I ran the first Michigan Ragnar Trail relay at the Hanson's Recreation Area near Grayling, MI back in 2019 with a group of friends from our running group and had a great time. We signed up again for 2020 but it was canceled due to COVID and rescheduled for June 25-26, 2021.
The Ragnar trail relay is a little different from the road relay where you have 8 member teams and all teams camp out in the same place where the start and finish for all the runs are from the same location. The relay consisted of 3 different trail runs of 2.8, 5.6, and 7.6 miles with each team member running each trail once for a total of 16 miles each.
I had been running 25-30mi per week on mostly flat streets before the relay. As a note I was recently listening to the "Six Minute Mile" podcast with an interview of Amby Burfoot who said that he averages 25 miles a week and that finds that very manageable and enjoyable. If that is good enough for Amby it is good enough for me. Most of our group arrived at the Hanson Recreation Area late Thursday afternoon and set up camp. One thing that was nice was that since the CDC and Michigan had lifted mask requirements for fully vaccinated individuals and Ragnar also lifted mask requirements if you were fully vaccinated, which all 8 team members were. It was dry when we set up camp but rain with possible thundershowers was predicted for the next couple of days. Our relay started at 10:00 am the next morning and with the starting time based on the estimated 10K road times each of us provided. The first leg was a 2.8 mi loop, followed by the 5.6 and 7.6 mi loops, and then repeated 8 times until all team members had run each loop. The runner finishing their loop would hand off their bib belt to the next runner.
One feature/challenge of the course is there was a partly sandy hill climb and both the beginning (60 ft/0.25 mi, according to my Garmin Altitude graph, but it definitely felt higher than that) and the end (46 ft/0.2 mi) of the course that you had to traverse for each loop since the start and finish were the same for each loop. The weather forecast was for rain showers on both days, but it ended up being mostly dry except for a shower during my first run otherwise it was cloudy with temperatures between 60 and 70 F day and night, with high humidity and some fog during most of the night.
To help you be prepared when your team runner is about to finish their run Ragnar has a timing mat set up about a quarter mile before the end of each loop just before the last sandy hill and at the start/finish area. They have 3 large displays in the Ragnar Village which show the team name and time when each runner passes across the timing mat, which ends up being about 3-4 minutes before finishing. I was the number 3 runner and I started with the 7.6 mile red loop at about 11:30 am. When I ran the loops in 2019, I remember the hills being challenging but that I was able to run up both hills at the start and finish without walking, and generally was abler to run each loop without too much of a problem. I was determined to run the hill at the start and paid for it by being very tired and was breathing heavily at the top of the hill a half a mile into the 7.6 mile loop. I tried to recover on the downhills and flats but stubbornly was determined to run up the hills. Most of the bigger hills were in the beginning couple miles of the loop and after that, it started to rain but the course flattened out quite a bit until the ending hill where I was spent and ended up walking most of it. The last 0.2 miles are thankfully all downhill to the finish. My loop time ended up being 1:18:16, 1:19 longer than my 2019 time. The rain during my loop but ended up being pretty refreshing during the run, although I was soaked by the finish. Thankfully Ragnar had some nifty electric shoe driers set out to dry out our wet shoes. I was pretty miserable at the end of the first loop but changing clothes, sharing some pizza from a food truck with another team member, and getting some rest in my tent helped me feel better. Our team consisted of the same team members as the 2019 team, but I think almost all of us were not in quite as good shape as in 2019, and most of us suffered during some of our runs.
I started my second run, the 11th loop for our team, 5.6 miles at about 7:30 pm. It was still light out, not expecting it to get dark until about 9:30 pm. I was determined to run this run easier, but once again I ran the entire first hill of the loop. Thankfully the hills of the first part of this loop seemed easier, but towards the end, I was walking up the last few hills. My time was 1:01:08, 1:16 slower than 2019.
5.6 mile run finish:
I felt better after this run and our team captain/chef grilled us venison steaks for dinner with baked beans, yum. I tried going to sleep after dinner but ended up just resting in my tent due to a team across from us being loud and boisterous through the night (except for a period where there was some swearing going on between members of another team near us). Anyways my phone alarm went off at 3:30 am and I was up pretty much ready to go since I was sleeping in my running clothes, had some hot tea and an energy bar, and headed to the start/finish area to wait for our runner to finish. There was a fire pit near the start/finish area where people gathered to stay warm and dry from the damp, foggy air.
I started my third run, the 19th loop, 2.8 miles at about 4:00 am with my headlamp on. Although it was foggy previously it had pretty much cleared by the start of my run, but again I run up the first hill and since it is dark I went pretty easy, and thankfully the 2.8 mile course is fairly flat. With it being somewhat cool, 64 F, and extremely humid it was surreal running in the dark with light from the headlamp reflecting off moisture in the air and it almost seemed like it was lightly snowing. Again I am walking up the final hill and finish in 32:09, faster than my 2019 time, but I had gotten confused on that night's run 2 years ago.
We were all pretty tired by Sunday morning with our last runner and captain coming in and meeting him at the finish instead of running with him in the last 100 yards as we did in 2019. Our final cumulative team time ended up being 24:35:31, 21 of 122 teams overall, about an hour slower than 2019. We finished at about 10:30 am got every packed up and met up at Paddle Hard Brewing in Grayling for a pizza lunch.
It was nice being able to get together as a group of runners and cheer each other on and commiserate on how much harder the course seemed this year, listen to our German and Italian team members discuss the differences in their national soccer teams style of play (who were both still alive in the Euro-cup tournament at the time); Germany's aggressive offensive style versus the Italian defensive style, and discuss our upcoming races.