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.

Wilson Creek Frozen [20 Miler]

I consider myself much more of a road runner than a trail runner. For some reason I don’t take trail runs quite as seriously. The runner in me likes a standardized distance on a mostly standardized course. This doesn’t mean I’m not willing to do a nice downhill marathon, but the competitive part of me prefers a race that’s more straightforward than a typical trail run.

That said, I understand why people like trail runs: often better scenery, more natural, challenging terrain, unique courses, etc. (Some people also argue that they are easier on the joints, although I’m not convinced.) I’ve done a few trail runs, including the Foothills 50K Frenzy and XC12K a few times, but less than 10% of my races have been on trails.

Last year I signed up for a crazy race called the Wilson Creek Frozen 50K. It was to take place right in the middle of my Boston Marathon training, so I’d be prepared for 50K. Unfortunately the Treasure Valley’s 2017 Snowpocalypse happened. Despite repeated attempts to keep the trails groomed, the 2017 Wilson Creek race had to be cancelled.

I wasn’t quite as excited to run it this year, but I figured I’d use my 60% discount/refund. I didn’t feel like recovering from a 50K and I wanted to focus on speed a bit more this spring, so I signed up for the 20 miler rather than the 50K.

This year the winter has been much more mild. I drove the 45 minutes to the trailhead to find no snow, soft dirt, and 40 degree temperatures. The weather was essentially perfect for a mid-January run.

I had done a micro-taper for the race, taking it a little easier than normal during the week, but I wasn’t trying to break records or anything. I viewed this race as a tough training run with some competition to make me push extra hard.

After getting my bib and standing by the fire for a bit, we lined up for the 7:30am start time. The 50Kers and 20 Milers all started together — the 50K course used the 20 mile loop as the first 20 miles of their race. To start the race a guy shot a shotgun, which was a nice touch. Many people had headlamps, but I figured there was enough light that I’d be ok without a flashlight (I was barely right and was grateful that there were some other lights around me). I also stupidly didn’t bring a water bottle even though I knew there were only two aid stations — one at 3 miles and one at 12 miles. It’s only 20 miles, right?

Wrong. It was 20 miles with 4900 feet elevation gain and loss. In the summer I generally work more hills into my training, but I hadn’t ran a decent hill since the week after Zeitgeist in early November. I quickly realized I was a little under-prepared for that aspect of the course.

The first couple miles were fairly tame with some single track. I started off pretty easy and worked my way up to second place. I got a drink at the aid station at 2.5 miles. Then the hills started. The next mile was about a 13% grade. Knowing that I had 16 miles ahead of me still, I conceded that walking up this grade was ok.

In fact, I walked quite a bit between mile 2.5 and 7.4 (the top). The average grade is about 10%, but that includes some blistering downhill portions. I alternated between walking/scrambling up steep hills and trying to maintain control on some 100-200 foot declines. We were on a rough dirt road. I found that I was sweating way more than expected due to the tough hills and unseasonably warm weather. This concerned me a bit as I knew there was a long way to the next aid station.

The scenery was pretty nice. It was high desert type scenery — some sage, cheat grass, and lava rock cliffs.

Finally I reached the summit and also had an opportunity to see that I was 3-4 minutes behind the leader. The summit has a radio tower and is a short out-and-back. I grabbed a plastic snake from a bag at the tower and dropped it off after the “back” portion to a guy on a 4-wheeler to prove I made it to the top. Luckily he had a water bottle he said I could take. He actually had a jug of water, but no cups, so he just told me to take the bottle he had. That was perfect and I was very grateful for it.

The next 5.5 miles of the course was almost entirely downhill. It had rained a couple days before so the ground was soft without being too muddy. The leader was long gone so I was hoping for second at this point, maybe first if I got lucky.

After a long trip down I found the aid station and was happy to grab some snacks and refill my water bottle. I was about to get back on the dirt road when one of the volunteers pointed me to the weeds. Seriously, we were supposedly on a trail but I could hardly see a trail. It was weeds. And it was straight up again — about a 700 foot gain over the next 1.5 miles. As I made my way up the “trail” I was astounded to be scrambling through weeds that were sometimes as high as my shoulders (and I’m 6’4″). The people that marked the trail did a fantastic job and I typically just looked for the next pink tape and went straight for it as there wasn’t much of a trail to follow.

