Monday, August 14, 2017

FIT at The Ridge

FIT Challenge, a perennial favorite race, at a new venue? Count me in! The most recent FIT Challenge, on Saturday, August 12, took place at Powder Ridge in Middlefield, Connecticut. A departure from the normal venue Diamond Hill in Cumberland, Rhode Island, I was curious to see how FIT would translate to a “mountain.” The answer: Amazing! FIT at The Ridge might just be my favorite FIT race so far.

Forecasts called for rain and potential thunder on Saturday, so I was pleased to arrive at Powder Ridge to sunny clear skies. The venue was an easy drive for me — just a little over an hour from my home in Western Massachusetts. Parking was $10, ample, and close to the location. Check-in, as always, as easy and quick. I arrived 45 minutes before my scheduled heat, which was plenty of time to do everything I needed to do and have time to socialize. 

After getting my bib and timing chip, I headed over to the NE Spahtens team tent. In the past, I had opted for the NE Spahtens wave at FIT. These waves often took place a little after 10:00 a.m., and often the course was a bit crowded at this point. This was especially the case this spring at Diamond Hill where, having to give way for multi-lappers, I waited as much as 25 minutes at one obstacle. Not cool. Plus, with most of the members of NES opting for multi-laps and going out first thing in the morning, I often missed my friends on the team by taking part in a later wave. With this all in mind, I signed up for the first open wave available for FIT at The Ridge. This was a winning move. I saw a ton of great people and waited at obstacles a minimal amount of time. 

After stashing my bag at the team tent and changing into my shoes, I spent time with friends and even got to go and connect with my mother who attended FIT as her first obstacle course race. (Note: Thanks FIT volunteers for taking such great care of Mom! She went up the mountain to see me and, unfortunately, missed me — I was too fast. Volunteers were super helpful in telling her that I’d come and gone, showing her a course map, and getting her to the bottom of the mountain.) A few minutes before 9:00 a.m. I headed over to the start line with my NES friends and with zero fanfare, we were off and running. Powder Ridge is not a large park, so the elevation was probably about the same as when we got at Diamond Hill; however, the way we attacked it was very different. I can almost guarantee that course times will be faster at Powder Ridge. Where Diamond Hill has tons of up and down, lots of single track, and an abundance of technical terrain, Powder Ridge had steady climbs, open areas where one could really run and easily pass people, and some great sections of trail running in the woods. I was able to run much more easily than at Diamond Hill, and I loved it! It was great to be able to really move my legs and run without having to worry about crazy technical aspects. This is a huge plus of the new venue, and, I think, made it easier for people to get around the course and pass people as needed.

The course, for me, measured in at 3.7 miles, containing the distance of two carries. The race started with about a half mile climb which served to spread out the field before the first obstacles. This worked decently well. There were slight waits — a couple of minutes — at the first three obstacles, but nothing terrible. The only real wait I had was at the monkey cargo net, where I waited about five minutes — much less than the half hour I waited here in the spring. 

The obstacles at FIT Challenge were plentiful and stellar. FIT’s mentality is do what you can / try your best. You have to attempt things as best you can, but there are no penalties for fail obstacles. This is a mentality that I really appreciate. I was extremely impressed with the layout of this course. Many races shy away from having obstacles up on the mountain. Not FIT! The number of obstacles up at the top of the mountain, and the excellent spacing of obstacles throughout is a testament to the detail that Robb, Aaron, and the entire FIT team put into this race. They run OCR, and FIT is an obstacle course race for obstacle course racers. 

The race started with a half mile climb up the mountain with approximately 380 feet of elevation gain. This served to spread out the pack a little and was the main climb of the day. Terrible? Yes. But also manageable. At the top of the mountain, at the 0.70 mile mark was the first obstacle, an a-frame cargo net. This was followed quickly by the double ups, a low crawl and a single cargo net. There were brief stops at the cargo nets and the double ups but nothing of more than a minute or two. 

After a section of trail running along fairly well groomed trails was the next set of obstacles grouped at the top of the mountain. This section of the course may well have been my favorite. It featured a ladder wall, over-under walls, a peg board climb, the teeter-totters, the rope climb, and the monkey cargo net (where I waited for five minutes — a vast improvement over last time. Also, the monkey cargo had a rope to help racers get up to the net. This was much appreciated!). Right after the monkey cargo was a slip wall (where my Icebugs made for an easy ascent), followed by a short (0.07 mile) tire drag, and the the devil steps. I have made improvements with the devil steps. This time, I was able to ascend all the steps; however, my short wingspan made it impossible to transition to the other side. An addition step or rope at the top of the ladder would have been most welcome.

The course then went down the mountain, bringing racers back to the main festival area. There, we encountered an eight foot wall and an over-under-through. The next was a quarter of a mile Wreck Bag carry over around 80 feet of elevation gain. FIT is great about providing a variety of weights from 25 pounds up to 50 pounds. The sun was getting hot at this point though, and the Wreck Bag carry felt like a bit of a sufferfest. I'm fairly slow at carries, but I tried to get this done, especially because I was feeling quite good about my course time overall. I was cruising -- getting in a lot of running -- and feeling strong on the obstacles. The nice weather, having a spectator, and the fun of being at FIT combined for an excellent day.

After the carry was the epic field "obstacle," which featured a crossfit style experience where racers had to hit a tire with a hammer, do tire flips and slams, and do push-ups on an incline. The volunteer at the hammer station was amazing! He took part in the obstacle with me and we did my 10 hammer hits together. That guy is awesome!

Next up was one of my favorite obstacles, a rig. This one featured a few different lanes with varying attachments. I opted for the monkey bars, into the horizontal pipe, to monkey bars, to a cargo net climb.

Even more exciting, after this was the Destroyer 2.0, a large inclined wall with another wall at the top. After ascending both walls, racers had to do a tire post hop on the other side. Back in the spring, I had had difficulty transitioning to the tires, and kind of belly flopped onto the first one, tried for the second, and rolled onto the ground. Fortunately, this time, I was able to get into a standing position on the first tire-topped post and hopped my way to the end as quickly as I could before losing my balance.

I slalomed my way through a set of kickboxing bags before heading back up the hill again to the log carry. This 0.19 mile carry took racers back down the hill a little and then up again for 83 feet of elevation gain. I was on my way to the log carry that I ran into my mother who had taken the ski lift up the hill and then walked her way back down getting to see all of the obstacles along the way (awesome!) but missing me (sad). At this point, I was over 2.5 miles into the race, so I gave my mother my drill shirt (I was overheating) and told her I would meet her soon at the finish line!

From the log carry, I made my way up the hill a tiny bit to the second crawl of the day. This was a long one, but fortunately, I could bear crawl fairly comfortably most of the way. Plus, FIT uses ropes instead of barbed wire for their crawls, which is very civilized. Next up was the floating wall. A fellow racer kindly held the wall in place while I climbed up and over.

The finish line was in sight. I bombed down the hill to tackle the final few obstacles. There was a quick tube crawl and inverted ladder wall. Then it was on to the final Destroyer wall and a quick step across the finish line.

I had a very good race, finishing strong in 1:13, way faster than previous FIT times. When comparing across all open waves, I finished fifth in my age group (out of two dozen), 8/223 for women, and 96/524 overall. If you lump my time with the elites, I finished eight by age, 24 by sex, and 126/560 overall. Pretty good all around.

