June 20, 2017

Photo Essay: Team Healthier Generation’s first Ragnar Trail Race

This post is authored by Cassie Taylor, Team Healthier Generation Manager

On June 10th around 4pm, our 8th runner crossed the finish line for the third and final time. We ran through the finl straight-away as a team. Together, we just completed a 24-hour trail relay race. 8 runners, 115 miles, thousands of feet in elevation gained, and 1 team unit starting and finishing, together, driven by the mission to empower kids to develop lifelong, healthy habits.

This is the story of Team Healthier Generation’s first Ragnar Trail race in Snowmass, CO. Let’s go!

The adventure began on Wednesday, when the first of our departing flights took off. Teammates came from Texas, New York, Connecticut and Colorado. After everyone arrived, we made the trek on Route 70 from Denver to Snowmass. We arrived a few hours before sunset and the Ragnar camping villages were already filling up. The first of us that arrived saved a spot by spreading out everything we had, until the next teammates joined us with the tent and other camping essentials. We set-up camp, checked-in, connected with each other and explored Ragnar Village. The temperatures were much colder than we expected, but the amazing sunset and full moon rising distracted us from our cold toes!

There was an electric, but anxious, feeling in the air. Six of us had never done a Ragnar Trail race, so we weren’t sure what to expect. Being surrounded by energized, positive and excited athletes helped keep our confidence up for whatever we would face in the next couple of days. Eventually, the whole team had arrived and we camped out Thursday night. A chilly, early morning wake-up on Friday. We eased into the day with coffee, breakfast, chatting, warming up and getting to know our neighbors. Teams started running as early as 10:00am, but we weren’t kicking off until 3:30pm of days. We made sure to introduce Team Healthier Generation by making the rounds through camp, with lots of passion for what our team represents and plenty of laughs along the way.

Soon enough, it was go time! Our first runner was on her way. From 3:30pm Friday until 4pm Saturday, we had a team member running at all times. We had an 8 person rotation, as soon as one runner entered the transition area, the next one was ready to go. My first route was the “easy” loop of 4 miles and the least amount of elevation gain (around 776 ft) for the race — -I started sometime around 7pm. My team was there to send me off and welcome the incoming runner. It was a beautiful loop with a single track, switchback trail that carried us along a golf-course and boasted views of the sun beginning to dip below the surrounding mountain peaks. I let the scenery distract me from the discomfort of adjusting from sea-level to running at 8,300+ ft elevation. As always, I made friends with whoever happened to be around me on the trails. We challenged and encouraged each other through our first stage of the relay, then tried to win by inches in our final sprints into the transition area.

Throughout the night, we cycled through our routes. We each had a job to do by running our assigned routes and making sure we would be ready when our next departure time arrived. Our team was so supportive and we all looked out for one another — doing our best to welcome one another back after conquering each trail. If we weren’t running, we were eating, relaxing or perhaps trying to sneak in an hour or two of sleep. Back at camp, the sun had set and we could see the headlamps dancing up the mountain, along the ridgeline and cruising down the trail back to the transition tent. I eventually took an hour power-nap, and was up around 12:30am to get ready for my next route. I had a snack, some coffee, hydration and a few warm-up exercises. Then, went down to the main village to welcome in my teammates, hang by the bonfire and catch a few minutes of the movie playing on the big screen. It was after 1am, but hundreds of us were getting ready to head into the trails. The electric energy was contagious!

Around 2am, it was my turn again. By headlamp and moonlight, I set out for what would be my most challenging route of the race. The first 4 miles of the route were a steady climb up to 10,000 ft, then navigating through the tricky terrain in the shadows of the nighttime sky before cruising back down, totaling 6.7 miles and over 1,500 ft in elevation gain. It was equally exhausting and exhilarating. I must have paused a dozen times to look out at the mountains, glowing from the reflection of the full moon and the sky full of stars. Below me, the glowing lantern lights of the thousands of runners and campers in Ragnar Village. I appreciated the first-time experience of running up and down a mountain at 2 o’clock in the morning.

This task required complete attention — being entirely in the moment and not letting anything distract from navigating through the trails (especially on the descent!) At times, I doubted myself — the moments when I was entirely out of breath and I still saw several hundred feet left to climb. The wind was strong and the dust clouded my vision as it created a glare in the light from my headlamp. I couldn’t see any runner ahead of or behind me. It was just up to me to keep going. I pushed on reminding myself I had a job to do and my teammate would be waiting for me.

At last, I summited the peak of the trail and it was time to head down the mountain. Adrenaline pumping and in the zone, I remained focused as my weary legs somehow carried me all the way back to the start, where I handed off the bib and wished my teammate luck for her next route.

From 4:30am to 6:30am, I slept soundly in our team tent. Meanwhile, our runners continued to rotate through. Upon waking I again followed my routine — snack, coffee, hydration, warm-up. Our team was all awake and encouraging one another. Now, we were on our last rotation through, each with one last route to complete.

Around 10am, I took to the trails for my last run in the relay. My systems were feeling fatigued, but knowing my teammates were pushing through kept me fired up to do the same. We were all in it together — our team and all of the runners there! The morning sun was already strong and the afternoon heat was rising quickly. This last route would be my shortest at 3.6 miles, but would have an aggressive climb of over 880 ft in the beginning of the course. There were moments on this route that I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to finish it, I had to walk more than usual and my systems were feeling depleted. Along with the runners who were on the trail with me, we shared encouraging words with one another (along with occasional complaints) and helped one another stay motivated to finish strong.

Somehow, I made it through and I slowly trotted into the transition area to wish my teammate stamina for the last route in the heat of the afternoon. Now, I was done with my “job” and it was time to cheer on my teammates through to the end.

Those of us who were finished running did our best to recover and replenish, and enjoy the accomplishment of conquering our parts of the race. One by one, we finished our routes throughout the afternoon. Then it was up to our final teammate to conquer the final trail — the 6.7 mile loop. We all awaited his arrival and joined him in the final run through the finish line.

We were ecstatic. We did it. 8 people, 24 hours, 115 miles, almost no sleep…we achieved what we set out to do. Not only that, but we worked together as a team long before race day arrived.

Our dedication to raising awareness, generating resources and sparking positive change to help kids live healthier lives fueled our deep sense of accomplishment.

I couldn’t have asked for a better team to conquer Ragnar Trail Snowmass with. I’ve crossed the finish line of a lot of different races around the country, but nothing compares to the camaraderie, the journey, the excitement, the nerves and the ultimate sense of achievement that I experienced with Ragnar Trail.

Who wants to join us for the next one? We promise it will be a rewarding, one of a kind experience. Send me an email at cassie.taylor@healthiergeneration.org to learn more!