Ragnar Trail Relay: The Third Leg, Epilogue, and Everything Is Awesome

Fresh off barely 3 hours of sleep and knee-deep in mud, I trudged to the Exchange Tent to await Tim’s arrival. I did have one thing going for me, though: the sun was out, and it was beautiful.

Soon enough, Tim arrived, and my final leg began.

Leg 3: Red Route

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The sun was beating down pretty hard. I’d put on sunscreen before entering the Exchange Tent, but I wasn’t fully prepared for how much more exposed this course was relative to Yellow and Green. The other courses had been exclusively through densely-wooded trails; Red crossed a few streets, ran along a golf course, and across a field. There were some densely forested parts too, but there were stretches that had no cover at all. More than anything, I was worried about overheating.

I started at what felt like a reasonably easy pace. Imagine my surprise when I saw that I’d clocked the first two miles in at a 9-flat average. To be fair, the trail up to this point was extremely gentle; in fact, it was mostly double-tracked. After my second leg on the Green Route, I was also thoroughly enjoying being able to see everything in the light of day, so that may have contributed to my surprisingly brisk pace (even with a quick bathroom break; didn’t stop my watch!).

The gentle double-tracked trails ended around mile 2.5, however. I entered into yet another Yellow look-alike: a single-track, winding path through the foliage. I even came upon a hill that was literally too steep and muddy to run up. I recalled The Lady had described this during her last run; she’d even helped someone behind her get up the hill. I employed a similar strategy: I basically climbed from tree to tree alongside the trail, pulling myself up with my upper body. It was certainly an interesting change of pace!

That was probably the worst part; the next mile, while certainly technical, wasn’t any worse than Yellow had been. Around mile 3.6 was a welcome aid station. It was unmanned, but was stocked with plenty of cold water coolers. I arrived at the same time as another runner, and we joked that this aid station may very well have been a mirage.

I was still in good spirits and feeling pretty good, but it was getting oppressively hot out. Topping off my water bottle, I headed out again.

The next part of the trail was actually lovely. It was the smoothest single-track I’d been on, sloping gently up and down as it followed a nearby river. There were still roots and muddy sections to watch out for, but seemingly gone were the near-constant switchbacks and random sharp inclines and downhills. It was well-shaded, too, which I was immensely grateful for.

The good feelings disappeared at mile 4.2, where a climb I called simply the “Stupid Hill” began: 100 feet of elevation in 0.2 miles, according to my GPS data. The first quarter I plugged onward, only to realize that I’d completely wear myself out with a full two miles left to go if I kept trying to “run” up the entire hill. So I slowed to a power walk. It still burned but felt significantly better, as my breathing evened out.

The Stupid Hill now behind me, I kept my feet moving in a slow run. I could feel the fatigue of nearly 24 hours out here, barely 2 hours of sleep, and almost 15 miles creeping up on me. I was still feeling surprisingly good but I knew I didn’t have a whole lot left to draw on, and when I was empty it was going to be a rapid crash and burn. I focused on the next step. And the next. And the next.

Around mile 5, I arrived at the “granite” part of the trail. This was kind of interesting: basically a giant slab of granite protruding from seemingly nowhere. We ran a few times up and over, and while the elevation certainly changed rapidly it was never more than a few feet here and there. I had to watch my footing carefully, but for the most part it was uneventful. Though I did help one runner who accidentally blew past a trail marker get back on the trail.

I was coming up on about a mile left to go when we arrived on the golf course. Amazingly, I was still feeling pretty good, though shade was a bit more sparse in this area. Still, the trail itself was gentle, so I went with it, never pushing too hard but also curious to see how I could finish this final leg.

At mile 6, I was just cresting over 1 hour, which was shockingly fast by comparison; common times for the Red Route were on the order of 70-80 minutes, and it was looking like I’d come in well under that. I checked my watch around mile 6.4, just in time to see that the 0.2-miles-to-go checkpoint was dead ahead!

OMG, ALMOST THERE!

I cranked it. I absolutely cranked it. I mean, as much as one could crank given the 1) trails, 2) mud, and 3) fatigue, but according to my watch I was cruising in around a 7-7:30 pace for the last 0.2 miles. I couldn’t believe how well it was going; finishing the Red Route under 70 minutes, holy crap!

