Hey guys! Buckle your seat belts and get ready for a wild ride!
I wanted to get this post done as soon as possible while the memories were still super fresh, but thankfully there are TONS of pictures that help with that. After reflecting back on the entire experience, I don’t think that words will be able to do this race and trip justice. We had a wonderful time in Colorado and the race itself was just icing on the cake!
We began planning this trip almost a year ago. Initially, we tried to get in to the Hood to Coast Relay in Oregon. My understanding is that Hood to Coast is essentially the Boston Marathon of relay races. There is a lottery to get in and unfortunately, we have been unsuccessful in securing a spot the last couple of years. Looking back now, I don’t think that Hood to Coast could possibly have topped our Ragnar Colorado experience and now I am actually thankful that we didn’t get in.
The planning phase of an overnight relay is quite tedious. We had to get flights, rent vans, find places to stay at the start, along the way and at the finish, and find twelve people who were crazy enough to want to join in on the adventure. In the past, finding twelve people has been challenging, but this time we actually had more than twelve people who wanted to go. Next time we might even be able to take two teams!
Our team was pretty incredible. The thing that I love the most about our team is that it was made up of some of our closest friends. I really consider most of these guys to be more like family than friends at this point. This was my fourth overnight relay type of event. In 2011 we did Ragnar Del Sol in Arizona and came in 2nd place, in 2014 we did Ragnar Northwest Passage in Washington and came in 4th place and in 2016 we did Ragnar Tennessee and came in 1st place.
The bar was set pretty high this year! Here’s how it went down!
We departed from Pensacola around 7:30 a.m. and arrived in Denver around 2:30 p.m., after catching our connecting flight in Atlanta. We immediately noticed the dryness of the air! It was quite amazing. After waiting for what seemed like an eternity at the Avis rental center, we loaded up in our van (that would be home for the next couple of days) and headed to the hotel in Denver.
Once we got checked in at the hotel, we decided to make a quick trip over to Colorado Springs to check out the “Garden of the Gods,” a public park that is a registered National Natural Landmark. It was absolutely beautiful! We hiked around for a little bit and saw some deer and also some rock climbers in their natural habitats.
We made our way back to Denver, went out to dinner (the only night we would eat out during the entire trip!) and called it a night fairly early. Thursday night would be the last “real” sleep that we got for about 48 hours, so I definitely wanted to make it count.
Elena and I did a short three mile shakeout run from the hotel first thing Friday morning (my birthday!). At this point, I was still planning to try to do the “birthday miles” thing. It turned out to be a bit more challenging than I anticipated, but we’ll get to that shortly. We left Denver early Friday morning, made a quick stop to get groceries and supplies for the vans and headed to Copper Mountain Ski Resort, where the race started.
The race covered 195 miles of mountain passes from Breckenridge to Aspen. We ran through the star-filled night, past six world-famous Colorado ski towns, through the White River National Forest and next to the Colorado River on bike paths, back roads and even a little bit of single-track trail.
It was so beautiful out there. It’s not just the elevation that will take your breath away.
Teams started as early as 5 a.m. on Friday and we were in the last group to start at 11:30 a.m. Each team member submits their most recent 10K time and each team is assigned a different start time based on their estimated finish time, with the goal being that everyone would arrive at the finish line at close to the same time. There were over 120 teams competing this year.
We planned to arrive at the start about an hour early, but we actually cut it a bit closer than we needed to. We didn’t even get a proper team picture before Bowie, our first runner, headed out.
Once Van 1 started running, Van 2 headed to get some lunch and tried to pass the time while semi-patiently waiting on our turn to start running. Honestly, I think these few hours were the longest hours of the entire race. We were ready to get the show on the road!
The course was designed so that Exchange 1 (the start) and Exchange 6 (where Van 2 takes over) were both at Copper Mountain Ski Resort, which made it nice for us. We hung out at Copper Mountain while we waited. Van 1 had 46.4 miles to cover before they made their way back to Copper Mountain. We put on our temporary Ragnar tattoos, had some mini dance parties in the parking lot and took pictures of pretty things while we awaited Van 1’s return.
