Me and my 11 newest friends conspired to run 184* miles last weekend. It’s the Wasatch Back Ragnar. It’s now Monday as I type, and I still haven’t recovered the mental energy to write a long blog post, and for that you should all be glad. This might just stay less than 3,000 words. ;)
[Editor’s note: Yup, not even 2500 words!]
Runners 1 through 8 got up sometime before dawn and got themselves to Logan to start running at 8:30 in the morning. Those of us who were smart signed up for one of the last 4 legs, so I got to have a nice morning at home before heading out after lunch to meet up with everyone in the Huntsville area.
After all the work that I did estimating when we would finish each leg, the weekend became an illustrative example of the “garbage in, garbage out” principle – i.e. when everyone lowballs their individual paces, you end up many hours ahead of schedule. Case in point: Tom ran right before me and had claimed a pace of 11:30/mile. He ran the first leg at 10:55/mile, the second leg at 10:52/mile despite it being over 8 miles and slightly uphill, and the last leg at an even 10:00/mile despite the previous legs and the lack of sleep. He wasn’t the only one.
I was the very last runner to finally get a turn to run. Being in the last 4 made for a nice morning, but being the very last made for a very, very steep weekend. My first leg was from Pineview Reservoir up to Snowbasin. 6.9 miles long and 1800 feet up. My mile splits were 8:25, 8:59, 8:42, 6:27, 8:19, 9:59, and 7:36. Can you guess mile had the downhill? Before I did that run, someone asked me how fast I could do it, and I said, “8:30/mile?”. This got a raised eyebrow, and I hedged with a, “8:45/mile?” I ended up averaging 8:32, which I think is pretty impressive.
My survey says that 1 in 6 Ragnar runner wears awesome shoes
Because this was hypothetically the hardest run of the race (the “Ragnar Leg”), I got an extra medal at the finish line. There isn’t a ton to say about the leg. It was steep, I ran hard and stopped to walk once or twice. I passed 31 people, which I think was pretty good considering there were only 392 teams in the whole race and undoubtedly many of them were behind me when I started. The leg did end about a half mile earlier than I anticipated. Turns out the info on their website and on their app don’t quite match, and the app is the one that was correct.
Once that was over, I hopped in the car and we went down to Mountain Green. I didn’t really appreciate how little down time there is in the Ragnar, because you’re continually driving to the next exchange point and often only have 10 or 15 minutes there before the next person takes off. We were in Mountain Green long enough for me to walk up to the cemetery (we had literally parked right below it) where many of Shannon’s relatives are buried. It’s not a weekend out for a Blockburger without a trip to the cemetery!
Now it counts as an adventure
The next exciting thing for the trip was at about 11pm Friday, when we had a runner miss a turn, and instead of ending up at exchange 17 he ran to exchange 18, which was only about half a mile away. (Leg 18 was supposed to take a more circuitous route from 17 to 18.) Fortunately, the van made the same mistake and also went to exchange 18. So then we sent runner 18 off running and tried to find exchange 18, not realizing we were already at exchange 18. We drove around in circles for a bit and argued about where we were supposed to go before we finally figured out what was going on. (We were all tired at that point, and it was dark.) Basically we skipped all of leg 18, and runner 18 was running leg 19. Runner 19 was getting skipped, and runner 18 was going to arrive at the wrong place and we weren’t going to be there go meet her. And, of course, this was all happening to our youngest runner who was only 12. (I think – I mean, I know she was the youngest, but I’m not sure on her age.) It all ended up fine. In the end, it all worked out. One of our other runners was having some painful IT band issues, so runner 19 (who was skipped) got to run his final leg, and I think everyone ended up ok with how it turned out. So, yeah, we’re cheaters. We didn’t even turn ourselves in. (We got 88th place overall, and 70th in our category, so I think the integrity of the event was left intact.)
One result of our running ahead of schedule (and, you know, cheating) was that instead of my runs coming at 6pm, 5am and 4pm, they came at 5pm, 3am and 1pm. I do not consider that an improvement. My second leg was 3.8 miles on a trail on the back side of Echo Reservoir. It was pretty flat, and the trail wasn’t too rocky, though in the dark it was impossible to tell if any pointy rocks were lurking or not. I decided that if you can’t see them coming, you might as well run as if they aren’t there, and I didn’t hit anything too major. By this time I had learned that the Ragnar lingo for passing a runner is a “kill”, and I racked up another 20 kills on this leg, with mile times of 6:41, 6:42, 6:48, and 6:43. Remarkably consistent for 3am, in the dark in 40 °F weather. My goal had been 7 minute miles, so that counted as another win in my book.
I carried this hitchhiker the last two miles of my run. It was stuck between my toes – hard to see the weeds in the dark.
Another challenge of Ragnar is not really knowing when your turn is going to come. The whole weekend was filled with repeated mental math problems trying to guess how fast someone would run, looking up how long and steep their leg was and then trying to minimize the time you had to spend standing out in the sun or cold waiting for them. The longer a leg is, the more uncertainty there is in the timing, so I spent about 10, maybe 15 minutes standing out in the cold waiting for Tom to come in to start my nighttime leg. And then when I finished . . . no one was there. I stood around for about 10 minutes before finding someone from my team, but not the next runner. She was in a different cae …. Somewhere. She finally showed up, I gave her a bit of grief about it, and I hope she figured out that I wasn’t really upset or anything. It’s probably some karmic payback for our cheating.
