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….

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…. 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

Zen on the Trail 

It has been a long week. The candle was burning at both ends most days; I sacrificed some needed sleep to find those extra hours in the day. So when the end of the work day rolled around on Friday, it was tempting to just pour a glass of wine and tell myself I could postpone a run until the weekend.  Finding great camaraderie and motivation through the “Another Mother Runner” podcasts that often keep me company on the road, I signed up for a 5-week training program through the “Train Like a Mother Club” to jump-start the fitness machine after taking a break following the more intense training earlier this year for my June marathon.  Nothing like a  virtual community of training partners to provide some accountability … in addition to my faithful companion.

Today’s training schedule called for a “Zen Run” – leave the GPS watch behind, pull out the ear buds if you run with music, and just go while letting go … It was exactly what I needed.

Corbin was born the year I turned 40, and as I approach another decade marker, Corbin and I both are a little grayer, a little slower, and more appreciative of the little things … OK, perhaps Corbin has always been blessed with that joie de vivre ….

We set out with the intention to enjoy a leisurely 3-mile loop on the trails before the sun set.  While the days are growing shorter, tonight still had echoes of summer …. almost 70 degrees, a tad humid (by Duluth standards), and forest sounds more reminiscent of August than September.  As my trusty pal has aged, he has become more sensitive to the warmer temperatures, particularly if the humidity is up, so he did not stray far from my side as we trotted along at an easy pace.

Corbin used to pull me up the hills with my hands-free leash around my waist. This evening, I found him preferring to slow to no more than a fast walk up even the smaller inclines.

The somewhat muggy conditions on the trail made for a perfect meditative pace.  We jogged, we walked, we took note of the signs of the changing seasons.

When Corbin was younger, he would run twice as far as I would on a trail run, looping out and coming back to me, again and again.  Now, he was just as happy to stop at the river overlook and catch his breath as I caught mine, before we started off again.

I admit to feeling my eyes fill with tears at one point as we ran along, realizing that this very well could be my last fall running with my dear four-legged friend on these trails, given how much he has slowed down over the past year.  I was reminded, though, that Corbin is blessed with that gift that we all seek — enjoying and living in the moment.  As we trotted side by side, he looked up at me with a grin.  I let go of the worries of what the months ahead may hold. We just ran and I was grateful for the time we had right now.

I got my zen on and cleared my head, noticing the gifts that Mother Nature had placed for us to enjoy along the way.

We paused periodically to admire the treasures of the great outdoors.

The diversity and delicate details on the forest floor are awe-inspiring if you take a moment to truly appreciate them.

We extended our 3-mile loop, by another mile or so, continuing to intersperse walking with running.  I let Corbin set the pace – he would slow on an upward incline, and then once the trail sloped downward or flattened out, he would start trotting along again.  We embraced the silence between us, and filled it with the evening sounds of the woods.

Our relaxing evening jaunt came to a close, and the sun started to peek through the gray cloud cover.

We made a brief detour before heading home, and stopped to say good evening to Lake Superior. Peaceful and serene, the big lake embodied that zen I sought and found on the trails with my dear friend.

Ciao! ~ Kat

The Joy is in the Journey, Not the Destination

As fall colors start to fade, get out for a walk or a run.  Appreciate the crunch of fallen leaves under your feet, the light filtered through sparser canopies of orange and gold, and crisp chill of the air.

Joy of an Autumn Run

Ciao! ~ Kat

Leaving Cares Behind on the Trail

Another perfect early fall day, another run on the trails at the end of the day!   I try to remind myself never to take for granted the beautiful surroundings in which I live in northern Minnesota.  I even wore a fanny pack this time so I could take my Canon point-and-shoot rather than just the cell phone camera (and was prepared to sacrifice my body before the camera if I went somersaulting over a tree root)!

My friend is waiting . . . so, come along with me, and let’s head down the trail – leave your cares behind and soak up the beauty of the changing seasons!

Duluth's beautiful trails

This fellow was so beautifully lit by the late afternoon sun, keeping a close eye on us as we ran by.

A watchful eye through the trees

Birch bark stands alone as a piece of art – each tree a unique masterpiece.

Minnesota birch trees

A few trees stand out in brilliant reds and oranges, particularly vibrant as the sun began to set behind them.

Fall colors in Northern Minnesota

Wrapping up a run on Duluth's city trails

Thanks for tagging along!  Remember, one does not always need to travel far in order to find a relaxing getaway.

Ciao! ~ Kat B.