Well THAT was a hell of a thing!
I just ran as part of team “Tent Mansion Runners” at the inaugural Ragnar Trail New England relay. If you don’t know what a Ragnar is, read this first. That’s all about a “regular” Ragnar, where your team of 12 rents two vans and runs a 200-ish mile relay from point A to point B… my last one being from Hull to Provinceton on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. A trail Ragnar is a different animal altogether.
First, your team is only eight runners. Second, you don’t rent vans, you all go camping together (with 250 other teams in this case). Just like a regular Ragnar, everyone runs three legs, but in a trail Ragnar, you all run the same trails. Ragnar sets up three loops, and your team takes turn running them until everyone has run all three loops. My team started at 2:30 PM on Friday, and we ended at roughly 5:05 PM the next day.
When the runner before you comes into the relay station, they hand you the team bib (it’s worn around the waist on a race belt). You strap it on and head out to run, and then when you get back, you hand off to the next runner (repeat 24 times as needed to finish the race). I did a bad job of starting my watch for each of my legs as I was more worried about getting the bib on properly and getting started up the hill.
And when I say up the hill, do I mean up! On the longest loop of the course, there was a section of 0.6 miles that had an incline of over 15%. I don’t know about you, but I cannot sustain a run, let alone a jog, on a 15% incline. Here’s what the red loop looked like from the air. From the trail, it was hilly, full of trees, rocks, roots, and all kinds of fun stuff to trip over.
It took me roughly 2.5 hours to finish my 15 miles, so I averaged a pretty slow 14:31 minutes per mile on the course. Clearly, when I’ve gone trail running, I have not been training on hard enough courses! I was actually pretty pleased that I didn’t fall at all the whole time we were out there, especially during my slowest leg, which was my night run. For that run, I only managed to run 15:10 per mile, which isn’t that far off from a very fast walk, but I assure you that I suffered for it.
And why not? We did the math. If you ran up the stairs of the Empire State Building, ran back down again, did a half marathon, then ran the stairs up (AND down) a second time, you will have put out about the same effort as Ragnar Trail New England. The only catch is you have to do it on soft ground, mud, and gravel, and you have to dodge roots and branches that would otherwise try to trip you. Other than that, exactly the same thing.
Of course, we broke it into three distinct legs. Taking a seven hour break does wonders for your stamina. Here are the elevation charts if you’re into that kind of thing…
Compared to all the other races I’ve run (including half and full marathons), this was the toughest, if you measure it by how much walking I had to do in order to finish. If I do it again, I have some key learnings to share:
- Train with specificity. That means you run in similar circumstances, with similar gear, as you expect to find on race day. I have been running on trails, but nothing like this. As I remarked to a fellow runner, “I’ve been training on the wrong mountain.”
- If you can’t run, you can still hustle. And hustle I did. A mile in 18 minutes doesn’t feel fast, especially while you’re doing it, but if that’s all you have, then that’s all you have. Give your best, and when the trail starts pointing down hill a bit, you can get back some of your time.
- Don’t overdo it. I could have walked less, but it would have really worn me out… and I would NOT have gained as much time back if I had spent all my energy going uphill.
- Find great people to run with. I had a super team, and that made the experience so much more enjoyable.
While I say not to overdo it, I have to admit I pushed pretty close to that edge. I walk like the tin-man from the Wizard of Oz today, and I’m sure tomorrow is going to be a bit of an adventure in mobility. No complaints, I believe this was good for me, and I believe I will be a stronger runner because of this effort. Just maybe not until Wednesday.
Random happening: C-130s were flying over the camp site on Saturday, here’s a short video:
Last couple of pics. Here’s me at the start of the race. I’d just received the bib and for some reason was holding it in front of my face. I don’t know why…
And here’s part of the team during the middle of the night. Left to right this is Mike, Katie, Matt, and Goodge.