Most Ragnar teams of 12 (some crazies do it with fewer runners) divide up into two groups of 6 that work more-or-less independently over the whole race. Our team was an extended family (plus me and on other hanger-on) and they don’t like that method and so have worked out a system where 8 people are in the big van at a time and 4 people are “on break”. Our break came after my late run and we made the 30 or 40 minute drive from Coalville to a condo in Midway that the team had reserved. It was nice to be able to shower and sleep on a stationary mattress. I got about 3 ½ hours of sleep, and would have enjoyed 3 ½ hours in the shower, but sadly, I had to be as quick as possible. (A real challenge for me.) This was one point where I was glad everyone had lied about their paces, as we got to sleep while it was dark outside.
We went back out to the car to make the 30 minute drive to meet the team in Peoa only to discover that the car was completely dead. It was Tom’s in-law’s car, and is a hybrid. So we started down the twin paths of figuring out how to jump start a hybrid (where is the battery? Are there any jumper cables? What on earth happened to have dead batteries in a car that is full of batteries?) while also calling an Uber to get us back to the race. The Uber came before we could make any real progress on the car (we found the terminal to attach a jumper cable, but still didn’t have a cable or a functioning car) when the Uber came, so we abandoned that car and headed for the race. I think Jim had only been waiting a couple of minutes when we finally got there (More karma?) and the race was back on.
My final (and the final) leg came at 1pm. It was essentially two completely separate runs. First a three mile run that was gently downhill on the side of a road. Despite the time of day, lack of sleep and fatigue, I was killing it: 7:00, 7:02, 6:53. At that point I was 50 seconds ahead of where I had hoped to be. And then the hill came. And by hill, I mean mountain. 900 feet of climbing in under 2 miles. I was planning for 10 minute miles. The first half mile was still relatively flat and then it started getting steep. That mile came in at 9:09. Great. Still ahead of pace, and with a cushion for the rest of the hill. And then the thing went vertical. Crushingly steep, on a rocky, dirt trail. It wasn’t a run, it was a hike. The best things I can compare it to is the hike to Cecret Lake, which is about 500 feet over ¾ of a mile. So it’s certainly worse than that. Or hiking to the ‘Y’ in Provo, which is about 930 feet in a mile – about the same height as that, but spread out over an extra half mile. So you can imagine either running to Cecret Lake twice in a row (no downhill in between) or a somewhat less steep run up the Y. Either way, it’s brutal, as my mile split can attest: 14 minutes, 20 seconds. It was on that climb that I was passed by the first (and then second) runner of my race. I watched them go, dumped some water on my head and made my way up as best I could.
Once on top, the descent was on a mountain bike trail. That means rocks, and sharp, banked hair-pin turns every 30 feet. I swear there were a hundred turns in that two mile descent. (I just counted, it was only about 50. Felt like 100.) It was as technical as anything I have ever tried to run. I stubbed my toes a couple of times, and stepped on way too many rocks. My two descending miles were done in 8:19 and 7:56. My team was there 30 yards from the finish line so we could all cross the finish together. Unfortunately for them I was a jerk and just ran past all of them; it was still steep down hill and slowing down would have been hard, plus, my feet were on fire from the pounding they took coming down. I crossed the finish line, found a patch of grass, laid down and ripped my shoes off. I was frankly surprised not to find bruises on my feet that night. I had been worried about the footwear for those last two miles and my fears turned out to be well founded.
The descent. There were many turns.
So that’s the tale of the Ragnar. 17.7 miles. 2882 feet up, 1561 feet down. 2 hours and 24 minutes. I had a good time, and the family that let me tag along with them for a weekend was great. I’d probably even do it all again, though it might be someone else’s turn to do the legs with all the climbing (I did 1000 feet more climbing than anyone else and 2000 feet more than half of the team).
Team "Got Pecks?" (left to right): Shawn, Clark, Jim, Sally, Rob, David, Lindsey, Tom, Abby, Caleb, Chace and Garrett
Ragnar swag: shirt, slap bracelet "baton" (no one else wanted it), bib, finisher medal and Ragnar Leg medal
General Observations, Notes and Comments:
- The van was significantly less smelly than I would have anticipated. For 30 hours we had 7 people at a time in the van, most of whom had run more recently than they had showered. Maybe this is just a time when my weak sense of smell is a feature.
- I ate far less than I anticipated. I took about 3000 calories with me and hoped that it would be enough. I also figured that we could/would stop for something somewhere along the way. I didn’t think that through enough, because 1) it’s hard to stop when you generally have to be somewhere else in another 30 minutes or so and 2) there aren’t tons of places to stop in the great metropolises of Utah: Peoa, Oakley, Liberty, Mountain Green, etc.
- If there is a next time: Chex Mix, Fig Newtons, Peanut Butter M&Ms.
- I did take granola bars, apple sauce, pop tarts, fruit strips and those were all good.