Running the Road Less Traveled… through the Northwoods of WI. Run, Camp, Sleep?, Repeat

Accomplishment will prove to be a journey, not a destination – Dwight ragnarcampD Eisenhower

Pulling an all-niter for me now is definitely not the same as it was when I was in college.  In fact, I have come to the conclusion that I’m too old for that… I need and enjoy my sleep.  I get cranky if I don’t get my sleep.  I am known among many of my friends as the one that is in bed before 9pm almost every night.

The last time I pulled an all nighter was…  oh yeah… June 2016, when I ran Ragnar Chicgo last year for my birthday (EPIC birthday adventure with my 11 new best friends!).

Fast forward 15 months and it was time for another weekend of no sleep.  This time it was Rangar Trail Northwoods!

What is Ragnar you ask?  The traditional road Ragnar is 200-ish miles of pavement, 2 vans, 12 friends, running though the night, stopping at exchange points along the way to swap out runners and pretty much zero sleep.  This years girls weekend (part 2) was the trail version tho! Swap vans for tents, pavement for single track gritty trails and exchange points for Ragnar Village. Add to the mix bonfires, s’mores & a festive, party atmosphere, and Ragnar Trail Relays are a whole new level of awesome.

This year was the first year that they were running Ragnar Trail20160922_191107 Northwoods and since it was practically in our back yard (ok, 90 miles away, but close enough in our books!) we decided that this was a must do race.  Our team came together rather quickly earlier this year and shortly after registration opened, we were signed up!  Six of the 8 on our team met over the last few years when we were all members at the same gym and started runnign together.  We then added another friend who I originally met on the course of another local half marathon, and has been adopted in as one of the gang.  Rounding out the group was a gal that I met when I ran Ragnar Chicago last year.  Since I met her and many of her friends running Ragnar Chicago, it was only fitting that she meet my friends running Ragnar here!

Even though several of us have run Ragnar Road races before, this trail relay was a first for all of us.  We really had no idea what to expect, what to pack etc.  Ragnar does a fabulous job of preparing you, packing tips, training tips and so much more.  But until you really experience one of these events for yourself, you can’t fathom everything that comes with running such an event!

20160922_135804We over packed.  But, we know that we always do!

We knew that we were going to have more than we needed, but we all have the same belief that better to be over prepared and over pack a little that to wish you had something that you really needed.

Best thing we packed?  The ice fishing sled.14433009_10209902664859141_7193946029874609322_n

Yes, an ice fishing sled.  This came in handy when hauling all of our gear from the drop off parking lot to our camp site!

We made a point to leave early enough on Thursday to get there when they opened check-in and camping.  Since they don’t allow you to drive right into the camping areas, we ended up making several trips from the drop area to our site, but the sled made this much easier.  (Note for next year: bring the sled, but also bring something with wheels.  With a few totes and bags, that sled gets heavy and more difficult to pull across gravel and grass).20160922_181322

Since half of our team was not coming in until Friday morning, we made sure that we had all the tents with us, as well as tarps, canopy’s etc so that we could get our campsite all set up.  This also is part of the reason why we ended up filling the entire back of truck with gear – and ended up taking so many trips to get everything in!  But it was worth it, being able to get there and set up before the majority of the teams arrived.

The one drawback to arriving on Thursday is that there is no main food service available until lunch on Friday, so you need to remember to bring enough food with you to get you through Thursday night and then breakfast Friday morning.  Our quick stop at Q-doba before we headed in proved to be a perfect option.  Once we had our camp set up, we were hungry!  Those burrito’s hit the spot.  But then it was time to head into the Village to get checked in!  After a quick (yet entertaining) safety video, we were all set and ready to go! As I mentioned, there is real food service available on Thursday night.  There was a vendor in camp selling wood-fired pizza’s but that was the only option for food.  Being Gluten Free and Dairy Free made this a non-option for me, but I can tell you that the pizza’s looked and smelled amazing!  I really wished that I could have given them a try, but I really didn’t think that was the bets idea right before I have to spend all weekend running!  All that was left to do now was relax and wait for the rest of the team 20160923_065702to come in tomorrow.

