Race Recap: Ragnar Trail Kentuckiana April 7-8, 2017

Ragnar Trail is always tons of fun, but it's hard to describe it to someone that's never done it. It's a relay so you have a team of 8 people, put together by a captain. It's village based, so each run is a loop and starts and ends at the same place. Each team member runs each of the three trails once, for a total of 24 separate legs for the team. They are labeled the colors of a stoplight (green for easy, yellow for intermediate, and red for hard/challenging). When each runner finishes a loop, they take off the bib and hand it to the next runner, who runs the next loop. They are run in order of green, yellow, red and you assign your runners prior to arriving onsite.(Below photo shows an example of that.)

Leg scheduling
This year's event was great fun to plan. At first I was just coordinating a team like last year, but then not everyone was available and soon I found myself being part of coordinating 7 teams, plus an 8th team set up by another friend. We registered a pool of people and then assigned them to teams based on gender, pace, experience, and running desires (i.e., we couldn't put 8 people who were scared of long runs in the dark all on the same team!). What a huge undertaking this turned out to be. We held captain's meetings, coordinated food, gear, timing, and even set up group runs to practice on the trails, especially in the dark. It was great fun to see it all come together when I arrived on Thursday night, April 6th. Ragnar and Moms Run This Town had partnered together and we received premium camping location and an area that was cordoned off for all 8 teams to be together. We set up a little central village where people that brought group food and drinks and gear could keep it centrally located. As always, there was way more than we needed. Some teams did not partake in the central village but that was OK. There was still a lot of opportunity for socialization with everyone, between the running and napping!

Our team was called "PB4UGO" and as we went into race day, we were missing the runner who was the inspiration for our team name. At our first Ragnar Info Meeting, Stacey drank a lot of water and then drove home without using the restroom first...and got pulled over for driving erratically. This led to quite some hilarious fun in our facebook group and we ended up creating a logo that looked like a license plate! (Seen in below photos)

Our team received a start time of 1:30 p.m. on Friday. I predicted that we would finish at 3:26 p.m. Saturday, based on each person's individual pace on trails (and accounting for slowing down in the dark and from fatigue). I arrived Thursday night so I could help set up the large campsite and also have a chance to relax the night before the race. There was a small group that night, and we hung out in the very cold weather having a few drinks and lots of laughs. It was in the high 30s. This was a preview of what was to come - a cold relay with perfect temps for running but not so perfect for the waiting around parts.

Amber & I had fun getting to know each other and the other early arrivals on Thursday night. As you can see, it was cold! (In the 30s)
Our campsite before it filled out with even more tents when everyone arrived on Friday!
We spent a lot of time here at the Transition Area, waiting for each runner to come in and sending each runner off! My husband Mike also volunteered here for 3 hours Friday night.

People from several of our teams hanging out Friday morning.
Chatting and laughing while sending off our first runner on her first leg.

I enjoyed running each of my legs. I started with green (3.8ish miles) and it was beautiful just like I remembered, and the rolling hills didn't get me like last year. I ran strong but I left plenty of energy in the tank (10:20 minute mile average pace). After my first leg, I changed into my next outfit for running so I wouldn't get cold, and then I layered up for the waiting period. Hung out at the fire, ate the dinner provided by Ragnar, flitted between all the people we had, snacked a bit, tried to nap (but had taken a decongestant for my allergies, and we were too close to the porta potties and their slamming doors!). Time went by quickly and our team was running ahead of our predictions -- which was by design for the first 1/3rd of the race. Then it was time for me to keep an eye on the computer screens to see when Teresa (runner 3) would be coming in so I could run my second leg. I was doing red which was about 7 miles. It was around midnight or so, so I brought my hydration vest with me and my headlamp (required by Ragnar, but also necessary for running safely in the dark). I lent my knuckle lights to another runner who had a hard time with the bouncing headlamp on her first run. I didn't really need them anyway since my headlamp is plenty bright when I'm running alone. 

Fun Fact: when running trails in the dark with a group, the person behind you can really darken your view, because their headlamp creates your shadow and causes your field of vision to be smaller. To prevent this, always spread apart enough that your light is only lighting up the trail for you, and not impairing another's vision. 

Me running down the finish chute after my first leg (green, 3.7 miles)

Hanging out between runs
Ready for the dusk running Friday evening.

Jenn, looking happy before the night run.
Allison waiting with Amy and me before our night runs (my first of two). Around midnight Friday night.
I knew I would be running Stacey's red leg at around 4am, since Stacey wasn't able to come to the race. So I went out on my red leg with a strategy to be able to run it at the same pace both times. I knew this meant I would need to hold myself back the first time, since I would be much more tired the second time and it would still be dark. I probably would not have time to get any sleep between the two legs, so that was definitely a factor in how I approached the first red leg. It was a fantastic run. The moon was bright, what I could see was beautiful, and I didn't get too "in my head" about the things that can go wrong in the dark. A few people passed me and I passed some people as well. It was quiet - and when I got to the gravel road which meant a big hill was soon, I turned off my headlamp and ran to the light of the moon. Whoa, awesome. But then someone was behind me and I thought it might look like I was crazy, running in the dark...So I turned my headlamp back on and took off up that awesome hill. 

Fun Fact: trail runners often don't run up the steep hills; we power hike them. Sometimes that's faster than running, and it conserves important energy for later in the race. It also helps develop strength in the hips, calves, glutes, hamstrings. You can make up some time lost going up by working on your downhill game. That requires fancy footwork, confidence, and strong quads and knees. This is where strength training can be beneficial. 

