27 April 2014

Ragnar Trail Relay - Zion 2014

Run. Tent. Sleep? Repeat.

About a month ago, I got invited to join Scrambled Legs at Zion for a Ragnar Trail Relay.  I enjoy running trails and was excited to get on a team.  For those who haven't done one of these events, it is a relay with three routes, eight runners and each runner running every route for a total of 24 legs of the race.

The trip began on Thursday when I met Mike, Kimi, and Robert in Vegas.  Together, we made the drive up to Ponderosa Ranch which is located on the eastern edge of Zion National Park.  The drive through Zion was gorgeous and it is amazing that we have this incredible national park less than three hours from my house.

The trail map
Upon arriving at the ranch, we parked in the short term lot and began carrying our gear to our campsite.  Akira and Colleen arrived earlier in the day and staked out a good site next to the green loop near the start/finish/transition area and had already set up their tent along with a few other camp items.  After portering all of our gear, we set up our tents while Robert took the truck to the long term parking area and took the shuttle back.  Soon after that, the seventh member of the team (Mark) arrived from his 11 hour drive from Colorado and after helping him get all of his gear transferred/set-up, we went to the registration desk to sign the standard race waiver and then it was on to the lodge for dinner.  Dinner was pretty simple with it being a one-time-through buffet that had a salad, brussel sprouts, bananas, and chicken breasts for $10.  After dinner, I took a quick walk through the Ragnar merchandise tent and then went back to the tent to turn in for bed around 9 PM.

The next morning, I got up around six, climbed out of my mummy bag and faced the world.  Breakfast was simple - an orange and a sandwich from my cooler along with a Rockstar to get in some caffeine.  After that, I stretched out in my chair and waited for the first wave of runners to hit the trail at 9:30.  As they headed past our campsite at the beginning of the green loop, we gave them the standard cheer and Mike, our team captain, continued to check on the whereabouts of our eighth runner.  Rene was supposed to run our first leg and after realizing that he was going to get to the race site around the noon start time for our wave, we shuffled him with Kimi in the line up and she became our lead-off runner. At 11:10, we went to the start line to get the pre-race instructions along with everybody else in our wave.  After that, it was wait time to the race start.  A few seconds after 12, our first runner was off and I began the wait for my first leg.

As I waited for the next five hours for my first run, winds picked up and I tightened down my tent.  We kept checking the weather forecast knowing that we were going to see rain on Saturday.  We just weren't certain how much or the exact times.

As the time approached for Rene (Runner #5) to finish up his leg, I made my way to the transition area and watched the monitors.  Once he passed over the mat located about a quarter of a mile from the finish, I went into the transition tent to receive my red slap bracelet. When Rene entered the tent, he handed off the belt with our number and I was off for my run of the red loop.

The red loop was an 8.2 loop that switched back and forth between sandy single track and more open dirt fire roads.  The first four miles were a lot rolling ups and downs.  Going was a little tough in some sections as I worked to get traction on the sand on the uphill parts.  Around Mile 4, the course began a short but steep uphill section on some rough terrain followed by a steep but shorter downhill.  At this point, the run became a bit tougher as it turned back into single track that climbed up the hill until approximately the six mile mark.  Besides the uphill and sandy single track, the wind was picking up which provided a steady crosswind and the temperature was dropping.  Shortly after topping out, the red loop joined the yellow loop for a long downhill section that alternated between short dirt road sections and long sandy single track sections.  This part was a blast to run and I pushed especially hard on the single track sections.  Eventually, that section came to an end as the red, yellow and green loops merged for a final push up a short section of switchbacks which topped out in the campground. A few twists and turns later and I was back at the transition tent to hand off to Mark, our Runner #7.

After I got back to camp, I grabbed my meal ticket and went up to the lodge for dinner which was spaghetti. The wind was strong and blowing sand was everywhere as I made the walk.  I could taste the grit in my teeth and the sting of it in my eyes - definitely not fun.  After dinner was done, I went back to my tent to grab a short nap.

When I woke up a couple of hours later, it was dark out and there were a lot of fellow runners at my campsite and neighboring campsites letting runners know that they were on the wrong trail.  Yellow went to the left immediately outside the transition tent and green went straight.  The course was well marked with colored lights and the volunteers at the transition station were giving good directions but it wasn't enough for some people.  I climbed out my tent and noticed that the winds had died down. My next leg was estimated to start around 2 AM and since I had a little bit of time to kill, I went down to the fire pit area to enjoy some hot chocolate and s'mores.

Around 1:30, I began to feel a few drops of rain and went back to my tent to grab my rain jacket.  After that, it was back to transition area to watch the monitors.  Just as before, I went into the transition area when Rene popped up on the monitor.  After getting my yellow slap bracelet and receiving our bib, I headed out of the transition tent and turned on my headlamp and flashlight as I began the 4.6 mile yellow loop. The first mile of the loop was relatively easy with some rolling hills and mostly dirt road. Shortly after the first mile was complete, the course began a steady climb for a little over a mile and topping out at approximately 7,000 feet.  This section was rough with both rocky sections and single track sand.  The rain was picking up and the temperature was in the low 30s. My feet were slipping as the sand was turning to mud.  Once I hit the top of the mountain, I was rewarded with seeing the lights of the runners coming up to the merge point from the red loop.  It was a pretty cool sight.  Shortly after that, I hit the merge point and pushed hard through the down hill sections as the rain continued to pick up.  Finally, I made it back to the transition area and gave Mark a few words of encouragement as I handed off the bib.

After finishing up that portion of the run, I went back to our campsite to grab my bag and head to the shower.  I went to open up my tent and realized that my hands were too cold/numb to work the zippers on my tent.  Luckily, a good Samaritan from the neighboring campsite was able to assist and I headed to the shower to warm up.  The shower was awesome and I stood in it for a long time checking out the hot spots on the bottom of my feet and shaking my head in amazement at the sheer amount of mud that managed to ooze through my shoes and sock to lodge underneath my toenails.  After the shower, I brushed my teeth and headed back to the tent to get some sleep.  As I stepped outside, I was greeted by really heavy rain.  I went to sleep hoping that Mark was doing alright on the trail.
Snow on the markers.

When I woke up about three hours later, I noticed that I wasn't hearing rain on my tent.  That was good.  However, I left the tent to discover that the rain had changed to snow, that I had a decent amount of snow on my tent and that it was still snowing heavily. The trail had deteriorated to a muddy mess and the trail signs were coming unreadable.  Soon after that, the race director made a decision to call the race and rescue personnel were sent out to begin pulling runners off the course.  While I was disappointed that we didn't get to finish, the directors made the right call based on safety issues relating to the weather conditions.

Once the call was made, we waited for our last runner, Kimi, to cross the finish line. As she made the final turn towards the Ragnar arch, Coleen and I met her and ran the final few yards with her and Mike slipped a Ragnar finishers medal over her head.  After that, we broke down our camp and hiked our gear up to one of the pick up points near the lodge.  Every time I had to step on the trail to carry gear to the paved section, my feet sunk into the mud and the cold ooze worked its way into my shoes.  Once we got all the gear moved, I warmed up with some hot chocolate and waited for the vehicles to arrive. Once they got to the lodge area,
Team Scrambled Legs
Ragnar Trail Zion medal
we loaded up and hit the road.  A few hours later and we were back in Vegas.  Later that evening, six of us plus my wife met up for dinner and swapped trail stories.

Despite the weather conditions, the event was a good time and if I get the chance to do another one, I will.  Running in the rain was tough but memorable and I still managed to beat my projected times for the two legs I ran.

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