I am not a trail runner.
This is a fact learned while training for my first (and last) ultra marathon in 2016.
So why the hell did I sign up to run Ragnar Trail?
Because I am not the smartest. ;)
I actually signed up for the Ragnar Trail race (August 26-27, 2016) before completing my first ultra (August 13) and truly learning how NOT a trail runner I am. ;)
But when my triathlon team, ZOOM Multisport, was looking for another runner on their Trail Ragnar team... I registered.
Compared to a road Ragnar, the trail race only needs 8 teammates... and no van! You actually camp out together which I was really looking forward to. There is a base camp and the person running goes on to the mountain and the rest of the team hangs out together.
How does a Ragnar Trail work?
In our Ragnar Trail Relays, teams of 8 (or 4-member ultra teams) run relay-style on three different single track loops that start and finish at Ragnar Village. Teams run day and night until each member has completed all three trail loops.
From Friday to Saturday, each teammate runs all three loops. Runner 1 runs the Green Loop (hard), then Runner 2 runs the Yellow Loop (harder), Runner 3 runs the Red Loop (really freakin' hard), Runner 4 runs the Green Loop, and so on until every runner has completed the three loops. The total mileage for each runner is close to a half marathon.
Swap vans for tents, pavement for trails and exchange points for Ragnar Village. Add bonfires, s'mores & a festival atmosphere, and Ragnar Trail Relays are a whole new brand of awesome on your running calendar.
I definitely packed three times as much for the Ragnar Trail than for Ragnar Road. There is only so much space left in a van after you add 6 people to it. We had a lot more room in our campsite.
We all carpooled our way out to central Mass. I only knew 1 member of the team so I was excited to get to know the rest of the ZOOMers.
How sweet was our campsite? We ended up being pretty close to the race area. Getting there later ended up being beneficial in that way. While others got there early and set up campsites closer to where cars were parked, it put them further away from the where the race loops started.
Once we had our base camp set up, we headed up to the race start area to make sure we watched the safety video and picked up our team bib. For this race we had one bib that everyone shared. Our assigned start time was 3:30pm.
Before I stopped in to the safety video, I took a moment to check out the course map. So each team member (on a team of 8) would run each color once. Well we actually had a team of 7 since someone got injured, so 3 folks would actually be running 4 loops. As you can see each loop is color-coded. Green is the easy loop; Yellow is the moderate loop; Red is the hard loop.
Check out the elevation on the red loop! Hot damn!
Here is Team Zoom Sauce before the party started. Shira (third from left) was our first runner so she was ready to go with her bib on. Since our campsite was still down a tiny hill from the start area, we had each person bring their cell phone so they could text the group when they were 1 mile-ish out. That would give the next runner enough time to get up to the Transition area.
When you are the next runner, you wait in the transition area tent. You stand next to the appropriate table (red, green or yellow) depending on what your next loop is. Every person has a color-coded slap bracelet so volunteers and other runners on the course know what loop you should be on. :) Great way to catch someone if they get lost.
Oh hello Hammock Village! We stood next to this sweet area while we cheered Shira out for her first loop!
I decided that I would be coordinating my outfits with which course I was running. So yellow outfit for yellow loop, etc. I would be tackling yellow loop then green loop then red loop. Gotta save the toughest for last right?
I had two friends on another team that were tackling the 4-person ultra Ragnar Trail. Rock on Krystina and Jason. It was awesome being able to hang out with them in between legs.
I was Runner 2 so I would be following Shira. We actually didn't figure out the whole bring the cell phone thing until after Shira was out on the course so I wasn't sure when she would be done so I headed up early to make sure I was there with time to spare. The yellow loop was around 5 miles. I hit GO on my Garmin at 4:01pm.
I didn't know what to expect as I had never run on this mountain before. I wasn't expecting to be speedy and made sure my team understood that.
Luckily the trail started out like this (aka not technical). Each of the 3 loops started out on the same path, which I liked. You always had someone near you for the beginning. Other teams started as early as 9am that morning so there were many people out on the trails when we started.
Ragnar started your team ties based on the road 10k paces you submitted to the website. Man I wish we had all put in our realistic trail times so we could've gotten an earlier start time.
While I wish the signs were bigger, thankfully there were plenty of them so strength in numbers with that. As my biggest fear was getting lost on the mountain.
Again I am not a big fan of trail running, but it is hard to hate views like this. I tried to keep myself in a positive mindset and remind myself that I wouldn't be running an ultra so I wouldn't be alone in the woods for 10 hours. :P I was out for 4+ miles then I would be back at base camp.
