Only 4.5 weeks late, but I finally wrote my Ragnar Trail race report! If you want background on how Ragnar Trail races work and the good and bad of this inaugural race, read my Race Review here.
The best part of this event was our team, the Coast Busters. Our team was made up of me, Mike, Asia, Jeremy, Mike’s coworker and my new friend Brooke, Mike’s sister Claire, and a former co-worker of Mike’s Airey and his wife, Lynn. For six of us, it was our first trail race. One of us (Airey) is an AMAZINGLY fast cyclist and great trail runner, another is a former high school and college cross country star (Brooke) and the rest of us are just normal runners or in Claire’s case, avid hikers. Only two of us had even done a trail race before and only one had done a Ragnar event.
Our team name, Coast Busters, came up during a team name brainstorming session by my sister in law Claire and we took it and RAN with it. Everyone was pumped. We immediately started brainstorming costume and campsite décor ideas revolving around the classic Ghostbuster movie as well as a beachy theme since we are all from the coast. Even better, the race was just after Halloween so we knew we could score some great deals. About two and a half months before the race we started to meet up for weekend long runs on the trails with the team. Although everyone couldn’t make it every time, we all got to know each other even better and became good friends. We even had a Halloween Coast Buster party where we locked in final costume and race plans over dinner and drinks.
Although our race time was 3 p.m. we showed up to camp early with plenty of time to get ready and hopefully also relax. The weather forecast originally had predicted high temps over the weekend (even into the 80s) but it ended up being sunny and in the high 60s with predicted low temps and a chance of rain for the evening. It took longer than expected (as always) get camp set up, partially to do with the parking being so far from camp but we still had time to film segments for a YouTube video Mike later put together. Check it out if you want a laugh: http://youtu.be/UcnTTg1UcVE
We showed up to the pre-race course talk in our costumes and people were going nuts of over it! We had a great time posing for pictures with fellow runners. People were especially enamored over Jeremy’s’ amazing Stay Puft Marshmallow costume. I was runner #1 and excited to start our team off. As we stood around the fire pit for the mandatory pre-race course talk I looked around and realized somehow we got seeded with a lot of VERY fast looking people. I knew I wasn’t going to win this leg but that didn’t matter. What mattered to me was putting out a good effort because Maria was using my heart rate data from this leg to come up with my heart rate zones for marathon training.
The Green Loop – 3.4 Miles – 3 p.m.
The first leg is fun because you actually get to start with a group (the same group of fast people from the course talk) AND you get to run your first leg in the light. We all stood around the finish line area and waited for them to say “GO!” and then we ran through the transition tent and made a hard left and started to climb. Although technically the Green Loop is supposed to be the “easiest” loop, I beg to differ. We had heard that Green was almost as hard as Red and I’m pretty sure that was true! Right out the gate we were climbing and not just any hill – a very steep and fairly long incline. I got dropped immediately, which I could have predicted, although I wasn’t the very last person to crest that first hill, I was certainly one of the last. I actually had to walk part of the first ¼ mile of the race. Never had that happen before! My heart rate was through the roof even while trying to walk up the hill. Trail running is certainly a new type of beast.
Once I got to the top I was happy to see that there was a nice gradual decline on the back end. It was steep at parts but not scary. I’m fairly good at running downhill when it’s not super steep or rocky. However, once there is a layer of sand that I can tell might cause me to eat it, I slow WAY down. In that way, Green Loop was better for me than Red as there were only 2 super steep descents (well-marked with signs with an exclamation point warning you to slow down) that I was forced to walk down. I focused on keeping my effort hard on this leg since I knew Maria would be using it. At first I didn’t see many other people on the course since the fast runners had dropped me yet I was still ahead of a few of the other from my group. The terrain was very dry and sandy with sparse bushes and dry-weather trees. About halfway through we climbed up an incredibly steep ascent which was literally like climbing a wall. No one could run this part – it was definitely only meant to be hiked. At this point I’d met up with several slower runners from previous start times so I was able to at least interact with a few of the runners by commiserating in their pain as we scaled the mountain.
Once I was at the top I was greeted with gorgeous views of the lake and the surrounding area. I ran along a small single track trail that teetered over steep cliffs at times and I was grateful to be running this leg in the light since I knew that it would slow me way down to run it at night. At some point in the climbing I saw the sign that said “Only One Mile to Go!” which wasn’t really reassuring since the loop itself was only 3.4 miles and the 2.4 miles preceding this point had been slow going and hard. Once I headed down again I gained even more momentum and at one point the course let out onto a flat, paved road. I got a burst of energy and pushed hard on this section, my pace dropping into the high 6s. I felt like I was FLYING compared to the pace I was setting on the technical trails. It didn’t last long and soon I was back on the trail and at some point joined up with both of the other loops. Finally we reached the top of the final hill and hit the timing mat (all 3 legs join together just before the timing mat so that all runners finish at the same place and the teammates back at camp know you are coming) and booked it down the fairly steep hill into transition where Mike and the rest of my team were waiting.
