One of the more interesting races I’ve run this year has to be Ragnar Trail Zion Utah. A few months ago, I suggested to my office running club that we get together and run a relay as a team. We agreed on Zion. I created a training plan and most of the team stuck to it. We’d need to prepare for running on trail, running at night, and running on short rest. We had 8 volunteers, perfect for a traditional Ragnar team. The owners of the company not only paid the entrance fee, but they also covered most of the supplies for the weekend and sponsored a bonus night in Las Vegas at the Bellagio Hotel. In addition, the owners are avid runners who joined the team.
Most of the supplies were shipped to me in Portland, as I planned to road trip to and from the event. The remainder of the team was flying in from Chicago and renting a van. Max, one of my teammates, flew out to Portland and road-tripped with me. We drove up to Timberline Lodge to spend some time on Mt. Hood on the way out of town.
We stopped by Smith Rock on the way out and ran the Summit Loop Trail. The long-sweeping ascents and descents and dusty climate would provide solid race preparation for Zion’s elevation changes and sandy trails. You can see more of our Smith Rock Summit Loop run in the video below.
We slept a couple hours at a Nevada motel before hitting the road again and making it to Zion by early evening. We met the rest of the team and set up our camp along the trail. We would be about 1/4 mile from the start/finish line and staging area – great for cheering on runners throughout the weekend.
We made camp in a quiet area and were kept up all night by a family who decided to bring their two very young children along. After a poor night’s sleep, we awoke to race day.
For this race, everybody would run about 15.5 miles. There was a 3.1 mile easy loop, a 4.3 mile moderate loop, and an 8-mile hard loop. Each person would run every 8th loop. Teams had 30 hours to finish. The race elevation is entirely over 6,000 feet and the elevation gain and loss ranks among the most difficult in the entire Ragnar Trail catalog.
I chose to run the easy loop first. Based on our pace estimates, that would have me running my longest loop in the middle of the night, where I could enjoy the cool air and crisp, clear skies. The easy loop turned out to be anything but. I started out too quickly and soon discovered the severe lack of oxygen compared with my sea level training. The sudden and frequent elevation changes added to the difficulty. I was frustrated with my first loop, but I learned a lesson about going out too fast at elevation.
On my night run, I got into a nice rhythm and never pushed until the end. The moon was bright, I could hear animals yipping and moving about, and I met several wonderful people, as you often do on the trails. At one point, I saw a woman running off trail and realized she had made a wrong turn. I yelled to her and she turned around just before she would have been out of earshot. Night running is not without it’s perils. I finished the “red loop” strong and slept very well after. In the morning, I headed out and put in my fastest time on the moderate loop. This loop featured extended altitude gain on sandy trails, followed by a long, sweeping drop down hard-packed horse trails. My previous hill training kept me in control throughout and I was thrilled to finish strong.
The venue for this race was terrific. From showers between runs, to great food, to a climbing wall and collective party area, this event supported everyone comfortably.
After the race, we drove to Las Vegas for a celebratory dinner and a night out. In the morning, I pointed my car back toward Oregon and made as much time as I could. The drive was beautiful and I only wound up stopping for about one hour at a rest stop for a nap before getting all the way home. As a team, we’re working on lining up another relay for 2017, as Ragnar exceeded everybody’s expectations for adventure, excitement, and fun.