Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Ogden Marathon 2013: The Experience and Lessons Learned

Friday night before the Ogden Marathon I lay in my bed in Hunstville, UT listening to the rain pound the metal roof.  None of my previous four marathons had been in the rain.  This would be a new experience.  Usually the sound of the rain would lull me to sleep but that night it was evasive, coming later than normal.  Of course sleep has always been somewhat elusive before a marathon.

Rain continued to fall during our ride to the start line, letting up as we arrived at the large field with long line of port-a-potties.  The start line of a marathon is a stunningly inspiring place.  People of all makes and models show up and go through their own pre-race rituals.  A nervous energy courses through the people.  This year it was enhanced by the threat of rain.  Garbage bags seemed to be the most popular type of outerwear.

Despite repeated requests to drop our bags at the truck, everyone held on as long as they could, not wanting to give up any of their warm weather gear until it was absolutely necessary.  Just before the final call for the bags, with ten or so minutes to line up for the start, the rain started to fall again.  Looking down toward Ogden Valley and Ogden Canyon, the rain showed no sign of letting up.  All of us faced the prospect of 26.2 miles in the rain.  When the final call to line up came, everyone that I could see moved toward the start line. 

The marathon started and I started my shuffle toward the starting timer.

The Navy shirt is to honor my father for the races he misses this year while deployed.

There is a law of marathons--marathons demand extensive training.  Everyone who knows anything about marathons knows that simple fact.  You pick a training plan and you stick to it as much as your schedule and your body allows.  Adjustments are allowed and injuries are part of the calculation.  But you train the best you can before the marathon, or at least you try to train as much as you can.  For the four previous marathons that I ran, I trained, for some more than others.  But, I did train with regular runs with the miles in the double digits 

Sadly my training for this most recent marathon was minimal.  I ran at most 2 or three times a week.  Only one run, at just under 13 miles was in the double digits.  Fortunately I did have the Ragnar Trail Relay - Zion a few weeks earlier where I was able to run around 16 miles on trails during a 24 hour period.  I could list my excuses for not training, and excuses are all I really have, but they would only embarrass me.  So, I'll just roll with the fact that I was lazy and easily distracted this training season (and we had a new baby bringing us to a total of six children and I started a new job), and avoid the mention of any extenuating circumstances that could be construed as a lame excuse.

As the Ogden Marathon approached this year, the weeks seemed to tick off the calendar in quick order.  Friends and family kept reminding me that the marathon was only "x" weeks away.  Off and on, here and there, now and then, I tried to motivate myself to get out and run.

With the days passing and my training tragically insufficient, my supportive and caring wife became more concerned about the wisdom of me actually stepping on the course in hopes of making it to the finish line.  For three or four weeks our conversations went something like this:

"What are you going to do?"

"Run the marathon."

"That's stupid."

Despite my low level of readiness I was committed to running this marathon for three main reasons:

1.  I love the feel of completing a marathon.  There is nothing like coming across the finish line.  Watching others do it can bring tears to your eyes.  It always brings tears to my eyes when I cross.  The Ogden Marathon offers one of the most picturesque courses coming down into Ogden Valley, around Pineview Reservoir, and down Ogden Canyon.  Also, I didn't want to break my streak of consecutive runnings.

2.  I can run.  My schedule and my physical body provided me the opportunity to step onto that course.  Even with my limited training, I was reasonably sure I could finish it if I only started.  Marathons are inspiring because of all the different types of people, in various states of physical conditioning and life, that step out onto the course.  Likewise, there are so many people who are unable or unwilling to run.  My father, who convinced me to run a marathon in the first place, has ran the Ogden with me the last three times.  This year he wasn't able to run it because he was activated and deployed to Kuwait with the US Navy Reserve.  Given his choice he would have been running with us rather than spending eight months in the desert back and forth between choice garden spots.

