Ragnar Trail Relays – Zion 2014
This past weekend I headed to take on my first Ragnar Relay. I have heard about Ragnar for years and many people rave about them and how much fun they are. However, being in a van for two days does not sound like fun to me, it just sounds like how I spent most of high school riding from one race to another packed in a van with people and gear. But then I saw the Trail Ragnar series, and my interest was piqued. Unlike the road races when you aren’t running you hang out in tents, a festival area, and basically just chill. To me that sounded much better than a van. So in the winter I signed up a team early. Below is the video from the 2013 event (The song is a favorite of mine)
I signed up a Dirt in Your Skirt Team and quickly went to recruiting my friends who would be interested in running in the Ultra Division. After a few subs and changes a couple weeks before the event my team was set; myself; Irene Call, Ang Reynolds, and Shawn Wood. Everyone on the was is an experienced runner and racer, we planned as a group to have a fun race. After a stressful and action packed week I was eager to hit the road with Irene on Thursday. Shawn and Ang would meet us there.
We arrived at the Zion Ponderosa Ranch a little before sunset on Thursday and dropped our stuff in the Ultra Teams area near the transition area. After now more than a few ultra races under my belt I had an idea of what I needed and due to the week left some of it at home, but still had the essentials. We picked up the teams packet on Thursday night and soon Irene and I crashed in our huge 8-10 person tent (highly recommended large team tents for an event). Friday morning we took a leisurely morning as our start time wasn’t until noon. We found that friends from Camp Rhino in Vegas had set up their tent right next to ours (this made the whole experience even more fun). For those doing an event in the future setting up an area around friends makes the event much more fun!
Due to bad traffic Ang arrived right before her first leg and Shawn arrived soon after that. Irene was the first to take off running for us. The trail Ragnar series is set up with three different length loops Green (3.1 miles), Yellow (4.6 miles), and Red (8.2 miles). The green loop was mostly downhill through washed out trail you could cruise down. The yellow loop was a hilly up and down loop with a big climb and big descents (my favorite). Finally, the red loop was the longest had some terrain and some longer flat sections. All of the trails were extremely approachable for all levels of runners. The appeal of Ragnar is all levels can enjoy the race. Most people had the traditional 8-person team, we opted for the 4-person Ultra team (everyone runs twice the distance of the regular teams).
The way the race works is each runner runs one loop and then hands off the team bib to the next racer. In our case we each ran two loops before handing to the next teammate. So our team would run each loop twice before the race was completed. As we started the race we all guessed how long each leg would take us, the weather on Friday was perfect high 70’s to low 80’s, light winds (at first) and a few clouds. Perfect running conditions. I was the third on our team to run with the yellow then red loops first. The wind picked up as I ran but felt nice. I loved the yellow loop and the red one seemed to go on forever. But finished my first leg and passed off my bib to Shawn our anchor runner.
One thing about Ragnar is you run a bit then you hang around and recover for a while before running again. Much of the downtime was spent laying around the tent or charging an electronic device. It was fun to lay around and just chat. Running 10ish miles at time is interesting, much different than a traditional ultra. Basically if I wasn’t running I was laying around or eating. As we dipped into the nighttime hours the temp dropped a little but was still rather warm and the wind really picked up. The forecast had predicted rain and our team was ready for it. My second leg was a green & yellow combo, a super fun run even with a slight ankle turn. I ended up running the nighttime in little more than a t-shirt, light jacket and shorts. I loved running along a ridge line at night and took in the solitude on the trail as I went along my way. As I finished up my run the wind really picked up and I felt a few drops. I passed off to Shawn who headed out for his Red and Green leg.
Then it all changed…
Up until this point we were moving along having a fun old time. Ang had run Boston on Monday, Shawn was getting over a sinus infection, so we decided instead of being ultra competitive we would enjoy the day and the company. About 15 minutes after I returned to the tent after my leg was done, it started to rain and rain hard. The wind whipped through the tent village and at times it was really fierce. The rain pounded down on us and our tent began to leak (well leak on me). My sleeping bag was wet and the area around me was wet. Some campsites were starting to flood. It was a real rainstorm. Shawn came back from his run soaked to the bone and spent time in his girlfriends tent trying to warm up after his loop. He said it was one of the worst conditions he had ever run in (this from a multiple 100 mile ultra finisher).
It was at this point we had a team meeting. The reports from the course were not good, “slick as snot” “bear crawling up hills” “slipping all over the place” were just some of the reports coming in. While Irene waited for Shawn she heard reports of shortening the Red Loop and other saying it was taking runners two to three times as long as it should to run the loops. One report we got said the Red loop on average was taking 3 hours, the yellow loop 2 hours and the green loop 1 hour. So as a group we decided to wait until the sun came up (about an hour or so) to send Irene out on the course.
In a matter of less than an hour the weather took a huge change yet again. As the light came through the tent we noticed something was off. Snow? it was suggested. But it couldn’t be, until we opened the tent. In a matter of about an hour snow had blanketed the area. Only I was giddy about snow running around like a little kid hearing it’s a snow day. I bundled up and ran outside soaking in the snow!! Back to the race, Irene and Ang got clothes on (Shawn was with his girlfriend Stephanie) as went to see what the status of the race was. It was confirmed at this point that the red loop had been shortened, people were coming in from loops borderline hypothermic after being cold and wet, and rumors were the race was going to be called off. We had come up with a few scenarios to finish the race and went to see the race status. Soon after the race was called off due to the course markings buried, and poor trail conditions. Calling the race was the right decision in light of peoples accounts on the trails and several people suffering minor to less minor injuries on the course.
After a little scrambling medals were handed out to all teams (not sure if a single team actually finished). They started shuttles to the parking area early and people huddled together in warm places around the ranch. It was surreal. We got together as a team and broke down our camp in the late morning after hanging out for a little while. Our team each ran 2 out of our 3 legs, all completing 4 loops on the course and about 20ish miles. Although the race was called it was still a fun time had by all weather and everything. Ragnar is still sorting out the race as I write this and to this point nothing has been sent out to the racers other than a link to buy jewelry with their logo on it. No results have been posted only a few pictures on Facebook.
My overall impression of the event was positive. I had a good time, the trails were fun and approachable for all levels. We were given a long sleeve shirt, sticker, mini Cliff Bar, and cliff gel with registration. The festival area was good Salomon had shoes for people to try out, Nuun, and Cliff were there handing out samples. Although I did not partake in much if the festival as when I wasn’t running I was eating or laying down. I was a little disappointed they only provide one meal with registration (a lackluster pasta dinner). Note if you go plan on your own food, nutrition and fuel. Do not rely on what’s given to you. They had a movie playing at night but no sound with it and had s’mores going into the night.
If you are looking for a fun weekend with friends to run around some trails hang out and have a good time, Ragnar is a great option. There are other relays like it as well and the team relay part was really enjoyable. I would do one again. Hopefully to be able to complete the whole race.