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.

Fort Benning Spartan Sprint

Fort Benning: Home of True Heroes

On April 14th, 2018 a Spartan Sprint was held at Fort Benning Military Base in Georgia.  The unique venue allowed competitors and spectators to honor American war heroes. It was filled with a unique flair not seen at many Spartan Races.  Not only was the race unique, but the Best Ranger competition was happening at the same time. This offered a unique chance to run by the real suffer fest superstars and heroes of America.  The turnout for Fort Benning was relatively large and varied.  From the elite waves to age group to open, all waves seemed to be relatively filled and full of people eager to test themselves on the battlefield.

Venue: Less Elevation, more Briers, and Tall Grass

While the terrain of Fort Benning certainly was not flat, it did not offer as much of an elevation challenge as most Georgia venues, nor did it offer the unique mountainous views.  Spartan did a good job at finding the hilly portions as well as some decent high degree incline short scrambles, but the large portion of challenging terrain for competitors seemed to be comprised of running through briers and tall grass.  Personally, I found this to be more annoying than challenging.  However, this could just be a matter of personal preference.  In my mind, there is a fine line between challenging and annoying.

Luckily the entire race wasn’t a slog and was quite varied bringing some variety.  A long-running portion was somewhat broken up by large mud holes that competitors were supposed to go through (some opted not to).  The occasional rocky terrain and scramble through single track trail in trees also helped break up the monotony.  The only complaint I have is that for the price point of Spartan, a bit more variety should be offered.  Part of what you pay for is the experience.

Spartan Vertical Cargo Fort Benning

Vertical Cargo

 

The Course

The mix of obstacles in the Spartan Sprint of Fort Benning was certainly varied enough and offered a great challenge for Competitors.  The race featured monkey bars, a ring rig, and twister.  The only problem with these obstacles was that they were ALL in one place. Be it for the purpose of spectator-friendliness or to attempt to wear out the grip of competitors race directors decided to bookend the race with obstacles which seems to be a recurring technique for Spartan.

The beginning of the race featured the A-Frame cargo, rope climb, vertical cargo, and plenty of walls.  There was then a large running portion for the next three miles or so. A sandbag and plate drag sparsely broke up the long run.  I can appreciate the distance this added to the race, but Spartan could have spiced it up more  The final mile of the race was: bucket carry, twister, spear throw, monkey bars, ring rig, rolling mud, and a slip wall followed by the fire jump.  I do think this was a great way for spectators to see and cheer on finishers.

However, it honestly just felt a bit like a trail race with some obstacles at the end at times.  The course as a whole was not bad. Volunteers did a superb job at telling competitors the rules.

Festival

Spartan seems to have stepped up their game a bit this year in the festival area.  There were plenty of vendors and team tents.  There were also a few fun contests for spectators and competitors to try.  Among those offered were: rope climbing, pull-ups, wall hopping, dead hangs, and tire flips.  This offered many more learning opportunities for new coming Spartans which I believe is a good move on Spartan’s part.

It’s a great idea to try and keep your dedicated fan base of hardcore Spartans happy. However, becoming too complacent and not continuing to try and bring in new blood would be a big mistake even or such a large, successful company.

 

Gabby Taylor Fort Benning

Competitor Gabby Taylor proud of her Medal

Pre-Race

The announcer gave the normal Spartan pre-race speech of “I am Spartan!”  The director announced the rules. Speakers played the National Anthem.  The droning serious speech did not rile many spirits.  It’s a matter of personal preference, but I just wish that Spartan would add a bit more fun and excitement to their pre-race warm up.

Obstacles

The team both designed and built the obstacles well.  Variety of obstacles was not a problem.  Placement of the obstacles was.  As I previously mentioned, obstacles seemed to mainly just bookend the course.  A recurring theme with Spartan seems to be: (run up this, carry this, climb over this) on repeat until the very end and (now swing on some things.  Thanks for the money.  Bye.)  I just feel that for such a hefty price tag Spartan should provide competitors with more than obstacles that they can create at their own homes.

Part of their draw and mood is the grit, the burpees, and the suffering.  I also realize this is a managerial decision by Joe De Sena to forgo innovation for toughness.  However, it is my opinion that this is just not fair to the competitors who shell out the big bucks and travel so far to run these races.