3.  I wanted to teach myself the importance of training and preparing properly for distance runs. 

So, I drove my car from Henderson, NV to Ogden, picking my friend Jeff up in Provo.  (This was Jeff's third Ogden Marathon with me).  I decided I would follow the Barney Stinson philosophy of running marathons.  Barney's friend Marshall was training for a marathon, suffering through all the demands of long runs, when they had this exchange:

Barney: "Training for a marathon?!"
Marshall: "What?"
Barney: "You don't train for a marathon.  You just run it!"
Barney: "Here's how you run a marathon.  Step one, you start running.  Step two...there is no step two."
(How I Met Your Mother, Season 2 Episode 15)


With the rain picking up in intensity I started running with a thin garbage bag covering my torso.  My pace for the first nine miles was solid, what some with my sleek body type might even call quick.  Now some of you non-marathoners may say to yourself, "You run nine miles at a quick pace after not having trained properly for a marathon?!  That sounds like a long distance."  Sadly, in the world of elite athletes (and other struggling runners), nine miles is just a drop in the bucket.  After nine miles, all downhill, I still had over 17 more to run.  Using wisdom garnered from marathons past I even held back those first nine miles, fighting the urge to go as fast as I could on the downhill.  At about mile five my body temperature was up and I peeled the garbage off, surrendering to the wetness.

By the time I hit mile ten my outlook had gone from apprehensive to good to worried.  The cold started to kick in as my pace slackened and the pain started to set in.  Following a port-a-potty stop between mile ten and thirteen I was afraid of continuing on past the halfway point.  The familiar thoughts and doubts hit me harder than they had during any previous marathon.

"You won't make it to the cut off in time."
"You're going to injure yourself."
"It's too cold.  You'll get hypothermia if you keep expending energy."  (Usually I worry about being too hot.)
"You're stupid you should have trained and now you'll never make it."
"You'll never recover from the hill after mile fourteen."
"Calling your wife from the hospital will ruin your day."

For two miles I worked through the doubts, entertaining ways to justify quitting at the halfway point.  As I rounded the corner into the halfway point in Eden, I knew I had to keep going.  I forced the reasons for continuing to the forefront of my mind:

"Your body is still moving.  It's not broken."
"Dad finished it last year with a torn calf muscle and the same amount of training."
"Dad is deployed and would rather be feeling all my pains and aches.  Calling to tell him you quit will be as bad as calling your wife from the hospital."
"I want to look down on the reservoir, see the steep canyon sides, and cross that finish line."
"You can do it.  There is no good reason to stop."

With my resolve set I approached the halfway point, excited for an orange slice or two to keep me going.  As I approached I heard over the speakers the following announcement, meant for the relay runners who had just finished up:

"Bus F107 is waiting to take you down the canyon.  Go jump on the bus and get out of the rain.  They have the heater on."

Unbelievable.  My body tried to turn toward the bus but I made it to the volunteer with the oranges and kept going.  As I rounded the corner toward the hill I fought the urge to weep.  I fought through the depression until I hit mile fifteen and knew, if I could keep my pace up I would make it.

Using my Garmin I tracked my mile splits closely in an effort to make sure that my pace was sufficient to beat the cut off times.  My pace had dropped off as I climbed to mile fifteen and I committed myself to keeping my pace up.  Unfortunately at mile sixteen my Garmin, the screen filled with rain water, shorted out and reset.  I couldn't get it to start again.  Without the Garmin I took the next best option for keeping my pace where it needed to be--I ran as often as my legs allowed me.

Passing the aid station at mile seventeen I reached the dam ahead of the cut off time.  I must not have looked too bad because none of the medical vans approached me to inquire as to my health.  I hit the downhill and ran.  For the next four or more miles down the canyon I managed to alternate between running and walking.  This is the part where I always find my core group of fellow runners/walkers, those who continuously trade places.  The rain, which hadn't bothered me much since early on, had soaked my shoes causing a sock to bunch up and give me a painful blister on my right foot.

