Last weekend, I ran my second Ragnar Trail Relay! As before, it was on the trails out at McDowell Mountain Park.
I talk a lot about my first Ragnar Trail Relay—a lot of the posts on this site reference it in one way or another—but there’s a reason for that. It planted so many important seeds of my running present and future, it boggles my mind.
Here’s a brief list:
- I started trail running! I think about that and I can’t believe that I’ve only been trail running for a little over a year. Before I committed to being on the 2014 Type Two Fun Ragnar team, I knew almost nothing about trail running. I’d never done either a trail race or even a training run on trails. I signed up for my first trail race as a way to start learning about it. (And I learned I needed to train for it!)
- I started doing group runs out on the trails. I’d been invited to group runs a number of times before and had never been inclined to do them. Too intimidating, too much hassle. When I started training out on the trails, I didn’t want to go out by myself (especially during the summer, as it was at the time), so I sucked it up and found a group I could run with. It literally changed my life. Running with those guys and gals completely changed my mind about what I thought it would be possible for me to do, and I learned a lot from them. Still do.
- I started thinking about trying to put together an Ultra team for the next Ragnar Trail within hours of completing the first one. I felt like I could do more, and I wanted to. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was really my gateway moment into ultramarathon running.
- I made some great new friends with people I met for the first time out at Ragnar. The more I run trails, the more I discover that this kind of thing is common in trail running. It’s virtually nonexistent in road races.
- This one isn’t necessarily about my running future (is it?), but it made me want to blog. My post about Ragnar is the first one on this site and is the whole reason I started writing about running.
Aside from myself, Kristen was the first member of my Ultra team. She’s a kickass personal trainer who was a road Ragnar veteran (both the regular and ultra versions) and lots of other races besides. Last summer, she was my personal trainer for a while, and during our sessions we talked about our Ragnar experiences. She hadn’t known that there was a trail counterpart to the road Ragnar. When she found out about it, and that I was putting together an ultra team for it, she was in.
That was important for me, because it made the whole thing feel possible. I had already floated the idea around to a few runners I knew and wasn’t getting any takers. I was getting discouraged, and Kristen got the momentum going.
Francisco was one of my fellow veterans from the Ragnar squad last year. We had two full/regular teams; one (mine) was the “get through it and don’t die” team, and the other (Francisco’s) was the “fast” team comprised of the faster runners from the pool that had signed up. When I started recruiting for the Ultra team, I put the offer out to everyone on the teams last year first, and Francisco was interested. He was tentative at first, because he wasn’t sure what kind of speed he’d be able to promise covering that distance. Once I assured him that this was another “in it to finish it” endeavor rather than one with any kind of performance goals, he was in.
Jimmy was my last recruit. I had run down the list of every runner I knew who was in a place performance-wise to possibly be up for the team, and I was still one member short. I had to go to the event’s Facebook page and look through the posts from individual runners looking for a spot on a team. I was a little nervous about this one, because when you’re asking strangers you never know what you’re going to get, but it worked out great. I replied to a couple of people who’d been asking about joining Ultra teams, and Jimmy was the one who responded and got the spot. His goals were right in line with what we were shooting for, and he was a great fit.
The difference between a “regular” Ragnar Trail team and an “ultra” team is the number of runners. Where the regular team has eight members running a total of around 125 miles in a relay rotation, an ultra team has four members to cover the same distance. On a regular team, each person runs about 15.5 miles; ultra, each runs about 31.
We had two teams going out this year: one Ultra team that I was captain of, and one regular team that my friend Justin was managing. A big upside to doing an Ultra team and a regular team instead of the two regular teams we ran last year was that we still got the same two camp spaces, but had four fewer people taking up that space. More room for us on the tent floors turned out to be a big deal. (Seriously, last year with the two regular teams we were packed in there like sardines!)
Each team took care of getting themselves and their gear out there, so it was basically a big meet-up once we arrived. Start times are staggered so they don’t have everyone clogging up the trails at the same time right at the start, and the regular team started running before our team. Half the camp was set up already when we got there, so we set up the other tent and helped finish the rest.
As she did last year, Kris came out to volunteer for us again, even though Ultra teams don’t require them (regular teams do require having someone take a volunteer shift). She just enjoyed it that much last time! It also helped work out a transportation issue we had, because Kristen wasn’t able to come out in the morning with the rest of us. Kris was scheduled for an afternoon/evening volunteer shift, so Kristen came out with her then, arriving after the rest of our team had started running (remember that part—it’ll come up again later).
The Takeaway Memories
High & Dry: Francisco started, and we were out to cheer for him. I was holding up my phone to record it and he thought I was holding my hands up for a high-five. You can see me leave him hanging in the video. Sorry Francisco!
Ready to Go: Jimmy was real excited to get out on the trail. So excited that he didn’t wait for the timing belt handoff from Francisco when he finished his first leg. Francisco ran in, and Jimmy ran right out the other side! We tried to chase him down, but there was a big crowd around the tent (there’s always a crowd around the tent at Ragnar!) and we couldn’t get to him before he was way down the trail. Fortunately, it only took him a few minutes to realize he’d left without it, and he came back on his own power.
