Toughest Mudder Central Review

It all started in 2011 when I was provoked by a Facebook challenge: “Are you tough enough?” I clicked the link and found an advertisement for Tough Mudder, a 10-12 mile race with military-style obstacles. Crawling under barbed wire, sloshing through mud pits, traversing monkey bars, this was the coolest thing I had seen in years!  I immediately signed up and brought new life into my training regimen. I had a goal, to crush Tough Mudder. That Mudder taught me many lessons and I have made many changes and corrections to both my training and pre-race prep. Recently came a new challenge, Toughest Mudder. A 12 hour, overnight race complete with obstacles… I had to get in! This would be the next step on the way to World’s Toughest Mudder, which I have not been able to get into yet, but has been on my bucket list for several years.

I wasn’t completely prepared. I hadn’t trained the way I wanted to, my toddler and busy schedule made sure of that. I would like to have gotten a lot more miles in to prep my ligaments, but that didn’t happen. I was able to maintain basic muscle strength at the gym with my two workouts a week. Would that be enough? I have mental grit, it would have to be. 

In the days leading up to the event, I tried to keep everything perfect. Getting good rest (toddler didn’t understand that and continued to wake us up in the middle of the night), taking it light in the gym and eating appropriately. Well, 2 out of 3 is good! I was very careful not to get any stupid injuries like slicing a finger cutting veggies or getting sick by touching anything in son’s daycare center. Success, I found myself at the airport ready to go with 2 days until the race. I would get 2 nights of good rest because my boy was staying home for this one! These 2 days were spent with my Dad who lives in Minnesota; relaxing, and getting the final items for the race. I found out at the last minute that you need to have a flashing strobe light or glow stick in addition to the headlamp to be allowed on the course after dark. I had electrolytes, Strawberry Fig Newtons (my go-to between each lap), Bob’s Red Mill Peanut Butter Coconut bars, oranges, bananas and some secret sauce (NOS energy drink) to give me a kicker for the final hours. I tried the NOS toward the end of the first Gauntlet event and discovered its power! On the way to the event, I realized I had left the electrolytes at my dad’s place so we stopped and picked up a couple of bottles of Pedialyte. They worked like a charm! I had two goals for this event: 1. Consume the nutrition properly to fuel me the entire 12 hours maintaining consistent energy levels 2. Reach 40 miles and earn contender status for World’s Toughest Mudder in November. Around 6 PM I had arrived at Wild Wings Oneka, the hunting preserve in Hugo Minnesota where the Central Division Toughest Mudder was about to commence. 

The festival area was quiet with the final Mudders clearing out from the day’s normal events. The registration desk went smooth and I went to the pit area to set up. I brought a backpack, small cooler and plastic bin with food, dry goods, and extra clothes. There were rows of tents, canopies, and coolers spread throughout the pit area with contestants making their final preparation.  I put on a cool dry-fit lycra shirt, Athletics 8 compression pants, non-cotton socks, and Saucony Excursion TR12 trail shoes. These shoes were a great option at for under $80!

Things were calm, too calm, like the calm before the storm and we all knew what laid ahead. With the 8 PM start time approaching, Sean Corvelle got on the mic to rev up the crowd. We all took a knee and listened to his words of inspiration. We recited the Tough Mudder oath and waited for the start gun. He offered the “Mental Grit Award” which was $20 to the last Mudder to enter the course prior to the 7:15 AM cutoff and not stopping all night long. Soon enough we were off on the “Sprint Lap”.  On this first lap, all of the obstacles were closed and the first person to finish would be awarded a free entry to The World’s Toughest. I knew I wasn’t the fastest and I had a long night ahead so I took it easy observing each of the 20 obstacles as I passed. I was excited to get in there and try them out, my anticipation building but I knew that this lap would allow me to conserve energy and get ahead on time. 