The red and yellow loop were finally splitting. I was okay heading to the left. Can you see how the red loop starting going up even more? ;)
Oh hey Yellow Loop!
I was now by myself and was back to worrying I would take a wrong turn. I trusted the path and the tiny signs.
Yay! I made it to the top. Once you hit the top of the mountain, you were about 2.5 miles into the loop (just over halfway). So everything should be downhill from there, right? ;)
Okay I was going alright so far. The path wasn't as technical as I was expecting. Technical definitely means more rocks/tree roots/harder terrain.
Oh and bears? Thankfully I hadn't seen any bears... yet!
Now what goes up must come down. Right?
Well our downhill wasn't as pretty as that uphill path. Instead we had some stairs to tackle.
They did a great job making sure we were heading in the right direction. I just followed the makeshift crosswalk to the next yellow sign.
Thankfully the race knew how to motivate me...
BEER! The race had a beer garden that you could purchase beer at, but I brought my own Slumbrew to be able to enjoy once this craziness was over.
Thank you signs I will once again take the easier path to the left. ;)
The final downhill was a nice clear path and I tried to catch up on my pace. I felt the entire time like I was letting my team down. I knew I would be one of the slowest on the team, but I was trying not to let it get into my head. I still had 2 loops to go. I couldn't be a debbie downer this early on. Thankfully my team was full of positive folks and they were texting me with positive quotes the entire time.
While the course map said this is a 5-mile loop, I had about 4.7 miles... which was fine by me!
Mile 1: 11:53
Mile 2: 17:06
Mile 3: 14:20
Mile 4: 15:01
Final 0.7: 8:16 (11:48 pace)
Phew! I was now done for a few hours. As I mentioned earlier, we were down a runner so we all had to chip in to figure out how to make up the extra legs. I offered to take the green leg of the missing runner 8.
While waiting for my second leg to start (which I knew would be in the middle of the night), I opted to crack open a Slumbrew Porter Square Porter. Yes I didn't wait until I was completely done. ;)
It was cool being able to sit around our campsite instead of having to cram into a van the entire time. You could lay out in the tent or sit in one of the camp chairs. We brought plenty of water and snacks for everyone.
I thought about trying to get sleep before my second leg, but I was having so much fun I couldn't.
My second leg would end up happening around 2am. So I wandered up the hill to the race area, while some of my teammates got some sleep. The race was showing Miracle On Ice against one of the trucks and also had a sweet campfire/s'mores station. It was cool to sit around with other runners from other teams.
So of course I had a pre-run S'more! Wouldn't you?
My second leg officially kicked off at 2:09am.
I was freaking out about running in the pitch black on a mountain, but I fastened my headlamp and turned my handlamp on and would give it the best I could. Luckily it was the easy loop so I didn't have to worry too much about tripping.
Let me tell you folks. That was one of the most peaceful runs I have ever had. It was only 2.9 miles, but it was awesome to look up and see the stars. There were barely any sounds. Okay there was one rustle in a bush behind me at one point, but I just yelled "I KNOW I AM ALONE" and pushed on. ;)
I really felt like I was running faster than the pace showed, but either way I was happy it was faster than the first leg.
I couldn't wait to run the green loop again on my next leg because I knew it would be light out and I could really see what I ran through. :)
Since I had time to kill before my next leg, it was finally time to steal a few hours of sleep. Once I got into the sleeping bag, I was out as soon as my head hit my pillow. Even though the folks in the tent next to us were super loud, I was so tired I passed right out. I got a rejuvenating 3 hours of sleep. It honestly felt like 8 hours.
Thankfully while I slept, my speedy teammates made up for my slower run times. They were CRUSHING it!
Ragnar seriously set up a great race/transition/start/finish area. There were games to play, competition to win cool prizes, etc. You could easily pass the time while waiting for your next left to start. Other teams had some seriously cool/funny team costumes. :)
My third leg (Green Loop #2) started at 8:53am.
Wicked excited to see what I had run in just 6 hours before. :P
For the green loop, you go uphill for the first half then enjoy the downhill to the Finish.
Okay trail running is a lot more fun when not worried about tripping over tree roots or climbing over big rocks. haha. So basically I need nice clear paths to be happy. ;) So I guess I can like baby trail running. Is that a thing?
It was pretty sweet to run along this.
The final 0.2 or so of each loop was on the same trail. It was nice to know when you hit a specific intersection you were on your way back to home base.
