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  • Melissa Ewing

My First RAGNAR Race - Trail Atlanta 2024 is a Wrap!

Wow, so that happened! I'm still processing completing my first RAGNAR race, but let's just say I feel like a warrior after seeing it through to the end! From training to the final finish for our team, it has been a unique experience. I was challenged mentally and physically, met new friends through my team and at the event, learned how to put a tent up by myself, camped outside overnight, and had a chance to take a break from work for 48 hours and unwind in the beauty of nature with fun, inspiring, and supportive people.



THE FINAL TRAINING


My last days of training leading into the big event turned out to be pretty low key. I took my normal dance and boxing classes but didn't end up doing any runs! The lack of running was in part due to scheduling demands and in part because my body felt tired, and I didn't want to push it this close to the event. At that point, there was not much I could do to improve my race results for the event, so I gave my body some rest to avoid risk of injury. I also had to prioritize work since I was going to be out of pocket all day on Friday (more or less) and most of Saturday before recovering on Sunday. As things go, work got busy with several unexpected things popping up that needed attention. In fact, I was up late the night before the big event finishing up a paper to send out before I left in the morning. I didn't mind because I wanted to feel I had taken care of things before I checked out.


I did have concerns though. I had waited until the last minute to practice running at night with my headlamp or trying out two runs in a day - two things I vowed to do as part of my training for the event. Now that it was the final push, it never seemed like the right day or time to experiment. It wasn't like me to not follow through on something like that, nor was it like me to not take time to review all the itinerary and course information and other logistics in preparation for an event. But in the end I did none of those things! That's what happens when you wait. I also didn't start packing until the day before the event which didn't leave much opportunity to pick up anything I didn't already have available at my house. I was frustrated at myself for my lack of preparation, as generally I like feeling prepared especially when trying something new. But still I wasn't scared or stressed and had faith it would all work out. This time I literally showed up with confidence I would figure it all out!

Race event essentials for Ragnar
Packing Up the Night Before the Race

THE BIG EVENT


As mentioned above, I went to bed late the night before the first day and was so nervous about waking up early to arrive at the site by 8:00am for my estimated time around 9:00a.m. But I got up on time and left my house dressed and ready to run with my gear. The site was located at the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers, Georgia, a beautiful area developed for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. With traffic, I planned for at least an hour drive. It turned out I was the first person of our team to arrive at the location! It was very overwhelming when I first drove up as there were different parking areas, tents already being put up, and a large common area with activity. But there were volunteers to help direct where to park ($10/vehicle). There was an unloading area for gear, but I was able to park and carry all my stuff (tent, captain's chair, sleeping bag, and my bag of clothes, shoes, a cup (no cups at the event), snacks, toiletries, hat, flashlight, journal). I asked an older gentlemen on staff where he suggested I set up my tent, and he pointed me to an area near the finish of the Yellow leg where he said the sun would not be shining towards the end of the day. This was happening!

Ragnar Village view
Panoramic View of Ragnar Village
Tent and chair for camping outside during the event
My tent and chair all set up! (Later moved to be next to my team)

As for the organization of the event, I was really impressed. They do RAGNAR events across the country and have developed a system like a well-oiled machine. There were lots of staff (in orange) and volunteers (in yellow) to assist with questions, and everything was well marked. There were drink stations with free coffee, water, hot chocolate, and limited snacks at various times of the day/night. There were also food truck vendors offering delicious food and treats at reasonable prices (and even some beer). There were also vendor booths, with some giving out free samples and others offering services, plus a retail tent where you could buy just about anything you could think of that you may have left behind as well as nice running apparel and accessories and RAGNAR branded gear. Some of the items were a little pricey (paying for convenience) but there were also deals. A nice plus was the fact they had plenty of porta potties that were serviced during the event. I never had to wait and never experienced one smelling bad. There was also a charging station for USB cords which was great for me since a battery charger was one of things I ran out of time to get.



It was then time to explore the tents and vendors and study the trail map and schedule of events before my first run started. Looking around I noticed there were all sorts of runners ranging from super serious likely hoping for a win (you can just tell) at one end of the spectrum to runners there to hang with friends and party while doing some running at the other end of the spectrum. Some groups had some really elaborate tent setups and you could tell they had done it before!



I made a note to check out the fire pit and movies later that evening and was also curious about the S'mores!


MY FIRST RUN - YELLOW


So the way it works is each team member runs each of the three trails during the course of the event (green, yellow, red). Green was supposedly the easiest trail (all relative!), yellow the moderate trail, and red the most challenging. It's a relay so someone on the team is always running once the race begins until the last team member finishes their final trail. My assignments were yellow, red, then green. I got lucky (at least I saw it that way) by having my first two legs during the day on Friday with the final leg scheduled for early Saturday morning. I was hoping to avoid running in the middle of the night since I had never practiced that.



