Sunrise to moonrise and back again: Racing Ragnar Trail Tahoe with Team @TheGearJunkie

It’s 2AM and it is taking all the concentration I have to keep my eyes open. I’m on my fourth of six laps in total, my second time on the trails. 19 miles down, 15 to go. I have to convince myself to stay alert, to look for rocks, to pick my feet up. Keep moving. Down the fire road. The faster you get down this mountain, the sooner you can sleep. But really, I could sleep right now. I could curl up alongside the trail and just. Sleep. The descent becomes more dizzying, my eyes continue to accrue mass, my mind is heavy and a blur. It seemed like hours by the time I made it back to transition; my watch battery had died and I was out of water. With my teammate’s worry replaced by relief, I crawled into my sleeping bag for a few hours of shuteye before my last laps.

This weekend, I raced the Ragnar Trail Relay in Tahoe as an honorary Gear Junkie team member on their ultra team. I won a sweepstakes in May for an all-expenses-paid trip to Reno and registration to the Ragnar Relay, as well as a plethora of amazing running gear, thanks to Gear Junkie, Salomon Running, and Suunto.

Pew pew! This way to the awesomest team at Ragnar Trail Tahoe.

My teammates included, in pseudo-reverse running order, Mr. The Gear Junkie himself, Stephen:

Team captain, Stephen, prepping for his first two laps.

Firepants McCoy, AKA Sean:

Dude is fast.

 And of course, Chris, who also won the contest:

Fooled you. This isn’t Chris (it’s Salomon runner, Theodorakakos Dimitrios). Photo by Salomon Running

LOL. Fooled you again. This isn’t Chris either, it’s Salomon runner, Kilian Jornet. Photo by droz-photo/Salomon Running

This is Chris. For real. Photo by Sean McCoy/Gear Junkie

and of course, myself:

Cruising the singletrack like a boss. Photo by Ragnar Trail Relay

I wasn’t the only girl in our Gear Junkie camp, though. Amy came along as logistics coordinator/beer-and-cheese-balls wrangler, which was an invaluable service when you have an entire team made of native Midwesterners. She even jumped in as pacer for a lap, although who wouldn’t when the loop started with a ride up a chair lift?

Amy and Sean doing actual work, particularly on the cheese balls.

We convened on Reno on Thursday night, with Sean and Stephen on the same flight as me out of Phoenix, and Chris meeting us in the smallest big city after a could-have-been-better flight out of Milwaukee/PHX. After harnessing the power of the Awful Awful burger and contemplating a climb up the side of a building (which was actually encouraged), we swung by Walmart for some essentials (coffee, beer, and cheese balls, obvi) and then… finally… rolled onward to the Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort. Setting up camp at midnight made us feel a little like assholes, until another party arrived around 3am to do the same thing, only with inflatable air mattresses. Approximately three hours of sleep later, it was up and at ’em for an action packed day of hydrating, eating yellow #5, and enjoying the entertainment of enthusiastic athletes in costumes.

Setting up camp, with a view that wasn’t half bad.

Our start time was 2:30pm, and Chris was reeling to go. We got the low-down from Ragnar Trail Blazer, Steven, as usual:

This dude is legit. He MC’s for hours on end, while us weenie athletes sleep between our laps in our tents and stuff our faces with s’mores and Nuun.

Ready…. SET… Ahooooo!!! There’s Chris on the edge of the shot.

The three loops, Green-Yellow-Red, were done in order over and over (G-Y-R-G-Y-R… etc) until everyone runs each lap once, or twice in our case since we were an ultra team. That meant that Chris’s first leg, totaling two laps, was Green-Yellow, with Green being 2.6mi up the bunny hill and back down a steep sandy grade, and Yellow being a 6.7mi grueling fire-road climb with a fast descent down a fantastic singletrack. All trails converged with 0.5mi remaining, which was a steep and tough climb, and Green/Yellow converge with about a mile left. So, there was some overlap between loops, but each loop was distinct in its own way.

