February is here!?!

I can’t believe we’re already into February! January was packed full of activity and I didn’t realize just how much until I completed my calendar for the 30-day Ragnar Training challenge. Ragnar provided a calendar and asked everyone in the challenge to submit a picture of their completed calendar for a sticker touting their accomplishment. I’ve been playing with a lot of digital pictures lately on another project and decided to fill out my calendar digitally as well.

I definitely had fun looking for pictures to differentiate the things I did in January, especially the tongue-in-cheek nature of the 50’s woman cleaning to highlight all of my January Cure work. I ended the month having completed 9 of the 20 January Cure assignments, so that will certainly roll over into February before I can completely check that off my list, but it’s going to get done! I’ve also really ramped up my training as I count down the days (77) until the Blue Ridge double marathon. I ended up running just over 136 miles in January which is 50 miles more than I ran in any month in 2016. I’m still feeling really good on my runs, though the early mornings are a little bit of a struggle.

My biggest time suck over the last week was completely re-building the Charlotte Women’s Soccer League website. We’ve used a few different platforms over the past few years and had moved to a system that allowed us to handle all of our registration, team building and basically all of the league management electronically which was great for me and the team captains, but the website user experience wasn’t very good, especially for anyone trying to access the site via a mobile device. So, last weekend I started building a new website based off of WordPress and as of the wee hours of Friday morning, the site went live and is so much more aesthetically pleasing and easier to navigate for all of our existing and prospective players. It was definitely a love-hate relationship building that site. It reminded why I got into playing with computers in the first place and also why I decided that a career in IT was not how I wanted to spend 8+ hours every day.

Today kicks off my first long run of February with 20 miles on the schedule. Here’s to another great month of getting outside and getting stronger!

Ragnar Trail Alafia part 3 – Lithia, FL (2016)

AKA the one with all the pictures

After my second leg, I took another nap for a few hours before it started to get pretty warm in the tent and I heard my other teammates up and about in camp, so I got up and we found out that our team would have to double-up on our loops so I would end up running with our captain’s 63-year-old uncle. He had never done a race like this and typically runs on the road, but he seemed to have a lot of fun running with us.

The Red loop was the longest loop coming in at 5.9 miles and we had heard from everyone that it was pretty tough with lots of steep up and down hills and that it felt like a roller coaster. I was really excited to run this loop and would love to try it on fresh legs at full speed at some point, but I was able to get a ton of pictures from the loop and it makes me wish I could have seen the others in the daylight as well!

 Jairo running next to the water early in the loop
 So much green in the water… I kept looking for alligators, but didn’t see any
 The super heavy Red loop totem! 
One of the many bridges on the Red loop
The bridges were pretty much my only complaint about this course – the slats were made for bikes, so they were just far enough apart that you had to make sure to step on them correctly so that you didn’t stick a toe down in between them. I noticed this a lot more on the Yellow loop, probably because it was my first loop and I was running it in the dark, but while the bridges were definitely stable enough to run across, I tended to walk or at least slow way down to make sure I wouldn’t take a tumble and hurt myself.
Here comes the monster hill!
Here’s the view from the top of the hill looking down across the switchbacks
Banked curves for the bikes, flatter trail for the runners
Looking back on the beautiful single track trail
So many hills on this course means you get previews of what is coming up next
Eventually the course opens up to more expansive views
After 5.9 miles, we joined the rest of our team and donned our holiday gear to cross under the arches as a team and get our medals. Team No Moe’ Hills was officially finished!

Ragnar Trail Alafia part 2 – Lithia, FL (2016)

Let’s rewind a few hours because I realized I forgot one of the best stories from my first night at Ragnar Alafia. When I was at the Ragnar Carolinas race getting ready to start my second set of legs, there was a contest where 12 people picked an egg and all but one of them was hard boiled – the “winner” was the one who smashed the raw egg on their head. So, when I heard the announcer  lining up participants, I went over to watch, but when he only had a couple people who wanted to participate, I jumped in. This time there were going to be two winners and each person picked their egg one at a time. When the woman beside me heard what the contest was, she tried to opt out, but the crowd cheered her on to stay in the game and she switched sides with me so that I would go first. I was probably about the 6th or 7th person in line and within the first few people there was a winner, but soon it was my turn and I got to choose my egg, so I picked one and promptly smashed it on my forehead to win a Nathan Neutron Fire 115-lumen headlamp!

