Hood to Coast 2019 – Single Van Insanity

This was my third year doing Hood to Coast and we decided to do something that I’ve always been intrigued by, but that I knew would be a little crazy: combine two vans into one.

We did this for a few reasons:

  • There was a death in the family right before the relay, and we thought it would be better if we were all together (this was a family team).
  • Because of the death, 1 person had to drop out last minute. This meant we had one less runner whose running we’d need to cover. It also ruined our original van line-up and made the responsible driver situation tougher. One less runner made one van a little less daunting since there would be 11 people instead of 12.
  • Finally, we just thought it would be interesting, in a twisted way. And no one wanted to miss out on the party.

Those that have done a 12-person road relay know that the advantage of two vans is that one van can take a break (~3-5 hours) while the other van runs legs. Van 1 gets 2 solid breaks and Van 2 will basically get one break in the middle of the night (and start later the first day). Thus, without two vans, there would be no breaks. Knowing this going into the relay and given that we were using my Ford Transit, I assumed I would get nearly zero sleep. I was correct.

Talking after our pre-race dinner the night before the Relay

To make matters worse, we had a fairly late start time of 10:45am. We planned out our legs on Thursday night after agreeing on one van. We switched things around a bit so that three of us could cover a second leg. The coverage would occur by running two legs back to back instead of running 4 separate legs. On Friday morning the 11 of us piled into the van and headed to Mt Hood.

Our revised leg assignments

Kara was team captain and took Leg 1 because she wanted to start off with some fast downhill. She was followed by Ben (the only person not in our family) and then Chad. Chad was followed by my immediate family: Paisley, then me, then Cyndi.

Hood to Coast Leg 5

My run went well. I pushed pretty hard and ran it slightly faster than I did last year (I ran the same leg last year). It started with a little downhill then had a decent climb during the second half of the run.

Pro tip: After each leg in a relay, immediately drink a chocolate milk. It tastes sooooo good and it calms your stomach down. Especially if it’s fully loaded (full fat). Keeping your stomach calm during a relay is vital to a good experience.

During Cyndi’s leg we stopped at Safeway to grab some food. I got a roasted chicken, some rolls, and some JoJo’s for $10 to share with Cyndi, Paisley, and Ben. It was an excellent meal in my opinion, with plenty of good protein and some carbs. I overate a bit.

When everyone is in one van, the major exchanges (6, 12, 18, 24, 30) are not as major. Usually this would be the few minutes you get to see the other van and everyone is excited. If you’re in one van, it’s just another exchange. It does have a lot of people at it which makes it a little more interesting I suppose.

Cyndi handing off to Brenden at Exchange 6

Brenden came next, then Jaci, Kelsey, Kaden, and Tyrel. Tyrel ended up running legs 11 and 12 to cover for our missing runner, Christy. He did a good job and knocked out 12 miles despite having never ran that far. Ever.

Cyndi and Paisley at Exchange 12

During one of these legs I was able to lay down and just rest for a while, although I don’t think I actually slept. Although we were all in a van together, I tried to be more supportive of runners 1-6 and rest more during runners 7-11. All the in and out of the van and standing and waiting can really drain me, so I was purposeful about being supportive to the other runners about half the time.

Exchange 13, just after dusk

Hood to Coast Leg 17

As night approached I started dreading my second leg a bit. I was tired and didn’t feel like running very much. This is pretty typical. During the night is primarily when relays really start to wear me down. Nevertheless, I put on some tunes to pump me up a bit (The Final Countdown) and got into the mood the best I could.

Also, I was driving for most of this time. The only time I didn’t drive was during legs 4, 5, and 6. That was while I was getting ready to run, running, and just finishing.

My Leg 17 run started just after 12:30am. It was a flat 7.85 miler along a 4-lane highway. It took me about a mile to warm up my legs, particularly my Achilles which has been giving me trouble for a few months. Once I was warmed up I tried to maintain a strong pace. My goal was to hit 6:30/mile. For the most part I was passing people the whole time. I was surprised when an older gentleman came up behind me 2-3 miles into the leg and proceeded to pass me. He must have been going at a 6:00 pace and he had to be around 50 years old. I was impressed. I increased my pace for a while, but I wasn’t dumb enough to try to keep up for very long. I stayed under 6:30 for most of the first 5 miles. However, I realized during the last third of the leg that I still had a tough long run ahead of me (Legs 29 and 30 combined). As I grew more fatigued, I decided to back off and reduced my pace during the last 2 miles to upper 6:00’s. That would hopefully leave me with some energy for my last run. There’s a stoplight right near the end of Leg 17 which is really annoying, so after stopping at that I finished strong and gave Cyndi a kiss as I handed off to her.