There was a planned rolling opening of the obstacles starting at 9:30 and I made it through the first lap quickly. I was pleased to be able to skip by electroshock therapy without penalty! The second lap allowed for time to be made up in advance as I passed closed obstacles wondering which would be the first. I got past the newly created Gauntlet, Funky Monkey, Augustus Gloop, and many others. The one that finally got me turned out to be Block Ness Monster, close to the end of the lap. The guys in front of us passed on by as three of us were flagged into the now open obstacle. We jumped in the water happy to finally cool off and struggled to make it over the first monstrous rotating block. They were waterlogged and it took everything we had to get it to flip with a guy hanging on. I was able to get over the blocks on my own and we all decided that was the best way forward. The next obstacle – the dreaded Electroshock Therapy. I was all too happy to avoid the dangling wires by taking the penalty lap, a short run out of the way and back. After that, we encountered the new obstacle Mudderhorn which was a huge (seemed like 50 feet tall) a frame cargo net with an outer cargo netting layer. It was easy to get caught up in all that netting and proved to be an obstacle to slow you down, pull your headlamp off and tangle up anything hanging or dangling from your body.

By the next lap, most of the obstacles had opened and we were all in full swing of the Toughest Mudder. We climbed the inverted wall at Skidmarked, carried logs, traversed slacklines in Black Widow and Spread Eagle, Crawled through the Devil’s beard, dipped in and out of mud pits in the mud mile, climbed up the ladders in the water-spewing tubes of Augustus Gloop, and confronted one of the new 2019 obstacles; The Gauntlet. This started as a 2X4 balance beam to a plank position crossing about 10 feet long to swinging rings to the final segment which was a horizontal piece of wood big enough to get your fingertips on which you worked your way across to a doorknob, followed by a piece of wood handle, another doorknob, another wood handle, another doorknob and another fingertip crossing to the end. This obstacle could be attempted 4 times, each failure incurring a penalty lap on a short loop nearby. 

Another exciting new obstacle was the leap of faith. You had to jump out 5 feet over water to grab vertical cargo net.  You climbed the net to a pole which you shimmied down to dry land on the other side. This was fairly simple and lots of fun! ‘

Another new obstacle was Hydrophobia which was crawling through a small tube submerged in water. I was happy to see Funky Monkey which was an inverted monkey bar to a horizontal wheel which rotated you around to a large vertical wheel which spun you to a smaller vertical wheel which whipped you to a pole you would work down to the other side. Certainly a grip zapper! I found the cage crawl to be relaxing. There were long trenches filled with water and topped with cage sections which you pulled yourself through on your back keeping only your mouth and nose above water. This was very peaceful as your ears were underwater and you could only hear the sounds your breath as you worked your way through. Of course, we endured Berlin Walls – 8 ft walls to overcome, Everest 2.0 with some guys who selflessly spent much time at the top helping everyone through. Pyramid Scheme, which had a rope to help out when you were solo. You still had to get up a slippery surface to get to the rope as it only reaches a short distance down from the top. Nobody’s favorite Arctic Enema was included (construction container full of ice water) and some used the 4th lap wristband to be excluded from the torture. 

At the end of the 4th and every subsequent lap, we were given a blue wristband which could be used to surpass any obstacle without penalty. They were often given up at The Gauntlet and Funky Monkey and Electroshock Therapy.

My third lap went without fail, all obstacles completed but I started feeling tightness in the ligaments behind my left knee. I knew this was going to be a problem the rest of the night and would have to dig deep to beat it or drop out of the race early to avoid injury. I wasn’t born to be a quitter so I pressed on. I earned my 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th lap bracelets which I used for the Gauntlet and Funky Monkey in laps 6 and 7. I had not failed any obstacle at that point (I did take the penalty lap at electroshock each time) and using those wristbands saved me time. One thing I noticed around 2 AM was that there was a lack of volunteers at most of the obstacles. There was one at Gauntlet, Funky Monkey, Electroshock Therapy, Blockness Monster, and Mudderhorn but most of the rest had nobody. It was concerning at the least to think that it would be easy for some to pass the obstacles and the penalty lap without retribution. Also concerning was the fact that if there was a serious injury, who would know? Volunteers often bring energy to the races and encourage you to keep going, but this lack of their presence really made this event quiet. You would feel the energy every time you got back to the finish line/pit area as there were plenty of people around.