Exiting the canyon I knew I would finish.  I just didn't know if I would beat my goal time.  After running 23 miles you would think that a simple 5K wouldn't be so intimidating.  I continued to alternate between running and walking, eventually pulling away from almost all the members of my little core group.  Finally I turned onto Grant Street, that last, seemingly interminable stretch of the Ogden Marathon.  Each year I swear they move the entire city center a couple of blocks further back.

As I approached the final 200 or so yards the adrenaline kicked in, I could see people lining the finishing shoots.  I could hear the announcer calling out names.  At that point I couldn't have stopped my body from running as fast as it could.  Off to one side I could hear my sisters Samantha and Heather yelling at me, cheering me on toward the finish.  Again, like each previous year I was overcome with emotion as I came into the finish line, especially when I looked up to see that I had beat my expected time by about thirty minutes.

I knew, as I had each of the previous three years, that I will be running it again next year.

Ogden Marathon 2013 Bib and Medal


I drove back home to Henderson the day after the marathon enduring the pain of sore muscles and joints.  On the way I reflected on lessons learned:

1. Training is important.
2. Experience goes a long way.
3. Training is important.

The course was beautiful this year.  The rain and the clouds provided an amazing backdrop against the peaks, cliffs, and valleys on this course.

My wife confronted me shortly after I arrived home.  I think she wanted me to admit defeat and promise not to do the full marathon again next year.  Her dismay was evident as I expressed my commitment to run it again next year.  Again I heard the word "stupid" mumbled under her breath.  I think, however, that next year she may run the Ogden Half Marathon.  What better first step to a full marathon?

--Jarad Van Wagoner

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Dream Job

You go to work each day (hopefully, but maybe not in this economy) where you do your best to provide for your family and you try to get as much satisfaction out of the experience as possible.    When you're able to do both you can get pretty close to career nirvana.  I've been close a couple of times.  Any time I've had a job where I haven't earned enough income to provide for my family adequately, I've had a hard time enjoying the work no matter how much I love the rest of it.  Of course, I have the added challenge of providing for a wife and six children, so my financial needs are not insignificant.  Like most people I've also had times when I earned enough but the job satisfaction was lacking for a variety of reasons.

What is the secret to finding that point of harmony?  That area where the earnings and satisfaction quotients coexist?  Some people find this place early on in their careers.  They manage to do the same thing for years or decades, becoming a master at their trade.  Others never find it.  Either they get stuck in an occupation that meets only one or neither need, or they bounce around looking for the perfect fit, one that seems just beyond their grasp.  I'm one of those in-betweeners.  There have been clear and distinct times in my working life when I have felt satisfied on both levels, but those occurrences have proven to be transitory.

One of my favorite lines from literature is, "Not all who wander are lost."  Bilbo Baggins and I are very much alike.  We both like the comforts of home; yet we yearn to see the world and experience as much of it as possible.  My blessing, my curse is that I fell in love with reading at young age.  I read everything from historical fiction to fantasy to current events to modern day thrillers to social sciences.  Without leaving my small, hometown, I experienced much of the world (and other worlds) vicariously through the characters.  Growing up I never had an overwhelming desire to be a __________.  I wanted to do this, be that, and try that over there.

My hope was that by the time I entered college I would know what I wanted to do.  Throughout college my hope was that I would know what I wanted to do by the time I graduated.  Honestly, I didn't do too badly.  I only switched majors once, (from mechanical engineering to finance), but it was a process filled with pain and indecisiveness.  By the time I graduated I was very close to a double major and not far from a triple major, all in just four years of school.  In fact, if I could be paid to go to school full time and make enough to provide for my family, that's where I would be right now.