One thing I insisted on before running my leg was that I would be taking a shower at Exchange 17. The showers in Hood to Coast are in unusual and seemingly random places. Some people don’t worry about taking showers during relay races. I love them — it feels so good to get all the sweat off my skin and to feel clean again. It helps me rest better and loosens me up. (I also try to jump into lakes after a day of backpacking for the same reason.)

After I took a quick shower, a couple of our runners grabbed food, I grabbed my chocolate milk, and we continued to Exchange 18 which is a “major” exchange. There were lots of people there and I was still awake and alert so I got out to get Cyndi from the big crowd.

I knew I needed to eat more so that I’d have energy for my big run later in the morning, so I asked Jaci to make me a PBJ. She doesn’t like peanut butter, but I told her to load it on. It ended up being the most peanut buttery sandwich I’d ever eaten. Delicious.

By about 3am I was feeling really tired and I asked someone else to drive. I took a back seat and laid down for an hour or two. I didn’t sleep a lot, maybe 10 minutes, but it was good to lay down.

Eventually we got to Exchange 24, which is another major exchange. I whipped out my backpacking stove and made a few of our team some hot cocoa and myself some hot oatmeal. Warm meals are wonderful to eat during relay races. I was informed by a volunteer that stoves weren’t allowed, but fortunately I was done anyways. (This was a green, grassy, wet field so I don’t know what the problem was.)

Hood to Coast Leg 29 and Leg 30

Eventually it was approaching my turn to run again. We were starting to hit some traffic. With 2.5 miles of Leg 28 left we hit bumper-to-bumper traffic. I got my shoes on and jumped out to warm up right before Paisley, our Leg 28 runner, approached us. This meant that I ran 2.5 miles with her, then my 5.97 mile Leg 29, then 5.32 mile Leg 30.

I took it pretty easy with Paisley during the last part of Leg 28. Leg 29 begins with a 3.5 mile uphill stretch. I was pushing pretty hard and passing people. About a mile from the top I heard someone approaching behind me, so I started running harder. Once we crested the summit, I continued a hard pace and the other runner stayed right behind me. I gave just about everything I had to hold him off — we ran two miles at about 5:33/mile. We eventually caught up to another line of cars in traffic and many of them were yelling funny things as us as we charged by. It was actually quite fun, but it pushed me to my limit. With about a mile to go I broke. I justified slowing down a bit since I knew I still needed to run another leg. My competitor finally passed me and I thanked him for pushing me.

He finished the leg about 50 yards ahead of me, and then I ran through the exchange as I started Leg 30. By this time it was raining and I became fully drenched. With all the traffic, I was wondering how long I’d be waiting at Exchange 30. I slowed down to ~7:00/mile for this leg and I was starting to feel tired from all the running and lack of sleep.

I finished the 13.91 mile run and was happy to be done. Amazingly, our van pulled up about 1 minute later, and I hopped in as our next runner, Brenden, hopped out and started running. I learned that our van had been in bumper-to-bumper traffic the entire time, and they were going crazy.

Can I just say that the traffic at Hood to Coast is awful? It’s really a problem, and maybe the organizers have tried everything to solve it, but it makes the Hood to Coast Relay almost unbearable. I remember how much I hated it the first year and how it ruined my experience. These past two years I’ve been more prepared for it, but it still grates on me. I feel like the issue is primarily how the traffic is controlled at some of the later exchanges. I don’t think some of the volunteers understand how holding up cars can really back things up. I think the organizers should put some very efficient people at the later exchanges and figure out how to get the traffic flowing the best way possible.

During my run I passed 92 runners! That’s about 8% of the teams, although I’m not sure how the walking and high school teams factor in. It’s crazy to me that all those teams were packed in the course that tightly.

