The Ragnar Relay Trail Run was just outside Zion national forest in Utah at the Zion Ponderosa Ranch May 13-14, 2016. Client Solution Architects (CSA) my employer put together two teams of 8 people from the west coast and east coast offices.
Three loops; 3.4 mile Green loop Elevation 6,492.702 (293 ft gain), 3.9 mile Yellow loop Elevation 6,914.411 (714 ft gain), and 7.9 mile Red loop Elevation 6,891.918 (692 ft gain), made up the course and each person on the team would at sometime during the race period would have to run each loop. As each person completed a loop s/he would pass the race Bib to the next teammate waiting at the designated mat. So if you started the Green loop when you returned you might pass the team bib to your team mate waiting on the Red mat, s/he in turn might pass it to the person waiting on the Yellow mat. This cycle of Bib passing continues though the event until each teammate has run each leg.
Our teams start time was 1:30PM Friday the 13th; great date eh?, Finishing in the afternoon of Saturday the 14th; cutoff time was 6:00PM so all teams at the event had to finish by that time or NDF.
The weather at the event location was mostly HOT and COLD (LOL) depending on the time you ran. In the daylight temperatures hit in the 90’s and at night in the low 40’s. Team CSA did end-up at one point huddling under the canopy and in the tents at our camp site because of pouring rain, thunder and lighting; but fortunately it was just after, literally two hours after, we completed the race. Nothing like 2015 where the CSA teams wallowed, wiggled, and slithered though mud, rain, sleet, and snow on the race loops.
For Team CSA the relay run commenced at 1:30PM as each runner returned to camp, the consensus for each trail was “That Sucked!” when you are the fifth runner this gives you much to contemplate while you wait your turn on starting mat.
Even though each leg started with a climb up a mountain and quite a few more thought the course, it was more coming from sea level to 6,200 ft in elevation that made it suck. It was pretty easy to loose yourself in the beauty of ‘the wild’ during the runs except when there were rattlesnakes and running in the dark; but then even those make for an adventure and memories.
— Yellow 3.9 mile loop:
My adventure into the wild started at around 4:50PM I was to run the Yellow Leg. I was excited and ready, I’d been itching to run all day, even ran a loop around the camp area to try and work the anticipation out of me; I didn’t work but I did learn that the elevation was going to play a large role in my running. Me and Aaron; another teammate stared at the monitors mounted on the outside of the relay station waiting for our team names, CSA1 and CSA2, pop up on the screen indicating it was time to enter the relay station to wait for the hand off of the team bib and our turn to run.
I saw Brian run into the relay station and yelled to catch his attention. He unlatched the bib and handed to me and in an exhausted voice repeated the term that had become ingrained in my head ‘that sucked.’
While clasping the bib belt around my waist I followed the left fork onto the yellow leg trail, and said out loud ‘Time to embrace the suck!.’ From the relay station the trail took a left along the side of the campground and then a right up a small hill on a dirt road; the campground disappearing as I ran down the backside of the hill was my true entrance into the race. Crossing one additional road we entered the single lane trail. Within less than a half mile, I had come to the base of the mountain where I would start my 714 ft accent.
I considered myself a strong hill runner, but within a few yards of the base, the grade and elevation brought the lactic acid in my legs to a boil, heckling me with its evil laugh joining the fight with my brain who had already started asking me what the heck I was thinking; running became a task that tested my will. I relented, and fast hiked, even then the taunting continued once again reducing me to a fast walk. So I continued up the hill pressing my legs to work, running when the opportunity afforded itself.
At about mile 1.5 the grade mellowed and I was able to run. The wider tree laden trail opened to a single track trail sparsely bordered by brush on each side. Unbridled picturesque views of mountain ranges and valley below greeted you seemingly dancing in the bounce of your run. A welcome gentle breeze brushed ever so lightly across my face cooling me slightly and just as my heart rate started to stabilized and I started to become lost in the beauty of my surroundings a buzz ripped though the silence of my mind. Without hesitation I reeled back. I knew that sound all to well, the sound of the rattlesnake, growing up in areas littered with these critters and much time in the bush looking for them has provided my share of encounters.
