In part 1, I explained how I ended up doing this event & set the scene for the next 24 hours. In Part 2, I'll share more about my specific experience at Ragnar Trail Relay.
Just as my training hadn't gone according to plan, my actual performance in each of the legs did not go exactly as expected.
It was much colder than I think any of us had expected, but we comforted ourselves with the knowledge that it was WAY better than the 90 degree weather that had occurred last year at Ragnar Trail Northwoods.
As my first leg approached, I was getting nervous and was having a hard time deciding what to wear (despite my meticulously planned & labeled packing cubes designed to make this process easy). Luckily, the sun was starting to peek through the clouds & the light bursts of rain had stopped. Our second runner, Brianna, had finished her yellow loop slightly faster than expected, and our third runner, Tammy, finished her red loop much faster than any of us expected, so when I started my green loop at 3:38 pm, we were about thirty minutes ahead of schedule.
I honestly can't say I remember much about this loop, because the rest of the experience completely overshadowed this first, easy run. I do remember thinking that the first loop went exactly as expected: not too difficult, and a good warm-up for the remainder of the race. I finished in 40 minutes, just as expected. Starting out a little too fast on this first loop, I made a mental note to keep that in mind later. I passed my bib to the next runner, Joann, and high-fived my teammates.
One of the many perks of Ragnar Trail is that a Friday night meal was provided (though that didn't stop us from bringing an overwhelming amount of snacks & other food). Four of us redeemed our meal tickets and sat down for a dinner of pasta, roasted chicken, sauces, salad, buns, and cookies. My next run (the dreaded red loop) was scheduled for about 6 hours later, so I wanted to get in some calories and have time to digest before I had to get back out on the course. Despite the temptation to eat everything in site, I tried to limit my intake so as to not create any issues before or during my next loop.
Whether it was nerves, or the meal, or lack of sleep, by the time my midnight loop rolled around, my stomach was feeling a bit off. I had been debating with myself for the previous three hours over whether or not I wanted to run my midnight loop with someone else. One of our teammates, Jen, was training for an ultra run and wanted to get in 50 miles over the weekend, so she was joining anyone on our team who wanted a partner. I had already decided that I was going to run by myself until Beth got back from her red loop and said she was glad she had someone along.
At 11:49PM, I headed out on the red loop, deciding to tackle it solo. It was a chilly 38 degrees, but with little wind, and under the canopy of the forest trees, the thin long sleeve shirt & tights I had opted for were perfect. My stomach still didn't feel quite right, so I had packed some extra toilet paper in my Salomon pack... just in case. Both of the soft flasks in the front of my vest were filled, and I packed my windbreaker just in case. A pair of light gloves and a headband, along with a headlamp and a light that I clipped to the bib belt, and I was geared up for the longest two hours of my life.
I started slow, having learned my lesson with the previous loop, and planned to walk every hill. Knowing that 7.8 miles on a technical trail in the middle of the night was going to test my limits, I expected a slow run. What I did not expect was how seriously technical this course was. And in the middle of the night, it would have been very easy to twist an ankle or bust open a knee in a fall or trip. Miles away from the base camp, I wasn't going to risk a major injury, so I slowed down and simply enjoyed it.
By mile 5 I was pretty tired out by the hills and the walking around obstacles had slowed me down even more. I knew I was going to average a 15 minute mile by the time I got back to the finish, disappointing to say the least.
Despite the slow pace, I really did enjoy it. The temperature ended up being just right and I could see pretty well with my light set-up. Every once in a while, the canopy of trees would open up and I could see clear skies & a bright moon. Every time I heard a runner coming behind me, I would step to the side of the trail and let them pass. Most runners said thanks along with a few words of encouragement. I laughed out loud at the young man who passed me, barely getting out the words, "This f**cking sucks."
The last 1.5 miles was the worst. The trails opened up but they became extremely hilly, and, at the end of my reserves, I was starting to mutter the same words as the guy who had passed me earlier. With the addition of the water I had been sipping on throughout the red loop, my stomach wasn't getting any nearer to cooperating with my plan for this race. All of the ups and downs and rocks I'd almost twisted my ankles on were starting to have an effect. My left knee started protesting while my left ankle & shin got progressively more sore as I climbed those final hills. I finished my red loop in just under 2 hours, exhausted but proud of what I had done (and surprisingly, without falling).