Variety and innovation are what can keep the lifeblood of a race company thriving. Foregoing innovation in course design in favor of throwing more heavy things, climbs, and carries at your competitors just MIGHT be a bad choice.  I can be completely wrong and you may disagree.  That’s perfectly OK.  Everyone has their opinion.  Obviously, Spartan is still making money and doing great.  They also have a lock on some great venues.  I just feel that was a good race that could have been a great race.  Thank you Spartan for all that you do and helping me get onto the serious road to being an elite racer.  AROO!

Team Blue line Teamwork Fort Benning

Team Blue Line helps one another at Olympus

 

OCR Training with Leaderboard: Trading My Bikini Gig For Running and Rigs

My Last Pro Show of 2017

At the beginning of the year, I began to plan out my race season. Typically this would involve the Peachtree Road Race (the only road race I enjoy) and some other trail runs scattered throughout the year. However, as I embarked on a new adventure in obstacle course racing, I quickly found myself lost.

As a former pro bikini competitor, I thought my traditional workouts mixed with some runs throughout the week would suffice. Once I realized the types of skill I would need and began to add that to my plate, I started to notice that my recovery was not what it once was and honestly I began to wonder if it had something to do with my age (yikes!).

During my podcast interview with Matt B. Davis on Obstacle Racing Media Podcast, he mentioned Hunter McIntyre and at the time, I am ashamed to say, I had no idea who he was. Matt told me to reach out to him on IG for pointers and I did. I was blown away by his kindness and willingness to help. If you know Hunter, even through his social media, you know he is quite the character, but under all that craziness is a guy who is super passionate about helping people as much as he is about winning races.

After our chat, I realized that bodybuilding mixed with some running and grip work was not going to cut it. I started researching OCR training and tips, but still felt lost, so I talked to Hunter once again after hearing he and Brakken Kraker on the ORM podcast discussing their online training platform for athletes. Enter Leaderboard.

There are 8 different paths on Leaderboard, each designed to prepare you for your course preference or OCR specific skills. There is everything from a short course path for those athletes who race shorter distances, like TMX, an ultra path for endurance athletes, Hunter’s Biceps Win Races (BWR) line up, and more. I am on the BWR AD program, where I receive daily WODs with personalized RX and pacing AND mobility WODs. Mobility was something I never had much focus on prior to LB.

Heavy Carry Practice

Heavy Carry Practice

After each WOD I complete, I record my results and can see how I stack up compared to the rest of the community that is on the same path, hence the name Leaderboard. I was super intimidated at first by these scores, but the entire community of athletes on LB is so supportive that it really pushed me even harder. When I would feel discouraged by my scores because let’s face it, I am a total newb, and didn’t exactly light up the leaderboard, I would receive comments congratulating me or telling me how quickly I would improve. Take a guess at how many bikini competitors make it a point to genuinely encourage one another – not many.

The coaches have also been super encouraging and I can’t tell you how amazing it is to get tips and tricks from coaches that are pros in the sport! As a fitness coach and former bikini competition coach, I know how valuable this is. The best part of LB is the communication forum curated by the LB Coaches.

As a new OCR athlete, I had tons of questions and really just dove into the training and pushed through even when fatigued. The coaches guided me through some of the rough spots and even had me back off a bit instead of pushing through like you do in bodybuilding. Don’t get me wrong, they never told me to be lazy, but they wanted me fully recovered and getting in quality workouts even if that meant scaling down for efficiency.

I ended up tweaking something in my hip due to my poor running mechanics (I’ll save this one for another post) and ALL of the LB coaches checked on my issues and made sure that I had particular mobility WODs to perform aside from the ones already assigned in LB. In addition, they routinely checked in to ensure that it was I was getting better and was in a healthy place to be able to run my first race. This is something that I had never experienced before. Former coaches that I have had would make me feel like I needed to work harder or grind more and give the “how bad do you want it” speech over and over when something happened. My experience with LB coaches can be boiled down to if you want it bad enough, you have to be able to distinguish between quality and quantity.

