Ragnar Trail Northwoods

Buckle in, kiddos, this is a long one. I started writing this trying to keep it short and sweet, but it got a little out of hand. I tried to put subtitles so you can feel free to jump around to sections you’re interested in, or just look at the pictures. 🙂

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Ragnar, they put on two different categories of races: road and trail. The road races are point to point, from one city to another. There are 12 people on a team (or 6 for an ultra team!), and you take turns running; each of you runs 3 legs total. There is a van for each group of 6, and you are responsible for getting your runner to their next starting point, so it is a lot of navigating around. In summer of 2014, a group of friends and I participated in the Madison, WI to Chicago, IL Ragnar event. It was 196 miles total, with each person running between 14 and 20 miles. I ran around 16 miles total, and we had a ton of fun.

Earlier this year, my friend Beth and I started talking about getting a team together for a trail Ragnar. We asked a few people who we thought might be interested, and received a lot of positive responses. We decided to go ahead and sign up for the Northwoods event in Wausau, WI. For the trail races, you have 8 people on a team (or 4 for an ultra team). Your team camps together in one central location, and there are three different trail loops; each person runs each loop one time. There is a red (hard) loop, which is was supposed to be  7.6 miles, a yellow (medium) loop, which was supposed to be 4.6 miles, and a green (easy) loop, which was supposed to be 3.0 miles. As you might be able to guess, the distances they gave weren’t exactly correct. 🙂 Here is the order of legs for each of the 8 runners–I was the anchor on our team, so Runner 8: yellow, green, red.


The other thing to keep in mind, besides the order of the runs, is the timing of the runs. Our team had a start time of 1:30 pm. This meant that the first several runners would have their first run during daylight hours; however, runner 7 and 8 (me!) had their first run in the dark. Everyone had their second run in the dark. Only runners 1 & 2 had their third run in the dark. I was pretty scared about the concept of running trails in the dead of the night, but it turned out to not be too bad.

Our Team

I have already mentioned that my friend Beth and I were the ones to initiate participation in the event, so obviously we were both on the team. Her boyfriend, Ben, and my husband, Dustin, also wanted to participate, so we got the first 4 members of the team very easily. One of my roommates from college, Nora, had been training for a trail half (the same one I did), and she lived in Chicago, so I asked her if she wanted to be on our team. She quickly said yes, and asked if her boyfriend, also named Dustin, could also be on the team. One of Beth and Ben’s friends from Minneapolis, Amy, is a very speedy runner, and she was excited to join the team as well. At the last minute, our 8th person started looking for a replacement, so Amy’s boyfriend Addison joined us.

5/8 of our team  did the Muddy Monk Trail 1/2 Marathon

Days Leading Up to Ragnar

Rain. Rain. Rain. As we looked at Friday and Saturday on the forecast, all we saw was rain. Worse, the rain was set to start on Tuesday and not stop until we were done with the race. In fact, on Thursday, the day before the event, Wausau had flash flood warnings in effect. I had been extremely excited about the event up until this point, but if you’ve ever been camping in the rain, you know that it’s not very fun. When you add running on wet trails in the rain on top of that, it was starting to seem less and less appealing. Luckily (!), as we got closer to the event, the chance of rain on Friday and Saturday kept going down. It was definitely still raining a lot before we got there, but by the time we left on Friday morning, the chance of rain for both days was down to 20%.

Travel/Arrival/Set-up/Initial Reactions

Beth, Ben, Dustin, and I rode from Chicago together. We left around 7 am, and planned to get to the race around 12. Our first runner didn’t go until 1:30, so we figured that would be plenty of time. We did hit a little bit of traffic in Chicago, and stopped for lunch at Culver’s.

This Culver’s that we had lunch at looked very closed, but was actually open.

