Atlanta Ragnar Trail 2019

“The road to the top is a lonely one,” is some of the absolute worst running advice I have ever received. If you look at some of the top performers, you can see that they surround themselves with some equally passionate, loving, and crazy people. These people believe in the TEAM, and with that love, the team is able to travel farther than most. Many of you most likely run alone, and surrounding yourself with passionate people can be hard (because to be honest, most of your friends probably think you’re crazy). If only there was an easy way to find an opportunity to find people who understand your crazy… That opportunity is Ragnar Trail.

What is Ragnar Trail?

Imagine this: you have a campsite, it’s three o’clock in the morning, and you’re surrounded by 7 of your friends who all collectively smell like a rotting shoe. You’re totally sticky, who knows why, and you look around at your friends and just smile. This is Ragnar.

Okay, maybe that’s not entirely what Ragnar is. But, pretty close.

When you come to Ragnar Trail, there are 8 people on a team total. You can arrive either on Thursday or Friday morning to set up your campsite. Brace yourself and prepare to get cozy– you may rest up there a bit.

With Ragnar Trail, there are three trails that you are going to run. There is a green loop, a yellow loop, and a red loop. All of the loops are assigned a color based on relative difficulty–surely, you can guess which one is the easiest, and which is the more challenging.

When you get started, your first runner is going to run the green loop. Then, your second runner runs the yellow loop, third runs red, fourth runs green, and you keep going until every single runner has run each of the three loops.

Easy right?

Sure, if you don’t like to sleep much!

The thing is, total, the Ragnar is well over 100 miles. That means, in order to complete the entire course as a team, you guys will be running for at least 17:00:00 straight. In other words, not only are you running but at some point during this glorious adventure, you are going to be running trails in the middle of the night.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, and that’s probably that there is no way in Hell your friends are not going to be into it. If you haven’t met enough people through OCR who will love being crazy with you, you’re in luck. There are many teams who go onto Facebook who BEG for more runners. So, if you don’t know anyone, buckle up, and prepare to get friendly!

Atmosphere

Part of the reason that I love Ragnar so much is the atmosphere. Here, you are ENCOURAGED to go bananas. In addition to looking at team times, Ragnar staff is also looking for the best team theme. Our team theme was the Hot TaMILES, and we decked out in chilli pepper temporary tattoos and hats. My personal favorite theme that I saw was a team called “The Knights of the Buffet Table.” Walking around the campsites, there were tons of campsites that were decorated. So, although it’s a tough challenge, you definitely do not have to worry about people taking themselves too seriously here.

 

If camping isn’t quite your thing, Ragnar offers a “glamping” package. I have no idea how much extra it costs, and what all it entails (I think you have access to trailer bathrooms as opposed to port-o-Johns; fancy!). Glamping is for the runner who is there for the sport, but doesn’t exactly feel like pitching a tent. The Atlanta site is also right across the street from a hotel, so you better believe we saw people walking on in that direction at the end of the event.

(Since I don’t know much about glamping, you can click here for more information)

 

Village

 

To be out there for a full day and night would be pretty boring if there was nothing to do. Luckily, Ragnar has thought of this ahead of time!

Aside from the campsite is the village. In the village, there are several different activities for you to do while you are not running. You can partake in mid-day yoga classes, enjoy a soothing massage, sit in some of those inflatable leg things, watch movies, make s’mores, and so much more! Each team will also have a dinner meal ticket (I’ve gone the last two years, and the last two years the meal has been lasagna), and access to a few food trucks.

They post the schedule of events ahead of time for you to be able to take advantage of all of the shenanigans. Coffee, hot chocolate, and hot water are also provided. Just make sure that you bring cash, your own mug, and your own yoga mat!

The Race Itself

When you register for Ragnar, you have to put in an approximate pace for yourself so that Ragnar staff can provide you a start time based off of your projected abilities. My team was given the 3:00 start time.

Green Loop

At about 2:45, I started making my way toward the start line. It is advised that you head that way about 15 minutes before your team’s start.