After my egg smashing fun, I did manage to get about 4.5 hours of sleep before I got up around 4:00am and started to get ready for my second loop in the dark. I started around 5:20am on the Green loop. In a typical Ragnar race, the Green loop is shorter than all of the other loops and “easiest,” though on trails “easy” is a very relative term. For this race, all three loops were around that 5 mile mark and the Green loop was actually longer than the Yellow loop at 5.4 miles. This was a flatter course than the Yellow loop, so I was able to keep a better pace for most of the loop with the exception of parts of mile 4 where the trail turned into a beach!

The sand was extremely hard to run through, so I walked most of that section until I was able to get onto more solid ground, but luckily it wasn’t too long of a section. The Green loop had a lot more exposed areas, so I was glad I ran this in the dark as I’m sure this loop got hot in the sun. As I finished my loop the sun was starting to come up and I wish I knew what the loops looked like to find a good place to take a sunrise picture, but the sun coming up over the Village ended up being a pretty nice view too.

Next up will be the Red loop where I finally got to run in the daylight, so of course, I took a ton of pictures!

Miss part 1? Check it out here.

Ragnar Trail Alafia part 1 – Lithia, FL (2016)

 I was headed to Orlando for a work conference and knew I had to take advantage of being in the area to try out the first year of Ragnar Trail Alafia. I was a little worried about the weather considering that last year during our conference, it was in the 80’s during the day, but this time, there was more concern about being cold and rainy! There was some rain Thursday night and early Friday morning, but we missed the majority of it and had really great weather on Friday. My team started at 9:00 am and I was our last runner so that I would be able to make it on time for my legs since I wasn’t going to leave Orlando until at least noon and then had an hour and a half drive to the park. After stopping for some extra food for our team, I finally met my teammates around 2:00 pm on Friday afternoon. I only knew one person on the team (our captain) and many of the teammates were meeting each other for the first time at the event. At least one person had never run trails before and only three of us had done a Ragnar before and knew what to expect with the three loops, but everyone came into it excited and ready to try it out.

My original starting time was somewhere around 4:00 pm, but I ended up starting at 6:00 pm, so my first leg was on the Yellow loop in the dark. After Ragnar Carolinas, I decided that even though my headlamp was definitely bright enough to use on its own, I would take my knuckle light along too for some extra visibility. I didn’t make it too far onto the loop before I took a tumble. I’m still not sure what I tripped over, but considering how clumsy I am, I’m surprised that this was my first true trail fall – I’ve stumbled before, but never fully hit the ground. After I jumped back to my feet, I kept running. I passed a few people here and there and went past two women who were on the side of the trail around 2.5 miles into the 4.5 mile loop and didn’t make it too far away from them when I heard one of them say “I guess we’ll just turn around” so I stopped and asked them if they needed a light. They said they did, so I gave them my knuckle light and my team number and just told them to turn it into the staff working at the transition tent and I would get it from them later. I was happy to help fellow runners and glad that they wouldn’t have to turn around when they were halfway done already.

I promise it wasn’t nearly as scary as it looked

I felt good running the Yellow loop and it was a lot of fun, even if I couldn’t really see much of the scenery around me. There were a lot of people on the course (with over 300 teams, you’re never really alone) and I passed 9 people on my first loop, coming in just under 52 minutes before handing off to our captain to start the rotation over again.After I finished, I hit up one of the food trucks that was serving rice, beans and steak – there was also an option for chicken, but apparently that was in high demand as there were several people in front of me waiting for chicken when they announced that there was a steak option ready, so I jumped at that and it was delicious! I really like the food truck options at the Ragnar races. They’ve used them in several races I’ve done lately and it gives so many more options that I think it’s great for runners to be able to choose what they want without having to bring a bunch of food in addition to all their other gear.

After dinner, I hung out with some of the Ragnar staff and got to watch them brand one of the leather sheaths for the medals. It’s pretty impressive in the dark with the Ragnar logo glowing in the fire, though it was harder to figure out whether the logo actually transferred correctly.

