Ragnar Trail McDowell Mountain Recap – Part 1

Just completed another weekend made possible by drinking my first Optifast shake.

So how exactly did I end up running about 16 miles over the course of 30+ hours in the hot Arizona desert – and camp with 28 strangers, men and women – all of whom were wearing kilts?

The Reader’s Digest condensed version:  Not too long after I started running distances further than 2-3 miles, I stumbled across Katie’s Runs for Cookies blog.  From there, I learned about her From Fat to Finish Line  Ragnar team and was completely inspired.  Shortly after that, Katie and Runner #12, John Hulsey, from that team set out to form a new Ragnar team for Ragnar SoCal (southern California) made up of readers of Katie’s blog and also other runners that had never done a Ragnar before.  I was so very fortunate to be invited to join that team after inquiring about it.  Before I ever even ran that Ragnar, John Hulsey started putting together a team for Ragnar Trail – McDowell Mountain along with his friends that were in a running group called Kilty Pleasures (all members must run in kilts).  Although I had yet to even meet John in person, I felt like our little SoCal team was bonding so well via our private Facebook page and that since this Ragnar Trail was practically in my backyard, I’d go ahead and join his team for that as well.  Meanwhile, John ran several races with this Kilty Pleasures group and they seemed like a fun collection of runners as well – and, many of them live in the Phoenix area.  So, as you may know from my blog, Ragnar SoCal was an amazing experience and I am still bonded with those teammates.  From that SoCal team, Bonnie, John, Hilary, and Hilary’s sister, Jessica came out to Arizona for Ragnar Trail this weekend.  The rest of the team of Kilty Pleasures were all complete strangers.

Bonnie flew in on Wednesday morning.  After picking her up from the airport and getting some groceries, she got a crash course in the crazy life in my house as the kids got home from school and our evening activities and scheduling took over.  Because 2 of my kids ended up being at the high school for football and basketball at almost the same time, we decided to take that opportunity to drop them off and go for a short run together.  I wanted to have a chance to try out my new Brooks Cascadia running shoes that I had picked up at the REI last week off the clearance rack (for a steal of $59, originally $120) so that Ragnar would not be the first time I used them…just in case there were issues and they hurt me.  We ran a pleasant 2.5 miles around the campus and through the neighborhoods of the high school before the practices ended.  Purely by coincidence, Bonnie and I have the exact same road shoes and now same trail shoes too – same color, brand … exactly the same.

Camp Kilty Pleasures

Camp Kilty Pleasures

On Thursday morning after getting the kids off to school, we loaded up my SUV and drove out to the McDowell Mountain Regional Park.  Our team captains, John and Kat had arrived there very early and staked out some prime real estate for our Kilty Pleasures “compound”.  Each team is allowed to take a small parcel of land for their campsite but since we had 4 teams together, they took a pretty nice chunk right up against the desert edge of the campground.  We were also fortunate to be on the side of the road where the

actual Ragnar village was set up so our access to the exchange tents, food, etc. was an easy walk.  We learned that we were not allowed to actually start setting up tents, etc. but that we could drop off our gear on the spot that they had secured.  So after unloading my car, we headed back into the town of Fountain Hills for a few minutes before going back to my house.  We were met at the end of the driveway into the campground by the huge trucks bringing in the potties for the weekend.


Here come the port-a-potties!

I took Bonnie to see the fountain go off in Fountain Hills.  It was an absolutely beautiful

The very large fountain of Fountain Hills

The very large fountain of Fountain Hills

day and we enjoyed the park and sunshine.

After arriving home, I took a few minutes to pack up my gear for the weekend – I had not had a chance to get around to that yet.  The kids got home from school and we left soon thereafter to drop my youngest at gymnastics then head straight to the airport to pick up Hilary and Jessica.  I could tell immediately that Jessica was going to be a fun addition to our group – we have a lot of similarities in age, family, kids activities, etc.  It was such a pleasure to get to know her.  I am so impressed by her story as well – she has lost a significant amount of weight (more than me) and, as I would later realize, she is a fast runner.  We went out for dinner then hit the sack early since we had to leave at 6:30 to get out to Ragnar.

We arrived at Ragnar and it was surprisingly easy to unload our remaining gear since we could pull into the campsite area temporarily before parking our vehicles down the road.  The Kilty Pleasures crew had been mostly set up since the night before since about half of them camped there overnight.  There were a few minutes in the beginning wondering where we were going to sleep, etc. because it looked like all of the tents had been set up and we had no place to go.  Eventually we found a spot and we were able to set up a tent for the 4 of us as our home base.

We then headed down to the Ragnar village for our mandatory safety briefing.  This was the

Comparing our match-y trail shoes at the safety briefing.  Bonnie and I were wearing the Brooks Cascadias.

Comparing our match-y trail shoes at the safety briefing. Bonnie and I were wearing the Brooks Cascadias.

first time they were trying out a new video for us to watch so we filed into a tent where they had a screen set up with seating.  The video was actually pretty funny and we used a lot of the stupid one-liners from it throughout the weekend while we were running.

