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When Cheshire resident Yvonne Benjamin went looking for a group to participate in a relay race, it wasn’t too hard to find other women who shared her passion for fitness and running.
However, this wasn’t just any old relay race. The Ragnar Relay, a 194-mile trek from the Connecticut shore to the heart of Boston, pushes runners to the limit, both physically and emotionally. Benjamin ran in the relay in 2010, but only one other runner from her team, “The Dirty Dozen,” returned. She was tasked with finding 10 other women who wanted to run in the non-stop event.
“I encouraged them not to be afraid and to go outside their comfort zone,” Benjamin said. “It’s an experience and challenge beyond anything anyone has ever done before.”
The Relay began at 7:30 a.m. on Friday, May 20, and went continuously until the “Dirty Dozen” finished on Saturday afternoon with a time of 31 hours, 31 minutes. The Ragnar Relay is different than most runs, as teams run legs, or portions, of the course. While one woman was on the road running, five others were in a nearby van, shouting out words of encouragement and preparing for their next leg. A few hours ahead of that group was another van, with the other six teammates, trying to get a few hours of shut-eye, hydrate, and maybe grab a snack.
“This pushes you physically and emotionally. We are a team of mothers with 35 kids between us. It was a huge challenge,” Benjamin stated. “Running in the pitch black middle of the night, in fog, is a different challenge. Strong, seasoned runners were amazed at how difficult it was.”
“Dirty Dozen” member Sheryl McNamee was participating in her first Ragnar Relay. Although she has run full and half marathons before, she said “nothing was as taxing” as this particular run. She said running on no sleep was challenging and she figured on being fatigued on Sunday after the event had concluded, but to say she was tired “would be an understatement.”
“I was exhausted. I had no juice left,” she explained. “It was a crazy blend of excited and tired.”
McNamee’s last leg of the relay began around 4 a.m. and as she was preparing to leave the van she didn’t think she could do it. It was pitch black outside and dew was all over her skin from the uncooperative weather.
“I sat up, and said, ‘I don’t want to run right now,’ but I did,” she remembered. “They slapped the timer on my wrist and off I went. It was like a little charge.”
Teammate Jen Robinson said she had heard of the Ragnar Relay before, but never had a chance to run in the event. Having been running marathons for the past eight years, Robinson said she “knew what a tough run” was like. That being said, she admitted that “I didn’t know what I’d be in for” with the relay. Running at night with just the glow of a headlight nearby was something Robinson never experienced before, but said “it was pretty fun to be a part of the ‘Dirty Dozen.’”
“We had to push each other through. I was exhausted,” she said. “Initially, I thought I would do it once and that would be it for me. But, after doing it, I think I could do it again next year. I'll definitely do it again. It was a lot of fun.”
Benjamin said the team didn’t set a time goal, other than to just finish “on our feet smiling and laughing.” When the last runner was coming into Harvard Stadium, the 11 other women joined her on the track. Together, as a team, they ran one lap around the track and crossed the finish line holding their banner.
“We ran through the arches of the finish line and people were screaming and shouting for us. It felt like the Olympics,” she said. “We all did fantastic. We all went beyond what we thought we could do.”
Benjamin said they all went out for a group run over the Memorial Day weekend because they had missed the camaraderie. All the teammates hope to come back together next year to run in the Ragnar Relay again.
“I am absolutely re-upping. My body didn’t even cool down and I said I was in again,” McNamee said.
Added Robinson, “I thought it would be once for me and that’s it, but after doing it, I will definitely be doing it again.”
Members of the Ragnar Relay Race team “The Dirty Dozen” celebrated after successfully completing the event last month.