Sunday, June 21, 2015

Race Recap: WV RAGNAR Trail Race

I've only been home for less than a day, and my head is still spinning.  Jenn has informed me that I'm suffering from this:

For the past few weeks, I have been consumed with preparing for my first trail race, the Ragnar Trail Appalachians Relay in West Virginia.  I've been so excited because this is different from everything I've ever done as a runner.  Usually I am a road runner, so I had to buy a set of trail shoes and change my whole attitude about running to participate in this race.  Plus, it involved camping.

Erin picked me up on Thursday afternoon, and we drove to Bruceton Mills, WV.  It was supposed to take us 3.5 hours, but we had some slight deviations along the way.  First, every road trip I've ever been on has involved a Starbucks Frappucino, and since we had limited phone service, it was difficult to find a Starbucks on the way.  We perservered and found one, though.

Next, when we arrived at Big Bear Lake, we should have just followed the signs to Big Bear Lake Camping Ground, but instead we listened to Siri, who told us to turn onto a series of back roads that eventually became a single-track dirt road.  It was scary.  When the road seemed to lead deep into the forest, Erin had had enough, and she backtracked to the main road, turned right. . .where we saw (500 feet away) the entrance to Ragnar Village.  sigh.

We dropped off our gear at our Tent and then we had to shuttle back to the Village.  The line was huge, so the women next to us got the bright idea to hitchhike with incoming racers, so we got into the back of a nice woman's van, and she drove us back to the campsite.
Erin and I are in the back of a van.  Down by the river.
Our canopy set up in Tent City
We set up our tents and canopies together--two 8-person relay teams and one 4-person ultra team.  The sun came out for a tiny bit, so we took some pictures.

The only time the sun came out and it was in my eyes.
Erin and I pose with our team mascot: Sasquatch.  Our team was The Squatch Hunters.

That night a fierce storm rocked Tent City.  Tents and canopies were knocked down, smashed, and blown away.  Jenn and I braced the walls of our tent during the worst of it, and Steve and Mike actually stood outside in the storm, holding onto the METAL poles of the canopies.  Heroes.

The race started on Friday morning.  It was exciting to watch the teams start; Jenn was our first runner, and she ran the Green Loop--3.5 miles of trail.  When she got back, the next runner (Renee) did the Yellow Loop (4.6 miles), and when she got back, Mandy ran the Red Loop (6.7 miles).  The pattern continued through all eight runners of our team until we all ran each loop.  I was Runner 7, so I had a lot of down time at first.  My first run was on the Green Loop at 4:00 pm.  Of course, as soon as I started, the heavens opened up all over me, so I ran in a sloppy earth soup mixed with roots and rocks.

Unfortunately, I didn't take pictures of the trails, partly because of the rain and partly because my phone was blowing up every time I got a pocket of cell-phone reception, and I needed to conserve the battery.  I have awesome running friends, though, and they have graciously allowed me to use their pictures.

First round relays line up in the shoot.
Transition tent photo.  I am in orange, waiting for Brittney to pass the bib.
Trail among the ferns.  Gorgeous.  Flat and easy, right?

This is not a riverbed to admire.  This is the trail.  You run in the river.

Now add mud and running in the dark to the picture.  Can you tell what is just mud and what is an ankle-breaking rock?  Yeah, me neither.
My second run was the Red Loop, also known as Mother of Crack, and I ran it starting at 3:00 in the morning.  I was really excited to run this loop, as it is the most challenging, but I was very nervous, too, because I was going to run it in the pitch-dark.  I received lots of pep talks from runners who had gone before me, some from my team, some from Ragnar Village, and I was worried.  Not gonna lie, Peeps, this trail was not just challenging; it was downright dangerous when you factor in the torrential downpours we experienced.  The Red Loop was the most technical trail I have ever run; it was amazing and terrifying all in one.  I would like to run this trail on a dry day in the morning, but it was not meant to be.  Let's see what I can remember:

The first two miles were extremely scary and technical.  I remember climbing up and down boulders. Luckily some runners helped me through some of it (before they took off ahead of me).  I remember mud going up to my knees.  The middle miles were in The Swamp, and I liked those better.  I remember actual stretches of running, not just walking or climbing, and I remember winding around big, flowery bushes and running over bridges.  The last miles sucked hard.  There was a two mile stretch that was completely uphill.  I didn't think it was possible.  The mud made climbing difficult, and there were a few times that I thought I would lose a shoe.  It took me 2:40 to run those 6.7 miles, if run is the word you can use.

When I came back to hand off to Erin, Jenn was there, and she asked me if I was ok, which leads me to believe that I looked as traumatized as I felt.  Even better, when I went to spray off my legs with the hose, I saw that there was no water.  Anywhere.  None.  The village had run out of water.  I had started to shiver (either from shock or cold or both), so my only choice was to warm up at the bonfire, which of course hardened the mud on my legs.  sigh.

