I never knew 6 years ago when I ran my first half marathon that it was just the start of (hopefully) a long running career. With 6 half marathons and 2 full marathons under my belt in these last 6 years, it was time to try something new. A friend and college roommate put together a team of 8 women for the Zion's Ragnar Relay. I didn't know any of the ladies except for my roommate, Elise, and her younger sister, Kimberly, but I enjoyed getting to know all of them over the 2 1/2 days we were together. I hadn't seen Elise in 10 years, so it was such a treat to spend time with her and catch up on our lives!
Elise, Kristin, Karen, Rebecca, Me, Jen, Faith, and Kimberly
This Ragnar Relay is different from most in that all the teams camped out in one central location. The three different loops that each runner runs started and ended in the same place. This is a view of the entire camp. The green and white tent in the middle and very back of the picture was the "transition tent," where you passed off the bib to the next runner.
We opted to stay in a cabin rather than a tent. I didn't know then that this decision was worth every penny! I flew into Salt Lake City Thursday afternoon then drove down with Elise, Kimberly, and Faith to Zion's National Park. We arrived Thursday night in time to check out the camp, pick up our shirts, bib, a few other running goodies, and sign our lives away with a waiver. (Potential to run into wild animals on the trails)
We all attended a mandatory seminar giving more instructions and safety precautions.
Me, Kimberly, and Faith waiting for the seminar to start
At 10:30 am, the running began. (There were a total of 350 teams--huge event! The start times were obviously spaced out throughout the day.)
Each runner on the team runs all 3 loops, but not in the same order. Our first runner started with the green loop, 3.1 miles, followed by the second runner on the yellow loop, 4.6 miles, and I was the third runner and started on the red loop, 8.2 miles. I was very excited to get the longest run out of the way first! I was scheduled to run my loops as follows: 8.2 mile-loop at noon, 4.6 mile-loop at 9 pm, and 3.1-mile loop at around 5 am.
I'm used to running on flat ground, low elevation, and lots of humidity. I knew running in a very high altitude on hilly trails was going to be a completely different story. I had no idea what to expect out of my times other than the fact that I would be slower :o). I'm a very competitive person, and when I sign up for a race, it's with the intention of improving my time. It takes a lot of work to constantly train to run faster, especially with having babies throughout the 6 years I've been running. I'm close to the peak of my fastest running times where I was at pre-baby #3. So even though I tried not to have high expectations for this race, I still was hoping to have good running times.
I had no idea that "trail running" included hills that were steep enough that running up them was next to impossible! In my opinion, the hills (which were many) were hikes! The 8-miler had some steep climbs here and there, but for a whole mile (5 to 6) it was a very steep hike. I did my best to run what I could, then hiked up the rest. There were also several parts of the trail that were so narrow that passing/being passed was very difficult. (No one passed me on the red loop, but I was passed a handful of times on the yellow loop.)
Here's a selfie of me starting to run again after reaching the top of the mountain on the 8-miler.
And here's the view from the top of the mountain. The view on the 4.6-miler was supposed to be the prettiest, but I ran that one in the dark.
I averaged 9:50 miles on the 8-miler. My shoes, socks, and feet were covered in red dust/sand. I was so grateful to head back to the cabin and shower afterwards. If you camped in tents, there were 12 showers available for use between all the campers which meant long waits to use a shower.
My 4.6-miler began at 9 pm. I had no idea how difficult it would be in the dark. My headlamp didn't shine particularly bright, and my handheld flashlight didn't seem to help much either. I was constantly looking for the trail markers to make sure I was going the right way! And I was constantly watching out for rocks, sticks, and other debris that I might trip over. It was cold, in the low 40s, and very windy at the time I started so I fit my head lamp around my beanie. I should have known better because I got warm quickly on the first steep climb and had to remove the beanie. With my incompetence, I couldn't tighten the headlamp just right around my head. It seemed no matter how tight I tightened it, it still slid down into my eyes. (Maybe I have a weird-shaped forehead! Probably that I'm incompetent though.) Because I was tired of stopping to mess with it, I just decided to deal with it. So for the rest of the run, every few minutes I was constantly pushing the headlamp up on my forehead. Annoying. Other than the headlamp and the dark, I enjoyed that leg of the run. By now I knew to expect the steady climb that the 4.6-miler contained for the first half of the loop. With the stops to adjust the headlamp, hiking/walking up the steep climb, and the fact that I slowed down so I wouldn't trip over the rocky parts of the trail, I averaged 12-minute miles.
