race report: ragnar trail alafia river, pre-race + day 1 {12.8 – 12.10}

Ragnar Relay has been something on my bucket list for a while.

The funny thing? I don’t know why. After all, I have never camped, I hate being cooped up in a moving vehicle, I loathe not being able to shower, and I’m not so much of a people person that I can be cramped in small spaces with a group of  others for extended periods of time.

Quite frankly, Ragnar was not created for people like me.

But, as I have discussed on this blog, the older I get, the more I find myself wanting to push the limits and do hard things. When my friend M mentioned that she was putting together a team for Ragnar Trail Alafia River, my response was a resounding “TAKE MY MONEY!”


The timing could have been better: two weeks after a half marathon and two days after returning from a romantic 10 year anniversary trip in the Caribbean is no way to go into a grueling relay race. But I am all about a good experience and figured that if I had my ducks in a row and set my mind to it, everything would be just fine.

So here we go.


Pre-Race – Thursday, December 8.

I had done most of my packing in advance of Antigua. I figured that I could get the bulk of the stuff squared away and I would have Wednesday and Thursday morning to finalize food, outfit choices and any other last-minute things.

By 12:30 on Thursday, I was ready for my ride. (don’t worry, I will post about what to pack, what we should have brought and what could have been left at home).

Our team of eight required three vehicles due to logisitcs (three teammates were on the west coast of the state, and two of the five that live near me needed to leave as soon as their last legs were complete). Ragnar had asked us to minimize cars due to parking limitations, and we did the best we could to oblige.

It took about three and a half hours (with one drive-thru and gas stop) to reach Alafia State Park. Check-in started at 4:00 PM and we were there by 4:30, so right on time. We had not purchased a parking pass in advance, but it didn’t take but a moment to pay our $10, so no worries there.

This was on the radio as we pulled in. Foreshadowing or coincidence?

Our team, Turtle Divas, was meeting up with other friends, who comprised two ultra teams, and we all planned to camp together. Our timing was pretty impeccable, and we were able to get our tents set up on the far end of the official campsite (not at all a far walk to The Village or the portapotties, but far enough away to be more quiet and out of the way).

The plan was to have our camp set up before sunset, which we accomplished. We watched the safety video (“Do not leave the trail for any reason.”) and M checked us in, collecting our bib, belt, t-shirts and assorted swag.

Then we were off to dinner offsite. It promised to be our last “real” meal for a while, and we wanted to carb load and make the most of it. Mission accomplished.

With full bellies, we headed back to camp, and played some Uno before calling it a night.

Our official start time was 9:30 AM, but I had no idea how or if I was going to sleep in the tent I was sharing with M and her sister A.

Friday – December 9

I woke up to rain at about 5:30 AM. Ugh. It was the last thing I wanted to deal with, even more than the unusual cold snap we were facing. I huddled in my sleeping bag until everyone else started stirring, and then got dressed to face the day.

Our first stop was coffee (bring your own reusable cup) and the Salomon tent in The Village.

Rumor had it that Salomon was loaning out demo trail shoes for the race, and we all wanted in. I had a couple pair of regular running shoes with me, but I was incredibly nervous about the more difficult trails. Even though I am typically very superstitious about shoes, and would never dare try anything new on any other race day, I felt this had to be done, and Esther fitted me in a pair of Wings Pro 2, which she said would provide the stability I need, and in which I could put my own Superfeet Berry inserts.

I figured I needed all the help I could get.

All squared away, and fortified with hot drinks, we collected our first runner and got her into transition. At 9:30 AM, the Turtle Divas were on their way.

Yes, that’s a dog. Yes, he’s wearing booties. Yes, I loved him.

I was third in the lineup – I wanted to get the red leg out of the way, and still be on the early side of running. That being said, I didn’t start my run until about 11:00 in the morning. It was weird going out that late, but I felt ok, probably because of the cold and overcast weather.

Leg 1 – Red Loop, 5.9 miles, 11:30 AM


courtesy of runragnar.com

I headed into transition at about 11:15 AM. There was a tracking system with a timing mat located about .25 miles out (although, it was longest .25 miles EVER) so the next runner could get themselves situated in transition. Outgoing runners would grab a red, yellow or green slap bracelet (coordinating with the loop they would be doing) and waited for the bib belt from the outgoing runner.

Our runner came in and I went out.

I really had no idea what to expect. The loop was 5.9 miles of “roller coaster mountain bike trails” so I took my handheld bottle with some gatorade and a couple of Starburst chews, just in case. The temperatures were in the high 40s/low 50s, but it was raw, so I bundled up a bit with fingerless gloves, ear warmer, capris and a long sleeve shirt. At times, I got warm, but when the wind started blowing, I was grateful.

The red loop and yellow loop set off together for the first 1.5 miles (sharing two rather large muddy puddles that were easily leaped), and then we parted ways. What followed was nothing short of insane. I wish I had thought to take photos but my brain just wasn’t processing what was in front of me – the beauty and the beastliness.

