Ragnar Relay Atlanta 2015

After making my inaugural Ragnar Trail appearance at Ragnar Trail Atlanta last year, I knew I would be back for more this year. So when Matt B. Davis and fellow GORMR, J.D. Allen tossed out the idea of running it as an ultra team, that part of me that is a little bit masochistic said “YEAH! That sounds like fun!”

After convincing my Ragnar Trail West Virginia teammate, Amy, to fly up from Florida for the event, our team was set. Amy is a seasoned Ragnar veteran who was an old pro at this and between her and I we managed to nail down all the needs and wants for our campsite. (Need? A solid tent to hold out the rain. Want? Pretty pink flower lights. We have girly moments like that).

We arrived at camp and a friend had been kind enough to snag us a prime spot along the yellow trail, right outside of the main exchange tent. With the woods at our back and the trail as our front yard, we had a great location to view the runners and to stop in between legs to grab anything we might need between running back-to-back loops.

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The festival area was set up in a central location and the large open field around it quickly began to fill up with tents. I got the team checked in smoothly and the process was pain free and well organized, like most Ragnar events. I somehow managed to get a Women’s Medium tee and originally was ready to burn the joint down until realizing that these shirts ran even smaller than last years’, and while I can normally get away with children’s sizes, in this case, even the medium fit a bit tightly. The new short sleeve tees are soft, same as last year and while I understand the move to the short sleeve, I do know I wear last year’s long sleeve tees on a weekly basis, so I will miss them.

Matt started the team off with the first wave of runners. As he headed out to run the green and yellow loops, I started thinking about getting prepped for my first set. I quickly realized I had somehow misplaced the lid to my camelback pouch and needed to come up with a Plan B. The nuun tent was quick to help though, as they had their deal where you buy two tubes of nuun (My dog ate the strawberry lemonade; it must have been tasty) and they give you a free water bottle. SCORE! Using that as a makeshift handheld, I was finally ready.

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The forecast had called for pop-up storms throughout the day, and despite J.D.’s insistence that it was going to be “just sprinkles, you guys!” I found myself facing an incoming cloud front that looked to be a bit more. I made the transition with Matt, exchanged high fives, and set out to run the first set of loops on the red and green trails.

I made it no more than a half mile from camp before it started to rain. The temps had steadily been climbing and the rain helped to keep me from overheating as I trekked through the long 10.5 hike over the granite slabs and hills of the Georgia International Horse Park. I finished the red loop, with teammate J.D. joining me for the green loop, to complete the first of my three legs of running. I stayed conservative, allowing myself to walk the steeper hills and managed to keep my goal pace of 11:00 miles out on the trails.

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After some recovery, snacking on all the horrible foods, and getting a much-needed massage from the tents (another perk of Ragnar Trail events is when they include free massages and yoga!), I started thinking about heading out for round two! But those pesky storms started up again, threatening with their ominous clouds and wind gusts. As I predicted to everyone in sight, no more than five minutes after I left the exchange tent, the rain kicked in, much more fervently this time! There’s something so joyous though about running in a warm rain, and since I had thankfully worn a hat to keep it out of my eyes, my trip around the yellow loop proved to be my favorite leg of the entire event. I ran through the flooded trails, across the impromptu creeks, and kicked up mud like it was my job. Despite the heavy downpour, I didn’t see lightning or hear thunder, and since my legs felt really strong, I was actually looking forward to heading back out on the red loop.

It was not meant to be. As I came down the final stretch, there was Amy, waiting to tell me that we were under a two-hour hold and I would be skipping my second trip ‘round the red. It seemed for the best, but was slightly frustrating, nonetheless.

After crash landing in my tent, to dry off and put on warm clothes, I settled in for a brief rest before prepping to go out again in the middle of the night for my third and final set of legs. I probably should have spent some time stretching, rolling out sore muscles, and eating something other than beer and Cheez-its (the only food that I could get to without going out in to the storm). That last set of legs HURT; A painful experience that left me walking more than running and feeling the effects of a chronic hamstring injury that just will not go away. I finished though, managing to build up my pride long enough to run the last quarter mile to the exchange tent, where I happily savored the fact that I was finally done!

