Several months ago, I was listening to a podcast, We Run the Desert podcast. The topic that day was a brand new trail running format that was coming to the valley. The company was called Double Black Events and they were bringing a race called the Onyx Race to town.
For background, I’m only a casual trail runner. I basically just run Ragnar trail and maybe a few others here and there. I like them, but after falling and getting hurt, I became very scared of trails.
So I’m listening to them describe the new format and something made me listen more closely. This was different. It wasn’t just about being fast. It also had another challenge built in – the OPTION of carrying a sandbag to earn more points. This race is on a points system. You earn more points based on the distance or difficulty of the route you take, and then you have the option of doubling your points if you choose to carry a sandbag on the 2nd half of the loop. It’s all strategy on making the most of your time (2 hours or 4 hours) and playing to your strengths. I’ve never picked up a sandbag in my life. I have never done an obstacle course race. But, I am an avid weight lifter and at the very least consider myself strong. So, challenge accepted!
A week prior to the race, the course program was announced so you could start strategizing. I was considering backing out, I was so nervous! I started doubting my abilities and really wished I had a partner in crime joining me for this challenge.
After looking at the program, I initially decided I’d try the red route and then the white for my 2 hour time frame. This uses many of the same trails as Ragnar AZ. I was trying to equate it in my head and started to freak out that the red loop would be part of the same as the red loop from Ragnar, with 1000 ft elevation gain. There are so many loose rocks on that course that I couldn’t imagine trying to carry back a 25 lb sandbag on that type of terrain. So I revised my plan and decided on blue first, then 2 loops of white, time permitting.
Since this was a brand new race, it was not a large turnout (which was fine with me). The race was very well organized. The 4 hour group was larger and started at 7am.
My anxiety continued to grow as more people arrived. Definitely a smaller group for the 2 hour Onyx Half. Like 25 or so. One nice girl from Tucson started chatting me up and that helped calm me down a bit. The race kicked off at 8 and all but 2 of us headed for the yellow or red loop. Just me and another guy went for the blue. This trail was very nice. Not technical. It has 500 ft elevation gain, but it is all at a hill at the turn around point. I get to the aid station and he tells me I need to go up this hill once and then come back and either choose the sandbag (35 lbs for women) or a small flag and then run the route again. Ugh! He was really funny and just doing the hill without the sandbag was tough enough. So then he says what’s it going to be? I said the sandbag, that’s what I’m here for. So I managed to carry that up the hill and back down , then another 2 miles back to the start. There aren’t any handles on the sandbags, so they are super awkward. But overall not as bad as I expected. I tried to run a little with the sandbag in little spurts, but for the most part just ended up hiking.
I came into the exchange, dropped my sandbag, gave them my runner number and headed out for the white loop. White loop is only 1.3 miles, and pretty flat through a wash. BUT, the sandbag weighs 40 pounds on this loop (50 for men!). I felt light as a feather when I dropped the sandbag and was just running again. I decided to go for it and it and bring the sandbag back. Didn’t really feel worse than the 35, but running with it in the wash felt pretty impossible.
I finished 2 rounds of that and crossed the finish line in 1:56. Really was amazed at how good I felt in general. Just for fun I checked the leaderboard and about fell over when I saw that I was in 2nd place for females. Shortly after the 2 hour window was over, the final numbers were in and I dropped to 3rd, out of 8 that participated. Low and behold they had awards for top 3! I received a unique flag commemorating my achievement.
2 days later, I’m still sore but glad I tried this unique race. I’d totally do it again. What would I do differently next time? Train with sandbags! I fully intended to, but I never did.
Keep pushing past your comfort zone!
Hi, I'm Emily! I'm an avid runner in Arizona with a passion for travel and racing around the country!