Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Ragnar Trail Vail Lake Race Recap

A few days after the Disneyland Half, I got a text from Elise. She said something along the lines of "I know you have a super full fall racing schedule, but what do you think about adding a Ragnar Trail race? It'd be a co-ed regular team, just out to have fun".

My first thought was "HECK TO THE NO! I don't 'do' trails. And even if I did, it is way too close to my goal race to be out on the mountains at night and potentially twist an ankle or fall off a cliff." But if you know me, you know I have a hard time turning down races ;) I told her I'd think about it and get back to her.

A couple days later she sent me a follow up text to see where I was at in my decision making process. To be honest, trails are very outside of my comfort zone. Sure, I can run on dirt, but uneven ground, rocky terrain, critters, etc - it tends to scare me. I was about to tell her "Thanks, but no thanks", when I thought to myself, "RUNNING IS ABOUT ADDING LIFE TO YOUR DAYS! It's about having fun and pushing yourself to limits you never thought you could reach." So although my goal marathon is less than 5 weeks away, I told her "SIGN ME UP!". 

I knew that I would be disappointed with myself if I looked back and passed up awesome chances due to a race that may or may not pan out perfectly. I know I have put a lot of blood, sweat and sparkle {hehe, that was our team name} into this training, but at the same time, it's not the end-all-be-all for me. And I sure as heck can't and WON'T let fear hold me back from amazing opportunities! 

Ragnar Trail is a bit different from the "standard" Ragnar Series, in that there are NO VANS and everyone runs the same distances (oh yeah, and it's on trails and not road). You camp (as you can see, I refrained from using the term "sleep", but more on that later) in-between and just party on down!
So, Friday morning came and I packed up for the next 24 hours. Since there are three loops on the course and they are color coded, I figured I would color code my outfits to match the loops. I had a pair of Pro Compression socks, a Run With Perseverance tank, Handful sports bra, and Road ID in red, yellow and green (obviously each outfit packed in their own individual Ziploc bag). Add to that my Garmin, some We Run Social gear, shoes, snacks, sleeping bag, camp chair, pillow, yoga mat, sunscreen, band aids, reusable bottles (the race is cup-less meaning they will provide water, but you need to provide reusable containers), headlamp, baby wipes, Gatorade, and a few other necessities and I was golden!


The rest of the team was meeting up in Orange and carpooling down, but since Temecula is closer to me that Orange, I decided I would just meet everyone at Vail Lake. The drive over was easy - only took about 45 minutes. Once I arrived I drove to where everyone was setting up their camp sites, unloaded my gear on a patch of grass, and then parked my car in the lot. I waited for the rest of the crew to show up so we could get this show on the road.

Just a portion of the MANY, MANY tents throughout the village

Our start time was one of the last (I believe they had teams starting as early as 9am, but we didn't start until 3pm due to our estimated finish time) so by the time we got there, most of the spots were gobbled up (you could actually even arrive on Thursday and camp the night before the race if you wanted). We just happened to luck out and get the PERFECT site. It was right near the transition area and along the trail where all three loops converged together - meaning we would see every person pass on their way to finish. Apparently, in the past, the area was reserved for Ultra teams (those having 4 runners instead of the standard 8), but this year they opened up to the masses. 


We set up our little camp. We had a 10 person tent that we would use for resting/ sleeping, a 4 person dome tent that would hold our gear and we'd use to change in, and then a pop-up where we would hang out while we weren't running. Even though none of us had done a Ragnar Trail event before, it was sort of like we were pretty professional at it. 

Our site before the sun started to set

And just like that, we were set to start!

Ragnar Trail Vail Lake Race Recap

Source: @EliseWallace's Instagram Feed

Brenna started us off strong!

Like I mentioned, with Ragnar Trails, everyone runs the same three loops, just not necessarily in the same order. The order overall goes Green, Yellow, Red, but since there are 8 runners in the rotation, you cycle through the loops differently. 


Elise originally asked me if I had a preference of which runner I wanted to be. I told her I didn't, but would prefer not to run the hardest loop (i.e. RED) in the dark - just since I am not comfortable with trails and probably should have more than a headlamp to light my way on the most technical course.


When she was figuring out our team order, she put me as 6th Runner (thinking that my first leg would be in the daylight - but not realizing that we had a late start time, so it would actually already be dark by the time I started). AIN'T NO THANG! (I actually think it worked out better this way! But more on that in a minute...) 

You KNOW I had to rock my #WeRunSocial hat all weekend!

Resting up my legs, waiting for my first run of the race!