We finished our last 6 legs without too much excitement. Kaden had a great run and Tyrel cramped a bit, but we finally made it across the finish line at the beach at about 5:45pm. Since it was so late, we just spent about an hour walking around town and then we headed home.

Finish Line

Finish line after a long night

Another Hood to Coast Relay in the bag. Going in one van was pretty crazy, but also pretty fun. I have an idea of how I can add in a little sleeping area in the back of my van for next time which would space things out a bit better. I think I’m going to try one van again…

Hood to Coast Relay 2018

Before this year, my father-in-law had run in the Hood to Coast Relay 19 times. His birthday is in late August, which is right around the time Hood to Coast takes place. So this year he put together a family team for his 70th birthday and 20th Hood to Coast. I got to run Leg 5 and I had a great time!

Hood to Coast is a 199 mile relay that begins at the base of Mt Hood and ends in Seaside, OR. It starts with some steep downhill on a highway in the forest, continues through some smaller towns amidst farmland, then into Portland, along the Columbia River, through windy forest roads, and finally onto the finish line at the beach.

Hood to Coast is truly the “mother of all relays”. It boasts 1200 teams, and triple that many team applications. It has some elite teams sponsored by Nike and others that finish at just over 5:00/mile pace. Hood to Coast is the relay that inspired the creators of the Ragnar relays.

Our kids had already started school before the race, so we waited until Thursday after school to head from Idaho to the Portland area to meet up with family. The drive went pretty well and we pulled into town around 11pm, so we basically went right to bed.

The next morning we woke up and I hopped in with Van 1 to head to Mt. Hood. It was quite chilly and breezy at the base of Mt. Hood, but it was a fun atmosphere. This was my 4th big road relay, but it was my first time in Van 1. It was great to be there at the start as we started our journey across a large chunk of Oregon. My father-in-law, Jerry, ran Leg 1.

Photo op at the starting area at the base of Mt Hood

Jerry handed off to Cyndi for Leg 2.

Jerry passing to Cyndi

The first few legs of Hood to Coast are pretty steep downhill. However, I was running Leg 5 which had a decent amount of uphill to it. I was targeting a ~6:30 pace for the whole race, so I figured I might take it easy on my first leg. I ended up feeling pretty good and hitting a 6:23 pace. All three of our volunteers were on my leg, so that was pretty fun. Two of them were handing out water and the third was at Exchange 5. Overall it was a nice first leg.

I handed off to Monte, who was 2-3 minutes late to the exchange thanks to a long line of traffic. I promptly drank my first chocolate milk, which I now believe is the secret to keeping my stomach calm during a relay.

We met up with Van 2 at Exchange 6. They were excited to be starting their first legs. We had some spectators who met us there as well. Also, we substituted a few runners in and out. Since it was Jerry’s 70th birthday, he wanted to give a some of his 34 (?) grandkids an opportunity to run, and they couldn’t all handle three legs. Also, Cyndi had just delivered a baby ~7 weeks earlier, so she only ran one leg. This isn’t exactly up to regulation, but we weren’t exactly a competitive team.

All the team and spectators at Exchange 6

Van 1 stopped for a while at a nearby Wendy’s and we met up with our volunteers there. My daughter, Paisley, was now in the van in Cyndi’s place, and we each had a baked potato. That was probably the nicest meal I’ve ever had during a road relay. After relaxing for a while, we endured rush hour traffic through Portland to get to Exchange 12.

Paisley would be running Leg 13, but since it’s on the river front (with a river front type of crowd mulling around) and it would be getting dark, I ran with her for her 4+ miles. It was a nice and easy pace, so it felt pretty good. She was super nervous to take the hand off in front of the big Exchange 12 crowd under the overpass.

Paisley getting ready to take the hand off

Paisley nervously awaiting the hand off before Leg 13

She had a nice finish and was really excited to be part of the relay team.

I gobbled a Kind bar and a breakfast bar to refuel before my next run.

Jerry ran Leg 14, then Tyrel ran Leg 15, then Christy ran leg 16. The Hood to Coast traffic was starting to back up considerably at some of the exchanges. We had to wait a long time before Christy could get out of the van to meet Tyrel.

