Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Ragnar Trail McDowell Mountain Recap: How the West Was Run

Howdy, y'all!

I survived my first Ragnar Trail.

I had my eye set on that Phoenix double medal for completing both Ragnar Del Sol and McDowell Mountain in one year when I signed up in June, but between then and now I have been consumed with wedding planning and post-wedding laziness. Thus, I wasn't adequately prepared. But that didn't stop me from having a fabulous time!

Our team, How the West Was Run, was assigned a 1 p.m. start time on Friday, Nov. 7. We arrived at McDowell Mountain Regional Park to find a line of cars waiting to enter. We were instructed to drop our stuff off at bag drop and park our car elsewhere, from where we'd have to take a shuttle back. Luckily our captain knew a member of another team who had saved a spot for us right in the middle of the action.

I was Runner 6, which I had specifically asked for. I wanted to get the Red Loop, the 8.4-mile leg, out of the way first. I'm so thankful I made that choice, because I can't imagine having to finish on that route. Being Runner 6 meant that I had a lot of waiting to do, so I spent the day seeing my teammates off and snacking.

I started my loop at the perfect time. Sunset was incredible: Silhouettes of cacti were to my left and Four Peaks was to my right. It became immediately clear that the course would be tough when I noticed the impending incline within the first 2 miles. There was no better time to stop to snap a photo.

The incline pays off.

The course ran through countless washes and seemed to bounce up and down. I adopted a power hike strategy for those tough climbs. Despite the difficulty, this was by far my favorite leg. I ended up running it in an hour and 45 minutes, which was about what I expected for the little training I had done.

The first order of business when I returned to camp was to head to the Mess Hall for my pasta dinner.

I'm usually not one to put ranch on my salad but anything goes at Ragnar. The pasta could have used a lot more sauce but I still appreciated the free meal.
Around 9 p.m. I took advantage of the empty tent to try to get some sleep. I don't think I ever fully fell asleep — I could hear every conversation going on around me — but it was nice to rest my legs for about an hour.

My next run was around 2 a.m. It was the 4-mile Yellow Loop, which I had figured would be a lot easier than the Red Loop. I was wrong. I immediately got a cramp that lasted until about the second mile. Then my ankle started to hurt while running through a wash. When that pain finally subsided, I hit a tough climb, which seemed to be a common theme on this course.  I should mention that every leg ends on one such climb that I heard multiple people curse. I remember saying, "What the f--k is this?!"

But the moon! The moon was enchanting. I wish my cellphone could take a decent photo of it. Watching it rise over the mountain gave me something to focus on as I finished the leg.

The temperature had dropped when I returned to camp. My teammates and I huddled around a heater until the propane ran out. I immediately regretted not bringing Graham's heater as well. I tried to nap inside my sleeping bag while sitting in one chair and resting my legs on another. I may have gotten about 10 minutes of sleep, not sure.

The sunrise didn't bring any immediate relief. Instead the winds picked up and it seemed to get colder. But the sky looked amazing.

The weather didn't begin to warm up until around 8 or 9 a.m. I originally planned to run my last leg around then, but I didn't end up running until around noon. I wasn't thrilled about running in the heat, but at least the Green Loop is only 3.1 miles. A good portion of that last leg was through a wash full of gravel — I felt as though I were running on a beach. I decided to power walk through it.

Then it was time to celebrate.

The best part of Ragnar is always running across the finish with my teammates and being awarded our medals. I finally got my hands on the Phoenix medal!

Double medals!

Even our mascot Earl needed a drink.


  • Potluck is the way to go. Each teammate brought stuff so we could make veggie burgers, and it worked out well.
  • I wished we had brought more propane or another heater.
  • Get there early to nab a good site. We couldn't imagine having to stay at the separate camping area that some people referred to as "refugee camp." 
  • Bring toilet paper or baby wipes to the portapotties. They frequently ran out of toilet paper and hand sanitizer. My teammates were disappointed that the eco-friendly bathrooms from last year weren't used, but I saw a post by Ragnar Trail on Facebook that said the company that offered them was no longer around.
  • I used my teammate's knuckle light(s) in addition to my headlamp; it was so helpful on those night runs.
  • This would be a wonderful opportunity to use a GoPro, if we had one.
  • A flask wouldn't hurt either, for post-race celebrating.
  • Consolidate belongings in as few bags as possible.