This weekend I checked off an item on my bucket list, and I now have the pleasure of calling myself a Ragnarian! I’ve read about Ragnar road races on other blogs for several years and always wanted to do one. My trip to West Virginia started on a cold day in December of 2013 when I ran into a friend at the gym. Joe and I chatted and he mentioned that he and another friend Carolyn were putting together a team to do a Ragnar trail race. I was so excited when they asked me to be on the Fleetfoot Max team and I’ve been looking forward to it ever since. Not only would I be able to do a Ragnar, I’d be doing the trail race version which appealed to me a lot more than the road version.
A Ragnar Trail Relay is a race where you get a team of 8 people together to run a relay, or 4 people if you choose the ultra option. For this trail race we each ran three loops for a total of 14.8 miles per person and 118.4 miles total for the team. This was the second year for Ragnar WV and it doubled in size from last year with roughly 300 teams registered. Last years race was run during a tropical storm and from what I read on blogs it was quite an adventure. 15 miles of very technical trail running, camping in the mountains of West Virginia, wildlife encounters, and possible inclement weather… sign me up!!
Being a flat lander from the eastern shore of Virginia without access to any technical trails I ran the trails at my local YMCA 4 times before the race and only did a couple of small hill workouts. My expectations for the race were to finish, and not hurt myself. I wanted to do well for the team and run strong, and I felt I did that considering my lack of experience on trails, though most of our team was in the same boat with no real hills or trails to train on. If nothing else it would be a fun camping weekend with lots of beautiful trails thrown in, but the adventure that awaited me in West Virginia was one that I’ll truly never forget.
I met up with Carolyn and Joe Thursday morning and headed to West Virginia. We had a great road trip but the storm clouds loomed, and the closer we got to West Virginia the more it rained. The forecast of scattered storms was unfortunately very accurate. We arrived not long after our other team mates and got the tent setup in between rain showers. As much as I thought I had packed to much stuff, our neighbor campsite had a couch, and many other campsites had some elaborate decorations. The first night we spent hanging out and camping and other than the rain the trip was off to a good start. Jonna and I hiked part of the yellow loop because I was scheduled to run that portion in the dark and wanted to get a glimpse in the daylight before the race started. The yellow trail was really beautiful lined with ferns through groves of pine trees. I also got a taste of how hard the inclines were and how technical the trail was because it took us 30 minutes of hiking to just go a mile.
We woke up on Friday and decided to hit the camp store for coffee since the race was not in full swing. Someone at the store told us there hadn’t been a bear sighting since Memorial Day. I was really nervous about seeing a bear and was hoping that the volume of people and the noise of the race would keep the wildlife away while we were on the trails. We attended the safety meeting where they also warned us about possible bear sightings, and other details of the race and how to stay safe. Friday started as a beautiful day, the sun was shining and the sky seemed mostly clear. I got my Supergirl shirt on, and my sparkly skirt and got in line with the 12:30 start group and the next thing I know I’m running my first loop of Ragnar Trail WV.
My first loop went really well, but it was challenging. I didn’t wear my headphones because the trails were really narrow so I wanted to be able to hear when people were coming so they could easily pass me. We started in a big group, but thinned out after about five minutes and I was in the middle of the pack all alone for most of the green trail. I passed several people, but also got passed. Overall I think I did ok. I was running what felt like a normal race pace but it was really about two minutes slower than my normal race time. I could also hear my breathing get heavy at times on the inclines, just wanted to make sure any bears would hear me coming and run the other way! I did walk some of the rocky parts but I made it to the transition area where Susan was waiting for me for the yellow loop.
After Susan came in our next runner, Alan started the longest trail the red loop. I think Susan and I both had a lot of fun on our respective loops. Between the late night Thursday, pre-race nerves and 38 minutes of the hardest trail I’ve ever run I got some lunch and took a nap. Knowing I had a 2 am loop to run I wanted to get as much sleep as I could before night time rolled around. I’m not sure how long I slept but when I woke up the wind was blowing so hard the tent was shaking so much I thought it might come out of the ground. I looked out the window and our canopy was being held down by Joe and Alan because the wind lifted it off the ground and had snapped one of the poles. I quickly zipped all the windows to keep the rain out and changed into my rain gear. Luckily I had packed my rain boots, which were awesome because the campground was very muddy from the rains on Thursday. Bill our last runner had arrived and was setting up his tent so we stood under the awning while the rain poured down and the thunder rolled through. Jonna was out on the yellow trail during the downpour, and I was really anxious to see how she was doing. I met her at the transition area after she had finished, and was happy to see that even though she was drenched she had a blast. The race was stopped for several hours because of the thunderstorm and two of our runners didn’t get to run their loops. We started back at 6:40 pm with Bill doing his first loop the yellow trail.
