RunPals does Ragnar

I woke up, asleep on a toilet leaning against the wall.

How on earth do you summarise something like the Ragnar Relay experience. It was to open our eyes and minds to what our bodies could put up with through complete and utter exhaustion.  It was to show us how much our pals mean to us, when we are at our most tired and our most pained. It was to show us how deep we could dig, to get the job done.

So back to the strange toilet quote. It was about 6 am. We were waiting near Rye Harbour for Steph to come through and we found our first permanent amenities, having experienced the highs and lows of athletes portaloos for the last few exchange points, this was luxury. 

Bear in mind that at this point I had already been awake for 24 hours and only managed the odd 15 minute cat nap. I sat down, I dozed off... it was lovely. I could have been in the most luxurious of beds filled with a million feathers, but alas, no, I was sat on a hard toilet seat, leaning up against the wall, in pure heaven.

Waking up after hearing a knock at the door, I exited said facilities and looked east to see the most beautiful of sunrises coming up over the marshes. Wow... we were pretty lucky to see our countryside from Sittingbourne to Brighton in a whole new light this last 24 hours.

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And just like that, I was back in the game. Yoga mats laid down, our stretching routine began again, getting ready for the next exchange (runner to take over). 

And that’s the funny thing with Ragnar. You get it done. You’re supporting your team and they are supporting you. You are working together to cover over 170 odd miles, together. You run very hard legs or easy legs, it doesn’t matter as you’re running together even when you are on your own in the middle of the night climbing up through estates from the port of Dover. You are on your own when you are digging deep when you pass the “1 mile to go” sign before you see your pals again. You are on your own when you’ve never run an event before (Lau!) and you find yourself in the middle of a forest in the dark of night, running the longest distance you’ve ever run before. But you did it. We did it. 

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And, you’re never really on your own. Your teams mates, when not trying to catch up on some sleep, are regularly tracking you through the tracker app. They’re constantly calculating how fast they think you’re running to see when they should get out of their warm hoodies, sweats and jackets and back into their fresh running gear. They’re silently cheering you on, through the middle on the night, to help you get it done. And, you do it. 

Pending no serious injuries the RunPals spirit was well and truly alive throughout the adventure. Every time we exchanged with the second van, the hugs, smiles and high fives lifted the spirits. We’d be exhausted, but seeing our relatively freshed face pals, raring to go, would lift our spirits that little bit more - or at least long enough for us to drive to our next major exchange so we could try and catnap again. We wished them well, we set off again. 

And just like that, we would play cat and mouse with each other over the 36 or so hours of running until we meet again. 

What I learned most this trip is what my mind and body could put up with. A few of us on this trip had partaken in the first parkrun Marathon some 7 months prior, something I finished feeling broken. Mentally and physically I was done. 

With Ragnar, I was semi prepared. I knew all the mistakes I’d made when we did the parkrun marathon; from what food we were eating to not stretching enough between legs. I learned a lot about how far my mind could wander too... this weekend it was considerably sharper. Considerably more focused. 

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And not focused like some sort of racing lunatic, no, focused more on knowing how hard this could be, but also how much fun we could have and what games I needed to trick it to help me get over the line. My mind was focused on ensuring my van of mixed abilities were prepared for their next leg. Focused on helping them forget their fear and go and run. Then it was my turn to run...

I won’t go to every detail on each of my run legs and what they did to me, you can be bored to death when I next see you and tell you all about it, but, I will share with you my third leg. 

A few legs prior, in the darkest hours of the morning, we exchanged with Van 2 as my good pal Craig was flying to the handover. He was buzzing. His energy was literally electric as he told us how many people he’d picked off on this leg. You couldn’t not feel energised when this man is in your presence! He’d infected me.

Building on his excitement, I was set in my head that I would give it my all. If I felt good at kilometre one, I’d push on for the next 10 more. And push I did. I felt strong. My lungs were hurting, I could almost feel them wanting to explode, but, I could see my first victim. I passed her as I tried to cheer her through - though she had 8 more km to go and was looking fairly broken. I passed two more and I recall thinking I couldn’t slow down now as, well, it would be pretty embarrassing if they were to overtake me again right? 

Then I hit the beach.. we had about 2km of running atop a pebble beach. After a long night and already running 25k or so, this was brutal. I split my ankle open on my shoe or something, so there was a nice trail of blood left on that beach, but man, if your bones weren’t ruined yet, they soon would be. Running on rolling pebbles was tough. But, I felt even stronger at this point. My legs felt great, I was telling myself I could do this. I was smiling that I was nearly done. I looked at my watch for the first time and I was bang on pace for my personal best over 10km, which, with no sleep and already banked runs in the bag, i felt unstoppable.

I ploughed on. I was listening to every piece of advice I’d been given before. Small feet. Fast arms. Consistent breathing. Counting games. You name it, all the tricks were coming out to get me through this leg, as I picked off five more runners. 

1 mile to go. 

The hurt locker was in full operation now. Breathing deep, digging deep, I was thinking of why I do this. All the kids that could benefit from a new accessible wheelchair from whatever fundraising I could give. I was thinking about them and how much it could mean to them. I couldn’t stop now, I couldn’t let them down. The wonderful pals at MyAFK have been always so supportive of me, it’s great to give them something back. It’s great to help someone else, who needs it more than I! 

Then,  I could see the final corner before a couple of hundred metres sprint to the finish. I could see Adam ready and waiting for me. I could see my pals cheering. I ran hard. I tagged Adam - with only a few passing words, I could see, he was going to do the same. And run he did!

I lay down on the hard stoney floor, on my knees my arms outstretched. Breathing deep, getting back in control. Rising up, scoffing some onion bahjis the team had picked up on route, we were off, off to get Adam and meet the other van again. 

I’d never felt quite so alive. 

I can go on about the rest of the trip, picking up an additional hilly leg for our pals (they said it was all down hill... they lied!), but I would be writing here probably all day long. So I will try to wrap this up.

We met some amazing people on the Ragnar Relay. Exchanging stories at each cross over point. Talking about what the course ahead would bring. Meeting people that knew our people. The atmosphere was nothing quite like an event I’d experienced before. 

But the icing on the cake for us, was nearing our home stretch along the Sussex coast and first seeing our minipal Alyssa directing us where to go. Her smile showed us we were nearly done. Nearly home. Getting out of the van at Newhaven, I saw my family for the first time in two days. My gorgeous boys, who wanted to draw on the side of the van, my beautiful daughter who gave me the hug I will remember for the rest of my life and my wonderful wife, who prepared some jacket potatoes and beans for us - the first proper meal we’d had all weekend, was truly magical. Seeing our RunPals volunteering at this check point and at the finish line, made me feel all gooey inside. You pals are legends. You don’t realise how good it made us feel to see friendly faces at such an exhausted moment of the race for us. Thank you. 

Finally, a couple more thank yous. Thank you Raquel for being captain. Even though you couldn’t then run this weekend, we hope we did you and your sister proud. Seb was a true hero this weekend.

And thank you to all our pals for completing the most excellent of adventures. 

Adam, Lau, Eirian, Steph, Conrad, Craig, Zingi, Jonny, Seb - you are on in a million team. Thank you so much for sharing this weekend with me.

Now? Now I need to figure out how to walk down the stairs to make some tea, with my calves and quads basically locked up. Was it worth it? Of course it was. It always is.

We believe together, we can accomplish anything. 

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Matt Coyne