It was back to me for Leg 17. While I was waiting in line at the Honey Bucket, I had a nice conversation with a Marathon Maniac. He said he was getting too old to run, and he had lost count of how many marathons he’d done.

I was a little nervous for my third run in the last 12 or hours. It would be my longest, and I wasn’t sure how fast I’d be able to go. Fortunately it was a nice temperature with little wind and I ended up feeling just fine. I went faster than expected — hitting 6:10/mile (excluding the annoying 37 second stop I had to make at a crosswalk right before the end).

At this point I really wanted to take a shower, and there was one at this exchange, but we had to move to Exchange 18. It annoyed me that all the showers were basically unavailable to the 5th and 6th runner in Van 1.

I don’t remember Exchange 18 very well, except that Van 2 complained that we had kept them awake by texting at each of our exchanges. I asked them if they were familiar with “airplane mode” and I also reminded them that at Exchange 6 they had complained that we didn’t give them enough information. It was pretty funny to me, although I do feel bad they didn’t get to sleep as much as expected.

We made the drive to exchange 24. When we got there we were all very tired. It was foggy and dark and this would be our one chance to sleep. We had planned on having a big tent set up, but there was a miscommunication and it didn’t work out. I ended up just placing a tarp on the ground and rolling out my pad and sleeping bag on top of it. None of the other people in my car came with me, so I just set my alarm to make sure I could find them before it was time to go. There was some risk of getting lost in this huge, dark exchange.

I was able to get a couple hours of decent and much needed sleep when it came time to wake up. I went to the car and found the rest of our runners packed inside. In a previous relay race I learned that sleeping with everyone in the car is a bad idea, so I’m glad I wasn’t squished in there as well.

Eventually our other van arrived and we found them despite the lack of cell phone reception. I didn’t even see their runner come in because I was getting ready to get back in the car. Christy started running just before 6am, right as dawn approached.

Jerry and Tyrel both ran about 6 miles. Traffic was getting bad, and Jerry had to wait a few minutes for Tyrel to use the Honey Bucket. Tyrel had a strong run and passed loads of runners that were slowing down on their final leg. Paisley went really fast on her run, and traffic was such that I jogged the last half mile with her at a 7:30 pace.

I then reset my watch and headed out for Leg 29, my most challenging leg: a 6 mile run with 566 ft vertical. I hit it really hard. I was trying to pass as many people as possible to keep up with all the people Tyrel passed, but that didn’t happen. I passed a couple dozen people, but overall everyone was pushing hard up the hill. At the top of the hill there was a small of people cheering, including my van. That made this leg extra fun. I pushed hard down the hill as well and I came in at a 6:11 pace, which I was very happy with.

Monte took the baton and our van headed to the last big exchange before the finish. There were tons of people, and we had been running faster than expected, so we spread out to find our other van and give them a heads up. I eventually found them and they were surprised to see us. They had been battling traffic and had only been at the exchange for 30 minutes or so, so they weren’t thrilled to see us. They got going and Van 1 was very happy to be done.

Some of us took a much needed shower at Seaside and then spent some time at the beach waiting for our team. We all finished together and we celebrated with a delicious seafood lunch.

The team at the finish line

I’ve learned a few things during previous relays that helped make this one my most successful in terms of comfort level:

  • Drink a big chocolate milk immediately after each leg you run
  • Have a good plan for warm, substantial food
  • Don’t try to sleep in the van at major exchanges. Bring a sleeping bag and use it.
  • Backpacking gear can be very useful

Relays aren’t exactly my favorite type of race, but they can definitely be fun and challenging. I’m sure I’ll do more in the future, and I hope Hood 2 Coast is included in that.

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.

Race Report: 2016 Ragnar Wasatch Back

I had never done a Ragnar relay before, but last weekend, June 17-18, Cyndi and I joined a team for the 2016 Ragnar Wasatch Back. It was a different experience than my usual marathon or half marathon.

2016 Ragnar Wasatch Back Van 2 Bib

Originally, Cyndi’s dad and sister were going to run on the team (instead of me and Cyndi). But her sister’s daughter had a recital the same weekend so she dropped out. Cyndi’s dad recruited Cyndi and I planned on being backup. Then Cyndi’s dad had some knee problems and family issues that arose, so that left Cyndi and me. Cyndi was acquainted with one person on the team, but I had never met any of them.