When Friday morning arrived, as we waited for the rest of the crew to come in, I grabbed my mug and took a walk down to the Village to get some coffee.  Ragnar strives for a complete Leave No Trace philosophy so they ask everyone to bring their own refillable water bottles and coffee mugs.  No cups would be provided!  I’m ok with that!  When I got down to the village at about 6:50am, I was greeted by a virtually empty village.  There were only a few other runners wandering around.

And NO COFFEE!

20160923_083842I saw a volunteer and asked when they would have the coffee available. She checked her cheat sheets and informed me that coffee was available after 8am.

8am?  Really?

In the life of a runner, 8am is halfway through the day!  We can’t wait until 8am for coffee!

So, I sadly made my way back to camp, with an empty mug.

I sent a quick message to Saloan to see when they would be arriving and she said she’d bring me coffee.  Yes, it was probably going to be close to 8am before they actually got there, but it would save me a trip back down to the village later… and I wasn’t going to have to wait in line!

Before long, the rest of the team arrived, we got everyone settled into camp and headed down to get the second half of the team checked in (everyone has to watch the safely video in order to get their shirts).  Then it was time to get ready to run!20160923_091307

Part of the fun of Ragnar is being part of a team, and letting everyone know who you are!  I might be a bit biased, but we had one of the best dressed teams on the course!  As an ambassador for Skirt Sports (affiliate link) I was able to hook our entire team up with coordinating skirts and capri’s for the weekend!  Just because you are our running in the woods doesn’t mean that you can’t be comfortable and still look cute doing it!  We started off our morning looking fabulous!  Yes, for those of you wondering, I lived in Skirt Sport gear all weekend!

With the Trail Ragnar’s there are 3 loops, of varying difficulty, which each member of the team running each loop once.  The Green loop – 3 Miles and listed as the “Easy” loop, the Yellow loop – 4.6 miles of intermediate terrain and 14409608_10155438510665200_1890763239249850205_othen the Red loop – 7.6 miles of difficult terrain.  (Ultra teams of 4, each team member runs each loop twice).  All teams have staggered start times to make sure there is no congestion on the course.  Each wave was only about a dozen runners, and they had a wave of runners starting every half hour.  We were lucky enough to get an early start time, so Robin started off our team off at 9:30am Friday morning on the Green loop. The rest of us took turns running after that and I was runner 4, so I knew that I had a few hours before I was going to have to run.

I started off on the Green Loop (“easy” loop) and was excited to be out on the trails.  This loop actually reminded me of many of the trails around home that I had been training on, wit14445080_10155438513725200_5059291344524960565_oh the exception of a few extra rocks to maneuver around.  I felt right at home on this single track trails and before I knew it, my trail merged back with the other two and I was approaching the “1/4 mile to go” timing mat!  We realized quickly that this loop was a little further than 3 miles.  Over the course of the weekend, most of us logged about 3.5 miles for this loop.

The above mentioned 1/4 mile to go timing mat is one of the best things that they could have done for a trail relay like this!  At about 1/2 mile from Ragnar Village, all of the trails come back together, as everyone enters back into the Village at the same spot.  At 1/4 mile to go, they have a timing mat.  As soon as a runner passes this point, it sends a signal to the timing system, which then display’s the team name on one of 3 monitors in the village.  These were major gather points for teams, as everyone eagerly waited to see their team name pop up.  Once your team name popped up, you knew that your runner was close and the next runner headed into the transition tent to wait for them.  This helps alleviate a lot of congestion in the transition tent, as you only have a handful of runners waiting there at any given time.

Between running your loops, you spend your time relaxing at camp, meeting other crazy runners from all over the country, trying to get some sleep… oh wait, who am I kidding.  Most people don’t sleep when it comes to Ragnar!  maybe a quick catnap here and there, but sleep is a rare commodity.  With our team, we had roughly 8 hours between each leg that we ran, so there was ample downtime, but we spend much of that going back and forth between the village and camp, cheering on your teammates as they came back in from one loop and then next one headed out, finding food and laughing.

