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.

Sep 04

2013 Pocatello Marathon Recap by Steve

I ran the Pocatello marathon in 2013. I was supposed to run it in 2012 but I had emergency surgery to have my gallbladder removed one week before the marathon! It was incredibly disappointing to not run it after all the training I had put in. It was nice to redeem myself in 2013.

Pocatello is a small town but this is a top of the line marathon. There are a lot of good things to say about it. The price of this race is an incredible value compared to what you get. The race bag, personally tagged with your information, was an Adidas sling bag (very cool!) and you get a sack of potatoes (very Idaho). Actually, the volunteers told me to take more bags of potatoes since my kids were doing the kids’ races. On that note, I would like to say that all the volunteers, people working the race, and even residents of Pocatello were incredibly NICE. There is such a warm, pleasant, and courteous vibe there.

The bus ride to the starting line went smoothly. The buses ran on time and were comfortable.

We arrived at a random farm that served as the starting line. There were plenty of port-o-potties. It was a fun feeling being gathered with a bunch of runners at this out-of-the-way spot in the dark.

We started the race running downhill. In fact, the first half of the marathon is downhill (with small exceptions like a short out and back). My plan on the downhill was to run close to my target pace but run comfortably. I didn’t want to expend energy trying to slow myself down. I believe this worked for me because the effort felt the same as the effort I give during an easy run. I can see how the downhill can lure people in to running faster than they should.

The scenery was absolutely beautiful as the sun came up. Many times I just looked around as I ran and enjoyed it. I heard a turkey gobbling at some point which made me chuckle. The weather was also perfect. 

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At 13.1 the half marathoners line up to start 1:45 after the full marathoners start. RJ did the half marathon and I gave him a fist bump as I ran by. I can see how having all the runners start on the course at staggered times could be frustrating for some runners. If I didn’t run past the half marathoners before they started, I could have been caught up in a larger group of runners. This doesn’t bother me too much but I can see how some may not like this. The only thing that bothered me was when I caught up to walking 5k/10kers and had to run around them when I was really feeling worn out at miles 23/24. Although it didn’t bother me too much because I ran around one group and they said encouragingly, “Great pace!” Like I said, everyone is so nice! 

The second half of the race is much flatter and there’s a decent hill at mile 21 that took a bit of wind out of me.

The aid stations were well stocked with provisions and enthusiastic helpful volunteers.

The finish area is a beautiful park. The post-race provisions are excellent. After rehydrating and a few bananas, I couldn’t resist a pulled pork sandwich. There were some other cool things at the finish like bounce houses for the kids, massages, and vendors. 

After I finished and rested for a bit, they held the kids’ races. I love it when kids’ races are held. I think it gets the whole family involved. It also promotes an active lifestyle, especially running, for kids. Two of my kids did the “.2” race. They had an absolute blast. For the finish line, they ran through the mouth of an inflatable tiger head (the ISU mascot). Each kid got their own medal and a slice of pizza. Which do you think they liked more? With the registration, each kid also got their own race tech tee and sling bag (not the Adidas one). This is such a value for a very inexpensive kid race.

My oldest child did the 1.5 mile kid race. She is 8 years old and felt like “.2” was too short. I guess she already has the runner mentality! This race is timed, as opposed to the .2 race. For this race, they get to run through the actual finish line. It is fun to see everyone on the sidelines cheering for every kid.

My kids ended up using the bounce houses until the workers took them down. Meanwhile, I got a massage from a DoTerra booth.

Overall, there are so many good things to say about this race. It also helps my attitude that I set a PR on this race. There is such a great atmosphere. I ran with many friends and family (including my sister-in-law for her first marathon). The fact that the race is held on Labor Day weekend really makes it convenient too. I hope to do this race again in the future.