By the time we got there, it a little after 12:30. What we didn’t know that Beth, as the team captain, had to check in for our team. Our first runner, Addison, was getting a little anxious about getting everything done in time, but it turned out just fine. 🙂  Nora/Dustin and Amy/Addison already had chosen a camping spot, and had their tents setup, as well as our canopy tent, by the time that we got there.

Basic layout. We were in the long skinny camping section, and the transition tent was at the left edge of Ragnar Village.

We each set up our tents, and a table for food, but other than that, there wasn’t too much to do. We mostly roamed around the camping area to look at everyone’s set up (some people had very involved campsites, with decorations, signs, etc), and looked at the Village. One of the vendors was a pizza place who brought a wood fire stove with them to cook the pizzas. I split a Margarita pizza with Addison and it was absolutely amazing. Some of the best pizza I have ever had, made in the middle of nowhere. 🙂   Dustin was the 6th runner, so soon it was his turn to go. I walked to the transition tent with him, and watched him run off into the distance. That meant I didn’t have too much time to go back to the tent, change clothes, and get back to the transition area for my turn.

Loop 1: Yellow

My first loop was the intermediate loop, and I started around 8 pm. All three trails started together with a wide, flat portion, so of course I started off way too fast. I was able to quickly settle into a rhythm with another girl in front of me. I told her that she was going the perfect pace and we made conversation. It was nice to have two headlamps on the trail, and to have someone to talk to, so the first two miles flew right by. When she started to turn when she shouldn’t have, I told her to go straight, but also took the lead and said I’d pace for awhile. We ran together like that for quite awhile. I started to get tired around mile 4, because the trail did have lots of roots and small up-and-downs to tired me out, but when I told her she could feel free to pass me at any point, she said she was happy where she was. 🙂 A few minutes later, I noticed my shoe was untied, and while normally I would just leave it with so little running left to go, I was scared of face-planting on a trail due to stepping on a shoe lace. I stopped and let her go on ahead. She said, “Thanks so much for running with me, it was a blast!”, and I definitely agreed. It was so nice to have someone to take my mind off of running in the dark. I tried to catch up with her the entire rest of the route, but ended up about 15 seconds behind her. The trail, according to my watch, was actually about 5 miles (4.98 to be specific). I know that GPS isn’t always correct, but we heard from everyone that the yellow loop was significantly longer than we were told. I ended up finishing in 52:24, which is an average pace of 10:32. I was happy with this considering we were running by headlamp, on trails, and knowing it was only the first of three runs.

The portion of the trail where all three loops came together.

Break Time #1

I’m hungry. Ragnar provided a pasta dinner to all participants on Friday night, and it looked delicious! I was so ready to eat by the time I was done with my run. I went to get food, and they were out of lots of stuff. 😦 I got some noodles, but they only had Alfredo sauce left, which I’m not a big fan of, and I especially wouldn’t want to eat before running. They were also out of the awesome looking breadsticks, which I was bummed about, but I survived. I had some plain noodles and then went back to our campsite and had a bagel with peanut butter and banana. I sat around talking with people for awhile, but around 11:30 decided to try to get some sleep. Dustin was runner number 6, and based on our schedule he had to run around 1:30 am. He woke up in a panic at 1:20, quickly changed into running clothes, and headed to the transition tent. I quickly found out that we were quite a bit behind (our estimates didn’t really take into account how much running in the dark would slow us down), and runner number 5 had just left. I walked to the transition area to tell Dustin the situation,  but then was left too amped up to go back to sleep. I laid down for a few minutes, but then just walked to the transition area to wait for runner 7 to come in.

