May 02

Snowed Out at Ragnar Trail Relay – Zion by Steve

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The above picture is joking a bit. Nonetheless, the Ragnar Trail Relay in Zion was quite an experience!

I previously shared some thoughts I had about the Ragnar Relay series on this blog. I wish to add the unique experience I had at the 2014 Ragnar Trail Relay in Zion.

I wasn’t planning on participating in this event but a friend (that works with Ragnar) of mine had a free open spot on his team. It’s hard to pass up a free race (Thanks Joseph!), especially an event like Ragnar.

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The drive up through Zion National Park was gorgeous as always. You do have to pay the $25 park fee just to drive through, though. 

They changed the logistical setup of unloading gear and shuttling people. Previously, you shuttled gear and people. This year, you dropped your gear at one of the multiple drop-off points, drove to the parking area, and were shuttled back to the campground. Ideally, you should travel to the event as a group to do this more efficiently. Since I went up by myself, I had to leave my gear with a volunteer. Once I got back to the campground, I had to carry my gear searching for my team. Keep in mind there is very limited cell reception. It was nearly impossible to get a message through.

 
I went to the village because eventually everyone has to go there for the exchange and found my team there. Upon reaching our camp site, I begin to set up my tent. I laid out the tent.

Then… I realized there are no poles. No stakes either. Crap.

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I had borrowed a small tent from a friend and neglected to double check it before leaving. This was poor planning on my part.

Normally, I would just sleep under the stars. However, the forecast showed 100% chance of rain. I decided to turn the tent over, using the bottom tarp to cover me from the rain. I borrowed a cot from someone on our team to keep my sleeping bags off the ground. It actually turned out to be quite warm, like a little cocoon. 

The trails were the same loops as last year. The scenery is beautiful. I ran the red loop first and had a blast. Last year, I did this loop in the dark so I enjoyed running it during the day this year.

PictureCompleting the Red Loop

I had a bit of foot pain from a foot bone issue and some peroneal tendonitis. I was able to run, just a bit slower and with some discomfort. Fortunately, one of the vendors, Mountain Land Rehabilitation, was providing round-the-clock physical therapy. They really helped me by massaging and wrapping my foot.

The rest of the Ragnar Village was much like last year, which was great. They had some great vendors, including Salomon shoe demos, free Nuun refills, and many others. I love those campfires.

By the time I ran my next loop (yellow), a light rain had begun. During the run, the rain picked up. Fortunately, I was still warm throughout the run. I was just wet. Upon finishing, I grabbed a s’more and huddled into my makeshift cocoon for some rest. I was kept nicely dry and listened to the relaxing noise of the rainfall. 

PictureShortly after I woke up

I was awakened to some commotion. People saying, “Are you seeing this?” “Can you believe it?” I realized the tarp was pressing against me, weighed down by something. I looked out of my covering and it was snowing! There were big flakes coming down thick and it was sticking.

To our alarm, we realized the runner after me was still out there! A loop that should have taken about 2 hours, took her about 4 hours. After my run, the trails had gotten much worse due to the rain and snow. The footing was sloppy, slowing down many runners. Runners slowing down coupled with the plummeting temperature and snow caused runners to become hypothermic. 

Runners and Ragnar were expecting rain and cold. I don’t believe anyone was expecting so much snow! Many groups were discussing how safe it was to continue sending runners out. There was an awkward period of time where people were unsure what to do or what Ragnar would do. Once the trail markers became covered with snow, causing runners to get lost, Ragnar decided to call off the rest of the race. 

 
 
Picture I believe this was the right decision. Ragnar had to send people out to find the lost or unaccounted runners. Fortunately, everyone was recovered. Thank goodness.

Ragnar distributed the medals. Many runners were uncomfortable with the medals since they didn’t really “complete” the race. However, I feel they survived this unique experience, so they earned it.

It was a bit sloppy with everyone trying to pack up and exit on muddy/rainy/snowy roads. I was impressed with how things went given the conditions. Fortunately, Ragnar got the shuttles running quickly. I was glad my snow-covered car didn’t get stuck!

Overall, I did enjoy myself and it was certainly a unique adventure! 

The drive back through Zion was beautiful with the snow and rain flowing down the rock formations.

Dec 18

Ragnar Relay Thoughts (Road & Trail) by Steve

First, this isn’t meant to be a specific race review.

To me, the Ragnar Relay series really captures the spirit of:

“The reason we race isn’t so much to beat each other,… but to be with each other.”

