Though this is a new state for me, I didn’t consider it for my 50 states list. I only want to consider individual races, running specific (no obstacles like the Tough Mudder I did in NC in 2013). I’m so glad I wasn’t going to consider it though, given the end result.
The idea came about one Thursday night a few months ago when a Ragnar ambassador visited my Thursday night run club’s Fleet Feet store. It sounded amazing when she said “It’s like any Ragnar race, but instead of vans, you just camp out in one place while your runner hits the trails.”
Teams were comprised of either 8 people, or for an ultra team, 4 people. The course encompassed 3 loops: a green (3.5 miles), a yellow (4.6 miles), and a red (6.7 miles), all run on trails of the Appalachian Mountains. For a standard team, 1 runner started on the green course, then passed the bib off to the second runner who’d run the yellow course. The third runner would take the red loop, and the fourth would hit the green. So on and so fourth until each runner had run each loop one time, for a total of 14.8 miles.
I signed up with 2 friends from my run club, Brett and Mike, and their friend Dan, who use to run with the club before he moved to Florida. So as an ultra team, we were responsible for running each loop twice – or 29.6 miles. We could run 6 legs, or 3 legs of doubled-up loops. I was excited at the thought of my first “ultra”, though it would be broken down into legs.
Our heat was scheduled to start at 2 pm on Friday afternoon, but a few days prior, we received an email that due to the weather predictions, all start times had been moved up an hour. So we hit the road at 7:30ish on Friday morning, and arrived at the campsite around 11. We set up the tents in the rain (this may have been an omen of things to come), and got checked in.
Team Stay Vertical: myself, Dan, Brett, and Mike
I volunteered to go first, with the decision among team Stay Vertical to run single loop legs during the day, and double up at night. So at 1 pm, I was off on the green trail. It was disgusting. I ran maybe half of it (very slowly I should add), but the other half was a muddy mess. I didn’t have trail shoes, and quickly realized that it was a huge mistake on my part. People were passing me left and right, something I’m not used to once I get going in a race. I couldn’t settle into a pace or find my groove which really threw me off. I had to stay mentally engaged through the run as I watched my footing and tried to keep a pace faster than a slow walk. I managed to stay on my feet through the end, and I passed the bib off to Dan.
the aftermath from my first leg
While Dan was out running, I headed back to our site with Brett and Mike, telling them the conditions were pretty sucky. I rubbed off as much of the dried mud as I could, and put on my running gear for leg 2.
Dan came back and passed the bib off to Mike, then Mike to Brett. We all agreed the trails weren’t great, but hey, we were just out to experience the relay and have some fun.
When Brett finished the green loop I headed out on the yellow. This one was even muddier than my first loop. Again, I was walking much of the course, or running very slowly and carefully when I could. It was absolutely gorgeous scenery if you didn’t pay attention to the ground. I ran with a woman for a bit who was celebrating her 50th birthday, though she considered herself more of a cycler. We chatted about races and the terribly muddy trails, which helped passed the time and distract me from the frustrations of not being able to really run. Once I finished, I again handed the bib off to Dan as he headed out for the red course.
after my second leg
I tried once again to scrub as much of the dried dirt off me as possible (did I mention the campsite had showers, but were out of water?), and I changed into my next running outfit.
Dan took much longer than expected to run the red loop – it had apparently taken a turn for the worse since Mike had run it for his first leg. Dan passed the bib off to Mike, and we grabbed dinner. The dinner options weren’t bad – a hamburger, hotdog, chicken, or pasta, all with a side of a roll and a salad, with cookies for dessert. I opted for the pasta (with veggies mixed in, hooray!) and tried to wrap my head around running the red and green loop next.
As soon as we finished eating, Mike came in and passed the bib off to Brett. I headed back to the site to rest for a bit, but before I knew it, I was back at the exchange station with a flashlight in hand, grabbing the bib from Brett, along with her headlamp. It was sometime shortly after 8 when I left, and I remember thinking to myself, “it’s just 10ish miles. On trails. Maybe 2 hours of running.”
Not even close.
