Sunday, December 8, 2019

Ragnar Florida Trail 2019

Odd as it may sound, I didn't have any anxiety leading up to Ragnar. This was my big culminating race of 2019 and the mileage and terrain promised to be challenging, but any nerves I felt centered more around the logistics than the race itself.

Maybe because I was so focused on logistics, I didn't have the mental capacity to worry about anything else!

Prep

Because we would have a campsite to go back to after each leg, I wasn't as concerned with packing light (unlike with a Ragnar road race, where you have to fit everything in a van). Matt's and my limitations were our cars - we both have Minis.

Cyber Monday was the Monday before the race. We took stock of everything we still needed - inflatable camping mats, a strong running flashlight, Hot Hands - and placed an order on Amazon to be delivered to my parents' house, where we planned to spend Thursday night before the race. Alafia River State Park is an hour away from there and staying at my parents' split our drive nicely.

Michelle, Ashley, Josh, Martin, and Darlene drove up to the park late Thursday and set up camp, so for me it was just a matter of getting to the campsite before our start time. Our 8th teammate, Jess, a sorority sister of mine I haven't seen since maybe 2010, was going to meet us after work on Friday.
Admit it, you're impressed.
I was admittedly at the end of a pretty short fuse on Thursday night because Matt had driven up to Sarasota Tuesday night to complete a Soundwave job, so I was responsible for finishing packing and getting everything we needed into my car. By the time we were both at my parents' and consolidated everything we needed, I was desperate to get some sleep before the big day.

Friday

We got up around 6am and were out the door at 7am, as planned. We got to the race venue without any issues at all. I was worried lots of teams would be making the trip early in the morning, but when we pulled in there was no wait for gear drop. We parked at gear drop, our teammates came to help us unload, and then I drove to the actual parking lot and that was that!
Ragnar is so incredibly well-organized and they strive to be as sustainable as possible. The race is cupless, so you're expected to bring a cold cup and hot cup for yourself and they provide free water, coffee, and hot cocoa. Parking is free if you carpool, and they had volunteers doing trash collection and sorting round the clock. It's really a well-oiled machine.
Ragnar Village
Our campsite was just a couple minutes' walk from Ragnar Village, where the exchange tent, recovery tents, merch, safety video, bon fires, etc, were set up.

After getting situated and getting the lay of the land, it was time for our team to head to the start line.
Michelle was our first runner. We waited with the other 9:30 teams at the opening chute. The DJ announced all the teams who were starting at that time, and then counted down. A lady behind me heard our name (The World's Okayest Running Team) and made a comment about it being funny. I told her, "Yep, nothing to write home about here. We're just okay."

Then, we were off!
After Michelle started, things kind of blurred together. I started to get antsy about my run. I didn't want to overeat beforehand but knew I didn't want to run my first loop (the Red Loop) fasting. I decided to eat at 10am because my estimated start was 12:15.

When Michelle came in and exchanged with Ashley, she told me she hadn't anticipated how much energy the trails suck up. She had started with the Green Loop but had definitely felt she needed sustenance despite it being "easy." I made a note to pack a gel for my run.

I heard someone call my name and looked around to see a Sub30 buddy! She had recognized me and Matt from my instagram. Seeing another friendly face was a great way to start my morning.
Before I knew it, Ashley was coming in to the exchange and it was my turn to take to the trails.


The Red Loop 

I had opted to do the hardest loop first to get it out of the way. Although I still think this was a good idea, it was a pretty rude awakening to what I had signed up for here. This loop was brutal.
Nervous!
The weather had warmed up quite a bit by the time I started my run, but I wasn't too concerned because I knew most of it would be shady. Out of the starting chute, all three trails start together.
Then the Green Loop splits left and the Red and Yellow continue right and stick together for about a mile or so. The trails are incredibly well-marked. When you enter the exchange tent, you put on a colored slap bracelet; at the start of each trail, there is a sign that says, "This is the __ Loop. Does it match your bracelet?"
There are reflective colored arrows all along the paths, too, although at some places they grow a little sparse and you start to wonder if you've made a wrong turn.

