5 Lessons Congress Could Learn From A Ragnar Trail Race

The polarity and divisiveness in our country has reached extremes never seen in recent times. Our democractic and constitutional norms are straining at the seams. Op-eds and analysts drill down with their best ideas for how to restore civility, how to find our way back to some kind of bipartisanship … but not a single one of them has landed on the obvious solution: Congress needs to run a Ragnar Trail Relay race.

What is a Ragnar Trail Relay race, you ask?!

In our Ragnar Trail Relays, teams of 8 (or 4-member ultra teams) run relay-style on three different single track loops that start and finish at Ragnar Village. Teams run day and night until each member has completed all three trail loops. (www.ragnar.com)

If you’re more a visual learner, maybe this infographic will make more sense (click on image to enlarge):

As my already slow running speed has slowed further with the years, my joy of running has grown … grown with new adventures, new challenges, and new running friends. Rather than the goal, it becomes more about the journey — isn’t that what life is about!?  And one thing that running has made clear to me is that it is a great equalizer: a mile is a mile for everyone, and while some may run it slower than others, that mile is not shorter or longer for anyone because of their job or their education, their religion or their age … or even their politics.

Are you still asking yourself how a Ragnar Trail Relay could possibly bridge any of the divides? Read on.

1. A Ragnar Relay team is rarely comprised of your eight closest friends, but by the end you will have a special bond. 

A Ragnar race is a commitment. It is a 2-day event, often a distance away that requires additional travel time, with months of at least some level of training leading up to it.  It is a feat to find eight people able and willing to commit to running trails day or night, rain or shine, hot or cold, let alone then getting all eight of you who committed months earlier to the starting line uninjured or without some life circumstance interfering.  That means that you often have a friend of a friend who joins the team, or someone you know in passing, or an acquaintance you met while running with the local running group …. and you are now going to camp together for a night or two in a 300-400 square foot space, and rely on each other to each complete 15 miles of trail runs in whatever conditions the weather gods and trails throw at you.

When you have a diverse group working toward the same goals, you always have more in common than not. 

2. When conditions are challenging, the race is still on.

When we ran Ragnar Trail Northwoods in September 2017, we anticipated classic northwoods fall temperatures with lovely red and gold autumn colors embracing us as we traversed the wooded trails.

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Instead Mother Nature played a nasty trick and turned up the thermostat … to about 20 degrees warmer than normal! When the going gets tough, teammates cannot sit and whine and point fingers at each other as to why the race cannot be run. Rather, you tear up game plan #1 and create game plan #2 … because the ultimate goal is still the same, and the miles are still the same, and the terrain is still the same. You pull together, hydrate well, and look out for each other in watching for signs of heat stroke! Because if one of you fall ill, the rest of the team needs to pick up that gap and complete it for you.

A little humor here and there works wonders, as well….

night 4

…. because you are all in this together.

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You cannot work together as a team if you are busy making excuses. 

3. Every relay leg presents its own unique challenges.

 No one said Ragnar Trail was easy.

Those easy-to-navigate rocks during the daylight hours turn into larger-than-life obstacles at night by the light of the headlamp. I do not believe anyone goes home without taking at least one flying faceplant … and it does not always happen at night! When running on a couple hours of sleep (if you are lucky), footing becomes a little more unstable, and picking up those feet to manuever through the technical sections of trail taxes your fatigued body.

With the challenge comes the thrill of the relay race. Sometimes while running at night you feel a return to youth, running carefree through the dark as your feet seem to glide through the forest (until your toe catches that root …).  Through the trees, you can see headlamps bobbing as other runners traverse the switchbacks up or down the wooded inclines.  Some sections open for a time where you can appreciate the brilliant starry sky above. As you pass a runner, or a runner passes you, there are exchanged greetings and words of encouragement … or perhaps a warning shouted from ahead of an upcoming rock or hazard that would catch you by surprise.

That “easy” loop during daylight hours may transform into a beast at night.  Injuries, sleep, heat … even preference for hills versus challenging terrain versus faster/shorter or longer/slower runs … they all affect each runner differently, so that each loop is truly a different experience for each runner, even though every runner runs the same three loops in a Ragnar Trail race.

Even when we are on the same path, we may face different obstacles … or take a different route to the end … embrace differences and empathize with those struggling. 

4. The real joy comes in supporting each other. 

With the unexpected heat and humidity, our team found ourselves sitting sluggishly around the campsite, trying to stay cool and hydrated in between relay legs … or even trying to catch an hour of sleep here or there.  It is easy to let overtired, overheated crabbiness set in. The Ragnar Village has various food and trail equipment vendors with wares to sample. As the sun sets, a bonfire illuminates the finish line area with laser lights dancing in the final stretch of trail before the runner transfer tent. Dinner is served buffet-style with large community tables set up under another tent, and a movie marathon plays on a large screen throughout the night, with bleary-eyed runners watching the computer screens for signs their runner is approaching the end of their loop.

