2012 Wasatch Back

Date: June 15-16, 2012

Location: Logan, Utah to Park City, Utah

Distance: 197 miles

Time: 37 hours, 15 minutes, 38 seconds

somewhere along the Wasatch Back

How could I possibly capture the Wasatch Back Ragnar Relay in one blog post? I can’t. It’s definitely one of those “you had to be there” experiences in order to fully appreciate it.

I was asked to fill in as runner #10 for my team and, on a scale of “easy, moderate, hard, and very hard,” my three legs were ranked as “easy,” then “hard,” then “very hard”. I would have to agree with those assessments.

Runners 1-6 travel the course in van #1 and runners 7-12 are in van #2. Our van #1 runners were scheduled to start at 7:00 a.m. on Friday morning in Logan, and the team was expected to finish at 6:47 p.m. Saturday night in Park City. We experienced an immediate glitch in those plans when our van #1 teammates decided to drop off their first runner and, instead of driving directly to the first exchange, decided to go grab coffee and retrieve a forgotten pillow. They then somehow ended up at the second exchange point instead of the first and our poor lead runner arrived at the first exchange with no runner #2 to take over for her. After that snafu was figured out, we had lost about 45 minutes right off the bat. Add to that mix up several injury issues in van #1 that slowed their expected pace, and the resulting outcome was that the Master Sprinters finished about an hour later than we expected.

Not that I really cared. It’s not about the time, anyway. It’s about the experience. And I can say, I had yet another great Ragnar experience. I met lots of nice runners, spent a gorgeous weekend outside in the mountains, and can now proudly boast that I’ve run the Ragnar leg of the Wasatch Back.

Okay, so maybe I walked most of it.

Leg #1/3.8 miles/”easy”/36:53

My first leg, the one labeled “easy,” started at almost 5:00 p.m. in Huntsville, and ended by the Pineview reservoir. Based on my predicted pace, I was expected to knock that run out in forty minutes but was able to finish over three minutes faster than that, even though I was contending with a strong headwind the whole time. I felt great about that run and it helped me get my racing jitters out of way. I noticed right away, though, that I felt completely out of my league during that leg. I don’t consider myself to be the best runner (I’m not), but I usually feel like I’m “middle of the pack” with most races I run–especially in my own age group.

In this leg, I got killed. A lot.

In running terminology, you score a “kill” anytime you pass another runner and some vans in this race even post their total kills somewhere on the outside of their van. The competitor in me was feeling a bit disheartened until I realized that I was getting killed by very athletic, 20 and 30-somethings and it dawned on me that, after all, this was the Ragnar leg. That means in each of my legs I was running against all other #10 runners–the runners chosen to conquer the mighty Ragnar leg. That realization prompted me to readily forgive myself for being the runner that almost everyone was able to pass but it also added to my nervousness–how hard would the Ragnar leg be when I had to run it the next day and would I be up to the challenge?

Our first set of runs (legs 7-12) all went well and we met our other van at the first van exchange point at Snowbasin resort. That checkpoint is great–it serves hot meals and provides lots of space to relax. After I savored a hamburger and fries and the use of a real restroom, our team was able to spread out our sleeping bags for a couple of hours to stretch out and rest. The noise and early evening hours made it impossible to sleep, but we felt refreshed and ready to meet up with van #1 to knock out our second legs.

Our second legs started at about midnight and required the use of headlamps, flashlights, reflective vests, and layers of clothing to keep out the cold mountain chill. Yep, the Wasatch Back is one of the few races where you need to pack both sunscreen and gloves. The daytime temps were in the mid-80s while the nighttime temps were probably in the 40s.

This was a particularly challenging leg for one of our runners, Cindy, who was our oldest runner, has had hip surgery, has only been running for less than two years, and who is used to living at sea level. Her 3.6 middle-of-the night “moderate” leg was all uphill and took us to about 5300 feet elevation. This type of leg wouldn’t be a big deal for seasoned high altitude runners who are injury free, but to her it felt like a full marathon, I’m sure. She was winded and in pain during this entire run, and it took a huge toll on her–even making her throw up at the end and groan in pain for the next couple of hours as she stretched out in the back seat of the car to recover. I felt horrible to see her suffer like that, but she promised us she would be fine and, sure enough, she mustered enough courage and energy to complete her next leg later that day with a smile on her face. She, more than anyone else on our team, can enjoy a strong sense of accomplishment after finishing this race–her first Wasatch Back.