FIT at The Ridge was a great race. I loved the new venue, the course was fantastic -- dare I say even better than Diamond Hill, and, as always, I loved the obstacles. I'm not sure when the next FIT race will be happening, but suffice it to say, I will be there!

Monday, July 31, 2017

8 Hour Ultra Viking

Last July, I took part in the Viking Hill Obstacle race, doing double laps of their 5.5 mile course in just over four hours. This year, I decided to forgo the traditional race in favor of the new 8 Hour Ultra Viking being held the day before the race. This was a "race" -- more of a big training day where we could serve as guinea pigs for the newly designed course while testing ourselves in the process. Bonus for a t-shirt and plaque for participants.

I arrived at Sunny Hill in Greenville, New York about half an hour before our scheduled 9:00 a.m. start. Viking Hill obstacle course is located at the Sunny Hill golf resort in the Northern Catskills. The course is fixed, so I've been there a few times to train, in addition to going there for races.

Around 30 people were in attendance at the 8 Hour Ultra Viking. There were some very fit individuals who appeared to be training for World's Toughest Mudder and other ultra-elite races. There were also some more basic athletes like myself, making for a nice mix. With the new longer course, I ended up doing two laps -- the first penalty free (with around three dozen obstacles) and the second with only two penalties (20' rope and the Dragon's Tooth monkey bars). When I checked out the leader board, it looked like there weren't any women who did more than two laps. There were some male athletes who managed four and five laps. Impressive.

We lined up for a pre-race pictures, got some announcements from Asa, a Viking Hill regular and course managers who was in charge of the day, and then were off. The race was self supported, so I made sure to bring water and snacks. I ended up running much of the course with fellow Spahten, Sam. It was great to have her company and someone to chat with when the miles go long.

The Ultra Viking course ran almost backward from the traditional course from year's past. (See map below for traditional layout.) There were pro's and con's to this; however, overall I would say I prefer running the course in the more traditional direction. The main benefit there is that all the wettest sections are saved for later in the course, which is more comfortable for racers and allows for more running early on. That being said, some of the more challenging obstacles, such as the Dragon's Tooth monkey bars and the 20' rope climb, are in the second half of the course. It was great to be able to tackle these earlier on when I was fresher. 

Furthermore, we were not using elite rules for our race. This meant that we were allowed to use our legs on the Dragon's Tooth monkey bars and climb the uphill segments like a ladder. For me, it's almost impossible to get from bar to bar swinging because of the distance between the bars. I had never considered being allowed to use my feet. For me, this was a game changer, and I was able to make it through this obstacle -- the only one that I failed during Viking Doubles last year -- and have 100% obstacle completion during my first lap. 

Compared with previous years, and the traditional layout, the revised course was over 10K in length. (Sam's GPS put two laps at just around 13.4 miles if I'm remembering correctly.) New sections of trail had been bushwacked. These sections crossed with more established trails, making the marking somewhat confusing at times. (Though, as I understand it, modifications were made before the official Viking Hill race on Sunday.) I am not a huge fan of extra miles created by bushwacking and back-and-forth running, so I would opt for the more traditional 5.5 mile course -- which I consider the perfect distance -- for next year.

As always, the obstacles at Viking are lots of fun. They are challenging without being impossible, well-placed along the course, and interesting. There are more balance obstacles at Viking than anywhere else I can recall. For example, they have Skywalk, which is a massive set of balance logs with a rope traverse that is well over a hundred feet long. They also have the Hull, an inverted wall to a ladder. Finally, there are Odin's Tables, which feature a ramp to rope descent. I cannot think of any other place with these obstacles. I love coming out to Viking to tackle them! For a complete obstacle-by-obstacle breakdown, you can read my write-up from 2015.

All said and told, I completed two laps with Sam in 6:22 (plus, 15 minutes between laps to change shoes and eat a sandwich). The first lap took three hours and the second took just over that. The cut-off to go out for a final lap was 3:15 p.m. Since we arrived at 3:26 p.m. that was definitely out of the question. Regardless, I was tired and my hands were hurting. I got my t-shirt and custom plaque and was set to go!

The Ultra Viking was fun, a good deal, and great training. It lacked some of the fun bonuses of a real race day -- less participants, less food, less fan fair. It was great to get to be the first people to test the new course, but that also had some drawbacks. Overall, I prefer the traditional 5.5 mile course layout. I also felt like I "missed out" a little by not coming for the real Viking Race on Sunday. Next year, I want to make Viking part of my race season, and it will definitely be the traditional race day that I will choose to attend.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Savage Race Boston 2017

The OCR community of New England has been waiting. For what? For Savage Race, a well-respected, southern-based obstacle course race to come to our region. This July, they arrived.

Savage Race Boston 2017, held at Carter & Stevens Farm in Barre, Massachusetts, approximately a 45 minute drive from my house, was host to the festivities. Carter & Stevens is a working farm, meaning that racers will be running through cow pastures and past dairy barns. Parking at Carter & Stevens is always offsite, a minus to be sure, but something that is made up for by the overwhelmingly flat terrain. Carter & Stevens is practically the only place to race in our area where you won't have to scale a huge mountain. Runner friendly!

I arrived at the parking lot, about 10 minutes down the road from the venue around an hour before the scheduled 9:20 a.m. NE Spahtens team wave. Everything went smoothly. There were plenty of busses and no wait, which was nice. I was at Carter & Stevens in under 15 minutes where I was able to quickly check-in and get my timing chip and bib. From there, it was over to the NES team tent to say, "Hello," and drop my bags. I connected with a number of members of the NES Ninjas team that I run my Ragnar Races with (fun fact: Everyone from the NES Trail Ninjas team was at Savage Race!), and we headed over to the start line together. There, after a bit of pumping-up from the energetic announcer, we were on our way!

(Video from Paul Jones)

Savage Race advertises itself by saying, "The best obstacles. The perfect distance." I couldn't agree more. Their courses tend to range in distance from five to seven miles. The course in New England probably measured at around 7.5 miles and was dense with over two dozen obstacles, many of which were innovative, engaging, and downright fun. For those running the open wave, stakes are low. There are no penalties, meaning you can try something as many times as you want and skip anything that either isn't to your fitness level or isn't to your interest.

I headed out on the course with fellow NES Ninjas Jess, Shaina, Bobby, and Paul. For the most part, we stuck together though the entire thing (though we did somehow lose Paul near the end). It was a blast running with friends. We had a fun approach to the entire morning's race. It was relaxed -- we weren't running for time -- and we took plenty of opportunities to say, "Hi!" to fellow Spahtens on the course and connect with other friends along the way.

Other than the people, the best part of Savage Race was, without a doubt, the awesome obstacles. Savage Race has them nailed -- what a great display of high-quality and interesting contraptions to play on. In between obstacles, there were stretches of trail running that did a good job of spreading out the field and helping avoid back-ups. The only obstacle we had to wait at was Wheel World, and the wait wasn't very long at all. Many obstacle could be immediately attempted again if you failed, which was great, for example, on Twirly Bird, which I attempted three times.

The course was ultra-muddy -- perhaps one of the most muddy courses I've done -- and even slightly muddier than this year's Tough Mudder. Rainfall the day before has a lot to do with it I'm sure. There were large sections where we were wading through water or slogging through mud so thick I was worried I'd lose a shoe.

