Ragnar Review

Have you ever done something then looked back and said, “Wow, I can’t believe I just did that?”

I have to tell you about my experience from last week. It all started around April at a boot camp happy hour. My group of Sterling Studio Boot Campers and I somehow got on the topic of running (imagine that). I told them about this event called the Ragnar Relay.

The Ragnar Relay is a 200 mile run that starts in Cumberland MD and follows along the roads and trails leading all the way down through Bethesda, Arlington, and Alexandria ending up at the National Harbor. A team of runners consists of 12 people and the idea is that someone is running at all times until the race is complete. Everyone on the team runs 3 legs of varying lengths, sometimes as short as three miles other times as long as 10. Much of the race is completed in the dark of night and there is very little sleep for anyone participating. But, I told them, it is a BLAST.

As you might expect, everyone thought I was crazy and “only someone like you, Tom, would do something like that”. At the time, they had no idea that a seed was planted (honestly, neither did I). No one really talked about it again until a couple of months ago when I started looking for members for my team. I wanted to form an Ultra Ragnar Team which is 6 runners versus the 12. I found a few ‘crazies’ like me but we ended up not being able to complete out team. In the meantime, Sarah O’Connell started asking me a bunch of questions about forming her own team. She had a few friends outside of boot camp that she convinced to do it with her, including her husband, Justin. All of a sudden, we had a team forming and Sarah needed my help convincing people that they could do it.

There wasn’t a line of folks looking to sign up. You could say there was a little begging, a whole lot of pleading and even some arm twisting. There were a lot of excuses as to why “I couldn’t do that”, including:
– My knees hurt when I run
– I have an IT band issue (IT band is the iliotibial band which causes a lot of knee pain)
– I’ve never run more than 3 miles in my life
– I’m too slow and I don’t want to slow the team down or have anyone waiting for me
– I’m not a runner

In the end, we had 11 CFC Sterling Boot Campers sign up to run. Team Captain Sarah Nardotti O’Connell, Christina O’Connor, Nasrin Barbic, Sarah’s husband Justin and their friend Brandon, Sheila Haines, Samir Karandikar, Michele Bahler, Missy Bell, Andrew Stevens, Rebecca Wasyk and a volunteer to drive us crazy people around: Ginger Gray Hornung. One CFC’er (Oyin Adisa) did volunteer to run, but stepped aside due to a fairly significant knee injury which opened a space for me on the team.

Our start time was 0615AM Friday morning and van 1 was ready to go. Samir was our 1st runner and his leg was a wooded trail run around the lake, in the dark. It was an amazing site from our side of the lake to see all the head lamps reflecting off the calm water off in the distance. Samir does not consider himself to be a runner but he did manage to run his 1st 5K ever earlier this year. At some point during the run, he twisted his ankle and it swelled up on him pretty quickly. But, Samir was a trooper and put his head down and kept running till he made it to the exchange point. He never ran in the dark before, he never ran more than 3 miles and he just completed 5 miles, in the dark on a twisted ankle.

You are stronger than you realize.

Since I wasn’t in this van, I don’t know all the details about everyone else’s first leg. But, I can tell you that everyone was having a great time. Both vans were texting back and forth with each other and lots of group bonding was going on. Most of these folks had just met for the 1st time the night before. Yes, they are all Sterling boot campers but some only attended the AM class and others only the PM class. Now, here they were getting ready to support and cheer each other on over the next 200 miles.

Rebecca, ran leg 3, as quoted in the Ragnar bible, the hardest leg on the entire route. It was 7.8 ‘very hard’ miles due to much of it being on a dusty trail and The hill, a mere 1247 foot incline. Rebecca completed the Spartan race in August and has done several 5K’s and one 10K. However, for the past month, she’s been nursing a knee injury which has hampered her training. At the top of The Hill, Rebecca earned the Ragnar belt buckle for her accomplishment!

We shall overcome

After a hearty breakfast, my van of 6 runners set out to meet van 1 at the main exchange point. This is where van one’s first legs end and van 2’s picks up. Andrew was the last runner in van 1. When van 1 pulled into the exchange point, they told us how much Andrew was struggling with his IT band. He was hurting, but moving forward. When he turned the corner and came into view, we cheered him on like he just caught the winning touchdown at the superbowl. Andrew has run a half marathon before (13 miles) but wasn’t sure that running two more legs on his painful IT band was going to be possible after this hilly 6 miles.

Our first runner, Christine (Chris) O’Conner, took the baton from Andrew and took off around 11AM where the temperature was already in the 80s. 7.9 very hard miles later, Chris was done. She passed 9 other teams (called KILLS) on her run. Chris doesn’t know it, but she has become a runner. She was the last one to say yes to this event because she was the hardest to convince. She’s an awesome client who never quits, never complains and always gives her all. She attended boot camp during the summer for several weeks with her foot encased in a walking boot. Other, younger, clients in class look to Chris for inspiration and it’s easy to see why. On her 2nd leg (4.9 moderately difficult miles), running sometime around 11PM, we pulled our van up next to her to check in and see how she was doing. She responded: 4 more kills. We moved on to the next exchange point; she was on a mission.

My leg was next and I’m sure it’s no surprise to anyone that I had a good run.

I handed off the baton to Sarah who was such a sport about handing me the more difficult legs and distances while she took on a less intense, shorter position so that I wouldn’t whine and pout about having easy legs.

Nasrin, Justin, Brandon, Michele and Missy although not mentioned directly in this narrative were also crucial parts of this team that inspired, supported and coached each other during the 30 hours of non-stop movement. With little sleep (some got around 4 hours, others less than 2), great food, not because it tasted great but because we earned it and sheer grit and determination our team made it to the National Harbor on Saturday afternoon. Our official time was 28 hours, 51 minutes. However, it wasn’t about the time, or place we finished, it was about the event, the bonding and the life experience. There is something runners call a runners high; but I can safely speak for everyone on the team when I say that there is something awesome about looking back at something and saying: “Yeah, I just did that”!


For the next 24-48 hours, I got so many emails and saw so many Facebook posts from the team speaking about the feeling of accomplishment and being so grateful for accepting the challenge. Their friends and families were in awe but knew they could do it, just like I knew. More often than not, these guys did very little outside of attending classes regularly to prepare for this event. Boot camp did 90% of the work to get them ready for this epic adventure. All of these folks are very regular attendees of class and what they proved this past weekend is that the boot camp program enhances overall fitness.

Want to run a Tough Mudder or Spartan race? Do boot camp. Want to run a (faster) marathon or triathlon? Do boot camp. Want to be able to walk up stairs without getting winded? Do boot camp. Want to get better at flag football, soccer or basketball? Do boot camp. And if you just want to have a routine that focuses on full body routines where you don’t have to think and just show up and get exactly what you needed. Do boot camp. Boot camp promises to be the most consistently rewarding thing you’ll do for yourself on a daily basis so, just do boot camp.

Isn’t it time you to challenged yourself to do something outside of your comfort zone?  If you aren’t enrolled in boot camp, do it.  If you’ve never run a 5K, find one and sign up for it.  If you have an ideal body weight to reach, go for it.  The pain of training is worth the rewards of accomplishment!

To learn more about Ragnar, click here. (We are forming a team for the trail run in June 2014 and fully expect to see at least 3 teams from CFC running next year! If you want to be part of a CFC team, contact me at [email protected])

To learn more about the each leg covered, click here.

To learn more about Custom Fitness Concepts and boot camp, click here.