Sunday, June 24, 2007

Wasatch Back Ragnar Relay 2007

Yesterday began the Wasatch Back Ragnar Relay, a 177 mile relay race through the mountains from Logan to Park City, Utah. I’m on a team of 12 from my company, one of 3 teams we entered this year. Met the 5 other people in my van at 8:30 this morning for the drive up to Logan.

Since I joined our competitive team this year, corporate covered all our expenses: entry fee, 2 vans, gas, jersey’s, drinks, food, head lamps, reflective vests, first aid kits, tons of energy crap, hotel rooms, etc. It would have been 2-3 hundred a piece otherwise. 

I made good time to Logan (yes, they let me drive) where we ate a pre-race lunch at Subway and then checked our team in and began stretching. There were over 300 teams and 4000 runners this year. Teams leave the starting line based on their expected pace, starting in the morning for the slowest, into the evening for the fastest, like BYU and Weber State. We left at noon, and it was blazing hot.

Our team’s mile pace goal was 9:00 minutes, and we stayed under that most of the way. Each of our first legs was brutal due to the heat. Paramedics were rushing people off the course as early as their first leg. (out of 36 total legs) A lot of teams under prepare and underestimate how much harder it is to run mid day. It was about 100 degrees outside.

Although we only have one runner on the course at a time, the rest of us are in constant motion. While Amy is running leg #3, we are waiting with Brett who is recovering from leg #2, then hopping in the van to drop off water to Amy en route to the next check point to drop off Dillon who’s on deck for leg #4. Then it’s back to check on Amy a few more times before heading back to Dillon to let him know that Amy is almost there. After they make the exchange of the wraparound wrist baton, the whole process starts over again.

I started with leg #6 this year, which means we have a short break after I hand off to the other 6 runners of our team in van #2. My leg climbed the final 1.5 miles to the summit of Avon Pass at 6500 ft. and then dived downward to 5100 ft. into Ogden Valley for 4 knee-jarring miles along dirt road switchbacks. I took them fast because I can’t help myself.

I think my van overestimated my ability, because I was quickly dehydrated and overheated, and they were nowhere in sight. I turned to bumming off water from other team vans, which kept me semi-hydrated, but nothing could stop me from over-heating. The final 1.5 miles on asphalt highway were miserable. I was experiencing every symptom of heat stroke without the luxury of being able to do anything about it.

After 7 miles and 55 minutes in the sun, there was no kick at the end. I merely jogged into the chute, slapped the baton onto to Taylor’s arm, and then teetered towards the shade beneath some trees where I drank and drank and drank. Since this was a major exchange point, they had some shower tents set up with ice cold water. I took my shoes and socks off and sat on the grass inside one for a good 10 minutes until my core temperature returned to normal.

After a bit we loaded into the van and drove ahead to the next major exchange point at Snow Basin after leg 12. There was nowhere close to eat, so we got in line for a free massage instead. We had just a short break, because the other van only had to cover 22 miles between them, whereas we had done over 30 in the heat. Not that they had it easy, as the climb into Snow Basin was brutal. I should know, I did it last year by myself. Dr. Johnson got the worst half of it this year on our team, and apparently his nose started bleeding on the way up and wouldn’t stop. They gave him some gauze from the first aid kit to stuff up there until he finished.

It was getting dark by the time our CEO came up the hill to pass off to Lisa in our van. She had slipped on the regulation reflective vest and head lamp, which helps to cut down on the number of pedestrian fatalities. She had 7 miles to cover, so we drove ahead and gassed up the van. I grabbed a frozen dinner at the gas station since there was nothing else close by.

Although we were all exhausted from running our first legs in the heat, everyone agreed that the second leg was much easier with the sun down. The temperature had dropped into the 50’s, which felt colder when the wind picked up. Our biggest enemy now was fatigue. We all constantly talked about how tired we were and how nice it would be to crash into a bed somewhere. Many artificial substances were consumed in order to keep awake and alert. Too many runners on the road to doze off at the wheel.

The big issue during our second set of legs was Dillon. He was suffering from stomach pain and had severe diarrhea. He was hitting every port-a-john along the way, despite taking several doses of Imodium. Our biggest fear was that he might not be able to complete his second leg, which would mean one of us would have to do it for him, in addition to our own, as well as his third leg.

