Erin Runs Ragnar

Written by Erin Houg, owner of FIT4MOM Bellevue and FIT4MOM Redmond.

“I am running a 200+ mile, 32-hour relay race.” Next comes the blank stare. The looks alone from people when they hear that I am training to run Ragnar… Priceless.

To the non-runner world it sounds ludicrous, crazy even, and they always ask, “why would you do something like that?” I don’t have a definitive answer for why, but I always asked, “why not?” It is one of the top 10 experiences of my life… And I have done some pretty rad things - mostly while I was living in DC and working for congress, but if I told you about those, I would have to kill you. ☺

What is Ragnar?

Ragnar is a relay race that you run with a team of 11 other people. You cover about 200 miles between the 12 of you, in roughly 36 hours. You train, you know about what time you will be running, what gear you need, and you set out. You pass a “baton” (or in our case, a 1980s fluorescent orange slap bracelet) and the exchange points. Sounds easy right? I have to admit, it was much easier than I thought it would be. They have races all over the US. There is one here in Washington state, but when I heard that some of the FIT4MOM corporate staff was running one in Southern California, it took me about 20 seconds to jump in. Would I have done one in Washington? Sure! But add in that I got to run with my coworkers and fellow franchisees in the sunshine… that was a no brainer.

I started training in January for my race in April. I am a planner. I like to be prepared and having things well planned out. So I had my training schedule and I stuck with it as much as possible. I didn’t get every scheduled run in, but I was ok with that. I had run a half marathon before and I was running a total of about 14 miles for Ragnar, so I knew that I would be ready!

Then came selection day to choose what runner number I wanted to be. Ragnar releases a list of all the “legs” each runner is scheduled for, the intensity, the elevation gain or loss and the distance. I didn’t want anything incredibly hard, but I wanted a challenge. So I selected a runner position that had me running more than a half marathon in distance. I was SO excited.

About two weeks before the race, Ragnar changed the legs and course. Que the deep, depressing organ music. I was disappointed. They took about four miles off my total distance. Here I had trained and I was ready and mentally prepared for my legs! MONKEY WRENCH! I sucked it up and was just happy to be with this awesome team of people embarking on an amazing experience.

Fast forward to my departure day. I flew out of Seattle and was on my way to Phoenix to pick up Amy on my way to San Diego. Yes it was planned and yes I would have preferred that we were on a private jet, but Southwest Airlines would have to do.

We arrived in San Diego to the loudest, most attention-drawing welcome and most AWESOME cheering from two of our teammates, Julie Freeman and Carmen Tsang. Complete with signs, noisemakers, jumping, and shouting our names - and the rolling of eyes from passersby. The passersby CLEARLY weren’t runners, Ragnarians, or fun AT ALL. We let those people stew in their sadness. Don’t hate because you didn’t have this kind of a welcoming committee. I would like to be greeted like that when I debark every plane for the rest of my life. Done and done. We ran to Target for last minute supplies, grabbed dinner, and headed home to rest, to decorate our vans, and to meet up with the rest of our team... Team #393!

Who was on the FIT4MOM Ragnar team?

We are an awesome group of FIT4MOMers with varying positions within corporate and state level franchises. Being that we are from all over the US, we had scheduled Google Hangouts prior to Ragnar to cover the basics - van rentals, outfits (duh!), food, prep work that we needed to handle ahead of time, etc. Those meetings were informative, but mostly fun. We had 11 women and one man on our FIT4MOM team. Here is some insight on our team and the awesome dynamics that was FIT4MOM Ragnar.

Runner #1: Runner #1: Ed Evans – The only male employee of FIT4MOM. He is our gracious Chief Operating Officer and headquartered at FIT4MOM Corporate in San Marcos, California. Not only is he the only male at FIT4MOM corporate, but he was the only male on our team. He was in Van #1, and we all had a blast with him. He put up with our shenanigans like a champ. He “may” not be up for another Ragnar with a bunch of women ever again. Just kidding. He doesn’t have a choice.

Runner #2: Me! Erin Houg - I own two FIT4MOM franchises in Washington state: FIT4MOM Bellevue and FIT4MOM Redmond. I also work for FIT4MOM corporate as our Special Projects Director. Three jobs all rolled into one awesome company. This blog post is about my experience with Ragnar and why I would do it again, every weekend, for the rest of my life.

Runner #3: Amy Feltus – Amy owns all of FIT4MOM Arizona. I kid, but only kind of! She is the awesome owner of FIT4MOM Phoenix & Scottsdale. She runs about 300 classes a day and if you live near there, GO and visit her! I truly believe that Amy and I might have been separated at birth. I met her at our last FIT4MOM conference and we instantly bonded. She is my long lost sister that my mom still claims I don’t have.

Runner #4: Julie Freeman – Julie is tall. End of description. I kid! Julie is a FIT4MOM franchisee and owns FIT4MOM South Irvine/Lake Forest. She is over six feet tall, as is her three-year-old child. Julie and I bonded at my first FIT4MOM conference back in 2012, and we have a lot of fun together and will at some point start a FIT4MOM compound, probably in California.

Runner #5: Carmen Tsang – Carmen is a FIT4MOM instructor! She has the “oh so tall Julie” as a boss (bonus!) and teaches some phenomenal classes in South Irvine/Lake Forest. She is a bold and outspoken momma in a teeny tiny package. This was the first time she and I had met and she is AWESOME! She is coming into this group as a Ragnar veteran and gave us A LOT of insight into how the weekend would work. I believe that we would still be running around southern California if it weren’t for her… Lost of course.

Runner #6: Gina Maas – Gina Maas IS the San Diego FIT4MOM franchise. I know that she has an amazing team that works with her, but she is taking over Southern California. FIT4MOM San Diego is owned by FIT4MOM Corporate, but Gina is the brains behind the franchise. Ever found yourself in a stressful situation and you turn to one friend that can calm you down, reassure you, AND tell you how to fix it? That is Gina. She is completely level-headed, well-rounded, and very knowledgeable. I went into Ragnar trying to avoid “talking shop”, but with a solid brain like Gina’s around, that was impossible. I will never forget her advice and chats from that weekend. I should also add, the fact that FIT4MOM Corporate owns a franchise themselves is beyond beneficial to other franchisees all across the US. It gives them the most amazing perspective, understanding and knowledge of what we as franchisees go through first hand. I so appreciate that about FIT4MOM.

Runner #7: Stacie Sloan – Stacie is a fellow franchisee and owns FIT4MOM San Clemente. I didn’t know Stacie prior to Ragnar, but here are two things that you need to know about her. First – She is that RIDICULOUS person that can run 300 miles and looks like her make-up didn’t move and she just walked off a photo shoot. Second – I hate/love her for this reason. Stacie has a huge heart and you instantly fall in love with her when you meet her.

Runner #8: Farel Hruska – Farel is extremely famous in every circle of life and I would be shocked if you have never heard of her. She is well-traveled and blessed with the longest legs (both as limbs AND also within our Ragnar running schedule). Farel is FIT4MOM’s National Fitness Director. She keeps all of our FIT4MOM instructors trained and sore, which in turn keeps our clients coming back for more. Bless her.

Runner #9: Rebecca Hackney - Rebecca was FIT4MOM’s Mom on a Mission. This was a project of Lisa Druxman’s: finding a mom and working with her to change her life for the better, incorporating every facet of life. Rebecca came through an amazing transformation and has become a huge part of the FIT4MOM family. She has run more half marathons than I can count on one hand and was an awesome addition to our FIT4MOM Ragnar team!

Runner #10: Miranda Zanzig – Miranda is the life of the party, in the most awesome way. She is fun, spunky, a collector of people, a gatherer of good times, and I had a blast with her this weekend! She makes everything fun! On top of that she is our FIT4MOM franchise sales person extraordinaire. If you are interested in purchasing a FIT4MOM franchise, she is your gal. CONTACT her. Seriously. This is a company you want to be a part of!

Runner #11: Christy Imber – Christy is two things. She is amazing, awesome, completely inspiring, and does A LOT for FIT4MOM corporate. Wait, that was more than two things. She is the right hand of Farel, but also wears many hats at corporate. She is a 3,000 times black belt in “meet me in a dark alley and you might die”-itsu. Take my word for it. Do NOT make her mad! She could kill you and she is rad.