As I mentioned before, the obstacles were the stars of the race. Below is the 2017 Boston course map, along with my recounting of the obstacles.

1. Low Crawl: Like it sounds, a crawl under barbed wire. Unlike some races where crawls are no longer under barbed wire, Savage retains the spiky stuff, so be careful!

2. Barn Doors: Ladder wall.

3. Shriveled Richard: Ug! This obstacle had participants jump into a container of ice water, submerge below a divider and then edit out the other side. As with this year's Tough Mudder, I feel emotionally done with obstacles like this for the time.Shriveled Richard was the only obstacle that I skipped.

4. Blazed: Fire jump. Haven't seen one of these in ages, so it was kind of fun to try it again. The flames were not too high, so it was just a matter of being mindful and taking a good leap. 

5. Squeeze Play: For this obstacle, we had to squeeze our way under three sets of swiveling barrels that were set close to the grounds. Being smaller was definitely a benefit here. 

6. Backscrather: Alternating five foot walls and short crawls. I seem to recall three walls and two sets of crawls. 

7. Slippery Incline: Your classic angled slip wall with a rope. This one was probably around 12' high. 

8. Lumberjack Lane: Log carry with a piece of lumber. This was the only carry of the race -- yay! -- and was a totally manageable weight, even for someone as small as me. Really kudos to Savage Race for having their obstacles be real obstacles instead of just lugging lots of heavy things around.

9. Tree Hugger: Interesting! This obstacle featured a half dozen or so alternating wood and metal posts. Racers had to grab a post and transfer from post to post without touching the ground. Savage Race asks that you don't wear shoes with tips, and I was sorely missing my Icebugs on this obstacle. When I reached the end, I was actually too short to reach the bell, and needed a boost from Bobby to ring it. 

10. Me So Thorny: Another crawl. This one had enforced lanes with barbed wire on both the top and the sides!

11. Wheel World: This obstacle was awesome! It consisted of four horizontal wheels that you had to grab and spin from one to the next. Grip strength required. Also required, in my case, was a lift to the first one, which was super super high up. Thanks to Steven for this help, and to Paul for grabbing me at the end, so I didn't slip off the platform on dismount.

12. Big Cheese: A neat twist on a common theme. This is not your standard wall. Instead, it's a quarter circle with little cheese-sized wedges cut out for you to climb.

13. Mud N Guts: Muddy barbed wire crawl.

14. Davy Jones' Locker: 15 foot jump from a platform into the water below. I'm not afraid of heights, so this proved no problem, but I definitely can see how this might give people pause. I will say, that if I were to hover looking over the edge it would be harder. I climbed up and went for it -- fun times.

15. Mad Ladders: This obstacle featured a common rope ladder, followed by a rope with rungs, a cargo net, and then another set of rope with rungs and rope ladder. This was actually a bit more tricky than I thought it would be, especially with how the second rope rotated a ton. I got through, but it was without any elegance.

16. Great Wall: Eight foot large wall. I was able to grab the slide and use it to stabilize and jump for the top, where I could pull myself over.

17. Block Party: Pull a cinder block on a rope up a short incline and then carry it down again. Bonus: Half of the cinder block was filled with concrete. The block was heavy without being impossible, and I was able to move it without too much difficulty.

18. Hangarang: Two timbers held up above water by chains, which allowed the timbers to swing freely. Fortunately, there was a rope in the middle of each log to serve as a helper. Definitely necessary (and easy enough with the rope).

19. Thor's Grundle: So the name for this one gives me pause, but I am just transcribing what Savage Race provides. Suffice it to say, this was a very muddy obstacle. We had to make our way through a ditch of muddy water with a cargo net overhead that we had to lift as we moved.

20. Pole Cat: For this obstacle, we had to shimmy across a muddy pool with feet and hands on poles of different heights. I started with my hands higher than my feet (not bad) and then had to transition to having my hands lower than my feet (definitely a bit of work).

21. Sawtooth: Monkey bars with a twist! Sawtooth is one of Savage Race's signature obstacles and one I was very excited to try. The 35 foot span starts with uphill monkey bars and transition to a "tooth" where you have to kip up to a higher bar. From there you transition to downhill monkey bars. This obstacle, according to Savage Race, has a 40% completion rate. I enjoyed completing it on my first try. (Bonus: The bars started down low enough that I could reach on my own!)

22. Big Cargo: 20 foot a-frame cargo net climb.

23. Colossus: This two part obstacle starts with a 16 foot quarter pipe. You then have to climb a ladder before descending from the 24 foot structure via an almost vertical water slide. This entire obstacle is kind of insane! I loved the quarter pipe (which has ropes at the top, so it was no problem to pull myself up). The slide made me a bit nervous in concept (because unsafe racers can lead to dangerous collisions in the water at the foot of the slide) but when I got up there everyone was being very safe about allowing the water to clear before going down. The slide was well constructed and so fast that I hardly remember going down it. I recall sitting at the top and then smashing into the water. Crazy.

24. Savage Rig: This rig was awesome! I love a good rig, and the Savage Rig was an especially good one. The rig started with a couple of rings, followed by three ropes and then a couple more rings before a horizontal pipe. Nailed it!

25. Twirly Bird: Twirly Bird was the only obstacle I failed at Savage Race, and it was one of my favorites. It was a rig where you have to "swing from your standard ring grips to a mop-like cluster of rope strands without touching the ground." The rope strands were extremely hard to manage. I tried three times before my grip was exhausted. At my best attempt, I made it around 2/3 of the way across. Key to even partial success was gripping only a few of the ropes instead of all of them.

My group crossed the finish line at the three hour mark. From there, it was time for a free beer, made onsite at Carter & Stevens and some awesome tot poutine from Baby Berk, one of many awesome food options available at the venue. The festival was great. I hardly even stay to hang out for long after a race, but I loved the atmosphere, food selections, and spending time with my NES friends, so I stayed quite a while!

Savage Race more than lived up to the hype. I am already registered for the 2018 Boston event on July 14. I can't wait to see everyone there again!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Tough Mudder New England 2017

Tough Mudder is a unique event. They stand out in the obstacle course racing space for their continued innovation and distinctive obstacles. The Tough Mudder ethos – one of teamwork and a focus on facing fears, over racing for time – is refreshing and attractive to new and old racers alike.

This past Sunday, I headed up to Mount Snow in Dover, Vermont for my fourth Tough Mudder at that venue. I had taken a pass on Tough Mudder last year in an effort to save on cost and because of a conflict with a local event. I missed it, making me extra excited to be back for the 2017 event.

Sunday is my preferred race day for Tough Mudder. Saturday at the New England event brought in something like 7,000 people. In contrast, the Sunday event had only a handful of waves and 1,000 participants. This meant that check-in was a breeze, parking was plentiful and close to the venue, and the course was convenient to navigate with no back-ups.

After check-in (where I saw fellow NE Spahten, Steven!), I headed over to right outside the bag check to meet the rest of the team. A few people had run the course on Saturday and reported that it took them over seven hours. I was hoping to keep my course time around four hours – starting at 9:00 a.m. and being over in time for a late lunch. Fortunately, Sean was also interested in running a slightly faster course time, so we banded together and headed over to the starting corral.

We had a 9:00 a.m. start, but Tough Mudder likes to spend some time with pre-race pep talks. This definitely helps define their community, and it appears that most people think this add a lot to the race, so I cannot personally complain. By the time we crossed the start line, it was probably around 9:10 a.m.

