Monday, December 19, 2016

Tales from the Trails {Ragnar Trail Alafia Race Recap-- Part 1}

"We believe that being a Ragnarian is about more than being a runner..."

I joined my Ragnar Alafia Trail team in much the same way that I joined my Ragnar Chicago team (back in June of this year): I saw a post on Facebook about a team looking for runners... I asked if they were competitive or not (since my pace is slower non-competitive teams work best for me)... the team captain assured me that it was a non-competitive team... I registered and paid. This time, however, I convinced my friend Mary to join as well.

The week leading up to the race was filled with your typical "pre-trail race prep". Mary and her husband have gone camping before so they had all the camping gear we thought we would need. So really I just had to make sure my running clothes and personal equipment etc were ready and suitable for trail races.

Did I mention I had never run a trail race before? Yeah... never. I did one practice run (on what I would soon learn was a "baby trail" compared to the trails for the race) in the week before Ragnar and that was the extent of my trail experience. I had also never gone camping before. In general, I'm not really an outdoorsy kind of girl. I'm more of a "I need a hot shower and an air conditioned insect-free area to sleep" kind of girl.

Anyway, since Mary and I were traveling from the same area we decided to embark on the 300+ mile journey together the day before race day. Once we got there we just followed the line of cars heading into the wilderness campsite...

We already had our parking pass so we were able to skip the vehicle check-in process (not that that saved us any time)...

And proceeded to the gear drop location. So "gear drop" means exactly that. It's not a "park and set up camp, then move your vehicle once your tent is perfectly configured" area. Ragnar makes it pretty clear that parking at gear drop is frowned upon...

So we dropped off the gear (I stayed with our stuff while Mary went to park) and over the course of the next few hours turned this...

Into this...

Once we had our tents set up we went to watch the safety video and complete the team check-in process. For the better part of the next two hours I spent most of my time complaining about being hungry and trying to explain to my vegan (Pete) and vegetarian (Mary) teammates that Black Bean chips were not a suitable alternative to a meal, especially for my carnivorous tummy.

Ragnar Trail Tip #1: If you are arriving on the day/night before the race, bring the food you want to eat. There are no food trucks the night before race day. And surrounding food options might be limited. Plus, as much as you think it might work, loudly exclaiming how wonderful the neighboring team's food smells does not motivate them to give you any... even when you add how hungry you are (trust me I tried).

So for "dinner" I munched on apples and potato chips to get rid of my hunger (so much for being a carnivore) and then Mary and I settled in for the night...

Ragnar Trail Tip #2: If you are going to share a tent with someone make sure you are "tent sleeping" compatible. Neither Mary or I snore which immediately decreased the homicide risk in our tent. And we both sleep pretty straight. Granted the sleeping bags significantly inhibits your ability to move around, but that really comes in handy when there isn't a lot of room in the tent. 

Ragnar Trail Tip #3: Bring a large tent. I didn't think Mary and I would need more than a two person tent since... well, it was just for the two of us. What we didn't really factor in was the space that all our stuff would take up. Bigger tents are more of a headache to put up, but you will appreciate the space. Each team has a specific 17'x17' space that they have to keep all their stuff in (this is to ensure that all teams are accommodated on the camp grounds), so you don't need a tent mansion. But at the very least remember that your gear takes up space so bring a tent that will accommodate you and all your stuff. 

Ragnar Trail Tip #4: Bring earplugs. There were a few teams that thought their 17'x17' space was soundproof and proceeded to laugh and talk at an absurdly inconsiderate volume into ungodly hours of the morning. The earplugs were an absolute necessity at that point. Now, I recognize that the entire experience is supposed to be fun. And I'm all for teams hanging out and having a good time. But no one needs to hear Cards for Humanity answers screamed across the campground at 2am. By the time I finally fell asleep, it was time to wake up. 

On Friday morning the first order of business was to head to the Solomon tent, in the Runner's Village, for trail shoes. Since I'm not a trail runner (and I wasn't sure if I would ever do this again) I took advantage of the fact that Solomon allows you to borrow their shoes for the duration of the race. The trick to testing out the Solomon trail shoes is to join the line early and test them using the socks you are going to be running in. I asked for shoes that provided a "Wolverine" grip and got these...

After Mary and I finished securing our shoes, we went back to the Runner's Village to meet up with some of the other members of our team, and cheer for our team captain, Monica, who was going to start her first loop...
[left to right: Debbie, Monica, Mary. Pete, Me]

Monica led our team off with Leg 1 on the green (easy) loop...
And once Monica was off it was time to eat and get ready for my first leg. 

Ragnar Trail Tip #5: Give yourself enough time to get ready (especially when you have to get dressed in a small tent). It takes a special set of skills to put on compression pants while lying flat on your back in a two person tent that's half filled with all your camping stuff. It's even harder to do that while trying to avoid the cricket that got inside the tent with you.

Ragnar Trail Relays have three loops with varying degrees of difficulty: green ("easy"), yellow (moderate), and red (hard). Each team member runs each loop once (for teams with 8 runners) but the order in which you run your loops will vary from most of the other runners on your team. The first runner for your team always starts with the green loop (so since Monica was first, that's the loop that she ran). Then she handed the team bib to Pete who (as our second runner) ran the yellow loop. Pete handed off to Debbie (who ran the red loop). And then it was my turn to start the loops over and run my first leg on the green loop...

The greep loop was about 5.4 miles long (so really not a bad distance for my first leg) and the hardest part was navigating through this stretch of sand...

Even though the green loop was the "easy" loop, I still had trouble getting through some areas of the trail, and rolled my ankle slightly when I landed incorrectly on a tree root. Fortunately, my ankle only bothered me a little; unfortunately, that wasn't the only time I rolled my ankle during the race.

There are red, yellow and green arrows along each respective loop to point you in the right direction, but apart from that there are very few markers along the course. So I kept my eyes open for arrows (and alligators) and this delightful little sign...

About 0.25 miles before the end of the loop, each runner passes a sensor which registers your team (via the bib) and an alert comes up on a monitor in the transition tent (the area where one runner passes the team bib to the next runner on the team). This gives the runner after you enough time to go into the transition tent and get ready to take the team bib from you...

When my first leg was over I handed off the "No Moe Hills" team bib to Jairo and went to peel myself out of my sweat soaked compression pants (which were just as hard to take off while lying down in a tent as they were to put on); take a "shower pill" shower; charge my phone; and to finally find my first real meal of the day.

Check out "Tales from the Trails - Part 2" to read about me running my hardest leg in the dark & why yellow is my favorite Ragnar color 😊.


  1. Wow! This is amazing so far!!

    I ran Ragan DC 2 years ago and loved every minute of it!!

    Kudos to you for jumping in and running a trail ragnar!! I am too much of a clutz to run trails.

    Sorry to hear about your ankle...I hope there wasn't too much damage.

    Can't wait for part 2!

    1. Thanks Tamieka! I want to do Ragnar DC one day! I hear it's amazing :)
      There was no permanent damage to my ankle (thankfully) and I was able to run a half marathon the day after Ragnar :)
      Working on Part 2 of the post right now ;)

  2. You are so brave!!! This sounds fascinating but far far out of my comfort zone, LOL. You may be putting this in your next post, but does this make you want to run trails more? Loved the tips, and really look forward to your next post!! I am so scared of the dark lol.

    1. Thanks Jenny! I definitely want to do more! I'm already planning for another Ragnar Trail for next year ;)


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