A quick glance at my complete resume reveals a surprising diversity of experience:
- Owner, lawn care business (11-13 years old)
- Rural sanitary engineer (cleaning up the county dumpsters, 16-17 years old)
- Maintenance and Summer Project Crew, County School District (17-19 years old)
- Occasional farm helper, (16-19 years old)
- Appliance delivery, (18-19 years old)
- Port-a-potty maintenance and delivery, (17-19 years old)
- Roto-rooter technician, (17-19 years old)
- Sorter, Deseret Industries, (21 years old)
- Campus Security, (21-22 years old)
- Robotic welder operator and machine shop assistant, (22-23 years old)
- Cheese plant technician, (23-24 years old)
- Insurance agent and financial planner, (24-25 years old)
- Part-time substitute teacher, (25 years old)
- Construction laborer, part-time, (24-25 years old)
- Financial Management Officer, USAF, (25-28 years old)
- International Programs, Deputy Director, USAF, (28-30 years old)
- Full-time graduate student, on a salary, (30-32 years old)
- Research Fellow, part-time (32-34 years old)
- International Programs, Deputy Director and Assistant Professor of Russian and Political Science, (32-35 years old)
- Director of Agency Relations, Support and Sales, Software Development Company, (35-37 years old)
- Director of Development, Construction Education and Certification, (present)

Now, I could go back and highlight which jobs met one or both of the requirements for harmony, but I wouldn't want to risk offending any previous employers or jading any possible future employers.  In terms of the first requirement, sufficient salary, the best option for me is just to get paid as much as possible.  (But, I'm sure that's true for most people.)

It is challenging for me to find the job that is truly satisfying.  Consider my educational background along with my previous employment:

- Bachelor of Arts, Finance; minor, political science.  Utah State University.
- Basic Officer Training School, USAF.  Maxwell AFB, AL.
- Aerospace Basic Course, USAF.  Maxwell AFB, AL.
- Basic Financial Management Officer Course, USAF.  Maxwell AFB, AL.
- Foreign Disclosure Officer Training, USAF.
- Master of Arts, National Security Affairs--Russia and Europe.  Naval Postgraduate School.

Additionally, I've managed to travel to or live in the following countries as part of my work or service experience: Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Romania, Slovakia, Austria, the Netherlands, Mongolia, China, Japan, and Singapore.

With that background, I would love like to try to describe my dream job, the one that would meet both requirements for an extended number of years.

First requirement, I need a salary large enough to meet all of our current needs; allow us to help our children with college, weddings, and missions; and provide enough to set aside a nest egg large enough to allow us to live comfortably and serve multiple missions for the church.  It wouldn't hurt if it was also enough to allow us to travel the country and world as a family.  I could quote a figure, but I would hate to provide any future employers a minimum floor level.  Instead I would prefer to allow them to determine my worth in hopes that it exceeds my floor minimum.

Now for the tricky part, achieving job satisfaction, or maybe I should up the ante and refer to it as "achieving job excitement."  What would it take for me to achieve job satisfaction with occasional job excitement?  What do I look for in a job?  I wrote a list the other day and such a job would need to include the following:

- It makes a positive difference in the lives of people.
- It requires me to think and solve problems.
- It allows me to create new products, procedures, processes, and programs.
- It allows me to make things work better.
- It allows me to teach others.
- It requires me to speak Russian or some other foreign language on occasion.
- The opportunity to work with smart, interesting, and funny people, the type of people that I wouldn't mind spending time with outside of work.
- The opportunity to travel internationally a few times a year, maybe spend two or three weeks abroad at a time, and to make new friends and contacts overseas.
- It requires me to stay current on national and international politics and relations.
- It allows me to research and write on interesting topics on a regular basis.
- It doesn't involve too much routine or repetitive actions.  I don't want to be a mass producer of anything.

There's the job description for my dream job.  I'm not sure if they're in order of precedence.  At certain times some may be more important that others.  Of course, I could throw in a few more things like a company car, an awesome expense account, fancy business cards, pays me to run races, etc.  But that's just stretching for the perfect job.