I came flying into the finish, pushing a sub-7 pace, soaking in the crowds and the announcer, unbuckled the team bib…

…and stood there, with nobody to hand it off to. Other teams came in and exchanged, but Ellen–and any of my teammates to speak of–were nowhere to be seen.

I handed my bib to one of the Ragnar staffers in the Exchange Tent, pulled out my phone (which, thankfully, I’d packed for this particular run), and texted some of my teammates. Not a minute or two after, Ellen came sprinting into the tent, apologizing profusely but explaining that she’d JUST WON A SUNNTO GPS WATCH ($450 VALUE HOLY CRAP) but was in the process of picking it up when she got my text–apparently no one had expected me to arrive before the 70-minute mark! Ellen ran into the tent and got on her way, and I started walking back to the team campground. Along the way, I encountered The Lady and Kelly, who were also shocked to see me, likewise saying they’d expected 70 minutes bare minimum.

Oops. At the same time, it was kinda cool 🙂

By my watch, I finished 6.6 miles in 1:07:05 for a 10:10 average pace. I had only 1 more “death” for a grand total of 7, but added another 21 “kills”, bringing my total for the event to 48. A 7:1 kill:death ratio ain’t half bad!

The Final Countdown

We had three runners left: Ellen had already begun her jaunt over the Green Route, and would be followed by Lara over Yellow, and finally the Danimal on Red. It was around 1:15pm, so we predicted a team finishing time of roughly 4pm. In that time, we packed up more of the tents, rolling up everything that was dry and consolidating as much as we could. It kept getting hotter, so we left the shelter standing to provide some much-needed shade. Of course, while the heat was getting pretty oppressive, it did have the added benefit of rapidly drying out all our soaked tents, bedding, and shoes; it certainly made for easier packing.

Right around 3pm, Lara handed off to the Danimal, who galloped out of the gate, intent on beating the 60-minute mark for the final leg!

With our final runner out on his final leg, we tried to get as much of our stuff packed as we could. Many other teams had already packed up and left, having finished a few hours earlier. Such was the disadvantage of not being terribly fast, but just fast enough: we didn’t have to officially double-up on our runners since we weren’t in danger of not finishing by 6pm, but we certainly weren’t shattering any speed records either. Consequently, all the really slow and really fast teams were already done and gone; the campground was feeling more and more lonely as the minutes passed.

Around 3:50pm, we headed out to the Exchange Tent. The TVs that posted incoming runners were already shut off; many of the shops were closed up. Very few other teams were mingling. If not for the announcer still celebrating the few incoming teams as they arrived and the music playing in the background, it would have felt very ghost-town-like.

We assembled about a hundred feet from the finish, patiently waiting for the Danimal to appear around the corner.

3:55. 4:00. 4:05. 4:10. We passed the 70-minute mark; hope he’s ok?…

Right around the 72-minute mark, his goofy jaunt suddenly appeared.

We all congregated around him and finished together, happily belting out the theme song for our team as we crossed the finish line.

Trail Ragnarians! Everything is Awesome!

Clean Up

We had a little bit of time to rest and celebrate, but not much. We had to be out by 6, but given the hour drive back to our staging area in Athens and that it was already nearly 4:30, we wanted to get out quickly. We let the Danimal take a break while the rest of us started schlepping our equipment over to the gear drop area.

Tim and Alys were picked up by Alys’ parents, who live in the Atlanta area. The rest of us packed everything into the two cars we brought, hitting the road sometime around 5:30. Ellen and I rode together, and I know the two of us were having a tough time staying awake. Thankfully, the drive wasn’t too long, and we soon arrived at our house with plenty of time to unpack the vehicles, order some dinner (PIZZA), and enjoy the setting sun with our team.

I can’t describe how delicious the food was. The six of us remaining for that evening–Ellen, Kelly, Lara, Danimal, The Lady, and me–had a blast sitting in the front yard, soaking up the setting sun, drinking beer, and eating some of the most spectacular pizza I think I’ve ever had. Or maybe it was just because we were starving.

