Posts Tagged ‘relays’

2016 Wasatch Back Ragnar Relay

Date: June 18 & 19, 2016

Distance: 188.4 miles

Location: Logan to Midway, Utah

Team of 12, then 11  

Time: 31-ish?

After taking a year off, I returned to Ragnar and got to run with the Westminster havemorefun“Staggering Parsons” again. This was my sixth time running the Wasatch Back, and–as always–had a blast. The team included two people who weren’t directly affiliated with Westminster, but who were friends of team members. The rest, however, included the Provost, professors, staff members, and a graduate of the college. I was especially happy to run with another aviation colleague–until Avon Pass took him out mid-race. That was a bummer and I hope he’ll be back next year.

I was assigned to be runner #2. A position I hadn’t ever run. It was slated to offer the second-highest mileage, until two others in my van picked up extra legs to cover for our injured teammate. They ended up putting in over 20 miles each, with their added legs, but didn’t seem to be phased at all.roster

My first leg was an 8.6-miler that started at 6:30 a.m. on Friday morning. This leg took me through Hyrum, Utah and meandered slightly uphill. I took it easy and finished in an hour-and-a-half.

My second leg, which started around 6:30 p.m. went through a residential area in Morgan, Utah. It was only 4.2 miles, but it was by far my most difficult. The 300+ foot elevation gain, coupled with 90-degree heat, made for a not-fun run. Thankfully, lots of kids were poised in their front yards, ready to spray down passing runners with garden hoses and Super Soakers. This short run took me a slow, 50 minutes to finish.

The final leg I ran in Coalville, was a 5-miler that started at 4:15 a.m. on Saturday morning. I don’t like having to run in the dark, but I was rewarded with a beautiful sunrise as I finished this leg less than an hour later. Had I been able to keep up with the chatty woman I ran with for the first two miles, I would have finished much faster. Alas, I had to hold back.

I’m already looking forward to next year and hope we can put together an all-out Westminster team, complete with Westminster running gear, vans, and swag. I’ll work on that…

Thanks, team, for another great Wasatch Back weekend!

marksphoto

Key memories: HOT, unclear turnoffs, less-than-stellar finish area, breakfast burritos, best three-hour sleep in the van ever, and fun buffs.

Instagram: #staggeringparsons

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Mainly Marathons Independence Series Day #1-Elkton, MD

V__DE4EDate: April 29. 2015

Distance: 13.38

Time: 3:15:58

My slowest time ever for a half, but that was part of my longer-term plan to get through four races in four consecutive days. What a new experience! Denise joined me for this adventure, which will allow us to knock out four additional states that we haven’t yet done: MD, DE, PA, and NJ. The series also includes a fifth day–in NY–but since we’ve already completed a half marathon in New York state, we get to skip day #5. What makes this race experience different from most races?

1. Size. Large destination races can attract thousands of runners. This race, however, drew about 100.

2. Swag. We get one shirt for all five races, but we got to choose the color we wanted–wow. And, the medals are quite unique. We were given an “Independence Series” medal and with each race we complete, we get awarded an attachment that hangs off of the main race medal. That’s unique.

3. Course. These races, we’ve learned, are set up as out-and-back courses. That’s not the unusual part. The unique thing about these out-and-backs is that runners complete several loops to get their mileage in–6 to 10 loops for the half marathons. Granted, that gets a bit boring, but it also allows for one aid station and never feeling like you are running alone.

4. Aid Station. Speaking of aid stations, this one was AMAZING. At most races, aid stations consist of your choice of water or Gatorade (or Powerade). If lucky, the volunteers might hand out Gu packets at about mile 8 or 9. If really lucky, they might also offer bananas, oranges, pretzels, or Gummy Bears at some of the stations. In THIS race series, there is a massive spread of food, including: potato chips, BBQ potato chips, Fritos, Cheetos, pretzels, Rice Krispy treats, pickles, Gummy Bears, oranges, bananas, apples, granola bars. ham and cheese paninis, olives, jelly beans. peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Oreos, licorice, M & Ms, Reeses Peanut butter cups, miniature candy bars, hard-boiled eggs, Fig Newtons, Gatorade, chocolate milk, Coke, and water. As one racer pointed out about Mainly Marathon races, “Where else could you run five full marathons in a row and still gain five pounds?”

5. Runners. I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of participants. What kind of crazies show up to run a race series like this? Denise and I found out today. With few exceptions, we were among the youngest participants and we are pushing fifty. Far more runners are also planning on running the full marathons instead of the half marathons. Those facts made us feel like slackers. We are only running the first four races–and we are only running the half marathon distance. LAZY, eh? We also got the distinct impression that most of the runners have completed several of these race series and most of them also know each other from having met at previous races. Despite that, we felt very welcomed. Everyone was friendly and upbeat.

