Ragnar Trail Zion UT 2018

Having done the Ragnar Wasatch Back road race a couple times, I had some interest in trying out a Ragnar Trail. Not enough interest to actually put together a team, but enough to want to try it out “some day”.

A few weeks ago a great opportunity presented itself. A local team was looking for a last runner two weeks before the Ragnar Trail Zion UT race. Out of desperation the team captain, Nate, contacted me via Strava and asked if I’d be interested in joining the team. After some discussion I decided to give it a try and I committed to coming. I had never been to Zion and thought it would be fun.

I didn’t really know Nate. I had unknowingly stolen a segment from him last year during the Shamrock Shuffle (which I consider my best race ever), and he promptly stole it back. We then started “following” each other and that was about the extent of our relationship. It turns out we had run against each other in high school, but I didn’t remember that. I actually only kind of knew one person on the team, but I knew the names of two or three others, having seen them on Strava and race results.

One thing I did know about the team is that everyone was pretty fast and they expected to win the race. This would be a bit different than the teams I’m normally on, which are generally a hodgepodge of runners varying in speed and age. There are advantages and disadvantages to either type of team. The main point with a relay, or any race for that matter, should be to have some fun. That said, it’s fun to throw in some competition and challenge yourself.

Cade loaded us up with essentials before the trip

We met up on Thursday before the race, threw our gear into a big van, and hit the road. It was nice to put some names to faces, as I had only met one of these guys before. We drove down to Springville, UT (near Provo) and stayed at a hotel. On Friday morning we woke up and drove to Zion Ponderosa Ranch, where the race would take place. We took lots of bathroom breaks on the way due to a van full of well-hydrated runners.

A gas station
In Beaver
Barak, Nate, and Ryan G. at a rest stop

One nice thing about being on a fast team is that we had a late start time of 3pm — pulled in from 5pm due to heat and other teams. Many runners had already been on the course for hours before we arrived. We were still able to secure an awesome camping location right at the finish line. Some people like to camp farther away to avoid the noise. I get this, but our spot was really fun.

During a Ragnar Trail, each runner takes turns running the same three loops in different order:

  • Green loop: 3.1 miles with 213ft elevation gain. This loop was fairly easy, although the last mile was fairly technical.
  • Yellow loop: 4.3 miles with 722 ft elevation gain. A tough climb followed by a windy downhill on single track.
  • Red loop: 7.6 miles with 1048 ft elevation gain. A mix of tough climbing, technical downhill, and longer distance.

Our relay was set up like this:

Runner Ryan M. Tyson Cade Nate Barak Blake Ryan G. Kevin
1st run (Start) Green Yellow Red Green Yellow Red Green Yellow
2nd run Red Green Yellow Red Green Yellow Red Green
3rd run Yellow Red Green Yellow Red Green Yellow (Finish) Red
Ryan M. started us off
Followed by Tyson (being cheered on by Nate and Ryan G)
Followed by Cade

Followed by Nate, Barak, me, Ryan G., and finally Kevin.

Each of the runners faced a different amount of light, darkness, heat, and wind. The order of the runs also made a difference.

The exchange area

Our first few runners were all pretty speedy, as expected. It was hot and windy, but everyone was still excited to be running. Tyson was dealing with some stomach issues, but he still put in a good time.

I started out with my Red run at 6pm. Cade had run it earlier and gave me a brief overview. It was still pretty hot and there was a ~20mph wind which had peaked around 4-5pm. I pushed hard on the uphill and quickly realized that my hill training during the past couple months was insufficient (no thanks to a knee injury that took out most of my April). It was crazy how many people I passed. There were a lot of walkers, especially on the uphill, and many people were taking it pretty easy on the downhill. My goal was to at least be below an 8 minute pace and with the downhill I was able to get some time back. I pushed hard on the downhill and my knee started to get a little unsteady. I also noticed I was already burning out my quads on my first of three runs. With about 1.5mi left the course went onto a nice dirt road and I picked up some time. Then there was a little more uphill and a fun ending: we ran through several campsites with people cheering and giving high-fives. I finished pretty strong and was happy with a time of ~59 minutes.