We all went back to the KP compound and any awkwardness in the beginning of not

Me, in the desert in my kilt and Kilty Pleasures technical tank that we had for our team.

Me, in the desert in my kilt and Kilty Pleasures technical tank that we had for our team.

knowing any of the other 28 team members was soon erased as the captains handed out our Ragnar shirts, our KP shirts, and our meal tickets … but first we had to introduce

Hilary, me, Bonnie, and John Hulsey

Hilary, me, Bonnie, and John Hulsey

ourselves and then tell how we knew John Hulsey – because John knows everybody and seemed to be the common link in all of this.  Everyone was really funny and that really broke the ice.  We headed back to Ragnar village as a group, in our kilts, to see our first runners off at the 10AM start time.

And then, instead of hopping into a van like a regular Ragnar relay, we settled into our chairs back at the KP campsite and hung out in a big group.  For hours.  And this is what I believe the big advantage of Ragnar Trail is, you can actually get to know your entire team.

Around 2:30pm it was finally our turn to run.  The Kilty Pleasures captains and team had decided in order to make this whole thing more fun, the runners from the 4 teams would run together.  Figuring this out took lots of pace calculations and iterations by the captains, but the end result worked out quite well.  Bonnie, Hilary, Jessica and I were thrilled to get to run together.  We had promised each other prior to the weekend that we would not stress if one of us was slow, etc. and we’d get through it.  I knew I was most likely going to be the slow one.  My 10K pace is just slightly slower than those 3 but what worried me the most was that I had not done any trail running before.  I didn’t know what to expect.  The lingering cough from my chest cold was also a concern with all of the dust but, thankfully, that didn’t seem to cause much of a problem.

IMG_0545At several locations within Ragnar village near the exchange tent there are large screens which flash your team’s name when your teammate out on the course crosses a timing mat

Our yellow loop wrist bands

Our yellow loop wrist bands

approximately 2/10 of a mile away.  This gives you enough time to enter the exchange area and put on the appropriate wrist band for the trail you will be running (green,  yellow, or red loop).  The incoming runner will run to the corresponding colored mat for the loop they just ran and then the new runner meets them out there for the hand off.  The incoming runner removes the racing bib which is on a belt and hands it off to the next runner.  The outgoing mat is the color that the next runner will be running (all loops flowed from green to yellow to red for every team).

The Ragnar photographer got some good pictures of us in the exchange tent (the photographer, of course, knew John Hulsey!)

Waiting in the exchange tent.  We look remarkably calm....

Waiting in the exchange tent. We look remarkably calm….

And so we took off on the yellow loop course – stopping about 5 feet outside of the exchange tent on the race course for another group photo!  Good thing we weren’t trying to win!

5 feet into our first loop.

5 feet into our first loop.

And so we continued….Holy moly – was it tough!  We knew the yellow loop was going to be the most technical.  Wow.  Lots of rocks and tricky footing!  I quickly learned that it is best to walk up the hills and run down them.  I think this is pretty common in trail running.
10413430_10202352999580947_7885067768447600236_nThe views were beautiful and we had some stunning sights as we came over the tops of the mountains.  The desert is something I am extremely used to looking at, since I grew up in Arizona, but it was fun to experience the awe from my running guests from out of town.  They were interested to IMG_0575know what each type of cactus was and the landscape was very different from what they are used to – especially Bonnie since she is from Virginia.  We stopped to take a few pictures along the way too.  There is a type of cactus called the “jumping cholla” and we warned the out-of-towners to stay far away from it because the needles can seemingly jump into your skin, painfully.

IMG_0566The yellow loop ended up being about 4.2 miles long and took us 1:07 to complete – a 16:05 pace.  Some of that had to do with our picture taking.  Some of that had to do with me being unprepared for those hills and footwork coming down them.  With my long legs I could run downhill pretty quickly but it required extremely concentration because each step had to be calculated so we didn’t fall or roll an ankle.  Having the most technical loop in the beginning was challenging for me, but I’m glad we had some sunlight to complete that one in because it would have been much harder in the dark.  The heat was also a factor.  We had unseasonably warm temperatures for Ragnar weekend – often into the upper 80’s with zero cloud cover.  We were very very hot out there running in the mid-afternoon.

yellow loop garmin map

We were hot sweaty messes after that first run but we headed back to our campsite to relax a bit.  The Ragnar village had a tent where they had several massage tables set up – which some of our teammates participated in.  I just wanted to sit.  They also had a beer tent which was fun.

So, I’ll finish this up in Part 2 – this post is getting pretty long!

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3 Responses to Ragnar Trail McDowell Mountain Recap – Part 1

  1. Christy says:

    Let me say, that I just love the way this post starts. It’s amazing how the first step of your transformation led to such an incredible weekend experience. Way to go Martha! Sounds like so much fun with really great people. Can’t wait to hear the rest of the story.


  2. Lynn says:

    What fun …… Thanks for posting


  3. Hilary says:

    So glad you had that first shake and decided to make such an amazing change in your life! It was so much fun (and torture 😉 running through the desert with you!

    And yeah Jessica is fast, obviously it’s not genetic and I need to figure out how she does it!


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