Once more unto the … Ragnar relay series – Pipestone County Star

Once more unto the … Ragnar relay series  Pipestone County Star

The brainchild of Steve Hill, who organized the first race of its kind with his son Dan and Dan’s college roommate Tanner Bell, Ragnar came to fruition in 2004, when the group put on the Wasatch Back Relay – spanning 188 miles from Logan to Park City, Utah. The Ragnar Relay series grew out of that triumph into the largest overnight relay series in the nation. Now, the Ragnar series includes trail and sprint varieties and is competed across the U.S. from coast to coast, over mountains and flats, and has organized races in Mexico, Europe and South Africa.

The Pipestone-based Wild Goose Chafe, captained by Brandie Hulstein and Amy Nelson, is back with five members of the 12-person team that traversed the topographically challenging 190-mile course amid extremely warm conditions in 2021. Returning with the point pair from last year are Dr. Jackie Anderson, former Arrow athlete Paige Petersen and Hendricks’ Morgan Sommervold.

“Yeah, well, we’re all crazy,” Anderson joked when asked about returning for another Ragnar. “Right after you finish your final leg you think, ‘never again,’ but it didn’t take very long. Once you’re there, sitting, watching and waiting for your last runner, those feelings pass. So, by the time the team is done it’s like, ‘okay, I could do this again.’ But right after finishing that third leg … ‘oh gosh.”’

Of course, that’s what makes Ragnar unique. It’s a 36-segment road/trail relay where each of the 12 members competes in three individual runs of varying length and difficulty – from 3.5 ‘easy’ miles to the 11.1-mile, ‘very difficult’ Ragnar leg. Throw in the fact that the relay goes on through the night and into the next morning, requiring runners to don race-approved headlamps and reflective vest, and your mettle is challenged just signing up.

“And I’m afraid of the dark, so that’s going to be a challenge for me, in itself,” noted Danielle Bauman, who was originally slated to run Ragnar with Hulstein, Nelson, fellow newbie Theresa Draper and others in 2020. “I was signed up to be part of last year’s team, but I became pregnant with our third child.”

And certainly, trying to find time to train while being a mother, as are most of the WGC members, can be daunting.

“I call it my me time, so I make time,” explained Bauman, a mother of three. “I get up really early before they get out of bed or I run after I put them to bed. Or, sometimes, I make it a family affair; my husband hops on a horse with one child, I push the other and we just kind of make it work – a team effort.”

The 2020 race was canceled due to the Covid pandemic and neither Bauman nor Draper was available to run in the 2021, leaving that box to be ticked off by the pair this summer.

“I had a wedding to attend and Danielle was pregnant; so yeah, we’re excited to get it done this year and check it off our bucket lists,” said Draper, herself a mother of four, who along with Bauman and most of the other team members is an experienced road racer. “We’re also excited to benefit from the experience of the returning runners. A lot of us have experience, running marathons or half-marathons, 10 and 5K races, but Amy and Brandie have already given us great tips on this one. Those are nice to have for this type of race because it’s so different than anything else.

“At the same time, ignorance can be bliss. I’m happy for the insight Brandie gave me about it being better to be in ‘Van 1’ (of the two SUVs), but I’m not interested in knowing the elevation of my relatively short (4.7, 4.7, 5.2 miles) runs. I’m not worried about the distances, but they could be anywhere from ‘easy’ to ‘very hard,’ depending, and that’s something very different. I don’t know and I don’t want to know … just wait and see.”

Certainly, running a half marathon or more would qualify anyone for Ragnar, right?

Not exactly.

While there is no distance greater than 11.1 miles at Ragnar ‘Minnesota,’ two miles fewer than a half marathon, it’s not necessarily the number of strides that present the challenge, it’s the elements, the overnight racing, the elevation and running on ‘tired legs’ that pushes bodies to their limits.

Lack of rest, let alone actual sleep, pounding the pavement in dry and extremely hot conditions, not once, but three times within a 30-plus-hour period can leave even the most experienced road racer dazed and confused.