Please let me know if you come across the job that meets my descriptions and would mesh well with my previous employment history and education.  I may not be looking to move on from where I'm at, but it's always nice to know that the dream job is out there.

- Jarad Van Wagoner

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Why Do You Ragnar?

Almost exactly one year ago I wrote a blog piece titled "Why I Ragnar."  I wrote it after finishing the SoCal Ragnar with a team consisting of my family and friends.  Overall it's been a rather successful post.  To date it's had almost 1,100 pageviews and still makes me laugh whenever I read it.  In it I describe why each of my teammates was running the Ragnar.  The catch, however, is that I never actually asked them why they were running.  Instead I extrapolated their reasons for them from my own suppositions.  Without attempting to brag, I'd have to say that in most cases I came pretty close to what they would have said.

Wasatch Back Ragnar 2011

The piece then goes on to describe why I run Ragnars.  To date I have ran eight Ragnar events: two SoCals, two Wasatch Backs, two Vegas, one Ragnar Trail Experiment, and one Ragnar Trail Relay.  Also I have ran the Red Rock Relay in Southern Utah.  This year I'll do another Wasatch Back, another Vegas, and maybe another trail relay. 

Ragnar Trail Experiment 2012

After all that experience I've become comfortable with why I run Ragnars--with why I pay out good money for entrance fees,van rentals, food, gas, and lodging; with why I am willing to run anywhere from 13 to 20+ miles in a period of 30-36 hours with little to no sleep; with why I'm okay with sitting in a van with people who are sweaty, dirty, and stinky not to mention grumpy and out of sorts from lack of sleep and soreness; and with all the other things that make it challenging.  My problem is that when I try to explain to non-runners and even some runners why I do it, they don't understand.

SoCal 2012 - Trying to get some sleep

Let me correct that last statement.  A few of them do understand and are willing to try it.  Most of them that do try it love it and go on to run a second or a third or a fourth Ragnar.  I know one or two who have tried it, checked it off of their list, and vowed never to do it again.  (Most of us are okay with that as our experience with them may not have been all that great either.)  Many people, however, look at me like I'm stupid, crazy, out of my mind, sad, loony, and any number of descriptors for talking glowingly about the Ragnar much less running them repeatedly. 

Most of you likely have seen the computer animated video of the guy explaining to his female colleague the logistics of running an overnight relay race.  When I showed that video to my mother-in-law, after attempting to explain the lure and pull of the Ragnar multiple times, she started to laugh hysterically.  Honestly, it became a bit offensive.  I had to walk away and not speak with her for a few hours.  She just doesn't get it and I don't know how to explain it to her.  And there are many others like her.

On an interesting side note, our teams have had a number of non-running van drivers, who after viewing and experiencing the Ragnar as an observer, decided they had to run a Ragnar.

So, my request to you, the reader, is to share your reasons.  Why do you run Ragnars?  How do you explain the Ragnar ? Have you found any effective explanations that convince your non-believing, non-running friends?  If you have, please share them in the comments.  If you haven't found any effective explanations, then share your reasons that make sense to you.

One of my favorite things about the Ragnar, and all other races, is the power of a shared experience.  People from all walks of life gather to run together, to cheer for each other, and to help each other across the finish line.  It brings family, friends, co-workers, and strangers together.  (I always feel bad for the non-Ragnarians in the family when we all get together and start discussing past and future races.)

Las Vegas Ragnar 2012 - Finish Line

So, again, let's share our experiences and our reasons for running.  Share some of your favorite stories--serious and humorous.  Even if "they" don't get it, we do.

- Jarad Van Wagoner

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Ragnar Zion - To the Trails

Last October I participated in the rain soaked running of the Ragnar Trail Experiment at the Zion Ponderosa Ranch in southern Utah.  It was an amazing experience, but honestly I was hoping for something more comfortable for the inaugural running of the official Ragnar Trail Relay – Zion.