The Red Loop definitely lived up to its description. There were parts of it that were basically vertical. I was using my hands and all but rock climbing for parts of it. By the time I got through the first mile, I was honestly wondering how I was going to do five more.
It's hard to get photos that do this trail justice. I didn't even get any pictures of the bridges or vertical rocks!
Around mile 2.5 the trail started to get ridiculous. Until then, I could run/jog for about 100 feet at a time before having to slow down, climb, or skid down a slope. I turned my ankles at least two dozen times; often I'd avoid one root or rock only to come down on a different one that had been hidden in the sand and grass. I avoided fully falling, but had a couple close calls.
Halfway through, the terrain gets so unpredictable that keeping up a jog was impossible for me. I could maybe go 20 feet before having to stop and readjust, so I ended up just completely walking mile 3.
All that stopping and starting...
That's around the time I finally got cell service and could text my team:
Admittedly, I was feeling discouraged. I was so concerned with my pace and thought I was going to let my team down! I think if I had been hiking this trail for myself without a time constraint, I would have appreciated the views a lot more and had more fun with the incredible terrain. As it was, I felt pretty stressed and disappointed with what I perceived to be my own weakness.

I began eating my gel at mile 3.5 and immediately started to feel a little better. I realized I could only do what I could do, and that was to just keep moving forward.

Around mile 4, the trail evened out a bit and I was able to pick up my pace again and bring it home feeling pretty proud of myself. I was not mad that my watch read 5.7 miles instead of 6.1.
My knees were SO achey after this run.
Feeling tired but proud.
At the finish, I did not mince words. I told the team that Red was going to be really difficult and that there were parts that were actually vertical. I know I probably sounded like I was exaggerating, but I was vindicated after each of their Red runs when I got to hear "you weren't kidding!"

The Yellow Loop

After my run, I had a few hours to kill before my next one. Matt was runner 4, so I waited for him at the finish and then we changed and decided to have lunch. The food trucks at Ragnar Village were delicious and fairly priced.
While we waited for our next runs, we took advantage of the recovery tent. Matt and I both used the Elevated Legs, which actually felt like they did something, and the Hypervolt percussion massager, which felt uh-mazing.
A candid reaction shot.
My next run was scheduled for around 10pm and around 8pm I started to have a bad stomachache. I decided to forgo dinner and just had a granola bar around 8:30 or 9:00.

My second loop was my nighttime loop. The temperature had dropped into the low 50s and was on track to get back into the mid-40s. I was so cold prepping for the run that I ended up overdressing. I assumed I might run the Yellow Loop too slowly to build up a sweat and I decided I'd rather run the risk of overheating than being cold.
I was hoping the gaiter would make breathing easier, since cold air + asthma = bad news bears.
This leg ended up being my favorite. Although it was pitch black and my visibility was limited, I tripped way less than on the Red Loop! I think because I couldn't see, I couldn't overthink my foot placement, so I kind of just had to trust myself.
I felt like I was speeding through the leg. I ran without any music which heightened the feeling of camaraderie I felt when I saw other runners out there. There is just nothing like being in the middle of a tough endurance race where everyone is struggling. You really feel like you're all in it together. It's like trauma bonding but less intense.
Pretty much this was my visibility the entire run. It was amazing.
At the end of the Yellow Loop, as I headed into the finishing chute, I heard footsteps behind me. I picked up the pace, looking over my shoulder. The woman behind me also picked up the pace. Before I knew it we were both sprinting to the finish. I shouted, "No way! NO WAY!" as I tried to outrun her.

We finished basically together, congratulated each other, and high-fived.

The Yellow Loop is a nice blend of the more manageable slopes and climbs of the Red Loop and an overall shorter distance. I think that's why I liked it so much. It was just challenging enough!

After finishing, I went back to the tent. Jessie was in her sleeping bag resting up for her 4am run, so I told her to just stay in there so I could wipe down with a Shower Pill and get dressed. I was so hot after my leg that I made the mistake of waiting until I started to cool down to change. I was sweaty, but soon my sweat turned cold and the reality of the 45-degree night set in.

I bundled up on my sleeping mat. I was able to warm up, but our tent was humid from our body heat, so I was warm but damp and uncomfortable. I was also really worried about Matt, who was running the Red Loop in the dark.

I didn't get comfortable enough to sleep until Matt got back. I heard him telling our teammates that he LOVED the Red Loop. It was so fun, like a rollercoaster! He ran the whole thing!

I had to laugh. That's Matt for you! We found out the next day that there were a dozen injuries on the night run on the Red Loop, including a broken leg, so I am relieved that Matt was able to complete it without any problems and have fun doing it.