This was a fun race to do to see all of the Ragnar staff I met over the year – since they all live in Salt Lake City, everyone wanted to come to Florida for the nice weather in December. Little did they know that it would be in the 40’s overnight! Since I knew it was going to be colder at night for this race, I had to show off my new outfit to keep me warm – a fleece cat onesie. It was pretty ridiculous, but it had pockets, “paws” to go over my hands and kept me warm, so I’m counting it as a win!

I knew my next leg wouldn’t be until at least 4:00 am, so I made myself stay up for awhile so that I wouldn’t wake up in the middle of the night and it seemed to work pretty well. Next up was the Green loop!

Ragnar Trail Carolinas – part 2 – Rock Hill, SC (2016)

Miss part 1? Check it out here.

As expected, it continued to rain off and on throughout the day on Friday, though the heaviest rain definitely happened during my first leg in the morning, with it easing off into a lighter steady rain for most of the afternoon. My second leg was the Red and Green loops, starting 7:30pm.

At some point in the evening, the Ragnar SWAT added a sign around trail conditions and apparently someone didn’t quite agree that the Green loop was “fun.” 

I had packed some extra snacks for this run since it was going to be longer than my first run and I made sure my headlamp had new batteries since we definitely weren’t going to be getting any extra light from the moon. I was still wearing my visor to keep the rain off my face and this created a bit of a blind spot for me close to my feet – I kept adjusting my headlamp so that I could see far enough in front of me to run, but then I would have a halo closer to my body that was completely dark. Add that to the blue lights I had on my back that kept making me think that someone was catching up to me on the trail and I was working on some mind games for most of the Red loop.

The good news is that the slower rain throughout the day meant that some of the standing puddles that had been created during my first leg were no longer there by the time I ran my second leg. The Red loop was 7.6 miles and I really felt the length of that leg. I struggled mentally – my legs felt okay, but my head wasn’t completely in it and I couldn’t decide if I was hungry or I should stop eating. Since I had run the trails for this loop so many times in training, I just kept trying to visualize where I was on the trails if I could actually see anything in the darkness. There is a big loop around Lake Haigler and the trail is so close to the lake that you can see to the other side, so you could see the runners who were ahead of you (though I didn’t quite realize that at the time) and then the runners coming behind you as you crossed to the other side of the lake.

You can’t see the other runners in this picture, but the lights from the village let you know you’re headed back to transition!

There were sections of the Red loop that were as muddy and slippery as the Green loop which forced me to walk, but there were definitely still runnable sections as well. Once I got to the one mile to go mark and I reconnected with the other two loops, I started to feel a little better and soon I was headed up to the transition area again. As I came into the barn, I handed off my Red bracelet, filled up my water and then headed out on the Green loop. 

It was kind of nice heading back out on the Green loop – I knew what to expect, I knew it would be muddy and I was able to figure out where I was based on what I remembered from when I had run it in the daylight. After running the Red loop, it felt like the Green loop just flew by and before I knew it, I was heading back up the hill to the transition barn again. 

I was really glad I opted for my Salomon Speedcross shoes for my second leg – the tread on these helped keep me upright through the Red & Green loops 
I stayed up for a little bit to eat more food, but I was so tired after this leg that I headed to bed fairly quickly. We were expecting Matt to come in around 12:30am and I was planning to head out again around 5:30am. We knew that we would all probably slow down through the night, but we still had plenty of time to get through all of our legs before the cutoff. I woke up around 2:00am and heard that Matt still hadn’t finished his legs, so I went to wait with Sharon and to make sure everything was okay with Matt. As I made it up to the transition barn, Matt had just crossed the quarter mile to go mark, so I waited with Sharon in the barn to check on Matt when he came in. He gave an update on the trails (not getting any easier) and Sharon was on her way. With my new expected start time around 6:30am, I headed back to sleep and ended up waking up around 4:30am and didn’t see any updates from my teammates on our tracking spreadsheet, so I asked the timers to check our last runner for me. I updated the spreadsheet and headed back to sleep for a couple more hours. 
I got back up around 6:30am and headed back to the transition barn, only to find that there was a hold on for the race. Shortly after Michelle came in, there was an announcement made that there was a 1-hour hold for the race while the RD checked out the trails. Unfortunately, after an hour, with an updated forecast of sustained winds greater than 20 mph and gusts over 40, Ragnar decided to cancel the race. There were trees that had fallen on the course and the increased winds were definitely a potential hazard for everyone on the course. 
It took our team a surprising amount of time to pack up our campsite, but we had to separate everything that everyone brought and un-stake all of the tents, tarps and canopy, so it was a lot of undoing before we were ready to take our final team picture and head home to get dry!