After some more Imodium, criminal amounts of pain medicine, and pockets full of baby wipes, we sent him on his way. Our pep talk consisted of telling him that at least nobody would see anything if he had a blow out along the way, since it was night time. Like a real trooper, he slowly but surely made it to the end, where he handed off to me.

I started leg 18 sometime after midnight along Hwy 66 in the middle of nowhere. It was completely dark out except for the stars and my little head lamp. There’s something creepy about running into the night when you can only see a few feet ahead of you. Occasionally I would hear rustling by an animal in the brush to my side which would make me sprint forward a little bit. In my mind, it was always a bear or mountain lion ready to drag me off into the woods, leaving my teammates no trace as to my whereabouts.

I thought the worst was over after nearly stepping on a little critter who was caught by surprise, but then it was I who got caught by surprise when my lamp suddenly illuminated what looked to be some cat like black haired creature sitting in the middle of the road. It fell back onto it’s haunches as I approached and let out a menacing warning cry which I’m not ashamed to say I answer with shrieking cry of my own. The thing scared the living crap out of me, and I gave it a wide berth and I dashed past it blindly into the night. I had a less scary encounter later with a decomposing deer I almost covered my shoes with.

This entire leg was uphill, and it got the steepest as I climbed past East Canyon Reservoir to meet my team at the top of the dam in East Canyon State Park. After 5.7 miles, I handed off to Taylor at 1:05 am. Loaded up the van and headed to Park City 45 minutes away where we had a couple rooms at The Canyons. This was excess on the part of our company executives. There was no need to have such nice rooms where we were only going to be there a few hours. Brett, Dillon, and I had a two story suite to ourselves. This place was absolutely gorgeous and would have been a dream come true if I got to stay there during the Sundance Film Festival.

Closed myself off inside the downstairs bedroom and climbed into bed. I think some of the others showered, but I was more concerned about sleep than getting clean. Too concerned it turns out, because I was so anxious about maximizing the hour and a half we had to rest, that I couldn’t get to sleep. I just laid there, completely wasted, thinking about how tired I was, but unable to make myself fall asleep. I think I dozed off for about 30 minutes before the phone rang and it was time to go. What a waste of a perfectly good suite.

Drove 30-40 minutes to the next major checkpoint where the other van’s runners were finishing up. All of us were extremely groggy, but thrilled to know we only had one more leg each to finish. I had a yogurt drink and trail mix for breakfast. It was still dark out, but the sun was beginning to come up as our van took over. Lisa handed off to Brett who handed off to Amy. Amy’s knees were really bothering her and we nearly had Lisa step in for her, but she wanted to finish her section and stuck it out until she handed off to Kristin.

By this time the sun was up and it was getting hot again. Kristin had a tough climb above Jordanelle Reservoir. She did really well though and passed 5 people. Our goal in the race wasn’t to win, since we’d have to finish in 17 hours to do that. Our goal was just to beat the two other corporate teams, and pass them if possible, since they started earlier than us—2 and 3 hours respectively.

When Kristin handed off to Dillon, they were about 1.5 legs ahead of us, but Dillon was still suffering from his earlier symptoms, so we lost a little ground. He handed off to me in Heber Valley for my final leg. 3.6 miles into the city of Heber—mostly flat. It was hot out, but with the shorter distance and knowing it was my last leg, I gave it everything I had. Finished in 25 minutes and passed the baton onto Taylor for the last time.

We drove up to Park City to hang out at the finish line, get another massage, and eat some real food. Went to a pizza and pasta place on Main St. where I got a BLT with fries. We got word that our team had passed the finance guys a couple legs after I handed off. All 3 of our teams, which started at 9:00, 10:00, and noon ended up finishing within minutes of each other. I think it took my team in the neighborhood of 26 hours. As the final runner comes around the last turn, all 12 team members jump in and run with him to the end.

It was a great race. Despite being in better shape than I was last year, it was still extremely difficult. I'd do it again next year if the opportunity arises.


Chelle said...

Great race report! Wasn't that heat wild? I'm still marvelling at your wild animal experience during leg 2. I would've had a heart attack, right there.

I know it's crazy, but I'll be back next year.

Brenna said...

Ha! I thought I was semi-crazy for thinking that I heard a growl on leg 2! I kept speeding up thinking - oh yeah, that's all I need - to be eaten by a wild boar! Or a bobcat... definitely a bobcat!

Nice job- next year I need a sponsor! We spent well over $200.00 each.