My biggest complaint about the trails was the way each loop ended. They all joined together for the last .5 mile or so for some steep, narrow switchbacks. Because they all met up at this point, there were a lot more runners, and because it was narrow, it was difficult to pass. Any race that I have run, the course is designed to allow you to finish strong. It just makes sense. So as I attempted to finish strong on my first loop, I was fuming that 1) these tough switchbacks were put at the end of the race and 2) I'd have to run them for each loop! Grrrr.
Having said that, the trails were very peaceful. It was so nice to be out running in nature in the quiet where I could contemplate and reflect. There were many analogies to life as I hiked up the mountains to get to the top.
I didn't want to eat dinner before I ran my 4.6-miler (I don't run well with food in my stomach), so I waited to eat until after I was done at 10 pm. Again, I was grateful to be able to head back to the cabin for a warm shower. Because we were running around the clock, people were sleeping in whatever shifts they could. I was planning on getting up around 4:30 am, so I didn't stay up too much longer before heading to bed.
At around 3:30 am, Elise woke me up. We thought she'd be running at this point, but the runner two legs before her never came home to wake her up! We looked outside and immediately knew why. It was pouring, windy, and very cold. Pouring rain meant slippery, muddy trails. This translated to very little running happening from here on out--it was mostly going to be walking. About 10 minutes later, the runner, Jen, that was supposed to wake Elise up finally came home with Faith. They shared their experience with running in the rain, wind, and cold and how it was sheer misery. We were all so worried about Kimberly who, as the first runner, was doing her last leg of 4.6 miles at that point. Elise, who was scheduled to do her 8.2-miler next, was feeling very uncomfortable about running in the current conditions, and we talked about pulling out of the race. At the same time, she couldn't not do her run if her younger sister was out there doing it. She decided to get ready and go wait in the transition tent for her sister to finish. The rest of us went back to bed for a few hours.
As Elise waited in the transition tent, she was able to talk to runners who were coming in from the trails. Due to the weather conditions that made it unsafe to run, there were several teams already pulling out of the race. Runners said that as you got to the top of the 8.2 and 4.6, it was snowing and that it wasn't worth the risk of injury. After talking to other runners, Elise texted to say she pulled our team out of the competition. This was about 6 am. Those of us who were awake anxiously awaited news on Kimberly. What should have taken Kimberly about 1 1/2 hours took her over 3 hours. She said runners were crawling on hands and knees up the steep parts; she fell 11 times and twisted her knee. Despite this injury, we were so glad she made it back safe. There were several runners that were missing out on the trails, and I believe one runner had to be life flighted off the mountain. When Kimberly and Elise got back to the cabin, we were quick to try to make her comfortable (hot chocolate, shower, warm blankets when she got out).
After another morning nap from 7-9 am, I woke up to this. The race was officially cancelled at 7:30 am due to snow.
(My hair is so long! This is the longest it's been ever!)
Again, we were all so thankful that we stayed in a cabin! The pouring rain, wind and cold would have been miserable in a tent. It made everything so muddy so that people were having difficulty getting out of the campsite due to vehicles sliding in the mud. The weather forecast did not predict snow. As the race date got closer, we all knew there was a slight chance of rain Saturday morning but hoping it wouldn't come to fruition. I felt horrible for all the people that brought kids with them.
Here's the campsite mostly cleared out at about 10 am.
Elise and I at the finish line that each runner ran through after each loop
We enjoyed a relaxing day. Around lunch time, we took some group pictures.
(The snow was mostly gone and the weather was beautiful! Perfect running weather.)
Celebrating Kimberly wearing all our medals, the only person on our team who finished the entire race
It was definitely an adventure. Would I do it again? Totally. It was so fun! The rest of us were really sad at the way the race ended. We wished we could have finished the race.
Thanks ladies for a wonderful weekend, awesome conversations, and an unforgettable experience!