? Christopher McDougall, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

I have run three Ragnars so far. I have run the Las Vegas road Ragnar twice, and I have run the Ragnar Trail Relay at Zion.

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From (Road, not Trail) Ragnar’s own website:

“Ragnar is the overnight running relay race that makes testing your limits a team sport.

You and 11 of your craziest friends (or 5 of your crazier friends for an ultra team) pile into two vans and tag team running 200(ish) miles, day and night, relay-style. Only one runner hits the road at a time. Each participant runs three times, with each leg ranging between 3-8 miles and varying in difficulty. So, from the elite runner down to the novice jogger, it’s the perfect race for anyone.”

Yeah, a Ragnar seems crazy (and it is). People (especially non-runners) wonder how something like that can be fun. But it is!

For the Ragnar Trail, it involves 8 runners (4 for ultra), fewer miles, camping, no vans, and trail running (duh).

You don’t do a Ragnar Relay to set any PRs. Your team is timed but individual legs are not timed. Add in the fact that you have to run three legs and the distances vary, then you realize you aren’t setting records like your normal races.

It is more than a fun run though. Sure, there are decorated vans, crazy costumes, and teams with themes. There is still the friendly competitive element to it. You cheer random people on but you also try to beat them. Many vans tally their kills (when a runner passes another runner). 


This also makes it the perfect race for everyone. Both experienced and new runners can push themselves in speed and/or distance. If you’re a marathoner (which is why I assume you’re on this website), you’ll do just fine.

It is an overnight relay. If you do not do well with lack of sleep, this may not be your thing. By that third leg, you may very tired, sore, worn out, etc but you get out there and run it nonetheless. Your team is counting on you!

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For the road Ragnar in Las Vegas, we started at Mt Charleston running on the roads down the mountain. I got to run a bit on the highway into Las Vegas. What other time do you get to run on the highway? We traveled through the city and near Red Rock Canyon (a beautiful section that was unfortunately run at night). You run through the city itself more (but not the strip) and up along the beautiful River Mountain Loop trail by Lake Mead and into the finish at Lake Las Vegas. We ran mostly on the public roads with some paved trail mixed in there.

I think I may enjoy the trail relay more than the road relay. You get to camp and enjoy beautiful trails. At Zion, we ran on mostly single track trail near Zion National Park.  You camp in one spot (no traveling around in a van). Ragnar sets up a nice base camp with vendors. You get a tiny bit more sleep (every little bit helps!). There are fewer rules (especially regarding safety since it doesn’t involve vehicles and public roads). 

I do have some complaints about the relays. They are expensive! For example, our early registration for Las Vegas 2013 was $1,392 ($116 per runner). The registration fee alone is pricey. If you are traveling, you have to deal with those costs, plus van rentals. You can also end up spending on decorations, team shirts, etc. I understand that a relay race over such a distance would be expensive for everything that needs to put the event on though. If you do not travel, you have to deal with finding (or paying for) volunteers. After paying registration, you are required to provide volunteers for them! Also, there are little charges here and there along the course for food items, sleeping, etc. I understand some places use this for fundraising but as a participant you can get a bit of fee fatigue. 


PictureBling!

Overall, I find Ragnar races to be a great experience and I would like to do more of them, especially at different locations. It really brings you closer to the people on your team. Although the cost can be high and the logistics of the race can be challenging, the experience outweighs the cons. I would recommend the event to anyone looking to test themselves in something new.

Questions? Thoughts? Leave a comment.

Oct 29

My First Ultra by Steve

I had read a number of books about ultra-runners, including Born To Run, Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run, Dean Karnazes’ books, and Relentless Forward Progress. I wanted to see what this whole ultra thing was all about. Before my first ultra, RJ had completed two 50 milers, so he was a great help.

I had previously attempted a 50 miler the month before and did not complete it. During the race, I had horrible stomach issues. I knew this was unusual for me because I rarely have stomach problems. It may have been the heat or residual fatigue, but I had to call it quits after 50k. They didn’t have an official 50k, so I took an official marathon time. Completing my first 50 miler was also about redemption and proving to myself that I could do it.

I decided to do the Autumn Leaves 50 miler. This is the ultra RJ has done twice before. It’s a relatively flat ultra and logistics seemed perfect for a first timer like me. RJ was planning on either volunteering at the race or running it. Shortly before the race, he decided to run it. Great! He can suffer with me.

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I flew in Friday, picked up my packet, slept a little, and then at 6am we were standing at the starting line ready to go. The weather was absolutely perfect. It was in the 50s and no rain. The scenery was beautiful.