3 y’alls and a yinz made it through 16 legs and 84.3 miles in just under 21 hours

So, I haven’t officially done an ultra yet. For Ragnar, I’m counting this as an ultra since all of us ran 4 legs (instead of the standard 3), but I only ran 19.5 miles over 2 legs, so it didn’t quite hit the ultra mark from that aspect. When I finished my second leg, I was really doubting I would be able to run another, even longer, set of loops, but I actually got a lot of sleep between my legs and I was starting to feel pretty good again, so I know my legs would have been able to handle more mileage. Now I just need to work on my mental game! 

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. 

Volunteering at Ragnar Trail Cascades

Just two weeks after volunteering at Ragnar Trail Massachusetts, I headed to the other side of the country to help with the Ragnar Trail Cascades at Loup Loup Ski Bowl. I was really excited about this race because I’ve never been out to Washington, so this was a new state for me! Unfortunately, coming from the east coast, it meant a long travel day for me on Wednesday. I left Charlotte at 9:30am and after a 5 hour flight, I met the rest of the SWAT crew at the airport and after catching lunch in downtown Seattle, we settled in for our 4.5 hour drive to Twisp, WA on the other side of the Cascades. We stopped several times on our drive to take in the beautiful scenery. 

For this race, everyone was staying together in a huge house and since we had a kitchen at our disposal (two, actually), we had a team cook for the race and all of our meals were homemade. Gina did an amazing job cooking for over 20 people for breakfast, lunch and dinner! 

This was our house – it had so many funky rooms and even a built in hot tub off of the main entrance 

After dinner on Wednesday night, I went out with the loop managers and headed out on the Green loop since with my new role at this race, I wasn’t sure if I would get a chance to head out on the trails later. This course had a short Green loop (2.7 miles) and longer Yellow (6.9 miles) and Red (7.0 miles) loops. 

Thursday was my long day at this race since my new role was Gear Drop Manager – I was in charge of a group of volunteers who would make sure that teams could bring all of their stuff up close to the village, drop it off and then move their cars down to the official parking areas. I wasn’t sure what to expect with this role. Obviously I’ve seen gear drop at other races and have been through it as a participant, but it’s a lot different being the one who is in charge of making sure it all runs smoothly! Thursday morning and afternoon were spent putting out signage (lots of no parking!), marking lines for parking and gear drop and generally coming up with a game plan to make sure that we could fit cars from all 240 teams into the designated areas. 

It looks chaotic, but the volunteers I had at this race were awesome!

Thursday and Saturday most of my volunteers were board members from Loup Loup and I had volunteers from the teams fill in throughout the day on Friday and Saturday morning. It went extremely smoothly, with only a few people parking in the gear drop area and we were usually able to find them fairly quickly and get them into the correct parking areas. One of the biggest issues that teams ran into was that there was no cell phone reception at the venue unless you went up the ski slopes, so teams that didn’t coordinate where their campsites were or who didn’t know their teammates before they got to the race were having trouble figuring out where their teammates were camping, especially if they showed up after it got dark out.

This was Thursday afternoon – by Friday morning, there weren’t any empty spaces between tents and this was only one section of where teams could camp.

Thursday I worked until about 10:30pm and then Friday we were back at the venue by about 6:45am to get ready before the first teams started at 8:00am. Gear drop closed around 4:00pm on Friday, but since we had carpooled to the venue (and there wasn’t anything to do back at the house anyway), we stuck around until 8:00pm. Since we had extra time, I took that as an opportunity to actually get out on the trails and check it out in the daylight. From what the loop managers told me, I decided to head out on the Red loop just before sunset and it was the perfect time to run! While the views weren’t anything like what we saw coming through the Cascades, it was beautiful with lots of red, yellow and green and mountains in every direction.