When I was in my sixth lap I knew I had to dig deep if I were to complete two more laps to achieve my 40-mile goal. Each lap was 5 miles with 20 obstacles. I completed the seventh lap, swung by the pit to quickly refuel and get back on the course by 7 AM beating the cutoff. I knew I didn’t have enough time to finish the eighth, but I wasn’t going to quit without trying.  I got 4 miles before I heard the finishing bell which rang promptly at 8 AM. It was a bittersweet sound as the race was over and I had my results – 39 miles. Just one short of my goal. I managed my disappointment by reminding myself that I didn’t really deserve the contender’s bib because I hadn’t put in the necessary time training, I was winging it. Something that my ligaments were reminding me with every step I took. When I got back to the festival area I was greeted by fellow Mudders who had endured the night and waited excitedly for the awards ceremony. First, Second and Third place awards were given to top males and females in age groups as well as winners of 2 person teams and 4 person teams. 

I hobbled around the festival area which was starting to wake up in anticipation of Sunday’s events. I Tried out some products like Tin Cup whiskey, Every Man Jack Beard Butter and Endoca CBD oil. I was impressed with all of these products and found relief for my aching muscles immediately upon applying the lotion! New Mudders and the energy of a new day filled the area as I reviewed my accomplishments and failures in my mind. I had made it through the night with excellent nutrition, was full of energy and even won the mental grit award (yes, I made Sean give me the $20).

I reminisced the sun going down as we started the race and the mosquitos coming out. You put on Deet at each pit stop which was washed off at the first water obstacle. We were serenaded by a chorus of bullfrogs and I even heard a few coyotes around midnight. There were crickets and owls and some rumbling things in the bushes that couldn’t be identified. I remembered when the morning sun brought new energy (and deerflies) and the chance to remove the headlamp and run in the light. I reveled in how myself and over 350 other Mudders did what many think is crazy and impossible. I reminded myself this was just the warm-up. The next big thing happens over 24 hours in November.

Spartan Race Palmerton Super and Sprint Weekend 2019

Spartan-Super-Palmerton-Course-Section

 

“This is insane!” 

“What the f***?!” 

“You’d think they’d run out of hills!” 

 

These are just a few of the things I heard while out on the course this weekend during Spartan’s Super and Sprint weekend at Blue Mountain Resort in Palmerton, PA. If you’re new to Spartan Race or OCR, you may have even heard how challenging Palmerton is. Year after year, regardless of course design, the slopes at Blue Mountain are sure to remind you just how punishing they are. 

Spartan-Palmerton-Start-Line

Parking and Festival

As you pull into the parking area, you get a good look at just how large of a mountain you’ll have to deal with. Luckily, all parking is on-site, which means no shuttles! This is a big plus for a lot of people as shuttle lines are known to move slowly.

 

This year they did switch up the festival a bit, compared to previous races at Blue. The new setup flowed a lot nicer and even left them room for a large merchandise tent. Usually, the merch is just back behind volunteers and staff who are up in a trailer. They still were, but adding to it was a large open area with more shirts and gear, including shoes and clearance items.

 

Once through the tent, it was your pretty standard Spartan festival area. Changing tents were off to the side with a row of hoses. The food and beer tents were nearby, along with a row of vendors. Something a bit new was that Spartan had a section open for some obstacle lessons and tips. 

Spartan-Palmerton-View-From-The-Top

The Sprint

I know the Sprint was Sunday and the Super was Saturday, but we’re going to work backward. Palmerton’s Sprint hit just about 3.6 miles, which is on the shorter side for a Spartan Sprint. Just because it was under 4 miles, though, doesn’t mean it was easy.  In that 3.6 miles, they managed to add in over 1,400 feet of ascent. Over 1,000 of that was in the first mile alone. 

 

The course was pretty much straight up the hill, down and up a double black diamond for the Sandbag Carry, a few obstacles at the top, then back down for the rest. 