I loved the challenge of running this as an ultra team, but do admit that it left me little time to do the things I had loved so much about last year’s event, like making s’mores, meeting new people around the bonfires, and watching a movie under the stars. Perhaps if I were better prepared running wise, I would feel more comfortable doing those things in between legs, but as it was, I was exhausted and just wanted the sleep.

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Like all Ragnar events, this one was well organized and ran smoothly, despite the weather issues beyond anyone’s control. Ragnar is not for control freaks. If you like carefully planned downtimes, perfect conditions, and zero surprises, this event is not for you. At Ragnar, you need to be able to roll with the punches, work as a team, and overcome whatever life throws you, because they rarely go exactly as planned. The one thing that does stay the same? You will have as much fun as you want to and make amazing friends along the way.

*Photos By: Jessica Brinks

Firebreather Challenge 2014- Woodstock, GA

I’m not going to claim to be an expert on obstacle course races. I’ve done a handful of events: some big name, some local. Every event has room for improvement, but some races have more room than others.

The Firebreather Challenge is one such event.

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My group and I set off on the trails at 11, when the heat and humidity were making their presence known. I was glad to see the course made great use of the mountain trails, but it seemed like torture climbing those slopes in the 90 degree heat. Eventually, we approached the first obstacle, a sandbag carry up and down the hillside. Deemed the “wussy” and the “beastly” sandbags by a volunteer, you choose which to carry back up the mountain, where you did 50 air squats and headed back down. It was a nice first obstacle, although I would have liked to have seen it (or any other obstacle) earlier in the course. There was a little confusion after this obstacle as the course passed through the middle of the event, and I had witnessed several people get off course earlier in the day. Taking the welcome swim across the cool river, you reached the first set of over-unders. The overs were built offsite and simply set out on the course, and even my tiny 5’2” frame would knock them loose. Perhaps this was an added challenge, but it would have been nice if they had been less rickety.

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Next was a cargo net climb, strung up between two narrow trees – too narrow. The cargo net was only wide enough for one person to safely climb over at a time and by the time we reached it, there was a sizeable backup.

Once we got past the cargo net, it was back to running. More river crossings, a rope-climb down a steep riverbank, and we got to the next obstacle. This one was actually pretty cool, and the one I had been looking forward to most: a dead lift challenge. A series of five deadlifts each for men and women with the women’s deadlifts starting at 95 pounds, up to 157 pounds – but for a bonus wristband and a special medal, you could do the 195 pound deadlift. I was pumped to be able to crush this challenge and earn my wristband and medal, although a little disappointed that the wristband said 2013. The men’s deadlifts proved equally challenging for my teammates, ranging from 135 pounds to 275 and 315 pounds for the bonus medal.

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After the deadlift, it was back to the torturous trail running in the blazing heat. A few more walls to climb over and we reached the next challenge. Pull a weighted sled, complete 50 burpees, and then pull the sled back to its starting position. I liked the sled pull and while I love burpees as much as the next person (which is to say, not at all), 50 seemed like an excessive number and significantly slowed my group down. It was frustrating to watch as many individuals simply gave up and stopped. But that’s a different debate for a different time.

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A barbed wire crawl and more walls followed and led up to the final obstacle, a slip wall with a cargo net climb back down. Over all, the course was a skosh over 5 miles, a reasonable distance, but the obstacles or challenges seemed few and far between. I enjoy trail running, I really do, but when I run an OCR, I want it chock full of obstacles and this was just wasn’t.

