Photo: Jeffrey Oropeza

The Tahoe Ragnar Relay: A Runner’s Review of an Epic Trail Run

I love trail running. It’s beautiful, and it’s easily my favorite way to exercise. I think it’s the most natural and human form of exercise. There’s something primitive and inherently satisfying about being out in the open with fresh air,  the soft ground beneath my feet, and the critters scampering about.

When I’ve spent too much time dealing with nagging deadlines and meetings, my thoughts wander back to the trail. I love the runner’s high, and trail running is my reset when the anxiety and stress levels get too high.

It’s so accessible as well that almost anyone can easily enjoy the sport. All you have to do is find a trail and start running. And I’m certainly not alone; trail running is exploding in popularity across the world.

As a trail running enthusiast, when I got the chance to run in the Tahoe Ragnar Relay, I jumped at the chance. I’m glad I did, because it was incredible.

So What’s the Ragnar Relay?

Essentially, the Ragnar Relay is a team ultramarathon. The course is separated into three different “loops.” Each team consists of eight runners, and each person runs the three loops once.

The loops are labeled Green, Yellow, and Red, with each loop’s color corresponding to its difficulty. At the Tahoe Ragnar Relay, the Green Loop is 3.5 miles long, the Yellow Loop is 5.5 miles, and the Red Loop is 7.5 miles.

Each Ragnar Relay location offers local flavors unique to the region–the Tahoe Ragnar Relay is pure mountain running, which is very different compared to the Zion or North Carolina versions of Ragnar.

Teams have 24 hours for their eight runners to each complete the three loops for a grand total of 128 miles, which is just over 16 miles per runner, or about a half marathon.

Once the starting gun goes off, teams should always have a runner out on the course doing their assigned loop. After a runner finishes a loop, they have several hours of downtime to eat, sleep, and relax until it’s their turn again. This goes on for 24 hours.

Prepping Area for Tahoe Ragnar Relay

Trail Runners Prepping at the Tahoe Ragnar Relay

Camp Site Tahoe Ragnar Relay

Camping Out at the Tahoe Ragnar Relay

I highly recommend the Ragnar experience to anyone, whether they’re a lifelong runner or just getting started. Ragnar is totally doable for first time runners who give themselves 3-4 months to train. The Tahoe race is unforgettable, with gorgeous views, pristine alpine wildflowers, and sweet, fragrant mountain air.

I’ve talked to quite a few runners about the 2017 Tahoe Ragnar Relay event, and I’ve compiled a review of what the event did great and where there’s room for improvement. However, a review of my experience is a poor substitute for the real deal, and I hope to inspire people to try trail running for themselves.

Wayfinding and Signage at the Tahoe Ragnar Relay

Wayfinding is basically the use of signs and directions to orient individuals in a particular environment. Ragnar did a stellar job of creating the Tahoe Relay course– it’s easy to navigate, even in the dark.

Funny Doll Sign at Tahoe Ragnar Relay

Funny Team Sign at Entrance of Tahoe Ragnar Relay

Pretty much every creek bed, game trail, intersection, and mole hill that I saw–anything that could be misconstrued as the correct trail–was clearly marked with a “Wrong Way” sign. I appreciate the effort that the course designers put into this event because I’ve taken a wrong turn before in a wilderness race, and it sucks.

Not all of the signs on the course were for navigation, though. Some were funny and clever. For example, there was one sign that said “What Hill?” right before a steep grade. Another one said “Look Both Ways” while on top of a ridge with a beautiful 360-degree view.

To a reader, this may not seem like much, but to a runner, these signs provide some much needed relief when they are hot, exhausted, and their legs on fire with lactic acid. It’s an appreciated interruption to the mental and physical torture that runners endure when they are pushed to the limit. I’d like to see the number of these signs doubled for future events.

The signs also had small LED lights to help runners find their way during the night. Unfortunately, though, I noticed that many signs were missing lights–or had dead batteries–or were very dim and barely visible until around 5-10 feet away.

For future events, the Ragnar Tahoe Relay team should work on providing signs with brighter lights and better visibility. This would be an easy improvement to implement and help increase runner safety by making it easier to navigate at night.