Steve and I decided to do a one mile run just to stay loose. That mile might’ve been the most humbling mile of the entire trip. We were up close to 10,000 feet and the air was … sparse. We tried not to think about how hard it was to breathe at 10:00 per mile pace and hoped that our bodies would adapt … stat!
Van 2 officially started running at 5:00 p.m. Friday afternoon. Daniel kicked us off with a 5 mile leg that climbed straight up! The hills of Alabama didn’t exactly prepare us for what we experienced out in Colorado, especially on this leg. Daniel’s first leg took him to the highest point of the entire course. He started at 9,700 feet and finished at 10,700 feet. Y’all. That’s A LOT of climbing in 5 miles. The air was VERY thin up there and it seemed impossible to breathe. On your next run, don’t take the ability to breathe for granted! It may be humid as all get out, but at least the air is readily available. Perspective.
Despite the terrain, DG had a great run. Things had just gotten REAL. He passed the “baton,” which was actually an orange slap bracelet off to Daniel Holley, who essentially got to run down the other side of the mountain that DG had just crested. Daniel’s leg was 9.5 miles with an elevation loss of over 2,000 feet! He absolutely CRUSHED it.
Daniel Holley handed off to me. My first leg was just over seven miles and was one of the flattest legs along the course. I gained about 250 feet, but also lost about 500 feet. While this doesn’t sound bad, it was actually tougher than I was expecting. My first leg was actually very interesting and very diverse in terrain. I started out downhill on a two lane road and turned onto the paved bike path that ran alongside the interstate. This paved trail is where the majority of our race would be run. I almost made two wrong turns on the trail, which wasn’t as well marked as I would’ve hoped, but luckily there was another runner in the general vicinity both times and together we figured out where to go.
After several miles on the trail, I ran right through the middle of a street party in downtown Vail. There were hundreds of people milling around and I came flying through there like a madwoman. I’m sure it was quite a sight to see. Shortly after that, I made a sharp turn off of the main road and ran straight down what I am assuming was a ski slope. It was rocky and very steep, but also thankfully very short! Shortly after that, I ran past a wedding reception. The band was playing Delta Dawn as I passed. I loved that! Just after I ran by the wedding party, I finally made it to my exchange. Approaching the exchange and seeing your next runner waiting for you is one of the best feelings in the world during a race like this.
I handed the bracelet off to Steve, who also had just over seven miles to run. Steve had some very tough legs during the race (tough legs could refer to both his actual legs and the segments of the race that he had to run :)). The first one was probably his easiest, but really none of the legs were easy out there.
Our van was down one runner (Jessica we missed you SO MUCH), so when Steve handed off to Erin, she ran two legs back to back. Thankfully these two legs were both shorter than most of the other ones, but it was still a mental shift to go from planning to run three miles to running six miles. She also had the first true night run of the race. Steve and I had to run during “nighttime” hours (meaning that we had have a reflective vest, headlamp or flashlight and a blinking light on us), but for Erin’s leg, it was dark, dark.
We met Van 1 at sometime around midnight in Edwards, Colorado. 1 leg down, 2 to go! While Van 1 headed out to run their seconds legs, Van 2 had about 3 hours to rest and regroup before it was our turn to run again. We drove to the next major exchange at the Gypsum Recreational Center, where we would be taking back over. We were all very tired at this point, but there wasn’t really enough time to sleep, as we would be running again in less than 3 hours. We passed the time by having a disco party in our van. We had light up emoji beach balls (that we named Betty, Yeet and Jacool), rings and glow sticks! It even sounds a bit crazy to me now, but at the time, it was a blast!
For the most part, it seemed like the night legs were shorter than the other legs. Van 1’s total nighttime mileage was just over 26 and Van 2’s was just over 28 (as opposed to 46 and 35, respectively, during the first leg).
