It is 1 a.m. and I am trudging up a steep trail in the Sierra Nevadas. I’m jogging (barely) up the hill; my headlamp illuminates the patch of ground just ahead of my feet. On the trail above me there is a chain of glimmering dots, the lights of other runners ahead of me. They shine along the mountain side like spectral lampposts, swinging in the wind. I am tired. I’ve already run 19 miles today, and I need to finish this six-mile loop before I can collapse into a tent for a few hours. This is hard. This is exciting and beautiful. This is unlike anything I’ve done before. This is Ragnar.
But, let’s back up a bit.
“It’s a relay,” our team leader, Rebecca Murillo, explains to me when I arrive at the Royal Gorge Ski Resort, the staging area for Ragnar Trail Tahoe. “There are three loops of varying distance: green, yellow, and red.” She explains that our team needs to run each loop 8 times.
“Here’s the catch,” Rebecca pauses. “Our team has only five runners. So we all need to run the equivalent of a marathon today.”
Our squad is one of two teams of employees and sponsored athletes from GU Energy Labs. I’ve been brought onto the team as a “hired gun” of sorts, someone willing to run 25-odd miles in the Sierras in exchange for GU Recovery Drink Mix smoothies and a few beers. I will be the first leg for our team, which means that I’ll experience the only mass start of the day.