Spartan-Palmerton-Sandbag-Carry

Sprint Obstacles

If you just ran the Sprint on Sunday, unfortunately, you didn’t get to try the new obstacles for 2019. This is only the second Sprint I’ve run this year (March – Greek Peak), but much like the first, they stuck to the classics.

 

During the one-mile climb to the top, the only obstacles were Hurdles and Overwalls, which is pretty standard. After the Sandbag Carry, there was a mini-gauntlet with Z-Walls, Atlas Carry, Rakuten Rope Climb and Monkey Bars all at the peak. During the descent, the only obstacle was the Inverted Wall. Then, toward the bottom, you had standards like the cargo nets, Spear Throw, Bucket Brigade, and Barbed Wire Crawl. 

 

As with past years at Palmerton, there was a Water Crossing, though it was more of an out and back, rather than crossing as they used to do. Apehanger, an obstacle at very few venues, was in the Super but left out of the Sprint.

 

I know Spartan wants to use the Sprint as the gateway to more races, so maybe they are continuing to make them a little more basic as to not scare newcomers away. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing Apehanger, a rig with more than just rings, or some brand new obstacles.

The Super

The Super on Saturday was almost 5 miles longer than the Sprint, coming in around 8.25 miles. The total ascent was over three times as much as the Sprint, forcing racers to climb over 3,100 feet. 

 

Usually, the longer races include everything in the shorter race, with one extra area. Not this year at Palmerton. There were three extra parts on the course for the Super versus the Sprint. And Spartan didn’t waste any time. They deviated just over a mile into the race, right after Z-Walls, when runners thought they were in for a nice break back down the hill. 

 

Instead, the downs were followed by several steep ups along the way. Let me put it to you this way, the first steep climb up took almost exactly one mile, and had over 1,000 feet of ascent. By the time racers reached the bottom, they had hit almost 3.5 miles and faced over 2,000 feet of ascent. 

Spartan-Palmerton-Hercules-Hoist

Super Obstacles 

On the Super course, runners got a look at several new obstacles, including Pipe Lair, The Box, and Beater. Olympus and Twister are two other obstacles that had been included in most Sprints but were only in the Super course. 

 

The Rakuten Multi-Rig consisted of several rings, a bar, then more rings before the bell. I’ve seen ropes in the past, but they were left at home for Palmerton. The Luminox Hercules Hoist was in both races and at a heavier weight than if it were just for a Sprint alone. It was super late in the race and sat at the bottom of a muddy hill, making it feel even heavier. 


One thing that stuck out to me about the obstacles, overall, was the amount of grip needed. A lot of times, they leave a couple grip heavy obstacles out, but they all made an appearance in Palmerton. 

Spartan-Mountain-Series-Super-Medal

The Medals

Since Palmerton is part of the Spartan Mountain Series, both Sprint and Super finishers received a Mountain Series Medal. It’s probably one of the best looking medals I’ve seen Spartan dish out. The mountains on this year’s Mountain Series medals stand out and really make the 2019 medal blow away the 2018 medal. 

 

Honestly, I don’t think it’d be a bad idea for Spartan to include some homage to the Mountain Series on the Trifecta medals as well. If you finish the Palmerton Super and Sprint, plus the Killington Beast, that is one tough Trifecta. Compare that to running some of the more flat courses to get your Trifecta and it feels like the mountain courses should get some extra love. 

 

 

Photo Credit: Spartan Race, The Author

Gladiator Assault Challenge 2019

GAC-group

Local Charm

Gladiator Assault Challenge is a local mud run put on every year outside of Ames, Iowa.  For being a small, local race, it has quite a large attendance number with heats of runners going off every 20 minutes from 8 am till noon for 2 days.  There was a DJ pumping out tunes and getting people hyped and ready for the race. Being a local race, some frills were left out such as bibs, and timing chips. (which I agree would be completely unnecessary for this race). But what it lacked it made up for with all the benefits of local-race charm. The parking and bag check was free, the atmosphere was friendly and down to earth, and the volunteers/staff while few and far between were ultra-positive and dedicated to making sure everyone was having a good time.  You were even greeted with a free beer right in the finish chute, and brand new this year they hired photographers for free race photos. And the winners were given bad-ass handmade wooden swords as trophies.