One thing that I appreciate about Ragnar is that they do what they can to spread people out on the courses as much as possible. By the time I hit the line, there were only 16 people who were going to start at the same time as me. The race director started calling to us “WHO’S HYDRATED?!” A bunch of us cheered. Then they called, “WHO IS CARRYING ELECTROLYTES?” and significantly fewer people cheered.

Now, it’s the Georgia Horse Park in the middle of the day in April. It was 85 degrees and 80% humidity, making it extremely difficult to breathe. I can only imagine the fate of those poor souls who didn’t hydrate.

The green loop has a deceptively quick first mile. Most people I talked to said they had a fabulous first-mile time, and, not going to lie, I was pretty happy with mine. The trails start really wide, the yellow loop turns right while the red loop and green loop turn left. Then, the green loop veers right into the woods while the red loop carries on. Like I mentioned earlier, the first mile of the approximately 4.2-mile course is on a really wide trail. There is a lot of space to pass people, and it really is a lot of fun.

A little less than a mile and a half in, you run up a hill and the wider trail narrows into a single-track trail. There are several places where the path widened enough for you to be able to pass someone but to say it was wide would be ambitious. The hills rolled and rolled; which is to be expected, considering the trails were actually part of the Olympic Mountain Biking Trails from 1996. The Green Loop was actually part of the “beginner” mountain bike trail.

Now, considering the green loop was the beginner loop, the hills were rolling, but the terrain was not too technical. As long as you watched your step, it was almost a solid guarantee to leave the green trail with both ankles intact.

The only downside to these trails were some of the bridges that were built. Now, the big, important ones were covered in some sort of cover, so they were fine. For the most part, the little bridges that were provided to aid in difficult spots were fairly bouncy and had quite a bit of space in between boards. If I saw that there was space on the side to run on the ground and not on the bridge, you better believe I took it.

In the last mile and a half of the green loop actually intertwines with the yellow loop, so for a while there, it fares to be pretty twisty. There are several signs throughout the entire run, which I noticed for the Green Loop especially, seemed to be pretty spot-on, according to my GPS watch. The Ragnar team provided “mile-ish left!” signs, and from then on out the course really opens up, so it’s easy to open up your gate as well.

Transition

Transitioning in between runners is a really big question that people have. My team was super prepared, so we were able to guess roughly the amount of time it would take for each runner to complete their leg. Before you can make your way into the transition tent, you have to wait outside of the tent. Race directors do this so there aren’t all 200 teams inside the tent at once. When your runner hits the Quarter Mile to Go marker, your team name will show up on the screen outside of the tent. Once your name is on the screen, you check in with the volunteer standing at the transition, and you make your way in.

Team bibs are tied to a very lightweight belt. The belts have a clip, so when it’s time to swap runners, you just unclip the belt and hand it off.

Yellow Loop

Ah, the yellow loop. The yellow loop is actually the intermediate Olympic mountain biking trail. The yellow loop caused more stress for people than the red loop did. This trail contained the most technical of paths. A challenging aspect of the frequent, inclined, hair-pin turned made it difficult to maintain a consistent pace throughout the run.

One thing that Ragnar does when creating their courses is that they place a lot of signs. I get lost pretty easily, but I find their courses pretty easy to follow; even at night. They have some signs that are there to give you direction (obviously), which is helpful. Those signs are reflective, so if you ever feel like there is a chance you may be lost, just wiggle your flashlight around until something shines back at you. Ragnar has some signs that say funny little nothings (my personal favorite says, “to pee, or not to pee, that is the question”). But, the sign that I am most appreciative for are the “caution” signs. They have small signs that just look like exclamation points that say caution in areas where the roots may be very prevalent, there are dips in the trail, or where there may be an exceptionally bouncy bridge.

The caution signs were the most prevalent on the yellow trail.

In terms of difficulty, when it is not merged with the green loop, I would not say that the yellow trail is especially difficult. Mostly there were dips and turns, uphills, and downhills, that all keep you very occupied. As long as you paid special attention to where the roots were in relation to your feet, you made it out of there a-okay.

When the yellow loop met up with the green loop, it provides an opportunity to meet up with some runners who you hadn’t seen before. On this portion of the trail, this is where I thought there was the most sportsmanship than I’d seen on the entire course.

