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RAGNAR TRAIL RELAY – 2015

Ragnar-Logo
The RAGNAR Trail Relay has come and gone in Arizona, and we’re already planning for next year.  This event is quickly becoming my favorite team adventure.  24+ hours of running, eating, camping and just hanging out with cool people.  If you enjoy running, you gotta gather up your craziest friends and run a RAGNAR Trail Relay.

What is a RAGNAR Relay?  Well, it’s where a team of eight people run through the wilderness for roughly 24 hours, covering 125+ miles.  You run, rest, eat, repeat and try to sneak in a quick nap if possible.  Our first RAGNAR was in 2014 and we had such a blast we couldn’t wait to do it all over again.  Yes, it’s difficult at times.  You’re cold, tired, and sleep deprived… and those are exactly the ingredients necessary for an epic adventure!  This is how it went down…

Jeff and I arrived at McDowell Mountain Park on Thursday–the day before the event.  This was the only way to guarantee we could get two spots close together.  Like last year, we had two teams.  The camping area is marked out on the ground by the RAGNAR staff.  Each team gets cozy in a 17’x17′ patch of desert earth.  It’s basically like Woodstock… or Tent City.  We had collected most of the big gear (tents, awnings, etc.) from the teams earlier that week and were able to set up base-camp in a prime location… close to the porta-potties… but not too close.

Once again, I had decided to camp out instead of drive home and fight the traffic and chaos that usually surrounds big events like this.  The team across the way had a propane fire-ring,  and it was fairly chilly out, so needless to say we became friends quickly.  Teams continued to arrive throughout the evening, and if I was to guess, I’d say by about 9pm the place was 80% full.  After a warm Mountain House Lasagna dinner, I crawled into my sleeping bag and drifted off to sleep, thinking about the adventure that lay ahead.

Morning.  It was cold.  Breakfast was oatmeal and that helped beat the chill.  Not long after breakfast, it is time to check in the team.  I’m always amazed how quick the process is.  I’m usually one of the first in line ,but I can tell that they’ve done this before.  I headed back to camp with my armful of T-shirts, stickers and swag-bags (all the race freebies) and wait for the team to show up.

We did a good job of coordinating carpools to minimize the impact of the traffic.  This year seemed to be better than last.  Not sure if the organizers changed something or if was because so many had arrived the night before.  Our crew drove right in to the unloading zone and dropped their gear.  We hauled our bags to camp, which wasn’t far, while the driver went and parked the car and caught a shuttle back to camp.  It seemed to go quick and before we knew it, we were settled in and ready to run!

Our first runner out was new to RAGNAR, new to trail running and was anxious to get on her way.  Erika was amazing!

Erika

Once Maria is in the”the zone,” get out of her way.  When she was running, she was all business. 🙂  Eye of the Tiger right there!  Here is a shot of her in front a beautiful porta-potty backdrop.

RAGNAR-Maria1

As you can see here, Julia usually exited the transition area waving to all her fans.  She is adored by all.

RAGNAR-Julia

When we were not running, we were resting, eating and socializing.  During the day there was a good amount of hanging out just chilling, making sure we were staying hydrated, eating, and prepping for our next runs.

RAGNAR-Camp1At night, things completely changed.  The temperature dropped, we’d each competed at least one run–maybe two–and were starting to wear down.  You tried to grab a nap, but there was a lot of commotion with runners coming and going and sleep was difficult, especially early in the night.  We kept the hot coffee and tea flowing, and it was nice to have a warm meal in our bellies.  We brought a stove for cooking burgers at night and eggs and bacon in the morning, although RAGNAR did provide a free pasta dinner at night.  The JetBoil kept the hot water close at hand for coffee and hot chocolate, which we used a MyJo to brew.  It worked out so well!

Like I said, at night the temperature drops, and it’s perfect for running.  Headlamps came on and the whole landscape seemed to change.  Trail running was a different beast at night.  The shadows played tricks on your mind.  Your focus seemed to sharpen and your eyes and brain quickly interpreted the terrain as you blasted down a winding decent.  Adrenalin was pumping!

Ragnar-Julia2

Since it’s difficult to take pictures of runners at night… I don’t have many of them, and the ones I do have are not good.

Meanwhile, back at camp, those waiting for their turn to run were piling on layers, trying to stay warm.  Later in the night you are more likely to sleep as things quiet down.  This year, I was able to get in a solid 4 hours starting at about 1am, which is 4 more than I got last year.

RAGNAR-earlymorning

Maria is seen here gearing up for her night run.  Most everyone else is trying to sleep. The night runs are my favorite, especially when there is a full moon out.

RAGNAR-GameFace

 

RAGNAR-RockStars

If you’ve made it though the night, you’ll be treated to a beautiful sunrise.  It starts to warm up quickly, but you likely only have a few hours left in the race.  We tried to get some sort of breakfast going while the last few runners were finishing up.  It’s a good idea to have an experienced runner as your anchor, preferably someone familiar to running in the heat.  That last run is a cooker!

RAGNAR-Ultra-FinishShane was the anchor runner for the Ultra Team.  An Ultra Team only consists of 4 members.  You guessed it!  They run double!  Regular team members run about 15.5 miles total, while an Ultra Team member will run 31 miles.  Yes, it’s a special kind of crazy.  The Type Two Fun Ultra team actually placed 3rd in their division!!!  Well deserved!   These folks are beasts!

Ragnar-Hams

Speaking of crazy people… this is Jonathan.  We met in the middle of the night, blasting down the long decent of the Red Loop.  Apparently, his team runs in full lederhosen and seem to have a ham with them.  Great guys having a ton of fun!

RAGNAR-Staff

RAGNAR-Race-Director

Big shout out to the race director and staff!  Not sure how they do it, but they are amazing.  They have to manage a lot of people in a remote location for over 24 hrs.  They are up all night, ensuring everything continues to go smoothly.  This year, like last year, was amazing.  Thank you!

RAGNAR-Medals

Once the last runner headed out to the trail, we broke camp.  That’s one benefit to being the anchor runner… most everything is done when you get back.  By this time, everyone was anxious to get home to a shower and a comfortable bed.  We grabbed our medals, snapped a picture and hit the road with another successful RAGNAR Trail Relay under our belts.

RAGNAR-Ultra-Team

RAGNAR-TEAM1

This is my favorite team event of the year.  We will likely run 3 teams next year, as everyone has friends that want to join.  The more the merrier!  We have such a great group of people and have become great friends (even though I may see some of them only at Ragnar).  We’ll continue to train and encourage each other and prepare for the next one.  November can’t come soon enough!

See you on the trail!!!

Ragnar Trail – Arizona

Ragnar-logo

“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:

Ragnar_Trail_team

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.
Ragnar-trail-camp

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.

Ragnar-trail-gear-tent

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.

ragnar-trail-finish-area

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.

Ragnar-Trail-map

Ragnar-Trail-map

 

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.

Ragnar-trail-Francisco

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.

Ragnar-trail-camp-night

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!

Ragnar-trail-grill-master

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.

IRagnar-trail-transition-tent 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.

Ragnar-Trail-Julia

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.Ragnar-trail-camp-cook

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.

Ragnar-trail-fashion

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.

Ragnar-trail-sleep

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.

Ragnar-trail-team-A

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.  Ragnar-trail-team-B

TypeTwoFun -Team-A finished with a time of 24:53.  We just missed our goal of 24 hours.Ragnar-trail-team-A1

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.

Ragnar-trail-Team

 

Race Review

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.

 Summary:

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!

 

Ragnar-trail-medal

Phoenix Half Marathon

Phoenix_MarathonWhen you start running, the natural progression is to run farther and farther. It’s funny to me that my now short 5k training run was once a lofty goal I someday hoped to achieve.  After the the 5k races, came the 10k and even a double down–running both the 5k and the 10k at the same event.  So naturally, a half marathon was soon on the to-do list.

The Phoenix Half Marathon was our very first attempt, and we knew it was going to be a learning experience–and it was.  I had hoped to describe to you all the buzz at the starting line and how the runners were jittery with nervous energy, anxious to start.  I would tell you all about it, except I wasn’t there.  I was in the Porta-John when the starting gun sounded.  That’s pretty much how my morning had gone, and I was not off to a good start.

Rewinding about seven hours… it’s around 11  pm, and I’m just getting to bed.  The plan was to be asleep hours ago, but that just didn’t happen due to kids’ activities and family that had just arrived in town.  I sleep very lightly, waking up several times in a panic thinking I’ve overslept.  3 am comes way too early, as toss back the covers and hop in the shower to wake up.  Four hours of sleep is not going to be fun, I think to myself, stirring my big bowl of oatmeal. I have to be at Jeff and Julia’s house by 4:30 am, in order to give us plenty of time to get to the event, park and catch the shuttle that would drop us off at the starting line.  The last bus was scheduled to depart at 5:15 am.