Saturday morning I headed back to the venue around 8-ish and some teams were already in gear drop packing up their stuff. I was impressed that the teams that had come in early (before anyone was there to direct them) had lined up their cars exactly the same way they dropped off their gear and while it wasn’t nearly as crazy on Saturday morning as it was when teams were arriving on Thursday night, it was very steady through lunchtime and then we had fewer and fewer cars coming through. It was fun being in gear drop because I got to talk to a lot of teams and people would recognize me from being in the same spot for 3 days straight, so I got a lot more interaction with the runners than being a loop manager. As a loop manager, you’re running around most of the time or trying to fill in at other positions, so while you may see the same people, it’s not as noticeable as when you’re in the same spot. I even got to talk to a guy about the Grandfather Mountain Marathon – now that’s a small world!

As gear drop slowed down Saturday afternoon, I spent time picking up trash in the village and generally helping with clean-up. I was excited to finally get to be a part of the final team traditions at this race – when the final team is coming in from their last leg, all of the Ragnar staff, SWAT and sponsors come over to the finish line to cheer in the final team. It’s a great way to finish off a hard-earned race. As a participant, my team was one of the last ones to finish in Angel Fire last year, but we weren’t the last team, so I didn’t even know this happened.

Cascades SWAT celebrating another successful race!

Volunteering at Ragnar Trail Massachusetts

Read my first experience SWATing in Atlanta here.

At the end of August, I volunteered for my second Ragnar of the year and I took on the Red loop manager position again. Since the race was up in the woods of Massachusetts, I flew into Hartford and drove 1.5 hours north to Northfield Mountain. I got in earlier than most of the other SWAT crew, so I had my own car rental and picked up some extra supplies before heading to the venue to help with setup. 

After a catered dinner at the venue, the loop managers all headed out on their loops. All three loops stuck together for awhile before Green headed off and Yellow and Red continued to climb. There were major climbs on both Red and Yellow and it was definitely a tough night run, but there were also some good sections of downhill on the back-end of the leg, so you could pick up some speed if you wanted to.

Thursday was spent finishing village setup, making sure our loops had enough signs and putting out some extra motivational signs. Near the water stop on the Red loop, there was a short detour that runners could take to a scenic overlook of the reservoir. I put a sign at the top to let people know about the detour (though after all that climbing, an extra 300 feet isn’t on everyone’s to-do list). I’m glad I took a few minutes to check out the reservoir, but I’ll admit that I only made the detour once! 

This venue was different than Atlanta as our hotel was about 30 minutes away, so when we left the hotel Friday morning, most of us weren’t going back until Saturday night after dinner. This meant I had to pack all my running gear, extra layers for my late night transition tent duties and my sleeping bag and anything else I would need for the next two days. Despite the trails being dusty, they were beautiful.


We did have a little bit of excitement on Thursday – as the Yellow loop manager was running her course, she saw a bear in the woods, so the loop managers carried bear spray for the rest of the event and we were happy to report that we didn’t see any more bears for the remainder of the event! Friday night, the loop managers got together and got our lights ready to keep the runners on course throughout the night.
Saturday was a pretty easy morning as we supported the other SWAT and Ragnar staff with whatever they needed help with and I even caught a nap in the REI hammock village while it was quiet Saturday morning. Saturday is always the fun time because more people are hanging out in the village, Steve hosts a bunch of contests, including the partner squat challenge (these guys were the winners), and teams are excited to finish their race. It’s definitely a party vibe in the village on Saturday!
After the last runner starts on the course at 4:00, all the loop managers head out to clean up all the course signage. Even though this Red loop was longer than the Red loop I did in Atlanta, I was more prepared for the workload this time. It took me until around 8:00 or so to finish cleaning up my loop, but I had learned how to separate all the pieces of gear while I was hiking and we didn’t have as many signs on the course as Atlanta did, so it was easier this time around. I even felt pretty good after we finished, even though I had covered almost 66 miles over the course of the 5 days of volunteering.
As I was finishing up my loop Saturday night, I got a great view of the sunset over the mountains – a great way to finish up my time in Massachusetts!