Running at night is challenging, especially in the mountains. I heard from several volunteers that the paramedics were called at least twice on one loop during the night due to people falling on rocks or face planting onto paved roads. Which leads me to my next suggestion for improvement…

Trail Running Please, Not Road Running

By far the #1 complaint of Tahoe Ragnar Relay runners: the last mile or so of the Red Loop is on a road. To the non-runner this may not sound like a big deal but after six miles of running on hot dusty trails with over a thousand feet of elevation gain, I found it brutal to pop out onto a broiling asphalt road.

It also really grinds away at your aching joints. To be fair, it may not be possible to avoid roads in order to route runners to the finish line, but I hope Ragnar makes every effort in the future to minimize or eliminate road running at the Tahoe trail running event.

Rugged Feet After Running Tahoe Ragnar Relay

My Feet After Finishing My Third and Final Loop

Party in the Village for Trail Runners

The Village is the central hub of activity since this location is where both the start and finish line are. It’s also where you can find all the amenities–bonfire, horseshoes, water station, s’mores, coffee bar, stretching stations, vendor booths, and more.

Village Area Tahoe Ragnar Relay

Central Village Area at Tahoe Ragnar Relay

It’s where you can mingle with other runners and loudly cheer for the runners coming back from their loop. You can see the team scoreboard, and marvel at how many laps the elite teams have completed. I thought this space was well thought out and conducive to a fun and positive atmosphere.

Trail Running Teams: There Should Be an App For That

The current notification system for the “runners on deck” is to watch a real-time screen that’s linked to a checkpoint set up a quarter of a mile from the finish line. When a runner crosses the checkpoint, their bib has a chip that causes their team name to appear on the screen–this gives the waiting teammate a two-minute heads up before it’s their turn.

Tahoe Ragnar Relay Village On Deck Board

Watching the Race Monitor at the Tahoe Ragnar Relay

The problem is that while you should have a reasonable idea of when your teammate will be back, the reality is that accidents happen. Runners can fall or get injured, run out of batteries for their lights, or get derailed in some way or another. And while waiting may not seem like a big deal, it matters at 3 A.M. when it’s 40 degrees out because the chances of cramping and injury goes up when muscles are cold.

The longest I waited was about 20 minutes, but many runners faced a lot of inconsistency with the “heads up” and waiting period. Luckily for me, it was in the middle of the day. If it were in the middle of the night, though, I’d rather sleep a little bit longer or relax wrapped up in my sleeping bag.

“Make an app” is what I heard from multiple Ragnarians. Instead of having to go and watch a screen in the Village, give runners the option of also using their phones to see who’s crossing the checkpoint. This would severely reduce congestion in the Village, and would likely improve performances as runners have more time to prepare.

Buy Buy Buy… And Buy Some More

As soon as I registered, it seemed like I was blasted with marketing emails. I was inundated with special offers, personalized training plans, running apparel specials, virtual goodie bags, official Ragnar gear, and exclusive pre-event runs.

At the event, the biggest booth was the Ragnar store that was full of branded tees, hats, mugs, stickers, jackets, and a bunch of other swag. I feel it was a tad excessive especially compared to other trail running races I’ve participated in. In those races, I usually get a free shirt for signing up, I can pay extra for a premium performance shirt, and sometimes I have the option of buying a branded hat or a sweatshirt.

Merchandise Shop at Tahoe Ragnar Relay

Merchandise Tent at Tahoe Ragnar Relay

Ragnar was this times a thousand. I fully understand it’s a way to generate revenue, and yes, people absolutely do eat it up and buy the merchandise. But as a lifelong runner that’s attracted to trail running precisely because it lets me forget about consumerism for a moment, I wonder if there are other ways to engage runners in a thoughtful way that builds loyalty. A Village presentation from a professional runner would capture my attention far more than any of the marketing I received.

Just Do It: Get Out on the Trail

Hopefully this review comes off as positive because I really enjoyed the event, and again, I highly recommend it to anyone looking for an amazing trail running experience. Running on the trail is always a good time, and doing a Ragnar is a great way to get in shape, bond with fellow runners, and create lifelong memories. To cap it all off, you get an amazing night’s sleep once it’s over. Now, isn’t it time to go for a run?