I Ain’t Got Time to Bleed: After Jimmy got that all sorted out and was on his way, he fell down and gashed his knee. It happened during his first lap, so he ran the rest of that and all of his second lap with blood running down his leg. Stud! They took care of him at the medical tent afterward. I was worried that his knee was going to stiffen up and make the rest of his legs miserable once he had time to sit down and cool off, but he kept telling us he was good to go and he was. He’s either tough or a good liar. Maybe both.
Also, he seems like he looked happier running with his wound than without it. Right?
Jimmy, Meet Kristen: When Jimmy got back from his first leg, Kristen was waiting in the tent for him for the timing belt handoff. The problem? Since Kristen had come out late, she and Jimmy hadn’t actually met before. She was in one part of the tent asking which runner he was, and he was in another part asking which runner she was!
What’s Wrong With You? I don’t have any good stories from my first leg. I just have this spectacular photo that Kris took of me on my way out, and I think it tells a story all its own.
There are no official race photos of me running. My first leg started at sunset (apparently after the photographer had packed up for the evening), my second leg was run entirely in the dark, and they were only taking post-race team photos as I was running my third leg. I’m a little bummed about that, because the pictures of the rest of the team turned out pretty good.
Old Pros: Once we got through the first rotation, everyone seemed to get into their Ragnar groove, and things went fairly smoothly from there. For a lot of the night, up until I ran my second leg, I went up with my team members for the handoffs just to give them some company while they waited and bring back any gear they might have brought up but not wanted to run in (like jackets and warm pants). I think they would have been fine on their own.
Wind Me Up: It was windy that night. All. Night. Long. We had two tents for everyone to sleep in, and I brought one of them. Somehow I ended up in the one I hadn’t brought, and (of course) that was the one that kept blowing in on itself and partially collapsing. All. Night. Long.
The tent I brought? It stayed up all night without incident.
Urp: I started my second leg around 2 AM. It was (still) windy, and it was cold, and running from 2:00 until 4:00-ish meant it only got colder as I went on. I don’t know if it was the weather, the layers of clothing I was wearing (and was still cold in), or just one of those running moments that happen sometimes, but as I went out on my second loop, I started feeling queasy. I dropped to a walk for a while, hoping that would help, and it didn’t. I decided to try some food, even though I wasn’t feeling like eating, either, but that did the trick.
It wasn’t until much, much later—during McDowell Mountain Frenzy when someone at one of the aid stations was talking about the stomach-settling properties of ginger—that I made the connection between my queasiness easing and the fact that I’d eaten a Gingersnap Honey Waffle Stinger.
Was it a coincidence? I don’t know, but I’ve carried one of them as a backup in every long run I’ve done since then.
Don’t Wait Until You’re Dead: Even though it was cold and windy that night, I sat out in it between my first and second legs (real roughly between 8 PM and 2 AM). “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” may make you sound tough, but if you’re doing a long relay race and you’ve got time to sleep, you should probably sleep. I tried to keep moving around to stay warm, added extra layers to what I was wearing, and huddled around the little camp heater we’d brought, but none of it really worked for me. Probably contributed to the nausea in my second leg, too. Even if I wouldn’t have been able to sleep, I would have been resting and been much warmer. When I came back from my second leg, I ate, cleaned myself up quickly, and went right to bed. I felt worlds better when I woke up a few hours later.
Last Legs: Choosing who was going to run in which position was pretty painless, because everyone was easygoing about it. The one request that came up a couple of times, though, was to not have run in position 4.
Because we were doing two loops each leg, running in position 4 meant that the last leg would have the yellow and red loops as their final run. In addition to having to run the hardest leg last, it would also mean doing it in the late morning/early afternoon after the day had plenty of time to warm up.
After deciding (as best I could) who would be better suited to run at what time, I took the number 4 slot. Knowing that I was going to be finishing with a long, hot leg, I ran everything up to that point pretty conservatively. It worked out really well. I was certainly tired and hot as I made my way through the courses, but I’d kept enough in the tank—and done so much of my training in the heat—to be ready for it. I finished strong, running it all the way in through the last miles when so many others were slowing down as the heat and miles took their toll. I cheered them on, joked with them, did whatever I could to try and let them know that we were all suffering together and that they could do it.
I got to the end and sprinted the last stretch to where the rest of my team was waiting for me. It felt great to see them and run in together. We collected our medals and got our group photo. It was less than ten minutes from my finish to getting our picture taken, but there’s nothing faked about my smile. I was happy with how we did, and I felt great about my run.
Special Thanks to the Real Captain
I was captain of our little Ultra team, but there were a lot of logistics I never had to worry about because of Justin. I think of myself as more of a sub-captain. Justin is the one who got this whole Ragnar thing started and still manages the lion’s share of its difficulties. Besides managing the more-numerous regular team, he also goes out the night before the event to reserve campsites, he hauls out a ton of his own gear for the rest of us to use, and he brings out food for dinner and breakfast for everyone.
You’re the bomb, dude! Seriously, thanks so much for everything.
Just about four weeks after the race, I got a call at work. Kris wanted to know what I had been ordering off the internet, because there was a package in the mail addressed to “Type 2 Fun Ultra” from some jeweler. It was heavy, and it clanked when she picked it up.
I had no idea what it could be, but since it was addressed to my Ragnar team’s name, I could only assume it was Ragnar-related. This is what was in the box (one for each team member):
Well, how about that? I got my first belt buckle.