Ragnar Trail

10 thoughts on “Ragnar Trail

  1. For the second year in a row, I was lucky enough to be invited to be a member of the NES Trail Ninjas Ragnar Trail New England team. Like with the traditional Ragnar road race, Ragnar Trail has teams doing an approximately 24-hour relay race where runners continuously run, switching off each runner after each run. Over the course of the relay, each person on the team will get to run three times. For the Ragnar Trail race, teams are comprised of eight people. Until with the road race, Ragnar Trail has participants camped out at the base of a mountain. All runners complete three loops of runs of varying lengths and elevations. For the traditional Ragnar road race, teams of 12 runners are provided with different length legs (Ragnar speak for “run”), which allows for customization — you can assign people who prefer longer runs the longer legs and people who prefer shorter runs the shorter legs. In contrast, at Ragnar Trail, each runner is required to complete the same three runs with only the order of the legs differing. The runs are color coded according to perceived difficulty:

    Red (hard): 6.5 miles and 1,357 feet of elevation gain
    Yellow (intermediate): 4.8 miles and 845 feet of elevation gain
    Green (easy): 3.2 miles and 459 feet of elevation gain

    The NES Trail Ninjas’ 2017 team was comprised with the same group as last year, minus one participant. Since we were running with a team of seven, instead of eight, Jeff ended up running six legs.

    In 2016, we had run into some trouble with a late start time and extremely hot weather. This year, we padded our times and ended up with a start time of 11:00 a.m. We ended up finishing the entire race in a very satisfying 24 hours.

    Ragnar Trail New England takes place at Northfield Mountain, which is just over a 30 minute drive from my house in Amherst. I arrived at just after 8:30 a.m. on Friday, dropped off my gear at the gear drop at the top of the hill, parked (paying the $10 fee), and headed back up to get my stuff. Immediately I ran into fellow NES Ninja, Bobby. As we chatted, my wonderful teammates moved my belonging from gear drop to the camping site. By the time I arrived at our camp, everything was already in place. I set up my tent, with the help of Bobby, dropped my sleeping bag, pad, Dryrobe, and duffel inside and joined my teammates for some hangout time.

    By the time I was settled, our team captain, Jess, had already checked us in. We received a bib — number five — meal tickets for a free dinner on Friday night, and t-shirt tickets. All of the NES Ninjas headed up to the main festival area to get our t-shirts while sizes were plentiful!

    By 10:00 a.m., we were already all settled. The NE Spahtents had sent around eight teams to Ragnar Trail, so I was surrounded by many people that I knew, which was lots of fun. I enjoyed visiting with other NES teams over the course of the weekend. A nice thing about Ragnar Trail is that all of one’s team is in one place. This meant, I got to enjoy the company of everyone on the NES Ninjas for the entire race, which the addition of the other NES teams as a bonus.

    I was scheduled as the final runner in position eight. According to the Excel worksheet that Jeff had created, using our padded times, I wasn’t scheduled to run until around 6:30 p.m. I settled in for a wait. During my downtime, I was able to head up to the festival areas, a short walk from our campground, and welcome in all of the NES Ninjas at the exchange tent.

    The exchange system is kind of nice at trail. Unlike the Ragnar Relay in Cape Cod where you have to drive from place to place, you’re stationery at Trail. This is great for sleeping (if people are respectful and quiet during the overnight hours) and convenient for making your exchanges. Ragnar had a timing mat set-up a quarter mile away from the exchange tent. When your runner crossed the mat, the team name would appear on a digital display right outside the exchange tent, letting the next runner know it was time to enter the tent, take a wrist band for the leg they were planning to run, and await the incoming teammate. As with the road Ragnar Relay, our team gave each other chest bumps at each exchange.

    I had a lovely day hanging around and cheering on my teammates. It soon became evident that we had been successful in padding our times and were comfortably ahead of schedule. I had planned to have an early 5:00 p.m. dinner before running at 6:30 p.m.; however, I was delighted to find that I was going to actually be ready to run a little before 5:00 p.m.! I was less excited by the weather. It had been lightly raining most of the morning. By mid-afternoon it was raining quite steadily. My tent seemed to be holding off the water, which was a relief. The team had a pop-up tent, which was coming quite in handy. In 2016, the temperatures were in the 90s and the humidity was high. The heavy rain, while a drag, was at least matched by comfortable running temperatures in the mid-60s.