Red Loop

The red loop is a favorite for many of the runners. Once you took off from the transition tent, you run a little way, and then turn left along with the green loop. When the green loop turns into the woods, you keep going. Eventually, you end up at tunnels. Once you run through the tunnels, you will eventually come to the rocks.

The rocks get very slippery when they are wet. Even worse, is it can be difficult to navigate if you are stuck running the red loop during the night time. Most of the rock surface has drops and dips, that, if you’re not careful, can really catch you off guard.

This has been my second Ragnar, and through both, I have run the red loop at night. My friends who have run it during the day say that this trail is the most beautiful. About halfway through the rocks, you can look off to the side and see a nice lake off to the side.

Once you finally make your way through the rocks, you end up on a trail. The trail is wider than single track but had many rocks and little inclines that you need to be wary about. Luckily, Ragnar does well with indicating when there are going to be dangerous zones ahead, using the caution signs that were previously mentioned… In the upcoming area, brace yourself for impact!

The red trail loops back around, so you have to run back over the rocks and through the tunnel. But, rather than run back to the transition tent, you have to loop around the village in order to get through to the transition tent. This was fine because it’s flatter terrain, but running right past the port-o-Johns and the campsite was NOT FUN! Especially when it is late and you are trying to finish!

The 8th runner finishes on the red loop, and then it is on to the finish!

Finish

When the last runner of your relay runs their final stretch of the red loop, your entire team jumps in and finishes the relay together.

Ragnar is not necessarily a competitive event. It’s exciting to see how your team ranks against others, but you won’t win anything for doing well. Instead, you just bring your bib and belt over to a tent to collect your medals. And, when you get your medals, you put them all together in order to make a phrase!

Take Aways

Ragnar is a much different type of event than most of the other races that you are probably accustomed to. This event is not about trying to be the best but taking a chance at something that well, seems very dangerous, and using that new experience to learn something new about yourself. It’s about bonding with people around you who understand you and ALL of your craziness. Ragnar is a silly event that people get excited for; making costumes, building exciting campsites, and appreciating one another. It’s an event to make you happy and bond with others.

Tips

  • Sleep when you can! Your runs are going to be several hours apart, and you absolutely will need the rest to make sure that you are safe on the course.
  • Plan ahead: get with your teammates ahead of time and do what you can to plan who is bringing what.
  • Try to only bring what you need. Remember, you’re going to have to clean it all up eventually. When it’s time to clean up, trust me, you aren’t going to want to.
  • Think you’re hydrated? Drink more. And don’t rely on drinking water alone. You are going to need electrolytes, and calories, to power through what lies ahead.
  • Plan to take advantage of some of the activities that are offered in the village. Make the most of your weekend! You just may want to bring cash and a mug.

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.

RagnarTrail ATL 4

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.

RagnarTrail ATL 2

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

Ragnar Relay SoCal 2015

For those who don’t already know, during a Ragnar Relay, teams of 12 (6 for Ultra-teams) run 200-ish miles over 2 days and one night. They have races scheduled across the US, including their original race Wasatch Back in Utah and one of their most popular running the Florida Keys. For many runners, they are the perfect destination race.

Teams typically divide into two vans of 6 runners each, so that Van 1 gets some time to rest and eat while Van 2 is running, and vice versa. Each runner tackles three different legs in their race over ~24h from the time they start running until the time they’ve finished. The total mileage for each runner varies from ~10 to ~26 miles.

Recently, Ragnar held their annual SoCal race, running from just south of the Huntington Beach Pier to the finish line in Mission Bay, 183 miles and many hours later. It is almost impossible to review a race like this since every runner on the course has a different experience depending largely on the legs they run, their start time, and their teammates. No two runners will have the same Ragnar experience, and this is part of what makes it an exciting and unforgettable experience. Instead of a comprehensive review, I’ll share some of my experiences and highlights, and hope this provides a taste of the event as a whole.

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I was the team captain of the Californicators, and managed to put together a team very quickly from my friends and fellow Weeple Army members, who are legion in southern California. We spent Thursday night at a teammate’s house who happened to live a short distance from the start line, and got to know each other over a potluck dinner and a pre-race hot tub, then tried to get what sleep we could before our 6 am start time.

