Thursday, April 10, 2014

Atlanta Trail Ragnar- Recap

2014 is my year of fun when it comes to running. If I don't feel like going for a run, I don't. If my friends are all partaking in a race but it doesn't sound appealing to me, I won't register. I have to tell you, its quite liberating to go from running 15+ halfs / year to not having one on your calendar at all. Truth is, I have ZERO desire right now to 'race'. In time, I hope this changes, but for now I'm just enjoying the time off. 

What I do have the desire to do is RELAYS!!! I love the camaraderie, scenery, challenges, new friendships, and best of all- lasting memories that come from each relay I do. Since this year is all about having fun, the races that I have been open to running are all relays. I completed Del Sol Ragnar in February, just got back from Ragnar trail ATL this weekend, and in exactly one month I'll be partaking in the sold out Cape Cod Ragnar. To date I've completed 10 in the last few years, so you could say I enjoy them. All Recaps from my relay adventures are HERE.

Back in November I finished the Vail Lake Trail Ragnar in California and although it kicked my butt, I knew I wanted to take another stab trail running and see how round 2 would go. Turns out I wouldn't have to wait long since they added Atlanta Trail Ragnar to their series for 2014. 

Elizabeth @ Running for Bling was donned with the task from Nuun to form an all ladies team to participate in the inaugural race held at the Georgia International Horse Park on the outskirts of Atlanta. Since this year is also about saving $ and Atlanta is driveable, I was immediately on board *note to all those who don't live in the south-- its a least 4 hours (minimum) to get from Nashville to Atlanta. If you hit traffic, good luck (it took us 7 hours to get back home)-  for some reason everyone always makes comments about when they visit Nashville if we could pop over to Atlanta, not as close at you think*

One of the trickiest parts of the trail running is mastering the art trying not to injure yourself while running in pitch black. Unfortunately when we ran Vail Lake back in November, we had a late start time of 4pm, so only our first runner had daylight and then the rest of us were running in a dark abyss due to shortened daylight that time of year. (case in point, all 3 of my runs were in the dark for that race) Knowing this going into Atlanta, I really wanted to have an earlier start time, but unfortunately we didn't cushion our times enough and we ended with a 3:30pm start. ** Just like all Ragnars, it asks for your 10k road pace. Do not actually put you factual pace and do add some buffers.**  Ex: Elizabeth and I know that we both can run a  10k in 7:30 pace or less, but we upped our entries to 8:00 to allow some room, but not so much that we were sandbagging. I don't know what everyone else's road pace is, so they may have already done that too and we were just categorized as a faster team. 

The first time start times are at 11:00am, but  Ragnar allowed teams early entry to the park to set up their campsite on Thursday to minimize the stress of scrambling around at the last minute. While Sarah and I were en route Thursday evening, a few of the teammates scoped out a spot and set up some tents so our Friday organization went by quickly. 

One of the views of our site

All set up with time to spare
After reading Jessica's recap of the race I just had to steal her "meet the team" collage. We all used a drop box to share our photos so you'll be seeing some repeats. Myself and Sarah were the two Nashvillians (we work together), and the rest of the ladies actually reside in or around the greater Atlanta area. What's neat is I only knew Sarah and Elizabeth going into this relay, and now I've come out with 5 more friends. 

Meet Team Electrolits

Laura was our Nuun rep and she deserves a special shout out- in addition to running her 3 legs, she also worked the Nuun tent all day Friday till 11pm, but also all day Saturday until until she closed down at 1pm. Thats a lot of time on your feet and little rest. We covered the booth for her runs and stayed with her throughout the race when able, but if I had to do it all over again I think it would have been good to have 2 team members pair up and take shifts so we could have lifted the burden from her more (although she never complained) 

And since we have a Nuun sponsored team, we called ourselves the Electrolits based off their new line Nuun Energy (the black tubes in the bucket) I only tried the Cherry Limeade because I didn't want to be too wired and not sleep, but it was fabulous. 

If you couldn't gather, we also decided to wear all the neon we had, which is fine by me because it meant that I could get extra use out of my favorite shorts by bskinz, and I could rock my ridiculous Aasics and not be judged :)

On our way to basecamp to go over the rules and send Abby off we ran into the infamous Dave Mari--- I used to see him at all my races the first year I started my 50 state quest, but now its few and far between
Abby, Elizabeth, Sarah, Jessica, Laura, Katie, Elisabeth, me and famous Dave

Thanks to his mad camera skills, this is by far one of my favorite team photos of all time (minus my face)

Once we went over all the rules and team introductions Abby started us off
Rocking all the neon and skirt!

