Maidstone to Dover to Brighton.
170 (ish) miles along the breathtakingly beautiful South East coast of England.
An epic journey but imagine running it.
Break it up into a relay and share the workload in a team of ten and suddenly what seems impossible becomes achievable.
That's the Ragnar Relay.
This year, event partners Reebok invited Wiggle to enter a team.
Even run as a relay, 170 (ish) miles presents big challenges. The team would need to run through the day and night to cover the distance.
As the route was point-to-point rather than circular, the team would need to follow the 'active' runner in a van so that they could rendezvous and switch runners at pre-agreed locations.
With the event being held in the last weekend of September, anything could happen with the weather.
Could we even find ten people who would be up for it?
Of course we did!
Who said yes?
According to the official website, 'Almost anyone can become a Ragnarian, with a little bit of training.' Team Wiggle included a diverse mix of experience, from veterans of endurance racing to relative newbies.
For some of the team, the Ragnar Relay took them outside of the comfort zone of their usual sport.
Marketing Manager Lucy Baldwin is more at home lifting weights. ' I’m very heavy and found it difficult to get into running and have the patience for it. Lifting my heavy legs was very difficult! I started running properly about two months ago and it took about four weeks to get my distance up to 10k.'
Running used to be Marketing Executive Alice Peyredieu's main sport but working at Wiggle she has fallen in love with cycling and now only runs a couple of 5ks a week and the odd 10k event.
Swedish Bilingual Customer Services Advisor Victoria Garlov only started running last year and claims she couldn't even make it around the local lake (about 3 km) without stopping 'a thousand times.' A lot has changed since then, and she tells us 'I've totally caught the Wiggle spirit. I've completed so much including the 65-mile Isle of Wight Ultramarathon.'
Buying Manager Martin McKinlay was the only one who had raced in a 24-hour event but that was cycling rather than running. He's more at home in triathlon so he was excited about the opportunity to join the relay team since he normally competes solo.
The last of the ten to be drafted in was Danish translator Bjorn Eriksen who came on board only two weeks before the event. 'They needed a last-minute replacement and I needed a challenge' he told us.
How do you split up 170 (ish) miles anyway?
Here's where the race organisers have you totally covered. The route is divided so that each of the ten runners gets three segments each with plenty of rest in between. Total miles for each runner varies from just 12.1 to 21.9, with the shortest segment being 2.6 miles and the longest 8.6.
The organisers also rank the segments from 'easy' to 'very hard,' taking into account terrain as well as distance. This made it easy for the team to assign segments to each runner based on experience and ability.
How much training is involved?
'Almost anyone can become a Ragnarian.' The organisers weren't wrong.
Although the end of September can mean tough weather conditions, the timing is pretty good if you have a summer of training behind you already.
'I didn't train at all,' Alice told us. 'There was a moment when there was only two weeks to the event and I started to panic because of my lack of preparation. I think what saved me is that I cycle to work every day and run 5k twice a week.'
Martin had competed at the European Age Group Triathlon Championships only a month before so he didn't need to do anything outside of his usual training except some hill reps since he would be running the last section, up and over the hills and into Brighton.
For Lucy, who's more at home lifting weights than running, having fun was key to getting the training runs in. 'I enjoy running trails more than road. I started doing three trail runs a week in the South Downs, averaging around 5 miles. Then about three weeks out from Ragnar I moved onto road to concentrate on distance.'
Setbacks can happen
No matter how much training you've done, you can't control everything. UI Designer Pete Henry put in massive efforts in the lead-up to the event, doing short, hilly runs in quick succession to simulate Ragnar conditions. Injury struck at the worst time.
'Two weeks before, I partially tore my acromioclavicular ligament in my shoulder at Rough Runner. Three weeks before, a reoccurring calf injury flared up when I did two hill trail training sessions within 24 hours.'
Setbacks happen but it doesn't mean 'game over' if you look after yourself and give yourself time to recover. 'I rested and tapered the week before,' Pete told us. 'The night before the whole team went out for pizza and beer.' Essential carb-loading, because you know what they say about all work and no play.
Preparation: The key to success
Running through the night, whatever the weather, living out of a van. The Ragnar Relay would take most of us out of our comfort zone. As they say, fail to prepare and you prepare to fail.
For Lucy, it was important to get everything organised in advance, so she could then get plenty of rest. 'I prepped all my gear the night before, so I had less to worry about in the morning. Having multiple kits to change into throughout the event helped. As soon as I finished my run I would quickly get out of my cold wet clothes and into fresh new kit. This helped me feel clean, fresh and less chilled from the rain! '
Having 'real' food is a massive morale booster; sweets and sports nutrition will get you so far but the team also made sure they had fruit, nuts and other snacks.
Kit up for the conditions
Ragnar Relay, like most outdoor events, goes on whatever the weather. Team Wiggle were running through the formidable Storm Ali, in headwinds and torrential rain.
The old cliché of 'no such thing as bad weather, just bad kit?' OK, if we ignore the Beachy Head leg which was cancelled because the safety risk had become too great, this is still mostly true. The team were able to complete the distance in relative comfort thanks to smart kit choices.
'I fell in love with my two pairs of Reebok shorts. Despite the rain, sweat and mud, they stayed incredibly light and comfortable for the whole race,' Martin told us. 'They also offered enough warmth so I didn’t need to wear tights in the 3am leg.'
Bjorn packed his 2XU recovery tights to refresh between runs but became so attached to them that he ended up wearing them on his last stint.
The number one piece of kit for any runner, and especially on such a long event, is the shoes. Team Wiggle were supported by Reebok who provided Floatride Run Flexweave shoes. 'They were the perfect choice because they were so light but also so comfy,' Alice explained. 'They were really cushioned so my feet didn’t hurt at all for the whole weekend. I even wore them the day after just to have something comfortable to walk in.'
Embracing van life
If you didn't know your teammates very well pre-Ragnar, you will by the end. Alice told us 'Life in the van is a complete experience on its own. You live with four other people for two days, eating, sleeping, doing everything together. With the lack of sleep emotions can be pretty high and no one will be in the same state of mind: some people will have just finished a run and will still be on a high, other people might be anxious about their upcoming run, some people might just want some time alone… You just need to be there to support each other but also know when to give them some personal space.'
Tackling the night runs
For most of the team, running in the small hours through deserted streets and countryside while everybody else is asleep was a pretty alien experience. Lucy admitted afterwards that it was pretty scary and sometimes the environment looked like 'something from a murder documentary!' She had the 02:30 to 04:00 leg which took her through creepy marshland on a long, dark road. This is where the support of the team came into its own and Lucy was joined by Commercial Designer Wills Fuller who ran some extra miles for moral support.
Navigating in the dark in unfamiliar surroundings whilst fatigued proved too much for one member of the team, even though the route was signposted. Commercial Designer Connor Christie managed to convince himself that he had completed his night-time leg in record time, only to discover that he had actually managed to run in a loop and finish roughly where he had started.
Was it worth it?
The team might have been hit with storms, scared silly on deserted roads and at other times cooped up in an increasingly 'pungent' van but was it worth it?
'After the horrendous weather we had had over the weekend running through wind and rain, the sun finally came out,' Victoria recalled afterwards. 'It will definitely take a few days for everything to sink in and to comprehend what we have actually accomplished. It's such a massive effort and everyone did so well. This will definitely be with me for life.'
Team Wiggle would like to thank Reebok for their support in making this happen, as well as the organisers and volunteers for creating this unique event.
Will we see you on the start line next year?