We took turns scarfing down food and showering for the first time all weekend; lots of dirt and grime to rinse off. To help with the process, we even laid down a towel along the house floors from the garage to the bathroom, so as to minimize the tracking of dirt through the house. We also got some laundry going, consisting of the most soiled clothes: those that had been in the tent when it flooded, and those that folks had worn out in the monsoon. It was only when we were getting cleaned up that we fully came to realize just how messy we were.

And it was awesome. Just like Everything.

We slept extremely well that night. Sadly, Ellen and Lara hit the road (they DROVE to Athens! From Pittsburgh!) at 7:30 the next morning, and Kelly took her car back to the airport at the same time to catch her flight. Danimal left not too long thereafter, hopping on a taxi service to the Atlanta airport.

By 1pm on Saturday, it was just The Lady and me again. We had a few errands to run, but we first made a stop at the local Starbucks, grabbing some joe to help get our neurons firing. We sat there, sipping our coffee, soaking in the memories of the weekend for nearly two hours.

Epilogue

It goes without saying that it was an awesome event, but I’ll say it anyway: it was an awesome event. The monsoon did its best to dampen our spirits but failed in that regard. It certainly made things interesting, and probably made an already-complicated event nearly impossible for the Ragnar staff to operate, but they did a phenomenal job under the circumstances.

I will say this: it was very different from the road Ragnar we did in 2012If you’ve done one but not the other, do not assume because both have the name “Ragnar” and both are team relays that the details are inconsequential. If you hate trails, you will hate Ragnar Trails, period. The team aspect will not cancel out trail drudgery, especially if inclement weather decides to rear its head.

Trail running is a very different beast from road running. It takes a wholly different mindset. Gone are any kind of reference points for speed, pacing, and strategies related to road racing; if you hold onto those, you will be frustrated on the trails and, most likely, [mistakenly] despise them for it. I would put forth the argument that trail racing is the purest form of running: you have to let go of everything to successfully navigate highly technical trails and simultaneously enjoy it. 12min/mi pace? You’re right on track. 10min/mi pace? You’re booking it! Ran one mile in 9min? Better slow down–you’re either going to burn out, or you just had an unusually flat mile that likely won’t last much longer.

If you can set aside road racing mindsets, Ragnar Trails will an absolute blast. The Lady and I agree that while Ragnar DC was a boatload of fun, we had even more fun at this event. Being able to hang out with our entire team (instead of splitting into vans), not having to worry about logistics of driving from one checkpoint to the next or waiting on the other van, camping out in one place and basically having a weekend-long tailgate party, and the purity of trail running all came together into an event that was as challenging as it was enjoyable.

It was so quiet and peaceful out on those trails; the silence was deafening. I know that can be unnerving to some, but I find it unbelievably soothing. It helps me let everything, absolutely everything, fall by the wayside. Just me and my surroundings, breathing the fresh outdoor air, listening to vast nothingness for miles in all directions.

Bliss.

A portion of the Green Route...before the monsoon hit.

A portion of the Green Route…before the monsoon hit.

And if you got lonely on the trails, you were guaranteed to see plenty of headlamps bobbing through the trees on other portions of the route. Given my 48 kills and 7 deaths over the three legs, that’s a total of 55 other human contacts spread over 15 miles–on average, I encountered another human being roughly every quarter mile. But the density of the surrounding foliage made it feel like it was just you and Mother Nature; if you wanted to embrace it, you could. If you instead wanted to focus on the headlamps visible through the leaves at the next switchback, you could.

I loved the feeling of hearing nothing but my footsteps on the ground, my breathing, and the all-encompassing silence of the forest around me. That is precisely the reason why, after every camping trip I’ve ever been on, I always feel so incredibly zen the first few days after returning. There’s something so settling and comforting about being out in the wilderness without distractions or obligations.

Just me and the trails. And, of course, my wonderful teammates.

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They’re troopers, every last one of them. Danimal, Tim, Alys, The Lady, and I are alums from our previous Ragnar team; Ellen, Lara, and Kelly are dear friends of ours from Pittsburgh who have an unhealthy love of running and trails in particular (Kelly’s Twitter handle is, to no one’s surprise who knows her, traiLion). Everyone pitched in to help plan and execute the logistics before our arrival. Everyone stayed calm and collected when the rain we’d been expecting was far, far more intense than we’d anticipated. Everyone went above and beyond helping wherever they could, encouraging teammates who were struggling, asking what returning runners needed.