It seemed to be taking us around 45-55 to finish each loop, so by the time I was set to run my first leg it was already after 7pm. The sun set around 6:30, so it was time to bust out the headlamp and DO THIS THANG! (PS I have had some folks ask me about my headlamp. I believe it is just an Energizer one... We had them for camping, so that's what I use... Maybe if I do more dark running I will look into a legit running one)

The sun starting to set behind the hills

Vail Lake as the sun starts setting behind the far off hills

Now, let's be honest. I have NO IDEA how to run trails. Knowing and talking to other trail runners and recently reading Pavement Runner's recap of the Golden Ultra reminded me that you don't have to run the whole thing full out (I guess trail running is something I have to get used to - it seems so much more chill than road running). "Run when you can, walk when you have to" - okay, I guess I can do that. I decided I would try and keep my pace as similar to Carrie's (even though she is a killer trail runner), since I didn't really have any other idea how to pace myself and she was running the same order of the loops as I was.

Red Loop

Per the course info, this is the hardest loop. It is 4.5 miles long (which doesn't seem long, but I'm telling you it is TOUGH) with the most elevation change. This is what the website had to say about the loop:


Let's just say, when there are "DANGER" signs on the downhills, you should heed their warning. The ground was very loose (and even felt powdery in places), so when you are trying to make up time on the downhills and opening up your speed you can lose control and take a tumble. Yep, I know from experience... Thankfully I didn't get hurt, and it was more of a slide than anything, but I quickly learned that the signs are there for a reason and make sure to follow their warnings!

See the "white powder"? That is the dusty dirt I slid down a
small portion of the hill on... Oops!

There was actually a part on the red loop where it was so steep uphill that you could see CLAW MARKS in the dirt where people were trying to find any security they could and help pull themselves up the mountains. Like I said, this loop was NO JOKE!

See that part where my pace dropped... I was trying
to figure out how to get UP the hill without dying...
And waiting for the freaked out runners in front of
me to scurry up the hill as well!

And remember when I said I would have rather run the more technical trails during the daylight?! WRONG! I am pretty sure it would have freaked me out even more! At least in the dark you couldn't see the danger around you (steep cliffs, how high the next climb was, etc), so it was more of an ignorance is bliss - not to mention the temperatures definitely cooled off (because we were frying during the day).

Although this loop ended up being my slowest average pace, I think I am the most proud of it. I faced a fear (or maybe three or four) of running trails and survived to tell the tale! And not only did I survive, I had 32 KILLS (meaning I passed 32 people on the course)!

Obviously night running doesn't lend itself too well for photos, but I had to
at least capture a couple Garmin shots, right?!

I realize the numbers don't look impressive, but with 800+ feet
of elevation gain, I'm pretty stoked I held my own out there!

I ended up finishing around 8:15pm, so I made my way over to the 'mess hall' to grab our provided dinner (some oily noodles and salad). Everyone else had eaten already, but I didn't want to get an upset tummy while running, so figured I'd wait till afterwards. I scarfed down a few bites and then made it back to base camp. Some of the team tried to lay down for a rest, but I knew that wasn't really going to happen for me. I actually did go in the tent for about 35 minutes or so, but it was more to get cozy in my sleeping bag than anything else. With the runners all passing by our tent, cheering, clapping, and lights constantly filling the tent there wasn't much sleep to be had.

Yellow Loop

It's strange, although this loop was ranked in the middle (I would assume because it was shortest in distance), many of us thought it was the most technical and difficult. By the time I was getting ready to run it, it was already about 2:30am and in the 50s (but I could actually see my breath when I was running! It was crazy to actually feel a bit of a chill when I started running since we have been dealing with such HOT HOT HEAT these past 4 or 5 months).

As the course description states, there is a lot of climbing and a decent amount of ridge running.


As with the red loop, I am pretty glad I didn't run this one in the daylight. From the sounds of it, if I could have seen to the right or left of the trail I might have thought I was seeing absolute death... You are literally running the ridges like a coyote. It was really fun, but probably pretty dangerous if you veered off course at all.

Remember when I mentioned that I had slid a bit during the red loop after I saw one of the first DANGER signs on a downhill? Well, that was fresh in my mind, so downhills the rest of the race freaked me out. I took them extremely cautiously (which I am sure my body was grateful for, but my clock time was less than stoked about). There was actually a pretty long and steep descent towards the end of this loop that had me scrambling a bit, but I stayed on my feet and kept putting one foot in front of the other.

The dip at the end was the downhill I took
VERY cautiously...

Running in the dark is so peaceful, but can also be a bit sketchy. I ended up getting 26 kills during this leg (I was passed by one guy and one girl, but they were KILLING those downhills!) and even kept a little faster pace than the red loop.

The only loop I didn't fall on - SUCCESS!

I know the times don't look amazing, but keep in mind the HILLS!

After I finished my second leg, I got some water, took another baby wipe "bath", changed into my green loop gear and got ready for a nap. I knew I probably wouldn't be able to sleep once the sun came up, so I was shooting for a good 2 hours between 4 and 6am. According to my Garmin data, it looks like I got just under that. (Obviously it was not all deep sleep, but something is better than nothing and at least it was a little rest.)

Laying down felt oh so great!

I grabbed my sleeping bag and went out to cheer on the runners who were still chugging through the darkness. The sunrise was pretty spectacular, especially with the fog that was rolling in over the lake. A friend of mine commented on one of my pictures with something to the effect of "That is worth waking up to", to which I joked "That is worth NOT GOING TO BED for".

Sunrise and the fog rolling in

Here's a little video I took of the lake (and village) around sunrise. I didn't want anyone getting dizzy, so I slowly spun around in a circle so you could get the full effect of the area. You can still see folks coming into the transition area and hear cowbells and cheers for the early morning runners.

And before heading out on my final loop, you know things got a little crazy ;) I mean, it's trail running for goodness sake ;)

What do you mean you've never seen a cheering unicorn?!

Need some extra horse power?! WE GOT YOU COVERED!

Green Loop

My first and only leg in the sun and boy was it already a warm one! It was around 9am but already in the 80s. Thankfully I had a little extra love and support from the AMAZING Suzanne when I stopped by the Pro Compression booth before heading out.

Source: @SuzanneEllard's Instagram Feed

Let's be real, the green loop is supposed to be the easiest. Sure, it has the longest distance, but it is fairly flat and consistent (there was still a few climbs, but nothing near the elevation change felt over the previous runs). That is, until you look at the fact that I ran a 20-miler on Thursday morning and then conquered two DIFFICULT (at least for me, Ms. NON-Trail Runner Carlee) legs before this one... To say I was TOAST (and maybe a little delirious from the lack of sleep) would be an understatement.

I decided, that since this was the only leg in the sun, I would stop and snap a couple pictures along the way. I didn't stop my watch at all for any of my pit stops, so it does effect my time a bit, but you can definitely tell that this last leg was not a normal pace for an "easy 6-miler".

A view of the village and the hills we climbed from across Vail Lake

And about a mile and a half in, it happened... A rock jumped out of no where and tripped me... Okay, I guess I will blame it on the fact that I was tired and probably not picking up my feet completely... But I really ate it. Thankfully I am pretty good at "falling with style" (as Woody would say), so as I was falling I was able to spin a bit and land more on my shoulder in a pricker bush than right on my face... I was able to bounce up fairly quickly and keep on running (and, more for my pride than anything else, I was pleased that I was alone on the trail for this portion).

Just a little dirt... Tis a meer flesh wound...

Like I mentioned, I stopped to snap a couple pictures along this leg, as well as played a few mental games like "If you can run to that next directional sign, you can walk up the next hill". I would have loved to say that this leg was smooth sailing, but after everything I had done the previous couple days, my legs felt like led and I was just trying to do anything to keep them moving forward.

I think this is every one's favorite sign who runs Ragnar, right?!

A view of the village from about .2 mile out (where the timing mat was)

You can see the slight dip around the 15:00
mark... That's where I ATE IT!

I finished! It was nothing stellar, but it was OVER! I was even able to pass 23 people throughout the 6 miles. And besides the two minor boo-boos I acquired along the way, I would say it was a definite success for my first trail adventure!

And just like that, my running portion was OVER!

That's what you call POSITIVE SPLITS... And tired legs!

Then it was time to take my third and final baby wipe "bath", change, and wait for our last runner to come back in!

If you didn't notice, we were playing up the whole Talladega Nights theme and our finish line plan was nothing short of amazing... Here is a little preview of what we were going for... Yes, Skyler ran his whole last leg in just a pair of tighty-whitey's... He handed the helmet back to us once he passed by our cheer squad on the way out and then grabbed it again at our camp before we all ran in together... IT WAS AMAZING!

We are still waiting for the official results to come in, but if you've seen the movie, then you know "If you're not first, you're last" and we are pretty sure we WON THE THING (even if by "winning" we mean had a TON of fun :)).

Ricky Bobby's PIT CREW!


How we kept track of when our runners finished and how many kills we had

And check out this MEDAL! I mean, it is definitely NOT TSA approved... I think MacGyver would be proud though!

Like legit, there is a saw, a blade, a bottle opener, wrenches, and lots of holes

With our calculations, we finished right around 21 hours and 2 minutes. I believe they will be releasing the preliminary results sometime today and the official results by the end of the week, but we will just consider TEAM BLOOD SWEAT AND SPARKLE (aka Team Shake and Bake) the WINNERS!

Do you 'do' trails? What about relay races? 


Scarabocchio Girl said...

I do trails sometimes, I live in the mountains so I'm used to these.
I don't have fear about the steep or how high it should be, and I admire those who do trails and sky races like Emelie Forsberg or Kilian Jornet (Google them!). So thumbs up for you at Ragnar! Surely it was an amazing adventure, under many aspects :)

Sue @ This Mama Runs for Cupcakes said...

So awesome!! I've been afraid to do Ragnar trail as well because I really don't want to run them in the dark...I don't mind during the day, but the night leg scares me. Looks like you guys had a blast!!