Phoenix_Marathon_Bib

It’s now 5:15 am, and we are at a dead stop on the freeway.  The off-ramp is completely backed-up by what appears to be other participants arriving at the event. We finally make it to the parking area, well after the last bus should have left, and it looks as though the event coordinators realized the problem and adjusted. I hate scrambling like this on race day, especially for our biggest running event yet.  We drive for quite awhile, in fact at one point we are concerned we are on the wrong bus heading out for a full marathon. We’re dropped off exactly where we are suppose to be, 13.1 miles away from our car, and the biggest finish line I’ve ever attempted to reach.  Stepping off the bus we find a large crowd of people that is actually a semi-organized line for the Porta-Johns. One thing runners know how to do is hydrate!  I’m thinking to myself that there is no way we can get through this line in 15 minutes and get to the starting line… and I was right.

The gun goes off, catching me mid-stream, and I wonder if this morning could get any worse.  I kick open the door, and the place is all but deserted.  Julia is there ditching the pre-race warm clothes and tossing them in the back of a truck where we will be reunited with them at the finish.  Jeff is the last one out and tells us to go ahead as he runs a bit slower pace anyway. It’s a bit odd arriving at an empty starting line, almost like the race was setup just for us. We do one last gear check and give ourselves our own 3,2,1 countdown before we cross the chip timer that will record our official start time.

As we settle into our pace, I start think about our goals.  I know, I know… this is our first half marathon, and the only goal should be to finish, but I need some sort of a guideline, something that I can measure against and improve on.  Goal number one is to not be passed by the full marathon runners. I don’t think I will handle it well if I get passed by someone who started 13.1 miles behind me on the same course. All  the online calculators we messed with said we would finish between 2:20 and 2:30. We are 4:1 run/walkers and it gets a bit difficult to get the numbers right.  2 hours and 30 minutes is a good solid attainable goal, and we shoot for that.

The first two water stations come perfectly and we walk them taking small sips and rinsing.  We are feeling good and the intervals seem natural.  We eat every 30 minutes or so depending on the distance to the next water station.  Just a quick shot of GU gels or Shot Bloks for energy.  The only problem we had was finding a good pacer.  We kept passing everyone, and even though we felt great, I was worried we were running too fast.

When we hit the half-way timer, we realize that we are 1 hour and 10 minutes in and are very happy with that.  If we can run the second half just as fast as the first half, we will exceed our 2:30 goal quite easily.  We feel strong and stick with our 4:1 intervals, which seems to be working well for us.

The people along the route are great, and very inspiring with all their crazy signs and cheers, and one group is actually handing out free beer. We see lots of family and friends coming out to support their runners, and my favorite sign reads “This is the worst parade, EVER”!  We are feeling strong with minor aches and pains, couple of hot spots that are sure to cook a blister, but nothing that is slowing us down.

We run through downtown Mesa, and I can sense we are getting close to the end.  We hit the 12 mile marker and have just over a mile left.  I ask Julia for the time and almost don’t believe her when she says 2:04!  We skipped our last few intervals and ran it in with enough gas left in the tank to finish strong.  Official time:  2:14

We did it, crossing the finish line with fists pumping!  To some it may not seem like a big deal, but we were ecstatic. It was a long road to get here, in fact it was Julia’s third attempt and she was finally healthy enough not only to start, but to finish with a great race time.  Jeff came in a few minutes later with another great finish, actually beating our original goals.  Very proud of all of us.

Phoenix Marathon photosWe get our finisher medals and meet up with Julia’s daughter, who congratulates us with hugs and flowers!  I was not expecting either, and both were very cool.  We grab water and wet towels that they were handing out, cool down and get in line to have our official pictures taken.  There are tons of vendors handing out all kinds of free samples of drinks, eats, and treats.  The cool-down tent is full with people stretching and soaking their feet in ice baths, which look inviting especially with the blister on the ball of my foot.  We decide to skip it and head over to bag check, where the line is long but seems to be moving.  It’s a good time for race review and to critique our strategy.

This morning was pretty rocky and did not go exactly how I wanted, but we made the best of and it turned out to be a great event and a huge milestone for all of us.  We’ll be attending next year for sure.  In my mind, road running is type-two-fun (it’s fun when it’s done) and it has been a few weeks since the race and the pain memory has started to fade, so the only question for next year is…the half or the FULL!!!!

-TTF

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Race Review

Things that sucked:

  • Traffic into the the event. Every one was stopping at the traffic light. Need a police officer directing traffic (especially at 4:30am when there is no other traffic besides racers).
  • Starting line porta-johns.  Need more and spread them out.  Too many people in a small area with one thing on their mind.

Things that rocked:

  • The route was very flat, actually slightly downhill.  Great race for beginners.
  • Aid stations. Well stocked and managed.
  • Race route volunteers.  They did a great job of handing out water and energy food.
  • Finish line activities.  Lots of vendors, food choices, etc.

Conclusion:  Great event.  We look forward to next year!