“Sleep was one of the big talking points when we began putting things together for this year,” said Hulstein. “We thought we’d be able to stretch out in the vans between legs, but that just didn’t happen last year. We were smashed in there and none of us was really able to get any sleep. We talked about making sure to bring a mat of some kind, like a yoga mat, to unroll for sleeping, and we learned last year that there are places outside of the vans – a school and the fairgrounds. That was one of the big things we learned, that and packing … less.”

“I definitely over packed last year,” noted Petersen. “Brandie gave us a comprehensive list of things to bring/not bring to help us maximize our space in the vans. Overall, we’re just more organized because we have a better idea of what to expect.”

Fortunately for the seven Ragnar rookies, it doesn’t appear they’ll have to contend with the oppressive heat that accompanied runners last summer when the index was well above 90 °F – without a cloud in the sky. Still, Wild Goose Chafe veterans have also looked at better ways to make sure the team has the right amounts and types of liquids available for keeping each member well hydrated. 

“We wanted to make sure we were able to make water/liquids more accessible throughout the race,” Dr. Anderson said. “We talked about using camelbacks to help keep fluids on our person. It’s easy before and after a leg to get fluids, but during a leg it was hard. So, that should help everyone. 

“And personally, I’ve tried to train in the heat a little more because of how hot it was last year. I don’t normally train with water on me, but I’m doing that while I’m getting runs in over a period of time … maybe a night run followed by a morning run – similar to what we will see. In this type of race, recovering is the most important.”

Although preparation for this type of race is crucial, good preparation doesn’t necessarily help stave off adversity. 

Newcomer Jessica Winter has already been blindsided by Ragnar, even before the starting gun has sounded. The Alta, Iowa native, a former high school dancer and cheerleader and mother of four, was recently told the second leg of her original (No. 1 runner) three legs (6.6, 3.0 and 4.5 miles) turned into ‘very hard’ 10-mile segment due to a change in a handoff position. And since she was somewhat talked into joining WGC by Nelson, Winter must be wondering, what her ‘friend’ got her into.

“My sisters were runners all through high school, but I didn’t start running until 11-12 years ago,” said Winter, who is on the higher end of WGC’s 25-50-year-old age spread. “They talked me into running my first 5K and later doing a half marathon. I’ve also done some biking, did Ragbrei (Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa), and last year I did the Storm the Lake sprint triathlon in Storm Lake, Iowa – thought I’d try that out.

“Amy told me Ragnar was a lot different than other races because of the team aspect. Most running is usually individual, but you get to hang out, cheer each other on, meet new people and have a lot of fun with this one. So, I told her I’d sign up, but I wanted to stay around eight miles to a leg if I could. So, I got what I wanted – to start with. It makes me a little nervous … the 10-mile leg; I’ve done a half marathon, 13.1 miles, but running again on tired legs makes me nervous. I have no plans of running a marathon and I was thinking about getting out of running altogether, and now … this!”

“Jess is going to be fine and I think we have a great group of seasoned and new runners to Ragnar,” Nelson said. “I’ve run with Jess and I know she can do it; and she won’t be doing it alone, which is one of the best parts of this race.

“Having road-racing experience is a real benefit because you know what it takes to get you through a tough spot and keep the bigger goal in mind – get to end of ‘legs,’ the end of a race, and that experience is huge. We also had great support within the group and from our families last year and I expect it to be that way again.”

For Petersen, that camaraderie was the main reason she decided to reenlist for another northeast Minnesota tour with WGC.

“Officially, on the record, I’m going to say it was that much fun!” Petersen joked sarcastically. “I’m kidding, of course, because Ragnar was an absolute blast. There was no doubt after finishing last year that I’d do it again. No. 1 was the people. I came in knowing just Mikayla Enger, knew a couple others, acquaintances at best, but most I didn’t know at all. Everyone was so kind, so welcoming … fit right in right away and matched our personalities very well. We became friends and have remained friends. The running community brings that out. It was so hot last year, but everyone was there for everyone else, sharing the pain and the joy of finishing.”

Outside of vital group meetings to discuss the ins and outs of the race, several members have already joined forces in training – when their schedules sync up. Draper and Bauman often run together in the mornings and the latter has put a few miles in with both Hulstein and Nelson – Winter too on occasion. 

