I just pre-Ragged

Date: June 10, 2012

Location: Guardsman Pass

Distance: 5 miles

Time: 1:10:something

Two days ago, I received a message from a former co-worker who was looking for a replacement runner for their Wasatch Back Ragnar Relay team. After doing a quick review of my schedule to make sure I wasn’t forgetting any previously agreed to obligations, I enthusiastically told her “yes”!

I have run this race twice before–in 2008 and 2009 with my “We’re Wrad” teammates. Long story short? I would describe Ragnar relays as: fun, sleepless, exhausting, and fun. Oh, and fun.

The course consists of almost 200 miles of paved and dirt roads on the east side of the Wasatch mountains. The west side of the mountains is referred to as the Wasatch front, so the east side is called the Wasatch back.

The race begins in Logan, UT and ends approximately 30 hours later (depending on your team’s pace) in Park City, UT. Teams of twelve take turns running all along the course during a two-day period. Each runner runs three legs in total, with legs ranging from 2.5 to 10 miles. (Mine will be 3.8, 7.5, and 4). Some insanely athletic teams are comprised of only six runners who each tackle six legs–that means they all run the total equivalent of over a full marathon during the race–but they represent only a minority of the teams.

The race is really just one big excuse to skip work on a Friday, get outside, and have fun with a bunch of friends. There is no pressure to PR and no one is out to impress anyone else–unless, maybe, you are one of the elite teams consisting of the hard-core running heros on one of the local college or high school cross-country and track teams. Those teams finish in as few as eighteen hours. Amazing.

The vast majority of the 1127 teams listed this year are recreational runners, like me, who are just there to enjoy time with family and friends. Teams will be in costume, driving decorated vans, blasting music and cheering on their teammates along the course. They aren’t out to break any speed records, but simply plan to have a really great time running one of the most beautiful courses in existence.

This time, my fun will also include some hard work.

I found out that I am replacing runner #10, that means (gulp) I get to run the leg they call “Ragnar” because it is considered the most challenging leg of the course. We are talking an 18% grade for 4 miles. The Ragnar website describes the Ragnar leg like this, “This is it. The leg that started it all and brought ‘RAGNAR’ to life. The most challenging leg on this course and any of the entire Ragnar Relay Series! 1700 feet of elevation climb in just 4 miles takes you to almost 8900 feet above sea level. The rest of your team will thank you for tackling this beast!”

Now that’s a bit daunting, isn’t it? (To be fair, I’ve heard from many others that, while the Ragnar leg gets all the glory, the leg just before it is at least as difficult–it’s just a few hundred feet lower in elevation).

Because I hadn’t yet met any of my other team members, besides my friend, Brianna, and I was feeling nervous about the Ragnar leg, I readily agreed to join another teammate, Klea, who suggested I join her, her husband (who is also running the Ragnar leg for his team), and two others who are also on Ragnar teams for a morning run up towards Guardsman Pass today.

We met up at 7:00 a.m., arrived at our intended destination about 45-minutes later, strategically parked the cars, and hopped out to investigate the famed Ragnar legs. The two other friends ran the leg just prior to the Ragnar leg at the beginning of the Guardsman Pass road and we started further up, where the Ragnar starts.

The gravel road was steep, just as we were warned, and I was breathing pretty hard right away (running at 8000 feet elevation will do that). We completed five miles in just over an hour, which I felt pretty good about, based on the difficulty of the run. We honestly aren’t quite sure if we ran the exact portion of the course we will face next Saturday, though, since nothing is marked for the race yet and our maps and mileage tracking didn’t seem to match up. I must admit to myself that those two slight downhill portions of the course most likely are indications that we were on the wrong road for part of the time, but I won’t find out for sure until next weekend when I run the real thing.

In any case, even if I didn’t run the exact Ragnar leg today, I still got in a great, high-elevation, uphill run and that gives me far more confidence going into next weekend’s race.

I understand, now, why my trail-running friends are such advocates of their sport. Running among the trees, in crisp, clean air, with just a calming sound of my shoes hitting the dirt is very meditative. The only drawback? I kept imagining a moose or bear would appear at any moment. Now that would most certainly improve my running time.

Really looking forward to Ragnar 2012 with my newly adopted team.

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