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ENGAGE IN THE CONVERSATION

The Tahoe Ragnar Relay: A Runner’s Review of an Epic Trail Run

I love trail running. It’s beautiful, and it’s easily my favorite way to exercise. I think it’s the most natural and human form of exercise. There’s something primitive and inherently satisfying about being out in the open with fresh air,  the soft ground beneath my feet, and the critters scampering about.

When I’ve spent too much time dealing with nagging deadlines and meetings, my thoughts wander back to the trail. I love the runner’s high, and trail running is my reset when the anxiety and stress levels get too high.

It’s so accessible as well that almost anyone can easily enjoy the sport. All you have to do is find a trail and start running. And I’m certainly not alone; trail running is exploding in popularity across the world.

As a trail running enthusiast, when I got the chance to run in the Tahoe Ragnar Relay, I jumped at the chance. I’m glad I did, because it was incredible.

So What’s the Ragnar Relay?

Essentially, the Ragnar Relay is a team ultramarathon. The course is separated into three different “loops.” Each team consists of eight runners, and each person runs the three loops once.

The loops are labeled Green, Yellow, and Red, with each loop’s color corresponding to its difficulty. At the Tahoe Ragnar Relay, the Green Loop is 3.5 miles long, the Yellow Loop is 5.5 miles, and the Red Loop is 7.5 miles.

Each Ragnar Relay location offers local flavors unique to the region–the Tahoe Ragnar Relay is pure mountain running, which is very different compared to the Zion or North Carolina versions of Ragnar.

Teams have 24 hours for their eight runners to each complete the three loops for a grand total of 128 miles, which is just over 16 miles per runner, or about a half marathon.

Once the starting gun goes off, teams should always have a runner out on the course doing their assigned loop. After a runner finishes a loop, they have several hours of downtime to eat, sleep, and relax until it’s their turn again. This goes on for 24 hours.

Prepping Area for Tahoe Ragnar Relay

Trail Runners Prepping at the Tahoe Ragnar Relay

Camp Site Tahoe Ragnar Relay

Camping Out at the Tahoe Ragnar Relay

I highly recommend the Ragnar experience to anyone, whether they’re a lifelong runner or just getting started. Ragnar is totally doable for first time runners who give themselves 3-4 months to train. The Tahoe race is unforgettable, with gorgeous views, pristine alpine wildflowers, and sweet, fragrant mountain air.

I’ve talked to quite a few runners about the 2017 Tahoe Ragnar Relay event, and I’ve compiled a review of what the event did great and where there’s room for improvement. However, a review of my experience is a poor substitute for the real deal, and I hope to inspire people to try trail running for themselves.

Wayfinding and Signage at the Tahoe Ragnar Relay

Wayfinding is basically the use of signs and directions to orient individuals in a particular environment. Ragnar did a stellar job of creating the Tahoe Relay course– it’s easy to navigate, even in the dark.

Funny Doll Sign at Tahoe Ragnar Relay

Funny Team Sign at Entrance of Tahoe Ragnar Relay

Pretty much every creek bed, game trail, intersection, and mole hill that I saw–anything that could be misconstrued as the correct trail–was clearly marked with a “Wrong Way” sign. I appreciate the effort that the course designers put into this event because I’ve taken a wrong turn before in a wilderness race, and it sucks.

Not all of the signs on the course were for navigation, though. Some were funny and clever. For example, there was one sign that said “What Hill?” right before a steep grade. Another one said “Look Both Ways” while on top of a ridge with a beautiful 360-degree view.

To a reader, this may not seem like much, but to a runner, these signs provide some much needed relief when they are hot, exhausted, and their legs on fire with lactic acid. It’s an appreciated interruption to the mental and physical torture that runners endure when they are pushed to the limit. I’d like to see the number of these signs doubled for future events.

The signs also had small LED lights to help runners find their way during the night. Unfortunately, though, I noticed that many signs were missing lights–or had dead batteries–or were very dim and barely visible until around 5-10 feet away.

For future events, the Ragnar Tahoe Relay team should work on providing signs with brighter lights and better visibility. This would be an easy improvement to implement and help increase runner safety by making it easier to navigate at night.

