I'm signed up for the Fox Cities half and the inaugural Bellin Women's half in September in addition to the Runner's World Festival Hat Trick (5k, 10k, and half in one weekend) in October. I'm also on a Hood to Coast team in August and a Fall 50 team in October. Next week begins training in earnest for these races, and I'm actually going to train for these as opposed to just showing up and hoping for the best.
Wasatch Back is the Mother of All Ragnars. It was the first, and is therefore the oldest. I believe this year was the 12th year? I could be wrong. Might be 13th. At any rate, the jumping off point is Salt Lake City as the race begins in Logan, Utah and ends in Park City, Utah. This area is known for skiing and Mormons.
We arrived with little trouble and had a tapas dinner with the team, then after the Van 1 crew shuffled off to Logan the Van 2 crew did a little sight seeing in Salt Lake. It was a warm night and we decided to check out the tabernacle grounds. I did a fairly involved series of papers on the early Mormons for an honors class I took on communal societies. The research I did mostly centered on their time in Illinois and the move westward. My studies didn't do much for my general outlook on religion, but it was pretty fascinating. Being a godless heathen I don't have much interest in theology or doctrine, but let me say this: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints? It can throw down in the "kick ass sanctuary" division. The tabernacle is not just a single building. It's a whole complex. Big gorgeous trees, lots of flowers, all harmoniously arranged around the main event. Several sanctuaries, a conference center, banqueting facilities, a big reflecting pool, and something like 4 visitor centers. People, there were HD television screens playing a Come to Jesus video on loop at each major entrance to the compound. I fucking love churches. Religious art is moving, man. Some of it is moving-to-the-back-and-fleeing...but moving is moving.
Seriously. It's fucking beautiful.
Being in Van 2 has one distinct advantage: You don't have to get up early. We crashed at the hotel, slept in until after 8am (I don't even know how I managed that), had breakfast and got down to the business of preparing for the next 36ish hours. We got some food and booze (for after, we're not total lushes), and loaded up. Once we had an idea of when our team would be coming in to exchange 6, we went over and waited for updates. It was hot as bloody hell on Friday. Over 100 degrees and clear as a bell with very little breeze. At altitude you might as well be in a toaster oven. We marinated ourselves in SPF 55 and hoped for the best. I was runner 12, which means even after my van started I had a hella long time to wait. I hate waiting. I had big plans to run in just my sports bra and skirt as it was crazy hot. I borrowed and spread a term my friend Laura uses to describe her post-kids abs. Schmabs. I was going to go schmabs out, but I didn't end up running my first leg until 9pm, and by then the temp had dropped considerably and I left my shirt on. Schmabs fail.
Ragnar had an Instagram contest and one category was "Only at Ragnar". I didn't end up submitting this photo because I am a lazy whore, but this is pretty Ragnarific. How often do you see someone with a collapsible hula hoop and an iPhone in a parking lot?
Sue keeping her hips loose at exchange 7.
So my first leg was my dark leg. Typically the second leg is dark, but this weekend was the solstice and the day was very long. That and our 9am start meant I was full headlamp-and-safety vest on Leg 12. It was 4ish miles of who-the-hell-knows because it was dark. The temp was damn near perfect, and my swanky new wireless headphones worked like a charm. I also had a brand new Flip Belt that I was taking for a test run. I used it to pin my number so I wouldn't have to move it each leg.
Things I learned about Flip Belt:
1. It's comfortable.
2. It holds lots of shit if you don't mind looking lumpy.
3. If your waist is significantly smaller than your hips you'll want to size up. My waist is 29, hips 39, and it would NOT stay at the waistband of my shorts. It slid up to my natural waistline and there it stayed.
Also on my first leg I got high fives from two little kids. I heard their mother say "Ok you guys, two more runners and then we really have to go" which was pretty cute.
After I handed off to Van 1, we headed to the next exchange area and got some chow. Pizza. I haven't had pizza in ages. It was delicious. Then we bundled up, because in spite of the 104 degree high the low was about 48 degrees. I actually slept a little, though I have three lovely rectangular bruises on my ass from laying on the seatbelt latches in the van.
We picked up the baton again around 4am and our first few runners got treated to a mountain sunrise and bird chorus. It was pretty chilly at first, but warmed up quickly. I got really lucky on my second leg. I picked it up around 7:30am and set off for 5.3 miles of rolling hills, beautiful trees, water, and sprawling mountain vistas. Also I wore shorts. Shorts. Fucking Lululemon shorts. That's right. I'm no longer too fat to wear Lulu. Look out, wallet. They still crawled up my crotch...it's not like my monstrous thighs disappeared...but I didn't chafe one bit and they look great when I'm walking or standing still. I did not go schmabs out this leg either as it was pretty cool when I started out.
Just off exchange 23.
I did my good deed for the Ragnar by hollering loud enough to attract the attention of 2 runners who had missed a turn. I'm basically a human bullhorn. Sometimes I use my powers for something other than evil. Along my second leg I ended up pacing with a guy named Adam and we ran and walked and talked about Ragnars we'd done and the places we're from. It was a very pleasant way to pass the last couple of miles. I'm usually a solo runner, but I know having someone to talk to helped me get through that leg quicker than I would have along.