GAC-Prize

No one told me that this race was on a ski hill!

This is the Midwest we don’t have mountains we have gentle rolling hills… except sometimes we have big steep hills and we put up little chair lifts and ski down them, and sometimes when there isn’t any snow we set up obstacles on those hills and run ‘em.  I had no idea till I showed up what exactly my quads and calves were in for, over 1K ft of elevation gain on very steep slopes, not including the 150 ft vertical climb from the spectator area to the start line at the top of the chair lift.  For some perspective, a typical Midwest race has around 200 ft of vert.

GAC-Start

The Course

The race offered two race distances a 5K or 10K option.  According to my GPS, the 5K was actually 2.5 miles and the 10K was only 5 miles, I’m not sure but from looking at previous course videos it seemed that a portion of the course that involved running through the creek may have been cut due to weather-related issues.  Most of the obstacles (20) were on the 5K course leaving more running on the full gladiator course, going up and down steep hills.

GAC-Start-Hill

Obstacles

The number one obstacle at Gladiator Assault Challenge 2019 was mud, mud and more mud, combined with the steep slopes this made for some precarious running and some really fun slipping and sliding down the hills.

GAC-Fall

Most of the obstacles were terrain based with some big climbs assisted by a rope or the “Plinko” obstacle going down a precipitous descent where you bounced from one small tree to another to keep you from tumbling down the hill.  Thankfully the heavy carry was actually on flat ground, while the barbed wire crawl was on one of the nasty hills (have I mentioned how steep the hills were yet?)

GAC-Crawl

95% of all the obstacles could be completed by everyone running making this a very family friendly event, and there were plenty of families in attendance.  My favorite obstacle had to be the cage crawl which got you super muddy just before your final push to the finish line.

GAC-fence

I would like to see some obstacle improvement though.  Of the 30 obstacles, there was only 1 grip obstacle which had you traverse a set of monkey bars while your lower half was submerged in water.

GAC-Monkey

While the water provided some resistance and slowed movement it also provided buoyancy making the traverse easier.

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed this race and I would not hesitate to do it again. Everyone I talked to was having a great time, from the OCR vets to the first-time mud runners. Gladiator Assault Challenge has been adding new obstacles every year and seems dedicated to putting on a quality event.  Two thumbs up!

GAC-Thumbs

(I know, those aren’t thumbs)

 

Photos Courtesy of Justin Smith and DE Hodges Photography

The Resurrection

 In the country woods and farmland outside of St. Louis lies the remnants of what was an obstacle racing battlefield from days gone by. The old Battlegrounds course on property of Cedar Lake Cellars Winery still stands as a reminder of many great experiences to those who’ve raced its fast flat terrain. A venue where one minor tactical error could cost you two to three spots of placement. The final Battlegrounds race took place in May of 2018 and those events will never be forgotten, but in its ashes, another has risen!

 August of 2018 marked the first time Tough Mudder brought their version of an event to the Battlegrounds site. To say what took place was piss-poor would be an understatement. In fact, Missouri wasn’t the only event in which Tough Mudder showed a lack-luster performance in 2018. The issues became so bad that the company replaced CEO Will Dean and has promised that 2019 will mark the return of the “Classic Tough Mudder” that we all grew to love over the years. Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard that song and dance before… right before Battle Frog closed its doors for good. I actually wasn’t able to attend the MO Tough Mudder last year because the brilliant minds at the 2018 TMHQ scheduled it during the North American OCR Championships (NORAM), a race in which many of us had already committed to racing; so I’m going to be honest, I signed up for the 2019 Missouri Tough Mudder to test the waters of this “new/ revamped” Tough Mudder (TM). Sure I needed an event to attain the Tougher Mudder portion of my 2019 Holy Grail, but I wanted to see if TM had changed its ways and if they would be able to improve upon the experience I’d come to expect at The Battlegrounds course.