At approximately 1:10 a.m. Saturday morning, Elena came into the exchange and handed off to DG. Van 2’s second legs were officially underway. I don’t have much of a play by play for the night legs. What I do remember vividly is that it was VERY dark and VERY lonely out there. We didn’t know this at the time, but we had passed all but 5 or so teams at this point already and runners were scarce. In past relays (except for maybe Tennessee), we were continually catching and passing people the entire way, but that was NOT the case here.
I was scared out of my mind at the thought of running by myself in the dark! I felt that way a little bit in Tennessee, but this was definitely a different, more intense fear. In other relays, the vans have been able to “leapfrog” the runners and never even really get out of sight, but that wasn’t ever even an option in Colorado (at least not on Van 2’s legs (I think Van 1 was able to do this some)). We were running on a paved trail surrounded by woods beside the interstate, but the vans couldn’t drive on the trail and also couldn’t see the runners from the interstate. Long story short, I was terrified, but my teammates really stepped it up and we were able to buddy up for the night legs!
Just two Christmas trees getting ready to run through the forest …
I ran two short legs during the night. Steve and Daniel Holley both ran parts of the first one with me and then my Daniel ran the second one with me. This might not have been the fastest way to get it done, but at that point, safety was more important (at least in my opinion (and I think everyone else agreed)). To say that I was ecstatic to have the nighttime runs behind me is an understatement. I told Daniel that I might not be able to do another relay, as I seemed to have become a liability instead of an asset for the team.
By the time we all finished our second legs, there were only two teams ahead of us!
Van 1 headed back out to run their last leg (we were so jealous) and we headed to our hotel in Glenwood Springs. Having a midway hotel is not really a necessity, but I highly recommend it if you ever do one of these overnight relays. Van 1 was able to go to the hotel while we were out running our second legs and then we were able to go to the hotel while they were out running their last legs. We had just enough time for everyone to shower and SLEEP for about ONE HOUR (mind you, this is the only sleep we got the entire time). Our spirits were rejuvenated as we headed back out to run our last legs.
We were also pretty pumped because Van 1 had taken care of those last two teams that were ahead of us (never mind the fact that they had started HOURS before us) and we knew without a doubt that we were in first place. Van 1 is looking very relaxed and thankful to be DONE. I must admit, I was a bit jealous of Van 1 at this point.
Daniel was on deck first! He saved his party pants for his last leg! Haha.
DG’s last leg was only 2.3 miles, so basically he was done and to the exchange by the time we got there in the van. We were the first team to arrive at the exchange, which would be the case for the remainder of the race. The volunteers weren’t even really ready for us at some of the exchanges! Daniel Holley was up next and he also saved his party pants for the last leg!
Daniel Holley also had a shorter leg with 2.6 miles and before I knew it, it was my turn to run again. I had 3.3 miles to do before handing off to Steve, who would then run what was deemed the “Ragnar Leg,” meaning that it was the most difficult leg of the entire race. There were a few others that were definitely in contention as well, but this is the one that the race officials decided was the toughest. He even got a special medal for completing his leg.
Steve picked a special walkout song for his leg and as I came into the exchange I could hear “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” playing over the speakers. We talked about each choosing a song to play at the beginning of all of our legs, but I think we either got distracted or decided that the selection process would be too tough. This one was absolutely perfect though!
Would you like a side of dancing to go with that running?
Steve ran 9.5 miles with over 1,000 feet of elevation gain. The leg was straight up. It was insane! After Steve finished his leg, I headed back out to run one last leg! Thankfully, it was only 3 miles because my legs were SO DONE at this point. I really felt like I was running from mile 23 to 26 of a marathon during this last run. The pain was real. The struggle was real. The mountains were real. It was just very REAL. I somehow survived (and by survived I truly do just mean that I completed the distance) and I handed off to Erin, who had an extremely challenging last leg.