Leg 1: 4:30-6PM:

I started my first run of the weekend’s race in the Salomon Sense Mantras on the red loop, which meant I got to ride the chair lift to the top of the mountain (at 9,000ft) and run down. Or at least, I thought I’d get to run down. There was a fantastic jaunt across the top of the mountain for about two miles before the descent began, and when it did, it was on fast fire road for a solid 4 miles. I was hauling. The miles ticked off quickly at 6:30min/mile pace, and I was sure that I’d put us in a good position heading into the night laps. But then the descent ended, and I found myself climbing up singletrack, with sun blazing and legs and lungs burning. It all balanced out, and I got back through transition and onward to the Green lap. I didn’t know quite what I was getting into, so I took the climb up the bunny hill conservatively. It reminded me a lot of running up Ripley, with the sun beating down, the exposure and sand and lungs burning. When the trail split between Yellow and Green, I followed the Green downhill, and fast. I was unsure how the Salomon Sense Mantra would handle the sandy and steep terrain, but damn if I didn’t run in these shoes much before the race.  I felt like I was flying down the side of a cliff face like a mountain goat. I was connected to the earth, but didn’t roll my ankle or feel sluggish. I felt fast.

I cruised into the last mile’s arduous false flat into the finisher’s climb, turned the corner and let loose down the hill, handing off the race belt to Sean as he cruised through the longest two laps (Y-R). I knew that I still had a lot of miles to get through, but I was happy to find myself feeling ok with the altitude. My next lap wouldn’t be for several hours, so I got some food, shade, and water and relaxed until the time came.

Leg 2: Midnight – 3AM:

I threw on a pair of Cascadias and and rolled out of transition a little after midnight. In hindsight, I should have napped, or at least scored some caffeine an hour or so before my night run started. The first loop of my second leg was Yellow, followed by Red; Yellow was faster than I expected, given that the first half is an incredible climb up fire road that included switchbacks but was mostly just straight up the side of the freakin’ mountain. I think it helped to do this lap first at night, as opposed to during the day when you could see exactly where you were going; I knew I was climbing but I didn’t know just how steep it was, or how much longer I’d have to go. Eventually I turned onto singletrack and got a little unnerved by cracking branches in the woods; some other runner probably tripped or stumbled, but I took it as some other bear or cougar is out to eat my face. The adrenaline went through me a little too early, and I cruised through the lap on time. It wasn’t until I got to the chair lift for the second time on the Red loop that I realized just how euphoric this experience truly was. I stopped running, wrapped up in the blanket, and sat on the chair, lifting me up up up the side of the mountain. I turned off my headlamp, and the moonlight reflected off the boulders below me. I ate a Snickers and put my feet up, in awe of the stars and the moon, and then the tiredness hit me.

As I got off the lift, I highfived the lifty and flicked my headlamp back on. I careened around the top of the mountain, but by the time I got to the descent, I knew something was off. The Snickers didn’t do it for me, and I started fading fast. It took all the concentration I could muster to keep my eyes open, to stay alert. I passed a few runners and could barely get out a gruntly “great job.” My feet hit the ground so heavily, and my ankle turned a few times. I was ready to be done, but the descent just kept going. I didn’t remember it being so long the first time. Eventually, I made it onto the singletrack, where my GPS watch battery died, but knew that I just needed to get back to the road; the road meant there was less than a half mile to go.

Arriving back at camp, I handed off to Sean and forced myself to grab a banana and almond butter. I ate it while crawling into my sleeping bag, and was asleep before my head hit the sweatshirt pillow.