    My first run of the day was the yellow loop — 4.8 miles and 845 feet of elevation. In general, the yellow loop was probably my least favorite loop last year, and I think it was my least favorite again. While shorter than the red loop with less elevation gain, the way in which you climb is brutal — two miles all uphill. The first mile is somewhat run-able; however, the second mile is climbing followed by more climbing. As with all the trail runs, the first ascent up the mountain happens for all three courses and utilizes a larger trail and fire road. The last 3/4 of a mile are also shared between all three runs and features a section of somewhat technical trail that meanders more-or-less downhill. The relentless climb of the first two miles without pause is really what gives the yellow loops a bad rap.

    That being said, Ragnar Trail is possible for anyone of a good fitness level who feels they can run 14.5 miles in 24 hours. Your body will take a pounding, but the course is do-able for the average running. There is a lot of walking with Ragnar Trail for the average runner, myself included. I had to walk stretches of the first two miles of the yellow loop, especially between miles one and two. I also did quite a bit of hiking on the red loop. Being comfortable with the expectation that you’ll be hiking some major hills and adjusting your pace times accordingly is key for success at Ragnar Trail.

    After I concluded my yellow loop and handed off to Jess, Shaina and I grabbed the free Friday dinner from sponsor b.good. They had hamburgers, chicken, and veggie burgers, along with couscous and a broccoli salad with giant chocolate chunk cookies for dessert. It was a solid free dinner.

    After the meal, I headed back to the camp to relax. I had gotten pretty wet from the rain and from my exertions on the yellow loop. I tried my best to clean up and wipe the mud off my legs using my Action Wipes. The wet weather left me feeling moist and sticking.

    My next leg, originally scheduled for 3:30 a.m., was now going to take place a little after 1:00 in the morning. At around 9:00 p.m., I stuck some earplugs in my ears and tried to get some rest. It was, unfortunately, a big noisy, so I cat napped between 9:00 p.m. and around 12:15 a.m. when Jess got me up to get ready for my next run. I was lucky that my night run was just the green loop — a 3.2 milers with 459 feet of elevation gain. I waited with my teammates until the names NES Trail Ninjas appeared on the display outside the exchange tent. I then went in, got my band, and waited for Jeff, who soon cruised my way and handed off the bib.

    There is no good way to say it: Running in the woods in the middle of the night is kind of crazy. In general, I had only three goals:

    Don’t fall down and hurt myself.
    Don’t get lost.
    Don’t get attached.

    Only concerns one and two are very legitimate, but running mostly by yourself in the woods, it’s hard not to let your mind wander to option number three.

    Even though the green loop was the easiest of the three, there was still a section of significant elevation gain to start the run, which was uphill for just about the first half. Some walking definitely occurred.

    I was fortunate to get to do my shortest leg during the overnight hours. The rain had stopped but it was still fairly wet on the trails. Without good visibility, I definitely stepped in a mud puddle or two. With the excessively damp weather, my shoes hadn’t even really started to dry from the last run anyway. Trail running at night is a totally unique experience. It was fun to be out and about doing something crazy at a crazy time. Ragnar keeps it fun by having a great festival area — they have firefly lights in all the trees and show a movie. Running through the woods at night is frightening and tiring, but it’s also unique in the best possible way and invigorating and empowering. I kept a decent page, exceeding my predicted 15 minute miles to finish the 3.1 miler in just over 39 minutes. I was pleased to be finished with my night leg.

    I headed back to the camp, had a snack, took another sticky “bath” with some wipes, and crashed, sleeping fairly well from 2:30 a.m. until a little after 6:00 a.m. At this point, almost half of my team was completely finished. People were celebrating with b.good for breakfast and early morning beers. I still had one run to go though — one huge run with the long red loop. I had a conservative breakfast and then headed back to my tent to change into running clothing.

    While we were originally slated to finish around 1:35 p.m. with my final run starting just before noon, we had made up so much time that I was going to be heading out around 9:25 a.m. instead. After limited sleep and lots of running, I wasn’t super thrilled to be taking on another 6.2 miles; however, I knew I was the one thing standing between my team and their showers — I would not disappoint. I am pleased to say that I kept right on pace and finished my run exactly as I predicted I would at between 90 and 100 minutes, crossing the line at 11:00 a.m.

    The 6.5 mile loop was quite a haul with its 1,357 feet of elevation. The first mile closely followed the yellow and green loops, allowing for a mix of running and hiking. Unlike the yellow loop which is relentless with its up-and-up-and-up-and-up, the red loop had a good mix of climbing, followed by some short “run-able” areas over the first four miles. I was able to get up a good run right before mile two. The second mile was the most challenging with the steepest climb to date. Basically, it was horrible. There was a bit of a respite right before mile three, followed my more climbing. It was as if the uphills would never end. Finally, right around the fourth miles, I reached a sign that said I had reached the highest point. All down hill from there. After mile two where I averaged 20’49” and mile three where I averaged 16’10, I was ready to run down the fire road and make up some time. There was a beautiful stretch of switchbacks that led down to the area where the red joined up with the other two trails for the last 3/4 of a mile into the festival area.

