A few months ago, I was approached by a local pastor to do something crazy. He had put together a team of runners to run the Ragnar Michigan relay. This run takes runners from Muskegon, Mi to Traverse City, Mi for a 200-ish mile run.
The team consisted of 12 runners, a driver, and two volunteers for the event. That’s a lot of people, with most of them being inside a 15-passenger van. The thought of it reminded me of the Five Iron Frenzy song Superpowers. One line of the song went like this:
Eight people in a stinky van, a couple more couldn’t hurt.
I guess the guys and gal in Five Iron Frenzy were right. A few more people in a stinky van wouldn’t hurt as we all rode peacefully to each leg of the race to cheer each other on.
To complete a Ragnar Relay is a huge undertaking. Many runners run more than 15 miles in multiple legs of the race. One leg of the race is overnight, in the dark, along roads you don’t know.
After finishing my legs of the race, I reflected on my time in the stinky (though it wasn’t stinky) van and on the road. I saw so many leadership lessons in the Ragnar Road Michigan relay that I participated in that I couldn’t resist writing an article about my time running.
Leadership Lessons From A 200-Mile Ragnar Relay Race
1. Leaders do difficult things:
When I mention that the Ragnar Road Michigan is a 200-mile relay race, you may revulse in apprehension. You may cringe when you hear that one of the runs is during the darkest night.
Yeah, it’s easy to do that.
But, leaders know that they have to do difficult things. Leadership is a rewarding experience, but it is also a challenging experience.
Leaders have to lead through challenging times. You cannot give up because things look or feel hard. Keep going. You can cross your leadership finish line!
2. Leadership is better together:
When Dave invited me to join his Ragnar team, I only knew one person on the team: HIM! I had multiple new friends by the end of the Ragnar Road Michigan experience.
Everyone in the van became a mini-family. It was great getting to know Mike, Rachel, Shaundra, Mark, Dave, Kelyn, Sanchit, Melissa, Mason, Ryan, Carin, and Scott. We were able to form friendships, laugh a lot, and encourage one another.
Leaders get trapped in the thought that leadership is lonely. Leadership doesn’t have to be. Leadership can be full of life, friendship, and care for one another.
Strengthen the bonds you have with your people. Find mentors and fellow leaders to help you get through difficult times.
3. Leaders encourage one another:
Our Saturday runs were on a dreary, rainy day. With little sleep, I wasn’t feeling the greatest. I even contemplated passing my run later that day to one of the other runners.
When I shared my struggle with David, he encouraged me. He let me know that he had felt similar in prior runs. His words of advice were to not give up and to try. David said the team would be willing to drive by multiple times to check on me during my last 7.1-mile run.
They were true to their word. After Ryan slapped my wrist with the orange slap bracelet, I started the run. I was now ready to run. I began my run and to feel better. The white passenger van drives up next to me at the halfway point. There are cheers and hoots. There’s also the question of whether or not I needed assistance.
I assured them I didn’t and that they could go to the next relay handoff point.
This encouragement pushed me through to the end of my run and to the completion of a Ragnar Relay!
Your team members cannot do great work without your encouragement. At least not at your organization.
People need to be encouraged. They need to know someone believes in them. They need that little extra push when they’re not feeling ready.
You have that responsibility and privilege. You are the one who can encourage your team members like no one else.
4. Leaders get to lead through the dark:
Mason was one of our runners. He is a 13-year-old boy who is fast on his feet. However, he didn’t want to run the night leg portion of his run alone.
Carin, a fellow teammate, stepped up. She volunteered to run with Mason through the night.
The buddy runner allowed Mason to finish his dark leg of the race with a buddy.
Organizations face many trials. There are dark days that every business goes through.
You get to lead your team through these dark and challenging days. You get to walk or run alongside them.
Be their business buddy. Stay close to them when times are challenging. Help them to understand that you are there for them.
5. Leaders learn about those they lead:
With 13 people in a van, emotions can get hot. Thankfully they didn’t for our team. We gelled pretty quickly.
Yet, there was a reason for this. Every team member got to know one another. We talked for hours, we shared stories, and we got to know each other.
One of the best things leaders can do is to get to know the people they lead. Learn about their family, their history, and their desires.
The more you get to know your team, the more you can understand them when issues arise. Getting to know your team is a leadership hack!
6. Small things matter:
If you’ve read my previous post about toilet paper, you know I’m a stickler for better-than-average toilet paper. You also know that porta-potties aren’t stocked with the best toilet paper. The toilet paper you’ll find in porta-potties is probably the lowest quality you’ll find.
There are, what I call, porta-potty angels. They were plentiful at the Ragnar Road Michigan relay.
Many porta-potty angels floated from porta-potty to porta-potty leaving quality toilet paper behind. This was a godsend during the runs. It was also a small thing but an action that really mattered.
You may not think the small things you do matter to those you lead. You’d be wrong. Your small, kind gestures mean the world to your employees.
You may not be able to do everything but you can do small things. The small things show that you are thinking of your team. They see the actions you take towards them and they appreciate it.
7. Leaders cross the finish line with their team:
Because the Ragnar Road Michigan is a relay race, every runner ran different legs of the race. This included the last runner.
However, as Sanchit neared the finish line, the Dogman Bounty Runners were waiting for him. We all synched up and ran the last hundred feet to the finish line. We finished as a team!