The 2017 course was perhaps my favorite to date, or tied with the 2014 course, which I also loved. The layout was excellent, with obstacles well positioned throughout. The obstacles themselves were a blast! I have done three Tough Mudders before, and was amazed at how many new obstacles were in evidence. In addition, the new obstacles were fun, innovative, and great additions. Finally, the course itself was enjoyable. There was a good mix of climbs and downhill running. Apart from one technical section in the woods, most of the trails followed ski slopes. I did not feel there was as much relentless climbing as in past years. Large sections of the course were very “run-able” for me, something that I really enjoyed. Sean and I kept a comfortable pace hiking the ups and running the flats and downs. With this strategy, we finished at around 12:50, completing the course in 3:40 and having a blast while doing so!

Of course, the obstacles were the stars of the show. Here’s a quick rundown of what Tough Mudder had at Mount Snow for 2017:

  • Quagmire: This was your standard “wade through mud” experience. You had to climb down a mound of mud into some muddy water and back out again.
  • Berlin walls: 10’ walls. I like these. You can stand on a small kick and jump to reach the top if you’re a bit on the shorter side like me. With that approach, it’s easy enough to pull yourself up and over.
  • Swamp Stomp: Tough Mudder created a small river for this obstacle. We had to wade into water waist deep and navigate over trees to cross this expanse of water. 
  • Underwater Tunnels: Tough Mudder is great at using the natural features of Mount Snow for some of their water obstacles. For the Underwater Tunnels, we got to use one of the snow ponds at the top of the mountain. After getting into the chilly water, we had to submerge under three sets of barrels dispersed along the swimming route. Refreshing!
  • HeroCarry: The Hero Carry is a Tough Mudder classic that pays homage to their charity partner ties. You have to carry your partner along a stretch of course, then switch and have them carry you. Fortunately, Sean doesn’t weigh too much more than I do, making this a very manageable “obstacle.”
  • Balls to the Wall: Tall walls with ropes – an OCR classic. Balls to the Wall features walls of around 12’with ropes to climb up them. The ropes have knots and there are convenient footholds, so this obstacle is definitely more manageable at Tough Mudder than at some other OCR venues.
  • Devil’s Beard: Standard crawl under a net.
  • Ladder to Hell: This was a tall ladder with wide rungs that you had to climb up and over. One thing that I really liked was how the ladder offered spacing between the two sides with two sets of rungs – one for going up and one for going down. This meant that instead of having to share the ladder with the person on the other side, there was space for people to ascent and descend at the same time.
  • The Reach Around / Stage 5 Clinger: For some of the Tough Mudder obstacles, an obstacle for first-timers was paired with an obstacle for Legionnaires (i.e. multi-time Tough Mudder participants). The Reach Around / Stage 5 Clinger was an example of this strategy. As a Legionnaire, I did Stage 5 Clinger. For this obstacle, you had to climb a wall and then do monkey bars along a platform above you. Hanging there, you then had to make your way up and over the edge of the platform above you. (Note: The Reach Around featured an angled ladder up to the platform instead of monkey bars.) This obstacle was awesome! Super fun, a little challenging, and a nice new addition to the course.
  • Birth Canal 2.0 / Black Hole: Birth Canal and Black Hole were another first-timer / Legionnaire pairing. The only difference here was that Black Hole was dark, whereas, Birth Canal was not. Both obstacles had you crawl under tarps that were filled with water and pressed down on you slightly. This was not that alarming (or heavy) and made for a fairly easy obstacle.
  • The Block Ness Monster: I loved loved loved this obstacle! The Block Ness Monster was new last year but since I didn’t do Tough Mudder in 2016, this was my first time encountering it. The obstacle features rotating blocks in the water. You have to “push, pull, and roll their way through 60ft of slick, rotating barriers” in the water. It’s super fun to grab the top of the block and have people on the opposite side pull it over, dropping you into the water on the other side.
  • Everest 2.0: Everest is the legendary huge halfpipe at Tough Mudder. It is slippery. In the past, I have made this obstacle. This year, the Icebugs, with their metal tips, proved a barrier. Too slippery! I tried five times to run up the pipe and each time just grazed the fingers on the people helping at the top. Finally, I decided to let them get on with their race and moved on.
  • Mud Mile 2.0: Similar to Quagmire, this obstacle had Mudders climbing over mounds of mud into pools of water.
  • Kiss of Mud 2.0: A barbed wire crawl with some water at the end. Fortunately, there weren’t a lot of rocks to crawl over and the length of the crawl was short!
  • Arctic Enema – The Rebirth: Arctic Enema, in all it’s forms, is by far my least favorite obstacle. Why oh why should anyone want to submerge themselves in a pool of ice cold water, just a few degrees above freezing! In three Tough Mudders I suffered through and battled great discomfort during the obstacle and after, as I took ages to warm up. 2017 was Tough Mudder fun only. I skipped it, and, do you know what? I have no regrets. 
  • Funky Monkey – The Revolution: I have always enjoyed the more “technical” obstacles at Tough Mudder. Funky Monkey has always been a favorite, and I love how they keep mixing it up! The obstacle starts with a set of uphill monkey bars. You then transition to a set of revolving wheels, the first horizontal, and the second vertical. Finally, you grab a horizontal pipe and shimmy your way to the platform. Awesome! Favorite obstacle of the day for sure.
  • Augustus Gloop / Snot Rocket: What a blast! This obstacle had Mudders crawling up a vertical tube while water poured down on their heads. It was hilarious. The Legionnaire variant required you to submerge under a fence in order to get into the bottom of the tube, but otherwise these two were the same obstacle. There were some footholds inside the tube, which was handy for getting up. I kept my head down to avoid the dreaded water-up-the-nose. 
  • Pyramid Scheme: Teamwork is a must here. This obstacle requires you to create a human pyramid along a slippery inclined wall and boost your teammates to the top. Some people are the bottom of the pyramid for standing on and others hang out at the top to grab people as they come up. I grouped up with a team of people at the obstacle when I arrive. My job was to hold onto one of the teammate's ankles as people climbed up the wall. At the end, there were so few of us at the bottom that I ended up recruiting a bonus rope on the side of the obstacle so that we could make it over.
  • Kong / Electroshock Therapy: First time participant had to tackle Electroshock Therapy, an obstacle where you have to run through some electrified wires. For those of us who were multi-time Mudders, we instead got do to Kong. I was excited to see the set-up from Kong from the festival area before the race. Kong featured a set of five hanging rings hanging quite high above a crash pad. I was pumped to try – I love rings! When I got up there, it was pretty high, and I actually took a pause to collect myself, get a good grip, and get a good running start before swinging all the way across.