Looking for the snake, I found him about 10 inches off the right side of the trail coiled in a bush. The section of the trail he was on was elevated so he was sitting at about thigh level and most defiantly within striking distance of a runner. I was shocked that other runners hadn’t noticed the snake or had been bitten. There was no way to safely get around this snake; the hill was too steep to go off trail. In my younger days I would have made short work of this critter whose hide would have ended up on my tanning bench and later a hatband or belt. But, older and wiser I tend to live and let live so I gave the snake a chance to move; with a little motivation.
As I waited for his departure another young lady came running up the trail. From her body language I could tell she had every intention of running passed me and why wouldn’t she? After all she had no clue that a rattlesnake had decided to lay and wait a few inches off the trail. She had her headphones in so I stopped her and said “You don’t what to run up there, a rattlesnake is just off the side of the trail” she didn’t take the news quite the way I expected, rather she broke into an anxious sort of panic, her body moving side to side, back and fourth like the yaw and pitch of a ship in a storm. “Oh my god! Oh my god! What do I do, what do I do!” she bellowed though the tightened muscles of her neck. “It’s moving away, just give it a few minutes” I told her. I’m sure she saw my lips move but don’t think she heard the words that came out. “I don’t want to do this anymore! Oh my god a snake! What to I do!” she squeaked. I watched with great interest the conflict she was having within herself; I could tell part of her wanted to run back down the mountain wanting no more to do with this crazy trail running, but I could also see the competitor in her wanting to run on, into the wild.
By now the snake was slithering around looking for a path away from all this craziness on his trail. As I watched other runners soon joined the fold all waiting and looking. One woman walked up, as the snake found an escape and stated shaking the bush say “there you go baby, go now… there you go” a nut in every batch I guess. While she played with the snake I ran on making it to the peak.
I stopped to take a look at the view, it was amazing to look down in the valley to see my starting point so far in the distance. Not soon after I stopped the young lady who just a few minutes ago was in a panic came running past me; good on her I thought.
With the peak came a mostly down hill with a few small inclines, there was absolutely no breeze of any sort on the backside of this mountain just allot of dust. In the last half mile or so the yellow, green and red legs would meet and you would run over a timing mat that would send the alert to the monitors mounted on the outside of the relay station letting the next runner in your group to get ready.
I was so happy to see the entrance to the relay stations; I passed my bib to Jonna and walked straight over to the water station and soaked my head.
My next leg, the green loop, wouldn’t happen until 2AM Saturday morning. Until then there wouldn’t be much to do except hang around camp and the event. I found sleeping to be impossible because the people behind our tent found it necessary to scream and make a racket, telling such wonderful tails of self-satisfaction all though the day and night. These people didn’t sleep and wanted to make sure no one in their vicinity did either. So I lay there with my eyes closed. I was actually relieved when it was time for me to run, I was so tired of just being tired and laying there.
— Green 3.4 mile loop:
1:30am I was up; It was cold but decided not to wear my cold weather running tights which turned out to be a good decision. So in my shorts, long sleeve pullover and headlamp, I downed a Mamma Chia Vitality Squeeze pack and headed out to the relay station with Aaron who was running on Team CSA 2 both of the runners we were to meet were expected to land at the same time.
I was on the green loop mat at 2:22AM and like before Brian passed me the bib and I ran off into the night. This was my first ever trail run in the dark so it took me awhile to get my night vision depth perception down in shallow hallows carved by vehicle wheels in the dirt road seemed much closer than they actually were, it didn’t help that I left my glasses back at camp. It was hazy; particles drifted in the beam of my headlamp and at first I was not sure it is was dust or fog but as I left the road and entered the trail into the forest, it became clear it was fog that was drifting and dancing in the light of my headlamp.