Leg 3: 10:30AM- 12:30PM

I was up and moving by 6AM, but felt like I had slept for days. I grabbed a coffee, threw on a loaner pair of Salomon shoes from Josh and the Salomon gang (I tried the Fellcross 2), and gathered myself for a hot, late morning run, and waited. Other teams had started doubling, and tripling, up their laps; if there were more than two runners left that had Green loops to run, they were to run together in order to complete the race by 6PM. As an ultra team, this was not that feasible, but we weren’t too concerned about finishing on time- the projections still had us finishing at or around 4PM.

Snagging a pair of demo shoes from Salomon.

Feet up, resting, waiting for Chris to finish his final leg (and rocking the new Fellcross 2)

Chris cruised through transition and handed off the race belt, and I soared through the Green Loop just 2 minutes slower than my first go at it. And I felt good; I was trying to hold myself back so I didn’t blow up on the Yellow, but I also wanted to use my strengths (false flats, downhills) when I could.

The Yellow Loop’s grinding climb was not as runnable the second time as it was the first; I think because I could see just how onerous it was. I ski-walked to the best of my ability, and once I got onto the single track, cruised and ate a gel. The singletrack on the last loop of the race for me was the most awesome singletrack I’ve run on in a while. Up and over boulders, over logs, under logs, across riverbeds, flowing trail that was so well designed and fast. And the Fellcross were an amazing shoe; so light and grippy, low to the ground, and I didn’t have any rolled ankles. By the time I got to the fire road at the end of the singletrack, I tried to put the hammer down. I knew I had just about 2 miles left, and 2 miles is not that far. My legs burned, my quads just ached, but one foot in front of the other got me to transition.

Lap time estimates to guide us in predicting the next runner’s arrival time.

Sean and Stephen both cruised through their last legs, just absolutely flying. Amy, even with fresh legs, couldn’t keep up with Stephen on his last lap of 7.7miles on the Red loop. As he came around the final turn down the hill toward the finish chute, we hopped up and hit the trail behind him, crossing the line around 4PM.

All in all, the weekend was a fantastic blast. I was able to meet up with my teammie, Margot, in South Lake Tahoe for a swim and a burger, and the crew and I enjoyed a sunset over the mountains. We got back to camp and the party wasn’t completely dead, so we hung out with another team playing Flippy Cup and drinking Coors Light. Staying the night after the race is the way to go, for sure.

Doing a trail relay as an ultra team is my cup of tea. It’s fun either way, but I like the extra miles and the challenge of keeping my head in it. It’s not as hard on the body to do the trail relay as an ultra as it is, say, doing the relay as an ultra on the roads. Trails are just easier on the bones, but may be harder on the lungs. The trail relay teams are smaller than the road relays, too, which is seemingly easier to organize and manage. I am really looking forward to doing more of these, and am grateful for the opportunity to race with the Gear Junkie team at this year’s Tahoe race.

Special thanks to Salomon Running and Suunto for the amazing gear; the Sense Mantras are a fantastic trail shoe that is light with excellent traction, and their clothing is comfortable and wicking. I ran in the Start trail running shorts for two legs, and never had any chafing or rubbing. I also purchased a Salomon Sense Hydro S-Lab handheld, which was fantastic to use (and incredibly lightweight!). Suunto really hit the nail on the head with the Ambit2S- I absolutely love this watch and I don’t even know how to use it to the best of its abilities. And last but not least, thanks to Gear Junkie for picking me to be on your team. What an honor! I look forward to racing with you guys again!

Training update: 9 weeks until race day

Today marks 9 weeks until my goal marathon, the Fox Cities Marathon in Appleton, Wisconsin. Training is ramping up, and I even hired a coach(!) which I will talk about at a later date. Fox Cities will be my first marathon in nearly 3 years; the last one I did was the Detroit Free Press Marathon in October, 2010. I mildly trained for the Rock and Roll St Louis last year, but bailed on the full and raced the half instead, which was the first half marathon I’ve ever raced (and it was super fun, by the way).

