Monday, June 29, 2015

Ragnar Salomon Trail Relay

Northfield Mountain, MA
June 26 - 27, 2015

Take eight guys and arrange a weekend outing for them.  Sounds pretty normal so far.  You're imagining laughter, reminiscing, crude jokes, and maybe some beer.  Yeah, we had all that.  Now for the not so mundane, throw in camping in the great outdoors, a giant bonfire going through the night, headlamps, and oh yeah, 200+ teams each running 120 miles of twisting trails all through the night with each participant covering at least 15 miles and 3,300' of elevation.  Now you have the inaugural 2015 Ragnar Salomon Trail Relay at Northfield Mountain!
Thanks for our sponsor, Foolproof Brewing Company

For me, this team adventure started last month when I got an e-mail from Chris explaining that Bob Jackman was putting together a team of 8 for a trail run relay in western MA, and did I have interest?  (Apparently he was having trouble rounding out 8 good trail runners, as he was now scraping the bottom of the barrel!)  I checked the family calendar, asked the wife and family, and I'm in.  About a day later Jana asked me, "Isn't that the same day as the Bottone Mile [our club's track mile event]?".  Doh! Well, I'm committed now and the Bottone is our event that requires the least setup, so with Jana's blessing that she'd help organize the race registration and supplies together with Nick Bottone, I left it in good hands to continue with the team adventure.
Meanwhile, back in Gotham City,
Matthew does the WTAC proud by smoking a 4:44 mile at Bottone
while wearing the WTAC colors
(Photo courtesy of Jana)

Fast forward to Friday morning the 26th.  I worked / volunteered at a local soup kitchen and shelter, then started the trek northwest with the Volvo wagon laden with various camping supplies.  Arrived about 3pm, setup the rest of camp (more like "city camping" with sites packed like sardines), and we all went off to watch the obligatory safety video.
Camp setup.  Everyone looks hard at work, except ...
is Chris pretending to be a supervisor and did he not get the message about
what shirt to wear?

Tent city.  I have no idea why that guy is sprinting - this is not part of the course.

Yellow trail.  4.7 miles (GPS), 950' elevation (altimeter), 36:29. Our team's start time was 5pm (staggered team starts from 10am - 5pm, according to reported 10K road times).  Seth was up first, and I took the baton (actually a bib with a chip on a race belt, similar to tris) from him at 5:28pm.  The trail just keeps climbing for nearly a mile and a half.  Power hiked two short steep sections; otherwise ran huffing and puffing.  After the crest, it was screaming downhills on both single and double tracks.  Constantly yelling "On your left!", most runners were awesome to give way as I gazelled the downhills. Two runners with headphones annoyed me as they didn't hear me yelling and I had to run through bushes around them.  Why they allow headphones on a trail run is beyond me.  I missed one sharp turn completely as I didn't see the small yellow arrow for a 90-degree turn off the double track onto a single-track; fortunately the two runners behind me yelled that I missed the turn.  Picked up the speed progressively; 10:01 first mile on uphill climb, final mile was a 5:54 as I came into transition and passed off to Boj.
Check out this profile for the yellow loop!  Steep climb for about 1.5 miles, then screaming downhill.

At camp after my first run.
(left to right:  Ryan, Jonny, Bob, Seth, Jackie)
This is what the finish chute looked like
in the light.

Chris starting off on one of the last daylight legs.
Green trail. 10:41pm.  3.3 miles, 550', 25:01.  Obviously pitch dark.  First race in my new Black Diamond Sprinter headlamp.  Felt very comfortable, and having run the harder yellow trail already, the green trail, while no picnic, felt easy by comparison.  Passed runners left and right on the climb, and then flew down (or so it felt) the double track downhills.  The directional signs were actually much easier to see in the dark, as they all had LED lights in the same color as the trail loop.  Also runners could see my light coming up on them and all moved out of my way.  Nice!  Felt really good to be able to run low 6s on these trails in the dark.
And this is what the finishing chute
looked like in the dark

Random runner running between
the tiki torches to start another

Awesome bonfire to warm me
(and my wet singlet) between runs

Back at camp, Mike G and Jonny were trying to catch some Zs...

So I went off to cook me some smores
(about Midnight)

Red trail. 3:35am.  6.3 miles, 1500', 59:19.  This one was just brutal and thoroughly wore me out.  Started off with a headlamp malfunction.  I had my headlamp on and ready to go waiting for Seth to come in, but was blinding Greg Hammett and others, so I turned it off.  When we saw on the electronic board that Seth was 0.2 miles out, I went into transition and tried numerous times in vain to get my headlamp turned back on.  Defective?  Out of juice already?  When Seth came in, I told him I needed his headlamp as well as the bib, and swapped mine out for his, but it cost time and unfamiliarity.  (It turns out my headlamp was fine, and reading the manual the next day, I learned I inadvertently set it into a "lockout mode" to prevent accidentally wearing down the battery.  Lesson learned - be totally familiar with your own equipment. What an idiot!)
Seth passing off to me (the green blur) in transition

Between the headlamp issue, very little actual sleep, gas issues from the burrito dinner they served, just physically beat and running the hardest loop last, this was the only loop I wasn't having much fun with and wanted it to be over.  The trail goes up and down (more up than down) for more than three miles before finally cresting.  Much power hiking.  On the downhills, the quads were just screaming.  Looked at my watch a few times to see how much farther I had left to go; was thrilled to finally see the point where the three loops converged, meaning I was familiar with the rest of the trail and had about a mile to go.  Coming into the open fields, the birds were chirping and it was actually hard to see in the pre-dawn light.  Handed off to Boj, and was so thrilled to be done!
Scoreboard announcing running teams
on approach to transition
as they passed a mat 0.2 miles away

Yeah, maybe next I'll do this ...
... or not.
Guess I'd have to have a little
more hair to attempt this.

The crappers overflowed.  It was a feast for the sight and smell senses.

Closing camp.  No sleep for the weary.  Watched most of the remainder of my teammates come in, and for Bob's final lap, we all ran in (er, limped in?) with him to the finish.  We think we won the whole thing, but won't know for sure until Tuesday.  Very cool that not a single one of us got passed the entire race, and not a single one of us fell (I had some close calls though!).  Wished I taken a video of either Chris or Mike G limping around afterwards!  We all went out for a hearty breakfast at the French King, and then parted ways.  Exhausting, but very fun adventure.  Life is short, my friends, live it up!  Thanks very much to frenemy Bob Jackman for excellent organization and planning of this trip and run.
Cool finishing medal / multipurpose tool.
Thanks to the whole gang for a great adventure!
Front row:  Seth, Jonny, Bob, Ryan
Back row:  Chris, Mike, me, Boj
(Photo courtesy Jackie Jackman)


  1. Great write-up and fun times racing with you! I really like that picture of Garvin taking off with Ryan clapping in the background. Sums up the spirit of the weekend for me.

  2. Awesome write up! Sounds like a fun time! Can't wait to hear you guys won it! Well done!!

    As an aside - I have that same headlamp and had no idea it had a lock out on it, I'll have to google the directions - those things go immediately into the recycle bin.

    1. Thanks, and confirmed, Beth. We finished in 15:20:42, more than 2 hours over the next tea.
      If you ever do inadvertently put it into lockout mode, you take it out of lockout mode by holding down the main switch for 3 seconds, then release, then press one to turn on - simple, but not intuitive.