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I could overlook some of the other issues (parking was FOREVER far away, no food or drink vendors on site, no official race photographers, the 2013 wristbands or the kinda cheap looking medals) if the course had been amazing, but it just simply wasn’t. I don’t like to dog on events, I know most of them have the best intention of putting on a good run, I don’t think I would be making the trip down for this one again next year unless they promise some pretty significant improvement. A great concept, combining elements of crossfit and trail running, but definitely needs some tweaks in order to make this an outstanding event. The good news is that in the days since the event, the race directors have responded to comments from competitors and realized they need to step up their game. Hopefully next year will be better.

*Photos By: Jessica Brinks

St. Clair Scramble Review

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So I’m always up for trying new races, especially obstacle course races, and one of the perks of having recently moved to Tennessee is finding all sorts of new events. So when I got invited to drive to Alabama for the St. Clair Scramble, turning that offer down never even crossed my mind.

So it was I found myself making my inaugural trek down to Alabama for my very first nighttime OCR! Even though the trip was about 7 hours (round trip!), it was definitely worth the drive.

When I showed up at the race, which simply had a street name, no numbers, I realized it was because I had found myself in the middle of northeastern Alabama.With natural creeks, ponds, and some fairly large hills, the terrain itself promised to be a challenge, regardless of whatever obstacles they additionally threw my way. During the 3.2 mile course, the St. Clair Scramble managed to throw about 20 obstacles at you, including some new and creative ones I hadn’t seen before.

Our group was set to run in the last heat of the night, starting out at 8:00 PM, well after the sun had set and justifying the headlamps, which served as our main illumination along the course, besides the occasional flare or glow stick lighting the way. In addition, the temperatures had dropped and for once, I was thankfully to have on long sleeves.I was even more thankful for the bonfire out at mid-course!

The course started out fairly straight forward, a casual trail run through the woods, utilizing natural obstacles, like a brief swim through a pond, and some over/under obstacles with fencing and a few man-made walls.

While you have a certain set of obstacles you expect to see at any OCR (monkey bars, mud crawl, rope climb, muddy mile, etc.), what really set the St. Clair Scramble apart for me were three key obstacles: the slide, the wagon wheel, and the rope swing.

This might seem weird, but I’m going to go through these obstacles in the reverse order that they appear on the course. This is mostly because I am a firm believer in saving the best for last.The final obstacle, and the way to cross the finish line was an epic rope swing, hanging from the scoop of an excavator over a pond.A magical combination of grip strength and inertia was necessary to get you across the finish line, and I’m not too ashamed to admit that I did not fully complete the swing. A trek through the mud was what got me across the finish line.

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This guy made it-I did not.

Before getting to the rope swing though, you had to traverse the wagon wheel obstacle, a totally unique and creative obstacle, the likes of which I’ve never seen.Imagine a waterwheel, like you’d see on an old timey mill. Now imagine trying to walk on one while it turns round and round…Sound challenging?It is!

And I promised I would save the best for last.Slides are a pretty common obstacle these days in OCR, but I can describe the slide at the St. Clair Scramble in three words:

Best.Slide.Ever.

There, I said it.  There was the slide, in the middle of the woods, down a hill that, rumor has it, was 160’ long (give or take a few feet). The slide ending with you landing in a deep, muddy pool, where many a headlamp suffered a tragic end. Instructions at the top of the hill, delivered in a southern drawl I have yet to master understanding, tried to warn you to make sure you attempted to steer.A dip right before the bottom and a tilt that could send you spinning and flying into the pool backwards only served to add even more excitement to what already felt like a death defying trip downwards.This slide was the stuff that legends are made of.This slide will live in infamy.This slide will get me traveling back to Alabama next year for a second, and perhaps third trip down my new favorite obstacle.

To top it all off, the St. Clair Scramble, besides being a fabulous race, also donates their proceeds towards a great local charity, the Ian Harper Memorial Scholarship Fund, having raised over $30,000 since the inaugural event. All-in-all, between benefiting a great scholarship fund and a course that is unrivaled, The St. Clair Scramble has definitely earned its way to my To-Do List for next year!

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I protected these two from things that went bump in the night.