The community I have found in LB is truly inspiring. Not only do I have accountability, I have support from people all over the world who are going through the same thing with me at their own pace and skill level. Did I mention that I have that without having to leave my home gym? I was worried I would need a fancy (aka expensive) membership to have access to the equipment I needed, but aside from buying a super affordable sandbag, I had everything I needed in my garage gym. If something came up on the WOD that I didn’t have, there was always a substitute exercise with common equipment to perform and trying to figure that on my own with other OCR workouts was frustrating. As a mom, I really appreciate that I can workout on my own time, in my own gym, with my own equipment, so that I can still train like a badass without missing precious family time. Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

As I am writing this, I am 3 days away from my first OCR race of the season. I wasn’t supposed to race until the Georgia Spring Savage, but I had the opportunity to race in the Talladega Bonefrog and didn’t want to pass it up. The coaches reached out to meet to make sure I was feeling up to it with my hip issues and tailored my race week taper to ensure that I was well rested and ready to go for Saturday.

One thing that I wish I had worked on a little more during the past couple of months as I trained for these two upcoming races is my grip. The majority of work in the WODs do include lifts and exercises that require grip strength, but as a total new OCR athlete starting from ground zero, I probably needed a little more.

I did reach out to the coaches at LB and told them I think I could use more and low and behold, they gave me some tailored Grip work to do. Moral of the story is communication! I wish I had communicated my weakness in grip before, but I had been working on it a bit aside from LB but should have used the professional resources at my disposal (insert facepalm here). Lesson learned.

The great thing is that I have plenty of races this season to see how much I improve so I will be able to really see how I do this weekend with only a couple of months of training under LB and see how that translates on race day as compared to when I first started. To me, there is nothing more important than seeing the training translate to performance but the goal is just to have fun. So let’s see how I feel after my first OCR!

 

Whether you are new to OCR or a seasoned OCR athlete who has hit a plateau, head over to leaderboardfit.com to push your training to the next level.

Conquer the King II Review

With OCR season officially off to a start, Conquer the King II was a great local Georgia race to test your skills. Conquer the King II was held at the OCR King Compound in Dallas, Georgia. The OCR King Compound is a “backyard” obstacle training center with trails and plenty of obstacles to play on, and they also offer bootcamps and training classes for those that want it.

When arriving for the event, parking was held down the street at the Silver comet trail parking, and people were shuttled to the race site. The shuttle made trips throughout the whole day, with a sweet smiling driver making rounds. The shuttle dropped you off in front of house, with several large obstacles to the left. At first glance, it was very deceiving because you can only see a few obstacles and not much else. After the course/event rules were explained it was clear that this event was not going to be easy.

Pro and Open wave rules

1 lap of the course is an awesome loop that starts out in a driveway of King Compound. Before you know it, however, you are behind the house, into the woods and running along some great technical terrain. The complete out and back is 1 mile. There’s even a bonus obstacle of a large cinder block carry while you are out there.

There were plenty of obstacles to choose from, and no penalties to worry about. Obstacles included : a rope climb, a rope traverse, monkey bars, 8ft wall, inverted wall, hercules hoist, tire pull, Z-wall, the weaver, a sternum checker, and King Compound’s pièce de ré·sis·tance. A 50 foot long monster, appropriately called RigZilla.  Lots of obstacles to choose to fulfill every OCR racers desire…or nightmare!

King Compound Trails

 

After each trail lap is completed, you were required to do 3 obstacles that are laid out over a stretch of “side yard”. For the pro laps, the obstacles were assigned. For instance, the first lap you were given a red band, so after you did a 1 mile trail run, you complete three obstacles marked with a red sign. After you finished that lap, you would go to the event tent and get a new color band and run another 1 mile trail loop again.  This continued for a 3 hour time period.

 

The open waves were at 12pm, 1pm and 2pm. Racers completing the open wave would do the trail run, choose any 3 of the obstacles that they wanted to do, then turn in lap completion. Goal was to complete as many laps possible within 1 hour.

Overall, this was a great race that I highly recommend checking out. The volunteers were amazing and helpful. Every obstacle I went to complete, there was someone to spot me, or just cheer me on. The trails were clearly marked. Obstacles were difficult, yet sturdy and well made. Justin Rose, Cody King, and Chrissy O’Neal- The OCR King Compound founders – did an amazing job at organizing and putting on this race. It’s called the toughest mile in OCR for a reason. This little race, with a big heart, is a great OCR to add to any level of athletes schedule.

OCR King Compound Co-founders with Male and Female first place winners Chris Acuff and Rachel Watters

Editor’s Note – When the King Compound put on its first race last year, they had only laid out 1/4 mile of running track around the house, and RigZilla had yet to be built. It was still well reviewed. That first race is reviewed here.