Loop 2: Green

I was ready to knock the green loop out since it was the shortest one. I started around 4:15 am, so it was again dark, but after the successful yellow loop, I wasn’t nearly as intimidated. The girl before me, Amy, ran in way faster than expected from the hardest/longest loop. All she said to me was, “I didn’t have a light!”, which was confusing because she had a headlamp on, but I didn’t have time to ask questions. [Side story: During Amy’s 2nd run, the hard/red loop, her headlamp died. This is the most technical trail, so I cannot even imagine how terrifying that was. She passed a guy and he noticed she didn’t have a light, so he gave her the flashlight she was carrying (he also had a headlamp on). She said that was great for about 3 miles, but then it died too! She did not have good luck during that run. To finish off the run she used the flashlight on her phone. She finished that loop faster than all but one person, averaging under 10 min/mile. What a badass.]  I grabbed the bib and took off, again probably starting much faster than I needed to. I quickly encountered many people who were going slow or walking. I’m guessing they were worried about running in the dark, but I felt strong and so I didn’t worry too much. About 1 mile in, I passed a guy who was jogging slowly, and I slipped and fell. I think because I went to the left to pass him, I got off the main path, and got into some loose gravel/sand. The fall seemed to happen in slow motion as I hit my left side, then came down on my right side, banging my hip into the ground, and then my head on a rock. I was extremely shaken up, and the guy who I had just passed was justifiably horrified, but physically I felt fine. He asked me if I was ok, and I just said, “Yep, I’m going to keep going.” I kept doing mental math to make sure that I didn’t have a concussion, but I was pretty sure I was fine because I didn’t hit my head too hard. After I almost fell again about a half mile later, I slowed down and decided that getting hurt (two weeks before my marathon, no less!) was not worth going slightly faster. This loop ended up being 3.5 miles instead of 3 (again confirmed by talking to many other runners), and I finished in 36:50, with an average time of 10:32. About a half mile before I finished, my right knee started to hurt. I think the adrenaline had started to wear off after my fall. When I got to the transition tent, I decided to go to the medic to get bandaged up and to see if they could do a check for a concussion. It was very strange because they cleaned my wound, put Neosporin on, and that was it…no band-aid, and no concern about hitting my head. I guess they figured I was up and walking/talking, so I was fine, but I did think it was a little strange. Overall, the green loop was just ok. I obviously wasn’t excited about falling, but even beyond that, it just wasn’t as fun as the yellow loop. I also think running at 8 pm (although dark) vs. 4 am (still dark) had something to do with it.

Break Time #2

Time for some more sleep! I changed back into regular clothes, talked to people for about twenty minutes, then laid down in the tent. I slept for about two hours, then heard enough people talking that I felt like I was missing out by staying in the tent. 🙂 Everyone was starting to wake up by this point, and mostly we talked about the runs that we had completed during the night. I had yet another bagel with peanut butter and banana, confirming that I will never tire of the pb+banana combination. 🙂 It was pretty chilly overnight, so the entire morning I just tried to stay warm.

Nora and I bundled up. You can see our tent behind us.

I’m not really sure where the time went, but all of a sudden it was time to head back to the transition tent for my last run.

Loop 3: Red

Amy and I had been standing at a point along the route (the end where all three trails come together, so it was a good place to see lots of people) soon after we had arrived and a guy passed us and just said, “Red is hard!”. I should have taken his message more seriously. Several people on my team loved the red loop, so I wasn’t sure what to expect going in. At least I was finally getting to do a loop in the daylight! I left close to noon, which meant that my only goal was to finish this loop in less than an hour and a half–if I did that, our team finished the entire race in less than 24 hours. The first mile was great, but then the hills started. They weren’t particularly tall or steep, just long, slow hills. They seemed to be never ending, which I believe was a combination of 1) I almost never run hills, and 2) my legs were already tired from the other two runs. Miles 2-5 were technical trail with lots of rocks and twists/turns. I liked this portion. After mile 5 though, I hit a mental wall. I walked a few of the steep parts of the trail, and as I got further along on the loop, I started to feel like I was out of energy. I was rather hard on myself during this portion of the run; this did not help at all. Around mile 5.5, you leave the technical trail, and return to a wide, gravel path. I thought I was relieved about this, until I saw more long, gradual hills. 😐 My watch says the trail had around 550 feet of elevation gain–I know that’s not a ton for some of you, but my normal 8 mile loop has 150 feet of elevation gain. I was so tired and frustrated that this last part of the run was just not fun. I was so happy to get to the last half mile where the 3 trails all come together, and I pushed myself to the end.