Runner #12: Lisa Druxman – Our fearless leader! As the CEO of FIT4MOM, she truly is the visionary of the company. In my opinion, Lisa is one of those people that will try anything once. She has to know for a fact that she does or doesn’t want to do something more than once. She was willing to do this with her staff and franchisees, and that shows you what kind of a CEO she is. Sadly, she caught a flu bug the day before Ragnar, but she was very much there in spirit. We couldn’t have made it without her cheering us on!

So here we are, our group of 12, ready to take on Ragnar. We had trained, we were outfitted with all of our required gear, and we had a plan. Ragnar had finally arrived.

Our alarms went off at 3:30am, as we had a 5am start time. As Runner #1, Ed needed to be geared up and ready to run at 5am. Awesome. Thus began what was the most amazing and tiring 32 hours ever.

I was nervous, anxious and ready. I was running on foreign ground, sometimes in the dark and very often alone. Yes, we were running this race with 756 other teams, but there were times when we didn’t see anyone else on our legs of the race - mostly the dark ones. The whole time I channeled Christy and pretended that I too had a 3,000 times black belt in “meet me in a dark alley and you might die”-itsu.

Being that we were so early in the race, we were met with a lot of fresh and never used port-o-potties, which, in this game, is priceless. I was so grateful for that. As someone who is not a good camper or port-o-potty user, this was ideal for me.

My first leg started around 5:30am. Ed’s first leg was shorter in length, so we had just enough time to send him off, jump in the van and head to the first exchange. I didn’t have time to get nervous or think about what I was about to start. I just jumped out of the van, looked around for a general idea on which direction I was to run, and waited for him to slap me with our bright orange 1980s slap bracelet. In he came, and off I went! Easy as pie. Most of that leg was through a residential neighborhood. No one was awake and the only vehicles on the road were the 756 team vans, driving their teams from the starting line to the first exchange. I made sure to stop, in the dark, snap a selfie, and continue on. I ran next to what my team continuously referred to as a “wash”. To most people, it is a HUGE concrete gutter in which Mini Coopers race through, like in Gone in Sixty Seconds. There was no actual water in the wash, nor has there ever been any in the movies where they are featured. They were solely created for car chases, but the state insists on telling residents they are for “water”. Right. I came in, texting my team so they were ready, and we sent Amy on her first leg. Pretty awesome, very quiet, and a great way to start the race.

We continued with the next two exchanges and were able to meet up with Van #2 for the first time. It was like a half sweaty family reunion. People that I love dearly, was so excited to see, and also ready to send on their way! We sent Van #2 off to run their six legs shortly after lunch. What was Van #1 to do for a couple hours while we waited for our next legs? Hit up Ed’s hot tub FOR SURE! We went to his house, rested in the hot tub and showered. Probably NOT your typical Ragnar experience, but I will take it!

We were summoned by Van #2 to meet up for a van exchange around dinner time. Ed set out and came back, and my next leg as Runner #2 was along a trail. Now I was told that I would be on this trail and Ragnar listed it as “no van support”. What does that mean? If you die, you die a long, slow and lonely death because there is NO WAY that your van will know something is wrong or be able to help you. So I ran with a large bundle of firewood on my back in case I needed to make smoke signals - obviously. The trail backed up to a lot of houses, from which people watched as we ran by, mostly with beers in their hands, cheering. There might have been no van support, but I feel like I could have easily been offered a beer had I asked.

Kills. Let me explain something that I learned at the beginning of Ragnar. Your goal as you run is to kill people. As you run, pull out Christy’s “I could murder you with my eyelash”-itsu kind of skills. Or not. As you run, anyone that you pass, is a kill. Keep track of your kills and then after your run, you mark them on your van windows. On this trail, I was on a killing spree! Never had I been so proud to be murdering left and right! I started Ragnar with three goals: survive, have fun, and run a full 7-minute mile leg. During leg #2, I hit my 7-minute mile goal. I came in hot, passing our bright 80s bracelet on to Amy for her second run.

Van #1 finished our second legs and we had a possible man down. You see, Carmen is hardcore and she was running in the dark. She came into an exchange, too hot for her own good, and missed a curb. What she got instead was a large and swollen ankle. Of course we found the most attractive first aid tent attendant, who wrapped her up, gave her ice, and told her to rest and elevate her ankle. Her next run would depend on her ankle progress over the next couple of hours.