Running at night is challenging, especially in the mountains. I heard from several volunteers that the paramedics were called at least twice on one loop during the night due to people falling on rocks or face planting onto paved roads. Which leads me to my next suggestion for improvement…

Trail Running Please, Not Road Running

By far the #1 complaint of Tahoe Ragnar Relay runners: the last mile or so of the Red Loop is on a road. To the non-runner this may not sound like a big deal but after six miles of running on hot dusty trails with over a thousand feet of elevation gain, I found it brutal to pop out onto a broiling asphalt road.

It also really grinds away at your aching joints. To be fair, it may not be possible to avoid roads in order to route runners to the finish line, but I hope Ragnar makes every effort in the future to minimize or eliminate road running at the Tahoe trail running event.

Rugged Feet After Running Tahoe Ragnar Relay

My Feet After Finishing My Third and Final Loop

Party in the Village for Trail Runners

The Village is the central hub of activity since this location is where both the start and finish line are. It’s also where you can find all the amenities–bonfire, horseshoes, water station, s’mores, coffee bar, stretching stations, vendor booths, and more.

Village Area Tahoe Ragnar Relay

Central Village Area at Tahoe Ragnar Relay

It’s where you can mingle with other runners and loudly cheer for the runners coming back from their loop. You can see the team scoreboard, and marvel at how many laps the elite teams have completed. I thought this space was well thought out and conducive to a fun and positive atmosphere.

Trail Running Teams: There Should Be an App For That

The current notification system for the “runners on deck” is to watch a real-time screen that’s linked to a checkpoint set up a quarter of a mile from the finish line. When a runner crosses the checkpoint, their bib has a chip that causes their team name to appear on the screen–this gives the waiting teammate a two-minute heads up before it’s their turn.

Tahoe Ragnar Relay Village On Deck Board

Watching the Race Monitor at the Tahoe Ragnar Relay

The problem is that while you should have a reasonable idea of when your teammate will be back, the reality is that accidents happen. Runners can fall or get injured, run out of batteries for their lights, or get derailed in some way or another. And while waiting may not seem like a big deal, it matters at 3 A.M. when it’s 40 degrees out because the chances of cramping and injury goes up when muscles are cold.

The longest I waited was about 20 minutes, but many runners faced a lot of inconsistency with the “heads up” and waiting period. Luckily for me, it was in the middle of the day. If it were in the middle of the night, though, I’d rather sleep a little bit longer or relax wrapped up in my sleeping bag.

“Make an app” is what I heard from multiple Ragnarians. Instead of having to go and watch a screen in the Village, give runners the option of also using their phones to see who’s crossing the checkpoint. This would severely reduce congestion in the Village, and would likely improve performances as runners have more time to prepare.

Buy Buy Buy… And Buy Some More

As soon as I registered, it seemed like I was blasted with marketing emails. I was inundated with special offers, personalized training plans, running apparel specials, virtual goodie bags, official Ragnar gear, and exclusive pre-event runs.

At the event, the biggest booth was the Ragnar store that was full of branded tees, hats, mugs, stickers, jackets, and a bunch of other swag. I feel it was a tad excessive especially compared to other trail running races I’ve participated in. In those races, I usually get a free shirt for signing up, I can pay extra for a premium performance shirt, and sometimes I have the option of buying a branded hat or a sweatshirt.

Merchandise Shop at Tahoe Ragnar Relay

Merchandise Tent at Tahoe Ragnar Relay

Ragnar was this times a thousand. I fully understand it’s a way to generate revenue, and yes, people absolutely do eat it up and buy the merchandise. But as a lifelong runner that’s attracted to trail running precisely because it lets me forget about consumerism for a moment, I wonder if there are other ways to engage runners in a thoughtful way that builds loyalty. A Village presentation from a professional runner would capture my attention far more than any of the marketing I received.

Just Do It: Get Out on the Trail

Hopefully this review comes off as positive because I really enjoyed the event, and again, I highly recommend it to anyone looking for an amazing trail running experience. Running on the trail is always a good time, and doing a Ragnar is a great way to get in shape, bond with fellow runners, and create lifelong memories. To cap it all off, you get an amazing night’s sleep once it’s over. Now, isn’t it time to go for a run?

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