Thankfully, it was THE LAST LEG of the entire race. We were almost done! Van 1 was already there waiting for us at THE FINISH!
Erin ran 8 miles with almost 2,000 feet of elevation gain and 1,400 feet of elevation loss. How’s that for a crazy tough final leg?!
Erin is a beast and she finished the race with a bang. As we were waiting, we realized that it was 11:20 a.m., which meant that we would be really close to finishing in under 24 hours, which was our loose goal going in. Almost on cue, Erin appeared at the top of the mountain. She made her way down the mountain and sure enough, our finish time ended up being 23:56:08! We were over 2 hours ahead of the second place team.
Post-race had us feeling like … sleepy!
Seeing as how I was laid out on the ground barely able to move, I didn’t exactly complete my birthday miles. Apparently it’s not super easy to simply add on a few more miles at the end of an overnight relay at 10,000 feet with no sleep (shocking!). I actually determined that I had covered 33 miles in 24 hours if you included the walking that we did. I decided to call this good! Done and done.
Our medals are pretty sweet! When you put them together it reads, “We are Ragnarians. We believe … together we can accomplish anything.” As cheesy as it is, I truly feel like this statement embodies the Ragnar experience. Our team really came together on a challenging course and worked together to support each other and dominate in the process. Ragnar is truly about doing something together that we could never do alone.
After the race, the real fun of the trip began! We stayed in an amazing house with epic views (special shout out to my Daniel for handling the accommodations!).
My friends surprised me with a birthday cake Saturday evening! We cooked all of our meals for the next few days at the house and we sat around the huge dining room table for every meal like one big, happy family. When I say “we cooked,” I don’t actually mean that I contributed to that. Thanks to Becca, Steve, Megan and everyone that cooked for us!
I usually crash pretty hard as soon as we get done with these races, but this year I was able to catch a second wind and I actually stayed awake and was social Saturday evening. Our house had a pool table, a ping-pong table, a hot tub and pretty much anything else that you could possibly want or need.
Sunday was a bit of a slower day around the ranch (our house was called Snow Bear Ranch). A few of us ventured out mid-morning for a shakeout run and a few of us also ventured out for a hike later in the day.
Other than that, the day was pretty chill. Lots of time was spent playing ping-pong (for some more than others :)), in the hot tub, and playing cards.
By Monday a few more people were ready to venture out for a morning run. Our route from the house was beautiful, but quite challenging. I don’t think there is a single stretch of road or trail in Colorado that is completely flat. I love running in new places and the area around our house was perfect for an exploratory run.
Several of us went white water rafting Monday afternoon! We went with Blue Sky Adventures in Glenwood Springs. I had a great time rafting and am so glad that I decided to go. It was quite an adventure. Our guide was hilarious and in general, we just had a good time. There are way too many pictures from this excursion, so I’ll just share a few.
Looking like we know what we are doing!
While we rafted, the rest of the group went hiking from the house. I’m pretty sure there wasn’t even a trail per say, but they just blazed their own. They had a blast as well.
Tuesday morning was a long day of travel. We left the ranch at 6 a.m., but our flights didn’t leave from Denver until around 12:30 p.m. We arrived in Pensacola around 9:00 p.m., after a short layover in Nashville. We found it very fitting that we had to make a short stop in Nashville, the site of our first Ragnar win, on the way home from Denver, the site of our second (and arguably most epic) Ragnar win!
We all got to sit together on our last flight (gotta love Southwest!) and of course, the laughs and stories just continued. I have a feeling that they will continue for quite some time!
Until you have experienced an overnight relay, I don’t know if you can truly understand how much fun and what an awesome experience it is. This was by far the best (and most challenging) relay that I have ever done. The camaraderie was incredible. Everyone on the team ran their heart out and we were truly a team. Friendships were formed, strengthened and tested. Everyone survived the test and if it is even possible, we are all closer than ever!