How to Describe the 2013 Wasatch Back Ragnar Relay? Oh, My Heck!

Date: June 21 & 22, 2013

Distance: 198.3 miles

Location: Logan to Park City, Utah

Team of 12 11 10

Time: 35:36:28

OurVan

Our van. Covered with two days worth of Wasatch dust.

This year’s Ragnar experience was fun but it was also more challenging than normal–even more difficult than last year’s race when I was assigned the infamous “Ragnar” leg. At least then, I only had to run my assigned three legs and not a surprise “bonus” one.

This year, my fourth time running the Wasatch Back, I joined my friend and co-worker, Jennifer, on her relay team. Jennifer and I ran our first Ragnar Relay together in 2008 when she was on my first team. Since 2009, she has been team captain of her own team that is made up mostly of her family members. Her team is creatively named, “Oh, My Heck,” which is a familiar Utah colloquialism and serves as a “Mormon-acceptable” way to express exasperation without using profanity. I would have to say, “Oh, my heck” summed up this weekend perfectly.

We blamed it on the full moon and the year “13.”

The first set of challenges started with team members having to back out at the last minute–one team member had to leave for work-required trip to China about a week before the race, and another team member punctured a lung the day before and had to be replaced just hours before the race. Thankfully, he is going to be fine, but a punctured lung certainly disqualifies one from running a race.

Starting line in Logan, UT at the Utah State campus

Starting line in Logan, UT at the Utah State campus

Jennifer was able to replace the two last-minute drops (thank you, Molly and Tyler) but, as it turns out, two other remaining team members were unable to complete all or some of their legs due to illness.

In our van (van #1), Marcus woke up the morning of the race with severe flu symptoms that included a fever and diarrhea. With a brave face and all the intentions of running, despite his illness, he packed up his gear in the van and joined us as we drove to the starting line. As Jennifer was running the first leg of the race, it became quite apparent that Marcus would not be able to run–he was just too sick with different kinds of “runs”–so we dropped him off at his sister, Ashley’s house (another team member in van #1), to rest and recover.

We greeted Jennifer at the end of her 7.7 “very hard” leg with the news that Marcus would not be running and we would need someone to cover his 6.7-mile “hard” leg that was due to start in about one-and-a-half hours. After looking at all of the van #1 legs, and taking all of our levels of “running readiness” and training levels into account, we decided it made the most sense for Jennifer to run Marcus’s first leg. Molly would run his second leg (4.9 “moderate,”) and I would run his last leg (7.5 miles “hard”).

OMHshirtFront

Our team shirt–designed by Ashley and Ryan.

So, poor Jennifer had to knock out the equivalent of OVER a half marathon early into the race when she already had some of the most difficult legs in van #1–and the highest total mileage. Lucky for us she is a really great runner and was up to the challenge. So overall, instead of running a total of 20.9 miles, Jennifer would put in 27.6 miles over the two days. Instead of running 14.4 total miles, Molly would run 19.3; and, instead of running 17.2 miles, I would run 24.7.

Oh, my heck!

The other van had all of their runners with them–but they, too, faced illness throughout the weekend. Tyler, the last-minute substitute, began vomiting at the beginning and end of his first run, and Sidney experienced severe wheezing and barking-type coughs after her first leg. Tyler chalked up his puking episodes to having just come off of a week-long series of football practices and decided he was just exhausted and dehydrated to begin with. Luckily, he ended up feeling well enough to run his remaining two legs. Sidney, however, had to sit out her two other legs and have those covered by two other runners in van #2.

Back of team shirt. The shoe print includes the course map--cool!

Back of team shirt. The shoe print includes the course map–cool!

We were all concerned about Sydney’s breathing symptoms and her van members kept a close eye on her all day Friday and into Saturday. She improved as time passed and once she got closer to the end of the race, she was checked out by a doctor, who examined her and administered Albuterol. She likely experienced an episode of exercise-induced asthma and was told to follow up with her own doctor as soon as she could.

My Personal Race

First off, the weather for the race was perfect–we had clear skies, only a slight breeze, slightly cooler-than-normal temperatures (which were perfect for running), and the night runs included a beautiful, full moon watching over us.

I also really loved that my daughter, Kait, joined me for this race–her first Ragnar Relay. That made it special, despite our team challenges. I loved sharing this experience with her and I’m really proud of how well she did. She didn’t really train for the race and still managed to finish strong–and with very little soreness the next day. How she managed that, I have no idea. I trained for weeks prior to the race, even making sure to include hill work, and my quads are screaming the day after. She was runner #2 (7.7 miles–very hard, 3.0 miles–easy, 3.3 miles–easy).

As a surprise, Orlando and our dog even met up with us to check in just before Kait started her second leg, in Morgan, Utah. That was a nice perk along the way.