The Green Loop
I slept pretty well Friday night. I woke up around 2am and thought it was morning because I felt well-rested and the lantern light outside our tent was so bright. Once I realized it was still early, I went back to sleep. I set my alarm for 6am, anticipating my 7:50am run time.

However, late night runs always track long. Everyone runs more carefully and therefore more slowly. (Unless you're Matt.) By the time I was up and actually ready to start running, it was 8:30.
Breakfast of champions while I thawed out by the fire.
The morning was still pretty cold. I felt tired and kind of just over it. I wanted to run well, but my body was sooooooore. Plus, the cold air was making it really hard to breathe.
3rd Leg, here I come!
I had enjoyed the Yellow Loop so much that the comparably flat Green Loop, which basically runs through meadows for half of it, was kind of boring and uninspiring. The few parts of the trail that ran through trees and wound through palm bushes were fun, but mostly I just wanted this run to be over.
I took walk breaks as needed, especially through the soft sand, and let other runners pass me. I texted the team that I was "dragging" and they were very encouraging, but I just couldn't get it together!
The Green Loop was mostly grass and meadows with some little paths that ran through the trees.
This run felt never-ending, but by the time I got back to the exchange I was already reflecting on the fact that I'd done it! I'd successfully completed the Ragnar Florida Trail!

I was so glad to hand off the bib to Matt at the exchange and officially be DONE.

The Finish

Jessie was our last runner and she had the Red Loop as her final run. We all donned our Ragnar shirts and kept an eye on our texts so we'd know when she was close so we could run in with her.
We got in the habit of texting when the trails merged again, which made tracking each other nice and easy!
Running the Red Loop last has got to be a special kind of torture, especially being the last runner on the team, because at that point it's all on you to get us all across the finish line. Jess did amazing, absolutely killing her pace and making sure WORT finished proud.
We all crossed the finish line together. Our time was 30 hours and 45 seconds. My legs took me about 3 hours and 15 minutes.
As our team name suggests, we did OKAY. We are all okay and our rank is definitely just okay..which is A-OKAY with me!
After taking celebratory photos, it was time to pack up. Despite finishing around 3:30pm (the course was open 'til 6), we were one of the last teams there. The perk of that was that the Ragnar staff let us drive our cars right into the campsite to load up!
We said our goodbyes and were off. The weekend felt like it had truly flown by, like some surreal dream.
Matt and I returned to my parents' and slept for over 12 hours!

Final Thoughts

Ragnar Trail is an entirely different animal than the road race I did in 2014. Being in a van for 24+ hours with the same five people feels more constrictive, of course, but also creates a kind of bond that I think isn't necessarily as strongly forged while camping. We were all able to wander around and do our own things at Ragnar Trail. I'm someone who appreciates alone time, so I really liked that. There was no shortage of team hangout time, but there was also the freedom to go your own way.
I felt the sleeping situation and having all your stuff with you was also easier when camping. The porto-potties are only a short walk away (rather than depending on random gas stations along your van's route) and Ragnar Village allows for all kinds of perks, like massages, food trucks, campfires, etc.
On-site massage therapist? Major perk!
While the actual running was harder on the trails, I think the overall experience was easier. There is a heightened sense of urgency when relay-ing on the road because the logistics are more difficult and the exchange points are different each time, so you never get a sense of comfort or security. With the trail run, exchanging in the tent and everything became by-rote. The ease of all that was great, but makes the experience less fraught.

That sounds like a good thing, but depending on how much of a challenge you want, it could feel disappointing.

I don't think I could say which style of Ragnar I prefer. I love aspects of both. I appreciate that the tougher runs (trail) are mitigated by friendlier conditions (camping), especially because we had pretty nice weather (except for the freezing nights). Although I feel physically accomplished and pleasantly sore after this weekend's race, I think I felt more accomplished mentally after Miami-Key West because of the fatigue and mental toll.

I am so glad I took Michelle up on the offer to join her team this year, especially since deferring last year due to still being in a recovery mindset with my CECS. In a way, taking the risk to run a super challenging trail race forced me into another mental stage of recovery. Now I know I can run elevation and uneven terrain without having some kind of relapse.

I'm not actively looking for a marathon yet, but knowing I can complete a trail Ragnar gives me the confidence in my legs to know I can do another marathon when I'm ready to.
Ragnar Trail Florida was a blast, I had so much fun reconnecting with Jessie and spending more time with running friends, and I would definitely do another trail Ragnar again.

ABK