I was invited by Nuun Hydration to participate in the Ragnar Trail Relay located in Tahoe, California. I was told to come ready to be an awesome teammate and Nuun would provide everything needed for this event. Of course, this was an offer I couldn’t refuse. Not only did this work well with my trail running training program, but it gave me the opportunity to represent Nuun while connecting with a new group of athletes.
If you aren’t familiar with a Ragnar relay race, the objective is for each team to run a specific amount of miles within a time frame. Ragnar offers road races, which take teams from point to point, or a trail races where runners are staged in one location and take turns running trails near the campsite. This race in Tahoe was a trail relay where a team of 8 ran a total of just under 130 miles. This meant each runner had 16.20 miles to run, divided into 3 legs. Once a runner was done with their 1st leg, they would end in the transition area and hand off to the next runner. The team would work through each runner on the team, then start over again with all runners headed out for their next leg, and so on. Ragnar color codes the courses for each leg: green 3.1 miles has the easiest difficulty, yellow at 5.8 miles was moderate although more technical and red was the hardest at 7.1 miles with an elevation gain of 1026 feet.
On Thursday I arrived in Sacramento to meet up with my Nuun team and drive out to the race site to set up camp. Someone in the group suggested we stop in Auburn to view the finish line of the Western States 100-mile race. It just so happens that I was obsessed with this race that took place in the Tahoe area earlier this month, and was even listening to a Running on Om podcast with Sally Mcrae on the flight out. Needless to say, at that very moment I knew this would be an awesome group to spend the weekend with.
Once we arrived at the camp site we began setting up tents and our Nuun headquarters for the weekend. Thank God there were plenty of experienced campers in the group, because setting up the tent could have been a disaster for this city gal. We then headed to a local brewpub for dinner. Over dinner and a few beers, the team got to know a bit about each other. We were two teams made of runners from all over the country, West Coast, East Coast and places in between. We were all different shapes, sizes, bring our own running experiences to the race. Some were trail vets, some were rookies but we all had one thing in common…the desire to inspire and be inspired by the running community.
Day one arrived bright and early, and I mean early. The sun came up around 5:30am, and since we were sleeping in tents, that meant a sunny wake up call. Our race time wasn’t scheduled to start until 3:30pm so we had a few hours to kill. We headed out to explore Tahoe courtesy of one of our teammates who used to live in the area. After breakfast at a local hotspot with omelets as big as your head we drove to Lake Tahoe to dip our toes in the crystal clear water. I was in total awe of the beauty. The water was so clear; the trees were so green…it was magical. We were all so taken with the beauty there, that we only made it a few miles down the road to another river before we had to stop again for more photos and more time in the water. Once we left there, we stopped in Squaw at the old Olympic Village which is also the start location for the Western States 100 miler..and of course so many more photo opportunities.
As luck would have it, one of our other teammates who works for Ragnar worked his magic and got us bumped up to an earlier start time, if our team was willing. There was no discussion needed as we were all antsy to get the running party started.
By the time our team took off, the Ragnar runners village was buzzing with excitement. There were various vendors set up including Nathan Hydration, Kleen Kanteen, Rei, Salomon, and of course Nuun Hydration. Ragnar provided runners with tons of amenities, such as hammocks to rest in, overnight movies and bonfire, pasta dinner, breakfast options, filtered water, s’mores, and so much more. There were also fun activities for those not running throughout the day to keep the energy going.
I was runner number six, which meant my first leg began around 7pm. For this leg I had to run the red course which was considered the most difficult. I studied the course map and knew I had to run the hills with a pretty serious incline until about 3.5 miles. The climb those first couple of miles was definitely a challenge. The course was pretty rocky and steep which meant a lot of power hiking. I incorporated the techniques my coach had shared about using small steps and conserving energy. But once I got to the ridge I was completely blown away by the view. At 7,600 ft above sea level, the view was breathtaking with trees, rock formations, and the bluest sky. Pictures really didn’t do it justice. The only thing about going up that high, is then you must come down. The downhill was steep and since I was still getting acclimated the higher elevation I had to pull myself back to conserve energy and prevent myself from running to fast. Going too fast over rocks and sandy patches can set you up for a fall or rolling an ankle, especially when you are a bit woozy from being in a higher altitude. I have to say, I loved this leg. The challenge was the perfect level and the views were stuff dreams are made of. It made me realize why so many ultra-runners strive to run the Western States 100 because there is magic on the trails here.
Another bonus of this trip, some of my friends, Cass and Kristen from Chicago put together a team and were running this race. During my downtime I got to sit with them, hang out and catch up. It was so great to cheer them on throughout the day.
My second leg was an overnight one which I didn’t start until around 2am. While waiting for my leg to start, we cheered the runners in and sent the next runner on their way. There was a movie in race village that I watched for a bit while eating PB&J sandwiches and staying warm at the bonfire. Once it was time to run my next leg I was pumped and ready to go. Running in dark has its challenges, but running in pitch black darkness when the stars and moon are incredibly clear is magical. I used a headlamp to guide my way as I headed out to the mountain. This time I was doing the yellow leg which was pretty technical, but very well marked with reflective signs. It required that I stay extremely focused on my run in certain areas so that I was clear on which direction I needed to go and where my footing landed. A big stretch took us through a forest area in a bit of a canyon and that was a cool relief from running through the hills. This leg was definitely hard and a bit nerve racking in the dark, but it was also a little exhilarating. When you run in the dark you must be focused on what is directly ahead, and that doesn’t leave you time to dread what is to come.
My last leg, the green one, was a 3-mile loop through a forest area with a small incline. I began this leg around 10am after I had taken a short nap. However, by that time it was really hot. Thank god I had Nuun in my hydration bottle, as it was really needed for this leg. My legs were pretty tired, but overall I was feeling good on this run. Staying hydrated was really key for this type of relay and that got me through a toasty run.
As our team’s final runners neared the finish line, we all ran on the course through the finish line with them. Post-race pictures followed and we received a very cool medal. Ragnar provides trail race runners with a medal that is an outdoor tool; definitely one I will be keeping.
I would absolutely run a Ragnar trail relay again. Trail running can be harder, but I think the overall experience is better than a road relay race. There are less logistics to handle and Rangar puts on an amazing event, thinking of everything you need to get you through the night. Best swag of any race I have ever ran.
Here is the secret that no one tells you about running a relay. It’s not about racing, but about building and supporting your team. If you like to run alone, focus on pushing yourself ahead of everyone else in the pack, or don’t know how to use a cowbell, then a relay probably isn’t for you. But, if you want to cheer until you lose your voice, enjoy making PB&J sandwiches for your teammate that just completed a 2am seven mile run, and most importantly are a pro and at the finish line tunnel then sign up now!
I’m grateful to be part of the Nuun team. Yes, this weekend I had the opportunity to run some wicked trail miles, but more importantly I found a new circle of friends to connect with, share stories with, receive guidance and support from. That is what it is to live the nuunlife. Thanks to Nuun who facilitates a community that gives me ideas, motivation, encouragement, without judgement, and shares the of motto of living life to the fullest. Make your water count, make your life count. Give your body the water it needs and fill it with the proper hydration, but get out there, live a life full of experiences and make your life count.