Run 1- Yellow Loop
I was runner #2 and I couldn't have picked a better rotation - there was a purpose behind that. I was starting off with the yellow trail.  When I looked at the maps of the trails before hand I saw how windy yellow was and knew that it would be harder to navigate that at night so I just wanted to ensure that it fit my day time run. 

Excited / nervous, I took my first mile somewhat quick but held back due to watching my ankles

Once we entered the woods it was like we were in a dome that didn't allow any air movement- I haven't sweated like that in a LONG time. Although the course was only 4.6 miles, it seemed to drag on a bit due to heat, the constant turns, tweaking my right ankle, and kicking myself for not bringing my fuel belt since I was beyond parched. All that aside, I was pleased with the views and so appreciative I did this one in daylight to see where I was going. 

Although neither of these photos were taken during this part, there were quite a few switch backs which made it kind of neat to see both the runners in front and behind you. I had to walk quite a bit to catch my breath on the hills and apparently so did all my fellow runners and to my surprise I talked quite a bit to others. (I am not a talker when running) 

Finished the course in 47 and change with a 9:52 avg pace 

In speaking with a few of the Ragnar staff at the event, they did state yellow was the hardest of the trails technical wise. For those that have run Ragnar events before, classification is based on distance, not terrain. Therefore for trails Green = easy and is shortest; yellow = medium with medium length; red = hard with longest distance- terrain is not factored in. 

Since I was done so early I didn't rest before my 2nd leg and instead enjoyed a beer, caught up with friends from Nashville on different teams, and enjoyed a sit down free dinner
Rob and I- he was on my Ragnar TN team this year 

Enjoying the free pasta + salad dinner for all runners.

Run 2- Green Loop- 3.5 miles
For the life of me I can't remember about what time I started, but I know it was prior to midnight. I learned my lesson from Vail Lake trail and bought a higher luz headlamp (75 luz) to be able to see and comfortably run in a black hole- it worked magically! Before, I would run really slow just because I could barely see in front of me, but for this run I didn't trip once at all- HUGE WIN in my book. Going into it, I knew the first mile was flat and then the hills and bridges would follow after. Taking  into consideration how much I walked in yellow loop, I took advantage of easy first mile and banked some time with a  7:24 so I wouldn't feel guilty for walking later.

For me this course was true to the 'easy' name. The biggest challenges were making sure to walk over the bridges due to wide gaps in between the planks, as well as taking it easier on some of the very narrow trails as to not go into the brush or trees. 
Green met up with yellow loop and they ran the last 1+ mile together. Below is one of the bridges while running on the shared trail

I love running at night with the cooler air, so I found it much easier to breathe and not tire out as quickly. Finished the loop in 33 and change. 

Once I was done I ATTEMPTED to sleep, however there was a course volunteer about 150 ft from our tent who every few seconds yelled "Green to the right, red straight ahead!!"- when someone didn't turn right to go on green trail she then would say "You running red- have fun!". That went on till shortly after 2am once her shift was completed. I was kicking myself for not bringing ear plugs. As much as I tried to sleep after she was gone, I had no such luck and just laid there resting my legs.

I went to basecamp to see when runner 8, Katie was coming in, but unfortunately I missed her and Abby was already off. Not knowing what time I would run I stood glued to the big screen tv just waiting for my team name to show up. Naturally I waited her entire run as she apparently had just started, so by the time I was up for my last and final run, my legs were heavy from just standing there.

3rd Run- Red loop 6.7 miles

The whole time leading up to this run I was hoping the sun would be up so I wouldn't have to run the slate slabs in the dark. I'm used to the sunrise in CST coming up around 6, so I was disheartened when I left for my run shortly after 6 and there was no sun to be found. My teammates all let me know that the first 2.5 miles is extremely runnable and easy, then shortly after is when the slate rock starts and you have to watching footing, followed by some pretty major hills. 

Heeding everyone's advice I did take full advantage of the first 2.5 miles and passed quite a few people and banked some time. I kept thinking, "wow this isn't so bad". Even when I got to the slabs it was doable, but I still walked to play it safe. Somewhere shortly into mile 3 my legs halted and were just tired. 
from a friend who ran it during the day 

Naturally since this is the longest course, I walked the most, but despite being tired, I actually enjoyed this run. With the exception of the gigantic hill at mile 4.2 and hitting granite slabs again in the 5th mile, I felt this course was doable and didn't feel like there were as many roots to dodge as the others.  I'm trying to learn to 'enjoy the run' more, so once the sun started to rise I kept slowing down to take in all the beauty around me
That being said, I was VERY thrilled to be done with a 1hr 7 min finish

Once finished, a few of us made some eggs and sausage on a camping stove I borrowed, (highly recommend) and then headed over for even better breakfast- SMORES at the basecamp bonfire.