Volunteering at Ragnar Trail Atlanta

I’ve been trying to figure out how to encapsulate all that I did as part of the SWAT (sweaty, wet and tired) team for the Ragnar Trail Atlanta. I found out about this volunteer option in talking with the Ragnar staff at last year’s Angel Fire race and figured it would be a fun way to give back to the sport. Since Atlanta is just a 4-hour drive from Charlotte, I just drove down to the Georgia International Horse Park. Most of the team was flying in, so the team met for dinner around 7:30, had training and then all of the loop managers, and anyone else who wanted to run, headed out around 10:30pm to check out the signage on the course. I was assigned the Red loop for the race which is 6.8 miles and crosses two major granite slabs. 

Part of our job on the night run was to identify anywhere that needed more signage. We only ran into one area where we weren’t sure where to go and had to consult both our physical maps and the Ragnar app before we figured out where to cross the road and head back into the woods on the other side. It took us about an hour and a half to finish the course, which I consider to be pretty good – we spent several minutes trying to figure out where we were on the course and I had to walk a lot of the uphills after the first couple of miles (running after eating a burger and fries may not have been the best idea).

Thursday morning had us starting out around 8:00am and getting the village set up for all of the participants who were going to start arriving at 4:00pm to set up their camp sites. There are so many little things that go into a race that you wouldn’t necessarily notice unless they weren’t there and I got to see all of the little details that combine together to make such an awesome race. I spent Thursday digging holes for the totem poles for each of the loops, putting up banners and black fencing along the start / finish chute and adding more signs to my Red loop. We worked for about 11 hours on Thursday and some of the crew had to continue working while we went to dinner as they were getting teams settled with gear drop off and parking.

Friday morning was even earlier, with everyone meeting in the village just after 7:00am. Since I had the third shift for sleeping (3:30am – 10:30am on Saturday), I packed an extra set of clothes and some warmer layers for overnight because I knew I probably wasn’t going to want to walk back to the hotel even though it was only across the road (maybe a quarter mile). 

Even though I had put out more signs on Thursday afternoon, there were still more needed on the Red loop and I had noticed a lot of trash along the beginning of the Red loop (it was right beside a main road), so I went out Friday morning to walk my loop again. The first runners started on the Green loop at 10:00, so I had a few hours before I would have anyone coming through that I could talk to about the Red loop. I helped out around the village and then hung out in the transition tent to talk to runners as they finished the Red loop. 

Welcome to the Red loop!

One person commented that the signs seemed to be spaced pretty far apart between miles 3.5 to 5, so when I went out at 3:00, I took some additional signs with me to fill in where needed. I also heard that some of the signs on the granite slabs were turning in the wind. I talked with the RD and we decided to cut the tops off of the cones that were holding the signs and just clip the signs directly to the cones. Armed with scissors and more clips to fix the signs as well as 275 lights, I set off at 3:00pm to put lights on all of the directional signs on my loop. 

It was slow going putting lights on each of the signs, but it was fun to see all of the runners on the course. I walked with some folks up the major hills and jumped out of the way as I heard fast runners coming up from behind me on the single track portions. When I got to the granite slabs, I had to stop and manipulate the cones and signs a lot more, so I ended up sitting down several times to get all my gear together and put the signs up correctly. I had at least 5 people ask to make sure I was okay as I was doing this and it really reminded me that trail runners are always willing to help another runner. I ended up having to radio back to the village to have someone bring me more lights because I ran out with just over a mile to go – in total, I put out over 350 lights on the Red loop! 

The rest of Friday night / early Saturday morning went by fairly quickly. At 9:30pm when the first shift of folks went off to sleep for awhile, I took over managing the transition tent and trained the volunteers who were working there. I’m always amazed at the people who volunteer at races because they’re there to support friends or family who are running the race – I had 2 people in the 12:00am – 3:00am shift who were there to support others and weren’t actually running themselves. Those people are awesome – they stayed up in the middle of the night so that their friends wouldn’t have to! As it got later, we had more and more teams come into the tent after finishing their leg and didn’t find anyone waiting for them to hand off to. As soon as I saw someone searching around for their teammate, I went over to help them figure out what to do. I know how frustrating it is to finish a tough leg in the middle of the night and not have your teammates there ready to go. I even had one ultra team take a break for a few hours so that everyone could get some sleep.