While the buzz of the Ragnar Village and campsites are entertaining and provide welcome distraction at times, that special Ragnar bond is created — both within your team, as well as among and between other teams — through the enthusiastic support for and from fellow runners. Whether it was making sure each runner had another teammate to walk them to and from the relay transfer tent (where runners make the bib handoff, starting and finishing their respective loops), or standing/sitting in the woods along the trail to high-five runners going by, or gathering your team together to welcome your last runner in to the finish chute …. that is where the spirit of Ragnar comes in.

Day or night, as you ran through certain segments of the trail loops, you could always rely on other runners being there with words of encouragement, energizing cheers and, sometimes, empathetic consolation.  Fast or slow, everyone was here for the same ultimate goal — while some may run to place, others run for fun, and everyone is welcome.

Providing opportunity to all does not detract from those who are in it to win it. 

5. You can do things together that you cannot do alone.

One of the race mantras is: “Ragnar is about doing things together that we could never do alone.”

The finisher medals reflect this philosophy. After your team has successfully completed all 24 legs of the trail race, each runner receives a medal which fits together to reveal a larger message.

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So, what do you think? Congressional teams with 4 Republicans and 4 Democrats on each team, charged with completing a relay race together? Posturing does not make a mile go any faster, declining to acknowledge a mile does not make that mile disappear. Everyone has to run their legs in order for the team to succeed.

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Together we can do anything. 

~ Kat

 

Running the Trails at Sunset (30 Days of Gratitude: Day 1)

Hello, friends! After neglecting my blog for much too long, I have decided to hyper-extend as a return effort and try to blog a post-a-day for the month of November! (Nothing like going from zero to 60, eh?!) The whirling shit-show of the political world has sucked me in, following the news obsessively and losing hours to other activities each day, because it seems every time one takes an evening off, another bombshell drops! However, as Thanksgiving approaches, it is a good reminder that there is always …. always … something to be grateful for!

Kicking it off … one of my favorite stress release activities … trail running.  So, fair warning, you may see a few of these this month, reflecting back on my favorite time of year to enjoys the trails … Fall! (Seems particularly timely, as we are now facing an early visit by winter, with snow on the ground and snow flurrying as I write)!

Fall trail running in Duluth

Nature truly does bathe you in all her goodness, and helps your worries fade away. The golden rays breaking through increasingly bare branches, while the colorful rusts and golds crunch underfoot.

Hope you will join me this month!

So good to “talk” with you again!

~ Kat

She Believed, So She Did (Weekly Photo Challenge: Partners)

As I sat on the bus at 5:45 a.m., I was reminded that the next several hours were going to come down to believing I could do it … I would do it … I was going to run a marathon.

Despite the weather forecast, my anxiety disappeared the day before the race (perhaps recounting the Top 10 Reasons I would not let the forecast mar my marathon experience was the outlet my nerves needed).

Grandma’s Marathon morning dawned warm and humid by Duluth standards, minimizing layers that needed to be packed for the early morning shuttle ride to the starting line.  While on the bus, my friend jokingly said to me, “Better start your watch now!” because it often seemed so slow to connect during our training runs …. and I looked down and saw an empty wrist — my GPS watch was still plugged into the charger at home! I took it as a sign that time truly should not matter, and it was a reminder to be fully present during the journey that lay ahead of us that morning.

Lined up in the starting corral with 7,200+ runners at Grandma’s Marathon 2016! 
A good friend is someone who says, “Hey, do you want some company for 26.2 miles?” And then at mile 22 or so turns to you and says, “I must really love you a lot to have agreed to do this with you!”  My friend had run 13 marathons, the last being 15 years earlier …. and came out of marathon retirement to help me get to the finish line of my first.

It was a brutal day for a run.  It was over 70 degrees F at the start with humidity pushing 80%.  The flags signaling race safety in light of the weather conditions (based on the American College of Sports Medicine’s guidelines) quickly moved from yellow by the 10K mark, to red by the halfway point, to black (signaling extreme risk for heat exhaustion) for the last 8 -9 miles of our race.  We were not planning on breaking any records even on the best of weather days, and kept our pace slow and steady, walking through the aid stations that were staffed by volunteers every two miles beginning at mile 3, and then every mile beginning at mile 19, to maximize hydration, dump a cup of water or two overhead, and stuff ice cubes in the sports bra to help with the heat that was inescapable.

As we left the aid station at mile 25, there was no more stopping, and we picked up the pace, just wanting to be done!  Words were few, as we focused on the last turns to the finish line.  I could feel a burst of emotion seeing that arch of balloons marking the finish line, with Duluth’s iconic lift bridge looming in the background.  Partners in training and partners with hands jubilantly raised as we crossed the finish line together in 5 hours, 15 minutes — on a day that many seasoned marathoners said was one of their toughest, due to the warm temperatures and high humidity.