I decided to register for the Fox Cities race because it seemed like a great time to run a marathon (late September), and I’ve heard wonderful things about the course and race. Now that I will be teaching an undergrad engineering class in the fall, I am a little less sure it will be a great time to run a marathon, but hopefully life doesn’t get too crazy.

Speaking of crazy: Remember how I won a rad contest through Gear Junkie for a Ragnar Relay entry and a bunch of sweet stuff from Salomon and Suunto? Well, I’m now less than one week out from the Ragnar Trail Relay in Tahoe, and I’m getting pretty excited. I found out early last week that the team assembled by Team Gear Junkie (which includes me) will be doing the relay as an ultra, which consists of 4 people instead of the “regular” 8. That means a total of 34 miles in a 24 hr period, which is the most I’ve done in … a long time. And it’s all on trails! Bangarang. Fortunately, I don’t feel completely underprepared; I’ve been training with higher mileage and on trails, so that’s a win. This weekend, I enjoyed some quality time on trails in Lost Valley. It was hot, humid, and full of awesome, and it made for great training. I felt surprisingly great, which was an extra bonus, although I do feel a little under the weather today.

Splendid singletrack.

The best post-run snack.

Other than the trail run, this week’s training has been a bit low-key, but I did get in a semi-quality track workout on one of the hot evenings (oh, right; it’s July in Missouri, and they are all hot). I leave Thursday for Tahoe, and I’ve been popping zinc for some added insurance that I don’t get sick before flying across the country and sleeping at altitude for the weekend. One of my MegaTough teammies, Margot (who flew to Missouri for my birthday to run 30 miles over the weekend with me), will be joining me in Tahoe, too, to hopefully add in one more run for the weekend on Sunday. Add that to a swim in a cool mountain lake, and I think it will be one of the most fantastic weekends of the year.

More summer training adventures

Training lately has been going well. I’ve had some quality training sessions on the track and off the track, in multiple states even. And, best of all, I’ve been feeling great.

I think that it’s all in the small details; I drink more water during the day (since moving desks to the office instead of being in the lab), I eat incredibly well thanks to my fantastic spouse, I run consistently 6 days a week, and I feel rested. I even took a nap three days in a row last week. Who does that? Well, professional runners, of course. I am by no means a pro, but I do feel exceptional when I am getting the right balance of intensity and recovery. Did I mention I eat incredibly well?

Backing up a few weeks, Baberaham and I traveled up north over the 4th of July weekend to spend some quality time on trails in the Keweenaw. We hit up the Tech Trails right away, and I hammered out 8 fantastic, fast, and flow-y miles on some of the best single track in the Midwest.

Then it was off to the shores of Eagle River, where we enjoyed one of many perfect sunsets on the sandy beach. We camped, drank whiskey, and caught up with friends we haven’t seen in years. Literally. It was fantastic.

On the 4th, we headed all the way up north to the northernmost town of Michigan, Copper Harbor. The IMBA Epic certified, Silver level Ride center that absolutely does not disappoint. I don’t think I could ever get enough of these trails; well, minus the biting flies, of course. But the flow and the climbs and the descents are just so fantastic, and the views are breathtaking. Seriously:

Photo by Hansi Johnson

After a day full of running (me) and riding (B), we went back to Eagle River for some smoked meats and campfire, but made the better decision to head back to town and stay with our friend, Tim, in “town.” We enjoyed a comfortable pull out couch and slept, a lot. Well, I did. B got up and biked more, and I took a rest day. It did get pretty hot, so I was glad I made the decision.

B made a fun, Game-of-Thrones-ian dinner at our friends’ house, and we we slept like rocks again at Tim’s. On our last full day in the Keweenaw, I got a big breakfast in my belly and headed out to tackle my favorite of workouts: Ripleys.