Sean and I crossed the finish line in around 3:40. What a blast! Tough Mudder 2017 was one of my favorite Tough Mudder courses to date. I loved the innovation and the fun. After missing a year last year, I am so glad I was able to get back to Mount Snow for Tough Mudder this year! I will definitely make it a point to try to be there again for 2018.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Ragnar Trail New England 2017

For the second year in a row, I was lucky enough to be invited to be a member of the NES Trail Ninjas Ragnar Trail New England team. Like with the traditional Ragnar road race, Ragnar Trail has teams doing an approximately 24-hour relay race where runners continuously run, switching off each runner after each run. Over the course of the relay, each person on the team will get to run three times. For the Ragnar Trail race, teams are comprised of eight people. Until with the road race, Ragnar Trail has participants camped out at the base of a mountain. All runners complete three loops of runs of varying lengths and elevations. For the traditional Ragnar road race, teams of 12 runners are provided with different length legs (Ragnar speak for "run"), which allows for customization -- you can assign people who prefer longer runs the longer legs and people who prefer shorter runs the shorter legs. In contrast, at Ragnar Trail, each runner is required to complete the same three runs with only the order of the legs differing. The runs are color coded according to perceived difficulty:

  • Red (hard): 6.5 miles and 1,357 feet of elevation gain
  • Yellow (intermediate): 4.8 miles and 845 feet of elevation gain
  • Green (easy): 3.2 miles and 459 feet of elevation gain

The NES Trail Ninjas' 2017 team was comprised with the same group as last year, minus one participant. Since we were running with a team of seven, instead of eight, Jeff ended up running six legs.

NES Ninjas (left to right): Shaina, Josh, Jeff, Bobby, Jess, Nicole (i.e. me), Rodger

In 2016, we had run into some trouble with a late start time and extremely hot weather. This year, we padded our times and ended up with a start time of 11:00 a.m. We ended up finishing the entire race in a very satisfying 24 hours. 

Ragnar Trail New England takes place at Northfield Mountain, which is just over a 30 minute drive from my house in Amherst. I arrived at just after 8:30 a.m. on Friday, dropped off my gear at the gear drop at the top of the hill, parked (paying the $10 fee), and headed back up to get my stuff. Immediately I ran into fellow NES Ninja, Bobby. As we chatted, my wonderful teammates moved my belonging from gear drop to the camping site. By the time I arrived at our camp, everything was already in place. I set up my tent, with the help of Bobby, dropped my sleeping bag, pad, Dryrobe, and duffel inside and joined my teammates for some hangout time. 

By the time I was settled, our team captain, Jess, had already checked us in. We received a bib -- number five -- meal tickets for a free dinner on Friday night, and t-shirt tickets. All of the NES Ninjas headed up to the main festival area to get our t-shirts while sizes were plentiful!

By 10:00 a.m., we were already all settled. The NE Spahtents had sent around eight teams to Ragnar Trail, so I was surrounded by many people that I knew, which was lots of fun. I enjoyed visiting with other NES teams over the course of the weekend. A nice thing about Ragnar Trail is that all of one's team is in one place. This meant, I got to enjoy the company of everyone on the NES Ninjas for the entire race, which the addition of the other NES teams as a bonus.

I was scheduled as the final runner in position eight. According to the Excel worksheet that Jeff had created, using our padded times, I wasn't scheduled to run until around 6:30 p.m. I settled in for a wait. During my downtime, I was able to head up to the festival areas, a short walk from our campground, and welcome in all of the NES Ninjas at the exchange tent. 

The exchange system is kind of nice at trail. Unlike the Ragnar Relay in Cape Cod where you have to drive from place to place, you're stationery at Trail. This is great for sleeping (if people are respectful and quiet during the overnight hours) and convenient for making your exchanges. Ragnar had a timing mat set-up a quarter mile away from the exchange tent. When your runner crossed the mat, the team name would appear on a digital display right outside the exchange tent, letting the next runner know it was time to enter the tent, take a wrist band for the leg they were planning to run, and await the incoming teammate. As with the road Ragnar Relay, our team gave each other chest bumps at each exchange.

I had a lovely day hanging around and cheering on my teammates. It soon became evident that we had been successful in padding our times and were comfortably ahead of schedule. I had planned to have an early 5:00 p.m. dinner before running at 6:30 p.m.; however, I was delighted to find that I was going to actually be ready to run a little before 5:00 p.m.! I was less excited by the weather. It had been lightly raining most of the morning. By mid-afternoon it was raining quite steadily. My tent seemed to be holding off the water, which was a relief. The team had a pop-up tent, which was coming quite in handy. In 2016, the temperatures were in the 90s and the humidity was high. The heavy rain, while a drag, was at least matched by comfortable running temperatures in the mid-60s. 

My first run of the day was the yellow loop -- 4.8 miles and 845 feet of elevation. In general, the yellow loop was probably my least favorite loop last year, and I think it was my least favorite again. While shorter than the red loop with less elevation gain, the way in which you climb is brutal -- two miles all uphill. The first mile is somewhat run-able; however, the second mile is climbing followed by more climbing. As with all the trail runs, the first ascent up the mountain happens for all three courses and utilizes a larger trail and fire road. The last 3/4 of a mile are also shared between all three runs and features a section of somewhat technical trail that meanders more-or-less downhill. The relentless climb of the first two miles without pause is really what gives the yellow loops a bad rap. 

That being said, Ragnar Trail is possible for anyone of a good fitness level who feels they can run 14.5 miles in 24 hours. Your body will take a pounding, but the course is do-able for the average running. There is a lot of walking with Ragnar Trail for the average runner, myself included. I had to walk stretches of the first two miles of the yellow loop, especially between miles one and two. I also did quite a bit of hiking on the red loop. Being comfortable with the expectation that you'll be hiking some major hills and adjusting your pace times accordingly is key for success at Ragnar Trail.

After I concluded my yellow loop and handed off to Jess, Shaina and I grabbed the free Friday dinner from sponsor b.good. They had hamburgers, chicken, and veggie burgers, along with couscous and a broccoli salad with giant chocolate chunk cookies for dessert. It was a solid free dinner. 

After the meal, I headed back to the camp to relax. I had gotten pretty wet from the rain and from my exertions on the yellow loop. I tried my best to clean up and wipe the mud off my legs using my Action Wipes. The wet weather left me feeling moist and sticking. 

My next leg, originally scheduled for 3:30 a.m., was now going to take place a little after 1:00 in the morning. At around 9:00 p.m., I stuck some earplugs in my ears and tried to get some rest. It was, unfortunately, a big noisy, so I cat napped between 9:00 p.m. and around 12:15 a.m. when Jess got me up to get ready for my next run. I was lucky that my night run was just the green loop -- a 3.2 milers with 459 feet of elevation gain. I waited with my teammates until the names NES Trail Ninjas appeared on the display outside the exchange tent. I then went in, got my band, and waited for Jeff, who soon cruised my way and handed off the bib. 

There is no good way to say it: Running in the woods in the middle of the night is kind of crazy. In general, I had only three goals:
  1. Don't fall down and hurt myself.
  2. Don't get lost.
  3. Don't get attached.
Only concerns one and two are very legitimate, but running mostly by yourself in the woods, it's hard not to let your mind wander to option number three. 

Even though the green loop was the easiest of the three, there was still a section of significant elevation gain to start the run, which was uphill for just about the first half. Some walking definitely occurred. 

I was fortunate to get to do my shortest leg during the overnight hours. The rain had stopped but it was still fairly wet on the trails. Without good visibility, I definitely stepped in a mud puddle or two. With the excessively damp weather, my shoes hadn't even really started to dry from the last run anyway. Trail running at night is a totally unique experience. It was fun to be out and about doing something crazy at a crazy time. Ragnar keeps it fun by having a great festival area -- they have firefly lights in all the trees and show a movie. Running through the woods at night is frightening and tiring, but it's also unique in the best possible way and invigorating and empowering. I kept a decent page, exceeding my predicted 15 minute miles to finish the 3.1 miler in just over 39 minutes. I was pleased to be finished with my night leg. 

I headed back to the camp, had a snack, took another sticky "bath" with some wipes, and crashed, sleeping fairly well from 2:30 a.m. until a little after 6:00 a.m. At this point, almost half of my team was completely finished. People were celebrating with b.good for breakfast and early morning beers. I still had one run to go though -- one huge run with the long red loop. I had a conservative breakfast and then headed back to my tent to change into running clothing. 

While we were originally slated to finish around 1:35 p.m. with my final run starting just before noon, we had made up so much time that I was going to be heading out around 9:25 a.m. instead. After limited sleep and lots of running, I wasn't super thrilled to be taking on another 6.2 miles; however, I knew I was the one thing standing between my team and their showers -- I would not disappoint. I am pleased to say that I kept right on pace and finished my run exactly as I predicted I would at between 90 and 100 minutes, crossing the line at 11:00 a.m.

The 6.5 mile loop was quite a haul with its 1,357 feet of elevation. The first mile closely followed the yellow and green loops, allowing for a mix of running and hiking. Unlike the yellow loop which is relentless with its up-and-up-and-up-and-up, the red loop had a good mix of climbing, followed by some short "run-able" areas over the first four miles. I was able to get up a good run right before mile two. The second mile was the most challenging with the steepest climb to date. Basically, it was horrible. There was a bit of a respite right before mile three, followed my more climbing. It was as if the uphills would never end. Finally, right around the fourth miles, I reached a sign that said I had reached the highest point. All down hill from there. After mile two where I averaged 20'49" and mile three where I averaged 16'10, I was ready to run down the fire road and make up some time. There was a beautiful stretch of switchbacks that led down to the area where the red joined up with the other two trails for the last 3/4 of a mile into the festival area. 

I was ready to be done. I bombed into the festival area, where my team was waiting for me right next to the course. I hardly slowed down as I shouted, "Let's go!" and ran across the finish line! Our net time was just around 24 hours on the nose -- 24:00:46.

The final item of the day was to pick up our medals and take one last team photo. Jess, as team captain, coordinated our medals, a cool spork multi-tool, plus an extra medal that we got for doing two North East regional events. My legs were tired enough that I was grateful that Jeff helped me up and down the hay bales for the team photo.

Ragnar Trail 2017 is in the books. I think it might go down as one of my top Ragnar experiences of all time. My team was amazing, logistics went well, everyone was on pace or faster and ran well. I am very lucky to have found a great group with the NES Trail Ninjas (and the NES Ninjas for the Ragnar Relay Cape Cod). I am looking forward to the 2018 event already!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Vermont City Marathon

Every year over Memorial Day weekend, the City of Burlington, Vermont becomes a bustling place as it hosts the Vermont City Marathon. This past October, I participated in my first marathon in Newport. Suffice it to say, wind and rain cutesy of a hurricane that just barely went out to sea, it was perhaps not the most ideal first experience. So, early this winter, when my friend, Amy, asked if someone would run a marathon with her, I agreed.

Let me say straight away that training for a marathon over the winter is folly. The weather is terrible, and it's hard to get in those long runs -- both because of motivation (winter = lazy) and because of the element (ice, snow, freezing cold). So, was it worth it? Yes!

After a string of utterly disappointing, cold and dreary spring weather, the Sunday of marathon morning dawned sunny and temperate. We would be running in temperatures in the upper 60s and low 70s, perhaps a bit on the warm side for an elite runner, but perfect as far as I'm concerned. Amy, her partner, Julia, my boyfriend, Ben, and I, had traveled up to Burlington the day before. This allowed us to swing by the expo on Saturday night right before dinner to pick-up our bibs and get a good night sleep. This was all very civilized compared to 3:45 a.m. departure time for the Newport Marathon. I got up at 5:45 a.m., had oatmeal and coffee, and we headed into downtown Burlington to for the race. A little ways from the start line, Julia and Ben dropped Amy and me off. As they went to part, we made our way over to the race start.

The starting area was mobbed with racers for the marathon and the relay. One of the very interesting things about the Vermont City Marathon is that it featured a few relay options. There was a two-person relay, as well as three to five person relay teams. This was really unique and something I would totally be interested in doing in the future. It was also nice to have a race where the course would be full of participants the entire time. At Newport, racers could elect to do the full marathon or a half. Most people chose the later, which meant that the second half of the race, where racers need encouragement the most, felt like an after thought. That was not the case at Vermont City. This was a marathon first and foremost!

Amy and I seeded ourselves near the 5:00 hour marathon pace group with a few minutes to wait before go-time. The place was a madhouse. There was lots of music and thousands of racers. Judging by the final result, over 2,000 marathon racers alone participated that day, plus another 1,600 or so relay teams (all with multiple people). Fortunately, we didn't have to wait long. After only a few minutes it was "go time." Within four or so minutes, we were across the starting line and the race was on!

The Vermont City Marathon has, overall a great course. There is a bit of a cloverleaf effect in play, so that you weave your way out and then come back. We had the chance to run through a lot of wonderful neighborhoods, past some of the universities and colleges that call Burlington home and along the lake. The Vermont City Marathon website has such an excellent description of the course, that I'm going to include it below. 

Our USATF certified course starts at Battery Park, overlooking Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains. The opening miles are run through tree-lined residential streets and Burlington’s pedestrian Marketplace where an enthusiastic crowd of spectators will inspire you. At mile 3.7 you begin a 4.5 mile out and back section on the Northern Connector, a divided highway which is closed to traffic only once a year – for your race. On the Northern Connector, enjoy beautiful views of the Green Mountains and get a chance to see the leaders and your friends as you cross paths. At mile 8.2, return to city streets for a second pass through the Marketplace and a loop of Burlington’s South End. At the half-way point of the course, enter Oakledge Park. Mile 15 brings the Assault on Battery; 6 blocks climbing Battery Street. You’ll see musicians and throngs of spectators to inspire you up the hill. The next 6.5 miles take you out North Avenue on gently rolling terrain through many shaded neighborhoods. A steep downhill at mile 21.5 brings you to the Burlington Bikepath, which provides beautiful lake views and flat to slightly downhill terrain over the last 4.5 miles. Your finish and all post-race festivities occur in Waterfront Park where you’ll be greeted by thousands of cheering spectators.

The start of the race was excellent. Amy and I both enjoyed running through the neighborhood near downtown Burlington. Even though it was early, people were already out at the ends of their driveways cheering us on.

From there, the course took an unexpected turn around mile four. We began an out-and-back along the highway that lasted for around 4.5 miles. This was, without a doubt, my least favorite part of the course. It was less picturesque than other areas and running along the highway was… odd. Not that there was traffic – the highway was closed – but it was still not super fun to run in the sun along the wide stretches of pavement without any real idea of landmark, especially since the highway was had a distinct camber that made running slightly uncomfortable. Also, Amy's foot was bothering her along this stretch, which was decidedly not fun. (The good news is that her foot began to feel better later on.) Fortunately, there were volunteers along the course and a band or two!From there, the course took an unexpected turn around mile four. We began an out-and-back along the highway that lasted for around 4.5 miles. This was, without a doubt, my least favorite part of the course. It was less picturesque than other areas and running along the highway was… odd. Not that there was traffic – the highway was closed – but it was still not super fun to run in the sun along the wide stretches of pavement without any real idea of landmark. Fortunately, there were volunteers along the course and a band or two!