“Amy and I ran eight miles a couple of weeks ago and, since I’m doing a leg of nine miles, I asked if I should try to get a longer run in,” explained Bauman, who has run countless 5K races, the Twin Cities 10-mile and some half marathons. “She told me I should try to get two-a-days in now, try to get 2-3 shorter runs in. So, this week I’m going to try to do that. I’ve been leaning on Brandie and Amy a lot and we couldn’t ask for better captains. They’re always available and I’m very confident in them. I’m so excited to be running Ragnar after waiting so long!”

Certainly, mixing things up is important for this race in particular, but Petersen – on the younger side of WGC’s age spectrum – has gone further. 

“Definitely mornings, then evenings, and I’ve joined a running group in Sioux Falls,” she said. “I think it helps motivate and push me … keeps me organized. And I try to mix up workouts; last year I just ran, this year I run, lift weights, do some yoga and spin classes along with running. The variety just seems to make it all easier.”

Making the race easier and adding to WGCs camaraderie is the sponsorship four local family businesses are providing. Hulstein Waste Management, J&S Logos and Winter Title and Abstract are new sponsors, while New Horizon Farms is back to lend a hand in helping the team with high-vis running jerseys for each leg, fluids and a fuel stipend.

And with most of the cost of accommodations (Thursday-Saturday) placed solely on the competitors, Nelson’s brainstorm of getting an Airbnb/VRBO and having a pre-race meal prepared from them met with unanimous approval.

“I think we spent $50-60 apiece for a nice meal at a restaurant last year,” Hulstein recalled. “Amy thought it might be nice to have a personal chef come in and prepare us a great three-course meal. It’s a nice conversation piece already and it’ll be less expensive and a more intimate setting where we can really bond.”

And, as Petersen pointed out earlier, that’s what Ragnar is all about. 

Time, final finishing position, awards … who cares, right?

“I hadn’t thought of it until I ran into (2021 team member) Angie Kaffar; she told me, ‘your team is stacked, you’ll be awesome, and if we finished that well last year, you’re going to finish high this year,” Nelson said. “It was the first time I’d considered us trying to beat last year’s pace (12th place among all-female teams in 32 hours, 54 minutes, 52.7 seconds). But we do have an athletic team and anyone doing this type of race is competitive in one way or another or they wouldn’t be doing it. I think we could actually do really well as a team.”

Considering Ragnar is an itch Bauman and Draper have been aching to scratch, Hulstein, Nelson, Dr. Anderson and Petersen’s prior experience, the talents of Winter, the Dobrinski sisters Marah (Shafer) and Celia, Kristina Lankow and Winter’s sister Ashley Steward, an experience half and full marathon racer, WGC is poised to up the ante for local road racers for summers to come. 

Most lace up their shoes with the team experience of race as being what it’s all about, but within every runner there is a competitor.

“Of course, you want to run well for yourself; and we know what pace we should be running at … want to match that if we can,” said Draper, whose daughter and running partner Kaitlyn Draper considered joining WGC this summer. “I’ll try to stick with that pace and not hold back, but I’m not going to beat myself up over it either.

“Competitiveness, that’s all of us, but if you ask girls, it’s more about being competitive with themselves. You want to be the best for your team, but also for yourself. Ideally, you want to have a good run and contribute to the team.”

A team that Draper, if she doesn’t have an experience similar to that in Lincoln, Neb., might look to add to with friends and family next summer.

  “I’ve had some rough ones,” she said. “I ran Grandma’s Marathon under Black Flag warning (mandatory fluid breaks) and my last race, the Lincoln half marathon, was called at mile 3-4 due to lightning; it was cold and windy and you had rain pelting you. Again, its mind over matter and that’s when the competitor comes out. 

“We’d talked about Kaitlyn running Ragnar this summer, but she just finished the MCATs (Medical College Admission Test) and the timing with school starting just wasn’t right. She’s a student and has other things on her radar. I’d like to talk Tammy (Taubert) into it or maybe Shelley (Kozlowski); I think she could bite it off! But I anticipate Kaitlyn will do it too, and there’s no better race than the one with your daughter by your side.”

Or, for this weekend, a team of adopted daughters!

Good luck ladies!  

For runner biographies and updates on Wild Goose Chafe’s progress at the 2022 Ragnar Relay, join the group’s Facebook Page at www.facebook.com/groups/568971824461211.