I finally made it to the ridge and was happy to find another dirt road near the top to follow down. It was a very rocky road, but since it was also pretty steep I was moving down it pretty fast. My mind was wandering a bit and I was thinking about Waterloo (I was in the middle of reading the book, Waterloo), when suddenly my right foot caught a rock. I let out a yell as I did a superman pose right into the dirt. I laid there among the rocks and dirt for a second before hopping up. I was very thankful I didn’t have any serious injuries, but I certainly had some scrapes from my knee to my waist to my chest to my shoulder and out to my hand. Ugh. That was the worst fall I’ve ever taken while running as far as I can remember.

I documented some of my scrapes after the race

There was only one thing to do, so I plodded on. At about 17 miles I turned off the road onto single track again and headed up a steep 250 foot climb. While going up I caught a glimpse of a runner behind me, which gave me some impetus to keep working. I was getting worn out by now and looking forward to the end.

The plateau on top of the hill was a scenic area and I enjoyed running through it. Then there was a steep downhill on single track before a final stretch to the end. As usual, it was very refreshing to finish up and get some food and water in me.

While I ended up being the first finisher in the 20 Miler, it didn’t feel that way since the runner ahead of me and behind me were both doing the 50K. I was very happy I wasn’t doing the 50K since I was feeling pretty beat up.

Cyndi snapped a photo of me when I limped into the house.

The “medal” was a little hokey but very Idaho. Same with the award for first place.

The medal and plaque from the Wilson Creek 20 Miler

Race Report: XC12K in the Boise Foothills

Today I was my 34th birthday. What better way to start a birthday than with a fun race in the morning? I ran in the XC12K for the third time and had some fun, along with some painful racing.

(XC12K = Cross Country 12K)

XC12K Background

The XC12K takes place every year on the first Saturday of August. I first became aware of it in 2013 when they put a flyer in the packet for the Race to Robie Creek. I ran it in 2013, 2014, then again this year (2016). One thing I love about it is that it’s only $25 if you sign up early!

The ~8 mile course is pretty fun. It starts at Fort Boise then goes right into the foothills. The course has some steep uphill during the first four miles, then some steep downhill and a little uphill in the second four miles. Except for the first and last half mile, the course is all on a trail. There are some fun points where the hills and switchbacks let you see runners ahead and behind you. There are also four water stations, which are nice during the warm and dry August weather.

The XC12K is organized by the Bogus Basin Nordic Team (I think). The organizers offer some prize money as well: $100 for 1st place, $50 for 2nd place, $25 for 3rd place, and $25 to the first runner to hit the top of the first steep hill (at about 2 miles). (All the prizes are for both male and female runners.)


I signed both Cyndi and me up for the 2016 XC12K. This meant we would need a babysitter, and fortunately my mom was able to come to our house at 6:50am so we could pick up our bibs and get ready before the 8am start time.

I was excited for the race this year as I thought I had a chance at a top 3 finish. However, I was unsure of how I’d be able to perform after running the Morgan Valley Marathon last Saturday. I have never ran more than ~7 miles the Saturday after a marathon, and this race would require about 8 at full effort.

To prepare, I did some light workouts in between the marathon and the XC12K:

  • Sunday and Monday I rested.
  • Tuesday: 17 minutes on the elliptical followed by a 30 minute stationary bike ride.
  • Wednesday: 30 minutes on my bike followed by a 1 mile light jog.
  • Thursday: 4.75 miles with the first three miles progressively faster and the fourth mile pretty hard. It was a mix of recovery and speed.
  • Friday: rested.

This was definitely the best I’d ever felt the week after a marathon, due in part to my 95% (rather than 100%) marathon effort and in part to being in better shape. I really didn’t hit the wall in the marathon so my muscles weren’t as shredded as usual.

Packet pick-up before the race was fine. I did a little warm up and Cyndi and I snapped a pre-race photo. We lined up and started running at 8am.