Final times with my loops highlighted

Unfortunately, my team got the timing wrong and they were not there when I came in! Usually the whole team will be there, the last runner will be announced, and everyone will go get their medals. I wandered around for a few minutes after I finished until I spotted them walking towards the transition tent. Bah. It was totally fine, but for some reason I was upset (obviously this had more to do with my feelings during the run than anything else), and when I saw them, I started crying. This just made me feel like an idiot. I’m not sure why I’m telling you this because I was really embarrassed about it. I guess I just wanted to share that while most of Ragnar was amazing and fun, there were definitely a few low points for me. Once I got ahold of myself, the team went to get our medals. They are pretty cool–a multitool, and when all 8 are put together, they form the Ragnar logo and a quote on the back.


Once we all had our medals, we went back to the campsite, and I ate ANOTHER BAGEL with peanut butter and banana. Still yum. While I was running, my team had taken down most of the tents (except mine so I could change into normal clothes, very thoughtful), so there wasn’t much tear down left to do. We packed up the rest of the food, put away our tent, and gathered up any left over odds and ends. Amy and Addison had to head back to Minneapolis, but our car (Beth, Ben, Dustin, and I) decided to go get some food with Nora and Dustin. We settled on Denny’s because I really wanted eggs, and it was on the way. I think we were all happy to get some real food in us.

Me with the ‘photo op’ waffle

Overall it was a really great time, and I would recommend that everyone participate in a Ragnar event if they are presented with the opportunity. I think I enjoyed the Trail Ragnar a little more than the Road Ragnar, but both were a ton of fun. Thanks for reading! 🙂

Have any of you ever participated in a Ragnar event? Trail or Road? Did you enjoy it?


5 thoughts on “Ragnar Trail Northwoods

  1. Ragnar sounds like so much fun! I definitely want to do it someday. Everyone always talks about what a great bonding experience it is. I’m sorry you had a tough time there at the end, but it sounds like 95% of the experience was great!

    That’s so crazy that your friend had her headlamp and the flashlight die on her during the same segment. What are the odds? That was smart thinking to use the flashlight on her phone otherwise that would have been so scary!

    I definitely do think it’s weird that the medic tent didn’t give you a bandaid! Maybe they figured you didn’t have a concussion but the bandaid thing is bizarre. Maybe they ran out like they ran out of breadsticks! haha


    1. Yes, 95% of the experience was amazing and I’d definitely recommend it to everyone! It’s such a fun/unique experience. 🙂

      I was really freaked out that the medic tent didn’t give me a band-aid. What was I supposed to do? Get in my sleeping bag with neosporin all over my leg hahaha. Very lucky that my friend had brought band-aids. And don’t remind me about the breadsticks! haha 🙂 🙂


  2. runningschlub

    Wow great recap, I feel like I was right there with you lol.

    I’ve had varying thoughts about Ragnar. I love the camping and of course the trails. I think if I ever do one it will be on an elite team just to increase the difficulty.

    I wouldn’t worry about the emotions after or sharing with us. It’s totally normal with all the high and low points we go through on runs and the lack of zleep. I remember running my PR HALF and my wife wasn’t able to make it. All I wanted was for her to be there and enjoy the achievement. But it was a big let down with her not there and In was really emotional. It happens!!


    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the recap, it was fun to write! 🙂 I would consider being a part of an ultra team as well; the regular Ragnar was difficult from the point-of-view of eating/fueling properly while having to run three separate times, trying to get sleep, and running in the dark, but the mileage wasn’t too bad. I think it’d be a whole different kind of challenge to participate on an ultra team! 🙂


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