    I was ready to be done. I bombed into the festival area, where my team was waiting for me right next to the course. I hardly slowed down as I shouted, “Let’s go!” and ran across the finish line! Our net time was just around 24 hours on the nose — 24:00:46.

    The final item of the day was to pick up our medals and take one last team photo. Jess, as team captain, coordinated our medals, a cool spork multi-tool, plus an extra medal that we got for doing two North East regional events. My legs were tired enough that I was grateful that Jeff helped me up and down the hay bales for the team photo.

    Ragnar Trail 2017 is in the books. I think it might go down as one of my top Ragnar experiences of all time. My team was amazing, logistics went well, everyone was on pace or faster and ran well. I am very lucky to have found a great group with the NES Trail Ninjas (and the NES Ninjas for the Ragnar Relay Cape Cod). I am looking forward to the 2018 event already!

  2. The most fun two days of racing I’ve had all year. Steven’s review says it all. I’ll just add that the move back to June from August was the best change since last year. Communication was solid, changes were relayed in a timely manner. The course is beautiful, challenging, and fun. The swag is top notch. The (tasty) food situation was handled much better than last year. The teams and volunteers are great people. Huge thumbs up for the frequently cleaned expanse of port-o-potties.

  3. Run, Camp, Sleep(?), Repeat!

    Using those tents, Ragnar Trail New England was exactly as billed. Upon arrival, the race was afoot to get all of your gear up to the best possible place you could find, because let’s face it, no one likes to camp on a hill.

    The Spahtens of the world were fortunate enough to have been given a great area – close enough to the transition point and vendor village without having to camp on top of the porta-potties (more on that later).

    Registration was smooth, with just the team captains needing to approach the table to get us all signed in (compared to Ragnar Cape Cod, where we were all herded together through the line from station to station). The tee shirt process, however, was a bit different. Ragnar Cape Cod gave the captains all of the shirts right off the bat, whereas here, each person was responsible for getting their own. I got my shirt early, so I’m not sure if there was any issue with sizes running out.

    Immediately past registration was the vendor village – Salomon and Suunto had both shoes and watches for you to “test out.” I put on a pair of Salomon S-Labs, and ran my first loop in them, and fell in love. Which was unfortunate, because it was the one pair of shoes they did not have for sale at the Merchandise Tent, where shoes were 20% off for the weekend.

    Ragnar’s Charity Partner, Hole in the Wall Gang, had multiple booths on site, and as usual, knocked it out of the park with slap bracelets, head buffs, tattoos (the kids LOVED THOSE), and air fresheners. They also had an unending supply of Newman’s Own Organic Lemonade. God, I love lemonade.

    REI had not only a large tent, but many fun features to go along with it. From amazing single drip coffee, to fun and games, they were a truly amazing race partner. Kleen Kanteen provided all the water refills you needed, and Nuun kept our electrolytes up high. There was also a very talented young artist who painted race scenes from Ragnar, and was selling hand painted Boston Marathon paintings – I hope to see her at other events.

    Food was provided by B. Good – and it was clear they weren’t entirely prepared for the volume of food they’d be selling. At one point, they began serving half portions of chicken to accommodate lunch rushes, and their lines were long. Looooooooong. But the free meal voucher was pleasant, even if it did take 45 mins to get a burger.

    Onto the race! Heat played a factor for sure. While it was hot in the camping and transition areas, the course itself was fairly well shaded, which at times made the air a bit thick with humidity. Mother Nature has been great about that this summer. The 3 mile loop started with a nice uphill, and then finished very very fast. Super fast. Amazingly fast.

    I had the opportunity to run the 7.3 mile loop in the dark, and it was one of my favorite life experiences. The stars were unlike anything I’d ever gotten a chance to see. At times, I found myself staring up in wonder at them, and I couldn’t help but smile because it was just so incredibly peaceful. The course itself had some great climbs, and single tracks, and after the halfway point, became a great downhill run as well.

    My 4.9 miler was the following morning – and again the heat came back. It was again a challenging uphill, followed by some fun, technical trails that really rewarded efficient trail running. Since I’m not the brightest, I fell off the trail a bit, then had to circle back. It pays to pay attention. Some day, I’ll learn that lesson.