XC12K pre-race
Cyndi and I getting ready to run the XC12K

2016 XC12K

The start of the XC12K was really fast, as usual. I thought I could do the race anywhere from a 6:00 to a 6:40/mile average pace, but I knew the pace would be volatile due to the big hills. I could tell everyone was moving fast and my watch was showing ~5:40/mile pace. I tried to hang back a little, but I also didn’t want to separate too much from the lead group in this relatively short race. After about a half mile I was in about 10th place. However, I started passing a few people and runners especially slowed down once we hit the first big hill. On the hill I was able to get to 4th or 5th place.

The top runners extended their lead and by the top of the first big hill before Mile 2 I could see that I was a couple hundred yards back. I settled into 4th place and the runners continued to spread out, including the space between 3rd place and myself.

At Mile 2.5 there is a steep half mile hill, and I noticed that I gained some ground back on runner #3. I also noticed that my quads were really burning already, and it occurred to me that I haven’t done much hill training lately and I was going to pay for this. I figured the guys around me also had burning quads, so I should just keep going.

There’s a nice section from Mile 3 to 3.5 that goes around a big hill while maintaining about the same altitude. I really enjoy this portion of the course and I was able to maintain or gain a little ground on the runner ahead of me. I also noticed that we were extending our lead from the #5 runner and beyond. Meanwhile, runners 1 and 2 were extending their lead on the rest of us.

At Mile 3.5 there’s a really steep hill. I hit it hard and was able to move into 3rd place part of the way up the hill. I also felt like I was gaining on runner number 2. I was very relieved when the hill crested and the descent began. I was now half way and it was (almost literally) all downhill from here.

I soon felt noticeable effects of my marathon the previous week. My legs, especially my quads, were much tighter than I expected and I was feeling a little weak and dizzy. I focused to stay on my feet and keep pushing the pace. It also got pretty warm as the sun was shining and the temperature was 68F at the start.

In fact, runner #4 was still close behind me and I was scared he’d pass me. I tried to accelerate hard after any curves or uphill sections of the trail. I found my lead slowly, but surely, expanding as we crossed through Miles 6 and 7. I also found that any hopes of 2nd place were being dashed as the second place runner was getting pretty far ahead of me.

Finally we were approaching the end of the race. The last time I checked I had a comfortable lead and I was relaxing a bit. With about 1/3 mile to go I sneaked a peek back and saw 4th place closing the distance and coming up fast. It startled me and I immediately kicked into my highest gear, running scared. I really wanted that $25!

I checked again after 150 yards or so and saw that my kick must have demoralized his sneak attack as he had let up. I was very relieved that I didn’t have to fight any harder, and even more relieved when I could finally stop after crossing the finish line.

My time was about 53:22, which works out to a 6:37 pace according to my watch. I’m not sure my watch was very accurate on the distance though, so my pace may have been slower than that.

Cool Down

I really love the XC12K and look forward to running it in the future. I don’t do many trail runs, and they are generally more interesting than running on a road. I was surprised by the difficulty of the race this year. I really wanted to walk a few times, and the runner behind me didn’t let me take it easy on my pace.

After shaking hands with the guys in front of me and behind me, I got some water and some post-race snacks. Then I started a slow cool down jog as I waited for Cyndi. I headed to my car to grab my phone and I was pleased to see my high school cross country coach, Tracy Harris. I hadn’t seen him in quite a while so it was good to catch up with him.

I doubled back on the course and was able to get some good photos of Cyndi as she finished her race.

Cyndi nearing the finish of the XC12K. This is at ~Mile 7.5, which is the only road portion of the course.

We waited around for the raffle and awards. Unfortunately we didn’t win the raffle, but I was quite happy about the $25 cash that effectively reimbursed my entry fee 🙂

Then we headed home where I could finish out my birthday with some presents, yard work, cake, free root beer floats at A&W, processing peaches from our tree, a BBQ, and a fun board game with Cyndi and friends.


Agricola after the XC12K
Cyndi and I finished in a rare tie in Agricola.