I have only a little history participating in relay races. Back in 1999 and 2001 I ran in the Sawtooth Relay in Idaho when it was ~130 miles for a 12 person team. (Now it is ~60 miles for 6 people.) I was in high school for the first one. Then I was a recent college freshman for the second Sawtooth Relay on a team I didn’t know. It was pretty fun but I honestly don’t remember the details very well.

Then in 2011 I ran in the Hood to Coast Relay — which was one of the first big, 200 mile, 12 person relays. In fact, Hood to Coast inspired the Ragnar founders to create their first Ragnar. I didn’t have a great experience in that relay. That particular year, the HtC organizers added 25% more teams and the traffic was horrendous. We used my van and I didn’t get a wink of sleep all night because I was driving or staying awake to make sure the driver was alert and ok. I don’t do very well on little sleep and it showed by the end when I was utterly exhausted. I had one brother-in-law in my van that I knew, but not really well, and besides that I didn’t know anyone in our van.

However, it has been a few years and I was ready to try another relay — especially a Ragnar which I know are quite popular.

The Wasatch Back was the original Ragnar relay, and it takes place in beautiful country — small towns and cities among mountains and greenery. The elevation is mostly around 6000 feet and there are a few big climbs and descents. The race is basically from Logan, Utah to Midway, Utah.

The hardest thing we had to do pre-race was to get a babysitter for our five children for 1-2 nights. This was no small task. Luckily my mom was able to watch our two youngest and my cousin, who lives on the Wasatch Front, was able to watch our three oldest. She has similarly-aged children that play well with ours. We were grateful to have babysitting arranged once we finally did, and we are very grateful to the babysitters themselves.

Cyndi and I dropped off our littlest two on Thursday morning at my mom’s and headed for Utah. We got to my grandma’s house in the afternoon and chatted with her a bit. Then we left the three oldest there for a couple hours while Cyndi and I attended a team dinner at Olive Garden.

The team dinner was great and I highly recommend it for anyone doing a relay. It gave everyone a chance to meet each other, get acquainted, and get excited for the upcoming run. I liked the people on our team and looked forward to running the relay with them. I ate a ton (endless bread sticks and salad…) since I didn’t have to run until ~1pm the following day and since I wasn’t overly concerned about hitting a certain pace. (This is nothing like my pre-marathon meals where every bite has a purpose.)

Cyndi and I chatted with Grandma and my aunt and uncle for a while that evening, and I indulged in a few cookies and some ice cream. We got to bed by 10pm and after sleeping for a few hours I started tossing and turning like I normally do before a marathon. Finally the alarm clock went off at 5:30. We got ready and drove to my cousin’s house to drop the older kids. That took an hour. Then we had to double back for another hour to reach the designated meeting spot.

Finally at 8:30am we met up with our van and set off for another 1.5 hour drive to our starting exchange.

Ragnar Wasatch Back Exchange 6

Exchange 6 — where Van 1 hands off to Van 2 for the first time — was in Liberty, UT. When we came through the canyon into the valley where Liberty resides — part of the Wasatch Back — we were immediately taken aback by the beauty of the area. Everything was green, the sun was shining, and there was a glorious mountain backdrop in every direction.

2016 Ragnar Wasatch Back - Signing Waiver
Signing the waiver to run the Ragnar Wasatch Back. My shirt is quite bright — which is good since I often run in it in the early morning hours…

When we got to the exchange, we had to sign a waiver and watch a Ragnar safety video. Then we walked around the booths. There was a booth for BEX Sunglasses with a basketball hoop and I scored a free shirt by making 4 of 5 free throws! The sunglasses are quite nice, but a little out of my price range (5 kids –> cheap sunglasses).

Winning a free shirt at the BEX Sunglasses booth!
Winning a free shirt at the BEX Sunglasses booth!

Another booth was handing out samples of Halfpops, which turn out to be quite tasty. You know when you pop popcorn and there are some kernels that are only partially popped? That’s what they are. I tried about 4 flavors and liked them all. I also scored a cowbell at the Great Clips booth.