    Ragnar Trail is very socially conscious. No cups were given out. This was intentional so as to reduce waste. And that was awesome. Trash was never strewn about, and as a result, the venue was exceptionally clean. Just like the porta-potties, which were emptied MULTIPLE TIMES over the weekend. I’ve never once seen a large-name OCR send trucks in during a race to clean out the mess that the toilet cities can become. Kudos to Ragnar for being so concerned about sanitation.

    Onto the race itself. Ragnar is a relay, where one participant per team is out on the course at a time, and when they return in, the next participant hits the trail. We were informed of our teammate’s progress only when he or she had 1/4 mile remaining in their run. This made it a bit difficult to gauge a person’s time, and when the next participant should be ready. Especially challenging during the overnights, when off-shift teammates were trying to catch a nap. A halfway trail marker would’ve been helpful to mitigate those issues.

    At its heart, Ragnar Race is a team building event. Trail events have teams of 4 (Ultra) or 8 team members, and it’s during the non-running times where bonds are built among the teams. This is the best intangible asset these events provide. When you leave, there’s a feeling of missing your teammates. While you don’t have the same forced closeness a Van provides, Ragnar Trail helps to develop friendships in ways that your standard OCR, road, or trail race cannot. You rely on your teammates, you support your teammates, you grow to love your teammates as if they were family. And while medals and tee shirts are great, that sense of family is the best prize you can get from this type of event.

  4. I went into this not really expecting anything, I honestly wasn’t really sure what to think. I did have trouble finding information regarding what would be available for food (or not) up until right before. It felt like there might have been a few last minute changes (course mileage, food menu) or just not communicated clearly enough or earlier.

    I was happy to find out that there would be food available for purchase as it made it easier to not have to pack and plan meals. I went to get dinner around 5:30, and did not have to wait long (15-20 min), but when we reached the register people were waiting for veggie burgers, and it sounded like they had been waiting for some time. I got the beef burger (which was excellent!), but even those were very few in the pan, and I imagine very shortly after there wasn’t any of those and that caused the backup that continued through the evening. The meal ticket we received at check-in was for dinner, but I believe others were able to use them at other meals. Potentially if the meal ticket is “good for one meal” instead of specifically dinner, that may have alleviated everyone going for dinner? It was also self-serve for the sides, I’m sure this is the reason why the end of the night ended with them running out. The girl who was taking tickets and cash was also running around helping to get food to the servers. I got to breakfast late which meant that I got egg and cheese on a burger bun instead of the ham and English muffin as advertised. Still good though. I opted not to get the lunch as I heard it was “ok” but probably not worth the $8. The check-in area gave us snacks at the beginning, and had more available throughout the event which was really nice!

    The VIP area was great! Next year we know to bring a wagon or something to lug our stuff up to that area from the drop off. Porto potties were plenty, it was nice to never have to wait, and they were cleaned out often enough. I’m curious to know how many people adhered to the 2 car limit. We found it a struggle to fit all of our stuff and people in 2 cars. Ultimately ending up with 3, but it didn’t seem to be strict. I can understand not letting it be a free-for-all and wanting to conserve space, but it would have been nice to know “3 is ok too.”

    The village was full of things to do at all hours, the hammocks were nice, it was a bit squished together, but you could navigate it enough. Once the fire was started it made it a little more tight since people were huddled around the fire pits (which were spaced out) especially it being dark, but it was all manageable. The two checkpoint boards (displays) by the transition tent were constantly clustered, and hard to stand near to wait for your transition. It was nice when they turned the one on at the beer tent. It would have been helpful to have that updated and tied to the ap so that the rest of the team could check in on where/when each of their teammates made it in/out without having to stand by the board and create more clustering. I also would have appreciated if the beer tent had stayed open till midnight (with the whiskey sampling).

    I found it to be very well marked. I did not feel lost at any point. Even in the dark! It was challenging, but survivable! I really appreciated the “One Mile Left!” sign at the end of the yellow loop. That would have been nice for the red/green as well. The motivational signs were great! I found myself laughing and smiling as I passed them. I wished there was an explanation for the wooden nickels. I first noticed the western point ones, but I had no clue what they were for. I only picked up one at the water station after my teammate was told they were for whiskey. Later learning that if we turned them in they were good for donations (I would have had 3, but only picked up 1).

    Amazing. I am really excited to do this next year. Now having done one, I have a better idea of what to plan for.

  5. Has a great time at Ragnar Trail MA, 2016!!

    It was an awesome experience, running with friends, running in the woods, running at night, and camping. The medals were excellent. The Festival was great, as was merchandise.

    It’s a large event that requires an awful lot of planning and execution, and Ragnar did an excellent job, for the most part.