After catching a few hours of sleep myself, I headed back to the village to grab some breakfast and then spent most of Saturday hanging out in the village, watching Steve (the announcer) host all kinds of entertaining contests – back-to-back squats, planks (the winner held it for over 7 minutes), fruit-by-the-foot kissing contest (the winners had never met before the contest started) – and watching teams come into the finish line as their last runner finished. 

At 4:00pm, the loop managers were all allowed to start out on their loops one last time to clean up all of the signs on the course. Now, I knew that I had put out over 350 lights the day before, and that didn’t include any of the wrong way signs that were on the course, so I had a lot of work ahead of me. Since there were so many signs and it would be impossible to carry everything, there were several designated drop spots that I could drop all my gear. As I was going, I split up all the materials into separate pockets (luckily I was wearing my Gyspy Runner shorts with the huge pockets), had a bucket to hold the stakes and a backpack to hold the cones and other signs. This is an example of the second drop that I did – the other two were similar, though this one had the most cones. 

I had my radio with me and was keeping in touch with everyone back at the village and it became pretty clear that I wasn’t going to finish before it got dark out, so they sent someone to do the last mile after the road crossing and had someone else come out to meet me to do a third gear drop and partner up in the sections that were wide enough to drive on. I’m glad I packed my headlamp because once I got into the last section of single track, it was dark. Since I didn’t have too far to go on that section, I took a 5 gallon bucket and was able to pull the stakes much faster because I could just throw everything in the bucket and immediately move on. Even with the extra help, it was still almost 9:00pm by the time I got back to the village and everyone was waiting on us to head to dinner.

We had a great team dinner at Coaxum’s Low Country Cuisine and even though we didn’t know we were going to get live music with dinner, it ended up being a lot of fun with everyone signing along as we ate. It was a fun, but certainly exhausting 5 days at Ragnar Trail Atlanta. I was sore for an extra 2-3 days after getting back home, but I’m already trying to figure out what other races I can volunteer for!

Lessons learned

  • I can go to a Ragnar without having a lightning delay! My first two Ragnar races (West Virginia and New Mexico) both had significant delays due to lightning in the area, in addition to West Virginia having heavy rain and New Mexico having hail.
  • I need to work on my upper body strength! Hammering a ton of stakes into the ground works muscles that I don’t use on an everyday basis sitting behind a computer. 
  • Being on my feet all day for three straight days was harder on my body than any race I have ever done. Friday night I went out on the last mile of the Red loop just to see the signage in the dark on the granite slabs and actually did some running back into camp and that felt a lot better than I expected, probably because I was using my muscles differently.
  • The transition tent created its own wind tunnel which resulted in it being much colder than anywhere else in the village. I don’t know if it was just where this tent was set up or if it happens because of the shape of the tent setup, but it was significantly colder inside the tent.
  • I overpacked. I expected this, and since I was driving to this race, I figured it would be better to be over prepared than wish I had something once I got there. I took notes of everything that I used throughout the race so that next time I should have a better idea of how to reduce how much “stuff” I bring. I also know that I lucked out with the weather this time around, so there are some things I didn’t use that I may continue to pack if there’s any chance of rain for future races.
  • Posting lots of pictures to Instagram is a great way to connect with the runners and can get my pictures highlighted by Ragnar – I had 4 of my pictures chosen for the Ragnar blog recap of Atlanta. 
Next up?
I’ll be running the Pittsburgh Challenge this coming weekend – 5k on Saturday and half marathon on Sunday. I’m excited to be heading back to Pittsburgh to run. I’ve never done the 5k before, but the half marathon is one of my favorite races – I just love the views of the city!

Ragnar Trail Angel Fire – leg #3 – Angel Fire, NM (2015)

Check out part I and part II.