I felt good during the whole red leg. I could tell that I was way stronger than last year, and I was sure I could replicate that same pace again in less than a few hours. My pace was 12:11 minute miles and I ran the leg in 1:24. I went back to the campsite and changed my top layers but not my fleece lined running pants or my wool socks (even though they were wet from a stream crossing - I forgot they were even wet). I then got into my sleeping bag for about 40 minutes, couldn't sleep or get warm enough, so I finished getting ready for my next red leg and went to stand by the bonfire. I love the bonfire talk. I also dried my gloves out there, and refilled my water bottles. I didn't eat anything, which was a mistake. I was feeling very hungry. 
At around 4am, I ran Stacey's red leg. I could tell I was fatigued. My legs were stiff the first mile and I was working harder than the first time. I also forgot to let my watch get the GPS signal before I started, so my watch was using my cadence to estimate my pace, and it said I was running 11-11:30 minute miles, which I thought was generous for how I felt. The mileage was also off. So I had to run by feel.

Fun Fact: Learning to run by feel can be very useful. Jeanette would often ask me "without looking at your watch, how fast do you think we are going right now?" and I would guess, and then I would have usually guessed a pace slower than we were running. So I started to play that game on runs when she wasn't there to ask me, so I could learn how each pace felt. 

I ran pretty hard that second red leg, and by the end, my mileage was almost a mile off, but I could tell that I was pretty close to the total time (but I hadn't looked at my total time after the first red leg, and math was failing me in that tired state). I started to run harder because I really wanted to beat my previous red leg time. I felt good. I knew I still had to run the yellow leg but could probably sleep for an hour first. The yellow leg was the hardest - the most technical and had a very steep long climb near the end. So I did need to leave some energy in the tank. I also didn't know if anyone would get injured and need me to pick up an extra leg toward the end, so I needed to be ready for that too. I was elated when I finished the second red leg. I felt accomplished having run 14 miles on trails in the dark on no sleep. I finished in 1:26. Not faster than my first time, but really close! This was good training for my 50-miler in the fall. 
Sea of tents in the campground

I quickly changed, ate something, and saw that my tent was full so I found an empty tent and got into a sleeping bag and tried to rest. My mind and body were buzzing. It was around 6am. The porta potty doors were slamming. I started to count the slams. People were waking up for the day and the sun was rising. I tried to plug my ears. I drifted off to a light sleep for a little while, a few times. Then I was woken for my last leg. 

Packing up hilarity with Allison, Jenn, Thomas, and Lisa
Things got pretty serious for Jenn toward the end. Mary Rose is sitting and icing her knee after her last leg. 
What a beautiful morning! Still cold, but I knew it was going to warm up significantly during the day. I was pretty tired and dazed. Drank a cup of delicious coffee. Asked my husband to make some eggs and bacon for our team. Then I headed up to the village to wait for Teresa to come in. I was so impressed that she was still running on her knee that was hurting so much. I was also worried about Mary Rose's knee but she was sleeping so I couldn't ask her how she was doing. I took off two long sleeve shirts and was just in a base layer long sleeve shirt and I was cold. I thought I might regret wearing so little. Starting the yellow leg, I could tell I was exhausted. Everything was slow and stiff, and I didn't know whether I would get into the groove on this run or not. I was cold. I picked up the pace to warm up. There were lots of rocks and roots and I reminded myself to pick up my feet even though I was tired. About a mile in, I started passing people. I started to get warm. I wished I was in a short sleeve tshirt. I was running about an 11:15 minute mile. I knew there was a nasty hill at the end and that it was exposed to the sun. A fast runner passed me and he asked if I had passed the man who had fallen and injured his ankle about a mile back. I hadn't. He said he would report it at the village and kept going. He charged that hill, kept running. I was in awe. I power hiked the steepest part and then I decided to see what I was made up. I started running up that hill. I passed a woman and cheered her on. I power hiked another steep section, passed another woman and cheered her on. I then took all of my reserve energy, put a big smile on my face, and ran up the rest of that horrible, hard hill. I felt awesome. I just ran up a hill like an elite runner would. It was fun. Again, I could tell that I was way stronger than last year. 

Knee pain (Mary Rose) remedy after finishing.
There's joy in knowing that you're getting better - that hard work is paying off. I got to the finish chute and heard my name and cheering and I was so happy to be done! It was fun to have my husband there too, and he was clearly having a really good time. Then I got to cheer on the rest of my team as they finished, and it got pretty warm out! We started to take down the campsite, and other teams that finished earlier were ready to leave (some of them doubled up on loops instead of running each leg one at a time, to move up their finish time).

Finishing my last leg
Our team waited at the finish chute for Amber. She was running the yellow and red loops back to back (11-12 miles when put together), and it was pretty hot out at that point. I was rethinking the whole "long sleeve hoodies" for team shirts at that point. I held Amber's shirt and reflected on how fun the race had been. And there she was! I handed her shirt over and we put them on and met the rest of the team to run in together! We finished at 3:29 p.m. - just 3 minutes different than the predicted finish time (my fellow math nerds will appreciate this like I do).

Team PB4UGO finishers photo
Feet + Medals
Finisher photo for PB4UGO in a more appropriate setting - the porta potties!
What a fun time! Can't wait to do it again next year....or maybe a different one sooner!


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