2016 Wasatch Back Exchange 6
Team Aching Bad, Van 2 at Exchange 6 of the Ragnar Wasatch Back relay.



2016 Ragnar Wasatch Back - Decorating the Car
Decorating the car: a Ragnar relay necessity

We took some photos and then Van 1 showed up, except for Emily, who was running.

Emily coming up to Exchange 6 to finish up Van 1’s first set of legs at the 2016 Ragnar Wasatch Back relay.
Emily coming up to Exchange 6 to finish up Van 1’s first set of legs at the 2016 Ragnar Wasatch Back relay.

Van 1 had been running since 5am. Eventually Emily came around the corner, handed off to Cyndi, and Ragnar Wasatch Back relay started for us Van 2 folks.


Cyndi would hand off to Bert,


who would hand off to Ben,


who would hand off to Kelly,


who would hand off to me,


who would hand off to Matt.


Leg 11

It felt really hot by the time it was my turn to run. It was 1:46pm and 82F with the sun shining brightly, but something about the altitude made it feel even hotter. My leg, which was Leg 11 of Ragnar Wasatch Back, was only 4.4 miles long. The “10k pace” I had used to estimate my times was 6:15/mi, so that became my goal. I didn’t want to go too hard in this first leg because my next one would be more challenging, but I still pushed the pace the best I could. I did some warm ups prior to the run and I was ready to go when Kelly came around the corner.

My run went by fairly quickly. I passed a few people, which made it more interesting, but we weren’t really there to compete. There was a bit of a headwind for part of it, but I averaged 6:13/mi which I was happy with.

I handed off to Matt and he had the pleasure of a ~7 mile climb up to a ski resort. Our van headed to the resort to wait for him and meet up with Van 1.

While we waited at the resort, I whipped out my backpacking stove and boiled some water in the parking lot so that Cyndi and I could eat some Mountain House meals we had brought along. The lodge was selling delicious looking burgers for ~$15 each, but Cyndi and I are way too cheap. Besides, I didn’t particularly want to eat a burger in between my runs. The Mountain House meals were delicious and I highly recommend them for relays.

2016 Ragnar Wasatch Back - Exchange 12
Both vans lounging around while we waited for Matt to climb the hill at Leg 12 of the Ragnar Wasatch Back relay. I’m measuring water for our Mountain House meals.

Mountain House meals at the Ragnar
Getting ready to make our Mountain House dinners!

Matt was handing back to Van 1, so they were also at the resort and it was fun to be around them for an hour or so while we waited.


When Matt came in and Van 1 left, Matt, Kelly, Bert, and Ben all got one of the burgers. I polished off some of the leftover fries and unwanted pickles, but thanks to the Mountain House I was pretty satisfied food-wise at that point.

Burgers for Ragnar Dinner
Nothing like a burger to prep for your second Ragnar leg…

Ragnar Wasatch Back Exchange 12
Fellow runners lounging around at the ski resort — Exchange 12 of the Ragnar Wasatch Back relay.

We then made our way to Exchange 18, which was at a high school. We had about 3-4 hours of down time. Luckily I had brought a book along, so I rolled out my sleeping bag in the shade and read my book and relaxed. The wait was quite long. Fortunately, we were noticing that our team was one of the first through, so we didn’t have to fight for shade or battle traffic.

2016 Ragnar Wasatch Back Exchange 18
The Ragnar relay doldrums… waiting at Exchange 18 for Van 1. Luckily I brought a book.


My stomach was beginning to rebel at this point.  I think I was eating to many carbs and irregular junk. Next time I’ll try to bring more balanced food (i.e., more fats and protein).

Chocolate Milk
Note to self: bring more chocolate milk to my next Ragnar relay.

It was hot for most of the afternoon, but by the time Van 1 pulled up and Cyndi toed the line for Leg 19, it was beginning to cool down. She had a beautiful run through green, barn-strewn country. Starting with her leg it was time to wear reflective gear and lights.

2016 Ragnar Wasatch Back Exchange 13
Cyndi handing off to Bert at Exchange 13 of Ragnar Wasatch Back. Note the beautiful greenery and mountain backdrop.

