Ragnar Relay Cottage Country Trail
I hate trail running. Okay, hate is a very strong word. I really, really, really, dislike trail running. And why? Well really, because it’s stinking hard. Two years ago, I was running Spartan races every other weekend (or more) from April to October. I completed 22 events on a variety of terrains, but mostly – trails. I would trek up and down ski slopes, and mountain bike trails, through dirt and mud, getting scraped up and beat up, and still I came back for more again and again. I will admit lately that I have lost whatever drive I had that year. I do miss it. I miss the people out there running with me. BUT I DIGRESS. My point was, when I was running all those races, I was running on trails regularly, all over the country. Yet, after every single race, I would say that the hardest part was always the trail running. I was never the best or fasts runner, but I held my own (running almost a whole two minutes faster per mile on the road at the time), but the uphill climbs felt like they killed me EVERY SINGLE TIME. Actually, I would say the downhills killed me just as much, but FINALLY, I can say I’ve started mastering the downhill. Uphill, not so much. Despite these feelings toward trails, that had never really gone away – even though it had been almost a year and a half since I had been regularly running on them – when my friends wanted to team up for a Ragnar Trail Relay, I jumped on it. On one side, I suppose it was this intense feeling of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) that I get when I see other people run races that I do not. I couldn’t bear to see them bring home the bling and have me be sidelined. On another side, maybe I had forgotten what trail running was really like for me – like REALLY like for me. We had so much fun doing the road relay in June, this was bound to be amazing. Okay, sign me up. Of the eight people on our team, only one had real trail experience. I would even venture to say that maybe (at the start of the journey) I was probably the second most experienced. A few of the members ran some smaller trail races leading up to this big event – I didn’t. We planned bi-weekly trail runs together to push us to get out there. Most of them ended up being rescheduled or canceled. I made it to three. Three runs that showed me that I was slow, and that trail running was hard. I will add in here, that it’s not necessarily helpful that any decent trail running in the area is about a forty minute drive from where many of us live. In addition, forty minutes in traffic because we didn’t want to run too late, and too early meant people were still at work. But I made three training runs. That’s two more trail trainings runs than I ever have done in my running career. Yep, I did one before. March 2016 before I kicked off that epic season of Spartan. I would say that I had a lot working against me in this one. Obviously first was my distaste for the trails. However, camp set up in Ontario – a three and a half hour in rush hour traffic drive – was the same day as my NYS Massage Therapy boards. This essentially meant that I left everything up to my team in the final days to get things planned and situated. Naturally because of this, things were forgotten at home, but we survived and I lived to tell the tale (I’m telling it right now). Needless to say, after an exceptionally hard exam, of which my career relied, I did not want to interact with anyone the rest of the day, yet we still managed to make it to Barrie in one piece. The next thing working against me is well, I don’t camp. Not can’t or won’t. I just… don’t. I haven’t gone camping in ten years – with the exception of sleeping in a trailer camper for a night before a race. I like electricity. And I don’t like bugs. I really don’t like bugs. I was baited with an air mattress, my favorite blankets, and high end bug spray, and I even helped set up the tent. Go me – no really, go me! I discovered that the main campsite – The Village – would have a big fire with smores and movies playing on a screen all night. Okay, I was sold. Night one: success. The team woke up bright and early Friday for a 7:30 start time – that was so gloriously moved up from 9am because of a threatening lightning storm that was set to grace us sometime mid Saturday. It was a little chilly, but really, perfect running weather. The whole team gathered to send our first runner, Cody, off. He of course is the experienced one… the fast one… and he proved it. Starting us out on the green loop, he was the first of his wave to make it back to the transition tent for runner two. That was a pretty amazing moment, I do have to say. Angela went off next, and then I was on deck. I was laced up and ready to go, testing out a demo pair of shoes (still have not decided if I would recommend this or not). I had made the decision before we arrived that I would be starting out on the red loop – the hardest of the three – in the hope that even if it was horrible, it could only get better from there. Go time. The red loop wasn’t pretty. Okay, no it actually was beautiful. I suppose that is one thing about trail running that I don’t mind. I do like being out in nature (as long as I am well armed against the insect variety). It was really peaceful out there. Because we were in the first initial wave, and Cody had gained so much time on the rest of the pack, I actually had only seen two other runner out on my loop. I usually prefer a more social aspect of running, but this was different. I liked the calmness out on the course and then the sociability back in the Transition area and the Village. It was a nice balance. Anyway, back to the red loop. It wasn’t awful. If I’m honest, it really wasn’t. What made it the most challenging loop of the three was the constant up and down and zig and zag, sidewinding through the trails. For me, it was difficult to run. I struggle with running uphill as it is – even if none of the hills were particularly significant. I began the loop at my standard interval pace of run 60 seconds and walk 30, but once I was really in the trees, I found it very difficult to maintain. I began to walk uphills, and run downhills, and that worked as a pretty good interval for me. But I didn’t like the feeling of defeat I had in my gut. Why couldn’t I run more? Why did I get out of breath with every uphill climb – even walking? Why did my hips hurt so bad? When it comes down to it, I could have trained more. Practiced on more trails, done more lunges and leg