Ragnar Trail Carolinas – part 1 – Rock Hill, SC (2016)

As soon as this race was announced, I knew I wanted to do it. I had never heard of the Anne Springs Close Greenway, but I looked it up and went to check out the trails in January. I knew that I wanted to do an ultra race this fall, but I originally was thinking I would head to San Diego for the Lake Hodges Trail Fest 50k since my friend Paul is the RD, but when I got into the Marine Corps Marathon through the lottery, those plans were put on hold for another year. I’m all about crazy running, but an ultra followed by a full on opposite sides of the country seemed a bit of a stretch for me right now! 

Given that October is a huge race month for most runners, I had a hard time securing my 3 teammates for this race, but with two weeks to go before the race, I convinced one of my soccer friends that she could run the distance since it would be broken up into segments and she wouldn’t have to run all 32 miles at one time. As we got to race week, it was clear that Hurricane Matthew was going to cause some trouble for us and it would just be a matter of when and how much. 

Since I live so close, I got to the venue when it opened for camping and picked out our team spot and put up our 10′ x 10′ canopy and my 2-person tent. I picked a spot that was close to the parking area and it soon got more and more crowded, so I was glad I got there early and was able to make a claim on a spot before we had to take our gear too far. Michelle and her boyfriend Ben were coming in from Raleigh, so they got there around 9:30 and Matt got there around the same time, so we were able to get most of our site set up before we all retired for the night. 

Friday morning I was back to the venue bright and early after dropping the dogs off at doggie daycare. I watched the mandatory safety video and checked our team in while Ben graciously volunteered at the HQ tent helping all the teams who were coming in for the race. Since I was the first runner for our team, I got my gear together and even though I had gotten there 3 hours before we started, it was 10:15 before I knew it and I was heading into the barn for our 10:30 start.

The race was on the small side, with only 124 registered teams, so the starting waves that went every half hour from 10:00 – 5:00 had 5-15 people in each. I had requested that our team start earlier since we were an ultra team and the majority of us didn’t have any ultra experience. My first leg was going to be two loops – Green and Yellow. The Green loop was one that I hadn’t spent much time looking at in my previous visits to the greenway. I knew it went around Lake Crandall, but that was about it. As it turns out, most of the Green loop was created specifically for this race, so it was freshly bulldozed. Brand new trail + rain = mud, mud and more mud! Being the second group of runners on the trail, it was clear that this loop was going to be a complete mess if the rain continued (spoiler: it did). A lot of this loop was built through red clay which lead to foot-deep mud holes. I was running with another woman who was one an all-female ultra team and we stuck together through most of the loop until we got around the one mile to go mark. I ended up passing two people in the last mile of the Green loop and as I made my way back through the transition tent, I grabbed a Yellow bracelet and headed out again. 

The Yellow and Red loops stay together for about a mile and the first section is through the middle of a field – it had been raining for about 4 hours by the time I got to this point and a stream had formed through the middle of the field that was over my ankles – at least my shoes were cleaner now! The Yellow loop was on a well established trails (mostly hiking / mountain biking), so this loop was very runnable. There were still sections that were standing puddles, but it was hard-packed ground, so you could still run through it and weren’t spending your time slipping and sliding through mud. Having been to this course many times, especially over the last few months as I’ve been training on the same trails we’d run during the race, it was very clear to me how much the water was impacting the area. These two pictures were taken a week apart, but I’m sure they could have been taken less than 24 hours apart since we didn’t start getting rain until Friday.

The Yellow loop introduces you to some of the fun bridges that are on the trails at the greenway – there are quite a few suspension bridges along with smaller, flat bridges. 

As the Red and Yellow loops come back together and then meet up again with the Green loop, there were some sections that had the thick mud, but definitely not like the Green loop had for the majority. After 8.6 miles and 1:48 on the trails, I handed off to Matt to start his loops. My next runs weren’t expected to be until early evening, so I headed off to grab lunch and take a nap. 

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