The trails has disintegrated into layer upon layer of thick, shoe-sucking mud. It was a struggle to walk at times because the mud’s hold was so strong on my feet and I would find myself nearly losing either my shoe, or my balance as I tried to move forward. Darkness quickly feel and I clicked on the headlamp wondering what on Earth I’d signed up for.
The red loop went through a swamp, which by this time was just a giant, muddy pond. At one point the mud swallowed me up to my waist and I shrieked, alone in the swamp. I was scared. I’d see someone maybe every 15 or 20 minutes. It was dark, and it was lonely.
By the time I hit the green loop, it was unrecognizable. I struggled to maintain forward progress and the situation had turned me bitter.
I did not sign up for this. If I wanted a bleeping mud run, I would’ve signed up for a bleeping mud run!
I was nearly in tears and I was so frustrated and I felt so alone. Those who passed me were either on the same end of the spectrum as me, silent and clearly miserable, or freakily chipper. Some wished me luck as they slid past me and I couldn’t help but wonder how they were possibly enjoying themselves if they didn’t have an endorphin rush.
I finally made it back to the exchange point and passed the bib off to Dan shortly before 11:30. I tossed it to him with an “I’m so over this” and wished him luck on his loop before I trudged back to the tent. I was exhausted and miserable. Brett and Mike asked me how it went when I returned and I said something along the lines of it was awful, but at least I’m done…I just need some rest. They left me alone and I crawled into my sleeping bag too tired to care about scrubbing the caked mud off of me. It didn’t matter anyway, it seemed like a waste of time when I’d be running another muddy loop in several hours.
I checked my step count, curious to see where I was for the day, and saw the highest number ever since getting it (I didn’t wear it for the Boston Marathon). Seeing the number gave me a brief moment of happiness.
Dan came back around 4:30 in the morning from his loop and passed the bib off to Mike. I woke up incredibly thirsty, but out of water. I’d chugged it all when I got back from my last loops. I grabbed 2 water bottles and headed down to the filtered water station shivering in the cool night weather. I can’t be the most miserable one here I thought.
I made it back to the tent and crashed hard.
Mike woke Dan & I up around 7:30, sometime after he passed the bib off to Brett.
“We’re not fast enough. They’re calling a bunch of teams up who aren’t on pace to finish before 3 pm. Apparently there’s a big storm coming in, so they want everyone out of here by then.”
Dan and I just looked at him. What? Um it’s hard to actually run, never mind “fast” on these muddy wrecks of trails!
“They want us to start doubling up. 2 runners going at a time. So we have less rest, but knock out miles twice as quickly.”
We all just stared at each other. I’m not sure who even said it first, but soon we were all admitting just how awful our last legs were.
“I was a little bummed to hear you were pretty much over it last night, but after I ran my leg I’m with you. Bleep this. If I wanted a nighttime walk through the mud, I could’ve done that on my own without shelling over money” Mike said.
Mike and I were ready to leave. Dan said he was up to leave, but if Brett wanted to stay and finish it out, he would do it. It all came down to Brett. She’s not a quitter either.
I looked down at my muddy legs.
guess who forgot her flip flops. Me. Thankfully Mike had a pair in addition to his Crocs he brought
Mike & I looked at each other.
“I hope she’s miserable. Not injured. Just miserable”
Same here I thought.
Mike flagged Brett down as she was passing by our camp during her loop and she was down to leave.
I’m not trying to bash Ragnar Relays here, but we all felt this one was poorly run. There were injured runners on the trails and frankly, what we were doing couldn’t be called trail running. With each passing hour, the trail got worse and worse. We were shocked they actually held the thing on a weekend after several days of rain.
Dan turned in our bib and grabbed our medals while Brett hitched a ride from another member of a quitting team to the car. Mike and I packed everything up (mostly in trash bags since the ground was soaked from on and off rain throughout the night), and each tossed a pair of shoes in the trash.
Then we left.
I found a little comfort in knowing we were one of many teams to leave early that day, but I still left a little frustrated. It was the first time I’d ever not finished a race. Same for Dan and Brett. I’m hoping one day I get the chance to do another relay, but under much better conditions.
Have you ever DNF’ed?