Monday, June 29, 2015

Ragnar Trail Relay New England 2015

I had been interested for a while in doing a relay race but the point-to-point road ones, while cool, seemed to require a lot of planning and equipment.  The idea of traveling together in a smelly van was less than compelling.  When Ragnar announced the trail relay, I was definitely intrigued.  Instead of traveling to each segment of the course, the laps would be three separate trails, each beginning and ending at the trail "village."  The relay was comprised of 24 laps and each of the eight participants would run each of the trails once (masochists could sign up for an ultra team made up of only four runners).  Bob Jackman was committed to fielding a team and did an amazing amount of work to get everything set up.  I was happy and exited to join the team comprised of Jonny Hammett, Jeff Walker, Chris Garvin, Ryan Wooley, Mike Galoob, Jackman and the legendary Boj.

The race began on Friday morning. Teams began in waves that started at 10 AM and continued every half hour until 5 PM.  Faster teams were seeded later and we found ourselves in the last heat.  I drove up with Galoob, Jonny and Wooley. It was a fun ride up and we met Bob and his wife for lunch at a magical restaurant that Jonny had picked out.  After a tasty meal we drove up to Northfield Mountain, the location of the race.  We dropped all the gear off and lugged it up to the primo spot Bob had secured. Tents, tables and chairs were set up - it was like being at a Phish festival except instead of going to concerts we were going to run trails in the woods.

Bob was able to secure sponsorship from Foolproof Brewing so we were decked out in Foolproof hats, shirts, coozies and some sharp looking green singlets.  And of course there were cans of Foolproof to drink.  With several hours to kill before our 5 PM start we checked out the lay of the land, hung out and soaked up the atmosphere.  I was antsy and ready to get going.  Finally our start time was approaching so I got into race gear and went for a short warm-up before we all made our way down to the village.

Fine food and service awaiting us at the classy French King

They scoffed at my peanut butter & bacon sammich but it was the right choice

We had a great setup with tents, table and chairs

Near the end of Lap 1 - Photo by Gameface

Lap 1 - The Green Trail

I was leading off for our team so I was the only one to toe a starting line.  There were 11 teams in this last wave and as soon as we entered the woods the climbing began.  This first lap was only 3.5 miles so I wanted to work hard, figuring that since my next lap would be in the dark I'd be going slower for that one.  I was in second place behind a yellow singlet guy who took off way ahead.  There were other runners on the course but it wasn't difficult to get past them.  But the climbs continued and I was quickly getting tired from both the climbs and the 70 degree temperature.  Finally I resorted to powerhiking the last couple because they were steep and I was worn out.  Beaten already?  Three of the guys I had started with passed me at this point but thankfully we had reached the summit and the next two miles of the course was the descent.  I was keeping up with the three ahead of me on the wide carriage roads.  The three courses converged in narrow singletrack - it might have been difficult passing slower runners here normally but since we were a train of fast folk people heard us coming and made way.  The last half mile is flat grassland and here we caught up to the yellow singlet guy and I was able to pass a couple of the others.  It was fun running back into the village transition area.  Everyone's cheering and there's a great vibe as people are celebrating finishing their lap.  I ran into the transition tent, unclipped the belt holding our team bib and handed it to Jeff as he began the second lap.

I came out of the tent, sweaty and tired as the questions from my teammates began.  As we finished laps we all gave race updates about the trails and conditions and whatnot.  I definitely underestimated the climbs we'd be facing and went out too fast in the first lap.  But I finished pretty close to the predicted time on Jackman's Fantabulous Score Sheet so I was happy overall.  Now I had probably four hours of downtime before it was time to run again.  I chowed on some Boloco mexi bowl, had a beer and hung out at our campsite.  We'd head to the village to cheer on the teammates every time one came into the chute.  They had flatscreens which broadcast when teams were 1/4 mile away from the finish.  Pretty clever and it let the runners and spectators know when to get ready.

Great festival vibe from tent city

The Village - the big white tent is the transition area

Waiting for "Foolproof Brewing Company Jesters" to appear on the screen

Lap 2 - The Red Trail

My second lap began around 9:30 PM and it was the longest one at 6.5 miles.  It was now night so I had to use my headlamp.  The trail was well marked with trail signs that glowed in the light reflection.  I had no trouble following the trail with my lamp on the high setting.  I tried to go at a more conservative pace but the hills were more relentless than the green loop.  First it was steep singletrack which wasn't too bad but that soon switched to wide carriage roads and it just kept going up.  Soon I was hiking and feeling dejected at tiring so soon.  I ran anything runnable (for me), passed the occasional runner and plodded along.  I wanted to complete this loop in under an hour but that possibility was going out the window and I was full of negative thoughts.  Finally the carriage road climbs became more manageable and when I finally started descending the race completely changed.