(Experimental Trail Running - Ragnar)

Tanner Bell, Steve Aderholt and the rest of the Ragnar Team did not disappoint.  They even managed to bring the good weather.  On Friday, April 26th I descended on the Zion Ponderosa Ranch to try it all again with hundreds of additional runners ready to hit the trails. 

First, a quick shout out to the Zion Ponderosa Ranch.  They have an amazing facility that is run extremely well and happens to be in one of the most beautiful areas of the world.  Their efforts and support, much of it unseen, added immensely to the enjoyment of the overall experience.

I arrived around 11am with my young daughter and son in tow.  We drove up from Henderson, NV to meet the rest of our team coming down from different parts of Utah and Idaho.  The only big glitch in the entire program hit us right away.  Fighting to get all of our gear onto a trailer and then fighting to get us onto a bus was painful and frustrating, but at least it was short lived.  Picking out a campsite wasn’t that easy either.  My two main suggestions to the Ragnar team is to find a way to make the transport of people and supplies run more smoothly and to do a better job of laying out the acceptable campsites.  The lack of organization in the transportation resulted in a delayed start time for our team.  (Of course, all of us could have gotten there a bit earlier if we had known it was going to take that long.)

From the drop off on, the race ran without a hitch for our team—pun intended.  Check in was a breeze.  The team orientation, twenty minutes before the run, was perfect.  I loved not having to hear about all the traffic issues for the run.  And, how impressive was that wooden Ragnar arch?

I took off right at 2:30pm, our team’s first runner.  While I heard some teams complain about the trails not being marked clearly enough, I thought it was near perfect.  I never got lost and never hesitated about which direction to run.  I was excited to see that the trail markings were based on symbols/shapes as well as colors.  After the Ragnar Trail Experiment we were one of the teams that suggested they use some type of shapes or symbols to mark the trails to help runners like my father who happen to be colorblind.

The green leg was a great opportunity to work the kinks out of my legs after the long ride to the Ragnar Village.  By the time I was coming back up my legs were warmed up.  Although at one point where I wanted to walk for a bit I had to keep running while a two-person film crew on a four wheeler rode next to me recording my awesome stride.  I was shocked, however, when I hit the last steep hill that finished up all three legs heading into the transition tent.  I wasn’t excited to know that I had to come down from the yellow and red trails just to climb that hill for each one.

Going first for our team had a huge benefit in terms of the timing of my runs.  I had plenty of time to get dinner in between the legs.  By the way, the chili dinner with cornbread tasted great, but chili is not considered the safest meal for runners especially when they’re sharing tents.  Luckily, I personally suffered no ill effects from the dinner, but a few (one) of our team members kept talking about the potential dangers until we drove away.

I started the red trail sometime between 11pm and midnight.  What an amazing experience running out in the sage and trees with a full moon!  The only downside was that my headlamp had some issues and didn’t provide nearly enough light.  There were a few stretches where I made my best guess about where to put my foot since I couldn’t see anything.  I was so happy to run that trail in the coolness of the night rather than the heat of the day.  For a while I didn’t think the trail was ever going to turn back toward Ragnar Village.  Climbing the hill at the end of that leg was a blessing as it helped warm me up a bit before my leg finished.  Again, the trails were marked extremely well for the night runs as well.

After visiting trying to rehydrate near the campfire and visiting with a couple of teammates and other runners I headed back to our tents to try to warm up in some dry clothes and to get some sleep.  It was wonderful to know that I wouldn’t be running again until around seven or eight in the morning.  My plan was to get a few good hours of sleep. 

Once I finally warmed up I was able to fall asleep but not able to sleep too deeply.  Finally around 4:30am I started to worry about fueling up for my next run.  So, I got up and grabbed some food to take to the campfire.  With an orange, a banana, a couple of chocolate bars, and a lot of water in my system I was feeling pretty good.  Of course, I also took advantage of those cool stationary bikes hooked up to the batteries to work out some lactic acid and to warm my legs up.