Especially since I lost my motherfucking wireless headphones. My brand-new, used one time motherfucking wireless headphones.
Following the handoff we went to a restaurant called The Cutting Board in the town just off the exchange. We waited forever for our food (the place was swamped) but there was plenty of good hot coffee and we had time. The food was pretty great when we got it, and we chitchatted with the owner for a while. Turns out she's driven for a couple of Ragnar teams in the past. Once our bellies were full we went to exchange 25 to chill out for a while. Exchange 30 was the next major, and that's typically where "off" vans go to rest, but 30 was not conducive to large numbers of vans hanging out so we went to the suggested alternative which was basically deserted. It was a nice place to hang out for a while.
Oh, I will mention one thing that was truly impressive. The company that provided and maintained the portolets was amazing. Every time we got to a major exchange they were cleaning, and every single portolet was fresh as a fucking daisy. I've been in a lot of plastic potties in my day and these were far and away the most pleasant experience I've ever had with non-plumbing. Kudos, Honey Bucket. Seriously, thank-you.
Once we got the final hand off, our runner 7 had a 10.5 mile uphill slog up and over a beautiful mountain pass. We weren't allowed to park and give support, so we left a bottle of water and an applesauce on a light post and texted him the location. Then we drove up the mountain and marveled at the absolute death march taking place. It was hot. It was a 4000ft elevation gain. And at the top it was the Sound of Music, bitches.
We got out of the van and hiked around in flip flops, took pictures, and sang The Hills Are Alive. Sue also hula hooped with flags. Because you can't claim a mountain without a flag.
Van 2 minus Brett who was probably just reaching the applesauce at this point.
The next several legs involved hurtling down the other side of the mountain trying not to die. I was driving and by the time we reached the bottom my foot was cramped and my knee hurt from standing on the brake. That's right. Running is no problem, but I hurt myself driving the van. It was hot as blazes at the bottom of the mountain, and when I took my final handoff I was ready to be done. My final leg ran on an extremely narrow shoulder along a heavily trafficked road. It was beautiful...see?
Behind me a small city was moving back and forth in giant vans.
At one point I was running along this scorching, stinking highway and someone in a van hit me with water. I wasn't really looking at the cars, and when it hit me my first thought was that some douchbag had spit on me. Then I realized that many vans were spraying runners with water in an attempt to help them cool off. It was still weird, but at least it wasn't a hate crime. About 3 miles in I developed a splitting headache from inhaling exhaust fumes and I was never so glad to see a trailhead as I was when it was time to turn off the road.
Until I saw the hill. And the dirty, slippery trail leading up it. The angle was steep and the surface was slippery. I was breathing in dust and joined the ranks of 15 or so other people who had completely given up running and were just trying to make it up the grade without passing out. Once we reached the crest, the train became paved and was mostly downhill for the rest of the trip to the finish area. You could actually see a plume of dirt rising off the parking area. I stopped for a "heart rate recovery photo op" as I felt like my heart might actually explode out of my chest.
So close...and yet so far.
As we came down the hill, several runners behind me came rocketing down the steep decline hollering swear words and squealing. I almost mowed down a pre-teen who stepped into my path as I neared the finish. I shouted "Look out! Runaway train!" and just missed him. After crossing I just wanted to sit down and breathe air. Not much air in the air, unfortunately. So I drank a beer instead.
The finish line was at a stadium used during the 2002 winter games. Fantastic husband and I grabbed a photo in front of the Olympic marker. That's members of Van 1 behind us.
I did not burn the shit out of my face. I win.
I did not go schmabs out for my final leg even though it was hot as hell. Mostly because I didn't want to show them to 1000 people. One of these days.
Since we had a late flight on Sunday, we were able to do a little sight seeing around the area and have a couple of nice meals following a sleep in. We drove up Big Cottonwood canyon to one of the ski resorts. A few people climbed up a few hundred feet from the parking lot to play in the remaining snow pack, but my $2 floppies were not making that trip. There's a half marathon down this canyon in the fall. I may be back to try it...with plenty of time to acclimate to the altitude. It is truly beautiful there. Almost otherworldly. I have less than zero desire to ski these slopes as I'm certain I would break myself in half, but I might be talked into snowshoeing. Or hiking. Or just eating at Red Iguana a few times a week.
We got back to Chicago at 11pm, which was as expected. We filled our lungs with oxygen, drove home and fell into comas. The end of a Ragnar is always sad. You have to say good-bye to your friends and re-enter life as a responsible adult. No midnight pizza, no early morning cocktails. Non-Ragnar life is so...regular. Fortunately we have Hood to Coast in August.
I'll be spending the next month zeroing in on my fitness goals, hitting the gym, and beginning my training for fall events.
I need to go to Costco for more fish.
There was a fatality at this year's Wasatch. It happened early in the morning on day 1. We heard about it through the van grapevine and I know many people were concerned that conditions on the route were unsafe. Please read the link for more information.