Abby and I enjoying #allthesugar now that we're done 
By far one of my favorite parts of the trip was popping a squat on the log and watching the runners of each team come in for their last leg / and even some teams finishing altogether. This trail relay is unique as they offer on Saturday a kids kilometer relay, and as you can imagine, it was adorable to watch the tykes breeze through the finish line with all their excitement and energy. 

Since we were pretty good at estimating when each leg would finish, we figured Katie, would be finishing shortly after 12:30 so we made our way a little ahead of finish line so we could all run in together. 
Nuun cheer squad at your service

Katie KILLED it and came in quicker than we were expecting so unfortunately Laura didn't make it in time for all of us to run in together

All the soreness, sleep deprivation, and minor injuries vanished as we claimed our medals and were finally able to re-convene again as a complete team 20 hrs and 54 min later. 

What's even better is we were doing the calculations on when other all female teams finished and realized they started before us and there really weren't any ones that started in the time slots after us. Although we couldn't guarantee, it was looking like we got first!!! The preliminary results posted now confirm, but nothing is official until 4/16. Fingers crossed. 

Overall I had a fabulous time. I know that every Ragnar Trail relay is slightly different, and I have to say that I liked this one much better than Vail Lake. Believe it or not the trails were much easier and more manageable to get in a decent pace. (Vail Lake was largely sand making it hard for footing and some of the hills were so steep you had to hold on to roots to climb- my green and red runs were an average pace of 11:50+). I also felt like I was able to see my teammates a bit more on this go round due to the timing of runs and such. Lastly its always nice to have friends on other teams you can walk around and visit where as last relay our team kept to themselves. 

For those that are interested in a trail relay it is definitely a completely separate experience from a road relay. My 3 biggest pieces of advice would be:
  • You need a high luz headlamp- preferably over 70 luz. In regular relays you have lights from the vans driving by, street lights, and even the moon. On the trails covered by trees it is pitch black and you need all the help you can get. Some of the ladies ran with knuckle lights in addition their head lamp. 
  • Bring water. There is so much dust thrown around that you get thirstier quicker. I drank all of my 20oz on my 6.7 mile and it wasn't even hot. 
  • Don't worry about your speed as you will be slower. Now that being said, you do want to make sure you have RUNNERS on your team. I know often times we get in a pinch with regular relays that we'll take someone who doesn't really run and give them a smaller mileage leg and it all works out. In trail relays everyone runs every leg and they can be challenging. Someone that doesn't run can risk potential injury on the hills, but also runners have a special mentality to push through things and can handle the trails and all the challenges. This isn't meant to offend anyone, but more so to use a precaution. 

I'll definitely be looking to do another trail relay (hopefully this year). A big shout out to Nuun for bringing a group of mostly strangers together to take part in this amazing experience, so appreciative and look forward to any future opportunities with them as well! 


  1. 1st place - awesome!!! congrats!!! I love the idea of a trail relay, but aren't you scared to run (alone) in the dark at night? that scraes me!! I'm a chicken :)

  2. What a pretty course! I have never done a relay but it's on my bucket list for sure:)

  3. I'm so glad we got to meet and do this together! I love what you said about coming away from relays with so many new friends. That is a truth! You are a relay expert! I have only done 2 but I am looking forward to doing more. They are so fun. Best of luck on your year of fun running! Can't wait to read all about it! xo (P.S. So sorry you had such a long ride home. That must have been miserable being so tired!)

  4. Sounds like a great time, I like the idea of loops and being able to set up a camp. Great job getting first! That's awesome.

  5. Great recap! You make it sound like so much fun. The photos you (and all your friends) took are awesome. Ragnar should borrow them, they make the course look amazing.

  6. Eeeek...I need to start my recap I guess. I had SO much fun with you this weekend. Love seeing it from your perspective with the tips. Hopefully I can find another way to squeeze in another relay at some point this year!!

  7. I want to run a trail Ragnar.

  8. Looks awesome! Running a trail at night would freak me out, but it looks like a lot of fun! Definitely keep me in mind if you decided to do another one!

  9. Great recap Lisa! I think you really captured how much fun we had. It was great to run with you!

  10. What a great recap :) You all did an amazing job!

  11. Too much fun! Having just finished my first Ragnar I can see why you love them so much., (you and I have the same jacket now, too!) My husband and I discuss Ragnar during our runs now and are creating our dream team for our next So Cal....I totally suggested you! So don't be shocked if sometime in the future I come trying to get you to join us for a west coast relay!