Last weekend (April 21–22), I participated in a Ragnar Trail race on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu.
The setting on the North Shore near Turtle Bay was very nice. The weather, however, was not nice. It rained the whole time (off and on). Sections of the trails were covered with puddles and ankle-deep mud, especially the yellow trail. Although the conditions weren’t at all what I was expecting when I signed up, the event was awesome.
We arrived in Honolulu on Wednesday afternoon after a seven-hour direct flight. Clouds started rolling in before sunset, which rendered our sunset walk down Waikiki Beach rather anti-climactic. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at the Moana Surfrider hotel to sit on the rocking chairs under the banyan tree to relax and listen to the live music being performed at one of the hotel’s restaurants.
The next morning, we had breakfast with team members Bianca, Byron, and Tonya before heading our separate ways. Mindy and I decided to hike Diamond Head to warm up our legs for the race. By the time we arrived at Diamond Head, however, clouds had rolled back in, and I discovered that I had left items in the safe at the hotel that we had just checked out of. We quickly hiked Diamond Head and headed back to the hotel to pick up the stuff I left behind.
On our way to Turtle Bay, we stopped at the Pali Lookout, but its sweeping views of Windward Oahu were obscured by clouds. It started raining around the time we reached Kaneohe and it didn’t stop for several hours.
Our room at Turtle Bay was perfect. It overlooked the pool area, with Turtle Bay and the burgeoning Ragnar Village in the distance. Byron and Tonya stayed with us. We spent much of the evening after dinner just hanging out on the balcony. The temperature outside was perfect. The sound of the pounding surf was soothing. We decided to sleep with the patio door wide open. I slept like a baby.
The next morning, after breakfast at the Hukilau Cafe—the definition of a “dive” if there ever was one—we gathered our stuff and setup camp in the far northeast corner of the campground. Almost immediately after we setup camp, and just before the race was about to start, it started raining again. It didn’t stop raining, for good, until Sunday afternoon.
The best sustainable pace I could muster during my training was what I call “8+2” intervals, which is eight minutes of walking and only two minutes of running. I had hoped to make more progress, but I kept re-aggravating my lower leg problem during my training. In fact, I had re-aggravated it less than two weeks earlier when I decided to run a mile (without stopping). My last week of training involved no running. It seemed that my cardiovascular fitness exceeded my physical ability to run.
Since running for sustained periods seemed to make my problematic right leg worse, I decided to cut the 8+2 intervals in half and do 4+1 intervals for the race, which would yield an equivalent amount of running anyway. Also, to, at least, keep up appearances that I’m a “runner” running a race, I endeavored to run through my first walk interval for each of my three legs, and to run the last ¼ mile to the finish line for each of my legs.
Run 1: Green Loop (Friday @ ~ 12:45 PM)
In the excitement around starting my first run, I had forgotten to start my GPS watch before I started running. Unfortunately, my watch was useless for the first 0.8 miles, or so, because it could not acquire any GPS satellite signals despite continuously attempting to do so. Since I planned on doing intervals, I needed my watch to know when to run and when to walk (it actually beeps at each of the intervals). So, until my watch started working, I just ran when I felt like running and walked when I felt like walking.
The terrain was initially difficult because it was mostly over uneven beach sand. Having the ocean nearby was nice, but I found myself unable to enjoy the setting as much as I would’ve liked to because, after all, I was trying to go as fast as I could. Also, it’s helpful to stay focused on locating the trail markers.
Once the trail turned into the forest, things got a little slippery in spots. I almost slipped and fell a few times. Overall, though, my Altra Lone Peak 3.0 trail running shoes performed well. Their traction was good, even though their support is lacking compared to more substantial trail running shoes. The Altra gaiters also did a great job of keeping sand, dirt, and rocks out of my shoes.
Run 2: Red Loop (Friday @ 9:28 PM)
I had to run the most scenic leg at night, unfortunately. I felt pretty good before this run. I had just finished 20 minutes in the Elevated Legs tent where I wore massaging sleeves on my legs while lying in a reclined position with my legs above my heart. It felt good, but I don’t know if it helped at all.
I was well-prepared for my night run. I had my new waterproof headlamp. I also had extra batteries and a small Maglite flashlight as a backup in my FlipBelt.
I felt good and started off strong. I ran right by our campsite before taking a left and encountering the first of the mud everyone had been talking about—wet, trodden, sticky, yet slippery mud. Next came the huge puddle. I did not want to get my shoes waterlogged so early in my run, so I broke protocol and worked my way around the puddles. Thereafter, I finished my six minutes of running before I started my intervals.
Long stretches of the early parts of the red trail were on loose beach sand. Eventually, I figured out a way to run on the sand that worked for me. Flat-footed steps seemed to help distribute my weight and keep me on top of the sand. Whenever I tried to run more normally, it felt like I was running in place.