I was really happy that Carolyn decided to run with me since her red loop was skipped because of the thunder. Joe also ran his green loop even though they cancelled his as well. Armed with her backpack of goodies and her Mrs. Claus costume, we started around 7:57 on the “Mother of Crack”. The longest trail and the most technical after an hour of heavy rainfall. I’m used to running in the dark because I run in the early morning a lot during the winter months, so I wasn’t really worried about running at night. I was really in for a huge surprise. The mud on the trail felt like running on ice or grease at times. The trail was a slippery sloppy mess. The first half of the trail took us an hour and by 9 pm it was really dark under all the tree cover. The first loop I had run in a pair of Solomon demo shoes, which I really liked called the fell raiser. With all the rain the shoe tent had shut down and my Nike Kigers were no match for all that mud. I went through some puddles where I sank in mud over my ankles. Carolyn also slipped and strained her hamstring and we spent the last half of the trail taking our time and basically hiking. We passed a couple of people, but there were quite a few runners that came blazing by us sloppy trail be damned. We sang songs, talked and even scared a frog with our head lamps. We picked up a runner, Monique along the way and luckily made it to the end with no other issues. As we neared the transition tent I could hear the sounds of the music from the Village and have never been so happy to hear country music in my life. I can usually finish a half marathon in about 2 hours, which was how long it took me to complete the “Mother of Crack” red loop. We made it to transition and I handed off the bib to Susan and she was off for the green loop. We stopped by the water hose and I sprayed down the bottom half of my legs and my shoes which were covered in mud. Once we got to the tent I changed into some warm clothes and crashed into my sleeping bag around 11. I had a fitful sleep knowing I’d have to get up at some point to run, and knowing my friends were out there on sloppy muddy trails at night. I heard Susan return and say the green trail was a huge mess as well. I drifted in and out of sleep hearing people walk by talking about the trails and how bad it was.
I finally got up at 5 am and no one was in the tent. I went up to the transition area to see when our last runner left on the red trail so I’d know when to get the next person to the transition area. I found Carolyn asleep in her van and also Susan was in the tent asleep. I went back up to the village to get some coffee and cooked myself a smores, then walked back to the camp site. I was able to get Bill up and we headed to the transition area when we thought Joe would get there. They have tv’s setup that show when the runner is 2/10ths of a mile from the transition so the next runner can get ready. We missed our transition because Joe had finished and couldn’t find us so walked back to the camp site, and ran into Bill who had gone to get his camera. Then I went back to the campsite to get the report from Joe and get ready for my final Ragnar loop. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the condition of the trail and very little sleep and tired legs. It was a little chilly but that was nice and at least the sun was out and the fog was going away. I headed out onto the yellow loop. This trail was the most beautiful and my favorite of all the trails. I was able to get a pair of Solomon’s demo shoes at their tent, though they were a size to small. I really loved the grip that I got with those on the rocks and roots and mud. I made my way through the trail and had a lot of fun out there. I think it helped knowing that I had less than 5 miles to go before I was done all the loops. There was a beautiful scenic overlook on this trail and any time I’d go by a runner or get passed we’d cheer each other on. Breakfast was waiting at the end!
This is the transition bridge that you run over to hand off to the next runner. The last time I ran over it I was really choked up. I had conquered the hardest race I’ve ever done. I was proud of myself that even though it was some really challenging running, I never got to a point I wanted to give up or throw in the towel. Honestly, it was also some of the most enjoyable running I’ve ever done. There is no other feeling quite like it.
After I came through my last loop I headed back to camp and got changed into my Ragnar shirt and jacket that I bought. I was finally able to relax and enjoy watching everyone run and transition. As the day went on we watched as teams started to finish. Everyone runs over the bridge together at the end. It was an awesome feeling that everyone on the team shared.
After we got our medals we went back to the camp site to celebrate. Many teams packed up to leave, but the campsites are open until Sunday and most of us decided to stay on for the night to relax and have fun. I was sad to pack up Sunday morning and go home. As tired as my legs were I wanted to go out and hike on the trails a little more but I guess I’ll have to wait for next year.
The medal and my trail shoes and socks. When I sprayed down my legs most of the mud came off my shoes, but my socks took a real beating as well. I’m happy to report that other than general soreness and some scrapes we made it through Ragnar without any major injuries. We heard that two runners had broken a leg, one person an arm and another person had a broken ankle. Even though it was dangerous, I’d still do it again in a heartbeat. The volunteers were great, everyone on the trails was very polite and friendly and we all had a great time. Congrats to all the runners and thanks to the race directors and volunteers of Ragnar Appalachian WV 2014!!