Mile 1: 13:28
Mile 2: 9:50
Final 0.82 mile: 8:55 (10:53 pace)
I was sad to see my 2 trips on the green loop to be over.
It was now time to mentally gear myself up for the final loop... THE RED!! Ahhhh.
When I returned to base camp, the team realized we were running too slow to finish the race before the cutoff! Oh hell no. We were not going to miss out on the medal. This is where we realized we should've started MUCH earlier on Friday. But nothing we could do about that now... just lesson learned.
So we had to meet with the Race Officials to find out what option the team had to finish on-time. The verdict was Shira and myself would run our normal final legs then the rest of the team would double up for the final 3 legs. Partner power to finish in the time allotted. Phew! We all felt relieved once we knew we wouldn't lose out on our medal.
Since the second green loop was me playing the "imaginary team member," my final leg started at 10:44 (less than 2 hours after my third leg).
Alright nerves were flying high, but I tried my best to turn the nerves into motivation and fuel for the final 7-mile leg.
The red loop featured three separate inclines before you hit the final decline.
I need to give the volunteers a special shoutout! They were extremely motivating. Most of the volunteers were friends of other teams. We couldn't find someone to be our volunteers so we paid for a volunteer instead.
In case anyone is wondering, I looked like the guy behind me right after taking this photo. For me the red loop featured a lot more fast walking/hiking compared to real running.
I was working on just moving forward and not stopping. There were a good number of people out on the red loop with me so it was nice to have people to chat with. I am sure I went slower in parts because I was talking to people, but I appreciated the human interaction and the company.
Let me tell you the start of the red loop was a lot more trying than the other 2 loops. Yes I know that is a DUH moment, but it was definitely more technical.
There was a runner who was having a tough time after hitting the stairs. It was warming up (yellow August in New England) so I offered him one of my GUs and some of my water. I also ran with him until he said he felt better. I know how hard it can be to push forward when you are feeling like crap so I really wanted to make sure he wasn't feeling alone.
You hit the top of the final incline just after Mile 4. So the run was literally downhill from here. And if I didn't already know I was running UP a mountain, I was reminded by this sign.
Yes I had to take a picture to remind myself how far UP I had come.
And now it was time to finally run fast. :P
As with all races, I was already starting to feel sad that it was coming to an end.
This loop featured HIGHs and LOWs. I honestly thought I would live on the first half of the loop with all of the elevation. But I just had to have one of many conversations with myself.
"You are stronger than you think!"
"You ran 40 miles 2 weeks ago... you can finish this 7 miles!"
"Prove the OLD YOU... WRONG!"
And just like that I had just one mile to go on this crazy journey.
As I approached the final intersection before the final 0.2-ish, I bumped into my friend Erica! How fun is it to see friends on a race course?!?! Especially when unexpected.
I even got to see one of my friends, Jason during the final leg. As I mentioned before he was doing the ultra and KICKING ASS! I was lucky to see him and try to give him a little boost of energy and postivity!
Mile 1: 12:18
Mile 2: 18:35
Mile 3: 16:36
Mile 4: 15:16
Mile 5: 9:56
Mile 6: 9:22
Mile 7: 11:32
Once I was done, I was ready to do it all over again. I know I know. In your head you are saying "Excuse me?" But it really was an awesome feeling to conquer something like this. Plus easier to say that once done with a beer in my hand. My KT Tape wasn't feeling as good as I was. :P You could see it was a little hot out.
It was time for our final 3 pairs to get it DONE!
I was wicked proud of their selfie skills. Made me proud! :)
With minutes to spare, our final runners crossed the Finish Line. Phew!
Couldn't be prouder of this team for pulling together and making sure we all got our legs done.
Pretty badass looking crew, right?
And how about this bling!
Once we got our Finish Line bling and photo, we headed back to the campsite to pick up all of our stuff and make the drive home.
Overall I had a great time pushing out of my comfort zone. Team Zoom Sauce was a great group that I was happy to get to know better over our 30+ hour adventure together. I definitely brought enough clothing, snacks, fuel and beer. Really glad I had the sleeping bag with a real pillow. While I only got about 3 hours of sleep, it was more comfortable than when I was in the van for Ragnar Road.
They have showers you could use, but I opted to just wait and shower at home. What was a couple more hours. Right? I mean I had some baby wipes to use a placeholder.
I don't think I would've done anything differently... besides just being a better trail runner. :P
Have you done a trail Ragnar? What was your favorite part of it?