How I Ran a Ragnar with Adrenal Fatigue
Balancing life while living with Adrenal Fatigue can be a challenge, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t challenge yourself and enjoy life.
When a former coworker asked if I wanted to join a team she was putting together for Ragnar Tennessee, I immediately said yes. When else do you get a chance to run 200-ish miles with a team of great people?
Side note: This is long. I’ve tried to remember every piece, so that you can use it as a guide for your training, if you so desire.
And these aren’t amazing pictures. Less than 3 hours of sleep in 30 hours will make for some amusing Instagram Stories among the team. ;)
Once I committed, I started considering the implications of 30+ hours of little sleep, questionable fueling, and running three legs with poor recovery. (We may have had around 8–10 hours between legs, but sitting in a cramped SUV with limited time for stretching and foam rolling isn’t ideal!) For most, this could be no big deal. I would like to think that this is no big deal for me, but in reality, it’s very different.
My body isn’t the average body. As some backstory, over the past 3 years I’ve been diagnosed with:
- Hashimoto’s (Initially diagnosed as Hypothyroidism)
- Leaky Gut (Which means an array of food sensitivities)
- Adrenal Fatigue (Stage 2, for what it’s worth)
Then I also have some old snowboarding injuries. But those are under control, allowing me to focus on what really needs to be my goal: supporting my adrenals and hormones in general.
This isn’t to brag or complain; this experience with chronic illness and autoimmune disease has truly been one of the best experiences. I’ve tested my limits, broke said limits in both good and bad ways, and reevaluated life in general.
But, it’s important to know as a backstory.
And, because running isn’t necessarily the best option for those with Adrenal Fatigue, I knew this would be an additional stress on my body. But I’m determined to not let my health keep me from what I want to do. I may need to do X or Y differently, but I can still do it.
Preparing for Your First Ragnar Relay
While we were getting our team finalized and planning the trip, I found many resources for packing lists, race recaps, and personal accounts. But I didn’t find anything for runners with Adrenal Fatigue, though I’m sure others in my situation have run it.
This is why I’m sharing my experience. It can be overwhelming to plan for both a 30-hour race without needing to remember when to take supplements and what food to pack, but these additional requirements added another layer of stress.
But this doesn’t mean you can’t do it.
Training for a Ragnar Relay with Adrenal Fatigue
When I started training, I knew that I needed to manage my expectations. I had already planned on (and paid for) a half marathon a month after, so I needed to be careful in this longer training cycle.
Training Tip #1: Be Strategic with Distance
If possible, pick a distance that will challenge you, but not break you. (We don’t want that.) It depends on your team, but I came on pretty early so I was able to pick which runner I wanted to be.
I was able to choose Leg 5, which was 13.6 miles in total. This was broken down into a 3.3, 4.2, and 6.1 mile legs, labeled as easy, moderate, and hard, respectively.
(Funny story: It actually ended up being over 14 miles because a sign got knocked down and I got lost in the middle of my night run. In the middle of nowhere. It may have only been another .75 or so, but that’s a lot when you’re busting a** to not die in back country of Tennessee. And according to my Garmin I hit my fastest mile. Haha)
I knew this would be a good challenge, but it also had a low risk for injury since I was fresh off a half marathon, and it wouldn’t push me too much so I could recover and keep training for my second half a month later.
Training Tip #2: Remember All Supplements and Medicines
Depending on how you’re treating your Adrenal Fatigue and related conditions, you may have a myriad of supplements and prescriptions. Remember these.
Your Ragnar legs will be spaced out enough (even if you have a faster team) that you can take your supplements and give them time to digest before running your next leg.
I packed a small container with enough for two days, so that I could save space, and I highly recommend it. If you think you may need more, pack another container with some extras. Space was very limited in our SUV, so we all needed to pack light.
I never take my supplements before a long run due to some past experiences of not keeping pills down while exercising in the past.
Training Tip #3: Pack ALL Your Own Food
If you don’t have any gut concerns and food sensitivities, this isn’t as much of a concern, but it’s still important to consider.
- You may not know the exact types of food you’ll encounter, and you’ll be burning a lot of calories.
- You want to be able to run well, which means eating well. (Unless you have a stomach of steel. Then I would be envious.)
- You’ll be winding your way through rural areas with very few grocery stores. If you happen to find one, you may not find what you need.
I can “fudge” on my typical diet if needed. (Or wanted, let’s face it. Sweet potato fries are my kryptonite.) But when I want to race well and not deal with the ensuing… issues… that come from eating outside my norm, I needed to pack all my own food.
This also needed to be food I could eat cold. I knew I also needed veggies, and while I definitely didn’t eat as many veggies as I typically do, it still worked out ok.
I knew I wouldn’t be in the mood to eat a salad, so I didn’t bother bringing it and risk wasting food.
To fuel myself for the Ragnar Relay, I brought:
- Bananas (That quickly got pretty smushed. I’ll legitimately bring a box for them next time. Haha)
- Homemade protein bites (The typical concoction of nuts, coconut, chia seeds, cocoa, almond butter, and blackstrap molasses.)
