Ragnar was a king and hero of early 9th century Scandinavia. He was a conqueror, a wild man, a leader, fearless and free-spirited.
And that’s exactly how you feel when you are done running a Ragnar relay race! You feel like you’ve conquered a huge challenge as a team (which you have!) and you want to go do it again! I had the chance to be a part of an Ultra Ragnar Team for the Ragnar Trail Carolinas race October 6th and 7th this year.
When our team captain Amber asked me to join the team…I was completely nervous I wasn’t going to be able to do it. A standard team for this race is 8 people, who run 16 miles each over the 2 days of the race. Our team as an ultra had 4 people, so 32 miles each. I had just ran my first marathon earlier in the year and struggled. How and why did I think I could run 32!?
I have a love/hate relationship with running. It is time consuming. Your legs always are sore (maybe that’s just me??). So, I wanted to spend the least amount of time running – so only gave myself 9 weeks for training. I don’t recommend this, 12 weeks is a much better time frame. My goal was to get up as close to 40 miles per week at my peak mileage, which was 3 weeks before the race. I was able to get up to mid 30’s for several weeks and then had a successful taper, 40 was too much for me with the amount of time I gave myself. I did have to back down at one point because of several sore spots (injuries in training) and add in extra rest days around that peak mileage time and reduce a run or two. Not worth getting the miles in if it’s going to cause an injury, so I rested and then was able to continue on training.
I would say the number one thing I did which worked REALLY well for me was running on tired legs – doing double day runs. I’d do an AM run and a PM run, and then another AM run the next day to simulate the effect of running on tired legs, which you do at the Ragnar. I recommend doing this very cautiously and not upping mileage significantly (no more than 10% overall for the week) or you will risk injury. I started around 3-5 mile range for the runs and increased up to 7-8 miles for each run. My longest consecutive run was only 13 miles, but I did around 14-15 miles a few times with the double runs.
I also practiced fueling between runs like I would at the Ragnar – lots of carbs that wouldn’t bother my stomach. I found fig bars to work really well as well as baked potatoes, PB&J sandwiches and fruit. I always thought I had a very sensitive stomach because I often had digestive issues while running in the past. After listening to some great runner’s nutrition podcasts, I’ve learned that the quality of carbohydrates does matter. Certain sugars cause the intestines to pull in additional water, which causes that emergency porta potty stop! And everyone is a bit different in what their body likes and doesn’t like.
So onto the race – I went down Thursday night and set up camp with Amber and we camped out there Thursday night. All of the teams started at various times during the day on Friday, depending on their projected run times – everyone needed to be completed by 6pm on Saturday. The first runners were off at 9am with several start times later during the day. My team started at 11am on Friday and we ended up finishing around 2:30pm on Saturday. I was runner #2, so I was ready to go when Amber finished up her first leg around 12:30pm!
There were 3 trail loops – green, yellow and red. The loops are always run in stoplight order, and you wear a snap bracelet with the loop color you are running (this was definitely needed for the night runs when you were a bit sleepy and prone to forget what loop you were doing!)
My next loop was around 10:30pm, after runner 3-Jillian, 4-Michelle and 1-Amber went again. Headlamp on and ready to – 12.7 miles! I did trip once on a root but thankfully just a very minor bruise and scrape, I fell in dirt, ha! The first loop (yellow) I passed quite a few people walking and it was very enjoyable. The second loop (red) was quite lonely and felt a bit eerie. I barely passed anyone, I got passed a few times but I think I saw a total of one person per mile. It was good motivation to run faster! I started cramping around mile 16, which was right before I went through transition area to do my second loop of the leg. There was a product being promoted and given out for free called Hot Shot, which was supposed to help with cramps. I would have drank pretty much anything to help with cramps at that point. I texted my teammate who was up next because I knew she’d be awake to grab me a hot shot for the transition area. I drank it going through transition and it was AMAZING. It tasted like cayenne pepper mixed with cinnamon and burned my throat for 5 minutes after drinking it, but it completely took away my cramps for the rest of the run. MIRACULOUS! I’m hooked. I drank one before my third leg too to prevent cramps and had no issues.
I have no idea what time I finished, but I vegged out a bit, had some smores at the Village campfire and refueled with some food before going to bed. I had brought some full size “shower wipes” at REI, and they worked amazing. I wiped my entire body off and felt pretty clean after each run! I rested/slept in my tent until my next leg around 7am.
Amber, runner 1, texted me when she was going out for her last 3 mile loop so I had time to get myself dressed and ready. The last leg was my slowest, but I still felt pretty good running it! But yeah, I was pretty glad to be done. The last mile or so was a lot of hills (the finish to every loop was up a long, sloping grassy hill, ugh).
After finishing I was able to relax, have a beer and wait for my teammates to finish up! It started raining about an hour or two after I finished, drizzle turned to steady so our last runner had to run in the rain. Most of the trails were covered with the tree canopy but there were some open spots through meadows and crossing swinging bridges. Michelle finished up the last leg around 2:30pm and we crossed the finish line with her, and our prom dresses!
Did I forget to mention that team themes are strongly encouraged? There were so many hilarious team names. We went with a prom theme and for our first legs, started running in prom dresses and then discarded them (off like a prom dress!) after the initial start. It was a lot of fun and we decorated our tent site with a disco ball, lights, and had everyone vote for prom queen based on signs we made. Amber won, I think the election was rigged! Haha just kidding Amber.
Overall, Ragnar Trail runs are pretty awesome. To say I loved it would be an understatement. I am trying to plan one for my family to do closer to PA and I am planning on putting together a team for next year’s Carolina Ragnar, but with a team of 8 instead of 4. Less running, more fun! I’d love to hear about your Ragnar experience, have you run one? Would you?