Monday, October 20, 2014

Ragnar Trail Relays 2014

     So for so many of my friends who were not able to make it down this time around, here is how it all worked.  Ragnar Hill Country has 3 trails; the Green Loop (3 mi), Yellow Loop (5 mi), and the Red Loop (7.7 mi).  There are teams of either 4 runners (ultra) or 8.  Each member of the 8 man team is required to run each of these loops- about 16 miles total and each of the 4 man ultra team is required to run each loop twice equaling just over 31 miles.  Do the math and you come up with 125.6 miles per team.  

Elevation profile of Green, Yellow, and Red trail loops.

How you decided to run those depended on the team.  There were two ultra teams there representing the DRC, I was part of one of them.  My team decided to run two loops at a time.  The required order by Ragnar was to run the course in the order Green, Yellow, Red, Green, Yellow, Red, Green, Yellow etc...  So going in order was fellow DRCers Kristen, Kristin, Vishal, and me the last man.  Our group started at 2pm so my first run was not until after 8pm and the order would fall in place for me to start off running the Green, then the Yellow.  I had plenty of time to fuel up all day long, chill for a while, meet up with a few folks.  That was a decision made by the team before I arrived at the campsite, in an attempt to keep me out of the heat as everyone knows the issues I have with higher temperatures.  When I signed up for this, I was expecting cooler temperatures since it was in October.  By the time 8pm came around I was really ready to get it going, but sort of nervous because I had never run the trails at night before, outside of one time I got caught out at little L.B. Houston Preserve just before the sun went down.  The temperature had dropped from what felt like to me the low 80's to 73°.  I only know the latter temp now because I just looked at my Garmin data.  There was absolutely no phone reception or internet signal for anyone in the village to check the temps, weather or anything else for that matter.  The only use for a phone was to take pictures, which was a good thing.  This was a time to disconnect from the world and have a good time.  The scene there was very cool and laid back just like most all trail races are.   There was a live band, a bonfire, and just a general good feeling flowing throughout the village.  Dinner was then served which was pasta and salad.  I chowed down and had about an hour before Vishal's ETA of 8pm.

1st Leg.  Green and Yellow loops. 

     Vishal arrived a bit earlier than I expected, we made the exchange and off I went into the darkness on the Green Loop.  The first mile was upgrade then flat, upgrade then flat, upgrade then flat, upgrade.  There were many markers on the courses.  If you got lost it was because you were somewhere in LaLa Land and just wasn't paying attention.  Running the wrong way down a dead end or wrong trail got you little markers with "X" on them letting you know to turn around because you are running the wrong way.  I was worried that my headlamp would not be bright enough after  seeing on the race website that they recommended a headlamp that has an output of at least 70 lumens.  The one I brought only put out 16 lumens, but it was plenty bright enough.  I could see everything 10 feet in front of me, which was all I needed to see.  I thought that this night trail experience would be scary.  It was everything but.  It was so peaceful out there.  Even though I knew I probably had another dozen runners on the trail with me, I felt like it was just me and nature.  I made it back around and then started on the Yellow Loop.  Rocks galore.  Loose rocks, big rocks, small rocks, rocks on top of rocks. 
One of hundreds of course markers making it near
impossible to get off track on the course.
I had listened all day to other runners who had been on this course describing the surface as if they had to walk on hot coals.  This was good as I had painted a very bad picture.  It wasn't all that bad to me, but I could see how it would make your feet tender after a while.  I did stump my toe a couple times on that route.  First leg, no problemo.  Handed it off to Kristen with an 'e' to start the rotation all over again.  I went back to the camp, chilled for about an hour and calculated that Vishal would be on his way with the team bib around 3am.  I had just enough time to lay my head down and get a power nap.  I lay there until I fell asleep and looked up through the tent as I could see every single star in the sky as it seemed.  Really awesome stuff.

2nd Leg.  Red and Green loops. 
Vishal arrived at the exchange station at approximately 3:45 am.  This leg was my favorite part of the whole weekend.  What you read above about running in the darkness and it being just me an nature, multiply that times 10.  The most awesomest feeling.  At one point I just stopped on the Red Loop and looked out to the horizon to the best of my ability.  It was dark out there, but still beautiful.  I could hear all kinds of critters along with cows mooing in the distance.  Yes cows, we were on a ranch.  The Red Loop was my favorite one.  The race website described it as a rollercoaster ride.  I didn't notice that so much as much as it had more 'straightaway' than the other two trails.  And less rocks.  I may have taken too much time on it because when I completed the first loop, Kristen was already at the exchange area waiting on me.  No baby, one more loop to go.  Back on the Green loop again.  There was one funny moment on the Green Loop on the second go around.  While I was taking a short walk break, I could hear some rustling to my left.  So I turned to see what it was and there were three cows standing faced directly toward me.  My headlamp just happened to shine right directly into one of their faces and it jumped
I didn't have as much beef with
the course as others did
back about 5 feet.  I jumped back as well then had to laugh at myself.  Somewhere within the loop I caught a cramp in my right thigh.  I panicked.  I'm pretty sure that most everyone reading this right  now is aware of my past history with cramping and why I cramp.  I was taking my endurolytes and hydrating all day long leading up to the event, so I knew that I wasn't about to "Clay out", but in the back of my mind I sorta thought I was.  I stopped, let it cramp all the way up and release and I was fine.  The only issue was that another runner passed me, asked if I was OK during this little cramping epsode.  I told her 'no' and to report it when she got back to the village.  False alarm.  After I stretched it out, I was able to run just fine.  I finally got back to meet Kristen again at the exchange area.  I took this time to get in some coffee, breakfast and a small catnap.

3rd leg.  Yellow and Red loops. 
I have to admit, I had lots of anxiety leading up to this one.  No matter how the legs were arranged, there was not a way to avoid running in the heat.  Again, it felt like the temps were well into the eighties.  I knew as long as I stayed hydrated and "electrolit up" as I call it, there shouldn't be any Claying out.  I tried to stay off my feet as much as possible to be as fresh as I could be.  I even went and had my legs massaged with a special leg squeeze machine.  It seemed like every minute, the temps kept rising higher.  There was the occasional cloud cover which temporarily cooled the village off for a few minutes, but then the sun would come back beaming even harder.  So the only thing I knew I could do is just grin and bear it.  I knew it was going to hurt down towards the end, but I had been there before.  El Scorcho hurt, but it was bearable.  I went ahead and made my way down to the exchange area and waited for Vishal to come through for the last exchange.  I was expecting him at 1pm, and he showed up at 12:45pm.  That was fine and all, however found out that was just the first loop!  His assignment was to run the Red then the Green.  So he had the Green left to go.  I could tell that the Red Loop got the best of him along with the heat as he doused himself with water before going back out.  Oh shit.  That gave me another 30 min or so to prepare.  I had no idea what was going to happen when I got out there.  My legs felt okay, I was well hydrated, well fueled, had plenty water and fuel with me.  I said I would take it easy, and that was the last thing Vishal said to me as I took the bib from him for the last time "Take it easy out there man."  I walked the first quarter mile which was all uphill, then got into a light jog.  When I got to the top of the peak of the Yellow loop I pulled out my phone since it was the only place I could get reception in the whole place and left my wife details on voicemail of how everything should go down the rest of the day.  Just so she would know I was good.  I finished the yellow loop with no problem.  I left the course, went to the water station to refill my hydration pack before I continued on to the Red Loop and knock out the last 7.7 miles. 
Team Dallas Trex
I was feeling pretty good, but starting to feel some fatigue, but I was going to do this no matter what.  I got about a mile into the Red Loop and here come the cramps.  Screw that, I'm going to run through this shit.  My left thigh cramped, then the right.  I went ahead and let all of that contract to the fullest, which hurt like hell then stretched it out, then my calves did the same thing.  That whole sequence took about 5-10 minutes and I was able to keep running even though my legs felt like someone put them through a meat grinder.  But I wasn't "Claying", I knew this was nothing but fatigue, but I would not be denied, and I was not about to let my team down and have a team DNF. 

     Overall this was the most fun I had ever had at any race event.  It was so well put together, almost flawless.  I am so in there when we do this again, I'm assuming next year. 

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