how (not) to run a ragnar*

i trained diligently for the ragnar northwood trail run i ran last weekend.

i bought trail shoes after hours of research. i ran on the trails at st. john’s for a month and a half before the race, dodging rocks, fallen logs, and rivets, and running up hills that i didn’t want to run up.

the two weekends before the run, i tried a couple variations of the distances so i’d know which order to run in. the first try, i did the seven mile-loop first, and the following loops were horrible because my legs were no good. the second, i kept my 7-mile for last and it was good.

i ran at night on the trails, my headlamp bobbing along. nighttime 4-mile was my jam: i regularly ran a 12:30-minute or less mile. 

i thought i was ready.

i thought wrong. 

before the storm. it looks so peaceful.

before the storm. it looks so peaceful.

the first indication that this was going to be rough was the 10-day forecast: 80s and humid with a heat index in the mid 90s. sure, we’d be in the forest, but that doesn’t make the humidity go away. 

second was my first loop, the 4-mile. it should’ve been fantastic. instead, it was so hot that i got mildly dehydrated even though i was drinking water nonstop. second, my stomach was upset because of my water sloshing around. and third: no running on the st. john’s trails could have prepared me for the trails that were in the 9-mile forest. 

the st. john’s trails are old logging roads scattered with rocks, gravel, tree branches, the occasional rain rut, and regular inclines and declines. 

the 9-mile forest trails are bike trails full of rocks, tree roots everywhere you look, and switchbacks instead of a steady upward climb. and bike trails? there’s no way your foot is landing solidly. a bike trail is carved into the ground like a U.

when i ran at st. john’s, i’d have to pay attention most of the time, but i could take a break now and then to take in the scenery. at 9-mile, there is NO taking your eyes off the road. ever. it is 100% vigilance. 

so my 4-mile sucked. (actually, it was closer to 5 miles.) i fell once during the run, scraping up my hand a little bit and possibly ruining liz’s water bottle. i was so disappointed in it.

but i was slightly vindicated with my 3-mile run, which i headed out on around 9 p.m. it was cooler, the sun was down, and i ran in a group with two other women: an ultramarathoner and an iron man finisher. for their history in running, they were running a pretty slow pace; it was a little bit slower than i would have run if i’d been alone. but slow was good at this point. i didn’t fall once – only a couple wobbly moments, and i finished the 3 mile in 50 minutes. a normal 3-mile for me is about 36 minutes, but we stopped to let runners go past, and i helped the ultra get some kleenex out of her pack to clean up her hand. so my pace was probably 13.5-minute mile when i think about it. 

then i went back to the tent and tried my darnedest to get some sleep because the 7 mile (really 8) started in the wee hours of the morning and i needed to carb/caffeine up before heading out on that one.

liz rolled in from her 4-mile a little after 6 a.m., when the sun was just starting to grey up the sky. i clipped on the bib belt, turned on my headlamp and knuckle lights, and headed out.

the first quarter mile of all loops is the same: they ease you into it with a wide, easy grass path. SO IT WOULD SEEM. not even close to the red trail veer off, my ankle, which had been a little wobbly to begin with on this run, gave out, and i rolled it massively on the right side. down i went. 

got up, tested it out. i thought about turning around right there and finding someone else to finish my loop, but i felt like that was a giant cop out. so i started running. and it was reasonably ok. 

until i got to the technical part.

here’s the thing about running on a newly rolled ankle: it wants to keep rolling. and rolling. and rolling. every time i tried to run on the technical part of the trails, which was rocks, rocks, rocks everywhere, my right ankle would turn out and cause more pain. i was so irritated with my stupid, weak ankles (still am, actually). 

finally, i gave up and decided to walk during the technical part of the trails, and when it evened out to flat areas, i would run. ok.

meanwhile, the sun came up and lightened up the landscape. the leaves looked great among tall pine trees. the temperature was probably the best of the entire time we were there. i had trained weeks for this. and i had a bum ankle. 