I was flying down the carriage roads and singletrack, somewhat recklessly but I wanted to redeem myself if I could for the lost time on the climbs.  People could see my jittering headlamp coming from behind and they quickly got out of my way as I flew past them.  Most people were clearly taking it slow and steady on these downhill trails (it was night time after all) and I probably looked like a lunatic going as fast as I was.  I can only imagine how my compatriots looked as most of them finished this lap 8-10 minutes faster.  The uphills may have gotten the best of me but they hadn't robbed me of all my energy and by the time I reached the grasslands I was moving at a snappy pace.  I finished in 57 minutes, not quite what was expected of me but I was psyched that I had ran as well as I did on the downhill and happy to be done with my second lap.

Now the late night weirdness began.  I was amped up from the run so rest was out of the question for a while.  I hung out at the campsite, then the village, then back to the campsite.  The temperature dropped and everything became wet with night condensation.  I went in my tent at midnight to try to rest.  I stayed in there for an hour but couldn't fall asleep (should've brought earplugs).  The camp quieted down in the night but there was still a lot of activity as people were always coming and going from their laps.  People had had all kinds of glowing shit on their campsites and outfits and the constant drone of music was now absent from the village, replaced with an ultrarunning movie on a big screen behind the transition tent.   It was late but there was always a lot of people around the fire pit.  And the glow of headlamps was ever present as runners finished their lap and others headed out.

Boj finishing up his first lap

Jonny sets out to conquer the red trail

Bob created an estimated time chart that was beyond detailed - and
ultimately were weren't that far off his predictions - photo by Bob Jackman

Lap 3 - The Yellow Trail

Though we hadn't started until 5 PM we were now only a couple laps behind the farthest teams.  We seemed to definitely be vying for the fastest time and I wanted to keep the momentum going on my last lap.  Even though it was almost 3 AM I entered the tent amped up and ready to run.  The yellow loop was almost five miles but where the red loop had two hellish climbs this one only had one.  It was still a bear and I did a good amount of hiking early on but as the trail turned to carriage roads I was able to run more and more.  Once the descents began I tried to duplicate my run from the red trail but my legs were starting to fall apart.  I almost rolled my ankles a couple times - exhaustion was setting in and my form was getting sloppy.  So was the trail.  There were muddy spots and the night air made for some slippery rocks.  I was able to push it towards the end, finishing in about 43 minutes and happy with my contribution to the team.

Afterwards: relief to finally be done.  I had a couple beers and chatted with Wooley at the village for a while.  When I tried to sleep again it still eluded me and I resigned myself to watching both the sky lighten and more teammates finish their laps.  Exhaustion finally hit me around 7 AM and I dozed for 45 minutes or so.  Bob Jackman had the honor of running the last lap (a dubious honor perhaps since it was on the cursed red trail) and as he came into view we all cheered and followed him into the tent.  We finished around 8:30 AM in about 15 and a half hours.  We're still waiting on the official results but I think we're all very happy with how the team performed.

Then it was time to pack up and get the hell out of Dodge.  I had to make it back by early afternoon for the girls' dance recital (for the record I did not fall asleep during the show).  This whole race was a lot of fun and it ran very smoothly.  I had a great time running with the guys and the format was tougher than expected but awesome at the same time.  Big thanks to Bob Jackman for organizing it from the get-go, securing sponsorship and pulling it all together.

3:40 in the morning and I am finished! - Photo by Bob Jackman

8:30 AM and we are all done - Photo by Bob Jackman

Thanks to Foolproof for sponsoring - Photo by Bob Jackman


  1. Super cool!!! I wondered how this was set up, not curious enough to do any research, thank you for the lay of the land. The point to point relays are fun, and similar, just add in being in a stinky van (never being able to find what you are looking for) and crammed into a hotel room (versus a coushy tent) for an attempt at a few hours rest. You nailed it on the amped up part, it was hard to sleep and I bet you sleep like the dead on Monday night! Rest and recover, well done Foolproof Jesters!!!

  2. thanks for the legendary status, although once you got know me you probly realized I was far more weird than legendary. but after what we did im sure all of us deserve legend-wait for it-dary status. I had a great time running and hangin out with everyone.

  3. Nice write-up and great running with you, Seth! Epic adventure for sure.