My last loop was the Yellow Loop, and I was scheduled for 3:00 pm, but there was a forecast of another terrible storm, so Ragnar allowed teams to double up their last loops to make the race end sooner, so the run happened at 11:00 am.  This was great news for me because it meant I got to run with Leigh, with whom I used to run until she moved to Maryland.  Leigh and I really enjoyed this run.  It had a little bit of everything: rocks, hills, water, and a gorgeous pine tree forest.  We had a great time running and chatting, and we finished it in 1:23.

Leigh and I warm up at the bonfire pre-Loop.  Look at the bearded dude behind us warming his bra!

The Squatch Hunters met us at the finish, and we collected our medals.  Renee had to leave early, so they took a picture with her while Leigh and I were running:
The Squatch Hunters are happy to be done.
I've had some time to process this experience, and I still don't know what to make of it.  The Squatch Hunters were laughing at what they thought they'd read in this post, and I'm not gonna lie; during the Red Loop and just after it, I had a very definite opinion about this race and the way it is organized, but time (and wine) mellows everything, and I do know that I tend to develop "race amnesia," so I've changed my opinions a little bit.  Here is the breakdown:

The Good:  There was a charging station at Ragnar Village, and that was a big help. The trails were gorgeous.  I loved seeing my friends.  I had  new experiences with trail racing.  I took some risks.  I learned how badass I can be.  Plus, I ate some delicious smores, with quality chocolate, supplied by Salomon.

The Bad:  I hated never feeling warm or dry.  Of course, nobody can control the weather, and the fact that I didn't pack enough (or any) hoodies is my fault entirely.  My overall mood probably would have been much different if I had just worn heavier clothing while waiting to run. Plus, I needed rainboots for the mud.

The catering company was definitely not a plus. Their primary duty was to keep us supplied with coffee, and they failed miserably.  It took me six attempts in two days to get coffee, and when I did get it, it was disgusting.  C'mon, people.  How hard is it to make coffee?

Many people didn't like the pasta dinner that came with the registration, but I didn't think it was so terrible.  Some people had stomach aches the next day, but who knows if any of that was because of the dinner?

The Ugly:  This is where I really had to reign in my temper and think about being fair.  The Ragnar events are expensive commercial races (My ticket cost 160 bucks), and because of this, I noticed that Ragnar attracts people who like themed races (think Warrior Dash, Color Run, etc.).  Many of the people I met and ran with were trail runners, and I enjoyed being around them.  It sounds cliche, but trail runners are good people. They are extremely considerate of the racing environment, trails, and people.  When there is no coffee or water, the trail runners shrug their shoulders and crawl into their sleeping bags to wait it out. They are true badasses.  I am not a trail runner, but I am trying to become one, or at least run like one.

Some of the people I met were NOT trail runners, and some were not runners at all.  These people were rude and inconsiderate.  They were the people who took showers after each loop or for more than half an hour.  They meticulously scrubbed every inch of their bodies and rinsed out their clothing while there was a long line to spray down at the hoses.  They took and consumed and used, and when there was no more, they complained.

I don't want to be one of those people; however, when the water ran out, I lost my temper.  The water tanks were in clear sight of the village, and I feel that organizers should have had a better idea of how much water they needed.  I'm not asking for much; I just want to spray off the trail-gunk before a nap.    I realize that the "Commercial Racers" abused the system with the water consumption, but a part of me thinks that race directors should be able to control this.

One way might be to make all runners aware that there is a limited amount of water, and considering how many times I was told that this was a cupless race, I know there were plenty of opportunities to educate people about water consumption.  If Ragnar chose not to do this, they had to be prepared for the consequences by keeping a close eye on the tanks and refilling them promptly.  They didn't do this, and it caused a lot of trouble.

Another "Ugly" may be because of the circumstances.  I am not sure it was responsible of Ragnar to allow us to run the Red Loop in the dark.  I didn't hear of any serious injuries, thank God, but the whole time I was out there, I kept thinking "What if?"  There were many opportunities to seriously hurt myself, even though I was super careful, and I wonder about the people who were going into this situation without any knowledge of trail-running.

When I came home, I told my husband that I would never run another Ragnar event.  I probably won't, but a tiny part of me wishes I could run it again to "get it right."  This time I would take warm clothes and stock up on better food.  I still think that if the temperature had been at least ten degrees warmer, I would have loved it (even with the rain).

It was wonderful to try something different, and I liked seeing so many great trail runners.  They are inspirational badasses.  Oh, and the medal is pretty badass, too:

It can open cans!  It can open beer bottles!  It can turn bolts!  It can cut down small trees!
I want to thank Jenn Pierce for putting together this experience.  Her smiling face and cheerful attitude reminded us all that the best part about the race was being together.

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