The green loop was noted as the easiest and of course shortest of all the loops and once I became accustom to the trail in the dark it was enjoyable even though it took allot of concentration to watch your foot placements. There didn’t seem to be a soul out here with me on the trail, I couldn’t see any light or sound of another runner ahead of me or to my rear. On the first descent I was running down a set of switch backs quite pleased with my speed and my ability to read the trail. Maybe I got too comfortable, but now that I’ve had more time to think about it, I think that a forest troll tired of hearing humans tromping though his forest decided to trip me.
Before I knew what happened, I was falling and if others were running in my vicinity undoubtedly heard the “OH SHIT!!!!!!!” that smoothly rolled off my tongue as I seemingly in slow motion head toward the rocky dirt trail. Landing on my knees and the palm of my hands, I was in the perfect position to let out a howl in imitation of a wolf and had I thought of it at that moment perhaps I would have.
On all fours, I assessed first my body and then looked to my surroundings; looking to my right side inches from my waist protruding from the ground was a broken off tree stump about 2 inches in diameter with sharp bit protruding from its peak. Had I fallen to my right or even had rolled right I would have impaled myself. Damn Trolls!
Righting myself and looking to see if my knees had any visible damage, none thank God, I continued on my way. I caught up to and passed three runners on the uphill section of this trail, in turn I was passed by two other runners. The hill and switch backs I was running seemed to go on forever. Once past the switch back I run though a number of camp grounds where people had long back gone to sleep. Lanterns flickered in some the camps casting eerie shadows that bounced and jiggled in the still of the night. Soon the trail merged with the yellow and red and though over the timing mats; and soon into the relay station where Emily was waiting for me.
When daylight came the sky was overcast. Knowing that my final 7.9 mile loop was going to happen sometime around noon I was glad. My joy would be short lived as the sun soon burned through and the heat that came with it. As the morning went on the tempo of the event heighten; soon teams were stating to finish and you could hear the crowds screaming as each team joined their last runner in the last 100 yards for the run to the finish. With each finish more and more people were breaking camp and packing up to leave. It was then, with mixed feelings that you knew that you soon would be leaving the fun to return back to the world.
— Red 7.9 mile loop:
I was tired from lack of no sleep because of the people camped behind us but none the less I was at the relay station by 10:30am and on the green loop mat around 11:07AM and I just wanted to run at this point so even tired I was excited and like before Brian passed me the bib for my last run of the event. I had planned to run with my fake GoPro on this loop and it was at this moment I realized that I left it back at camp. This was the longest and highest elevation climb of all loops. I was told that once you made it to the peak it would be all down hill from there. I ran out of the relay station and took a right turn off the main trail out in and though the camp grounds; ‘over the meadow and though the woods’ to the base of a ginormous mountain. The mountain towered over head like Mount Olympus the trail disappearing into the clouds. I stopped and stared up at this mountain I was about to climb, I swore I could see lighting bolts blast from the clouds to its crest; the ground shuttering with each crack. Well, okay maybe I’m exaggerating just a little but man that would have been a fantastic run right? Seriously though, the trail up was much the same as the yellow only with much more of a grade. Honestly there was no way I could run any of this except for a few places where the grade and elevation leveled out. I walked really–really fast and fast hiked when I could on the ascent. The lactic acid in my legs burned so much at time I was forced to stop and rest just so that I could continue again once my legs had a bit of recovery. Even though the climb was a though one the scenery was absolutely beautiful, when clear of the trees the views where the most spectacular of the run. There were a number of places on the way up you thought that you had reached the peak only to find the mountain was still going. The trail did not go the top of the mountain the trail forked; the running trail turned right a short maybe 100 yards from the top of the mountain. I took a short break and checkout the view down the mountain and into the valley. I thought about making a short detour to the top of the mountain so I could get a 360 degree view but decided that I was better time wise to continue the run. Now that I think back on it I regret that I didn’t. Next time, if there is a next time I will get up that mountain faster so that I can make the trip to the top.