In no small part, this Ragnar was a reunion of close friends with the side-event of running a few miles. On both counts, it was a spectacular success. In fact, the last week has been marked by flurries of emails among us, many already hunting for our next Ragnar event.

For now, The Lady and I have our sights set on the Big Sur marathon next weekend. But one thing’s certain: we’ll be doing this again! 🙂

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Ragnar Trail Relay: The Monsoon, Teamwork, and the Second Leg

The weather continued to intensify. The rain had stopped just as I’d entered the Exchange Tent, but only a handful of minutes later resumed. And got worse.

And worse.

Driving, torrential rainfall hammered our tents. Our “common area” under our rented tailgating canopy was soon under three to four inches of muddy water. No exaggeration–the water came up to our ankles, fully submerging our bare feet (and bare feet was the best mode of transportation–we needed the shoes for the trails!). It felt like an anvil landed in my stomach when we discovered we’d pitched camp on something of a flood plain: water was flowing through our campsite as it drained. And, we later found, soaking not-insignificant portions of the insides of two of our four tents.

The veritable monsoon continued unabated for over an hour. We were glued to our smartphones, risking the rapidly-dwindling battery in the hopes that the green/yellow/red-colored sheets smothering the radar images on our weather apps would begin to fade soon. Quite the opposite: predictions for the end of the storm kept getting extended. 8pm. 9pm. 11pm. Midnight.

After eating a quiet dinner with The Lady as the rain howled, my mood more and more reflected the sour weather. The knowledge that I’d ignored some nagging doubts about the location I had picked for our campsite was gnawing at me. At this point I’d already seen that the water had managed to sweep through and soak about half of our 6-person tent; not only would it be difficult to get in and out of our tents with three inches of muddy water swirling around the entrances, but the fact that water had swept into some of the tents themselves was grating.

It was barely 9pm, and while only a few hours ago I was bubbling over with excitement from having kicked ass in my first leg, I was now physically and emotionally exhausted. I cleaned up as best I could, found a dry corner of the 6-person tent, and tried to get some rest.

The rest was probably helpful; however, sleep did not come. I could hear people walking around outside, the mud making sucking noises as their feet sank several inches into the murk with each step. I heard my team in the common area, making the best of the glum weather by enjoying each other’s company, watching shows on an iPad, and in the cases of Ellen and Tim, civil engineering the shit out of the surrounding murk in an attempt to divert the aforementioned drainage rivers from going through our campsite. I’m not entirely sure if it worked, but it was nonetheless an impressive effort.

The rain slowed, then restarted, then slowed again. It seemed to stop completely just shy of 10pm, with radar indicating that the worst appeared to be over. I still felt bummed, but I tried to keep this feeling to myself; I can’t tell you how proud I was of the team. If anyone else felt like I did, nobody showed it; everyone was chatting away, or building moats, or generally being awesome and trying to keep everyone’s spirits up. It was truly heartwarming.

Resume

Around 10pm I heard the announcer echoing over the campground, restarting the delayed event and sending out teams again according to the order in which they’d been held up. Danimal, our 8th runner and anchor, headed out first. Our leadoff runner, Alys, headed out for the Red Route after, accompanied by Ellen. One of the [many!] cool things about the Ragnar Trail series is that your runners can be accompanied by a pacer. In this case, Ellen had been scheduled to run the Red Route right after my return; this way, she still got her Red Route in, and kept Alys company in the utter blackness of night and with the extremely slick trail conditions. The Lady was the next runner, and Lara–our #7 runner who had also been skipped earlier–accompanied her as well.

The pairings were clutch, I think. The utter darkness of near-midnight coupled with the deafening silence of the trails and their downright dangerously slick conditions were arguably substantially mitigated by having our runners pair up.

Around midnight, I gave up on trying to sleep and came back out. At this point, anyone who wasn’t out running was also trying to get some sleep. I kept company whoever was still awake, though I dozed a bit when things got quiet. At this point, staying warm was becoming a problem. The rain had dropped the temperatures several degrees, and having our bare feet perpetually submerged in several inches of water wasn’t helping. Kelly was borderline hypothermic. Fortunately, she was able to get her second leg in to stay warm, and Tim pounded out the Red Route as I prepped for my second leg.