 Tough Mudder didn’t start off on the right foot with me for this event to say the least. I’d hoped on interviewing their Race Director and having him give ORM viewers a social media preview a day or two prior to the event to help hype things up but TMHQ declined??? Yes, that’s right; they declined free publicity from ORM for an upcoming event. I mean who does that? My immediate thought was, “you bastards better not screw this up again or I am going to crucify you in my post-event review!!!”

 If you started reading this looking for a blow-by-blow, obstacle-by-obstacle race review you can stop right now and go back to perusing your Facebook News Feed because this is not that type of review. This is the story of a resurrection! The rebirth of both Tough Mudder and of the awesome Battlegrounds/Cedar Lake Cellars venue.

Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, the fantastic Tough Mudder experience has returned and with it yet another day of fun at The Battlegrounds! I mean how can you not be entertained at an event that has Coach Mudder himself, Kyle Railton, as its MC and takes place next door to a beautiful winery?

When TMHQ has it going they can put on a party like it’s nobody’s business and they had that place kicking from the time we arrived for check-in at 6:45 am until my girlfriend and I left the winery at around 4 pm. Mudder Village had the music rocking, zorb racing, a Salmon ladder as well as other fun challenges like giant Jenga and Corn Hole and a lot more. Oh, and what’s an amazing Tough Mudder event without a major obstacle opening at around 12:00? Ok well, this one was at like 12:30 pm instead of midnight and obstacle was open to both participants AND Mudder Village visitors! The Torpedo Launchers, as it’s known at the Battlegrounds, is a 100 foot long, 25-foot high water slide that sends you careening into a 12-foot pool at up to 30 mph. This was an absolutely perfect attraction on an 85 degree Missouri day!

 

 Overall the staff at TM had the event running smoothly. The check-in process was quick and painless. The participant “load in” made the starting of each wave easy without much confusion, and for the Tougher wave the lack of a professional timing system really didn’t have any effect on the racers. TM simply had a person at the finish line recording bib numbers and writing down times much the way Rugged Maniac and Warrior Dash do it. Basically, everything surrounding the placement of the racers was seamless on site. However, the person entering the information into Tough Mudder’s website made a gaffe as they listed the Female Tougher winner, Kelly Williams, as coming in 2nd… Which was clearly not the case at the race as everyone there knew the order when it came to podium time. Even this aspect was much more organized than in previous years. I finished 3rd at the 2017 TM Chicago and they didn’t even have a podium nor did they take any top three finisher pics which was frustrating.

 One of the big issues people had with the event at this venue last year was TM’s lack of thought put into the actual course. They basically just used the Battlegrounds five-mile course and implemented their infamous “double loop” design which led to ridiculous backups at obstacles and, from what I understand, left participants with overall “meh” feeling about their experience after it was complete. This was not the case at all this year as far as course design goes. In fact, I’ve been racing and implementing boot camps at this site for years and I saw parts of the property I didn’t even know existed. The race director also did a good job of obstacle placement with the intention of limiting some of the obstacle delays. For example, knowing Everest often has long backups he placed two of the new obstacles, Black/Pink Widow and Texas Hold’em along with Block Ness one right after another following Everest to try to keep the people moving after they finished the wall.

 All of this being said, the event was not all sunshine and rainbows! For instance, somehow, even with that thoughtful design order there ended up being three log jams in a row with Everest as well as those two new obstacles and leaving very few people to help each other at Block Ness… How the heck that happened I have no idea! I can only guess that people were skipping the long lines at one only to get stuck at the next one. There were also a few issues that arose during the Tougher wave due to TMHQ’s lack of defined rules on some of the obstacles like, for example, what a racer needs to do if he/she arrives at the Hero Carry without a partner to carry? Also, what do you do if an obstacle that needs a penalty loop but there isn’t one provided like at say Entrapment? These are questions that should be answered in the pre-race briefing if they aren’t on the rules sent to the athletes prior to the race but adequate directions were not provided.  

 

 In the end, the issues listed above didn’t overly detract from what was, in my opinion, a fantastic event. Tough Mudder seems to have their act back together and to be focused on what made them so popular which is providing an awesome overall experience with people helping people conquer the course with mud, sweat, and tears. Those participants can then follow that up with a beer or even a few in a carnival style atmosphere in Mudder Village where the participants, as well as the spectators, can continue building memories. Those of us who’ve raced at this venue so many times before can now chalk another one up in our badassery log and look forward to yet another magnificent mudder experience in 2020.

