Friday, October 25, 2013

Ragnar Northwest Passage vs. Hood to Coast

Thanks to Andrea for reminding me I was going to do a relay comparison post and for giving me something to actually blog about ;).  Nicole posted a comparison a while back and while I agree with some of her points, I think we come to a different conclusion.

Hood to Coast Website - 2014 lottery already closed and teams decided
Ragnar Northwest Passage Website - July 18-19, 2014 - registration OPEN!

This past summer I had the opportunity to run both the Ragnar Northwest Passage and Hood to Coast relays.  While they are both 200 mile point to point relays with 12 person teams (or 6 in the case of Ragnar for me this year) they really couldn't be more different!  Let's compare some of the major aspects of relays and how they differ between these two popular Northwest relays.  These opinions have NOTHING to do with the people I actually ran with...there is no comparing that...everyone was AMAZING and I've made lifelong friends at each race.

2013 Rangar Northwest Passage Six Pack With Racks
2013 Hood to Coast Van 1 - Team Lemonade for Nuun

Full disclosure, I have run Ragnar Northwest Passage 5 times now and Hood to Coast only once but I have spoken with HTC veterans and my experience seems pretty consistent with theirs of years past.


Ragnar Relay Northwest Passage - if you want to see the beauty of Washington then this is the race for you.  With the very minor exception of running through some more city like areas most of this course is on country and mountain roads and it gorgeous from start (at Peace Arch State park at the US/Canadian border) to finish (southern end of Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound).

Pretty country-like roads
Ragnar also has amazing signage telling you exactly where to go and makes it almost impossible to get lost running or driving.  You are out in the middle of nowhere most of the time and driving alongside your runner 99% of the time.  There are always TONS of spots to pull over and support your runner.

I can honestly say that I have never felt unsafe running Ragnar, even on night runs.  Being around other runners most of the time and seeing vans drive by every few minutes always put my mind at ease and I never felt like my safety was being compromised.  I have heard about incidents of drunk people getting of the bars and harassing runners but that is worst thing I've heard.

Hood to Coast - on the flip side, if you want to see the beauty of Oregon then this is the race for you.  It is pretty darn awesome starting at the top of Mt. Hood and ending at the beach in Seaside and I had the pleasure to literally run down Mt. Hood which was breathtaking! However, ALOT of the course is alongside pretty major roads or highways and most of van 2's first runs are on a trail with NO van support or anyway to see your runner.  I didn't like this aspect of it, but the mountain views, city views, and beach views helped make up for that a bit :).

Course markers were literally non-existent but they did have volunteers at every single turn you could make so that was helpful!  My runs were either no van support or short enough that I didn't have my van stop for me once which was kind of a bummer.  Most of the course is this way and traffic is so hectic at a lot of exchanges you need to get there ASAP just to get your next runner on the road.

My second HTC run was on a trail and then through downtown Portland along the waterfront. What should have been a nice peaceful beautiful run turned into me being pretty scared by some totally drugged out homeless dude.  The end of the run was in an industrial area of Portland and again I didn't feel very safe. Since the vans couldn't follow me on the trail or the waterfront path I had no way of feeling like someone was looking out for me.  I HIGHLY recommended to HTC that they have police on the waterfront next year to put runner's minds at ease.

VERDICT? Although both courses are pretty darn beautiful in their own way, I have to give the overall course to Ragnar with their awesome signage, plenty of opportunities for van support and no safety concerns.


Ragnar Relay Northwest Passage - In the five years I've run this race I have love loved seeing team names and team costumes, it makes the whole experience so much more fun! One year the team Lord of the Ragnar ran in full on Lord of the Rings costumes for all their runs...impressive.  Another year the ultra team Risky Business ran all their miles in tighty whities and a business shirt! Other teams cheer you on and it is fun to become friends with teams running around your same pace.  I literally only made it up a monster hill last year because of another team cheering me on!

The volunteers have also always been pretty awesome and do a good job guiding you in and out of the exchanges.  Local teams are required to supply 3 volunteers for the race so this is always a very hard spot to fill but luckily friends and family have stepped up and they all report back enjoying every minute of it.

Hood to Coast - Obviously there are thousands more runners at this race to that automatically makes it excellent for people/costume watching but I got the vibe that teams take Hood to Coast WAY more seriously than Ragnar.  Not a bad thing, just an observation.  I did find it rather odd that other teams pretty much ignored other runners on the course.  Of course, Nuun Team Lemonade did NOT do this but we all found it strange others didn't join in our fun :(.

We powerarched for strangers too!
Oh man were the volunteers at Hood to Coast TOP NOTCH!  With thousands of runners they kept the exchanges organized and keep runners safe.  I don't know where they come from but they were  an excellent bunch. They also had volunteers at every single turn on the course which was a very welcome site in the middle of the night runs!

VERDICT? I would have to call it even on this one.  Runners and people who like to support runners are just awesome overall so I don't think you could go to a relay and not have a good experience with others!

3. MAJOR EXCHANGES (where van 1 changes with van 2)

Ragnar Relay Northwest Passage - I don't have a negative thing to say about the major exchanges at Ragnar. THEY.ARE.AWESOME.  Most of them are located at a school and you usually have access to the bathrooms/showers, sleeping areas and some sort of food for purchase.  One school even has a padded wrestling room to sleep in...heavenly!  There is honestly nothing better than washing your hands with soap and water after using hand sanitizer all day in port-o-potties.  No accidentally flashing your body parts to runners while trying to change in the van either!  The exchanges are always VERY easy to get in and out of with plenty of parking for all.

Jessey warming up indoors before her run.
Hood to Coast - Sorry HTC, this is where you really really fail (in my opinion).  All major exchanges were usually some grocery store parking lot of just some field in the middle of nowhere. There were NO indoor restrooms/showers/anywhere to change and sleeping indoors...?? NOPE.  The worst part...when we were driving to our next exchange to TRY and get a few hours of sleep we encountered a mile plus long line of vans trying to get into the exchange. Our 3 hours of sleep turned into 1.5 and our options included the van or on the grass.  There was ONE school at one of the minor exchanges that had bathrooms and a hot meal and we enjoyed every second being there but would have loved to warm up indoors a little longer at a major exchange.  There might not be any way around this based on the location of the course, but this part really turned me off...sorry HTC :(.
4AM traffic???

VERDICT? Pretty sure I don't need to spell this one out for you...Ragnar gets it hands down! Keep up the good work.


Ragnar Relay Northwest Passage - Ragnar is obviously smaller than HTC and so are their start/finish areas.  The start is easy to navigate and they make a big deal out of announcing your team before the start.  Nothing exciting, but effective! The finish line area has an announcer, a band, some food, a beer garden and vendors.  Pretty small and honestly nothing too exciting but they give you a nice place to hang out and celebrate your accomplishment.  Since it ends on Whidbey Island most people don't stay there overnight so you have to take a ferry back to Seattle.  The line gets LONG because of all the runners and after running and being up for 24+ hours all you want to do is go home and sleep! I've never looked into staying on Whidbey Island for the night, but I think it might be spendy and hard to fine a place for an entire team.
Hood to Coast - Ok really know how to throw a party!  The start and finish areas were both so electric.  We found ourselves dancing on Mt. Hood and the beach from the music and the atmosphere.  The start was relatively easy considering how many people run this relay, BUT the finish is where HTC really takes the cake.  Of course, I was extremely lucky to stay right by the finish line (courtesy of Nuun), but I think most finishers stay in Seaside after running.  The beach is packed with vendors, a HUGE beer garden, and of course...THE OCEAN! We enjoyed tons of walking around time, put our toes in the ocean and enjoyed an awesome band and fireworks show in the evening...I never wanted it to end.


VERDICT? Hood to Coast takes this one.  Their finish line party takes full advantage of the awesome beach location and Seaside is the best place to spend a couple days post relay to hang out and enjoy!  The Oregon Coast in general is one of my most favorite places on earth so you should go there even if you don't run HTC!


Being 100% honest here I prefer Ragnar Northwest Passage over Hood to Coast.  Did I have the most amazing time at HTC this year? Absolutely! Would I organize my own team and try to run it in future years...probably not (but I'll jump onto anyone else's team...wink wink).  I really like the smaller, more laid back nature of Ragnar and I thoroughly enjoy being team captain and showing others the awesomeness of Ragnar.  If you are a running relay junkie you, without a doubt, should try to get on a HTC team once in your is the Mother of all Relays after all!  Did you enter the HTC lottery this year and not get in? DEFINITELY check out Northwest Passage. Don't live in the Pacific Northwest? Ragnar has road and trail relays ALL over the country.

I can assure you, the relay hangover you get from both of these relays will make you want to come back for more every single year!

QUESTION: Anyone get in the 2014 Hood to Coast relay? Who wants to run Northwest Passage?

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