The Red Loop – 3.9 Miles – ~9 p.m
It took our team about 6 hours to get through the first leg of the race. Everyone would switch off loops each time so that we all ran each leg once, but some of us in a different order than others. We had discovered that the yellow loop was nearly 1.4 miles short, so our team was getting through faster than expected. I was thinking I might be running the red loop around 11 p.m! Instead, I was able to run it about an hour and a half after dinner. My legs were already tired from the first loop since I pushed it so hard and I hadn’t spent a lot of time resting them between loops since there was so much going on. However, I left for the red loop in high spirits, although I was a bit fearful of running in the dark on trails by myself. Since it was fairly early still, it seemed less scary for some reason.
This loop is a little more forgiving in the beginning since the climbing doesn’t really start until about a half mile in. The first couple of climbs were intense and they just kept coming. The climbing really wasn’t what got me on this loop though – it was the descending. I am SO tentative when it comes to steep descents and the darkness made it even worse. There were about 8 descents with the exclamation point warning and I VERY slowly walked down them. This loop was a little more confusing at times and at one point there was an arrow was pointing for me to go straight up a hill into some bushes but I could see another arrow up ahead pointing straight. Jeremy had told me about some turn that was hard to see so I was thinking it could be that in my tired state. I got so confused I waited for more runners to come so I could ask them and as soon as I did it seemed obvious that I should just run toward the next arrow and not run up a steep hill covered in bushes with no clear path.
I tried to keep my thoughts positive in this leg. It was hard and I was cold and it had started to lightly rain. It was hard to see the trail in the rain and dark. The first half of the loop I was in great spirits but after all the scary descents and the rain, I started wishing it was over. At one point I slid down a very sandy descent and landed on my butt and caught myself with my hands. It didn’t hurt at all and I just wiped my butt and gloves off the best I could and kept running. The loop seemed to last forever and I was very relieved when we finally met up with the other loops to head into camp.
The Yellow Loop – 6 Miles – ~3:30 a.m.
Despite there being fewer yellow loops in our second go around, the second leg of our race took a little longer than first due to the darkness and some tiredness setting in. I tried to get some sleep between loops but since I wanted to cheer on our team members, I really didn’t get much sleep. I laid down probably for an hour before getting up and drinking coffee in preparation for my next leg. Oh yeah and more eating – I felt like I snacked the entire time we were there!
Although it was my 3rd loop and I ran it in the dead of night, the yellow loop might have been my favorite. It was still on trails and still had hills, but it wasn’t crazy hilly so it allowed me as a runner with little trail experience to really run hard. I was feeling good and was in good spirits. The course began by weaving through fairly dense forest. The trail had a lot of roots and tree branches which often required a little extra hop to get over. I could imagine that some people took a spill in this section. I caught up with a girl about halfway through this section and said hello and we began to chat until I headed off ahead. I would say hello or “Good Morning” to people I passed. I soon realized people in a bad mood did not my like my chipper greeting. Many people were walking and clearly in the pain cave, possibly regretting the decision to run trails in the middle of the night in the rain.
The middle section of the run had the only significant hill which was a long, slow ascent. I just chugged along and this is really where I was passing people. Only about half of the 20 or so people I passed even responded to my greetings. This was also the most people I even saw on any trails as I barely interacted with anyone on the other trails with the exception of when the three trails would meet. I was able to run the entire leg, albeit not nearly as fast as a road race. I pushed myself hard despite heavy legs as I ran back through the shaded trail. I could see the flashlights and hear foot falls of people on the trail on their way out and it almost felt like I was hiding from them. It was pretty surreal to be running in the middle of the woods at 4 a.m. pretty much alone. I really enjoyed the feeling of solidarity – I was alone with my thoughts and my very heavy beating heart and quick breath. I finished this leg strong and felt great.
Finish and Awards
After my adrenaline high wore off from my great yellow loop and Mike returned from his last leg, I changed yet again into clean, dry clothes and compression socks and crawled into my tent for a couple of hours of restless sleep before sunrise. When I woke, I went back for coffee (and realized there was none yet) and got ready to cheer on the rest of Team Coast Busters as we wrapped it up. Asia was the last runner in our group and she wore her Ghostbuster costume for her leg. We all got dressed and headed down to the finish to cheer on other teams. While we waited, Jeremy and Mike thought I’d be comical for Jeremy to roast a marshmallow in his Stay Puft costume. He definitely got a lot of looks with that one!
We took photos and cheered on teams as we waited for Asia to come down the final stretch. Once she did, we joined her and ran in to finish Ragnar Trail Vail Lake as a team! Our final time was 18:30:52 and we placed 25th overall out of 224 teams and 10th in our division. Not bad for a first trail race!
Even better, we were later awarded with BEST TEAM COSTUME award and I won the Instagram contest for “Best Blaze the Trail Moment.”
Ragnar Trail Vail Lake was challenging and fun. It definitely inspired me to learn to run trails better and to get out there more often. I think a 2014 trail race will be on my calendar for sure! Above anything else, my teammates made this experience amazing and I’m so grateful that I made some great friends as a result!