The entire team made their way to the start line to see off the first runner and take a couple of team photos, then the six of us in Van 2 went back to the house to get our stuff together and have a real breakfast, since it would be several hours before we were needed. We checked in at Exchange 6, did the mandatory gear check and safety speech, got our bib numbers, and checked out the Ragnar swag for sale and the vendors on site. While the start line was very subdued as it was early in the morning in a residential area, Exchange 6 was loud and energetic, and before we knew it the first runner from our van (runner 7) was off. The next few hours were spent finding the next exchange, waiting on our runner to arrive, then piling back in the van and doing it again. The course wound through Irvine and into Laguna Niguel before ending at Exchange 12 in Dana Point, and we arrived just as the sun was setting and the night gear (reflective vests for all, headlamp and tail light for the runners) was now required.

Exchange 12 was a “virtual exchange”, since we were not allowed to run across Camp Pendleton, so as the runner arrived at Exchange 12, video screens and radios confirming the arrival of different teams sent their respective runners going 20+ miles south at the Oceanside Pier. While we were there at least, this system seemed to work seamlessly.

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It was now our time to rest again, and following our runs we were starving, so we headed to a restaurant to socialize and refuel. All too soon, we got the message that Van 1 runners were crushing the course, and we needed to be at the next major exchange before long. It was now ~11 pm, and our second legs took us on a winding course through Vista and Carlsbad. Some people look at the night runs with trepidation, but this was my favorite run as it was very peaceful and temperature was ideal for running (~60’s instead of 80-90’s). Following a minor adventure of one of our runners getting temporarily lost and adding a couple of extra miles by the time she reached the checkpoint, and a nightmare parking scenario (45 min to leave a parking lot), we were done for the night and handed off the slap bracelet to Van 1 to run through the wee hours and into the dawn.

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We met up again at the Torrey Pines gliderport, which offered some of the best scenic views up and down the coast, along with a couple of the most difficult legs of the race. My last ~9 mile leg was definitely a tough one, but also likely the prettiest of the race, running into the village of La Jolla along the coast and past the very smelly Children’s Pool which was overrun by seals years ago. The last runners ran down the Mission Beach Pier and around Mission Bay and SeaWorld to the finish line on the beach at Crown Point Park.

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Here, Ragnar had setup a huge finisher’s party with free pizza and (a) beer for all the runners, loud music and a definite beach party vibe. Ragnar has some of the best and most creative medals in the business; this year, they’re designed so you can “build your own” double medal with a simple connector piece if you run more than one (they also provide special double medals for particular race combinations like Wasatch Back and Las Vegas, which gets you the Saints and Sinners medal). In addition to this, the 12 team medals fit together like a puzzle to provide a giant medal with “Together, we ran 200-ish miles”, the Ragnar Symbol, and “Ragnar Relay Series” written across the backs of the individual medals.

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Ragnar’s byline is: “Run. Eat. Sleep? Repeat.” and this certainly held true; although some managed to catch an hour or two of sleep here and there, we all finished the race elated but very tired. It is a study in human nature to see how different people react when sleep deprived; some get bossy, some get grumpy, others just get quiet. A few get more cheerful. Finding a good group of people with positive personalities is vital to having a great Ragnar experience and I would argue is much more important than finding the best runners. The bottom line is that a Ragnar Relay isn’t just a race; it’s an experience that will provide rich memories for a lifetime. You will laugh a lot and bond with and learn new things about your teammates and yourself, all while ostensibly running.

*Photos By: Chris Cow’s Fellow Teammates and Ragnar Relay

10998860_701814776594576_1545066441966856010_oChris is a research scientist for Novartis Pharmaceuticals, but on weekends he is an avid runner, endurance athlete and OCR junkie. He  runs mostly with his wife, Anne. He is a 44 year old father of two gorgeous teenage daughters, and wants to help them adopt a healthy outdoor lifestyle.