About 18,000 people ran the race this year, and it was the tenth anniversary of the event so the atmosphere was especially festive and celebratory. I was so glad to be able to take part.

My first leg, Off Avon pass into Eden, UT

My first leg, Off Avon pass into Eden, UT

Leg #6 (6.9 miles–1:06:48)

I was runner #6, so I was assigned legs 6, 18, and 30. My first leg started at about 1:45 p.m. The first 1.5 miles continued the previous 7.4 miles uphill climb to the top of Avon pass–about 6500 feet elevation. I was so glad I didn’t have to do leg #5–Molly’s leg was called, “What the Hill?” and it’s a grueling, steep, challenging run–made even more challenging due to the dirt road and rocks. Several people have told me they think this leg is far more difficult than the Ragnar leg. It’s not as steep, but it’s longer and more technically challenging.

I couldn’t even run the entire first 1.5 miles of my leg–I walked part of it. After I got past the first 1.5 miles, though, I LOVED the fast, downhill run. My normal running pace on flat surfaces is usually about 10:00 or 10:30 but on the downhill portion of this leg, I was running about 8:20–having to take care that I was keeping my footing and not rolling an ankle on all the rocks as vans were passing me and kicking up dust. The last 3.5 miles were paved, flatter, and took runners into the town of Eden, where our van met up with van #2 and they took over for the next six legs.

This was a great way for me to start–I felt energized from being able to do a fun, downhill route–but I was also covered in grime and had breathed in a ton of dirt. My Ragnar Race had officially started.

The next exchange point was at Snowbasin Resort and, while we waited for van #2 to run their first legs, we had time to rest, change, and eat real food. Kait and I enjoyed a cheese burger and fries–fueling up for our remaining runs that night and the next morning. And, yes–it’s true, those two burgers, fries, and water cost $23.00. I only wish I could get in on that racket. I guess hungry runners will pay a lot for a hot meal. The usual running snacks of crackers, cheese sticks, beef jerky, trail mix, and peanut butter do get old pretty fast.

I couldn't resist correcting grammar while at Snowbasin. Too bad I couldn't get to them all.

I couldn’t resist correcting grammar while at Snowbasin. Too bad I couldn’t get to them all.

Leg #18 (8.3 miles–1:34:15)

This leg, that I started at about 11:00 p.m., was the most dreaded of my three assigned legs. Dreaded because it was during the night and dreaded because it was all uphill, with a total elevation gain of almost 1000 feet. I like running in cooler weather, however, so it wasn’t entirely bad–just tiring and long. (And past my bedtime).

This part of the course goes up East Canyon and along the East Canyon Reservoir–creating a spectacular, moonlit scene. I didn’t listen to music during this portion of the race because I wanted to enjoy the peace of the night run, which I certainly enjoyed as I also took glimpses upwards to see the stars in the clear night sky. I ran in the quiet and calm of darkness, hearing only the sloshing of my water bottle and the steady rhythm of my foot falls, sounds that were only occasionally  interrupted as other runners struck up brief conversations or shared words of encouragement as we would pass each other. I handed off the team baton at about 12:30 a.m. and our van #1 took off to drive to the next exchange point.

Leg 18 East Canyon

Leg 18 East Canyon

The Middle-of-the-Night Detour and Near Collision

What is normally supposed to be about a 30-minute drive to our next exchange, took us over two hours because we were dutifully following race packet instructions to go a different route–one that would lessen traffic congestion along the race course. It certainly accomplished that, but we felt as though we were the only van that followed their suggested long, convoluted route because we saw almost no other vans along the way. Everyone else was smarter and decided to maximize their rest time rather than drive much further than they had to. And, to top it all off, we almost hit a deer during our drive.

I was driving when I saw a deer dart quickly into the middle of the road. My rural Montana-trained driving instincts kicked in and I made a slight braking action with a slight adjustment of the steering wheel to successfully avoid collision. Thank goodness. That outcome certainly could have turned out differently than it did. I guess we weren’t entirely unlucky this weekend.

Our Sleeping Quarters

We finally arrived to our next exchange point after 2:30 a.m. and had the choice of sleeping in an open field or staying in the van. We expected van #2 to arrive at about 6:15 a.m. and it was really cold out at that point, so we all just tried to sleep in the van. Imagine five of us crammed in a minivan–exhausted from running twice that day. We made the best of it and I got the especially luxurious driver spot where I contended with a front seat that didn’t go back very far and the steering wheel. Sorry to my fellow Ragnarians who were also trying to sleep in that lot–I accidentally sounded the horn as I struggled to get my sleeping bag spread out. Oops. Really didn’t mean to do that.

