Six months ago, my friend Maria suggested we put together a team for Ragnar Trail Alafia. Ragnar Trail Alafia is at Alafia River State Park just outside of Tampa, Florida. I did not think that race day would ever come. It seemed so far away! We needed to recruit six other people that were willing to not only run 16 miles over a 24 hour period, but also willing to camp out and work together as a team. We managed to put a team together by June. Maria recruited Mike, Stacey, and Steve, and I recruited Melinda, Barrett, and Andy. Our team of eight had never met each other, ranged in age from an 18 year old through our (not to be mentioned) “grown up” ages, were a mix of training and running styles, and we were 4 men and 4 women. We came up with the aptly described team name of “Mixed Bag of Nuts.” Our team: Me, Maria (my trail running partner in crime), Melinda (my childhood friend from Atlanta), Andy (my teenage son and cross country runner), Barrett (avid soccer player), Stacey (endurance queen and unicorn lover), Steve (co-worker of Maria’s), and Mike (“Irish Mike” and mountain bike racer).
Scattered all over the Tampa area (and one from Atlanta), the Mixed Bag of Nuts team was unable to train together. (We had one group run where four of us were able to make it.) We trusted each teammate to take charge of their own training and bring it on race day. Keeping in touch just through email, we coordinated our campsite and team supplies, as well as carpooling and any other logistics. We weren’t sure how our team would blend together when the race came.
Time for Ragnar Trail Alafia!
Ragnar Race weekend finally came, and I have to say that our team performed more like a well-oiled machine than a Mixed Bag of Nuts. We all arrived at Alafia River State Park within minutes of each other. Mike took charge of claiming a campsite in the sea of campers, while everyone else unloaded gear from the cars. Within in a few minutes our team had our campsite set up, and we joined the ranks of the other 300 teams that were ready to tackle Ragnar Trail Alafia.
After checking in our team (and watching the mandatory safety video), it was not much longer before our team was ready to go. We had a start time of 2:00pm. There were three loops to run: Green (easy loop), Yellow (medium loop), and Red (hard loop). Each team member would run one leg, then pass the race bib to the next runner waiting to run. The team continues, alternating between green, yellow, red, until 24 loops are complete. (Each runner ends up running one of each of the loops by the end). We had assigned our running order to be: Me, Barrett, Melinda, Andy, Stacey, Mike, Maria, and Steve.
Green Loop – My First Relay Leg
I was first in line, so I got ready with the other teams that had a 2:00pm start. The rest of my team was cheering me on at the start line, as the announcer counted us down to start. Once 2:00 hit, the runners were off! We headed down the trail following the signs for the Green Loop. The weather was about 55 degrees, and I warmed up fast once we were on the trail and in the sun. The trail started out in the woods, but was soon going through fields that featured lots of small hills. This trail was not too technical, there were only a few spots with some tree roots, so I was able to run a pretty good pace. I figured this would be the best chance I would have to keep a fast pace, since it would be the only running leg I would run in daylight and on fresh legs! I had a lot of fun following the winding course through the fields and in and out of the woods. This loop was about 5.5 miles. As I neared the end and came back into the transition area, my teammate Barrett was already waiting for me. I handed him our bib number and he headed out for his yellow loop.
Our team did an excellent job of always being ready in the transition area for the next runner. Keeping track of eight different runners, 24 different runs, and 3 different loops, all while trying to rest, eat, and recover in between is not easy. But our team stayed on top of things and supported each and every team member.
Despite being a bit chilly (for Florida), the Ragnar Camplife was a lot of fun. The race had a large bonfire near the transition area that was great for warming up, hanging out, and socializing with other teams. They played movies on a big screen, always had a DJ and music going, and had lots of Food Trucks for hot meals. It was a fun environment!
Red Loop – My Second Leg
Our team was getting through their first loops quickly, so by around 9:00pm, it was already time for my second loop. I waited for Steve to come through the transition area. Once he came through, he handed me the race bib, and I was ready to tackle the Red Loop. The Red Loop was the most challenging loop, which was made harder by the fact that I would be running it at night. Miles 2-4 on the trail were constant switchbacks, steep rollercoaster-like hills, sharp turns, slatted bridge crossings (where the slats were spaced for mountain bikes and not running shoes), and drop offs. I did my best to stay in a pretty good rhythm, while also being careful on the treacherous trails. As I came around one sharp corner, there were two girls on the side of the trail. They stopped me and asked to use my phone to call for help. The one girl had unfortunately broken her ankle. After letting them use my phone and heading back out on my way, I was even more careful on the rest of the Red Loop. After finally finishing the Red Loop (my GPS had it at 6 miles), I was happy to pass the race bib onto Barrett.
With three runs to do throughout the relay, getting some rest and recovery was also important. I tried my best to get some sleep in my tent, but unfortunately, my sleeping bag was not as warm as I needed it to be. After my second loop, I was struggling to stay warm. I was cold for most of the night, and I had to stand at the bonfire for a while to take the chill out. After that, I was finally able to get some rest before my third loop.
Yellow Loop – My Final Leg
Our teammates had been running through the night, and everyone was doing great. My final run was around 5:00am, and I was ready to run my final loop, the Yellow Loop. Steve handed me the race bib, and I headed down the trail. It was still dark, so I was being careful on the trails, but I was able to find a good rhythm. My pace was a little slow, because my legs were feeling tired and my body was craving food. But I was happy, because I was on my final loop! The Yellow Loop had some of the hills and technical features of the Red Loop, but just not as severe. It is also the shortest loop, at about 4.6 miles, so this made it go by quick. Before I knew it, it was time to hand off the race bib for my final time.
The rest of our team was now making their way through their final loops. I was thankful that every teammate had run well and stayed safe on the trails. We may have had a few instances of moments in the “crying tent”, (kidding!) but every one of us had a great time. Our final leg was coming to an end, and we all jumped in with Steve to run across the finish line together. We crossed the finish line, collected our medals, and congratulated each one of us for a job well done. The Mixed Bag of Nuts was a team, working together to get through some tough runs and support each other.
What Would I Change?
Is there anything I would have done different? Yes and No. From a training standpoint, I would not change a thing. I have been following my trail race training plan for my upcoming 25K, and it fit in with the Ragnar Relay. From a gear and supply standpoint, I had everything I needed for this race. From a team standpoint, I would run with everyone of my teammates again. But from a nutrition standpoint, I could have used at least one meal that was of more substance. We had all packed snack and runner-type foods, which worked well, but I think a heartier meal (perhaps pasta?) would have been nice after my second loop. I had thought that Ragnar was providing this, but instead they gave you a voucher ticket to use at one of the food trucks. This ended up not being a big enough meal for me. Also, I would have liked a better solution for drying out and warming up after a run, as it took me a while to get warm after my second loop. Other than that, I was happy with everything with the race!