The course is a 10k loop with mostly bike path and some trail. You run eight loops.  Normally I’m not a huge fan of looped runs. This looped course worked well because I could set all my gear up at the main station and return to it every lap. Also, the scenery was so beautiful to me that I never got tired of it. Since I live in the desert, I don’t get to see such beautiful autumn colors.

However, I didn’t see much on the first lap though because we started out in the dark. I got my headlamp on and got ready. This is it. I told myself I’m definitely doing 50 miles this time. There was such a relaxed atmosphere. Instead of people toeing the line, everyone was casually getting ready. I guess when a race is 50 miles, there really is no rush. As we began, RJ and I ran at a relaxed pace. I was just soaking it all in. 

The first lap went well. I transitioned quickly into the second lap. I only stopped briefly to shed one of my layers as I warmed up. I started listening to my audiobook and did that for the next few laps. I saw a beautiful doe deer along the side of the course.

The volunteers were great! Everyone was so helpful. They would take my water bottle and refill it. They would get whatever I asked for if they had it. I had to make sure I thanked them so they wouldn’t only remember me for barely coherently making requests, “Water!” “Gels!” There was also a volunteer directing runners onto one of the trails. The guy was out there dancing almost the whole day. It was very uplifting to have someone be so positive every time you ran by. There were also a couple of volunteers early in the morning at one of the turnaround points directing people. These two ladies were having a hulu party complete with grass skirts, funny signs, and mini-mai tais. I saw one runner take one. Hopefully he didn’t think it was water! 


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By the third lap, the sun was up and I ditched the headlamp before starting it. I enjoyed the course and settled into my pace. My feet had begun to feel sore so when I finished the third lap, I switched into my Hokas. I was glad I did! My feet felt better for a while until close to the end.  I also switched into a fresh short sleeve shirt.

I should also mention that Pam Smith, the female winner of the Western States 100, ran at the event. She won the 50 miler. She passed me a whole bunch of times. It was amazing to see someone perform at such a high level!

After the fourth lap, I had finished 25 miles. I was halfway done. This is when the mind games began. I was already worn out from running 25 miles and the thought of running 25 more was daunting. This made the fifth lap really tough. The race also gives you the option to drop down to the 50k after five laps. I didn’t want that to tempt me so I mentally yelled, “NO!” whenever that temptation entered my mind. I would tell myself, “This is what you came here to do. You flew all the way up just for this race. You are not stopping.” Plus, I really wanted that sweet belt buckle. 


As I came in to finish the fifth lap and start the sixth, it was a quick transition. I was still mentally telling myself, “NO! I won’t stop.” I had to get out of there and keep going. This idea of going beyond marathon distance and even beyond 50k is a paradigm shift I was adjusting to at this point.

By this time of the race, I was getting hungry. On these later laps, I knew I needed calories. I was consuming gels regularly (about every half hour) but I needed something more. I looked around the aid station tables and tried to see what was appealing and what my stomach would like the most. I didn’t want nausea to be a problem again. I tried a little square of PB&J. That worked. An aid station volunteer offered me warm broth and it tasted glorious. It was like the nectar of the gods. I loved it and it really helped. Throughout the race, I had a bit more of that and some fruit. I snuck a few gummie bears in there. It was likely the severe lack in calories but when I bit into a slice of watermelon, I thought it was the best watermelon I had ever tasted in my life as the juice ran down my chin and I deliriously awed at its flavor.

The sixth lap went well; I settled into things and accepted that I was just going to keep going. I had switched from my audiobook to music and was enjoying that. On this lap, I ran by a park with a couple of guys playing Frisbee golf.

One of them yelled over to me, “Are you running a 5k or 10k race?”

My reply, “Fifty miles.”

I wish I had a picture of the perplexed look he gave me after I said that. I might as well have said, “A gazillion miles.”

An awkward pause. Then he says, “… fifty?”

Me again, “Fifty miles.”

Then they both broke into a cheer and yelled, “Yeeaahhhh! Fifty miles! Woooo!”

That was encouraging. 

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The seventh lap was just brutal for me. I was beat down. So many things were hurting. I tried to motivate myself mentally but it wasn’t doing much. I re-informed myself that this race was why I came. I talked back to myself that I knew I would finish but I was too worn down to push harder. I reminded myself of the buckle. I told myself I would get one no matter what. This was really quite an argument. Finally, I realized how many miles I had left and it seemed so manageable. That was encouraging and I was able to move along a bit better. I pictured myself finishing and got a little sentimental. I was really going to do this.