The course cut down to a single track, and started with some ups and downs. There were bodies of water, and trees and slat bridges – some banked and some flat, all so easy to fall from or trip on. There was a buzz of rumors: someone slipped and fell into the water; a runner took a misstep and fell of the side of an incline… I’m not sure what was true or what wasn’t. I took my time, carefully placing my feet and watching for roots, rocks and soft spots.

The pitch of the inclines and descents were new to me. My brain said to pick my way down and then go back up, but if you didn’t charge down the hills, you didn’t have enough momentum to get back up the next one. A few times of scrambling up with my hands taught me my lesson and I learned to just go for it. There wasn’t time to be scared or nervous – it was bizarre because I tend to overthink everything, but this time, I just had to follow my legs and worry about the aftermath later.

At what felt like the very top of the course, I stopped for a moment to take it all in. The green, the water, the foliage… it was stunning.

When I crossed back into transition, I think I was in shock of what I had just done.

I assure you – nothing nice was coming out of my mouth at this moment. I had to process for a little while before I could appreciate what had just happened.

I handed off the bib belt to my waiting teammate, wished her luck and made my way back to camp to get something to eat and drink.

And then it was time to wait. We hung out around the heater in our camp chairs. We rolled and stretched. We wandered back and forth to the Village.

We kept up with the runners coming and going, making our way to transition to welcome people in and send them back out. It was kind of weird – we hung out with our team and the two ultra teams we had traveled out with and just talked.

There was a whole schedule of events, but we never could quite get in sync. For whatever reason, the only times that mattered were when our teammates were coming in and out of transition.

Estimates showed that my next run would be at around 9:15 PM. In the dark.

Before sunset, I wanted to grab dinner – the race provided each runner with a ticket for a meal from provided food trucks.

I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to eat (anything besides a peanut butter sandwich, I guess), and settled on a beef empanada with pasta salad. It was perfect.

Temperatures were steadily dropping, so I bundled up again in a similar outfit to what I wore earlier, and added my Knuckle Lights Rechargeable* and a headlamp to the ensemble.

Leg 2 – Yellow Loop, 4.5 miles, 9:15 PM


courtesy of runragnar.com

When I tell you I was terrified to run on the trail in the dark, I mean I was TERRIFIED. Once again, there were rumors: spider eyes glowing in the dark, a pack of wild monkeys (????) and some guy running in a clown mask. None of those are on my list of favorite things, and I had to really talk myself into a state of zen.

I didn’t even take my handheld with me. The yellow loop was only 4.5 miles, and I was scared of some animal sniffing out my Gatorade or Starburst. Like I said, I overthink everything.

The first 1.5 miles of the trail were familiar from the morning. I leaped the puddles again and just kept going until the turnoff with the yellow arrows.

Even though it was seriously pitch dark (the headlamp and Knuckle Lights offered great visibility, thank goodness, but it was still dark), this course was easier. I played leapfrog with a woman who had fallen on the red loop and was a bit freaked out by the shadows and the tricks the circles of light played with the leaves and foliage so I settled into her pace to chat with her – it helped pass the time, and helped both of us keep our minds off things that go bump in the night.

For the most part, when I wasn’t with her, I was alone. I would occasionally pass or be passed by runners alone or in a group, but other than that, it was just me and the dark woods.

I think I would have loved this course in the day. There were still some swooping hills and slat bridges, but it seemed like it would have been so pretty. In fact, the only thing that I didn’t love was that the clown rumor had teeth. There was an ultra team running in horror movie costumes: Jason, Freddy, Michael and a clown. I’m glad I had a heads up, because when I heard the Halloween theme music cutting through the night, I was prepared for what came up behind me. It was still unnerving, and I didn’t love the fact that even though I actually pulled off the trail and turned my head, “Michael” felt the need to turn around and wave. Nope. I like to think I have a decent sense of humor and am pretty easy going, but I could have done without that in the middle of the woods at night.

A few of my teammates were waiting when I came into transition. It was really nice to have them there and I loved the torches and all the lights.

We stopped for s’mores at the fire before going back to camp. I was hungry but not, and still pretty hyped up and full of nervous energy.

Once we got back to base, the adrenaline had burned off and I was freezing. I probably should have eaten something more substantial, but instead, I got an ETA for my next leg, set my alarm, bundled up in my sleeping bag, blanket and as many top layers as I could find and passed right out.

To be continued….


*I was gifted a set of Knuckle Lights Rechargeable for personal use in exchange for my honest review. Fully detailed review coming soon. All opinions are my own.

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27 Responses to race report: ragnar trail alafia river, pre-race + day 1 {12.8 – 12.10}

  1. Yale Houghton says:

    Great write up… very accurate, I was reliving the weekend in my head as I read it. 🙂 I liked your running order board, we all talked about doing a similar board to help know who was where on the trails and we would place times on ours when we do another (notice I said “when” not if) Can’t wait to read the continued…. also the knuckles lights, I’ve seen them before race and on runners their. I do a lot of running at night due to my work schedule.

    • runswithpugs says:

      If I wasn’t going to be a strong runner, I was going to be a heck of a strong crafter LOL! The board was critical to our success!

      The knuckle lights were great. Super bright and comfortable, plus they gave me something to hold on to at the parts where I was really scared. And I was scared quite a bit.