Leg 23

After starting and stopping for the other runners in our van, it was time for me to run again just after 11pm. It was really cooling off, but it was actually great running weather and I continued sporting my tank top. I noticed some people leave for their run in full hoodies and I knew that was a mistake.

My stomach was rebelling, but it hadn’t gotten bad enough that I was too worried about it. I put some TP in my pocket just in case, but I ended up feeling fine once I got going.

LDS Chapel - Ragnar Exchange
LDS chapels made for nice exchange points, including the hand-off to me at Exchange 22 of the Ragnar Wasatch Back relay.

This leg was nearly 10 miles (I measured 9.62, but started my watch about a quarter mile late). It was dark. The darkness didn’t matter until I had to start running on some trails and I had to pay extra attention to where I was stepping. The terrain varied between road, weedy gravel trail, rutted dirt trail, and weedy sandy trail. I asked my van to give me some water around Mile 3 to make sure I was OK, and at that point I told them I’d be find for the remainder. I also took a Honey Stinger to provide an extra boost.

I tried to push the pace, but between the trail and some slight elevation gain, not to mention the altitude, I wasn’t able to maintain 6:15/mi. At one point I wasn’t sure I was on the right trail, and the insecurity slowed me a bit. However, I still hit 6:41/mi and fortunately my stomach felt fine during the run.

(The Wednesday after the relay I was able to do a 10 mile training run at 6am by myself at a 6:37/mi pace — so I’m fairly sure the altitude, small hills, trail, and wariness from my previous run were affecting me.)

It was enjoyable to run under a bright moon in the cool mountain air. I pushed myself and worked to maintain a good pace. I passed about a dozen people, but most of the time I couldn’t see any other runners around. It was always a relief to see someone as that gave me confidence that I was on the right track.

I was happy to hand off to Matt and be done with my toughest leg.

Delay at Exchange 24

Matt had a short ~2.5 mile run and was done at about 12:30am. Unfortunately, the Ragnar folks notified us that our team was being held for 1 hour. This means that the Van 1 runners had to wait 1 hour before they would be allowed to run. That really stunk for them, as they were ready to go when we got the notice.

We weren’t thrilled about the delay. Ragnar had given us a spreadsheet with our estimated exchange times, and we were only 15 minutes off. Plus, we were actually 15 minutes late rather than early, so it didn’t make sense that we would be delayed. Oh well. There are perks to being one of the first teams through, but there can also be downsides.

We were at a high school, and my team was nice enough to let me take a shower even though everyone else just wanted to hit the road. The locker room shower cost $2, but it was money well spent. It felt fantastic to get clean and get in some warm water. I hurried and we took off for Exchange 30 once I got back to the car.

Trying to Sleep at Exchange 30

It was after 1am at this point and we were all exhausted and delirious and looking forward to sleep, but this led to some foolishness. We pulled into Exchange 30 at Park City and we were the first van there. It was a dirt/gravel lot, so we parked the van… and then we just slept. There was no grass in sight and half the people in the van were already asleep, so we didn’t want to wake everyone up. Rather than getting out and laying down in our sleeping bags, we just slept uncomfortably in the car and tossed and turned all night. Fortunately I was tired enough that I could sleep some; unfortunately I am 6’4″ and sleeping in the back seat of a van is not comfortable.

I was happy when we could finally wake up and stretch our legs. My stomach was also feeling much better. I heated up some water on my stove in the parking lot and made some oatmeal and hot cocoa which tasted amazing and soothed my stomach even more. I noticed there was a roped off area with about 50 people in sleeping bags on the hard gravel. I’m not sure I would have slept much better there since I didn’t bring a pad.

Park City - Ragnar Exchange 30
Emily handing off to Cyndi in Park City at Exchange 30 of the Ragnar Wasatch Back.

Van 1 showed up and we waited for Emily to come up the hill. Cyndi took off after Emily showed up and we were all ready for our final legs. Van 1 got to go relax and have a big breakfast after a long night of running.

Bert was up for Leg 32 — the Ragnar hill. It started at the bottom of a ski resort and climbed about 3000 feet in 5 miles to the top, then dropped several hundred feet for the last mile. He said much of it was not runable because it was so steep. He did great on it and got his own medal for doing it. The next two legs were super steep downhill and about 4 miles each.

