“Run, Eat, Sleep, Repeat” was the motto for this past weekend, although there isn’t much sleeping during a Ragnar Trail Relay. You maybe asking yourself, “What is a Ragnar?” Basically, it’s a relay race where you and a group of crazy people set out on an epic adventure, running through the wilderness for ~24 hours. It’s hot, it’s cold, you get very little sleep and you’re exhausted, but having the time of your life and enjoying the company of friends, new and old.
Several months ago, I heard about the Ragnar Trail Relay , which is a 124 mile relay race that is split into 3 loops (3.1, 4 and 8.4 miles each). Each person in an 8-member team must run all three loops. Each runner ends up doing about 16 miles over the course of 24 hours (or so). I immediately started contacting some of my crazy friends to see who was interested in running with me. Several brave souls stepped up for the challenge and volunteered some of their friends, too. In the end, we had so much interest, that we were able to put together two teams of eight! I had never run a Ragnar and wasn’t really sure exactly what to expect, and suddenly found myself the captain of two teams. I have to be honest, I was a little nervous trying to coordinate 16 people, half of which I’d never met, but it all came together beautifully. Here were our team lineups:
I was anxious to get out there and get things going, so Francisco dropped Shawn and I off at Ragnar camp at the McDowell Mountain Park after work the day before the big race. We set up tents and shade canopies in the dark, which was a fun experience all by itself. Shawn whipped up an amazing chicken dinner, and we discussed tomorrow’s events. The rest of the Ragnar teams would be arriving the following morning, but we had camp setup and ready for our team.
A bright, full moon shone into the tent like a streetlight that night, and morning came quickly–and with it the buzz of the competitors. People were flowing in, setting up camps and getting ready for what lay ahead. I went down and checked in both Type Two Fun teams and received our Ragnar shirts, stickers and other goodies. Check-in was quick, easy and they were well organized. I headed back up to camp, as shortly the rest of the teams would be arriving, once they got through battling the traffic. It was slow going once you entered McDowell Mountain Park, as they tried to direct cars in to drop off gear and then park several miles away. You had to ride a shuttle between the parking and event areas.
Once our teams started arriving, we hauled in the rest of their gear and put the clothes and such in to our “gear/changing tent.” This worked out well and is something we’d do again next time. Only a few people walked-in on someone else changing.
Once we had most of the teams together, we walked down to check out The Village, where the starting line/transition area, vendors, campfire, food, etc. was. Everyone was “super excited” to watch the mandatory safety video, where they learned not to play with snakes or other wild animals, stay on the trail, stay hydrated, and other life saving tips.
Our start time was 12:30 pm. This was it. All the training that had occurred over the previous months was about to be put to the test.
Shane was our first runner, and we cheered him on as he headed out on the green loop. I had loosely organized our two teams into a “competitive” group and a “let’s not die” group. Our faster group would be starting two hours later.
Our campsite had front row seats for the race, as it was right next to the trail. We weren’t sure about the location at first, as we knew approximately 6,000 runners would pass by over the next 24 hours. At night, when people were trying to sleep, the constant sound of running feet could be heard, and the bobbing light of a headlamp would illuminate the whole tent. But really, who is expecting to sleep? In the end, I think we decided it was a good spot as we could see our team members run by. Not only could we cheer them on from the comforts of our camp chairs, but we could also estimate their finish time so we could have the next runner in the transition area waiting for the exchange.
Nightfall came, and the full moon came up as the temperature started to dip. By this time, both teams we in full swing with several loops completed. Even with a two hour head start, our second team was already closing the gap. They were pretty fast, and we were doing our best to stay ahead. Our first goal was to complete a full runner cycle before they caught us, and we did that. Next goal was to beat them to the half-way mark. I was runner number 4, and the halfway point was when I finished my second run. That would happen around midnight.
Ragnar provided a free pasta dinner that evening, and we all (minus the runners out on the trail) decided to head down to the Village area and check it out. It turns out that all 3,000 other runners had the same idea. Looking at the crazy long line and knowing we had a gourmet burger-flipper back at camp, we turned around. In no time Shawn had the grill blazing and the burgers and hotdogs cooking! I’m not sure if everything just tastes better when you are camping, or I was just really hungry… maybe Shawn is just a grill master. Whatever it was, the grub was amazing!
My second loop was coming in a few hour,s and with a full belly, I laid down in the tent and tried to take a quick nap. Sleep never came as a constant stream of runners passed by on the trail just three feet away from me. Julia was headed down to the transition to run her 4 mile loop and would be handing off to me in about 40 minutes. I decided it get up and get ready. This was my 8 mile loop, and I was so excited to run the desert trails under a full moon.
I headed down to the Village area once again and hung out by the campfire for a few minutes to stay warm. I figured Julia would be coming in soon, so I watched the monitors for our team name to show up. 3/10 of a mile out, there was a sensor that was tripped when your runner crossed it. Once your team name showed up on the monitor, you could enter the transition tent knowing your runner would be arriving soon.
Julia cruised in right on time, maybe even a bit faster than I expected. She must have had a pretty good run. She gave me the belt/bib (baton), told me to be safe, and sent me off. This was it. The loop I’d been waiting for. The 8.4 mile long loop at midnight under the bright full moon. I was super excited and was feeling great as I passed by our camp a few hundred yards down the trail. It looked like most everyone was asleep or at least trying.