14462716_10209763573020068_6098468371114905809_nOur campsite was unofficially known as the home of all the inflatables.  Several of us brought our inflatable hammocks with us to relax in when we were not running.  We had a total of 4 of them!  One of the guys camping next to us called them out canoes – which was fitting since we had them all sitting on a bright blue tarp that resembled water!  Regardless, these made relaxing amazing – I actually even took a nap in mine for a while Friday night!  Once you know the trick, inflating them in easy and does not take long!  Definitely more comfortable that sleeping on the ground!

The one HUGE difference between a Ragnar Road race and a Trail relay is that, with the trail events, everything is a bit more relaxed.  you don’t feel as rushed.  On average, for our team, we had about 8-9 hours between each leg that we ran.  So that gave plenty of time to a catnap, grabbing food or just relaxing.  During a road race, between each leg, you are driving from one exchange point to the next, so even if you are not running, you really don’t get much sleep, since you 20160923_191729are stuck in the van with 5 other teammates!

My biggest challenge of the weekend came at the darkest hour.  I ended up running the Red Loop, the most difficult loop of the course, in the middle of the night!  I realized this was coming, so I tried to get as much rest as I could, but at Ragnar, sleep does not come easy.  When Robin returned from her Red Loop (which she also ran in the dark) I was able to get an idea of what I was up against. She said that she got lucky and ended up running with a gal that she ran her first loop with, and together they made it through.  It was hilly, muddy and rocky.  It was not going to be easy!  So, as she was crawling into the tent to try and get some rest, I was camped out, under the stars trying to get ready for the run that just might kill me.  Sleep was not going to come.  So, instead of just laying there, I decided that I needed to just get moving.  I found something to snack on, gathered up my night gear (headlamp, shoe lights, blinkies and anything else that I needed) and headed down to the Village.

20160923_220849One of the awesome things about Ragnar village is that there is always something going on.  When I made it to the village at about 10:30pm, there were people everywhere!  They had a campfire going with s’more fixing s available, Indiana Jones movie playing on the big screen and runners everywhere comparing stories, getting ready to run and just enjoying being outside.  I knew that I had about 45 minutes to an hour before Darci was going to be coming, it was nice to just sit back and chat with other runners.

But the best part of heading down to the Village early enough before my run is that I was able to see our awesome team volunteer who was working the transition tent with her daughter from 9-midnight.

You all might remember the half marathon that I did with myTeam Triumph and Captain Ashton last month?  Well, Ashton’s mom Deanna offered to come out as our team volunteer.  Since Ragnar events are all over the country, they rely on volunteers to make sure race weekend runs smoothly.  As part of your team registration, each team in 20160923_232428required to also fill 1 volunteer slot.  This person can be a runner from the team, or someone else.  Since Deanna and her family only live on the other side of town, she came out to join the fun!  I snuck into the transition tent for a few minutes when I first got down to the village to say hi to her and Sydney while they worked!

Before long, I found myself glued to the monitors, waiting to see “Running the Road Less Traveled” to pop up onto the board!  Just before 11:30pm, that moment arrived.  As soon as I saw our team pop up onto the board, I had a brief moment of panic combined with excitement as I headed into the tent.   Here goes nothing!

As I headed out on the red loop, it only took b ea few minutes for my eyes to adjust to the darkness and the illumination from my headlamp.  Since I really have not run a lot in the dark, I already knew that I was going to be taking it slow.  What I was not ready for was the amount of mud on the trails.  The rest of the girls that already ran the trail had made reference to the mud, but I was not really expecting mud like this – especially after how dry the Green loop had been earlier in the day!  There were many spots that looked dry and solid, but with one step, you sunk into the soft yuck.  Thanks Mother Nature for all the rain earlier in the week!  You may have given us perfect weather, but what you sent in earlier is coming back to haunt us!  The other thing that I was not ready for was all the hills.

fb_img_1474801507620Let me rephrase that… all of the uphill!  I felt like I was only running up hill!

