So I mentioned last week that I had retired myself from Ragnars, but when the opportunity came up to do Ragnar Trail with Nuun, I jumped at the chance. I figured- it would be a totally different experience and I love running trails- and maybe the whole actually getting to sleep thing that is missing from Ragnar Ultras would make the experience more enjoyable.
One of the biggest reasons why I'm not the biggest Ragnar fan is because of the stress of it- people get injured, drop, get sick during the course, your volunteers back out- just too many variables that you have little control of. Whereas in a race- you show up at the starting line and as long as you're there and the race starts- you're golden. So the day before one of the girls texted me the bad news that she was dropping. Honestly- I was too busy and didn't have the energy to freak out or look for a replacement. I figured worst case scenario I would do her legs on the trail as well.
So we met up in the morning and had agreed on Alma driving. (If I knew she drove the cutest little Fiat, I may have cleaned my SUV to make life easier on everyone.) By some miracle we got EVERYTHING packed onto that little car and shockingly did not lose all of our gear while driving out to Vail Lake- though we did get some awesome looks on the road. Haha.
We got out to Vail Lake and it was in the easy, breezy 90's. We set up our tent (not an easy feat, I tell ya). Then we went to figure out runner positions. We had NO idea what to expect but knew that we all had to do red (4.5 miles hard/hilly), yellow (3.9 miles, hills), and green trails (6 miles, easier than red and yellow). The original plan was for me to do doubles for the first two and one of the other girls would pick up my third double so my last leg would be a single.
We started at 1:30 pm and since I was the 6th/7th runner it was HOURSSSS before I ran - which meant I just chilled and pretty much wore myself out in that heat. Sadly, I didn't get one normal meal that day- just a few snacks here and there and by the time it was my turn to run, I figured I would eat after.
I started a little before 7 and right as the sun was going down- it had cooled down some so I figured... how bad could it be?! (Oh to be played again. So hard.) Now just to preface my Ragnar trail discussion- I want to say that my first year of running I ONLY ran on trails- every single run was on fire roads and trails out in the mountains. This year I've done much more treadmill running, but I figured I had a pretty strong background in trails and this wouldn't be a problem for me.
My first shift was a Red trail followed by a Green trail. It started out with a nice climb which gave a sickkk view of Vail Lake and the campsite.
Everything was going good until a guy I had passed started yelling that we were going the wrong way. I was like- there's no way - there was literally no other trail. So I backtracked and he was right- the little arrows pointed straight down - basically throwing your body down an un-trail into a ravine. Then I fell with my waterbottle in one hand and my cell in my other. That was pretty unnerving. Mile 1, done. At that point I still had another 10 miles to go and it was pitch black. I realized quickly that instead of bringing my worn out Newtons (that were super smooth on the bottom) I should have brought trail specific shoes because literally all I was doing on these Red trails was slipping and sliding. Pretty terrifying when it's pitch black and your light isn't that bright. It became not fun pretty quickly as I was getting concerned with the overly frequent ankle rolling and slip and slides down mountain trails. I would pass people on the uphills but on the downhills, my shoes literally had no grip and I was gripping onto any bushes to keep me from falling into the darkness.
When I finally made it to the Green trail I was already pretty terrified of getting injured during this Ragnar. Luckily Green trails were more like what I was used to- fire roads that were wide and not foot wide trails hugging a mountain that had a steep dropoff. Green went by a lot faster and it was such a weird sensation since the roads were so powdery - you could barely see with all the dust kicked up and you didn't really have depth perception and couldn't really tell what type of dirt you were planting your foot in. It felt like running in a dream.
After 11 miles of dark trails, I was happy for these two legs to be over. I went back to the tent and was OVER it. Seriously, done. I'm all for adventure but this felt dangerous like I could get really injured and I kept thinking that I have lucked out in life that I don't have any injuries I am dealing with- but then that I could be pressing my luck with some of these dumb things I do. It didn't help that I felt super sick to my stomach the whole 11 miles and nauseous. I got back to our tent and tried to nap until my next death run. I got a text from my teammate that was picking up my last double leg saying she didn't want to run that much in the heat of the day so she wanted to switch legs. I just didn't care at that point- it all seemed painful. Haha.
I tried to nap in my tent and kept hearing people freaking out over how crazy the trails were. They just were not runnable trails- maybe the burros that climb in and out of the Grand Canyon would be better suited for this experience. Around 2 am I headed out for the next run - NOT pumped. I had been responding to the good luck texts from friends I was receiving with something simple like, "THIS IS A NIGHTMARE" with no other explanation. So you can imagine what kind of GREAT headspace I was in. Haha. It was pretty freezing out there so I was hoping I would warm up on my run. Yellow trail started on the same trail as Green and then just went up mountains and over ridges. This one was CONSTANTLY going up and down.