    The one thing that irked me (hence the low score on Venue/Festival) at the event was the really long wait time in the food line – over an hour!! The lines were that long for several hours, and for all meals. This could have been easily rectified by adding 2-3 more people. And some food items were finished if one didn’t get there early enough. For this reason I skipped eating 2 meals there.

    On the plus side, the food, once obtained, was great! As a vegetarian, I often have trouble finding anything appealing at the races, this was an exception.

    The trail lengths changed last minute but was not well communicated. The Ragnar App was never updated.

    All in all though a great running experience, made even better by my team, and other NES teams around us.

  6. Great event. Course got a little scrambled with the construction work — water stop was at 4.3 miles rather than 3 as the base camp map said. Food was ok, dinner service was better than breakfast as breakfast only had 2 people who had to both serve and do money.
    Didn’t notice them running out of water.

    Would have been nice to have the course on a real (i.e. USGS) topo map so that we could see what we’d be crossing — there were lots of road crossings that don’t show up on the little map.

    Would be nice if they could publish the racer start times via the app — we had to estimate when to show up at transition tent; if they said what time the last runner for any given team was, we could then figure out what time to show up.

    Extra timing point would be really nice, maybe 1mi out?

  7. I haven’t had this feeling of excitement after a race since my first year of OCR’s. I think Ragnar Trail is my new favorite race. The trails were gorgeous and challenging. The village was hopping at all hours with plenty to do, places to chill out, and things to buy. The charging station was a big plus.

    Trails were pretty well marked, especially at night. The transition tent was well organized and placed. With televisions outside indicating when a runner is getting close to the transition point.

    Great swag. Nice t-shirts, cool window stickers, temp tattoos, Kind bars and more. The bad ass finisher medals are sharpened, so not great for wearing, but they have something inspirational etched in the back that can be read when all the medals are together.

    NES Bonus: Spahten campsites were located at the top of a hill just outside the village. It was super convenient getting to and from the village. Not having to hike up and down the hill between race legs was a huge benefit, so a big thank you to whoever arranged that perk!

    The only cons would the food situation at dinner and getting the start times right so people weren’t so teams weren’t so pressed to finish on time.

    I finished my 7 mile leg, got in line almost immediately and stood for an hour and a half in line for a hamburger and nothing else because there wasn’t anything left. Multiple food vendors would have been ideal.

    Overall it was a complete blast and having such a great team, all Spahtens except one, some of us meeting for the first time in real life, was awesome. I can’t wait to do it again!

  8. My first but not last rangar. Festival area was nice always had something going on. I liked the no cups kept the area clean. Swag is great. Food could have been better. I know how hard it is to cook for that many people. Biggest issue for me was bringing all our equipment in and out of tent area. Next time bring a cart.

  9. This year we were in a different location for Tent City and the Festival. The festival seemed more “packed together” but I also think it made for a more intimate event. I miss the smoothie guy though! The water they brought in from Kleen Kanteen was MUCH better than last year, however, they did have issues with running out of water due to the heat. The port-o-potty situation was also infinitely better this year as they were cleaned periodically throughout the event. On a slightly down note, while I loved that b good’s was the food vendor, with tasty and healthy food, they were slow to get the food out, causing long lines. Perhaps next time Ragnar should partner with more than one food vendor so folks have a choice, or that b good’s had some pre-prepped stuff like their salad bowls or quinoa bowls.

    The trails were killer this time as usual, but with the heat, they tried to address the water situation, though with limited success. It seems they ran out. They also ran out of ice to treat people for heat-related illnesses and rolled ankles/knees. While I understand they had no way to predict that, they needed to remedy that situation by getting more ice in from somewhere.

    I love the swag – the medals were bigger than last year’s and also had the “puzzle pieces” on the back, which is more in line with their road series. Also, as usual the shirts were nice, and this year you got a ticket to claim your shirt, rather than them trying to pack all the team’s shirts into the bin bags they give you. I still have a soft spot for the window decals, as it’s great to keep adding them to the back windshield.

    There were a lot of teams having issues with the start times and many were in danger of not finishing. I know they tell you to use your road time and they will adjust, but it doesn’t appear that they did that. If they want road times, then they need to make really certain they make the appropriate time adjustments. Too many teams had to double and even triple up to have a hope of completion.

    And second the call to put NE Trail back in June!!

  10. Great event. Logistical troubles like improper scheduling of start times made the end a little hurried but Ragnar always has awesome awards, shirts and tons of gear. They had Solomon on site and they were letting you demo pre broken in shoes on a trail lap of your choice.

    Next year this should definitely be in June again when it’s cooler.

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