Two middle-of-the-night highlights included seeing escaped horses running along the road with the rest of the racers and being entertained by a very funny exchange point volunteer who keep the crowd awake and laughing as he called out runner numbers while singing, dancing, and telling jokes.

Leg #2/7.5 miles/”hard”/01:18:00

My second leg started in Coalville, Utah at about 5:00 a.m. and followed a portion of the Union Pacific Rail Trail–a biking/walking/running trail that follows the path of an old railroad line that carried coal and silver in the second half of the 1800s. This leg is described as “moderate” due to the length and gradual incline. I loved this run! I had no car traffic to contend with, I watched the sun rise as I was running this portion of the race, and the temperature was nice and cool. I again finished about three minutes faster than my predicted time, and I even had several “kills” of my own during this leg. I especially appreciated the woman who ran up beside me with about three-quarters of a mile left and pushed me to the end. I didn’t let her pass me, and that meant that I finished my last mile with a sub-ten minute mile pace. I finished strong and exhilarated.

Our team finished up our second set of runs on Saturday morning and were thrilled to find out that the sister of our driver (runner #9) offered to let us use her nearby house for a luxurious pit stop (real bathrooms and real showers). We also envisioned spreading our sleeping bags on her livingroom floor for a quiet two or three-hour nap while van #1 was running their legs, but that was not meant to be. We were concerned with the timing of our next exchange so we postponed sleep for a few more hours. The hot showers and clean changes of clothes, though, gave us all a second-wind and we felt ready to tackle our last legs that afternoon.

Leg #3/4 miles/”very hard”/01:03:42

This was it–the leg I anticipated with both excitement and fear. The Ragnar leg is identified as the most difficult leg of the whole course. It starts at 7200 feet elevation, halfway up the road to Guardsman Pass, and ends at almost 9000 feet. Paving of the entire road has made this run more enjoyable from previous years because runners no longer have to contend with gravel and road dust from all of the vans during the race. That doesn’t, however, do anything to alleviate the very steep, 18% grade and high altitude oxygen deprivation.

The vast majority of the racers walk this leg–either in part or whole–because it is so challenging. That included me. I was able to jog some portions where it flattened out a bit (or at least got less steep), but I would say I power walked about 80% of it. I enjoyed the beautiful mountain views and even got a glimpse of a giant moose through the trees at about the halfway point. (All the parked vans along the road and camera action clued me in to the fact that something photogenic was nearby). I finished this leg feeling like I had completed a bucket list-worthy accomplishment, and very happy that I had finished all of my legs and was one step closer to real food and my own bed.

Click here for some Google images of the Guardsman Pass area. And, for anyone following this blog, I wrote about my Guardsman Pass training run last Sunday and my training run was not the Ragnar leg from this year’s race so the entire leg was new to me (and steeper than my training run).

The final two runners of our van finished off the race for us as they ran down the mountain, past Deer Valley resort and into Park City.

The Wasatch Back finishes at Park City High School–a great location that allows teams to meet their final runner and run the last few hundred yards of the race together as a team. Most teams are in full costume for this finale, which is capped off with team photos and receiving the coveted race medals and “Ragnar 2012” sticker that I will now see all over town in hundreds, if not thousands, of car windows.

our van

Our team was named “Master Sprinters,” a nod to Master Splinter–a character from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle cartoon series. We finished the race in custom-made t-shirts, bandanas, fabric turtle shells, and purple and green tulle tu tus as we carried TMNT banners and some toy versions of the turtle weaponry (nunchuks and swords). Not my idea, but I went along with my team and had fun.

Another Wasatch Back completed.

I’m tempted to try other Ragnar relays since I really don’t mind missing out on one night of sleep and living in a cramped van with five other sweaty runners as we subsist for over thirty hours on pretzels, string cheese, and Gatorade.

It’s actually quite fun.


Search “relays” tags on this blog if you want to read my previous posts about the 2008 and 2009 Wasatch Back Ragnar Relay.

To learn more about Ragnar Relays–held in fifteen different U.S. locations, check out: http://www.ragnarrelay.com/


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