- Roasted sweet potatoes (Surprisingly good cold!)
- Pulled pork from The Healing Kitchen cookbook
- Roast beef from Trader Joe’s (That brand is one I can handle, and offers a different meat option.)
- Apples (I ended up not eating them, but it was good to have as an option.)
- Apple cider vinegar and lemons for tea (I made this before we left the house on the first morning.)
- Many Justin’s Maple Almond Butter packets (These are my go to running fuel, and were what I ended up reaching for most.)
- Cucumbers and carrots
- Almond butter
- Rx Bars
- Enjoy Life chocolate chips (“Everything” free, and I surprisingly didn’t even reach for them!)
Again, I typically eat a LOT more veggies than this, but between not wanting too much fiber and the complications of traveling in a van, I didn’t bring much. I could definitely feel a difference from not eating as many greens, but I managed.
(Oh, and be careful with glass jars. Mason jars may be sturdy, but it broke and I lost my chocolate chips. :( )
Training Tip #4: Bring Extra Water
Ragnar is now only providing water, not the cups, throughout the race. This means you’ll need to bring your own water bottles. And bring at least 3, if not 4. It seems like overkill, but we noticed that they had fewer water stations than originally stated, and it’s extremely hard to find a place to buy water in the middle of the night in small towns.
I had my Hydro Flask and my Nathan handheld water bottle that I filled up when possible, but I could definitely tell I was getting dehydrated, which didn’t help when racing!
This was everyone on my team’s first Ragnar, so when we read that there would be water at most exchanges and on legs over 4 miles, we thought we’d be okay.
There was only one or two legs that had a water station, and water was only at major exchanges. Next time, I’m bringing jugs of water for the van.
This is my only gripe throughout the entire race. We were solidly in the middle-front of the pack, so it’s not that we were early or late to the exchanges. The rest of it, though, was well executed! (The logistics of planning a Ragnar is insane to think about.)
Training Tip #5: Bring Money for Surprise Food Options
Guys. There were Paleo meals at one of the major exchanges. (When Van 1 and Van 2 meet up because Runner 6 is passing off to Runner 7, or Runner 12 to Runner 1.)
I wasn’t anticipating being able to purchase any food, but when you have a bunch of people who enjoy fitness in one place, there’s bound to be some options.
They cooked the food in coconut oil, and while it wasn’t amazing, it was a hot meal that was very much appreciated.
They may not have an option like this depending on which Ragnar you run, but have hope. You may get lucky!
I definitely got a little too excited, but having a hot meal was so worth the overpriced, semi-mediocre burger and potatoes.
Training Tip #6: Bring Recovery Gear
Depending on your team’s average pace, you’ll have some time at exchanges (minor and major) to stretch, foam roll, and rest. I was grateful I remembered to bring my foam roller — and the rest of the team as well.
A friend brought her yoga mat, so we were able to do it in parking lots without laying on the gravel. (Though I would have done it anyway.) This may not be Adrenal Fatigue specific, but it was a lifesaver (and leg/hip saver). We gave it to Van 2 for a while as well, and grabbed it at the next major exchange.
There will be at least two spots to rest and shower. While I stuck to wet wipe showers during the race, we did take advantage of the gym to sleep for an hour or so. We may have had 8–10 hours between legs, but when you’re stopping every 30–80 minutes to exchange runners, you don’t sleep very much.
Training Tip #7: Post-Race, Your Only Focus Should Be Sleep and Eating Well
A Ragnar is much more physically demanding than other races. Even though I’ve run a half marathon prior to this and my total mileage was similar, I noticed I’m much more sore due to poor recovery. This means that we need to make rest a priority post-race. This means sleeping, eating well, and taking some time off high-intensity exercise.
Once our team finished and we took some time to check out the merch and get our (their) pizza and beer, we all headed home to rest. I made the (semi-poor) decision to go to a friend’s birthday party that evening, but once I got home I slept for 10 hours.
On Sunday, aside from church and seeing a friend, I kept the day very low key and continued resting. I know it’ll take me about a week to get back on track recovery-wise, so I’m giving myself a lot of grace. (Something I’m slowly becoming better at.)
Some Final Thoughts
Next time — because race amnesia has already kicked in and I want to do another Ragnar — I know I’m going to change a few things. Namely, figure out food better. And remember to take my supplements on Day 2. (Oops.)
We were fortunate to be from the destination city, which means we could crash at one of our homes before heading to Downtown Nashville for the team’s finish. I’ve heard of other teams who got an Airbnb or hotel room at the destination or partway through, which is also an option. You’ll want somewhere that’s not a restaurant or the finisher’s area to rest.
If you’ve been living with a chronic illness, you know that there is a give and take in daily life. There are things you need to prioritize, and there are other things that you may still do because you’re willing to take the chance.
This is running for me. I’ve tried to give it up but it didn’t end well, so I’m balancing my training and my health.
So. This was a long piece to read, but I hope it was helpful for you! Adrenal Fatigue doesn’t mean you have to stop doing what you love. It just means you may need to find another way to do it. If you ever have the opportunity to do a Ragnar, I highly encourage you to give it a shot!