So with Yellow my one consolation is that it was only 4 miles so it wouldn't last for that long. But unfortunately Yellow trails, my shoes, and the pitch dark were a terrible combo. I was passing everyone when we were actually running on flats- and on hills. Then we came to any climbs and I would be trying to go up and sadly my shoes would make me slide down. It would have been comical if I wasn't already sooo over it. I was literally grabbing onto the ground- digging my fingernails into the dirt (knew my flojo/rihanna nails were practical), onto bushes, anything to try and get a grip and pull myself up the climbs. Then on the way down it was just as bad. I was literally throwing myself into bushes and grabbing onto any dead shrubbery so I wouldn't tumble down the mountain.
I definitely fell hard down one of my descents even though I was walking it down to be more cautious. My slip and sliding was bad enough that one of the guys on the trail was kind enough to offer me his shoulder to take the descents instead of falling. I could just see this turning out bad and me accidentally sending him over a cliff or something so I just said he could lead and break my fall. HAHHA. Poor thing felt bad enough for me that he stayed with me the entire time. My trail guardian angel. Every time I slid down the mountain, I think I took about year off my life from the stress of it. Four miles may seem like nothing- right? Like you can do that in your sleep and it goes by super fast. You know what doesn't go by fast? Slow ascents and descents on the trail in the middle of the night when you are terrified. Finishing Yellow trail was such a beautiful moment knowing I had done 15 miles of insane trails in the dark - and that I wouldn't have to do a single mile more in darkness.
Going back to the tent, I was able to get a little nap in and then hang out with the team at the Nuun tent. I didn't start my last double leg until almost 10 am. It was a toasty 93 degrees and my stomach was already really not feeling good so I was a bit concerned for the ten miles I had to do. Luckily the first part was Green trail and I could actually run it- which I loved.
Coming through transition was tough because I wanted to just be done but I had to do Yellow again which was such a scary experience in the dark. My only consolation was that it would be light so I could better see the trail.
Yellow was MUCH better in daytime. I was still grabbing bushes to do some of my descents, but the fact that I could see clearly meant I was better able to judge a good route down instead of throwing my body down the trail blindly. It just was tough because the heat was killer and there was no shade and my stomach was OVER the trails. I felt super nauseous the whole time. It felt very life and death out there (sounds so dramatic, I know) and I just wanted it to be over. Anytime there was a climb- every single person was walking. So slow. It just felt painful and dismal being out there. I was getting super frustrated that I had subjected myself to round the clock misery. Once I got to this point of despair, I had to check myself and remember all the things I was grateful for: being so healthy and strong and able to do these trails, the opportunity to see nature like this, a life that gives me opportunities to explore and have crazy adventures. Then I started to get misty-eyed as I was filled with so much gratitude and love for life and running. (Guys- these dramatic thought shifts- kinda a sign that I'm a psychopath. Whatever.) I was able to endure the rest of it, knowing how lucky I was to be able to do these kind of activities and to never take that for granted.
Coming into the finish was incredible. 25 miles done with 2686 feet of climbing- most of it being basically blindfolded- ok not really- but my dim headlamp was a half step above being blindfolded.
I was lucky to have a team of great girls that were strong and handled the craziness of the trails. Everyone was a ton of fun and we just did our best to deal with the sleep deprivation, exhaustion, "bathrooms" that consisted of a piece of plywood with a bucket underneath, no real food, and the heat. I am so thankful to Nuun for the great opportunity to run Ragnar Trail Vail Lake and for hydrating all the athletes on the trails.
Now would I do this again- I just can't see it happening while I still have my memory intact. Did I have a lot of fun? Sure. The girls were all awesome and we bonded through our suffering. It felt like going through battle together though. But some days you feel like not putting yourself through extremely miserable situations. I think I just enjoy running races a lot more. You know way ahead of time what distance you are doing (I went into this thinking I was doing the standard 14 miles that everyone did and came out with 25 miles.) Even a marathon is all run at once. There is something about starting and stopping and waiting and putting so much time in between runs that makes your muscles stiff and your body that much more exhausted. Granted it's been a day and I already feel nostalgia for that experience, I can promise you I had some choice words after my first 11 mile death run and I was over Ragnar's deadly games. It seems like I have become a master of masochism and the fact that I did a hot and hilly half and an almost marathon insane trail race within the month anniversary of a hard marathon doesn't seem like the gentlest road to recovery. After next Sunday's Nike Women's Half Marathon in SF, I'm taking some time to recover/start training again.
And that my friends, is my Ragnar Career. Highs and lows. But let's be real. As high as the highs are I'm not sure it compensates for how Death Valley those lows can be. Hope y'all had a chiller weekend- and a HUGE congrats to everyone who raced this weekend. I'm so inspired by you all!!