Running on the beach, at night, with my headlamp illuminating mist from nearby crashing waves was a surreal experience. But then it started raining again. And I had my cell phone with me. And I didn’t bring a plastic bag to protect it from the rain. So, I kept it in the pocket of my shorts hoping that the problem would just go away.
Soon, my shorts were soaked. Earlier, I had taken off my shirt because, well, my nipples were raw. Apparently sweat, nipples, humidity, and polyester T-shirts do not mix. So, I wrapped my phone in my shirt and hoped that a torrential downpour wasn’t in the forecast. (It worked. My phone lives on.)
Everything about my running went well. I stuck to my intervals and felt good enough to run a little longer at points. When the trail turned inland, it got muddier, but not terribly. Near the end, I just went straight through the same huge puddle I skirted at the beginning of my run because my shoes were already wet and I figured that the puddle might help clean off some of the mud.
After Mindy finished her night run on the green loop, we watched some of the surfing movie that was playing on a screen near the bonfire before heading back to the campsite. Our team’s only remaining dry communal tent was crowded with gear and people trying to sleep, so Mindy and I walked up to the hotel room to try to get some rest.
Run 3: Yellow Loop (Saturday @ 7:08 AM)
After a couple hours of sleep, we woke up at about 5:00 AM, collected our things, and headed back down to the campground. Bryan (runner 2) was about to head out when we got down there. (I was runner 4 and Mindy was runner 5.) I laced up my soggy shoes, bandaged my nipples (yup!), and headed for the starting area to wait for my turn to run.
I was not nervous for any of my runs, but I was, at least, a little concerned about this run because the reports from the field were that this trail was, by far, the muddiest. And it was. In spots, it was almost too hard to negotiate the mud even just walking. I almost stepped out of my shoes a half-dozen times. It was rough going!
The yellow trail itself was rather bland, in my opinion. There were few views, and it was painfully obvious that you were mostly running in the forested areas between golf course holes. I love golf, but I wanted to feel like I was lost in the middle of nowhere on these trails. The other trails definitely felt that way for long stretches. The yellow loop did not.
Because of the mud, I had to modify my approach with the intervals. If I couldn’t run because of the mud, I made up the running on other stretches of the trail that were less muddy. For example, if I had to walk through my one minute of running because of mud, once I got out of the mud, I would run for a minute even if it was during a walk interval.
It was obvious from the start of this loop that I didn’t have much left in the tank. I wasn’t tired, and I felt fine otherwise, but the results were lacking. I dreaded every run interval on this leg, whereas, on the other trails, I very much looked forward to my run intervals.
But I made it. I took forever, but I finished it (and I ran the last quarter mile). I was done. It felt good to be done, but I wouldn’t have minded if the event just kept on going and I had more legs in the future. It was that fun.
After Mindy took the timing belt from me and headed off on her final leg (red), I walked over to the merchandise tent and bought myself a “finisher” T-shirt. All that was left was to hose the mud off my shoes, and to wait for the rest of our team to finish.
The whole event was legitimately, organically fun. The camaraderie among our eight team members (and one volunteer) developed quickly. Running is really only a small part of it.
There is plenty of time between your runs to enjoy the frenzied atmosphere of the Ragnar Village. During that time you can relax at your team’s campsite, sit by the bonfire, get a massage, eat, drink, sleep, etc. A favorite ritual of mine was to go to the starting line for our team’s exchanges. It seemed there was always someone coming and going. It allowed me to fill up my water bottle regularly (got to stay hydrated!) and spend some time with the next runner while they waited for their turn.
Our team finished at around 2:00 PM on Saturday after about 28 hours of continuous running. It felt good to finish, but after everyone had gone their separate ways, I could feel a palpable void. (I’ve since been told that this phenomenon is called a “Ragnover”.) The consistent waves of excitement from runners coming and going was what I would miss the most.
After dinner, Mindy and I sat on the balcony of our new room to watch the sunset. This room faced the open ocean instead of the pool and the bay. The scene was peaceful, but not exciting. I wanted more excitement. I missed all the activity and the camaraderie of the event, even though it was very subtle at the time—that is, none of it felt forced or overwhelming.
Mindy fell asleep by 7:00 PM. I felt utterly bored and lonely. I was seriously bummed. I took a walk around the resort, but the frenetic energy of the guests with their own lives doing their own things made me feel even more isolated. I walked around with the hope that the beauty of the setting, or the sight of so many others still reveling in sustained Ragnar camaraderie, could keep me from the crushing feeling that it was, indeed, over.
Nothing worked. So, I walked back to the room and just went to sleep.
The bright morning brought renewed optimism, and breakfast with a couple of our teammates helped, but I sorely missed Ragnar Trail North Shore Oahu all the same.
Note: I was not paid (monetarily or with free product) to endorse the products and services I mentioned in this article. I mentioned them only because I had positive experiences with them during the race.