Taking part in a Ragnar relay series is a landmark challenge for a lot of runners, and taking on Ragnar Hill is pretty much the “Everest”. Watching the runners take on “the hill” during my first Ragnar race was truly awe inspiring. I thought to myself, I am NEVER doing that. Fast forward to winter of 2016. I was invited and happily joined a team for Wasatch Back with my sister. She then informed me that she had volunteered me to take the Ragnar Hill leg. Enter panic attack (no kidding, tears were shed). Looking back I’m so grateful to my sister for knowing my potential and giving me that push I needed to overcome a challenge I truly did want to do, and for knowing that I could. In the end, I ROCKED it and killed “the hill”.
The Ragnar Relay Series is a series of long distance relay races. Each race has one Ragnar Hill leg which has a jaw dropping elevation climb. Wasatch Back, in Utah, is the original and by many accounts has the most beautiful of all the Ragnar races. The hill in 2016 went from the Vail Canyon Resort up to the peak of Gardsman Pass and then down for a few hundred kilometers. That’s almost a 3,000 feet elevation climb. Ouch! Not to mention you’re already sleep deprived with sore muscles from having already run 2 legs. Most of the hill is too steep for running. A brisk walk is the best you can hope for. Challenging though it may be, this is the most physically and visually rewarding segment of the race.
Training for something like that is unlike any other race training. You will need both strength and endurance. Generally training for a running race is a straightforward recipe of run X amount of miles per day starting so many months in advance increasing mileage along the way. Ragnar Hill requires more than just adding uphill or mileage to your training runs. The only way to really own that hill is cross training. You will need to build muscle with the ability to carry your weight up a mountain face as well as enough endurance to “just keep going”.
Strength training 3-5 days/week will build muscles needed for hills. It also helps prevent injury and increases body mechanics by strengthening stabilizing muscles. It boosts metabolism which helps maintain energy throughout the run. Strengthening core muscles will decrease back pain that tends to result from uphill and distance strain. You will notice increased coordination helpful for navigating the rocky unstable terrain.
- Step ups
- Sit ups
- Push ups
- Lat pull down
- Pull ups
- Calf raises
- Weighted cranes
Always start with a warm up, then choose a focus of either upper or lower body. Alternate which muscle groups you’re working, that way your muscles can recover before they get broken down again. To build muscular endurance, do 3 sets of each exercise with 15 reps per set at a light to moderate weight. To build strength, do 8-10 reps with a heavier weight. It should be heavy enough to make the last few reps seriously challenging. I did my training at Firehouse Fierce which was GREAT!
Twice a week do a short 3-5 mile run. Include either hills or sprint intervals. As you approach race day (about 3 weeks out), these runs can be done on a strength training day. Just be sure to let your body recover and refuel between workouts. This helps prepare your body for running more than one leg in a day.
Once a week do a longer run, about 5-8 miles.
If you’re training in Utah or in an area with mountain trails they are a great resource for training runs. They also help keep training interesting, beautiful, and less tedious. For Utahans, try out Mueller Park Canyon, Big or Little Cottonwood Canyons, Millcreek Canyon, Bonneville Shoreline Trail, Adams Canyon, or Ogden Canyon.
Always be sure to stretch muscles after each training session. Stretch and/or foam roll often. Especially while muscles are warm. I also like an ice bath after a particular challenging run.
Fueling properly both before and after each training session is an essential element to getting the results you want. Try out different foods/recovery drinks you might take with you to the race. NEVER try something new while at the race. Your body might reject what you put into it in the most unpleasant way.
This is the training regiment I used and it paid off big time. First of all, I finished over 30 minutes ahead of my projected race time and surprised my team by beating them to the exchange by about 15 minutes. I surprised myself most of all. I had no idea I was capable of maintaining that kind of speed on a hill like that.
My final tips are; don’t underestimate yourself, and just keep going.
Running Ragnar Hill can be super intimidating, but super rewarding. Drop a comment and let me know how your training is coming. Questions, feedback, and success stories are always welcome.