Saturday, August 20, 2016

Ragnar Trail Race - August 2016

About a month or so before I ran the Napa Valley Marathon, I was asked by a co-worker to consider joining a Trail Relay Team for the Ragnar Trail Race in Angel Fire, New Mexico in August.  I have had my eye on Ragnar for awhile - so I eagerly accepted.  A relay race seemed like a new and different challenge.  I had participated in a 24-hour relay several times in high school but it was in 1-mile increments.  I was excited to take on a new challenge.  Plus, if the trail race was in August, I would already be in good shape to run a half marathon in October.  (The Rock n Roll half marathon comes to Denver in October and I have run it every single year we have lived here.)

I had NO IDEA what I said yes to.  I had no idea what trail running was really like and I had no idea what my life would actually end up looking like in August.
The pay off for trail running - awesome views.  My car is down in that valley where I started this training run.  If there is anything that could convince me to become a trail runner, it is the views.
I spent the summer attempting to train for the race.  I quickly learned that trail running is a whole entire different beast (I could probably write a blog post just on all my trail running thoughts!)  Trail running (at least in Colorado) has some serious climbs and running 1/4 mile on a trail can sometimes feel like an eternity.

Me on a training run this summer.  Also, the first picture that I have of myself pregnant.  I did not know I was pregnant at the time, but there was a little bun in the oven!
A couple of weeks before Ragnar, Ian and I found out we were expecting which changed the game dramatically.  It was too early to share with my relay teammates but we knew.  Ian was pretty concerned that I would push myself too hard (where would he ever come up with that idea?) and I was exhausted from starting the school year.  However, I was not about to back out or give up so off to New Mexico we went.

Our team before the start - everyone is happy, dry, and rested.
One of the advantages of the trail relay race is that the team can camp and be in one spot the entire time.  The road races involve mini-vans and sleeping in school gymnasiums.  We lucked out in that we all chipped in for a hotel room at the resort close by (an 8-10 minute walk from the exchange area) and so we could shower and sleep there if we decided to (I was one of the few people on the team that did not sleep in the tent and slept in the hotel instead... I told myself it was because I was pregnant and I could baby myself).  

I ended up being runner #1 for our team, Angels on Fire.  Our team's start time was 3pm on Friday and at about 2:50pm it started drizzling and then it started pouring at about 2:58pm.  I ran the green loop first, then yellow, then red - not necessarily the order I would have picked but it was nice to go first and just get going instead of waiting around. 

Starting the race for our team (that we would finish 27 hours later) and trying to keep the rain out of my eyes.
The green loop was supposed to be the easiest out of all of them (it was the easiest, but that does not mean it was easy).  It was 3.8 miles and supposedly only had an elevation gain/loss of 620 feet (I think their elevation maps were off).  It was nice to head out in daylight with fresh legs.  The green loop was the least "trail" of all the loops.  At one point, I was pretty sure that I was running through someone's front yard.  The only issue with the green loop for me was that I was running it in the rain and the grass was quickly turning into mud.  I was worried about getting injured with 10+ miles of running still to go.  I tried to be careful and there was one point where I almost sat down and scooted down an incline because it was so steep and so muddy.  
You can see me finishing at the transition tent - I was soaked!
It stopped raining within a few minutes of me finishing my loop and handing off to the next person.  I was so happy that we had all chipped in on a hotel room because I headed up and took a nice hot shower and got all the mud off of me.  Ian was our team's volunteer.  He volunteered from 4pm-7pm (or something like that).  His main duties were emptying trash cans for the dining tent and helping people sort their trash correctly.  I ate dinner with some teammates and we hung out.  Once Ian finished his volunteer shift, he ate dinner and we got to check in with some teammates that had run the yellow and red loops in the meantime.  Yellow sounded hard but doable and red sounded miserable.  

Once it started to get dark, Ragnar got their bonfire going.  It was so nice that it was not raining as the temperature was dropping.  I can't remember what time I ran my yellow loop but I think it was around 11pm or midnight.  I had practiced running with a headlamp once (that is a whole story within itself) and we had purchased a headlamp that was great quality and adjustable/tilt-able which is key for running at night.