work, more consistent cardio sessions. So I convinced myself that trail running just wasn’t for me. At the end of the loop, I came into transition, passed off to Leanne, and plopped down on a bench to down some water. I described the loop as hard, but not bad, very twisty and turny, but okay. It took me 1:41:02 to finish the 5.78miles, not the worst it could have been with an average 17:30 trail mile. I felt a little better, when other teammates later said that it was awful. Yet, I announced that while it wasn’t bad, trail running was not my thing, and that I wouldn’t be doing this again. In comparison to the Road relay we did in June, the time in between legs was really relaxing. Don’t get me wrong, I had a lot of fun in the van and going from point to point and hanging out, but being able to sit in a chair in the sun, have a glass of wine (okay, I didn’t bring glasses, but I did bring those small wine bottles!), and just relax. I got to take a nap in the tent, and even have ice cream. All in all, a decent afternoon. I started my second loop, the yellow loop around 7:15pm. It was still light out, but past the must carry a headlamp cut off. Even though I turned my interval timer on, I decided to head out with the same intention as I ended the red loop. Walk the ups, and run the downs. That worked for me, and the yellow loop was DEFINITELY better than the red one. I actually wonder, if I had done the yellow loop first (or even green), if I would have maybe thought more about doing this again. The yellow loop definitely wasn’t as technical at the red was. However, around the half way point or so, was when it really started to get dark within the trees and I had to turn my headlamp on. Eventually, I couldn’t even run anymore. It turned out that I actually didn’t have my headlamp on the correct setting, which made it really dim and I could barely see 5 feet in front of me. When a few other runners passed me, their lights were so bright. I tried to adjust mine, but couldn’t get it brighter (Yes, after I was done, I hit the exact same button and BOOM let there be light). At this point, I walked the rest of the loop. Close to the end of the loop was the Outlook. It was really beautiful as the sun was just really setting, and you could see lights from the nearby towns. I took a couple moments here, and really, it was worth it. In all, the yellow loop took me 1:33:07 for the 5.1 miles with an average 18:16 mile. It was my slowest loop, but I felt a lot better after this leg, and was definitely ready for dinner. Dinner is probably one of the only complaints I have about the production of this race. It was approximately 8:50pm when we got in line for food. Dinner was open from 5-10pm. I didn’t want to eat right before my leg and have the food be heavy in my stomach, so I waited. However, by not even 9pm, there was food that had run out – with still an hour of service left. The food I did have – Chicken, rolls, corn, salad were all good, so that was a plus. A Ragnar Ambassador that was there told us that at this particular venue, the venue controlled the food, so they didn’t have much say in it. Having worked in race production before, I understood. Upon returning back to the campsite, we pretty much turned in for the night. Cody’s first leg was set to be around 3am, so we needed a few hours of sleep. I kind of wish I had stayed by the fire a little while and had a smore and watched the movies they were playing (yes, MOVIES, and to make it better, DISNEY movies!), but sleep was needed. Overnight our team started to get slightly behind track, but nothing to really be worried about. Cody ended up starting about an hour later than expected. I waited to get up until he came back to the tent. I got ready for my last leg, and we walked back down to the Village. While we waited for Angela to pass off, I did get to hang out by the fire and watch most of Inside Out. Then it was my turn. Having the green loop as my last leg was on one side, nice. I knew that the worst was behind me, and I had heard that the green loop was beautiful and was ensured that I would enjoy it. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure what my feelings were about this loop. My legs at this point were completely shot. I maybe ran PARTS of the first quarter mile, and the last quarter mile. The middle, I just took my time and hiked on through. That was probably one of the nicest parts. Even though there were still most of the close to 100 teams on the course, it never felt crowded or bogged down with runners. I still only saw a handful of other runners while I was out there. It was beautiful to just be out there in the trees with the fresh air. I was not too fond of the rain, but thankfully it was not pouring. I do wish that I could have run more of this loop, or run it at all on fresh legs. I do not regret my decision to start with the red loop, but, I would have liked to have seen what I could have done on the green. My leisurely nature walk took 1:24:47 for the 4.78 miles, averaging 17:44 miles. At this point, there was a lightning warning in effect, so they started to double up runners to get everyone finished before the weather hit. I passed off to Leanne and Nola who ran their yellow loop together. The rest of us began tearing down our camp. For everyone’s last legs, I tried to make my way back down to the village to cheer them on as they came in and we sent the next group out. My legs didn’t love hiking up and down the hill to the Village, but it was worth getting to spend time with the team. The rain had even subsided by the time our team crossed the finish line together. It was only probably minutes later that a hold was put on the course for the weather, and before we knew it the rain was coming down. Everyone made a mad dash to pack up the cars, and away we went in search of real food. This was the first time the entire team really got to sit down and spend time all together, and right there, that’s what it was all about for me. These people that I had met mostly only months before. Most who I had gotten to run with throughout the summer at one race or practice trail or another. And here we all were, laughing, soaking wet, and toasting a great accomplishment, something that was brand new to almost all of us. It got me thinking… maybe this wasn’t so bad. Maybe I would do this again. It was an amazing experience with some amazing people. It rained and it was tough and we forgot things at home, but really, I don’t think I would have changed a thing. We did it.