By this time, our team had taken to trading off on napping, and most of the other teams were doing this as well. We all tried to get in a little sleep in between our legs, but it was minimal at best. I greeted Joann and Tammy at the transition and made my way back to our tent. By the time I got there, I was shivering. I needed to get into dry clothes & get warm as soon as possible. I took a few sips of root beer to settle my stomach, then made my way to the heated bathroom trailer to change.
If anyone reading this was waiting in line for the fancy glamping toilets at 2:30 am last week, I sincerely apologize for the amount of time I spent in there. Shivering, my body was practically uncontrollable as I tried to peel off my wet layers and get into the dry ones. I held on to the safety & comfort of that beautiful bathroom trailer for far too long. When I could no longer justify staying in the trailer (I couldn't wait forever to see if something was going to come out of either end!), I slowly made my way out and back to the tent. I deposited my gear, took another sip of root beer and decided that I was going to puke after all.
It's not pleasant, but it happens, right? At 3AM, the sound of someone ralphing outside of your tent isn't something you want to wake up to, so I slipped behind our tent and as far into the brush as I could make it, and puked my guts out.
I tried a second time to get into my sleeping bag before heading back out behind the tent for a second round of quiet vomiting. Finally I was able to settle into my sleeping bag, where I lay shivering and hovering between wake and sleep for the next three hours.
At 6AM, when the majority of the campers started to rise and the promise of the sun was just around the corner, my stomach was still not feeling great & I was sure I'd be able to complete my next loop that was slated to begin three hours. Jen agreed to run my loop if need be, and I settled back in to try to get warm and get some sleep before my next 5 miles.
When the sun had finally come up enough to warm up the area, I crawled out of my sleeping bag to test my ability to run my final leg. I decided to get some coffee, walk around a bit, eat a little something, and then decide.
Despite still not feeling the best at 9:30AM when it was time to run, I decided to give it a try. It wouldn't be pretty, but I didn't want to disappoint myself or my team by not even trying.
With the sun finally shining, and armed with compression socks and water in my pack, I set out for my final leg.
I'm not going to sugar coat it: it was AWFUL.
Normally, this would have been the kind of course that I would have loved. Lots of switch backs and twisty trails, fewer rocks and slightly clearer trails - the kind of trail I run by my house that you can really go all out on and feel like you're flying through the forest.
Lack of sleep, lack of food, the weird stomach thing I was still fighting, and 11 miles already on my legs meant that I had absolutely nothing left to give. I would run 100 yards and then have to stop to a crawl. My legs felt like jelly. My left knee and ankle still hurt. And I'll admit, my mind was the worst of all.
I thought I'd just be able to fight through those last 4.8 miles, and of course, in the end, I did finish, but it was an incredibly slow hour and twenty-five minutes. I must have looked like I was ready to give up, because every person that passed me said something encouraging and uplifting. It was enough to keep me going - I'm honestly not sure I would have been able to finish without those kind words from strangers.
With more than a mile to go, I was practically in tears, fighting for every step with both my body and mind. Every time I stopped to walk or rest, my mind would start to beg me to just quit already. I knew it was the lack of sleep that was making me feel this way. I fought back the tears and urge to simply walk off the course and focused on my teammates waiting for me at the finish.
Despite my disastrously slow finish, they would be there for me, cheering. And I knew they would tell me I did a great job, even though I hadn't, really. And once I got back to the finish, it was simply cheering & supporting the rest of my team until we finished our last loop. One foot in front of the other, painfully, for 4.8 miles.
A half mile from the finish, a runner passing me called out, "Let's climb this bitch!" as we tackled yet another hill. That put a smile on my face and I picked up the pace as I heard the cow bells and cheering from the transition area echoing through the woods.
Despite the lead in my legs, during the last quarter mile, I felt like a winner. Every space between trees was filled with a spectator or a runner who had already finished. Hands came out to high-five me and I finally once again felt that finish line rush.
As I handed off my bib to the next runner, I knew this was an experience I would never forget.