Leaders, learn how to help your team get to the finish line together. Cross it with them, but don’t take the credit for the work.
It’s great to be together as a team at the end of a project. It shows a sense of teamwork and camaraderie!
Hear From My Team
I reached out to the other members of my Ragnar running team. Many of them gladly shared their stories of what they learned. I wanted to give them a voice and let you hear from someone other than me. One of our volunteer members even chimed in (she was my 9th-grade English teacher).
I learned that we all have different challenges in a race like this. There are a variety of things that could be hard…staying up all night, weird eating, nighttime alone, having little personal space for 36+ hours, or the actual running itself. Some people easily handle one aspect and might struggle with another…but more than likely we all had something that was a challenge. As a team, we probably struggled in all areas, and as a team we made it through all of them too.
I learned that I can do hard things. The relay was challenging due to lack of sleep, different food intake, and physically pushing my body. During my night run, I reflected on how much I have been blessed with. Sometimes I find myself thinking about my next goal in life such as a better job, better house, etc. During my night right I learned that I need to be grateful for where I am in life right now because I have so much to be thankful for. Ultimately, this experience was amazing. I loved spending time with our entire team and haven’t laughed so much in a long time.
My biggest lesson was how to make PB&J by Shaundra and Mason. Jokes apart, I noticed that when you are with nice and supportive people, you can take on great challenges with ease.
To find gratitude through your challenges. Nothing about this weekend was easy for me. From staying up for 36 hours and running 16ish miles, to putting personal struggles on the back burner and pushing through mentally. There were so many things that could have weakened me. Instead, I learned to use this time to count my blessings. I have an able body and legs equipped for running long distances. I have a strong mind that can overcome negative thoughts. I have a huge support system cheering for me every step of the way. Life is about perspective and this weekend taught me to be thankful for all I have!
A few years ago when our church first fielded a Ragnar team, Bill and I had absolutely no idea what it was. When Scott decided to be on the DogMan Bounty Runners team early in 2021, we decided that it would be fun to volunteer like several friends did at different exchanges in 2019. Due to Covid, volunteers were kept at a minimum, and Bill and I were able to work Exchange 30 in Honor representing our church team.
When the call was made for volunteers in 2022 from Unity to support our team, we were thrilled to answer the request. We in fact worked the same exchange – Exchange 30 – at St. Ambrose Winery in Honor. Last year was a beautiful day – this year it was cold and rainy. However, building the relationship with our team, encouraging all the runners as they neared the end of their leg at exchange 30, and just being a part of a great event was just the most interesting and satisfying experience. We got to really bond with our team, encourage them, and support them. Although neither Bill nor I run at this point in our lives, we were accepted into this team, were able to cheer the team on, encourage them, and witness true teamwork.
We also learned that a team like DogMan Bounty Runners can be encouraging to each other even in the rain, with the lack of sleep, through the pain and injuries, and also be willing to step in for another when the pain may be too much! This event taught us to appreciate the true love of running, the camaraderie of the team, and the accomplishment of completing a relay from Muskegon to Traverse City over a 32-36 hour period with little rest, 16-18 miles of running, and lots of fun. And the run through the finish line with the whole team is just so awesome.
Praise God for this experience, and we encourage others to get involved as volunteers in the future. The bonds that we have made through this experience made lasting footprints on our hearts.
Dan (Mason’s dad, not on team but an unofficial part!):
I’ve run the Michigan Road Ragnar 3 times (once on a 12-person team and twice on a 6-person ultra team). I’ve also run the Michigan Trail Ragnar on a 4 person ultra team.
For me, it’s more than just a run or a race. It’s an experience of trials and hope and triumphs. During the Ragnar, you will face many trials in the form of mental exhaustion, physical exhaustion, muscle cramps, blisters, and hunger just to name a few. But you will also face the triumphs in the form of finishing a difficult leg, building friendships, gaining new friends, and finishing a 200ish-mile relay.
Not only do you have the support of your team, but also support from all the other teams. You also have spectators and volunteers throughout the course who are encouraging you. It’s this support of hope from everyone that fuels you to believe you can triumph over the trials. I have never experienced any other run or race like this.
I learned that we’re better together. Can we go out and run long distances on our own and love it? Sure, absolutely. But together we can cheer each other on, we can see each other’s needs and fill in the gaps, we can check on each other midway through, and we can be humble enough to ask for help ourselves, too.
Each person has their own hill to climb in this relay, and the bond and camaraderie of the team helps propel each person in their own strength to finish the climb.
With this being my 2nd Ragnar I tried to come in more mentally and physically prepared this time around. Both happened as I spent more time resting and stretching my muscles during the race to keep the cramps and aches away as much as possible. My recovery is going much smoother this time.
Would I have liked my overall pace to be faster? Of course. Should I have started training earlier in the year? You betcha.
From one who is not a natural long-distance runner by any means this event stretches my will to compete and finish well. Plus, I love the dynamic of our group as we always have a great time together cooped up in a van together for a day and a half.
The Finish Line
Endurance sports are a great way to realize and experience leadership lessons in life. You must endure trials, deal with people, and care for yourself and others.
Doesn’t that sound familiar?
Endurance sports are a physical manifestation of leadership. You must endure trials, deal with people, and care for yourself and others.
Keep leading. Keep growing. You will reach the finish line.