My last leg, the yellow, started around 8am.  The temperature was perfect for that horrendous climb to the top of the ridge.  Like a few others I used the amazing views on the way up and at the top as an excuse to catch my breath while I looked around.  My legs had enough juice left to hustle down and back into camp, although once again that last hill slowed me down a bit.  I was amazed as I came in to have the high school team that had started at 7:30pm the night before have their last runner cross the finish line on their last leg shortly after I came in from my last run.  They completed all 24 legs in less than 16 hours.

I ran with a great team this year.  My sister Heather, my brother-in-law Brett, Kami Avila, Cassidy Norman and her son Tyson, Angala Thomson, and Nikki Christensen.  Everyone made it through every leg.  Brett and Tyson even managed to post some pretty good times.  While our time wasn’t the slowest we were one of the last teams to cross the finish line.  We appreciate the enthusiasm and support from the Ragnar team and all of the volunteers.  The medals are amazing this year and I look forward to getting one or two more trail medals this year.

The Ragnar Village was amazing.  It was great seeing all of the runners in their campsites and in their costumes.  The support tents and the Ragnar store were great.  I managed to drop a few dollars on some fun merchandise.  Of course I took advantage of the massage after my first run.  I rode the stationary bikes a couple of times.  The campfire was a great place to mingle and stay warm.  The screens with the race and team information were great.  Luckily I didn’t have to use the services of the First Aid tent, but it was great to see them on site.  My children and nieces and nephew had a great time swimming and playing pool and ping pong.  Unfortunately, I must admit that I didn’t take a shower during the race.  The lines were too long.   I didn’t mind though…my teammates might have, but I didn’t.

This year I ran the Ragnar in large part to honor my father, Reed Van Wagoner.  His Navy Reserve Unit was activated and is in the process of deploying to the Middle East.  He usually heads up our teams and runs every race with us.  His absence left a big gap on our team.  Some you may have seen a few of us wearing our gold Navy shirts with the Van Wagoner name on the back.  We had a US Navy flag hanging from one of our tents as well.  My dad was very sad to miss this race and all the other Ragnars and other races he usually runs with us.  Our thoughts and prayers will be with him for the duration of his deployment as we await his safe return.  It’s likely that you’ll see a few of us or our supporters wearing the shirt for him this year as we run some of the other Ragnar races.  If you see us, please feel free to ask for an update.

Check out my post about running for my dad:
Running with Reed 

As always, one of the highlights of any Ragnar is running into friends, former teammates, and runners I've seen at different venues.  At this race, as I came in from my first leg to hand off the timing belt to my sister, I knew I knew the volunteer.  She kept smiling at me and giving me instructions about making the exchange while I was trying to give instructions to my sister.  I must have looked confused as I stared at her because finally she looked at me and asked, "Do you remember your name?"  It was Paulette Peatross.   We chatted briefly as she told me that most of her family was at the race and were staying in a nearby cabin.  

After my leg I returned to the transition area to see if I could find any more of the Peatross clan.  Pretty quickly I saw Paulette walk up with Sondra, Ron, and some of the young children in tow.  A little later I ran into Jason.  Now the Peatrosses are some of my favorite people in the world.  They're one of those families that has done so many kind things for so many people over the years that they are friends to everyone.  I hadn't seen Ron and Paulette since my wedding reception almost 16 years ago.  I hadn't seen Sondra since our ten year class reunion ten years ago.  I hadn't seen Jason since about the time I graduated from high school 20 years ago.  Hugs were exchanged and we quickly caught up on life.  Unfortunately I wasn't able to see Loralee and a few of the others, but maybe next time.

Tanner, Steve, and the Ragnar Team, keep up the great work.  It’s great to be able to participate in these very cool and very fun experiences with such a diverse group of people.  If only I had the time and money to run in all of them…

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and comments on the Ragnar Trail Relay or on any other topic that floats your boat.