i stopped for everyone who needed to get past me so they could get past. at the water station, i stopped to fill my water bottle and eat a gel pack. i asked the volunteer what would happen if i needed a ride. then i took a couple more drinks and filled my bottle again. procrastinated, pretty much. then headed out. 

the last mile or so of the red trail was pretty even, flat, and wide, which was such a relief. i walked up all the hills, but ran as best i could on the rest of the trail. as i pulled in to the last quarter mile, it was such a great feeling to know the end was near. i’m REALLY glad i finished it, even though it ruined my ankle. 

quinn was cheering for me as i pulled in to the runners’ station, and i handed off the bib belt, ready to head back to camp to pass out. quinn took off like a bullet (really, she was the fastest of the team. good thing, too!)

i checked the time as i left the runners’ station – 8:20. i had finished nearly 8 miles, walking technical parts, running on a bum ankle, stopping for every tom, dick, and harry who had to pass me, and taking a prolonged water break, in 2 hours and 10 minutes. that’s about a 16:30-minute pace. i can’t walk that pace. i ran that almost-8 mile at a faster pace than my 4 mile.

i knew that if i had gone slower, my teammates would have had to run in hot weather, and i think that pressure made me book it as best i could. this is why i don’t play team sports.

i got back to camp and unwrapped my ankle. (i had taken precautions, even! i had taped up my foot along my heel, then tape around my ankle, then an ace bandage over that. and STILL.) the ankle looked like a golf ball and progressively got worse through the day. i had a giant goose-egg on my shin, which i don’t remember getting. it must’ve happened one of the times i rolled my ankle and the pain in the foot was too much to register the shin pain. elevation and ice were the name of the rest of the day. 


this is actually not that bad. the next day i looked like i had elephant foot.

today, the swelling’s gone down, and i have bruises all over my legs and feet. the past couple days, my other leg’s muscles were killing me due to overcompensating for the bum leg.

but i’m getting antsy to get out running again. the weather is perfect for running, and the light is leaving us quickly; time is getting short for outdoor runs. and now that i know what a trail could be like, i am not complaining one iota about the st. john’s trails. i have the shoes. i have the ambition. i just need to get that ankle moving again. 

*next post i will talk about what the ragnar event is like.


training for running races sucks no matter what, but there is a marked difference between training for a regular half marathon and ragnar. each has their advantages and disadvantages!

  1. distance: a half marathon is 13 miles all at one go. a normal person finishes in about 2 hours or so, , with a slower than average person (me) finishing between 2.5-3 hrs. either way, training for a half is all about making sure you get your distance in. you can work on stamina, but really, your pace can be pretty static, hills can be pretty minimal, and you can go on auto pilot. for me, the distance was ok up until about 9 miles; body parts just started to hurt a lot at that point. i kept pushing through, though, and if you can run through the pain (and remember to take ibuprofin beforehand), just going can be ok. 

    the ragnar, on the other hand, is broken into three loops: 7, 4, and 3 miles. each of those distances is more than achievable on their own for me. but they are all within a short time period, so while your leg muscles are recovering from the 7 mile, you need to get going on the 4. i’ve been training for ragnar so far in loose clothing, and today i ran a 7 mile trail run in my loose shorts then the 4 mile in my compression pants. there was a pretty big difference between the two, so i think wearing compression pants the entire ragnar is going to make a huge difference for me as long as i keep training in loose clothes. 

  2. hills: generally i stay away from hills. hills suck. but ragnar trail is all hills, so i’ve been training out in the st. john’s woods on trails. that way i get a taste of running on uneven terrain as well as up and down hills. you’d think running down hills would be the easy part, but it takes a lot of leg work to make sure you don’t go all out on some of them. i’ve been running mostly trails for about three weeks now, and ragnar is in two. i hope my consistent trail and hill running will overcome my lack of stamina and speed. cuz interval training sucks!
  3. the view: depending on where you run your half, it can be pretty boring. city running, amid buildings. i’ve run through parks in a half, but it’s pretty urban. the ragnar is all woods, which is pretty exciting. being out in the trees while you’re running is pretty perfect for me. unfortunately, i’m so intent on watching the ground so i don’t trip over a rock, root, or divot, that a lot times i miss out on the scenery. weirdly enough, while i’m out at st. john’s, i get pretty close to the freeway, so i’m out running in the trees and nature with the whine of I-94 as soundtrack. 
  4. your knees: concrete ruins my knees. we ran on on concrete for the firecracker four mile in la crosse, and my knees hurt for a week afterward. asphalt is decent enough to run on for my knees as long as i don’t go crazy fast (9-min mile) down hills. trails? bring it on. up hills, down hills, slow, fast: my knees are like LALALALLALA this is awesome! dirt is great for my knees.
  5. shoes: buy road shoes for road running. buy trail shoes for trail running. that’s all. 
  6. the best part: both training options leave a lot of opportunities to eat a lot of food. 