Mont Ripley is the ski hill in Hancock owned by the University (Michigan Tech), and it makes for a great summer/fall training ground. In college, my teammates and I would tackle the “long” route (mostly under the tutelage of our first coach, Gary) and the guts (under the tutelage of our second coach, Joe). The good thing about the long route, you usually only had to do one. The good thing about the guts, they were over in 3 minutes. Either way, though, they were pain, suffering, and shear VO2-max-inducing awesomesauce. It was hot again, and humid, and I haven’t been doing much in the world of hill work in Saint Louis, so I started out by aiming for getting through three guts. After 2, I decided to take a “break” and hike the long route to the chair lift at the top, so I could take some photos and get oxygen to my brain.

Check out more of these on my Instagram

We spent our last night at The Fitz, which is quite possibly my favorite place on Earth, and had a delicious meal with fantastic whiskey and amazing friends. I am ever grateful for having Mike and Marc in my life. I worked at The Fitz as an undergrad, when Mike and Marc were just out of high school and Mike’s parents owned the place. Now, these guys run the show, and it just keeps getting better and better. We had our one-final-amazing sunset on Lake Superior as we sat at the bar, Marc pouring us the perfect pours of Stagg and Ardbeg and Pulteney…

And when we woke up in our comfortable queen size bed with the sound of waves crashing against the beach outside, we packed up our things and rolled out of town. We were just as sad as the weather to be leaving, but it was time to head back to the real world. Fortunately, the Keweenaw will be there when we are ready to escape next time.

Winner Winner, Frickin’ I’m going to Tahoe @RagnarTrail @TheGearJunkie

This weekend, I was notified that I was a finalist for The Gear Junkie’s Ragnar Trail Relay Sweepstakes. I applied in April, after managing my training schedule and deciding that, yes, I was indeed all-in for a seriously fun year of training and racing and finding my fast again. I had the itch for some quality time on trails, and it was scratched by my trip to Zion for the first-ever Ragnar Trail Relay. When I noticed this sweepstakes on Gear Junkies’ website, I didn’t hesitate to apply.

Actually, I didn’t apply right away. I had this big grandiose plan to make a cool Vimeo video of running on trails with friends and stuff, like when my friend Margot came to St Louis to run 30 miles with me for my 30th birthday (which I still have yet to blog about) or when I ran around the Lunchloops in Grand Junction, Colorado, with my friend Erik until he ran me into the ground and I had to walk 2 miles back to his house. But, in both of those instances, I only took one single goddamned photo, and it was of a giant-ass snake, not anything to do with running… needless to say, I didn’t capture any magical moments on video.

So I resorted to pouring my heart out in a story for the Gear Junkies. It meant a lot to me, but I knew it was a long shot. Somehow, amazingly, it got me into the finalists’ round… and …

I am so thrilled, excited, pumped, ecstatic, … what else? Honored! The Gear Junkie guys (and gals) are a force to be reckoned with, and I get to race with them in all the Tahoe/Ragnar/Salomon glory. Special thank you to Salomon for sponsoring this sweepstakes and making Ragnar Trail events so fantastic (seriously, Josh and KO and the rest of the Salomon crew really know how to show up to an event), to Ragnar for the race entry and for putting on amazing events, and to Gear Junkie for picking me!

Ragnar Trail Zion

This weekend, I was honored to be invited to race on a Ragnar Relay team with Nuun Hydration, a company I am proud to represent as an ambassador. Just a little shameless plug: Nuun is the best product for ultimate hydration. And since the Ragnar Relay this weekend was in the dry, dusty desert of Utah, it was in fact the best piece of pro I had at my disposal. This is my recap of the first-ever Ragnar Trail Relay, the Ragnar Trail Zion, which was held near Zion National Park at the Zion Ponderosa Ranch (of which the address is literally “5 miles down Twin Knolls Road”).

Going into the race, I was excited to experience something a bit different and off the main stream from the well-known company, Ragnar Relay, which was started by Tanner Bell and Dan Hill in Utah in 2004. The company has grown exponentially in both the number of events and its exposure over the last decade; there are now over a dozen road relays spread across North America (yes, one even takes place in Canada!). I appreciate their organization, team-mindedness, and enthusiasm for all things running. I have raced a handful of Ragnar Relays (four, to be exact), along with my wonderful womanly teammies of Team Mega Tough. We’ve utilized these races as a tool to reconnect over the years and across the distance; they serve as a reunion of sorts for a group of girls who ran cross-country and track together in college, and we’ve been joined by more awesome friends we’ve met between now and then. Now that we are no longer all in one place, but rather spread out all across the country (with members in Berkeley, CA; Baltimore, MD; Duluth, MN; Detroit, MI; Saint Louis, MO; etcetera…), we use running reunions of all different kinds to catch up. We’ve even used them as bachelorette parties, since running around Grand Island in Lake Superior is, at least to us, much more fun than partying with penis straws in Vegas. We have successfully, and sometimes less-successfully, crushed 200-ish miles as a regular 12-person team and even as a women-only ultra (which is 6-person), and we’ve always – no matter what – come out on the other side with fantastic memories, a closer bond, and a wonderful sense of just exactly what it means to be the best of friends.

I flew into Vegas two days before the race start, which gave me plenty of time to get settled and relax a bit. I stayed at Mandalay Bay with Mickey, a triathlete who lives in Miami (who rocks). After a good night sleep in big comfy beds, we ran a few errands and picked up Sean and Caitlin from the airport to head north to Zion. The drive was uneventful, but gorgeous, and we passed through Zion National Park during one of the last days of National Parks Week. Zion is amazingly gorgeous, and the route to Zion Ponderosa Ranch did not disappoint.

The drive from Vegas to Zion did not suck.

Once we arrived at the Ranch, just outside ZNP, we met up with Megan F., Dana, and Michelle. We then set up camp and had a hot meal at the lodge. It took a while, so we ended up heading back to camp afterward and hitting the hay.

“Race day” is kind of a weird thing to say for a Ragnar Relay, since your race doesn’t start until the afternoon sometime and usually lasts into the next day. For those not familiar, Ragnar Relays (road and trail both), and some other relays, are anywhere between 120-210 miles long, so they take a while no matter how fast you and your teammates may be. The faster your seed time, which is typically based on your road 10K race pace or a half marathon pace, if you’re racing an ultra, is what determines your start time. The faster your seed time, the later your start time. This way, all teams will finish within a few hours of each other, as opposed to the fastest teams crossing the finish line first. In fact, rarely if ever do the fastest teams actually complete the relay before anyone else, which I think is a really awesome aspect of the Ragnar Relay design: Whether you’re fast or not-so-fast, you are running the same course, at the same time, as everyone else.  I love the flow that staggered starts have, and it also influences the attitudes of racers, in my opinion, for the better. There’s less stress, less ego, less anxiety with a staggered start time, and its fun to be running with and around other people.

Nuun: Hydrating Ragnarians

Around lunch time, we picked up a runner to fill our 8th spot, thankfully. Mike, a member of the Ragnar Crew, wanted to race and we were excited to fill that spot. As an extra bonus, Mike is superfit, and also superfun, so we appreciated his offer to join our squad.

Runners taking off on their first, Green, loop.

Our start time was at 4pm, so we kept the Nuun jugs filled up (10 gallons each of Fruit Punch, Orange, and Lemon-Lime go fast in the desert heat) and cheered on the racers. Dana was our first leg, which meant she ran the Green loop; a 3.5mi bobby-pin shaped trail that reunited with the Yellow (a 4mi loop with biggest elevation gain) and Red (a 7.5mi loop) loops at the end. There were three trails in total; with a regular team, we each ran one of the trails one time. The order of the trails were: Green, Yellow, Red, and then back to Green, so we experienced the trails in the following order:

Dana: Green, Red, Yellow
Me: Yellow, Green, Red
Mike: Red, Yellow, Green
Mickey: Green, Red, Yellow
Caitlin: Yellow, Green, Red
Michelle: Red, Yellow, Green
Sean: Green, Red, Yellow
Megan F.: Yellow, Green, Red

Dana starting us off

Dana handed off to me, and I cruised through a mile or two of the Yellow loop before I took a wrong turn, unknowingly. Eventually, I made it back to the correct trail, after putting a log across the trail that I took but was not supposed to take, and reassured my teammates that I was still alive. As the sun began to set, the headlamps came out and the team clicked through their legs smoothly. I took a nap in the tent during Michelle’s run, and headed back down to the expo area to sit around the fire and watch “Unbreakable” on the big screen in front of the campfire.

Around the campfire, watching a movie. Photo by Megan Fay

My second leg took place in the dead of night, and it was a quick and dirty 3.5miles. The athletes were quiet, bundled up around the campfire, not a lot of energy, just a lot of quiet. The moon was bright and the signs were incredibly easy to see. My headlamp was almost too bright. With only 3.5 miles of trails, I felt like pushing myself an extra bit, and felt extra fast. There’s something about running under the stars that is simply exhilarating, and the adrenaline is pumping, too. Afterward, I made a concerted effort to sleep longer, so I wrapped myself in my sleeping bag and slept for a solid 4 hours straight. I think that’s a Ragnar record.

Once the sun started coming up, I headed back down to the athlete village to prep for my final leg of 7.5 miles. My college teammate, KO, was at the race as well working/racing for Salomon. Although her team, the Salomon Elite team, had a 7:30pm start time (more than 3hrs after ours), they were catching up to us, and we warmed up a bit together before our hand-off runners came in. That’s one of the really neat things about doing relay races, especially Ragnars. The start times are staggered so that everyone finishes around the same time (within a few hours), and then there’s a big party.

The third and final loop for me, the Red Loop, was beautiful and fairly flat, with a few false-flats. The sun had come up, I felt good, the altitude wasn’t affecting me too much, and I ski-walked where I needed to. And, knowing full well how the last half mile finished- since it was the same connector trail as the other two loops- I dug deep and pushed it to the finish. It didn’t take long for the rest of the team to roll out of their sleeping bags and head out on their final laps. In fact, Megan F. – who didn’t sleep the entire time, mind you – wrapped up her anchor leg swiftly in the heat of the day!

All in all, the race was a blast and the weekend was fantastic. The trail relays make for a great way to spend time on the trails with friends (new and old), and logistically, they are cake. You simply drive to the race site, set up a tent, and hang out until its time to run. There’s no driving from Point A to Point B; no worrying about driving at 3am. It’s more relaxing and less stressful, being out on trails as opposed to in “civilization.” That being said, there’s plenty of running, hot water (there were people who took a shower after each of their legs), real toilets, and even cabins for those who planned ahead. Of course, trails are typically slower, more technical, and more “adventurous” than roads, so if you aren’t a fan of trail running, Ragnar Trail Relays probably aren’t for you. That being said, if you’ve never done a trail race before, the loops are short enough to not overwhelm even beginners; when the going gets tough, the lap is almost over. There were tons of veteran trail runners out there, but there were even more newbies, people who came from sea level and have never ran a trail race before. Plus, Ragnar knows how to manage races well, and the centricity of the athlete basecamp made things a bit easier, too. I highly recommend these, and look forward to my next Mega Tough get-together at a Ragnar Trail Relay.  Until the next one…

Check out my teammies’ blog posts, too!