It was around 2am when Tim departed, so I was expecting to start my Green Route sometime between 3 and 3:30am.

Leg 2: Green Route

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Right on schedule, Tim arrived just shy of 3:30am and handed off. In the pitch blackness, it was difficult to make out much of anything in front of me, even with the high-lumen headlamp. Furthermore, I knew from both my own experience and from our previous runners that the trails were in complete disarray. I knew I wouldn’t be able to replicate my performance on the Yellow Route, so I settled into something resembling a comfortable pace and plodded along.

The trail was every bit as bad as I’d feared. The first mile was ok; it was a wide double-track that was mostly flat, and save for a few large puddles it was in decent shape. However, after the first mile, the trail effectively became the Yellow Route: single-track, winding, and highly technical. In such conditions, I could either point my headlamp straight at my feet to see the condition of the mud, at the expense of anything resembling a running pace, or I could sacrifice resolution of the mud to instead see further down the trail for technical changes like turns, roots, and rocks, lending myself additional speed with the possibility of wiping out if I wasn’t careful.

I chose the latter, banking on my experience of six winters in Pittsburgh and the sensation of walking across frozen sidewalks; if I felt my feet slipping, I’d slow down immediately, hopefully before skidding out. Plus, everyone was going slowly; it’s not like I was a speed demon.

It largely worked. The only hiccup was during the second mile: my heart starting beating somewhat irregularly, making me feel short of breath. So I pulled up and walked for a bit, evening out my breathing for a few seconds, then resumed. From then on I felt perfectly fine; it was most likely fatigue given I hadn’t caught any sleep yet.

My strategy of plodding ahead seemed to pay off: with only 1 “death” at the very start, I netted 21 “kills”, many due to the simple fact that I was running–quite a few of the kills were from passing walkers. I certainly wasn’t going very fast, but I will say there are times when size 15 feet come in handy: the small increase in friction afforded by the increased surface area of larger feet can really come in handy in slippery conditions; same goes for snow and ice.

Soon enough, I passed through the 0.2-miles-to-go checkpoint and pulled into the Exchange Tent. Ellen was waiting; I handed off the team bib, and she headed out! For the 3.8 miles of the Green Route, it took me just over 40 minutes for an average pace of over 10:30. Amusingly, Green was a full mile shorter than Yellow, yet I ran it only 5 minutes faster than I’d run the Yellow Route several hours earlier. A testament to the effects of darkness and the extremely slippery conditions.

Upon my return to our camping area, I cleaned up as best I could and took another crack at getting some sleep. This time, I passed out within minutes of my head hitting the pillow. It was nearly 4:30am.

The Bright Sun Rises

I awoke sometime around 7am, but stayed in bed for a good extra hour as my senses slowly unfurled. I heard people walking around outside, I saw the sun peeking through the fabric of the tent fly, and I listened to my teammates outside chatting. It looked like it was going to be a beautiful day.

Around 8am, I dragged myself out of the tent. Sunlight! The skies weren’t perfectly clear, but the sun was out and shining with nary a hint of storm cloud to be seen. There were still a few inches of water in the ground, but at least the flow of water through our campground had stopped. Once I got some food and was caught up on our current runner status–Alys was out finishing her final leg–we started brainstorming how to take advantage of the impending sunlight and make our campground a little more inviting.

We worked for the next few hours, effectively picking up and moving our entire campsite a few dozen feet away from its current spot; it wasn’t completely dry, but the ground was solid. We laid out some of the tarps flat on the ground to maximize the sunlight they’d pick up, pulled the flies off the tents, and exposed everything we could to the light of day. As the sunlight grew stronger, we could see the effects very quickly: the tarps and tents dried up, and the feeling of our feet on solid ground was unparalleled. Some of the pictures of our now-former campground were incredible; to think we’d actually been sitting and sleeping there!

The Lady finished up her final leg (Red), followed by Kelly (Green) and Tim (Yellow). At just short of noon, Tim rolled into the Exchange Tent and passed the baton to me. It was my final leg, and the longest one I’d run yet. I was as rested as I’d been since the event began, but I knew from our previous Ragnar that the third leg is anyone’s guess: you’re running on empty at that point. I just wanted to enjoy what was left of the event; plus, I’d been told by The Lady and the other folks who’d run the route that it was beautiful. With all that in mind, I set out for my final 6+ miles.