Then finally, we started to go back downhill… just in time for the rocks and tree roots to join the party!  It was time to slow the pace.  Up until this point (for the first 2 miles or so) I was maintaining a 13 minute mile pace.  That ended here.  The level of technicality of this course just changed drastically!  About this time, I heard another runner behind me and told him to let me know if he need to get around me.  He said he was just fine hanging out, following me and my lights.  So we spent the next few miles chatting as we carefully “ran” through the course.  Then at one point, another runner, whom he knew came running past us and urged him to join her.  So off he went to try and keep up with her.

There were several times that I wanted to take out my phone to try and fb_img_1474825295459get a picture of the course at night, but I was afraid that if I did, I would end up falling and breaking something… either on myself or my phones!  The few picture that I do have here of the Red Loop are ones that I found posted online on various photo sharing sites from other runners that were there! (so thank you to whomever posted these photo’s!)

Even with the crazy level of technicality with this loop, I loved it!  Aside from the fact that I could’t see more that a few feet in front of me, it was an awesome trail!  I kept telling myself that I needed to find time to come back out here and run this loop again, in the daylight when I could truly enjoy the beauty of this area!  But that was NOT going to happen this weekend.  This loop once a weekend was enough!

screenshot_20160926-145011FINALLY, I could hear the Village off in the distance!  The end was near!  I ended up running the last mile of the loop with a gal from Milwaukee and we decided it was time to kick it in and finish strong!  Running through that arch into the Village at 1:30am was really pretty amazing.  All the runners that were along the finish chute were cheering on everyone as they passed.  Running in the dead of the night is not an easy task and everyone needs to be congratulated!

I did it.  I survived!  I ran almost 8 miles at midnight!  We actually found out after we got home that this particular Red Loop was recorded as having one of the most technical sections of trail in it – in ALL of the Ragnar trail series!  And we all conquered it!  Huge kudos to all of the runners that survived that loop!screenshot_20160926-144940

Not what my loop was done, it was time to try and get some real sleep.  If our calculations were correct, I would be running again at about 11am.  Hamster needs some sleep!  So I headed back to camp, grabbed some post run hydration and curled up in one of the inflatables.  This lasted for a few hours and then I started getting chilly so I actually did crawl into the tent to get a few hours of sleep.

Saturday morning was here before I realized it! It’s amazing what a few solid hours of sleep can do for you too!  I was still tired, but felt 150% better than I did after I finished running!  Next on the agenda was coffee… but I really was not looking forward to hiking in to the Village to wait in line for some.  About that same time, one of the gals with the group camping next to us came over to ask if any of us had any matches or a lighter so she could light their stove to head up water for coffee.

20160924_073000The magic words of the morning!  my response…  If you have coffee, I will FIND my lighter stick!  A few minutes later, I found it at the bottom of my tote of supplies.  She then promised me the first cup!  Granted it was just the packets of instant coffee from Starbucks, but some days, you will take your coffee any way you can get it… especially when you are in the middle of the woods in Northern Wisconsin

We also received some frustrating news from the race officials.  We were on the list.  The list of teams that, based on current pace, were NOT going to finish in time.  Thankfully Tracie was down in the village with Lisa before Lisa had to head out on her last loop so they were able to get the information.  We knew we were going to be close, but not so close that we weren’t going to finish.  I didn’t come all this way, and run all these miles, NOT to finish.  They gave us A option.  Yes, A option.    If we wanted to finish on time, we had to double up our last 6 runners to cover the loops.  We had 6 runners left, which was 2 runners for each loop.  The only stipulation with taking the option was that both runners HAD to start together and finish together.  Meaning they had to cover the distance at the same pace.  Tracie didn’t even wait to discuss it with the team.  She took the option.  She knew that we all had the same feeling.  We were going to finish this!  We changed up our game plan and made it happen.  This meant that Asha and I were running the Yellow Loop together, but would be starting about the same time that I originally figured that I would be running. This was also going to result in her having to make some changes to her game plan for morning fueling etc.  She was starting her last loop about 3-4 hours earlier than she originally planned.  We were not the only team in the situation.  In the end, I think there were about 50 teams on the list that were going to need to double up runners on the last loops in order to finish on time.  Thank you to the Ragnar crew for this opportunity!  I think the technicality of these trails was a lot more than many people anticipated and everyone’s pace reflected it!