In the beginning, RJ and I ran together. The first couple laps, I pulled ahead. Then he passed me and the rest of the laps until this point RJ was ahead of me. He was more familiar with ultrarunning than me and I was completely at peace with him finishing before me. When I was trying to motivate myself, I would tell myself that RJ is “the deer.” Those who have read Born To Run might recognize the term. It was implying that RJ was the deer and I had to run him down. Then I mentally argued with myself again saying, “RJ is NOT the deer. He is my FRIEND.” Yeah, I was getting a little loopy.

The last lap was amazing. I was worn down but I didn’t care. I just kept going. I had no desire to slow down or walk. I just wanted to keep going. I even sped up. At one point I thought I should take a walk break but mentally, I just had no desire to do it. I had conquered whatever mental block was holding me back the previous lap. I was so excited to finish this thing! I ended up finishing a few minutes ahead of RJ. I was so surprised when I passed him because I thought he was so much further ahead of me. We both finished just under our goal of 9 hours.

Pure joy at finishing! We accomplished our goals. I received my belt buckle. I was so happy as I stretched, ate food, and wound down. I couldn’t believe it. I had done it. The race director asked if it was a PR for me. I replied that it was since it was my first 50 miler! He then offered me a whole box of Hammer recovery bars. What a great race company!

Special thanks to all my friends and family that made this possible and supported me. 


Oct 21

Hansons Marathon Method Review by Steve

After completing a couple marathons, I came across Hansons Marathon Method, written by Luke Humphrey, with its promise of improvement with a 16-mile long run. A lot of the marathon training programs I had been seeing online were starting to look the same. I wanted to shake things up a bit. I had heard good things about this book. The Amazon.com reviews are mostly positive.

The biggest difference between Hansons and more traditional running programs is the long run tops out at 16 miles. They want that 16 mile run to simulate the last 16 miles of your marathon, not the first. You are not intended to run it on fresh legs, much like the last 16 of the marathon. They use cumulative fatigue to do this.

The book certainly has the approach of running more often during the week and more miles overall. I had to ease into running six times per week as I had never done this before. This might be too much for some people. Fortunately, I got used to it. I also got used to the overall volume. One of the big things about the training that may be helping people is the increase in mileage itself.

The schedule is a week full of good running workouts. They let you know the pace goals for specific workouts (speed, strength, tempo). The spectrum of paces will help your running in different ways. The physiological benefits behind this are explained in the book. I learned that I needed to run faster on the speed days and much slower on the easy/recovery days. At first I was skeptical about the recovery days but they really worked. I could run some solid miles on those days and feel great the next day. 

I felt like the book itself was an easy read even with some of the running science terminology. The book is also concise. I still use it frequently as a reference.

The results? I ran a PR after applying their training. I improved my previous time by about 17 minutes. After that, I decided to ramp up my paces using the same training for my next marathon. Again, I improved my PR by about 18 minutes. Hanson’s Marathon Method definitely works for me!

Questions or comments on this book? Leave a comment!


Sep 20

Mesquite Tri State Marathon Recap by Steve

I ran the Mesquite Tri-States Marathon in 2012. This was actually my first marathon. I am writing this review after having completed five marathons so I have a little more perspective.

Mesquite is small-ish town in Nevada about an hour away from Las Vegas. For the 2012 marathon, the event was run by the Casablanca hotel. They are no longer running the event. It is now run by Planet Ultra.

The organization of the race by Casablanca was okay. There were plenty of hotel deals in Mesquite. The race swag wasn’t great. The shirts were plain. The medal was very cool though. I’m sure it will be better with Planet Ultra involved.

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This race has a point-to-point course. We took a bus from Mesquite, NV to Utah. The great thing about this course (and why it is called the Tri States marathon) is that you start in Utah, run through Arizona, and then finish in Nevada. Very cool! The course is mostly downhill with a few rollers on the latter part of the race. The elevation chart really hides those hills, particularly one at mile 21 (Why does there always seem to be a hill this late in the race?). The scenery was beautiful and the weather was perfect. We finished at the Casablanca hotel. They had a nice modest finish festival. 

If you want a low key race with fewer participants, fewer spectators and a great course, then this race is for you. I actually remember chatting with another runner during the marathon saying she specifically chose this course because there would be fewer people.  Everyone running was very nice and I made some new friends.

The aid stations were stocked decently. I have seen better but I didn’t know any better at the time. The volunteers were outstanding as always though.

This unique Tri-State course with lots of downhill is great choice, especially if you’re looking for something less crowded. It was a great easygoing race for this first timer.