so today i ran 6.75 miles in the early afternoon and 5 miles around 7:30. tomorrow i’m going to try to do 3 miles at some point. my legs are already rubber.

melancholy august

august was cool this year. and wet. 


my garden is 15 steps off my back patio, and i’ve been neglecting it this year. tomato plants sprawl across the dirt and weeds; green beans that are much to large to eat hang from the spindly plants still, rather than being picked weeks ago to go in the freezer. 

the four hills of gourds – two pie pumpkin and two squash – have taken over the space, their creeping vines crawling up the broccoli plants and hiding in the cucumbers. it’s been so wet that the vines are still producing blossoms and new gourds at the same time its leaves are dying, revealing the orange and yellow foodstuffs. 

at the beginning of august, a barely perceptible change in the light caused me to panic – summer was coming to a close. the leaves were still green, the grass still growing (and me still mowing), and the sun still shining, but we there was a change in the season. more canada geese started flying overhead, their calls heading southward. instead of lazily sifting through pliant, green leaves, the wind started rattling through stiffer, more brittle leaves. i have heard no loons lately. 

august moved much too quickly, and already we’re into early september. this morning i took my small cup of coffee in my favorite summertime mug out onto my patio with a book. the sun, which would have lit up my entire patio two months ago, was still working to light up a quarter of the patio.

when i opened my patio door, a small flock of birds flitted out of the tomatoes in my garden, rising to the sky. a monarch fluttered around the browning squash leaves. i took the few steps out to pick the ripe tomatoes, peppers, and some dill. i checked the cucumbers, which are still putting out blossoms while the leaves are browning, getting ready to be done for the season. i will have pickles for years.

and while the leaves are still green, the grass still green and growing, cucumbers still mass producing, the light doesn’t lie. the earth is slowly tilting its north end away from the sun, seasons changing, time progressing. autumn is coming: the colors, the leaves, the smells, the harvests. 

i love fall, but i don’t like the season that follows it, and i don’t like the change in daylight. winter seems twice as long as all other seasons, but springtime will come again; it always does. 

home reno!

almost a year ago, nate and i bought our house. one of the perks of buying a house built in 1997 is that you got a sweet corner desk for the family computer.


and while it’s been working for the past year to hold some random stuff and the microwave, it was time to say goodbye to the desk. it jsut wasn’t functional for nate and me (or anyone this time and age, frankly). 

i went to menards and bought a couple wall cabinets, sanded them down, and painted them. also found a cabinet on facebook marketplace that was about 5 inches shorter than the wall width, which was ok since i wasn’t going to move my outlets. sanded that bad boy was well and painted it. i’m not sure i’m sold on cabinet paint, but it is what it is.

took out the corner cabinet, sanded down some of the wall, and painted it to match the rest of the kitchen.


then charlie came up this weekend to help hang the cabinets.


got everything squared away (literally), and it looks SO much better. much more functional, too. the only thing that i would like is a better way to deal with the outlets, but that requires either paying someone to move some electrical or learning electrical myself.*



tomorrow i’m replacing the light fixture so it’s not so dark over there and just have to patch up a few paint nicks and figure out if i need some trim along the shelves. not entirely worried about it though.

next up is to paint the rest of my kitchen cabinets. and replace the floor. yuck!

*actually, i should take intro to electrical at work. and intro to plumbing. i get free credits!