I was happy when the course turned back towards town. We headed into the main shopping district and were greeted by Ben and Julia who cheered us on near mile nine. It was fun to be back in an areas with some visual interest and great to see loved ones. 

The course then took us along a looped section through some more industrial areas of the city. There was good spectator action along the course here, though the best crowd support was still yet to come. After the run through the South End, we did a quick jaunt through a nearby park. I loved all the running that we did through a few of the parks in Burlington. They were lovely, featured nice bike paths, and quite often were near the water. We hit the halfway point and were both feeling pretty good. The excellent volunteer support and the fun crowds all along the course were great. The best part was getting to run with an buddy and having Ben and Julia there to see along the course. Amy and I passed Ben and Julia before the big hill climb and received high fives.

The hill climb came right around mile 15. It was steep, but it was fast. I think we only had to run uphill for a few minutes. Very manageable. Overall, the course had some rolling hill but was very civilized. Most of the course was what I would consider flat, and we never had more than around 200 feet of elevation change. Also, the hill was packed with spectators who had motivational signs and cheered for all the runners. There was a band urging us on. All of the city streets had people who had come to watch the race. There was not a moment of the day when I didn't feel the fun atmosphere. Burlington loves their marathon and the citizens of the City give it their all in supporting the race!

After the hill, we ran through a number of neighborhoods. This might have been one of my favorite things about the Vermont City Marathon. All of the neighborhoods were jamming with activity. People sat at the ends of their driveways handing out ice pops, bananas, and water. Garage bands came out to play along the road. College students, spending the summer, were dressed up in costumes. People has sprinklers going for cooling off hot runners, a great pick-me-up when I was flagging around mile 21. I have never seen such a supportive group of townspeople or a better group of spectators. The perfect weather and amazing participation of the neighborhoods gave the Vermont City Marathon a sense of fun and celebration. This is what a marathon should be!

At mile 21.5 we took a turn down a hill. Every step was agony on my tired quads and knees. Fortunately, it was a short downward trek and then we were on the bike path. Only a little over four and a half miles to go along the flat bike path, which hugged the lake. 

While I was tired at this point, the run along the bike path was very civilized. It was great to get to finish on flat terrain -- much nicer than the rolling hills that dominated the end of the Newport Marathon. I also tried to enjoy the amazing views of the lake.The views and the cheers from spectators was a big help. In the final miles of a marathon, all distractions are helpful. 

I ran out of water in my hydration pack at around mile 24. At this point, I wasn't going to stop. Not for anything. After running for 4.5 hours, it was easier to keep going than to stop at a water station to fill up my pack. The water stations were plentiful, nearly every half mile at this point, so it was easy to grab a cup while on the run. I was very grateful at the organization of the water stations. They were ever mile or two in the beginning and then more densely packed towards the end of the race as runners needs might increase. This was smart and much-appreciated.

Around mile 23 on the bike path, I noticed that the 5:00 pace group was up ahead of us. At the start of the race, I had been a little concerned when the group of around a dozen and a half sped off ahead of us. I had through our paces might match, but the pacers for the 5:00 crew seemed to be starting out a bit fast. I ended up pacing Amy and myself at a very even 11:17 to 11:25 average pace. This worked because when we caught up and passed the 5:00 pacers it seemed like they had lost all but a member or two of their group. I am really pleased at how well the pacing strategy that Amy and I had was implemented. 

After a few miles along the water, the bike path finally exited the trees and I could hear the finish line. Spectators lined the route. The energy was awesome! Amy and I saw Ben and Julia who cheered us on. Together, we crossed the finish line in 4:26:30. 

This year's Vermont City Marathon was what everyone's first time marathon should be. The logistics were excellent, the volunteers superb, the course engaging, the crowd support amazing, and the weather lovely. It was the marathon I've wanted to run -- a celebration of hard work that culminates in a really fun event. I ran 26.2 miles, and I had fun. Was it hard? Sure. Were there time when I was kind of "done" with running? Of course. But there was lots of support on course from volunteers at race aid stations and the people of Burlington who turned out en masse for the race. Most importantly, it was super fun to see Ben and Julia along the route. I love that the Vermont City Marathon had a course that allowed spectators to view their runners so many times; plus, runner tracking via RaceJoy was a big help.

This fall, I finished the Newport Marathon in 5:19:42. Amy and I finished the Vermont City Marathon in 4:56:30. This was a huge improvement. Training with a buddy helped, as did the fact that I knew I could go the distance and felt I could be "medium conservative" instead of "ultra conservative" in the pacing.

The Vermont City Marathon was a great way to cap off a good 12 months of intensive running. I ran a marathon and had a blast. For now, I will be taking a break from marathon running to concentrate on preparing for the Obstacle Course Racing World Championships in Toronto this fall. Next year...who knows? Maybe a fall 2018 marathon is in the cards.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Ragnar Cape Cod 2017

It's less than 24 hours since my team, the NE Spahten Ninja, completed the 2017 Cape Cod Ragnar Relay and already I can't wait for next year.

Ragnar is a multi-day 192 mile running relay. Twelve person teams take turns running three times to cover the distance. Each "leg" (Note: Ragnar term for each run) is a different distance. You run every twelfth person, which means you find yourself running at crazy times of the day and night. This year, I was runner eight and ran 10.5 miles, 5.6 miles, and 2.3 miles at around 11:00 a.m., 10:00 p.m., and 8:00 a.m. for a total of 18.4 miles. As a bonus, my 10.5 miler was the second longest run on the team, which was great considering that I was scheduled for a 12 mile long run as I begin to taper for the Vermont City Marathon in two weeks.

This year, for the first time, I was in van 2. For Ragnar, your team divides into two vans of six that each serve to relay members as you leapfrog from exchange to exchange to meet your runners. For the first three years of my Ragnar experience, I was in van 1 (as runner 1, 6, and 5 for years 1 through 3, respectively). Van 1 tends to start running at 5:00 a.m., making for an early wake-up. Van 2, on the other hand, was scheduled to check-in at Exchange 6 at a little after 9:00 a.m. on Friday so that we could watch the safety video before we took over running at around 10:00 a.m.

Our (half) team of six, met up Thursday night at the Best Western Plus in Plymouth. The group consisted of Aaron, Geoff, Sandy, Sarah, Sean, and me. After a luxurious full night of sleep, we availed ourselves of the free hotel breakfast and headed off to meet van 1 at Duxbury Beach.

At Duxbury, things were just getting set-up by the Ragnar crew. We checked-in and walked around the sponsor tents. (I got a cold brew from one tent to save in the cooler we had in the van for tomorrow with breakfast.) Soon, our comrades in van 1 arrived! It was great to see Bobby, Jess, Josh, Paul, and Wes and to meet the new van 1 member, Peter. We took a few photos as a group (minus Aaron who had taken over from Jess and was out running). 

Then van 1 headed off to breakfast, and we in van 2 got ready to meet Aaron at the seventh exchange. I had a quick snack and coordinated my water bottle and chomps for my 10.5 miler. (Note: My leg had van support, meaning that my van could stop and drop off water and words of encouragement; however, they had to handle some logistics while I was out running. As a result, I wanted to be sure that I had everything I would need. In contrast, for my night run, I decided not to take anything and got to take advantage of the van support. Works well both ways!)

