chicago Ragnar Relay Madison to Chicago

Most of us are sporting red pivot shorts from Aspaeris

The Ragnar legs and exchanges are arranged for 12-person teams, because we were doing a 9-person team, most of us had at least one time when we doubled our legs. Van #1 ran legs 1-7.

Ragnar Relay Madison to Chicago Ragnar Relay Madison to Chicago

Cheering on Sara and Amanda as they ran by.

I ran leg #6, 9.9 miles, half on the Glacial Drumlin Trail which was pretty – part shade, part open prairie, part by a lake. I think I was running right around lunchtime.

Ragnar Relay Madison to Chicago Ragnar Relay Madison to Chicago

Ragnar Relay Madison to Chicago Ragnar Relay Madison to Chicago

Kate took off after me for leg #7, and we found out while she was running that her leg would now include a last-minute detour for almost 4 additional miles. She wasn’t prepared for an 11-mile leg, and Ragnar said we could swap out runners to accomodate. Since the following runner’s leg was under 3 miles, she was able to jump in and pick up the extra.

Ragnar Relay Madison to Chicago

Unofficial exchange 6.5

After that, we headed to exchange 12 where van #2 would hand off to van #1. I think we stopped at a gas station along the way and were able to use flushable toilets and wash our hands with soap & water. I started to treasure when those opportunities popped up, LOL.

Exchange #12 was a major exchange, so it was nice to be there for a few hours, eat some real food, check out the other vans and take a nap – maybe for an hour? I napped in the van but quite a few people napped outside in the sun or shade. The joke on Twitter was that it looked like a zombie apocalypse.

Ragnar Relay Madison to Chicago Ragnar Relay Madison to Chicago

Runners sleeping in the shade; free candy

Ragnar Relay Madison to Chicago Ragnar Relay Madison to Chicago

Matching ginger hairdos; Chillin by van #2

Ragnar Relay Madison to Chicago Ragnar Relay Madison to Chicago

Another team’s van; Melanie handing off to Suzanne

By the time runner #1 left again, it was “nighttime” hours and we were all in reflective vests (even if you weren’t running, if you got out of your van, you had to be in a reflective vest). Our van ran legs #13-20. I ran legs #18-19 around … 11pm maybe? It was 8.3mi total. It was dark, most of my run was on residential streets or busy main roads (with sidewalks thankfully), although I had just over a mile on a secluded trail, which was a little bit eerie. Also, I wore my Haeleum shirt and no bug spray, and I’m happy to say I have discovered zero bug bites.

I was glad when my nighttime leg was over. After our last runner finished her leg, we headed to exchange 24 (I think) where there were indoor bathrooms and indoor sleeping at the YMCA. By “indoor sleeping” they meant you could roll out your sleeping bag in the gym. I didn’t really have anything to sleep on other than my Soldier Field 10 fleece blanket, so I attempted to sleep in the van. It took me awhile to get comfortable, so I drifted in and out of sleep and maybe got a total of 60 minutes of sleep. When I woke up, I sat up and was greeted by this view:

Ragnar Relay Madison to Chicago

The sunrise over Lake Michigan in Kenosha

Our van started running again shortly after this, we did legs 27-31. My lack of sleep was starting to catch up for me and I was feeling really exhausted, but by that point, there was no way to make up for it, so I tried to make sure I was hydrated and eating enough to prepare for my last leg. Which may have backfired, because I got a side stich during my last leg, but not until the last quarter mile. I ran leg #30 (5.4mi), which went through, um, lovely parts of Waukegan and North Chicago. Actually part of the leg did go past Waukegan harbor, which was pretty (and included some cool lake breezes). I handed off to Kate at exchange 30 and I was done!

Ragnar Relay Madison to Chicago

After picking up Kate at exchange 31, we had some time to kill before our last runner would finish at Montrose Beach. We wanted to get real food, but given how stinky and casually dressed we were, our best bet was fast food, so we stopped at a Wendy’s. After we finished eating, I’m pretty sure we could have fallen asleep right there at our tables in Wendy’s, and for a hot minute we debated finding a nearby movie theater, getting tickets for something boring, and sleeping in the cool, dark theater. But instead, we got back in the van and drove to the finish line. I pretty much fell asleep immediately and didn’t wake up until we were close to Montrose … that might have been the best sleep I got during all of Ragnar.

We got to the finish, chilled for a bit and then met up with most of van #2 to wait for Melanie so we could all cross the finish line together around 3:30pm!

Ragnar Relay Madison to Chicago

Ragnar Relay Madison to Chicago

Ragnar Relay Madison to Chicago

Best team ever, L-R: Kelly W a.k.a. Lady Liberty (driver of van 2), Kate S, Amanda, Lisa, Kate LF, SaraKelly J, Suzanne, Melanie, me, Sam LF a.k.a. Uncle Sam (driver of van 1)

We ate our team pizzas but no one seemed interested in waiting in line for post-race beers … we were that tired and ready to go home. Especially because we had to drive the vans back to where we all convened on Thursday, and then drive to our homes, which was an hour or more of driving for a couple runners.

I didn’t get home until around 7:30pm. I showered immediately, but instead of going to bed, I headed to the recital for my sis-in-law’s studio, Room to Move. Unfortunately, I missed most of it, but I was able to catch my 3-year-old niece’s number, and wish my oldest bro (who was the sound manager) a happy birthday. And since I missed my post-race beer, I made sure to have a couple of post-race glasses of wine while telling my parents all about Ragnar before going to bed.