Ragnar Trail Relay Review

Ragnar Tent Shot

I love to run and I love to race, but half the reason I come back again and again is the people. The Ragnar Trail Relay was a chance to hang with friends and run a race in a new way.  This was Ragnar’s first Trail event of the year and took place on April 4 and 5  near Atlanta, GA. Ragnar asks you to put together a team of 4 or 8 people to cover approximately 120 miles over two days. After running countless obstacle races in recent months, I was looking forward to a chance to enjoy some beautiful trail running without having to crawl under or climb over anything.

My team plus several other teams came together to create our “BadAss Campsite” Thursday night/Friday morning. (Ginormous thanks to Desiree Rincon who put together The Bad Ass Teams, several teams of people from Florida and Georgia, many of whom did not know each other before this event). We decided to camp relatively close to the Ragnar Village. The Village had vendors that took care of participants better than any race I have ever seen. Nuun  had a table set up to allow participants to taste some new flavors of their product. The Nuun folks also allowed us to fill our cups and backpacks out of their coolers, essentially making themselves a water stop. I took advantage of this and filed up before every leg. There was even a charging station for cell phones. The Salomon shoe company had a huge set up. They actually let you “test drive” different shoes out on the trail.  Peace Tea and Muscle Monster also gave out free beverages to enjoy between laps. I drank several Peace Teas, as they were delicious. I had one sip of the Monster beverage as it was not delicious.

There was a pasta dinner served to us Friday night that really hit the spot. In addition, they lit a bonfire and served s’mores later in the evening, and also showed the documentary, Unbreakable. S’mores and the movie happened during my sleep breaks, but friends that participated told me they enjoyed those activities very much. . On top of all this, The race emcee, Steve Soelberg, kept things moving and made announcements that actually informed and entertained the crowd.

The event organizers made great use of the trails laid out at the Conyers Horse Park. Since this was not a “point to point” race, I had a fear that doing what my friend Cranky calls “Circle Jerks” might make the event boring. That did not happen as the three loops varied in distance and terrain. As an Ultra team, the 4 of us were required to run 3 legs, each requiring 2 loops a piece. The legs would have us cover every loop twice but in a different order. I had decided as the race started that I would be running 50 miles total, rather than just the 30 that were required for my part of the Ultra team. As part of training for a 100 mile race, I thought this would be a good opportunity to run some serious miles, along with hitting a major milestone. A huge plus of the race is that they allow you to run additional loops alone or with friends. I had a friend from another team run with me for my first lap. Then, shortly after my first official leg was finished, I went back out with one of my teammates and ran 2 loops with him. This allowed me to get 18 miles in that flew by and I was well on my way to hitting my goal of 50.

Ragnar Map

Running at various times in a 24 hour period is also a cool way to keep the loops interesting, For example, I ran the Red Loop twice. The first time was around 6:00pm, where at mile 5, a few us stopped to admire a rainbow. An awesome shared moment amongst trail runners. The 2nd time I ran that loop was at 2:30am. I had just woken up from a nap, it was cold and lonely. I could only see a few feet ahead of me with my headlamp and I heard strange noises I did not recognize. It was a VERY different experience covering the exact same ground.

Ragnar Trail

The event was fantastic from start to finish. Two small notes of what can be improved: One is keeping better track of teammates who are out on the trail. The only timing mat runners cross other than the transition area is 2/10 of a mile before the transition area. . Without any other data point, you have no idea if your teammate is an hour out, a half hour out or anywhere in between. This is especially difficult for the ultra teams attempting to gauge when it’s time to prepare for their next loop. The only other area to be improved was that the catering company ran out of pasta on Friday night. This did not affect me, but affected several others. They attempted to make it up with a free breakfast the following morning, but obviously runners counting on a nice full meal Friday night were disappointed.

The Ragnar Trail Relay was a great opportunity to run outdoors, camp, and socialize. I would highly recommend this event to anyone looking for a new race experience.

Large Ragnar Team

Some additional photos can be seen here and here.

ORM did a podcast interview with Tanner Bell of Ragnar Events back in October of 2013.

Matt B. Davis is the author of Down and Dirty: The Essential Training Guide for Obstacle Races and Mud Runs, and is a co-founder of Obstacle Racing Media.