6. Competitive Level. ZERO. The races are not officially timed and most of the runners didn’t seem to care about their finish times at all. The number of loops runners complete is tracked by how many rubber bands you have on your wrist (one rubber band is added after each loop). Very few people were listening to music during the run and very few people seemed to be tracking their times at all. Rather, lots of people were taking a lot of walking breaks (or walking the whole way) and carrying on non-stop conversations about previous race , their training plans, their travels, and almost anything else. This non-competitive vibe made me feel perfectly comfortable with the fact that I probably walked half of this race. In fact, I went into this race planning to walk a good portion of it, but I found myself trying to devise “the perfect walk/run strategy.” Once I got started, though, any formalized strategy went completely out the window. I ran when I felt like it and I walked when I felt like it. How freeing! I really enjoyed this race and look forward to the remaining three days. I have no idea what to expect, but I’ll keep you posted…

2014 Wasatch Back Ragnar Relay

Date: June 27 & 28, 2014

Distance: 196.4 miles

Location: Logan to Park City, Utah

Team of 12 

Time: 32-ish?18ShirtMedal
This year marked the fifth time I’ve run the Wasatch Back, I hadn’t been planning on it until a campus-wide email announced the need for additional team members on the Westminster team, “Staggering Parsons” (a reference to our pre-Griffin mascot).

As always, I enjoyed the weekend. This year, in particular, gave me the opportunity to get to hang out with co-workers I don’t usually get to spend much time with. Staff and faculty alike comprised the team–along with two non-Westminster runners. Primarily, our team included folks from Student Life and the School of Arts and Sciences. And, I believe this will be the most highly educated team I will ever run with. Annie and I joked about how we were relegated to the back of the van as we, from our backseat perspectives, realized that we merely held master’s degrees while the rest of our van mates held PhDs.

Overall, the race went well. The weather mostly cooperated and the weekend, as always, was filled with sleep deprived laughter and fun.

This year, I was runner #4, which meant  that I took on one of the easier sets of legs. That worked well for me since I would be running the Missoula Half just two weeks later.Finish line

Will I run another Ragnar Relay? Yep, probably. These weekends always give me the chance to get to know people in entirely new contexts, and that makes it very, very fun.

 

 

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.”

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.

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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/


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.

2009 Ragnar Relay Wasatch Back

I love how the race medal doubles as a bottle opener!

Date: June 19-20, 2009

Time: 30-ish hours total

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Logan, UT to Park City, UT
188 miles
12 members on a team each running three legs (3 to 8 miles each)
2 vans

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I ran the race last year for the first time with a group of (mostly) co-workers. Had no idea what to expect. Guess I liked it enough to try it again this year.

As luck would have it, the three people who first signed up to join me for the ordeal ended up having to give up their spots (two to injury and one to serious dental ailments & the need for surgery). The week leading up to the race was pretty hectic since my job was to organize the team and make sure everyone was signed up.

We certainly missed our original team members but were lucky enough to find great replacements too. Our team was called “We’re WRAD!” (Stands for “Westminster Runners from All Departments). Well, almost all departments. We had Westminster students, faculty, staff, and two “friends of Westminster” thrown in for good measure. Most of us had been in training for weeks and even months in preparation for the race; others just found themselves thrown into this at the last-minute and still made us proud.

We began the race in Logan (about 1.5 hours north of SLC) at 7:40 a.m. To allow for check in, that meant that van #1 had to leave SLC at 5:15 a.m. Van #2 had the luxury of sleeping in a bit, but they also were the ones who had to run one of their legs in the middle of the night.

I had some of the more easy legs and ran my portions at about 11:30 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. on Friday and at about 9:00 a.m. on Saturday. Our whole team got to run the last few hundred feet of the race together and finished at about 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Weather was beautiful on Friday and good on Saturday morning. After that, it rained (like it has been doing all spring)–mostly affecting van #2. (Sorry, guys). Some appreciated that, though, since last year was pretty hot.

The whole race was incredibly organized despite having 650 teams and about 2000 volunteers to manage. This year they sold out and I’m sure they will continue to do so now from here on out.

The only negative or challenging thing about the race is the serious lack of sleep. In fact, the race slogan is: “run, drive, sleep?, repeat.” So true.

The best things are: driving and running through some incredible scenery (four mountain passes), challenging yourself a bit, meeting new people, and getting to spend some quality time with co-workers and acquaintances who become great friends in the process of spending the weekend together in a crowded, sweaty van.

Will I do this race again next year?! I certainly hope so! There are also other Ragnar relays out there…Hmmmmmmmmmm.

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I didn’t get the chance to run this race in 2010. I’ll tell you more about that later.