Ragnar Trails Atlanta: The Arrivals, Camp Setup, and the First Leg

The Lady and I planned to have our house in Athens serve as a staging area, as the Ragnar Trails Atlanta event was a mere 45 minute drive, not so much in Atlanta as Conyers (specifically the International Horse Park, home of the 1996 Olympic’s equestrian and cycling events). During the day of Thursday, April 9, we kept in constant touch with our teammates as they flew (Danimal, Tim, Alys, Kelly) and drove (Ellen, Lara) from Pittsburgh to Atlanta. Everyone arrived without any hiccups (thankfully), and we had a lovely evening reuniting with friends and squeezing everyone into our home for the night. While our house has a whopping four bedrooms, one is used as an office, and one does not yet have a bed. To that end, two slept on the floor of the un-bedded bedroom, and two slept on our awesome L-couch in the living room. It was tight, but hey, we were just about to camp together for the weekend; might as well get close, right?

The next morning came bright and early, right around 7am. Our plan was to arrive reasonably early–ideally, by 11am–not so much just for the sake of arriving early (our team didn’t start until 3:30pm) but to beat out the rain we’d been watching on the long-term forecast for the last week. We knew it was due in around noon and wanted to be set up with our shelter and tents before then.

It was a good plan, at the time at least. </foreshadowing>

The drive down to the horse park was uneventful, and soon enough we’d found a reasonable spot to make camp.

Check-in was a breeze, and with our campsite up and running, we had a few hours to kill. Kinda nice! We watched some menacing clouds come through, but surprisingly no rain materialized. We kept a close eye on the radar maps, and also stayed in close contact with Brad and Amanda, who had graciously elected to be our team volunteers. Their shifts weren’t until 7:30pm so they wouldn’t be showing up until later, but they offered to pick up some more gear for us on their way–specifically, tarps to fend off the rain we knew would show itself eventually.

A few pop-up showers came through, but were over as quickly as they began, and their rains were rapidly absorbed by the dry, sandy earth. They also gave us a decent idea of where our campsite was vulnerable. We relayed this information back to Brad and Amanda, who showed up around 5:30 with additional supplies for us to harden our campsite.

Or, so our thinking went at the time. </foreshadowing>

At 3pm, our leadoff runner Alys suited up and our whole team made its way to the starting line to cheer her on. Our start wave was the second-to-last of the entire event, and while we weren’t exactly certain why Ragnar was placing so much faith in our team to finish on time with such a late starting heat, we certainly weren’t going to miss cheering Alys.

Soon enough, the 3:30 wave started and our race had begun!

A brief aside: this Ragnar, like all other Ragnars, was a relay. At any given time, one of our teammates would be out running. The Ragnar Trail series is interesting because each has only three routes: Green, Yellow, and Red (theoretically denoting an increase in difficulty for each over the previous) that each runner on the team runs once apiece. Therefore, Alys started with Green, handed off to The Lady who ran Yellow, who handed off to Kelly who ran Red, and so on.

Here’s the full lineup:

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In this way, each runner had a sort of “shadow,” whereby they would each run exactly the same legs in precisely the same order. For example, Runners 2, 5, and 8 ran the same loops in the same order, so they could potentially strategize. Runners 3 and 6 also ran in the same order, as did 1, 4, and 7. Furthermore, after the first three runners had finished, they could relate their respective routes to everyone who hadn’t yet done those. This fostered an incredibly helpful atmosphere where everyone had something they could do to help someone else. We even discussed strategies with teams in neighboring campsites.

Our ordering was as follows:

  1. Alys
  2. The Lady
  3. Kelly
  4. Tim
  5. Me
  6. Ellen
  7. Lara
  8. Danimal

Soon enough, Alys came through the Exchange Tent and handed off to The Lady, who ran a very successful Yellow. Upon her return I asked her what she thought (since Yellow would be my first route as well), and she commented that it was incredibly scenic. That was exciting to hear.

Kelly ran a flawless route, coming back absolutely bubbling about how much she’d loved the Red loop. Tim hammered out the Green route, and soon enough, it was my turn!

