A First-Time Trail Runner

The BRO Team took on the Richmond Ragnar Relay at Pocahontas State Park April 26-27.

It’s 8:30 at night and I’m in the middle of the woods, picking myself up after falling for the fifth time. I let out a frustrated cry into the night, words my mother would not be happy if I repeated here. All I can think is what am I doing here?

You see, I am not a runner. I enjoy hiking, playing soccer, and generally getting outside. But I could never find the enjoyment in simply running that so many of my runner friends talk about.

Why I decided to sign up for the Ragnar Relay, I’m still not entirely sure. I am one of the newest members to the BRO office and thought it would be a fun thing to do together. I am always looking for ways to push myself and try new things. But running? It couldn’t have been anything else?

I started training about four months before the race. As someone who thought running a mile was tough, I had no idea how I was going to make it to 16. I spent a lot of time researching different training methods online and putting off the actual running.

Looking back post-race, I did not do enough to prepare. I should have spent more time running real trails to get used to the elevation. I should have done some running at night to get used to the limited sight. I should have, but I didn’t.

Our Ragnar team consisted of eight runners, each completing three laps for a total of 128 miles.

By the time I arrived at Pocahontas State Park on Friday afternoon, it started to rain. Not a light drizzle that is refreshing when you’re outside on a humid day. It was the kind of rain where nothing escapes the downpour as the water renders your rain jacket useless.

Pocahontas State Park in Chesterfield, Va.

Everyone at our campsite rushed to put up tarps and make sure our tents stayed dry. At the time, our third runner was on the trail. Missy came back to the campsite drenched and covered in mud.

After a two-hour rain delay, the race was back on. Which brings us back to 8:30 that night.

My headlamp, which seemed bright enough back at the campsite, was almost useless on the trail as I struggled to see more than a foot in front of me. Already a clumsy person prone to stumbling over roots and rocks, the darkness did not help.

This wasn’t just a trail race. It was a mud run. Sometimes it felt more like I was ice skating across puddles than running.

I’ve never felt such sweet relief as when I began to hear the music at the transition tent and saw the high-powered lights ahead. But there was a hard truth waiting for me at the end of that first lap. I was only 4.3 miles in and had just struggled with the easiest loop of the race.

Why did I sign up for this again?

I tried to sleep a little in between loops, but between the throbbing in my calves and the fact that everything was a little damp, it didn’t work very well.

At 4:30, I was back at the transition tent ready for my second lap. Armed with a teammate’s headlamp (thank you Shannon!), I was ready to go.

Even though this loop was longer, there were not as many rolling hills. It was impossible to avoid the mud, but I managed to stay on my feet this time. The air was cool and as the sun started to peak through the trees, I almost found myself enjoying the run.

By the time my third lap rolled around, the rain delay had put a number of teams behind schedule. Runners were doubling up to make sure we finished in time.

I don’t know if I would have finished that final lap if I wasn’t running with someone. My knees ached from the downhill and I could feel the blisters forming on my toes.

As we passed the race bib on to the last two runners, I knew my part was complete.

There was a point about a month before the race where I was struggling to run three miles. I was trying to figure out a way to get out of my commitment.

At the end of 16 miles, I certainly felt a sense of accomplishment for finishing something I didn’t think was possible. And I enjoyed doing it with an awesome group of people. But mostly, I just wanted to crawl into my bed and sleep for 20 hours.

Will I ever do something like this again? Ask me in a few weeks when the memory of the pain has faded.

Are you interested in running a race like this? See what it was like out on the trails with our digital content specialist, Shannon McGowan.

The BRO team finished in 29 hours, 12 minutes, and 32 seconds. For a team dealing with last minute injuries, illness, and deep-set fatigue, finishing 145 out of 265 teams was an achievement. Heck, finishing at all is something to be proud of and to celebrate.

We could not have done this if everyone on the team hadn’t stepped up to do their part. Special shout out to Hannah and Alec, who picked up a fourth loop to fill in for our injured teammate, and Jordan, who ran despite becoming sick Friday afternoon.

Share this post:

Discover more in the Blue Ridge: