My first trail Ragnar relay is only a few days away, and once again instead of actually training on trails, I’ve focused on what to pack. For my first Ragnar Relay I put together an extensive packing list, then revised that list after the race, finding many of the things I brought unnecessary and excessive. Since this is a camping and trail race, and thus has all sorts of different gear involved, I expect to do the exact same thing again. I’m nothing if not consistent.
For those not familiar with Ragnar, in a nutshell it’s a relay race series. The “traditional” Ragnar Relay is run with teams of 12 (6 for ultra) split into two vans, covering about 200 miles along open roads. The trail Ragnars are a newer offshoot. They’re run on trails (naturally), with teams of only 8 (4 for ultra), and have a “home base” or what they call a “village,” with all exchanges happening in one single location. That means every team camps in one large area and no one has to worry about driving or getting to the next exchange.
Each Ragnar trail race varies, but they all have three loops ranging in difficulty (coded as green, yellow, and red), and everyone runs the same three loops, just in different order. For Ragnar Trail New England, the loops are 3.5, 4.8, and 6.5 miles long, but cover quite a bit of elevation (e.g. 800 feet in 2 miles!) and sound reasonably technical (especially compared to the Mickelson “Trail” Marathon). Our team of 8 expects to finish the 118 miles in about 24 hours, give or take a couple hours. In comparison, our team of 12 finished 197 miles on the road in about 30.5 hours for Ragnar Adirondacks. I don’t consider either of my Ragnar teams “competitive” in the running sense, mostly because they allowed me to be on them (I’m the slowest runner on the team – gotta be number 1 in something!).
Thanks to a lot of dedicated bloggers, there’s a lot of info out there on various Ragnar Trail races, but since this is the first Ragnar at this particular location, there are no reviews on this specific race. But from skimming many pages of various blogs and the Ragnar website itself, here are some expectations and tips I’ve culled together –
- Campsites can fill up fast, so I’m glad our volunteer shift is early so our team is “forced” to get there to set up. Each team is limited to 300 square feet of camping space (or about 17’x17′ feet), which should be plenty, I hope! One person recommended getting a site that’s easy to see and that’s not too far from the exchange location, but others indicated it’s just a matter of preference in terms of which spot you choose.
- We will be camping on grass, not a parking lot like some of the other Ragnar Trail races (e.g. Tahoe).
- Ragnar promises a bonfire, s’mores, and a pasta dinner on Friday night (although most say it’s not a great dinner). There will be a beer garden (5 pm to 10 pm on Friday and 11 am to 4 pm on Saturday), various yoga sessions, and a movie Friday night (although probably played without sound). It also looks like there will be lunch and breakfast available for sale, which is great news since I don’t think our team is bringing a camp stove.
- Most of the trail reviews indicate that Salomon provides shoes to demo, which is great in case your shoes get wet, but it’s unclear if this location will have shoes available.
- Also unclear if there will be paid shower facilities available – the race bible (“Trail Guide“) says to check the Village page, but the Village page for New England doesn’t say anything about showers (or shoe demos).
- Some say it can be difficult to know when the next runner is coming in, since they’re out alone on a trail and there’s no way to see or track them (except for the chip mat .2 miles from the exchange). I also think trail running is in general more variable than road running, so I expect to wait around at the exchange more than for a road Ragnar.
- At the exchange, you pass the race belt with the number and chip, not the slap bracelet – the bracelets are color coded for the trail you’re about to run, they’re not the baton as in a Ragnar road race.
- A single headlamp can give you tunnel vision, especially in the fog, so handheld points of light can be helpful. The Knuckle Lights don’t appeal to me (too bulky seeming and one-use seeming) so I’m going to wear two ultra-compact Petzl E+LITE headlamps on my knuckles instead (I absolutely love that mini headlamp, by the way).
- Most race recaps make the Ragnar Trail races sound a lot more chill than the road races – no rushing around to find your runner, no need to drive, your team is all in one location, etc. It sounds like it’s a lot of hanging around with some running thrown in, which sounds pretty perfect to me.
- Weather forecast for Northfield, MA, calls for highs in mid-70s to lows in mid-50s, with some showers on Friday. Not too bad, I hope!
I do have a couple worries about this race – the first involves food (as most of my worries do). I’m sure we’ll have plenty of snacks but I’m a big fan of hot meals, too. For the road relay we were able to have a couple normal meals at restaurants during the weekend. While we’re supposed to get a pasta dinner on Friday, most reviews said it was pretty lackluster and that the lines for the other food can be incredibly long. I’m not worried about going hungry, it’s just that I don’t want to do my typical thing and eat chips and candy and Pop Tarts for the entire weekend (or do I…?).
My second worry is about the bathrooms, since we’ll have to use the same porta potties for the entire weekend. I’ve seen porta potties get preeeeeeeety gross even in the 30 minutes of use before a race, so I don’t want to dwell on how gross they’ll be after two days, but I do. I do dwell.
My final worry is just the general anxiety of never having done something like this before. Will we all fit into one van with all our junk? Will our tent work out? Will any of us get any sleep? How will we carry all our stuff to our campsite? Will I get bitten by a tick with Lyme disease? Will they run out of beer before I decide to have one? Will I be able to maintain even a 14-minute pace on those intense trails? Will my teammates like me??? It helps me articulate my fears on the interwebs because I think Google is working on some new AI that will prevent bad things from happening as long as I blog about them. (Will I die alone covered in ticks in a dirty porta potty? Google please get on preventing that!)
Our team will be driving up from NYC to Massachusetts in a big van on Thursday night, staying at the nearby Hampton Inn, then getting to the campsite relatively early on Friday morning to set up and cover our volunteer shift (every non-ultra team has to cover one 3-hour volunteer shift or pay $120). There’s a “Big Y” grocery store right across from the hotel, so we might hit that up for snacks and drinks. I’ll be sure to grab a box of Pop Tarts or two.
The race location is at Northfield Mountain, which is a little over 2 hours west of Boston or 3.5 hours north of New York City. Camping there for the race is only allowed from Friday morning to Saturday at 6 pm, when everything has to be cleared out. I already anticipate an exhausted (and sticky) drive back on Saturday night and wonder if we shouldn’t have tried staying a night in the area, but with so many people it’s hard to coordinate (and I know people wanted to get back home to do things and to save money).
Overall, I’m definitely excited for this race, as I looooved my first Ragnar, although I know this one will be different. Oh, and the packing list? Yeah, you can find a PDF of that here! I’ll be sure to update it with comments after the race. In the meantime, I’d like to highlight one particular item – a small portable external battery charger for your cell phone (that’s otherwise sure to die on the trail). I like this one from Amazon – it’s only $18, it’s pretty dang small, it holds its charge well, and it can re-charge my iPhone over 3 full times. Or you can get a little one like this for ten bucks – always handy to have in your bag. Everything else is pretty self-explanatory, but feel free to contact me with any questions. I used this awesomely helpful website to make our team’s pace sheet.
Have you ever run a Ragnar Trail? Do you like to go camping? Do you think Sasquatch lives only on the West Coast or does he occasionally venture East? Share in the comments!