Leg 1: Yellow Route

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I started at 6:55pm, taking the handoff from Tim who’d just completed the Green Route. The skies were darkening rapidly; I knew there was a very good chance I’d be getting soaked while out running, so I didn’t try to push things too hard.

The first–and almost only–thing I should say about this route is that it is technical. This was a trail in the purest sense: it went up, down, left, right; never gave you more than 50ft of straightaway; and holy switchbacks batman! A couple of passages through clearings where cross-country power lines raced across the landscape notwithstanding, this course was entirely enshrouded in foliage. The switchbacks made it even more interesting: at any given time I could see a lot of headlamps bobbing around nearby, leading me to think there were runners either immediately behind or in front of me.

Not even close. There were plenty of runners, but the switchbacks that “seemed” close were actually quite a distance ahead or behind. It kept things from ever feeling too lonely while also virtually guaranteeing that I could enjoy the scenery without feeling like someone was gaining on me or that I was pushing someone along.

And the scenery. Oh, the scenery; those couple of times I emerged from the trees and, for a moment, caught a glimpse of the fierce sky across the clearing for the power lines before re-entering the thicket, I was blown away: clear skies on one side, angry blackness on the other (and gaining quickly on the former). The wind was picking up, the sun was fading quickly, and the temperature was dropping. As beautiful as it all was, I knew I would be getting wet soon.

By the time I finished the first half of the four-and-change miles, I was feeling really good. Which was good, because the suddenly the skies opened up.

Solid ground turned almost instantly to puddles and rivers beneath my feet. I slowed my pace…and then sped up some more. Keep in mind: trail running is an entirely different beast. So when I say “sped up”, I mean I was clocking around 9-minute miles. Way faster than I’d anticipated, given how quickly the course was changing directions and elevations, and in particular given how bad the weather had suddenly become.

But I felt amazing. The miles clicked along and my spirit soared, even as the rain came down heavier and heavier. Lightning flashed overhead. I felt invincible. Five “deaths” (runners passing me) early in the route gave way to 13 “kills” (me passing runners). By the time I came to the 0.2-miles-to-go checkpoint, I felt like I was flying. I swept into the Exchange Tent just shy of 46 minutes for a solid 9:30 average, pumped to hand off the team bib to Ellen, our #6 runner…

…only to discover a 1-hour hold had been placed on the event due to lightning. As deflating as that was for me, Ellen was even more disappointed: she had been prepping to run the Red Route, the longest and [supposedly] toughest route of the event. With the 1-hour delay, her leg was effectively canceled; the baton would pass to the next runner once the event resumed.

The rain promptly became a torrential downpour.

Ragnar Trails Atlanta: Introduction

Ragnar Trails Atlanta, ladies and gentlemen. For those who are just joining us, this event is different from the Ragnar DC relay we ran back in 2012, and not only because it’s in a different location. It’s a multi-day relay, like Ragnar DC, and you have a team, like Ragnar DC. That’s about where the similarities end.

The Lady and I have been planning this event since Fall 2014, while we were still in Pittsburgh. We’ve obviously had a lot going on in that time, but this event was well-timed as an escape from our busy lives, and in particular to see friends we hadn’t seen since leaving the ‘burgh.

We put together an awesome team. In addition to The Lady and myself, the Danimal and the Jarvelas–Tim and Alys–would be participating in yet another Ragnar relay event, veterans to the cause. Newcomers to Ragnar–but certainly not to running or even trail running in particular–were our dear Pittsburgh friends Ellen, Kelly, and Lara. We were all pretty excited: like last time, we envisioned this being a pretty tight-knit team having a lot of fun doing something we all loved.

Long story short, we got a lot more than we gambled for, but team EVERYTHING IS AWESOME prevailed with flying colors, persevering through unexpectedly trying circumstances and having an incredible amount of fun in the process.

Like last time, I’m splitting this recap up into multiple posts. A lot of things went down, so this is an attempt to keep the information digestible. On Monday, the first post will go up about getting settled and running the first leg. A subsequent post will detail the interim and the lead-up to my second leg. The final post will go through my final leg and the conclusion of the event.

I’m not sure when the last two posts will go up, but they will definitely be before next weekend, as another race waits in the wings!

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(left to right) Alys, Tim, Kelly, Danimal, The Lady, me, Lara, and Ellen.