Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Brands

Culture

TRAIL STOKE: Back on the Trail

How the quirky thrills of a Ragnar Trail Relay stoked my running fires

Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.

It was nearing sunset last Friday night, and I was suddenly in a zone that made me feel like I was running a flowy trail in a dream state.

Moments earlier, I had felt tired, sore and anguished while trudging three miles up a paved road in Snowmass Village a few miles west of Aspen, Colorado. The Red Loop was positioned as the hardest of the three courses at the Ragnar Trail Colorado event, and for good reason. The 6.7-mile circuit included a stout 1,400-foot climb on asphalt up Lake Wildcat Way before spilling out on Rim Trail North for another 250 feet of climbing to an unnamed peak that topped out at about 9,000 feet.

It was only momentarily grueling and when the summit served up glorious 360-degree views just as the sun was in its final approach to the western horizon line, suddenly my legs felt fresh and I fell into a familiar state of euphoria. As I began to run down the back side of the mountain on the singletrack trail, I found myself cruising through a tunnel of green aspen trees interspersed with sections of purple, large-leafed lupine flowers. On the horizon, I caught a glimpse of the snow-capped summit of Mount Daly and Capitol Peak and other prominent summits of the Elk Range.

It was only momentarily grueling and when the summit served up glorious 360-degree views just as the sun was in its final approach to the western horizon line, suddenly my legs felt fresh and I fell into a familiar state of euphoria.

 

Trail running was ever-present for me during the Covid-19 shutdown, but it had been a long time since I had pinned on a race bib and endured the enticing agony and ecstasy of racing on a trail. After grinding through the heat on the 3.8-mile Green loop earlier in the day and feeling horrible for hours after, I was surprised at how energized I felt in the exhilarating, closing miles of the Red loop.

Motoring along the downhill winding path back to the Ragnar basecamp was pure joy — fast, frisky and fun. Yes, it was a low-key Ragnar trail relay, but it was the best I’d felt running in more than a year.

When I finished the course and handed off to a teammate, I headed back to our team’s semi-luxe “glamping” area, cracked a cold New Holland Lightpoint “functional white ale”  — so-called because its  low 3.7-percent ABV and ingredients including coconut water, raw honey, orange peel and sprinkle of potassium for optimal hydration and recovery — and settled into high-fives, storytelling and merriment with a few of my teammates who were enjoying an extended happy hour that had started as I was getting ready to run.

 

The key to success at a Ragnar trail event is simply having good-natured teammates with the same outlook and expectations as you, regardless of running experience, ability or fitness. (Staying on top of who’s running next helps, too!) Our team didn’t have any competitive goals, but we had a blast because we enjoyed the running and all of the quirky aspects and camaraderie that went along with it.

Ragnar Trail events are all about running challenging trails in the daylight, dusk and darkness, hanging with friends, getting sporadic sleep and, if it suits you, crushing a few refreshing beers (or whatever your beverage of choice is) as a spirited community of like-minded enthusiastic runners doing the same all around you.

Ragnar Trail events are all about running challenging trails in the daylight, dusk and darkness, hanging with friends, getting sporadic sleep and, if it suits you, crushing a few refreshing beers (or whatever your beverage of choice is) as a spirited community of like-minded enthusiastic runners doing the same all around you.

With about 1,000 Ragnarians on 125 teams engaging in two days of dirt-fueled revelry, the scene was reminiscent of pre-Covid times. It was refreshing to be around people, especially because the event drew a diverse crowd from all walks of life, a variety of places and a wide range of running abilities. Yes, the Covid-19 pandemic is still lingering around the world,  but for the moment this was a much-needed jubilant escape with glimpses to the past and future.

Amid the running, there was an energetic emcee stoking the fervor, lively music blasting from speakers, food trucks serving up comfort food, movies on a big screen and all-night bonfires keeping runners warm before their next running assignment. Some teams dressed up in costumes or identical running kits, lit up their campsites with colored LED lights and partied (or simply slept) through the night.

After I ran my final loop on the 4.6-mile Yellow course at about 2 a.m. and handed off to a teammate, the rest of our crew was asleep, so I crashed, too. I had sore, fatigued legs but a feeling of satisfaction knowing I had run 15.1 miles in three alluring trail segments since I got our team started at noon.

I still haven’t looked up our results to see how we placed in our division, but a week later we’re all still trading texts, sharing photos and reliving the moments. In hindsight, Ragnar Trail Colorado was less about the running and more about the community, and that was exactly what I needed after the crazy year that was.

As dawn broke the next morning after three hours of slumber, I was in need of caffeine but opted instead for a beermosa — another orange-and-honey Lightpoint white ale, this time mixed with orange juice and sparkling water — and, honestly, it was just what the doctor ordered. No, I don’t necessarily condone drinking early in the morning, but it seemed like a good idea at the time, and it transitioned nicely into a breakfast sandwich from the food truck while waiting to celebrate our final runner finishing the course.

I still haven’t looked up our results to see how we placed in our division, but a week later we’re all still trading texts, sharing photos and reliving the moments. In hindsight, Ragnar Trail Colorado was less about the running and more about the community, and that was exactly what I needed after the crazy year that was.

 

Brian Metzler was the founding editor of Trail Runner and now serves as a contributing editor.