S.H.ivering I.cy T.rail R.un: The sh*ttiest trail half marathon non-race I’ve ever done

Photo courtesy of HatePavement

I got an email from my Best Training Buddy, Emily, on Wednesday following a subliminal brain sync where we both were thinking “Hey, we should MAF soon” and “let’s go do fun things outside this weekend.” So, she invited me to a non-race put on by Rock Racing, which promised ice, cold, shitty conditions. Saturday morning was beautiful, but as I looked at the forecast for the evening, I got the feeling that the non-race gods were truly with us…

So Saturday afternoon, Emily and I, and my husband, drove to the Mound at Lost Valley. En route, we stopped by Chucks Boots in St Peters to check out their selection, and I definitely wasn’t able to decide on a pair… too many options. So we meandered over to LV around 4pm and were some of the first to arrive. Adam rolled out on his single speed to do the LV loop counter-clockwise, and get out before it got too dark on trails he wasn’t familiar with, and E and I loitered for a while before the group gathered and we took off.

A group of SHITRs, photo courtesy of Robin

A group of SHITRs, photo courtesy of Robin

The single track was a lot of fun, but it was also a lot of pain. At first, the adrenaline was flowing through my veins, both from getting on single track for the first time in a while, and also because of the dark (there’s just something so magical about running at night). I think it helped that it wasn’t raining too hard, and that there were lots of people around (and it was twilight) so I could still kinda see where I was going but also had fresh legs. Maybe the moonshine from the night before was helping, too. Anyway, the first section was nice and fast, not icy or too slick, and when we got to the two-track I was mid-way between Emily and the rear end of the chase pack. So I caught up to the guys in front, and chatted with them while Emily caught back up to me. It was good convo, and I got to catch my lungs and recover my legs a bit on even (sort of) terrain. As soon as we hit the second section of single track, everything changed. The newest portion of the single track at LV is only a few months old, and the guys we were running with didn’t even know it existed. It wasn’t quite erosion-resistant yet, and it wasn’t packed in like a 20yr-old trail would be, so I (and everyone else except Emily, seemingly) was sliding everywhere. She took off, after we found the mystery event (which, to my knowledge, neither of us reported. Do we get extra bonus points for that?).

This is me, getting scared shitless as I cross a creek on the singletrack. Photo courtesy of HatePavement

Around mile 9, or whatever (I really have no idea), there was a bit of switchbacking in the woods, and it was confusing whose lights belonged to people in front of me and behind me, and I had no idea how far away people were. And apparently I had no idea how far away the ground was, because I found myself running into the bushes and into holes and just being a general sloppy mess. I ran off the trail more than on it, and started to get really messy, both physically and mentally. Eventually, I decided my pants were too heavy from soaking up all the rain, and when I tried to pull them up my calves, they smeared like butter under my fingers and ripped across my shin. That was weird.

While I never got passed, Emily eventually got out of sight in front of me, and no one was in sight behind me. I was sure I was on the right path, but I also felt like I wasn’t moving and was just waiting for someone to come into view behind me. Nope. Was I lost? Hmm… why aren’t people catching up to me? We couldn’t possibly be that far apart… But we were, apparently, and I found myself on the two-track without anyone. Except the wind. Ohh, the wind. It was just me, and the wind, for what seemed like two miles, until I started seeing glowing sky which i was sure had to be close to the Mound.

It was a hard fought battle, but I finally made my way back to the Mound, grabbed a sticker and some KIND bars (from the awesomely amazing volunteers and coordinators who are seriously badass. They just waited in the sleet, 30mph winds and 30F for us all to finish. Seriously. Nutters.). I felt good, only because I didn’t make them wait too long for me, but that was really the only reason why I didn’t crawl into a hole sucking my thumb and asking for my mommy. I took my pants off in the parking lot (and all my wet clothes, mind you), and didn’t stop shaking until the Mexican food and coffee from La Azteca filled my belly. Oh right, I put clothes on before I went into the restaurant.

I will totally do that again. Of course, I will run on LV again … in the summer when its not raining and its not pitch black at 6pm… but next SHITR, wherever it might be, I am there to get my ass handed to me and feel a.o.k. about it.

Thanks to Rock Racing and the seriously awesome folks that thought it would be a good idea to do this. You’re all idiots, and I love you.