I was bundled up to run the yellow loop.  Headband and Headlamp ready to go. 
The yellow loop was 4.7 miles and had an elevation gain/loss of 1300 feet.  I had heard that it had a lot of tree roots and rocks on the trail so I was okay taking it slow.  The first mile or so was on a paved then gravel road so I tried to run that at a good pace then the switchbacks came.  Once I got to the switchbacks (and forest) I walked A LOT.  The incline was so steep that it would have killed my legs and it felt like you just kept going up and up and up (for a mile?).  I was also a little worried about missing a turn or something since it was dark and I could not see or hear other people.  Eventually I got to the top (I don't really know? it is hard to tell in the dark).  I alternated between jogging and walking.  I told myself it was okay to walk but to keep a good pace.  Around 2-2.5 miles into the loop I started passing people (which was shocking to me since I was walking).  Once I started catching people, I was more motivated to run.  I did not want anyone to pass me back.  I did not have a great split for the yellow loop, but I felt good about the effort I put in. I would have run it the same way if I had to do it again in the dark on not fresh legs.

After I finished yellow, I think I took another quick shower and then tried to sleep for a couple of hours.  I don't how much good sleep I got, but it felt so nice to lay in a bed and be warm and snug.  

I think I woke up around 4 or 4:30am and started getting ready to run again.  At this point I was tired and not really looking forward to running the hardest loop. I thought yellow was hard and everyone was saying that red would be worse.  Additionally all the loops end the same - with steep downhills (basically running downhill on a ski slope but on mountain bike trails).  It is one thing to bike on a mountain bike trail, it is quite another to try to run them.  I was not a happy camper about the "running" trails.  

I thought I was going to start running around 5, but I think I ended up starting closer to 6am.  The sun was up and I did not even need my headlamp.  The red loop was 6.2 miles and gained 1400 feet in the first few miles.  I honestly don't know how much running I did on the red loop, especially on the way up.  It was so steep and my legs were already feeling dead.  I also was concerned about my breathing as I was at 9-10,000 feet for most of the loop.  I think I said the phase, "Breathe!   Breathe!  The baby needs oxygen." about 200 times in a row in the same cadence over and over again.  I got passed by people but could not get myself to try to run, so I just kept walking.

I did not do well mentally on the red loop. I remember at one point honestly thinking that I was going to be stuck on the loop forever.  I was discouraged and upset that I was running/walking on mountain bike trails that had signs up like, "No runners, bikers only" and yet Ragnar was having us run the trails.  I thought I had done difficult training runs - but I had not practiced running bike trails.

One of the main reasons I am not a fan of trail running - how do you RUN on that?!? And not risk injury?
Eventually I hit the water station which meant I was at the top and halfway to the end.  I was so happy to be halfway and at the same time I was ready to just be done.  The way down was definitely better than the way up.  The ski lifts would run every so often which made me laugh and there were some great, amazing views.  I did more running on my way down and that helped it go by faster.

Such a pretty view on the red loop.  I was more than happy to stop running to capture the picture.

Ragnar marks, "1 mile to go" on all the loops and I remember specifically an indescribable amount of happiness when I saw the 1 mile to go sign.  I think I may have started crying and I threw my arms up in the air and said, "Thank you Jesus!" about 10 times.  I did not think I was ever going to finish (I know illogical, but I am currently not trying to run at 9,000 feet elevation on exhausted legs so I am much more logical now).  I finished my leg!  I was done!  

Several people on the team ended up running extra to make up for missing members of our team.  Ian even jumped in on yellow loop at the end.  Once I finished the red loop, I was done.  Since I knew I was pregnant, I thought 14.7 miles in 16 hours was enough.  I was happy to cheer team members in as they finished.
The happiest runner I know.  I never look this good running!
Once our team was done, we broke camp and packed up.  We found a pizza place in town and enjoyed a meal as fairly clean, tired, satisfied people.  While we were eating it starting pouring, then hailing, then back to pouring rain.  I was so happy that we were off the mountain and already packed up.  My guess is that some teams were still finishing and I felt so sad for them.

Typically I do not buy anything at the merchandise tent at events like this, but Ian and I totally got suckered into buying a onesie for the baby.  Since we each participated in the race, it was our first race as a family. Ian and I got t-shirts so the baby needed his own t-shirt as well!  I can't wait to have him try it on.  We will have to tell him about how we all raced when he was 6 weeks in utero and the size of a blueberry - family bonding!

It was my parents anniversary so we called them while we were waiting for the pizza and told them Happy Anniversary along with Happy Day You Find Out Your Grandparents - what a fun memory!

Our relay team right after the last person finished!

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