The trail was well marked with small reflective signs, along with a small flashing LEDs, pointing the way. It would be difficult to get lost unless you completely zoned out, which apparently happened to a few people. The first section of the trail included a pretty good hill that had a nice, steady incline which lasted a mile or so, but was well worth the view, even at night. With the moon so bright, you could see all the mountains and terrain around you and the desert seemed to glow under the moonlight. Off in the distance were the headlamps of other runners on different parts of the trail. I set my light to it’s lowest setting and with the moon, it was perfect. There was just enough light to find my way.
Around the 4-5 mile mark, there was an aid station where I could refill my water bottles. I ate a Cliff Gel Shot to ensure I wouldn’t bonk before the finish line. I topped off my water bottle and headed out. The trail was fat and smooth in this section, with plenty of space to pass. I tried to pick up the pace on the down hill, and things got a little wild more than once but I never fell, only a few stumbles as my legs began to fatigue. About a mile from the end, I was passed by a slightly faster runner. My goal was to stick with them all the way to the end. It was a little rough as I had already completed ~7.5 miles and was now trying to pick up the pace without passing out or cramping up. There was a steep 50 yard hill right near the end. My new pacer shortened her stride and went for it, and I did, too. Making it to the top without collapsing actually gave me a surge of energy, and we both finished strong. I quickly spotted Rochelle, made the exchange, and she was off, flying into the darkness (she’s fast). It was my favorite run ever–so far.
Camp was dark and quiet. I went to the tent to lay down and possibly grab a few zzzzz’s, but found bodies everywhere. For a bunch of people that had only met for the first time 12 hours ago, everyone seemed to have made themselves pretty comfortable, and they packed every inch of that tent. I grabbed my sleeping bag and headed for my camp chair. It wasn’t the best sleep ever, but at least it was a good 20 minutes.
To participate in Ragnar, each team must also supply one volunteer. Shane’s wife, Kris, was one of our volunteers, and she was stationed in the transition area. She helped get runners connected with their teams for the exchange and supplied them with a wristband that matched the loop they would be running. Now the other volunteer was my good friend, Leonard, from What’s Next. We go back a few years and have been on quite a few adventures together. He texted me and said, “Dude! I’m working at the S’MORES tent!!!” Oh, Ragnar was going to regret that! The first image that popped into my head was Cookie Monster with crumbs flying everywhere! Not sure what he had to do to get that task, but it seemed like it was enjoyable… for Leonard, anyway! Whether they were stuffing their cake holes with s’mores or actually working and being productive, we REALLY appreciated our volunteers. They left their warm homes to drive into the desert in the middle of the night and hang around a bunch of stinky, sweaty, crazy people. And for that, we thank you!
It wasn’t long before it started getting light. It was cold, and I was ready to get my last loop over with. It was the 4 mile T-Bone Ridge Trail and had two hills that made you work harder than my legs wanted to. Not my best run, but but it was good to be moving.
Back at camp, breakfast was in full swing! Shawn had eggs and 4 pounds of bacon cooking on the grill, which made everyone happy. Needless to say, the bacon didn’t last long. The looks on some of the runners faces as they ran past our camp was priceless.
Maria was seen wearing some of the latest running fashions. Not sure if it is going to catch on, but it seemed appropriate for the moment.
Here is Randy, still trying to sleep in. He needs as much beauty rest as possible, so we didn’t bother him. You can see how close the trail is to his bed.
By this time the faster team had caught up to us and had probably passed us, but it was hard to tell. We were able to stay on the same loop as they were for quite awhile, maybe even up until the last loop, but Preston, their final runner, was finishing just was Audrey, our final runner was starting. That meant they finished about 1.5 hours before we did. I have to hand it to Preston and Audrey for running that final 8.4 mile loop. It was midday, and it was HOT! They both did well and finished strong. VERY impressive.
As the final runner of your team came to the finish line, the rest of the team joined them and crossed the finish line together as a team. It was very cool to share this experience with such a great group of people.
TypeTwoFun – Team-B finished with an impressive time of 21:12.
TypeTwoFun -Team-A finished with a time of 24:53. We just missed our goal of 24 hours.
I really can’t say enough good things about these two teams. It was a bit crazy at times, trying to get everyone organized, but what a great group of people! Going through something like this together builds friendships quickly. I feel like I’ve known some of these people a lot longer than 28 hours.
Things that rocked!
- Registration and team check-in was quick and easy. I thought having two teams would be an issue, somehow. I was wrong. The Ragnar staff were very organized, and I was able to check-in both teams in a matter of minutes.
- I never thought I’d be saying these words, but the porta-potties were awesome! They were very clean and well maintained.
- The trails were great! The green and yellow loops were short but got your heart pumping with the diverse terrain. They weren’t too technical but required focus. The Red loop was so fun! It was one of my most memorable runs.
- Campfires and S’mores! Good stuff!
Things that sucked!
- Traffic and parking was pretty gnarly. There were long lines to get in and drop off gear, and then you had to go park the vehicle and take the shuttle back. I’m not really sure what can be done to improve the situation due to the location and number of participants.
The Ragnar Trail Series at McDowell Mountain Park, Arizona, is 124 mile relay race through the beautiful desert preserve, lasting ~24 hours. It’s hot. It’s cold. You get very little sleep. You run amazing trails through the desert with amazing friends and have an epic adventure together! It’s pure Type Two Fun.
Will I do it again? Most definitely!