By Rich Soares
What do hundreds tents, dinosaurs, running trails, and bonfires have in common? They were part of the Ragnar Relay Run held in iconic Snowmass, Colorado this past weekend. This was my first time doing a Ragnar race and beyond the general concept (long run with a team of rotating runners), I really had no idea of the magnitude and vibe of the event. It had been a while since ventured out and tried a new race format and I eagerly anticipated experiencing the rave of Ragnarian’s (what they call Ragnar finishers).
My first confession, I want to write it down just so I can relive the experience in my mind one more time. I hope my story helps inspire others wanting something new in their endurance journey.
My Ragnar experience started with arriving Thursday night, the race started on Friday. We parked and walked to the camping fields adjacent the race village in the cool evening under a starlit sky at 8,000 feet in Snowmass. We entered one of two large fields full of tents, and I felt like I had arrived at a Jimmy Buffett concert tailgate party. The team tents buzzed with laughter and music. We passed one team tent with decorative lights hanging from their cluster of pop-up canopies, while the team watched a movie projected onto a white screen hanging on one wall of the canopy. Clearly not newbies. Over the next hour, the music, laughter and temperature dropped and we prepared for the big day ahead.
The next day I met race director Amber Hardesty and marketing director Dave Deboer. I wanted to learn the official statistics of the race as well as learn about its history and culture. Amber explained there were 1,100 runners on 128 teams including 8 ultra-teams. Starting Friday morning at 9am and every hour until 5pm, a new wave of runners from a mix of teams started their 20+ hour adventure. Each runner of an 8-person relay team ran approximately 15 total miles by running the 3.8-mile 596-ft elevation “green” course, the 4.6-mile 519-ft “yellow” course, and 6.7-mile 1121-ft gain “red” course. After each runner ran each course that made for a total run of 120miles and 18,000 feels of climbing.
Said Amber, “One fun feature that was introduced this year was a dinosaur scavenger hunt inspired by a dinosaur find in Snowmass” in 2014. Her team placed a handful of dinosaur figurines on each of the three courses for runners to find and win a Ragnar prize.
It was clear that tent camping and Ragnar running are nearly inseparable. It was also clear that Ragnar has Ragnar devotees. Ragnar tattoos are as common as M-dots at IRONMAN races. It’s also clear that people travel to these races.
Team’s setup camp adjacent to the Ragnar village in one of two fields. There is a softball field a short walk down the bike path and another in the soccer field adjacent to Ragnar village. Marketing Director, Dave Deboer explains how Ragnar provides a “glamping” experience for racers who don’t want to lug camping equipment in their travel to the race. “It’s a concierge style service that’s not too fancy, but just fancy enough for Ragnar”. Glamping tents are 4 two person tents and a central area all connected as one single unit. In the center of the Glamping village is a large open tent with coffee, ice and other conveniences for the comfort seekers.
Confession #2. When I first signed up, there was a mention of tents in the email. I just figured that was the option for those who don’t want to stay in hotels. My version of “glamping” was a cheap motel or the floor of a hotel room.
Confession #3 – I slept on the floor of a hotel room on Thursday night before arriving and setting up camp on Friday morning.
On Friday morning we walked over to the Ragnar village to survey the transition tent, the vendors and other village features. We pass a little time walking the village and visiting vendors like Athletic Brewing Co. (one of my personal favorites) and familiarizing ourselves with the layout. When it was time, we escorted our first runner, Aaron Monroe to the transition tent to start our twenty plus hour journey. After he set out on the green course at 2pm we paced around the village eager to hear how hard the hills were.
Thirty minutes later we watched on one of the many monitors that displayed runners crossing a timing mat a quarter mile from the transition tent where finishing runners hand off their team’s race bib to the next runner. Our team, “Aspen Extreme”, popped up on the screen and I hustled to meet Aaron returning from the green course. I’m our team’s number two runner in the sequence of eight team members and am assigned the yellow course as the first of my three loops.
As I headed out on the yellow course, I imagined what it will be like for my teammates who will run this course later that evening in the dark. I wondered what it will look like early the next morning as the sun comes up. It occurred to me that each us will have a different experience over the 20 hours. I’ll do the mid-distance lowest elevation course in the heat of the afternoon, while others will do it in the cool dark evening. As I returned on the yellow course I saw my teammate Josh Snyder waiting for me with his red course bracelet to receive the race bib handoff. Josh then handed off to Jake and so on through eight runners. We will continue this rotation through the afternoon and into the evening.
At around 9pm it was my turn again to run the green course this time. I grabbed the green slap bracelet, my headlamp, and headed with my posse to the transition tent. There are two bonfires and people roasted marshmallows on sticks provide by Ragnar, they know how to make it fun! A movie projected onto a screen for those passing the time in the village throughout the evening. The monitor alerted us to our arriving team member, and I scrambled to the tent. This time I head out onto the green course lit by my headlamp. The experience is much different at night, it’s dark, like really dark. Even with the brightest of lights, your focus is much narrower and more acute on the trail in front of you, I even saw a field mouse run ahead of me for a moment in my head lamp.
Every minute or so, another Ragnar course sign appeared in my headlamp reassuring me that I’m on the course. Occasionally I encountered other runners but was alone a lot too. I finished the green course, handed off the bib and Josh began the yellow course. I headed to wake Jake for his midnight run on the red course.
My last run began at 4:30 am on the red course. The course started up a steady uphill climb on a bike path and then followed a road for 2.5 miles before transitioning to a single-track trail. The sun rose as the trail followed the ridge with breathtaking view of Snowmass and the Ragnar village far below. Along the trail there were beautiful wildflowers and shrubbery to help you appreciate what a privilege it is to live in Colorado.
Confession #4 – I stopped and took about a half dozen pictures along the way. I kept plugging away uphill for another mile before tipping back downhill.
It was 11am Saturday and our team “Aspen Extreme” waited at the finish line for our final runner to arrive. The seven of us including team captain Patrick Brannon have run a collective 114 miles in the twenty-hour journey to this point. As our last runner arrived, we all ran behind him through the finish line to celebrate as a team. We survived the 24 loops, 120 miles and 17,000 feet of climbing. We escorted team members to the start, cheered for each other kept each other company for the past 36 hours. After posing for our team picture, we do some damage in Ragnar store and head back to breakdown camp.
With the story of the weekend told again through the words on this page, I confess (confession #5) that I feel a bit sad that the weekend is over. I also feel content. I feel like I accomplished something pretty hard and made some great friends along the way. I also feel excitement for the chance to do it again next year. If you’ll allow one more confession, (this will make #6) I specifically asked Race Director, Amber Hardesty if they Ragnar would be here next year because I can’t wait to do it again.
Hope to see you at Ragnar Aspen in 2022!