Last weekend I participated in the inaugural Ragnar Trails Atlanta race at the Conyers Georgia Olympic Horse Park. While Ragnar road relay races have been hosted in various locations for years, the trail format is relatively new. Since I started running over two years ago, I have desired to participate in a Ragnar race. With my new found love for trail running, at the beginning of February I took the plunge and found a team. And thus I was headed to my first Ragnar this last Saturday… trail style.
What is a Ragnar Trail Relay Race
The format for the race is pretty simple, you and seven other runners form a eight person team. The relay race is ran on three different trails: easy (green), intermediate(yellow) and hard (red). Everyone on a team is supposed to run each trail but in a specified order based on the place you are assigned. I was runner number five so I got to run my legs in yellow, green and red order. The race starts on Friday and goes non stop til all runners have ran each running course the following day.
Unlike road Ragnar races there is no moving about. Instead you stay in a giant campground dubbed the village. Each team chooses a campsite. Some campsites were actually right on the edge of the trail and teams decorated these stretches. Besides the massive team camp area is the Ragnar administration area, or the hub. At this location is the transition tent, Solomon shoe try out area, Administration tent, fire pit , mess hall, stage and vendor areas. There was allot going on at the hub including live bands playing, smores roasting, solar phone charging, bikes set up to help loosen legs and of course the Ragnar store.
The most important area of course was the transition area. This tent marked the in and out point for runners. When a runner comes in they run to a marked color rug of the color they just completed,. These were set up in order of green, yellow and red. As they came through, the runner passed the team bib onto the next runner who also goes out on a colored rug marking the color they will be running. So green ran into yellow, yellow ran into red and red ran into green. All this kept the chaos down when runners got tired later in the race.
Setting Up Camp
I camp quite a bit and as because I lived locally I brought a good deal of camping gear. I got to the Horse Park a couple hours before dark on Sunday and found out that each team just chose a spot and setup camp where they wanted, as long as it did not interfere with race course. There were some solar powered lamps that lit a path to the Ragnar hub, but besides that campsites were where you wanted them. I chose a spot and setup what I could. I was excited and eager to meet my new teammates and to start my Ragnar experience. Not much was going on Thursday so it was basically just getting to know my teammates and relaxing. As the race progressed, our camp would be a main returning point for us to come back to relax and recharge for our next leg. Additionally, there was a hotel across from our camp area that we booked a room. We found this was a great resource for showering and having to not rely on the porta potties provided.
It Has Begun…
After a fun evening getting acquainted with my new running mates ( 5 girls and 2 guys besides myself) I awoke at eight on Friday morning and made pancakes and bacon for the group. I ended up eating them by myself as my team deiced to partake of the continental breakfast provided by the hotel. Their loss, my gain. We had some time to check in as our team was not slated for a start til 1PM. I was anxious, nervous and excited. I had raced on trails before, but now I was part of a team and over the next 24 hours I would be running three times for a total of fifteen miles…. on trails.
Eventually our time came and our first runner was off. I had six hours now to wait before it was my turn to run my first leg. I chilled for a bit and as each runner came in our team went out to cheer them in. Most of the day was relaxing and chilling out at camp, or wandering the Ragnar store and vendor tents. Several of my teammates decided to take some Solomon shoes for a test drive on the trails. I though kept anticipating my first leg.
Finally the third runner came in and it was my turn to get prepared for the fourth runners return and the start of my Ragnar. I put on my running clothes, ate some food and just tried to relax. At five pm I finally was on my way down the yellow trail. I fumbled with my gear and found myself a bit disoriented. After a mile or so I finally calmed down and found my groove. The rest of the run was enjoyable and as I entered the gate I found to my horror my runner was not there. After a minute or two he showed up took the belt and was off. I ran my first leg, now it was time for some recovery and food.
Of course the adrenaline was flowing strong and I knew I would not be able to sleep or nap before my next leg at two in the morning. So I ate the provided pasta dinner, hung out more with my team mates and cooked S mores and hung out at the bon fire. At ten thirty they were showing the movie Unbreakable: The Western States 100 documenting the 2010 Western States 100 endurance race (Highly recommend this movie, awesome). There was so much gong on that the time to the next leg basically flew by.
Twenty Hours Down
At two AM Saturday morning I was ready for my next leg, but there was no sign of our runner. Our group had been falling behind and it looked like we would be further behind. A little after three my runner came in and passed me the bib. I turned on my tracking and music apps and pushed off into the dark. I turned on my headlamp and was on my way down the trail on my second leg. I have ran a good deal in the dark on trails lately and really enjoy night running. I just wish I could have had a longer night leg . After an hour I was done and passing the bib onto my replacement. By this point it was just after four in the morning and I had been up for twenty hours and I had ran about nine miles over two runs and I had walked continuously all day, I was beat and ready for some sleep, I still had another leg to run about six to seven hours later. After a shower, at five in the morning I made it to my sleeping bag and passed out.
Three hours later I woke up. I planned to sleep longer but something was wrong. As I got out of my tent I found out that one of our runners was injured and another was unable to finish her last leg. Additionally we had gotten so far behind that we were seriously in danger of not finishing. We were informed that we would be allowed to double up our last three legs so two people would finish one trail. The team decided further to rearrange the runners to fit strengths and weaknesses. I was the slowest runner and they asked if I would run the green again instead of the read trail. I was immediately against it, I wanted to experience the difficult trail, I wanted to run the longest and hardest trail. I put away my desires and agreed with the team decision. Then the other shoe dropped, instead of having a few more hours to wake up and get some food, I would need to be ready to run within an hour to an hour and a half.
I grabbed a protein bar and an almond milk and started to walk around to wake up my mind and muscles. An hour later I was good to go. I found I would be running with the runner just finishing the red trail. As we took off together we agreed to run my pace. I usually hate running with people because of my slowness. But this situation proved different. We ran and walked and chatted and before I knew it my last Ragnar run was done, and I did it with a 15:10 minute per mile average pace, my fastest trail pace ever.
A couple hours later our final two runners came into view of the finish line. We all rushed out to run into the transition tent together and finish our race as a team. This ending was an amazing way to finish the two day adventure we had shared and we all received our ragnar finisher medals. We celebrated the finish as a team.
Eventually we packed up our camp and I headed home. I was eager for my bed and I wanted to see my wife. With only three hours sleep I had ran nearly thirteen trail miles and walked countless miles. For two days I existed on adrenaline and the thrill of the relay race and now it was over. I fetl ok for driving home and decided it was time to go home. Half way there I suddenly was hit with a raw fatigue. Instead of going home, I went to my mother in-laws for dinner (she lives behind my house). After eating and catching up with my wife I walked into the living room, sat down and crashed.
The next morning I awoke in my bed, hazy about how I got there. I still felt a bit fatigued but memories of my Ragnar experience put a grin on my face. I still wish I could have ran the red course and maybe I should have pushed out to run afterwards. The entire experience was amazing and truly one of the best experiences of my short running/athletic career. I guess I will have to start to plan for Ragnar Tennessee next so I can get the double medal and experience a road Ragnar… time to find a team. Til next time.