After finishing my second leg a little after 1:30am, I stuck around the village to talk with our third runner for a little bit before I headed back to the condo to get showered, some food and a much needed nap. One of the things I typically struggle with on these relay races is staying awake long enough after my second run to get enough food and water into my system before I crash. Last year at the Ragnar Key West race, I learned that lesson the hard way when I immediately fell asleep after my second leg and slept for a couple of hours before waking up feeling awful! I grabbed some snacks at the condo and eventually made my way to bed. I knew it was going to be at least 5-6 hours before my next run, so I set my alarm for 4 hours, turned all of my alerts off, stuck in my ear plugs and slept hard until around 7:00 or 7:30am. 

When I woke up, there was some talk among my teammates about our team having to double-up our legs because we were now behind the overall race cutoff. We still had 3 of each leg left to run, so there was some confusion about what that would mean for us. Initially we thought we could still double-up and then one person would just run by themselves, but it turned out that we would either have to triple-up or wait until we only had 6 legs left to double-up. We decided to just go ahead and double-up for our last set of legs which meant my last run on the Yellow loop would be by myself.

I had heard that the Yellow loop was actually harder than the Red loop, and after comparing the two, I think I agree.

At least with the Red loop you knew that after the first 3 miles of uphill, you got 3 miles of downhill. This one seemed to be never-ending uphill! You still end up getting to the same elevation, 9,050′ (per my Garmin), but after that, you have another hill to climb! 

I did like the Yellow loop though – it was long enough to get into a groove (even if that was walk a lot, run a little) but short enough not to feel like too much. The course also had a great totem pole welcoming you to a section of woods.

There was only one time when I wasn’t sure where the course went – we had been on a large dirt road and it kind of dead-ended into what looked like someone’s driveway. At first, I thought I was supposed to continue down the road, but then I saw the little yellow sign pointing me off-road through some high grass and onto a trail. 

The Yellow loop had some great views of the surrounding valleys and at one point, I could see some neon “grass” up ahead and I was very confused why we were so close to a golf course, until I realized that what I was looking at was actually a green water tower. That’s about the point that I realized that I could probably use some more sleep!

  • Mile 1 – 10:45
  • Mile 2 – 17:33
  • Mile 3 – 17:30
  • Mile 4 – 15:08
  • Last .42 – 9:40

My IT band and ankle were still hurting me on the last downhill section, but I knew I didn’t have to run any more after this leg, so I picked up the speed and came across the line flying!

Since I was the first runner for our team, all of the rest of our runners had to go before our team would finish. Starting with runner #3, we were allowed to double-up our runners so that runner #3 and runner #6 ran together on the Green loop, followed by runners #4 and #7 on the Yellow loop. It was during the Yellow loop where we had another lightning delay. Our runners were still on the course and since this was our next-to-last leg, we had a couple of options. No one was going to be allowed back on the course after 4:00pm, but if the lightning delay lifted before then, our final two runners could run together on the Red leg, but their time would not count for our overall team time. Instead, they were technically “skipped” and our team was finished when our runners on the Yellow loop came in. Soon enough, runners #3 and #6 came in and we got our official team photo and our medals.

Our last runners still wanted to run their last leg, so while we waited for the lightning ban to be lifted, we tore down our campsite, which had started to blow away during the last bought of wind and rain.

Once the runners were off, we all headed back to the house to get warm, change and then we headed back to the village to cheer our final runners in. While we were waiting, we realized that we were one of the last teams on the course and the village was virtually deserted with the exception of one other team and all of the Ragnar employees. Someone must have liked country, because the music was all country while we were waiting and I got to serenade my teammates to “Friends in Low Places” while wearing my new Avex trucker hat with a long-sleeve shirt over my shoulders. For some reason this was apparently very funny. It’s too bad no one got a picture of that! We did, however, get some pictures of people crossing the finish line who we missed earlier due to the weather – here’s Kayla (runner #3) coming in…

We officially finished the race in 29:09:06 and came in 55th place in the regular open mixed division. Coming into this race, I was the only one who had done a relay race before and several members hadn’t run trail races before they started training for this race, so I think it was a great experience for everyone. As always when people are tired, hungry and kept in close quarters for long periods of time, we all had our moments when we needed our space, but overall, I think the team responded to all of the challenges thrown our way and I’m pretty sure I’ve convinced them to try out more relay races!