We've all done it:
A friend messages you and asks, "Hey! Want to do the XYZ race together?!"
At the time, it sounds like a great idea.
"Sure," you reply. "This will be so much fun!"
As the weeks pass by and the race gets closer, you start to panic.
What did I get myself into?
Why did I think I had enough time to fit marathon training into my busy life?
Race day approaches, and your excitement ebbs and flows. One minute you're riding high on the anticipated ecstasy of the finish line. The next, you're convincing yourself you have a stress fracture and will (aw, shucks) have to quietly back out.
Whatever our path to the start line, we all (mostly) get there: huddled in the cold, waiting for the moment we can finally take off and prove to the world that we did, indeed, have what it takes to make it to the finish line. And yes, it was a lot of fun.
At the beginning of June, after the mayhem of the previous month, I had convinced myself that what I really needed was to sign up for a new race. Something crazy ridiculous, even. I had a blast training for and racing the Big Woods trail race last October, so it made sense (at the time) to try my hand at a Ragnar Relay Trail race.
For those unfamiliar with Ragnar Relay, it is an overnight race with a team of runners, traversing an insane amount of distance, relay style. The road relay near us starts in Winona, MN and ends in St. Paul, MN (200+ miles). The nearest trail relay was in northern Wisconsin, called Ragnar Relay Northwoods at a location called Nine Mile Forest (the name itself should have been an obvious sign of the difficulty to come, but I digress).
This race calls for a team of 8, so I quickly set to recruiting runners. Several of my co-workers had done this race last year, and I wanted them to join me again if they could. They all agreed and we recruited a few more TerraLoco fans on Facebook. By chance, team runTerraLoco ended up being an all-female team.
Once the team was set, I registered us for the race (can't back out now!) and reserved our glamping site (more to come on that later). With more than 2 months to get back into racing shape, I figured I'd have more than enough time to get ready for Ragnar.
Excitement turned to fear, fear turned to doubt, doubt turned back into to excitement. As August came to a close, I felt pretty confident in my ability to do the race - if not very fast. I was up to 7 miles on my long run (shooting for 9 before race day), I had been doing a lot of trail running & hills, and I planned to do a few two-a-day training runs in the weeks before the race. I'd be set.
As you all know, life doesn't always go according to plan. I'm not entirely sure what happened, but by Monday of race week, I hadn't gone for a long run in more than a week (topping out at 7 miles), I never did get those two-a-days in, and after looking at the elevation & course maps again, I realized I certainly hadn't been doing hard enough trail runs. By that point though, there was nothing to be done about it, so I focused on the anticipation & excitement that was building around our trip.
Since the race was 3.5 hours away and we had a lot of gear to bring, we split into two vehicles and left Rochester early Friday morning headed for Wassau, WI.
In the preceding days, the weather had turned cooler & some big thunderstorms had come through the area. Suddenly, it was fall. Our bags were overflowing with sweatshirts and hats and mittens and jackets, ready to brace ourselves against predicted 20mph winds & rain showers.
That long drive allowed us to get to know each other a bit better, and by the time we arrived at Nine Mile Forest around 11am, we were all chatting & laughing like old friends.
Ragnar Trail relays work a bit different than the road ones. Here, we camped in one
location and ran loops on the course, passing off to the next runner at the same location.
Logistically, it's much easier than the road relay which typically requires van rentals and lots of planning. Since we'd signed up for glamping, we literally rolled our gear right to our tents & got ready to run.
If you are considering a Ragnar Trail relay, I would highly recommend signing up for the glamping option. It comes at a steep price, but it's so worth it. Fancy toilets? Check. HUGE tent? Check. Extra perks & no headaches? Check.
Seriously, check this out! (Glampsite at sunset, plenty of room to spread out, and cots to keep us warm at night)
Now that you're familiar with what our living situation will be like for the next 30 hours, let's move on to the start line.
Our first runner, Beth, headed out on the green (3 mile) loop at 12:30 PM. In an effort to keep our transition times to a minimum, we'd estimate when each runner would finish her loop, then be back at the transition area at least 10 minutes earlier than that to make sure we didn't miss her return. Ragnar uses this slick chip-timing system, so when our teammate crossed a timing mat a quarter mile from the finish, our team name would pop up on a constantly updating screen, so we'd have a minute or two to make it into the transition tent & be ready to meet our teammate.
Having never participated in a Ragnar Relay before, I have to say, it was quite an experience. You know that finish line high? Where everyone around you is cheering & supporting their runner and you start to feel all mushy inside about how great runners are? Multiply that by 10 and put it on repeat for the next 24 hours.
I probably say this every time I do a race, but I'm always impressed by the camaraderie of running, the supportive nature of events like this, and seeing the wide variety of people who participate.
In particular, I loved watching our team support each other. As we made our way through everyone's first run, our entire team would hike back to the transition area,wait with the next runner, watch for our team name to pop up on the screen, then run over to the chute to cheer on our runners as they started and finished their loop. By the time our last runner started, it was 7PM and it was officially head-lamp time.
Before we'd even arrived at Nine Mile Forest, our team had already decided on the running order. I was runner #4, which meant I started with the green loop (3 miles), next was the red loop (7.8 miles), and I finished with the yellow loop (4.8 miles).
From green to red, each loop increased in difficulty: more hills & a more technical course. When we decided on runner order, I chose what I thought would make the most sense for me. My first run would be easy, just a warm-up really. Then, through the power of time & smart decisions, I could finish the red loop without much trouble, even though I was predicted to start this loop at 12:00 AM (yes, midnight). And finally, the yellow loop would take place in the bright sun of the next day and with the prospect of the finish line, I'd be able to suffer through those last 4.8 miles with a smile on my face.
Continue to Part 2 Now