My run started in and ended in Carver, while occasionally taking me across the town line into adjacent Plympton. The first two miles of the route contained some serious rolling hills! The hills persisted throughout but were most extreme in the beginning. In my head I thought, "What is this! The Cape is supposed to be flat!" The entirety of the 10.5 miles was through some residential areas, often along semi-busy roads. Since our team had started so early, there were few other Ragnar runners on the road. I was passed by three other runners, and we shared friendly greetings. All-in-all, it was a fairly standard run. I felt fine about the distance -- I ran 20 miles last weekend in my final really really long run for my marathon training -- and moved along consistently. I averaged 10:29 miles, a pretty good pace for me, and an excellent pace for me considering the distance. The coolest part of the run was seeing a helicopter that was hovering over a farm doing some agricultural work. I texted my team a mile out and was greeted by the team at the exchange. It's always fun to run in and have someone to hand off to (and chest bump in the case of our team -- it's tradition). Our group is also great about coming out and cheering as a runner comes in and the next goes out. What better way to finish a 10.5 miler than to the cheers and well-wishes of your friends!

After the run, we headed back to the van. My teammates generously allowed me time for some stretching and a quick peanut butter sandwich and change of clothing. It was around 1:00 p.m. at this point, and I was hungry. I was glad we had ample snacks in the van. I refueled with the sandwich and some jerky. (I also might have indulged in my favorite race treat, Twizzlers!) I was lucky to have purchased a Dryrobe, an ultra-warm changing robe, that arrived just a day before Ragnar! The weather for Ragnar was cool this year. Temperatures were always in the upper 40s or low 50s. While this was great for running, it was a bit cold for standing around, especially for someone like me who is prone to feeling cold all the time anyway. I wore my Dryrobe pretty much all of the time when I wasn't running, and even slept in it a couple of times. Being cold for a couple of days would have been miserable -- Dryrobe to the rescue!

Our van continued dropping off runners and leapfrogging them from exchange to exchange for the rest of the afternoon. I couldn't believe how different the schedule felt from van 1! In van 1, at this point, I would have been super tired from getting up at 3:00 a.m. and would be napping (for ages and ages) while waiting for van 2. This time I was part of van 2, and I had gotten a good full night sleep, eaten at normal times, and was feeling my normal level of "active-ness." This made me probably a bit more engaged at exchanges, which was fun!

On our way to meet our Sean at exchange 12 in Buzzards Bay, we accidentally took a wrong turn that left us going the wrong way. This wasn't a problem -- we realize right away -- however, on our detour, we ran into a runner who had accidentally strayed several miles off course! Sandy quickly pulled over and Sarah jumped out. The poor guy had run over 10 miles (much of them uphill on a major road and in the wrong direction!) for his planned 9.6 miler. We quickly collected him and brought him with us to the exchange to meet his team. We were, sadly, late to meet Sean as a result. Fortunately, van 1 was there to cheer him on. We quickly collected him and were off to grab a 5:00 p.m. dinner at the British Beer Company before having to start our next set of runs around 10:00 p.m.

After a solid dinner, we headed to the next exchange where van 1 would hand off to us at around 9:30 p.m. Following a disappointing trip across the street to a Dunkin' that was already closed (at 7:00 p.m.! Seriously!) We all did some light resting / napping in the van. At this point, we were about half an hour or more ahead of schedule, so around 9:00 p.m., I got up and began or organize myself for my night run, which would start around 10:00 p.m. (instead of the originally scheduled 10:30 p.m.). During your night runs at Ragnar, or any time during the evening that you're out of the van, it's necessary to wear a reflective vest for safety. Headlamps are also mandatory for the night legs. Leg 20, my night leg, was 5.6 miles through Yarmouth.

In the past, I have had a kind of floating feeling on my night legs. This year, however, I felt much more grounded (better sleep?) and was pretty mindful as I ran. I was able to keep up a good pace as a result, at 10:30 per mile again. The marking were not as good as one might have hoped on this leg. As a result, I was very grateful when my team met me at around the 2.5 mile mark to cheer me on and give me some water. It was wonderful to see them and good to know that I was on the right track. I finished my night run in just under and hour and must have then gone into the van and crashed because the next thing I remember was that it was 2:00 a.m. and we were stopped, apparently having just passed off to van 1! More importantly, apparently there were showers to be had.

Shower! What? I woke up quite a bit when I heard this, especially since I had recalled learning there would be basically no shower service during Ragnar this year. (To which I had mentally replied, "Nooooo!") I hadn't brought a towel, but my teammate, Sandy, super super generously allowed me to use her towel after she had showered. After running 16 miles, I can assure you a shower is most welcome. I also grabbed an extremely delicious cup of soup from one of the volunteers at the school where we showed. Yum -- a 2:00 a.m. snack!

From there, we headed to the next exchange in Eastam where van 1 was scheduled to pass off to us for the final six legs at 7:00 a.m. When we arrived at Nauset Region High School, I decided to head into the gym to sleep. For all my past Ragnar races, I had crashed on the bench in the van. Other on my team has spread out on the long benches this time. (The same benches I had no doubt slept on during much of my team's legs over the previous hours.) My hip flexor was feeling very tight, and I didn't want to sleep scrunch in a chair, so I tagged along with Aaron and headed to the gym. There I caught a few hours of excellent sleep on the gym floor. It was chilly with the doors open, but it was great to stretch out. After that, I definitely felt better!

When I got up, I learned that van 1 was running a little bit behind. They had arrived at one of the exchanges to find that it was disorganized and lacking in volunteers. As a result, they had been delayed for 15 minutes. Other matters delayed them a bit further, meaning that I'd be running my final leg closer to 8:00 a.m. than 7:30 a.m.

At this point, we were getting farther out on the Cape. Beaches and dunes were in evidence. I was tired but certainly much less so than during other Ragnar races, mostly in part of having had a good night sleep Thursday into Friday.

My final leg was 2.3 miles in Wellfleet. It ended up most definitely being the most lovely run of all three legs of Ragnar 2017 for me. With such a short distance, I ended up running fairly quickly and finished with an average pace of something like 9:29 per mile. The run started with some rolling hill with the ocean on my right. It ended with a third to a half mile of downhill running, which let me run quite quickly into the finish. What a blast! "Comin' in hot" to finish my last leg of the relay was such fun. I passed off to Sandy and my running was done.

Van 2 still had a bit of running before we hit Provincetown. Aaron was schedule to run the last leg. Over the past three years, Josh had always run that leg and it was time for us to mix it up. Aaron kept up a good pace, even while running into a strong wind while carrying the American flag for the last four or so miles. Meanwhile, van 2 headed into P-town where we parked and went to meet up with van 1 and wait for Aaron to head in.

Josh and I headed down the road a little bit so that we could see when Aaron rounded the bend. He ran up the hill and the entire team joined together so that all twelve of us could cross the finish line together!

As always, Ragnar was an amazing time. Key to success is having an amazing team, and I'm lucky in this regard. How fortunate that the NE SpahtenNinjas took me on! I am already excited for our Ragnar Trail New England event next month and Ragnar Cape Cod 2018.

(Note: Photos are courtesy of Paul Jones and Josh Chace of the NE Spahtens. Team photo from Vince Rhee. Some are even taken by me!)