She believed, so she did ….

Ciao! ~ Kat

This post was in response to the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge. “Partners” is this week’s theme. Everyone is welcome to join in the Challenge; further details on how to participate and links to others’ responses are found here: Partners.


Top 10 Reasons a Steamy Duluth Forecast Won’t Stop Me From Finishing My First Marathon   

When the local television station has this for their forecast …

Credit: WDIO-Duluth

… I feel the anxiety levels rise.  I can’t afford wasting that negative energy over the next 48 hours.

Last night I went for a relaxing 3 mile run with my younger four-legged companion, who reminded me that at whatever speed, you just need to enjoy the experience …

As I sip on my Powerade, and get up from my desk every hour to keep the hamstrings relaxed, I present you with my:

Top 10 reasons I won’t let the warm forecast for Grandma’s Marathon freak me out.

1. Lake Superior’s waters will feel amazing when I am done. Who needs a post-race ice bath when you have the big Lake?!

2. If I have to walk some to finish I simply have more time to enjoy the spectacular scenery.

3. Grandma’s Marathon knows how to put on a race – whether it be cold or hot – I know I will be supported well.

4. That lift bridge medal is waiting for me at the end.

5. Free beer is waiting for me at the end.

6.  I have run over 500 miles since training began in mid-January – including two 20-mile runs. I am ready.

7. Ice cream is waiting for me at the end.

8. I have a high-five to look forward to from our training group coach Tony Stensland at the Duluth Running Company, between miles 23 and 24.

9. The volunteers and community support along the course are awesome — from beer to bacon, from bagpipes …to troll dolls …. There’s some inspiration for everyone.

10. I am so grateful for the fact that I am able to run.  I might not be able to some day, but Saturday will not be that day.

“There will be days you don’t think you can run a marathon. There will be a lifetime of knowing you have.” ~ Author Unknown

Let’s do this!! See you Saturday!

Ciao! ~ Kat

Top 10 Reasons Duluth is the Best Place to Live

As the last week of voting takes place in Outside magazine’s “Best Place to Live” contest, with Provo, Utah and Duluth, Minnesota going head-to-head in the final round (vote daily at voteduluth.com!), I thought I would share my Top 10 reasons why Duluth, Minnesota is the Best Town and deserves your vote.  Let’s begin:

1.  The excitement of watching those 1,000-footers go through the canal and under Duluth’s Lift Bridge never gets old.

Ship Going Through Duluth's Canal

2.  You can experience the thrill of releasing a raptor from Hawk Ridge.  Visit with the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory staff and volunteers during fall migration season and learn about raptors.  Make a donation, “adopt” a hawk or passerine, and help release the newly banded bird with the beauty of Lake Superior as your stage.

Raptor release
Kat’s father releasing a Northern Goshawk (Photo credit: Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory)

3.  As I shared on my Facebook page, where else can you get teens out the door and on the water by 8:00 a.m. every weekday for most of the summer?  The Duluth Rowing Club’s Juniors program makes it happen.

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4.  During the holidays, the outdoor fun continues with Bentleyville, the “Tour of Lights” at Bayfront Festival Park.

Holiday Lights in Duluth

5.  There’s enough room for everyone, and everyone tries to get along.

Dog and Deer on the Lakewalk      Dog and Deer on the Lakewalk

6.  Duluth supports a world-class marathon, Grandma’s Marathon:  Fresh Air, Fresh Water, Fresh Race.

Starting line of Duluth's Grandma's Marathon
The starting line area for Grandma’s Marathon
Grandma's Marathon racers
Some of the lead female runners from along Grandma’s Marathon race course in 2012

7.  Skiing at night under the lights at Lester Park is magical — the crisp, cold silence of the woods broken only by the hooting of an owl, or the swish of skis as they cut through the fresh snow.  Miles and miles of ski trails, just blocks from almost any neighborhood in the city.

Magical Night Skiing in Winter

8.  Do you like to run?  bike?  hike?  Have we got options for you!  The joy of the trails is found throughout Duluth, all year long.

9.  We know all sorts of ways to have fun when it’s a long winter.  You may recall my winter post on blowing frozen bubbles, tossing boiling water … over 70 days of sub-zero temps in one season?!   Bring it on!

Sub-Zero Boiling Water Toss
Boiling water toss in –14°F (-25.5°C) temperatures — just a few degrees off of our high temp that day.

10.  Because every sunrise is beautifully unique …

Sundog on Lake Superior

sunrise on Lake Superior

… and the moonrises aren’t bad, either.

Monnrise by Lester River

I could go on, but you need to vote …. voteduluth.com.  Spread the word and #VoteDuluth!

Ciao! ~ Kat B.