We grabbed some froyo (Julie downed Carl Star Jr.) and headed to the next major exchange with Van #2. Some of you might be wondering what Carl Star Jr. is. Duh, this:

Not because of my parents, but my entire life I have always called it Carl Star Jr. I do speak English and I realize that the star is silent. But three hours into this amazing Ragnar trip, I had my whole van announcing every Carl Star Jr. we passed. It was awesome. Even as I am typing this, my husband saw the logo and shouted, “Carl Star Jr!!!!”

Van #1 parked at the next exchange to rest/nap for the first time. By the time we were done using the really clean port-o-potties (no joke), it was about 11pm. We thought we would have some time to get some shut eye. All six of us spread out in our 15-passenger van. Also in this van is all of our clothes, food, gear and smelly running clothes. My Microsoft Band said that I got 2 hours and 26 minutes of sleep before Van #2 gave us the heads up that we are on deck very shortly. Sure! Because what normal person is ready to run at 2am?! Ed geared up, greeted a very tired Christy and was off. I was up next. This was going to be my last leg. Even though it was at 2am, I still had a lot left in me. I wasn’t done mentally or physically. It was then that I decided to pick up Carmen’s third leg, as she was officially benched. I was totally bummed for her, but I was MORE than happy to jump in. I wanted it! So I set out for run #3 and ran along the Pacific Coast Highway, and I loved it! I ran by Three Sisters (a national FIT4MOM partner - I even turned around for a horrible, darkly lit photo with their sign, but it didn’t turn out). I knew that I was close to the ocean even though I couldn’t see it in the pitch black. I ran with one earbud in so I could hear the crashing waves. It was a calming run that started with a huge stair climb, lots of “killing” and the sound of waves crashing. What is more relaxing than that?

Amy and Julie completed their last runs, and then I was up again to finish Carmen’s last leg. This one started after a very favorable trip to the port-o-potty (Too much information? Sorry! Runner problem!), and I was off on a leg that was completely down hill. I ran downhill for some time and it flattened out Lord-only-knows-where. All I could think was “I feel like I am by a horse track that my friend Allene has driven me by”. I still don’t know if I was anywhere near that horse track, but oh well! I ran towards the beach. The city was coming alive with cars and lots of people honking as I ran by. It was awesome to feel the support by those not part of Ragnar. I came in, pushing myself, and handed off our awesome 80s slap bracelet to Gina. Because this was normally Carmen’s leg of the race, I had never had an exchange with Gina. I was completely compelled to give her a HUGE hug and squeeze her butt. I couldn’t help myself. She didn’t flinch, kissed me on the cheek, and off she ran! She finished Van #1’s legs with pride and grace. Van #1 was done.

Again, unlike most Ragnar experiences, we were off to Gina’s house for breakfast burritos (thank you Scott, Gina’s husband) and showers! We met her two sweet boys, Henry and Jasper. They showed us their toys and entertained us - it was just what we needed: a little sweetness to end the most epic 32 hours.

Then we started on our trek to The Dana in San Diego, where the finish line was. We shopped for Ragnar gear, enjoyed the sun, and waited for Van #2 to meet up with us as Miranda ran the last leg of Ragnar. It was a long and HOT one for her. Shortly before she reached the finish line, it is customary that the whole team runs in together through the iconic, orange Ragnar shoot. So we all ran in together, and as we crossed the finish line, the announcer shouted “Team FIT4MOM – Moms who can go all night long!!!” (our tagline on the back of our shirts), and that was it! We all cheered, hugged (for the 1,000th time), and took our awesome team photos with our shoes, medals and shining faces.

We were done. We finished. We came, we saw, and we conquered! We rallied and killed every mile of Ragnar SoCal. Relationships were formed, inside jokes were created, and an 11-person text message string STILL continues to this day.

I felt proud. I felt accomplished. I felt privileged to complete such an amazing race with THIS group of people. Sure I could have run that race with anyone. But THIS was my team and it will always be my team. And for those of you that are all about the numbers, I ran more miles than I planned before they changed my legs! So I finished my three legs and Carmen’s last leg and knew that I had done what I set out to do! I felt great!

We posted our fun along the way as we went. You can still head over to our Facebook page and check out all the outtakes, exchanges, kills and awesomeness. Thank you for the support and love as we went! We felt it every step of the way!

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