Fit4Life’s Jan Rice at Ragnar Trail Relay 2015, McDowell Mountain, Arizona

Fit4Life’s Jan Rice at Ragnar Trail Relay 2015, McDowell Mountain, Arizona

With thanks to Jan for sharing a very different experience with us in this super report. Congrats on your achievement, Jan

Many months ago, it became apparent that I could combine my trip to my friends’ wedding celebration in Phoenix with a Bucket List item – the Ragnar Trail Relay on McDowell mountain outside Phoenix. My experience of trail running is somewhat limited as I only began a short time before I left Phoenix in 2013 but the few runs I did then were life changing! There is something magical about running desert mountain trails, especially at night. So I decided to take a deep breath and sign up!

6 months later, after 2 weeks of vacation eating and drinking, I wasn’t so confident. As my running friends know, I got derailed by injury this year so my preparation was sketchy at best. But there was just a magical energy when I got to the Ragnar base camp and set up my tent. Base camp is awesome, think 400 teams camping out with bonfires, running movies, yoga, massage. The next 24 hours waiting to start my first leg were the longest of my life as the nerves built and built. Each team runs 120 miles during the relay, with 8 members per team. Each member runs the green, yellow and red loop once for a combined mileage of 15.4 miles. Our first runner started out at 9am on Friday and I was runner 5 in the rotation so I got the lovely gift of running the most difficult loop at 1:30pm at the height of the desert heat. I set off with hydration pack full in the 25 degree heat with zero shade for 4.7 of the toughest miles of my running life! Some of the hills were tough to hike, never mind run. One downhill section in particular had to be scrambled down on my behind lol. Somehow I got through it in a decent time (1:01) but had a scary moment of near collapse from heat exhaustion after handing off the bib at the transition area.

I was somewhat shaken by this event and had brief thoughts of withdrawing, but some excellent pep talks from my team mates got me back positive! My next loop was fabulous! I started out on the Green loop just before midnight – just me, my headlamp and 4.1 miles of pitch dark desert mountain trail. I love night trail running, it is impossible to see the hills ahead and all focus is on the terrain 10ft in front. Every few minutes I passed another runner or more often was passed by a faster competitor so it didn’t feel too scary. The temperatures drop hugely in the desert at night so I was at about 10c and back in my comfort zone. I came in at 47 minutes which is an excellent trail pace for me. The experts tell me to add on average 2 minutes per mile to road pace so 11:28 per mile was really smoking it! I handed off my bib to the next runner and bounded back to camp on a total high.

Sleep was hard to come by but I did get 4 hours of fitful resting in before it was time to attack the last loop. To say my muscles were screaming at this stage doesn’t even do it justice. Unfortunately we had lost a lot of time overnight so my predicted 7am run pushed to an 8:45am start. I was concerned as the heat was ratcheting back up in the desert sun, but thank God it didn’t get anywhere near the previous afternoon’s torture. The Red loop was my favourite. Even though it is 6.6 miles long and I was tired, it was blissful. The first mile has a climb of 400ft so I hiked up to save energy. That put me on top of the mountain and the early morning views were spectacular! The next 2 miles or so were rolling trails right along the top of the mountain, with a lovely cooling breeze and the most fun of the weekend. After that there were a series of downhill switchbacks to get back down the mountain. I’ve never loved gravity so much! The run back in to base goes along “the wash”, which is a dried up river bed and quite sandy. At this stage I was running 200 steps, walking 100. I saw the 1 mile to go marker and knew I would finish strong! I got there in 1:23. Crossing the final finish line was very emotional, I just couldn’t believe I had done it. 3 hours and 11 minutes total time. I wore my Dunboyne singlet on the last leg for extra superpowers.

There were still 3 teammates to go so I went back to our camp and had some well earned beers, changed into my team shirt and we all went out to run across the finish line with our last runner. It had taken 28 hours total. We then turned in our bib and got 8 highly prized medals. The medal is cool! It’s a multi tool designed to survive in the desert :). Celebration photos, more beers then camp was dismantled and we were on our way home, exhausted, very stinky but proud. I made friends for life, who before this event were just “friends of friends”. 24 incredible strong ladies across 3 teams camped together – team Dirt Devils being my team.

The tagline for Ragnar trail relay is “find your inner wild”. There were times I wasn’t even sure I had an inner wild to find, but as the experience progressed I felt stronger and stronger. I hope the photos attached paint some of the picture, it is impossible to explain the feeling of being a Ragnarian! Now I just can’t wait to do it all over again.

🙂finish line at night green loop medal one mile to go team photo trail

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