Immediately after my run I drank a chocolate milk and headed to eat my free dinner. I wanted to refuel as soon as possible so that I could recover and digest the food. One tough thing about being on a “fast” team is that you only have about 4-5 hours from the end of one run to the beginning of your next run. I tried to rest a bit, but sleep wasn’t going to happen. I have a lot of irrational anxiety in relays as I worry about being ready for my next run on time.

I started the yellow loop at about 11:20. The temperature was nice, but it was very dark. My uphill portion went a little slow. I could tell I was dragging and paying the price for a hard red run. I figured I could make up some time on the downhill; however, despite having a cheap headlamp as well as a flashlight in my hand, I couldn’t see the trail clearly on the downhill. I had to slow down my pace to avoid tripping and stumbling on the rutty single track trail. I was much slower than the downhill portion of the red, and not due to fatigue. This was very frustrating and I finished a bit disappointed and unsatisfied.

I again drank some chocolate milk and also made myself some oatmeal.

And I ate some bacon. Nate had brought ~12 lbs of bacon which he started cooking up about the time I left on my yellow run. Since we were right next to the course, he and Kevin began advertising the bacon to people finishing their loops. Some were extremely grateful and it made their night. The announcer started noticing people coming across the finish line eating bacon and mentioned as much. Eventually they took some to her. Other people turned down the bacon, of course. A couple said (rather snootily) when they were offered a piece, “I’m vegetarian.”

Eventually I laid down in the tent in my sleeping bag. It was dark and getting cold. There were issues with the finish line timing, so the announcer was constantly calling out team numbers to alert runners who was coming in. This amounted to torture for someone trying to sleep. Imagine someone in your bedroom randomly calling out numbers between 1 and 425 after you lay down. That’s what it was like, but it was still worth being close to the finish to be close to the action. I was also battling my irrational relay anxiety of worrying about missing my next leg. I figured I could lay down and rest my legs and heart even if I wasn’t actually sleeping much. I spent about 2-2.5 hours in my sleeping bag “resting”.

Finally it was time for my green loop at 5:30am. It was cold and dark, my energy was gone, and my legs were tight. Fortunately it was only a 5k loop with relatively flat terrain. I stood by the fire until I heard Barak’s number called so I could keep warm.

It took about 1.5 miles into the run before I really felt warmed up. I appreciated the flatness, the wider dirt road, and a very bright headlamp that Nate loaned me. I was able to open up a bit and I tried to quicken my pace as much as possible. It got a little technical in the last mile which slowed things down, but that was fine with me at this point.

I was really happy to be done. After another chocolate milk, which I assumed no one wanted but apparently someone was saving (sorry Tyson!) I was able to take a hot shower. It was glorious and just what I needed.

We waited for Kevin to finish up. He was our last and fastest runner and came through with a great time and completely filthy from a fall on the red loop.

Kevin was a bit dirty after running the red loop

We ended with a time of 16:36:15, which is something like an 8:18/mile pace. That also includes exchanges, which ranged from 10 seconds to a minute or so each. Before actually running the course I would have thought that would be a slow time, but the hills were a significant factor and really slowed runners down. I think our team would have done a 6:30 or better pace on a flat road. The median time across all ~425 teams was about 27.5 hours, or a little under a 14:00/mile pace.

After some photos we packed up and headed home. We were considering doing the Angel’s Landing hike in Zion’s National Park, but we quickly agreed to just drive through. I was very impressed by the drive through the park and I plan on going back to spend some quality time there someday.

Me, Nate, Ryan G., Barak?, Ryan M., and Cade in Zion National Park
Bighorn sheep (?) in Zion National Park
A selfie in Zion National Park

We stopped for gas a few times on the way home as well as Five Guys for some greasy burgers and fries. I finally arrived to my house around 9:15pm, exhausted and sore.

It was a great trip. It was fun to be on a team with a bunch of guys that I could compete against, even though I’m slower than about half of them (or more depending on the distance). The guys were fun to be around and talk running among other things. I liked the camping aspect, but it honestly felt a lot like a Road Ragnar. The advantage was being able to see a lot of other runners and being able to see all of our runners finish their loops (unless I was sleeping or something).

I’ll be considering Ragnar Trail Zion UT again next year if the opportunity arises.

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