So I turned right and the trail headed along the side of the mountain as a slight down grade; I seem to remember a few switchbacks but I took to long to write this and the trails have sort of melted together so I could be wrong; what I do know is that getting to the top and it being all downhill for there was just ‘wishful thinking’ there was allot of up grades on the way down to the valley on the backside of the mountain.
Coming down the backside had views of the mountains in Zion National Park I was awed by them and for a short while distracted me from the run. But it didn’t take long before it felt like I was running in a furnace. There was zero (0) air moving on this part of the trail. The sun was beating on me like I was running though the desert; any hotter and I would have felt like a rotisserie chicken at Costco. I just wanted to get to the water station at the half-way point. As I ran down the trail I cross two maybe three small makeshift bridges that crossed fissures carved by seasonal rains. I know you think me odd for making note of them but one had me thinking for allot the run. It was made from the sidings the cabins at the resort we were camped at but rather than having the flat sides up they built it with the curved sides up and then covered it with chicken wire. I pondered why they did something like this and for all the possible explanations that came to mind and other CSA team members thoughts I still haven’t figured out why they built it like that. Does it matter maybe not but ‘Enquiring Minds Want to Know’ ah the things we ponder whilst trotting along the trails.
At 3.53 miles in I finely got to the water station. It felt so good to pour cold water on my head, I refilled my water bottle and pours a bit more water on my head and wrists and headed off down the trail. Some one built a road that ran parallel to the trail and it looked much nicer to run on then the trail that was marked for us, but I stayed the course and followed the narrow path that was now running along the bottom of the valley. At about the 4.5 mile point we crossed the road and started running on a road that went though a RV campground though the camp ground we ran on the nicely graded road that had a gentle down grade followed by a like upgrade for about 3/4 mile. This is also where I met “Santa Barbra” a really nice runner with whom I had the pleaser to run and chat with for awhile, well all the way to the finish line. The trail seems faster when you are talking to some one. I never did catch her name, just where she was from so if you read this Santa Barbara thanks for the chat! We came off the road and back onto the trails at about 5 3/4 mile point working our way around the left side of the mountain; some more up and down grades and soon we could hear the sounds of Ragnar village; it gave you a sort of energy boost just when you needed it; we also got a slight breeze as we rounded the mountain. As a side note, the red loop would make the perfect night run IMHO it was the least technical of all the trails. Like the other loops trail merged with the yellow and green and over the timing mats and into the last .5 mile to the finish. I happily passed the bib to Tom and I headed for the water station to cool down again. I was a bitter sweet moment for me I was happy and sad the run was over.
When I got back to camp I found out that the runners on CSA Teams 1 and 2 were shuffled because 2 had fallen just a bit behind because of an accident on the trail. I was decided that the best way to make up the time was to have Joe a super fast runner run the 7.8 and the 3.4 loops back to back. He ran it at an insane time of 01:09:02 for the 7.9 mile and 00:36:55 for the 3.4 mile run.
The last two runners Colleen for CSA 1 and Aaron for CSA 2 were able to run the last 7.9 loop together and finish together. It was great to have both CSA 1 and 2 run as a group to the finish. A memorable moment for sure.
Each CSA runner has their own story, hearing them in camp was allot of fun and drew each of us together because of the shared experience. Coming to know my workmates on a personal basis was an added benefit, one even more wonderful than the running experience itself. I’m so looking forward to our next adventure and spending time with my workmates. Shout out to Lee our president and the Emilie our Brand Manager; Thank you Lee for doing this for us and sponsoring the event you really have no idea how much it means to us and Em! Thank you for all the hard work putting this together and making it a success! PS: Lee if you ever want to give up being President you make a GREAT cook, thanks for feeding everyone!
Guidance Consulting at its best…
Zion National Forest