Welcome back!!!

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.

Guardian Battle

The Guardian Battle, the second installment of a yearlong three-race series, was held at White Birch Park in Hazlewood, Missouri on May 4th.

This series was designed by veteran racers along with help from the local park district, which gave unique access to facilities that are making this a one of a kind race series. GB used the grounds in and around the city’s water park, which in my opinion, was a stroke of genius. Yes, I did say in the city’s water park as the water slides and lazy river were filled and turned on for the event even though the park opening was still weeks away.

GB boasted the best festivity area for a small race ever as the local, multi-level fitness center on-site was opened up for athletes to use throughout the day. Plenty of bathrooms and gym equipment were available and I took advantage of this unique access by hopping on the recumbent bike to help warm up. Free parking and pictures were included along with your day long pool pass and at no time during the race was a lifeguard going to yell at you for running.
Guardian provided chip timing but sent their racers out in a new way by releasing groups of 3 athletes out at a time, staggered 3 minutes apart. This proved to be an excellent way of keeping logjams at obstacles to a minimum. The race itself began by sending competitors out from the parking lot and into the water park where the stairs provided the first opportunity for that dreaded lactic acid build up.

A low crawl at the top of the stairs forced athletes duck walk before being sent down to the deep end. That would be the deep end of the dry, Olympic sized swimming pool as GB hung ropes down from the diving area making for a very different looking rope climb.

Immediately following your not-very-refreshing dip in the pool an athlete faced the death bag haul. These soul-sucking bags were made by placing a sandbag into each leg of a pair of blue jeans and sewn together. These were made even heavier by being soaking wet from the rain the night before. A racer had to find a way to carry this awkward sack up and down a flight of steps three times, oh did I forget to mention the steps were two feet tall? Yikes! I hope you saved a little grip strength as the floating walls, consisting of two floaters separated by a rope, were right around the corner.
Your pool day fun was not quite over yet as GB sent racers up a few flights of stairs for a chance to fly down one of the two water slides. The cold water fun didn’t end there though as volunteers directed you towards the lazy river where you trekked against the waist deep current set to full power. This was not as easy as it looked, but GB provided lifeguards just in case you got swept away.

After crawling out of the coolness that you had become accustomed to, the course led out of the water park where a short jog ensued through a mowed grass lot, eventually ending up at a wreckbag station. Athletes then hoisted those wreckbags onto their shoulders for another short jog, this one with walls and an A-frame to traverse along the way.

After dropping off the old bag it was on to the GB rig, a low crawl, short wall, and a super fun warped wall were added along the route there. The rig configuration went like this: 3 rings transitioned to a horizontal board with rock climbing holds ending with 3 suspended balls, which proved to be a great grip and body control tester. Once finished, racers were sent back towards the festival area where after a short cement block carry athletes tested their agility with some free running through the skate park. The heavy tractor tire flip was placed right outside the skate park and signaled the end of the obstacles in this location.
Guardian Battle now made use of the local woods by sending racers down a winding path made slick by the recent rains. The sloppy track made for slow going on the bucket and tire carry situated in this section. Luckily this section of the course was short making the time spent picking yourself up from another fall manageable. A series of 4 different carries greeted racers as they made their way back to home base. The Atlas Stone, Anvil drag and carry, along with the yoke carry and tire drag were all placed back to back in this suckfest quartet.

Finally, the end was in site and only a series of 3 wall traverses of varying sizes and a low crawl remained as the previous smackdown took whatever you had left out of you. At just under 3 miles I found the course to be pretty challenging yet extremely fun. The use of the water park was a great idea and added obstacles that haven’t been thrown at you before. You really got to hand it to the course designers for thinking outside the box as they certainly give you plenty of bang for your buck here.

If any of this sounds like something you’d enjoy then you’re in luck as the third race in the Guardian Battle series is set for this fall!