Saturday Morning

Jennifer woke early and prepared for her first run of the day. She was ready to go and we were all awake by 5:30 a.m.–expecting our teammates to be meeting us soon at the exchange. We learned, however, that they had lost a lot of time during their night runs and were about two hours behind schedule. So, we waited in the van, not able to go back to sleep, until they arrived at about 8:00 a.m.

Up to Jordanelle.

Up to Jordanelle.

Leg #27 (7.7 miles–1:27:51)

This was the leg I completed for Marcus and, boy, was it killer. I started it at about 10:00 a.m. and it was already getting pretty hot. The route included some rolling hills, but overall, it felt mostly uphill to me–with about a 600-foot elevation gain. This leg was really enjoyable, though, and I was rewarded with a most beautiful view of the Jordanelle Reservoir at the top. The support along this portion of the race was really great–with several water stations and volunteers spraying us down with water (which I like).

It was during this leg that I met a runner who seemed to be struggling a bit so I asked him if he was doing okay. He assured me he would be fine but said he was from Louisiana, where running below sea level on flat terrain had certainly not prepared him for mountainous running at 5000 to 9000 feet elevation. Poor guy.

Had this been my first leg, I would have enjoyed it a lot more, but at this point, I was running on a serious lack of sleep and was feeling pretty spent from the miles I had already run. I couldn’t stop thinking about having to run again in just a couple of hours.

Leg 30 (2.1 miles–22:45)

How funny to say that a two-mile run can be the hardest run of all, but it was.

Leg 30 in Heber

Leg 30 in Heber

By the time I had to run this, starting at about 1:15 p.m.,I was completely spent. My quads and my glutes were killing me and I was just so tired. All I could think about was a hot shower and my own bed. I couldn’t get to either of those things, though, until I knocked this one out.

This leg was just a quick in-town run in Heber on flat roads–a run that would normally have taken me 18-20 minutes. Instead, after Molly handed me the team baton, I shuffled away like the stiff, old lady I was–taking little baby steps and just gutting it out.

After getting through the first half mile, I loosened up a bit, but I’m not going to lie. It wasn’t fun. I was hot, I was sore, and I just wanted things to be over. I was so happy to hand off the baton to van #2 at the exchange and know that the 2013 Wasatch Back Ragnar Relay was in the books.

Why do this?

Why spend a bunch of money and give up an entire weekend for such a crazy pursuit?

Relay races are not just about the running. This year’s race bibs included the saying, “Connect, Conquer, Celebrate” and I think that captures this race–and many others–quite well.

Connect

Many families and friends run events like this as a way to connect or re-connect. I, for one, spent more time with Kait in this one weekend than we often get to. She is probably tired of me after being forced to hang out with me for hours on end, but I relished the two straight days we spent together. I was really proud of her positive attitude and her willingness to try something challenging and new. I loved getting to see a slightly different side of her. I hope she wants to do this, or something similar, with me again.

These races are also a way for strangers to connect. People who have never met often become teammates and very quickly get to know each other surprisingly well in a short amount of time. Racers and volunteers–also strangers to each other–share the race connection and strike up conversations easily throughout the weekend. This supportive, positive environment keeps me coming back year after year, and it’s one thing that draws me to running. Most runners I’ve met are down-to-earth, open, and fun to be around. No stand-offish competition here–we are all drawn together to have fun, celebrate life, enjoy being outdoors, and be supportive of each other.

It's all about the shirt and medal. And the car sticker.

It’s all about the shirt and medal. And the car sticker.

Conquer

A very hilly, high altitude race that takes runners almost 200 miles along back country roads and up and down three mountain passes IS challenging. Most runners, like myself, like to challenge themselves and love the feeling of having accomplished something that is difficult and pushes one’s personal limits. I, like many others, find that to be quite rewarding and we are proud of having met the challenge. That’s why, today, cars all over this state (and beyond) will have a 2013 Ragnar car sticker in their back windows and why hundreds of travelers are wearing their newly earned race shirts on their flights home.

Celebrate

Every race I’ve run includes some sort of celebration at the end. It might be as simple as being handed a finisher’s medal and a bagel, or it might be much more elaborate–an all-out party with full meals, drinks, music, and gifts. That’s because we runners sign up for races and we run to celebrate. We celebrate our accomplishments, we celebrate friendships, and we celebrate life.

Was this year’s race tough? Yeah. Will I run a Ragnar Relay again? I sure hope so. And I also hope I can get as many of my family members and friends as I can to join me.

___________________________________

Favorite sayings and team names I saw on vans along the way?

“Not Fast but Furious”

“I just swore in my head a little.”

“You call THIS a fun family reunion?”

“We should have stayed at work.”

“I thought this was going to be a 5K.”

“Baby’s got Wasatch Back.”

“11 sinners and Matt”

“Thirsty from eating all these pretzels.”

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