Overall, I am SO glad I did this … it was a great event, we really lucked out with the weather, the logistics were handled amazingly well considering all that was involved, every other team/runner we encountered was very encouraging, and I was part of a really awesome team of ladies & gentleman. I would definitely do Ragnar or another relay again someday, and I highly recommend Ragnar to anyone who has ever thought about doing it.

Posts from my team:
Kelly the Culinarian
Running Kellometers
Get to Goal
See Mommy Race  


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44 Comments on “Race Report: Ragnar Relay Madison to Chicago”

  1. Great recap. Sounds like a great experience. It was also fun following you guys on twitter. Do any teams get a “tour bus” with beds and bathroom instead of vans? That would be cool.

    1. That would be awesome, but they specifically state in the rules that RV’s and busses are not allowed. The van we rented was the biggest size they allowed. Coincidentally, about 75% of the vehicles seen on the course/at the exchanges were the same white conversion van … hence the “need” for elaborate van decorating. Made it MUCH easier to find our van!

  2. I loved following along with your adventures this weekend. It looks like you had a blast. It’s definitely on my running bucket list! Congrats!

  3. I was excited to read about how you guys did the 9 person team!

    I’m also thankful that I can sleep on gym floors. I can’t sleep sitting up and all of our seats were being hogged by other people so I was thankful to be able to stretch out even if it was on a hardwood floor!

    And I suppose the one benefit to finishing super late (7PM) is that there was no line for beer.

    1. In hindsight, stretching out, even on a hard surface, probably would have been an improvement over trying to find a comfortable position in the van.

      Also I’m interested when your post goes up to hear more about your team’s interesting experience.

      1. My recap might be a bit sanitized because some of the issues involved certain people and I don’t want to put everyone’s dirty laundry out in the open. But feel free to chat me up if you want to know all the juicy details after the post goes up!

    1. Well, we’ve already thrown around the idea of doing a Hooters-themed team next because … well I don’t know why, but I think it’s hilarious. Maybe they’ll even sponsor us with the clothes and gift cards for hot wings.

  4. I was runner #6 last year too. My first leg was almost 11 miles and it was BRUTAL. I thought running through North Chicago was boring but I guess it didn’t matter because that was my last leg and I was done!!


  5. Wow. Just wow. Huge congratulations to you and the entire team on an amazing race!!! It sounds like quite an experience – I can only imagine how it must have felt to try to run multiple legs in such short timeframes while feeling so sleep deprived. A hot shower and your own bed must have felt AMAZING afterwards!!!

  6. TLDR: GIVE YOU GUYS ALL THE UPVOTES! Sounds like a super fun time and maybe a base for a Kevin Smith movie! I wish I could have been at Montrose beach to congratulate you guys! I want to do this now!

  7. Loved reading your recap to see what it was like in Van #1. Looks like Sam did a great job taking some photos of you guys out there. 🙂 I was glad we got to see you guys a bit and it was nice being able to follow some of Van 1’s antics on Social Media. Thank goodness for FB, IG, and Twitter. 🙂 I really would love to be part of a team next year, depending on my schedule, training, etc. It sounds like so much fun, and to be honest, I had a bit of run envy this weekend. 🙂

  8. I really enjoyed following the Sweathearts on Twitter/Instagram this weekend, it looked like you had such a blast! The whole experience sounds like so much fun, though a little exhausting. Reading the recaps kind of makes me want to give it a shot one of these years.

    Oh, and the Holiday Inn we stayed at for the Illinois Marathon had a special, early race breakfast too – they really seemed to go out of their way to accommodate the runners, so that’s good to know it wasn’t just that location. I’d keep that in mind if I do any destination races.

    1. I’ve stayed in a few Holiday Inn Expresses (one near Great Lakes, one near the Fort Lauderdale airport and this one, maybe others that I’m forgetting) and I have ALWAYS had a great experience – clean rooms, coffee makers in the room, continental breakfast – that’s really all I need. And they are pretty affordable, at least at their military/government rate. (Which I always appreciate when they offer a good rate for that, not every hotel does, at least not on their web sites.)

  9. It looks like you all had a great time running and riding the 200 miles! It was nice seeing all the updates on social media- made me feel like I was right there minus the whole riding in a van, running a bunch and not showering part 😉 congrats!

  10. Seems like all you ladies had a good time! I’m sad that I didn’t get to see you guys on the course. Turns out several of the runners in van 1 were a LOT faster than thought they were going to be. I guess that is what happens when your boss cons you into running when you haven’t run since high school. My coworkers are already talking about doing another one and I possibly see an Ultra in my future.

  11. Hey Maggie – love your post about your Ragnar experience! I’ve done a couple myself and always have so much fun, I get a kick out of hearing other teams shenanigans 🙂 I have a question for you, would you share how you split your legs and vans? I’m doing chicago in 2015 on a 9 person team and would love any tips tricks or advice you may have! Thank you!

    1. Hm, I’d have to look it up to be sure, but everyone ran one “double” leg, and we tried to plan it so that the doubled up legs were two shorter legs. If I can find our spreadsheet in my Google docs, I’ll email it to you.

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