      We are another “when” not “if” group. We all loved it so much. There are talks about another Ragnar Road Relay coming to the east coast of Florida, or we could do Alafia again. We are also looking at South Carolina.

  2. Darlene says:

    Ok. I could NEVER do this. Just sayin’
    Darlene recently posted…New Year for a New YouMy Profile

  3. Angie says:

    This sounds like so much fun. I have never run trails, but this seems like a fun way to try. Except the horror movie masks. That would have scared the crap out of me. I am always afraid of the creepy clowns when I run in the dark.

    • runswithpugs says:

      There are a few trails in the area, but nothing like these. Trail running is a different animal – the focus changes monumentally, and I find myself a lot more at ease (unless I’m worrying about bears LOL). I wish there were more opportunities for technical trails, but it’s also not something you can do by yourself either.

  4. So fun–you made me feel like I was right there with you. Especially in the dark! That would scare me too!
    Wendy@Taking the Long Way Home recently posted…New Year, New Dilemma: Why I’m Not Setting Running Goals This YearMy Profile

  5. This sounds like a fun adventure to me…no thanks to Jason or Freddy or any clowns. Those creep me out in the day time LOL
    Kimberly Hatting recently posted…2017 – Focusing on FUNMy Profile

    • runswithpugs says:

      I swear – if I hadn’t known about the costumes in advance, they would have been peeling me off the trail. I am terrified of stuff like that. Actual wet your pants kind of terrified. That part still wasn’t very awesome 🙁

  6. Great recap of your race so far, can’t wait to read the rest. Thus makes me want to do a Ragnar even more!
    Anna @Piper’s Run recently posted…Running Mileage for 2016 {In Photos}My Profile

  7. Coco says:

    This is so different from the road Ragnar I did. We each ran different routes, and had to drive to the next exchange. Can’t wait to hear the rest.
    Coco recently posted…~Namaste~My Profile

  8. I have done 3 road relays and absolutely had a blast but the thought of running on a trail at night scares me to death. Looks like you had a blast!
    Deborah @ Confessions of a mother runner recently posted…How to survive the gym in January-Exercise a little patienceMy Profile

    • runswithpugs says:

      I think a road at night would be pretty scary, too. I have friends who did the Miami -> Key West Relay a few years ago, and there were some stretches of that where I would really want a buddy with me. But, getting out there and doing it made me feel so strong and so empowered. It was amazing.

  9. Karen says:

    I love running trails but in the dark would wig me out. Our trees here are really thick. I have rechargeable knuckle lights and love them! It is the best path of light 🙂
    It looks like you all did really great with your planning, and campsite set up and packing. Looks like a fun challenge!

    • runswithpugs says:

      The knuckle lights were great. Combined with my headlamp, I had more than enough light (and was even able to share).

      We did really well, considering our group was not made of campers. It was awesome to test our limits in so many ways all at once. And now, I’m excited about camping with my family, too!

  10. Looks like an awesome adventure!! I have always wanted to do a Ragnar. This knuckle lights look great too!
    Toni @runninglovingliving recently posted…New Year, New GoalsMy Profile

  11. Love love love this recap! I have done Ragnar Road but really would love to do one of the trail relays! Definitely on my bucket list! Your pictures made it look like a blast! Congrats to you and your team!
    Sandra Laflamme recently posted…Dark Dog Organic Energy Drink. Bring on the energy! {Review}My Profile

  12. The trail race sounds both harder and better than the regular Ragnar. All the driving aimlessly (I was our sole driver except for when I was running) was really exhausting.
    It sounds like your teammates were awesome with support. I had one leg where no one came out of the van to meet me after my leg except the next runner. My team was semi awful though, so there was that.
    I’m so proud of you for doing this! Totally outside of your comfort zone, and so far you’re killing it!
    Stacie Seidman recently posted…Thursday’s ThreadsMy Profile

    • runswithpugs says:

      It was hard to do those middle of the night morale checks. At some point, you need to grab a little sleep. But if you were the sole driver (WHAT????) then yeah, they should have been ready to hop out with snacks and drinks and all that. Sorry you didn’t have a great experience 🙁

  13. Way to push yourself outside of your comfort zone! Camping is something that I vowed that I’ll NEVER do again, but I guess I should never say never, right?

    And what a great song to have come on the radio as you entered the race site! Quite foreshadowing, that’s for certain!
    Kathryn @ Dancing to Running recently posted…Wine and Dine Half Marathon Weekend – Day 4 – Post Half Marathon FunMy Profile

  14. My BRF and I thought about putting a team together for this but something about trails and the night run and……I’m not sure I could get thru and over all that! Now you are talking about Halloween music and clowns? Shut the door! You are awesome!
    Mary Beth Jackson recently posted…Hot Coffee January TalkMy Profile

  15. I wuold love to do a ragnar but am nervous about the barely sleeping thing and not showering thing lol but everyone who posts talks about how fun it is and a unique experience -maybe one day!
    Patty @ Reach Your Peak recently posted…Week 2 of NYC Half Marathon TrainingMy Profile

  16. Pingback: tuesdays on the run: knuckle lights review | Runs With Pugs

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