A funny story...I thought my start time for my yellow leg was 9:00am so I made sure to get to the event early. I couldn't believe I was the first person on my team there since I wasn't our first runner, but later it all made sense. Prior to 9am, I went up to the starting line tent and searched for information on our team's first runner....only to learn that 9:00am was the start time for our entire team! They stagger the team starts throughout the day. So I was early. That happened a lot to me over the event, but better to be early than late and missing anything. I got lucky by the timing though because it started to rain prior to my yellow leg (I got in my tent). By the time my leg arrived, thankfully the rain had stopped!


I got a good time for my first leg. It was definitely challenging and more hills than I expected, but I pushed through. Most of the time I was running by myself, and the scenery was beautiful and serene. It felt great to be running in nature and enjoying the beauty. (Thankfully I never saw any snakes.) When I crossed the finish line, I passed on the "baton" and was greeted by cheering team members who said I did better than expected. Always a good thing!



MY SECOND RUN - RED


This run nearly did me in - but I did not give up! The red leg was the longest trail and included runs over granite slabs as well as some open field running and regular trails. I had been warned there were a couple of steep inclines (they said I'd know it when I hit them) but honestly it seemed like most of the trail was inclines! My legs were also tired from running a few hours earlier which I know contributed to the elevated challenge for me. It was also the first time I had ever run twice in a day (since I also didn't practice that during training).


There was one particularly challenging stretch I was having when I thought to myself, what did you get yourself into? This is crazy! I prayed for strength to see it through...and some downhills. Soon after I saw a vibrant red bird fly right across the trail out of the blue. It was comforting and felt like a message saying, you've got this, hang in there! It did pep me up, and I remembered one of the reasons why I did the race was to face challenges and see them through. Somehow against all odds I pulled out a good time for the red leg by really booking it when the land leveled off in places.



DAY ONE/TWO ACTIVITIES


As I mentioned, my legs on Day 1 were both during the day which meant I had some time to decompress and relax afterwards. I hung out with my team over pizza (thanks to our team captain!) and got to know the team members better, including some new faces that joined us during the day due to schedules. I went to bed around 8:30pm because I was absolutely exhausted from staying up late working the night before and the two runs. It was loud all around when I went into my tent but somehow I did manage to fall asleep although I did a lot of tossing and turning. I set my alarm for some insane time like 3:00am thinking I may be running around 5:00am. I woke up minutes before my alarm (couldn't believe it), got an update on team progress from the team member who was still up, and set out to get some coffee and hang out before my leg.


It turned out to be one of the highlights of the event for me. The common area was lit by moonlight and people were gathered around massive fire pits as movies played during the night. I grabbed a coffee and snack and joined others around the fire. I ended up watching two full movies - Life of the Party with Melissa McCarthy and Maverick Top Gun. It was awesome! If you're wondering how I managed to do a double header with my estimated 5:00am start time, it's because our team was behind in time and some rearrangements were made to accommodate some schedules. I was flexible and did whatever they asked. The next interesting thing that happened was our team captain asked me to fill in for her as our team volunteer since she was concerned she wouldn't return in time for our time slot. At the time, she thought I would just be filling in for a portion of the duty. I checked in and got a yellow safety vest and an assignment to assist with traffic control in the parking areas. I ended up doing the entire shift for a full three hours! I was glad to have something to do, as my final leg once again got pushed back for other reasons. One of our team members who showed up later in the day on Friday did one leg and decided he was done! He up and left in the middle of the night. Our team chose to keep going and work around it since we had come that far.



Volunteering at RAGNAR
Me volunteering at RAGNAR
Volunteer hat for RAGNAR
Bonus surprise for volunteering!

FINAL LEG - GREEN


My third and final leg was the green leg. It was the "easiest" leg so Day 2 for me was much more laid back and fun since my hardest work was already out of the way plus I had gotten decent rest over night. In addition to the movie watching and volunteering, I did some journaling and spent a lot of time hanging with our team. It was nice to have a couple days being unplugged (at least from the computer) to regain perspective, slow down, and be in the moment. Towards the end of the day, our team had some concerns when we thought we may not be able to finish on time after doing our best to work through several unexpected events, but we pulled it out! It was a photo finish with us finishing as one of the final teams before they ended the event. I had a lot of energy for my last leg and really enjoyed my finisher beer at the end!



Go team!


FINAL THOUGHTS


I am glad I signed up and joined the team for this challenge! The training itself was challenging and kept me committed to fitness goals. The event was also a challenge. Even though I only met most of my team members during the event, the time we spent together and experiencing the event as a team bonded us. Values of teamwork, commitment, perseverance, positivity and encouragement were reaffirmed. There is already talk of doing it again next year! I am motivated to try more trail runs over the next year!


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