By the time Lisa came back from her adventure around the Red Loop, we had the new game plan all figured out and were ready to finish this thing!  Gold lining?  Instead of finishing at 6pm, we were going to be done a lot earlier!  As Darci and Tracie headed out for their last loop, many of us started packing up some gear and making preparations to break camp.   Dont’ get me wrong, we were having a great time, but we were all tired, muddy and hungry.  Being able to hit the road for home earlier was going to be a huge plus!

20160924_100408Running that last loop with Asha was so much fun!  It really brought a different aspect to relay running.  After all the miles we have run together, training for various events, it was really cool to be able to share this loop together.  We knew what we needed to do, and we went out and made it happen!

After all the miles running and walking over the last few days, I will be honest, by feet and legs were not happy.  I recall at least 3 times during this loop, telling my legs to shut up.  The end was near!It ended up taking us about an hour and 15 minutes to complete these 4.9 miles and we were ok with that.   When we handed off the race bib to Jessica and Saloan, it was a huge sense of accomplishment.  We just finished 16 miles of tough trail running over the last 30 hours!

While our last 2 runners were out on the course, it was all hands on deck to pack up and break camp!  By the time that we needed to head to the Village to meet out runners and finish together as a team, we had virtually everything packed up and hauled to the drop area, or already in Darci’s truck!  All that was left was the tents and chairs!

To add to the craziness of the morning, while we were working on finish up all of our running, our beloved volunteer and her husband had been busy too!  One of our vehicles had a flat tire.  Ken and Deanna came down, pulled the tire off the car, brought it into town, found out it could not be repaired and ended up buying a new tire, came back, put the new tire on the car and had us ready to roll.  Huge shout out to our angels from above!  What could have been an disastrous afternoon to get our team back home, ended up being a lot smoother than we ever imagined!  Love you both and once again, a huge thanks from our team!fb_img_1474747978098

When we saw out team name pop up onto the monitors for the last time, it was completely awesome.  We were 1/4 of a mile from finishing one of the toughest races that I think all of us on the team have even done.  I know it ranked right up there for me!  We joined up with the crew that was running just around the corner from the finishers chute and crossed that finish lines with our heads held high!

We did it!  We conquered our first Trail Ragnar!

Running across the finish line together with your team is one of the most rewarding, amazing feelings ever!  Our race may not have been the race we originally intended to run, but we pulled together as a team and did what we needed to, in order for it to happen!  I am so proud of each and every member of our team.  We each overcame obstacles and faced new fears, stumbled and fell along the way, but we all got back up, brushed off the dirt, kicked off the mud and kept going.

Thanks again ladies for an unforgettable weekend!  I know that we will all be running together again soon! Can’t wait to see where those next adventures take us!  Will it be another Ragnar?  Who knows!  But I do know one thing – we are going to have fun, no matter what it is!

Together, we can go far!

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4 Comment

  1. Robin Ducane says: Reply

    Excellent job capturing our teams weekend. 👍It really was a great time with all you ladies! We are tougher then I imagined with all we endured! We have GRIT!!

    1. Amy Penokie says: Reply

      I agree! that was a tough course, we worked hard and we did some amazing things… and had fun doing it! can’t wait until the next adventure! Kentucky will never be the same!

  2. Saloan Goulet says: Reply

    Great blog, Amy! You have always inspired me to write one!

    1. Amy Penokie says: Reply

      You should! I’d love to read about your adventures as you are on your way to running in all 50 states!

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