Leg 35 – Almost done!

I had a short 2.5 mile leg to finish up. It was nice that I didn’t have to worry about it, although I would have welcomed something a little more challenging. I determined to go as fast as possible.

Ragnar Exchange 34
Waiting for Kelly to finish up his legs. How much time did we spend waiting for runners to come in? Lots. The anticipation is tiring.

We waited a little longer than I had anticipated, so luckily Ben spotted me some Mike & Ike’s as I was feeling a little hungry and light headed. Once Kelly came around the corner, I took off at a brisk pace. I was well under 6:00/mi, so I determined to try to stay under 6:00 for the whole run.

Ragnar Exchange 34
Kelly handing off to me just before my last leg — Exchange 34 of Ragnar Wasatch Back.

I only passed a few people as runners were fairly spread out and it was short. I felt good the whole run and was pleased to come in at a 5:59/mi pace.

That wrapped up my running for the Ragnar Wasatch Back relay, and I felt great.

Post Race at the Ragnar Wasatch Back

We headed to the finish line to wait for Matt. He had a tough run as the temperature was heating up, the sun was out, and he had some hills to battle — not to mention his run was ~1 mile longer than expected.

Ragnar Wasatch Back Finish Line
The finish line of the 2016 Ragnar Wasatch Back

The finish line is a bit of a party. There were a bunch of booths set up. Each van got a Little Caesar’s pizza. There were also Fat Boys and Muscle Milk. BEX Sunglasses was there again. I arrived as most of the BYU team had finish attempting shots. Since none of them won anything, the BEX team told them whoever won a game of Bump could get a free hat. Bert and I joined in. I missed a shot and immediately got out. Bert lasted a while before losing out. Fortunately I made 3 of 5  three pointers and was able to get a nice hat to go with my shirt from the day before!

Playing a game of Bump with the BYU team. Winner got a hat from the nearby booth. I missed my first shot and lost, but then I redeemed myself by making 3 of 4 three pointers for my very own hat.

When Matt came through our whole Aching Bad team joined him for the final 50 yards or so. It was great to be done after ~200 miles! We received our medals and snapped some team photos.

2016 Ragnar Wasatch Back Medal
Sporting my new shirt and medal after the 2016 Ragnar Wasatch Back

Aching Bad Team Photo
Aching Bad team photo after finishing the 2016 Ragnar Wasatch Back

Since we were one of the early teams to finish, we even made the scoreboard for a few minutes.

Ragnar Wasatch Back Scoreboard
We made the scoreboard! If only for a few minutes. (Team Aching Bad.)

Final Thoughts on the Ragnar Wasatch Back Relay

Overall I had a solid experience in the 2016 Ragnar Wasatch Back Relay. Relays are definitely a different experience than the races I usually do (marathons and half marathons). The running isn’t terribly difficult, especially compared to a marathon, but there are other things that make it difficult: lack of sleep, all the anticipation and waiting, being on your feet quite a bit, unusual running times, being crammed into the seat of a van, being dirty, and abnormal eating conditions. All of these things make for an exhausting experience, and provide a unique challenge.

Cyndi and I, who are both mostly introverted, determined that relays work really well for extroverts. The people on your team make a huge difference. The guys in our van were funny and entertaining. There were lots of jokes, good music, funny commentary, and even a battle to see who could get the most steps on Friday between Bert and Matt (Matt edged Bert out by ~200 steps). We were fortunate to have a good team, and I think that made this experience such a good one.

Being in Van 2 helped as well, at least in this case. We had time to drop our kids off in the morning and didn’t have to wake up as early. We also didn’t have to run all through the night. And the event was ~4 hours shorter for us than for Van 1.

Would I do the Ragnar Wasatch Back again? Yes. Would I do another (different) relay? Yes. But I don’t expect to dedicate myself to running them like I have to marathon running. Relays are fun and some people absolutely love them. Bert has run Hood To Coast 21 times and multiple Ragnars in addition to that, so obviously some people love them. I enjoyed it, but marathons are much easier logistically and are more up my alley.

Nevertheless, I’ve found myself pondering when my next relay will be and whether I should organize something with a fun group of people…