Ragnar Great River: The SWAT side of the story

Last week Thursday through Saturday I was a volunteer for Ragnar Relay Great River, specifically I was course manager 1, which meant I was responsible for the exchanges 1-5, all of the volunteers at those exchanges, and all of the road in between the start line and exchange 6 (40 miles worth). Needless to say, this was a H U G E  J O B. I mean, I knew it was going to be a great task, but there was nothing that could have prepared me for what my job was prior.

A couple of weeks prior to Ragnar I was expected to contact all of my volunteers, give them their instruction packet, as well as verify what time their shift was on race day. Of the 50-ish volunteers I had, there was only ONE that I needed to call to verify they received my email. And she had been on vacation, which explained the delay. Ragnar runners, your volunteers are AWESOME! All of them showed up and and on race day I was able to hand them their supplies and booklet for how to set up the exchange chute and then be on my way. They made my job extremely easy, as far as setting up the exchanges go.

On Thursday, my day began at 4 a.m. I grabbed breakfast at the hotel and by 5:17 a.m. my first volunteer was calling me to say he was already at the exchange …. waiting for me. So off I went to exchange 1. The night before I had set up each of the exchanges as contacts in my iPhone so that I could easily pull up directions on how to get there, how long it would take me, and then I set alarms so that I would leave in time to arrive when my volunteers were scheduled to be there at. In no time at all I was exchange 5!

I’m done!!!

Psych. You are never done in Ragnar.

Sure, all of my exchanges were set, but now I needed to pick up all of the trash that had accumulated and take it to exchange 6. That took F O R E V E R. T H E  E N D.

I went backwards on the route, grabbing all of the trash bags as I went, and then turned around and went forwards, trash, ditto. Heading into exchange 6 was quite the adventure. I drove this huge cargo van without any side windows, full of smelly and leaky trash, on a teeny tiny windy road in the middle of nowhere, Wisconsin. It was beautiful! Outside of the van … it was beautiful outside of the van. The exchange was at a tractor and farm equipment dealership …. welcome to the country! I pulled into the parking lot the back way and had some kids help me unload the trash.

Oh wait, before I forget, I hadn’t had any lunch yet and two little girls selling bananas on the side of the road were a sight for a grumbling tummy! That might have been the best banana I’ve ever ate. After I dropped off the trash I ate a slice of apple pie and a box of Milk Duds. Nutrition was not a strong point over Ragnarturday.

I finally found iced coffee in Alma and had my fortune read.

By now it was close to 1 p.m. and I needed to be in Winona at the start line around 3:30 p.m. so I did the trash pick up again, answered phone calls from volunteers and race command as needed, and picked up any tipped over signs along the way. Since I had to go to the hotel and get another SWAT person, Sara, before I headed to the start line, I took the opportunity to have some real lunch  – A&W never tasted so good! I usually don’t eat fast food or drink soda, but I was SO HUNGRY!

The bridge over the Mississippi River leading into Winona.

I picked up Sara, we were running late, and didn’t make it to the starting line until close to 4:15 p.m. We dumped the trash in the van and started to take down the course. The first few miles was tricky as there were quite a few signs to grab and it took a while to get into the swing of things. You see, every sign on the course needed to fit into my van. Every sign was attached to a tall safety cone (with two rubber bands) that was weighted down with a heavy rubber ring. Also attached to the sign was a blinky light. We had a bag for the blinky and a bag for the rubber bands. Had I of known someone at the finish line would sort all this out I never would have taken such great care to make sure everything was removed, sorted and stacked properly, but what did I know. Also? I’m a bit OCD about this stuff. I really don’t know how many times I got in and out of the van on Friday, but it was at least a gabillion.

And then we came to this huge ginormous CAUTION RUNNER ON ROAD SIGN that we had to get into our van.

And that’s when I got a case of the giggles. When I get the giggles, the don’t stop. They keep coming and coming and you might as well call it a day folks. Kim is broken once the giggles start.

How in the heck are we going to fit this into the van????

Ricky, the race director, had told me that these signs would just stack up against the wall. I’m not sure he’s ever measured it out, but it definitely does not fit the way we envisioned it would. The only way to get that sign to fit was to lay it flat. We ended up with three of those signs in our van total.Sign #1 is in the van!

As Sara and I picked up the course we watched the sun set over the Mississippi River. We cranked the music on the radio and laughed the entire way to exchange 6.

Sara and I on our way to exchange 3.


Right after we filled up with gas and bought MORE BANANAS! Also, I drove right over the curb like we were in the Dukes of Hazzard with the van. Oops.

ONE MILE TO GO!!! Not really. Psych. This is one mile to go until exchange 5, and then we still had to get all of the signs leading to exchange 6.

The van is CLOSE to being full.

Exchange 6, WE HAVE ARRIVED!!! The van is full, people of Ragnar are impressed with my van stuffing abilities (Firewood Stacking 101 came in handy).

I believe I was finally off duty as course manager 1 sometime around 9:30 p.m., but then I had to drive my van from wherever I was in the middle of nowhere, Wisconsin to Red Wing, Minnesota where I actually had a hotel room for the night. I arrived there around 11:40 p.m., showered, put on my pj’s and went to bed.

Now normally, I’d have been done and just gone to the finish line for unloading duties for the afternoon. However, our course manager 6 wasn’t able to make the race, so guess who was ALSO course manager 6? MOI. Ragnar staff took care of exchanges 31-35 until I arrived in Minneapolis, but then I was on duty, doing it all over again. I’ll cover that in the next post.

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6 comments for “Ragnar Great River: The SWAT side of the story

  1. Adela
    August 24, 2012 at 8:24 am


    I want to thank you lots and lots for doing this! Great River was awesome and I know that is completely due to all the work that the staff and the volunteers put into it. I swated chicago and I know it is a killer job and you did it twice!! Way to rock! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  2. August 23, 2012 at 10:48 am

    Kim – you ROCK!! Thank you for 1) volunteering to be SWAT, 2) doing a kick-ass job and 3) being such a great sport about it all. We couldn’t put on these races without help from people like you. We hope to see you soon, both as a runner and as SWAT!!
    Thanks again, Ragnar Staff

  3. Mike K.
    August 22, 2012 at 11:12 pm

    My goodness, you did a lot, like the work of 10 people a lot. They are lucky to have a volunteer as dedicated as you. Great job.

  4. August 22, 2012 at 7:32 pm

    It was A LOT of work, but honestly I did have a great time! The Ragnar staff are some really awesome people!

  5. August 22, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    Awesome that you volunteered! That’s a lot of work! At least you got to giggle through most of it!

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