Check out and please respond to my blog post that poses the question:
Why Do You Ragnar? 

- Jarad Van Wagoner 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Running with Reed

"I think a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people."

-       Maya Angelou

Do you remember arguing with your friends about whose dad was tougher, smarter, and all around better? 

“Yeah well my dad can lift a car up by himself.”

“So, my dad can lift a semi-truck up…with the trailer loaded.”

“Well, my dad could beat Superman in an arm wrestle.”

Eventually most of us grow up and realize that our dad isn’t quite as strong as Superman or as smart as Albert Einstein.  One thing that never changed for me, however, was knowing that my dad was much cooler than all the other dads.  The others wanted a hero for a dad, someone like Batman who helps those in need and protects the weak, who isn’t afraid to put himself in danger or discomfort.  I have that kind of dad.

For the past thirty years my dad has dedicated himself to helping others.  He’s managed to be successful in two careers at the same time—as a police officer and as a Navy Reservist.  Throughout his career as a police officer he’s worked the bad hours, the holidays, and the bad cases.  He’s spent many years as a detective looking after the interests of abused children in particular.  During his time in the Navy he has been deployed away from his family, his friends, and his primary career for extended periods of time more than once.  Despite competing demands he’s been able to become an amazing leader and public servant.  He is now a lieutenant with the Provo City Police Department and a Command Master Chief Petty Officer in the Navy Reserve. 

With all of his career success and devotion to serving others, he is first and foremost a husband, a father, and a friend.  He works hard at developing and maintaining his relationships with those he loves.  A few years ago he found a new way to get his family and friends to spend time together.  He started running marathons, relay races, and a few others in between.  In the past three years I have ran the following types of races with my dad: three full marathons, a half marathon, a handful of 5Ks, a 19 mile road race, and seven or so long distance relay races to include a trail relay in the rain and mud.  Along the way he’s managed to bring in his children, his sons-in-law, his daughter-in-law, a granddaughter, some colleagues, the sister of a son-in-law, friends of others, an assistant in his physical therapists office, a niece, and probably a few others I can’t remember.  He’s convinced people to travel from all over the country to races in California, Nevada, and Utah.  

I just want to point out that my dad is the steady runner who takes time to speak with all the other runners on the course, whether it's a quick greeting to the people passing him, giving encouragement to those he passes, or long, in-depth conversations on a variety of topics.  He runs to spend time with people in a common pursuit.  I think that is what makes it so much fun for him.

This past fall my dad was preparing to retire from the Navy Reserve and hang up his uniform when he learned that deployment orders were coming through for his unit—another trip to the Middle East.  Now, my dad was at the point in his career that he could have politely declined the opportunity to deploy with a number of valid reasons for staying behind.  After mulling it over for a period of time, my dad decided to go to support his troops and colleagues who are going. 

Deployments are always difficult for our family.  Nobody, especially my mother, likes to have my dad away for extended periods of time.  My dad hates being away from his family and friends.  Now, our races aren’t the most important thing in the lives of our family members, but this year the gap left by my dad in our races and on our teams.

The first race he missed this year was the Ragnar Trail Relay – Zion.  Back in October of 2012 he ran the Ragnar Trail Experiment running through a stead rain and treacherous mud.  After that race all of were excited for the first official Ragnar Trail Relay, a chance to hit the same trails again in good weather with family and friends.  So, as his deployment schedule was set it became clear he was going to miss not only the Ragnar Trail Relay but every other race he was planning on running with us this year to include our fourth running of the Ogden Marathon.  He even gave me his position on his Wasatch Back Ragnar Team with his friends from the Provo Police Department. 

My dad left for the initial phase of his deployment to Virginia back in late March.  Early on he half-jokingly suggested that we each carry the Navy flag with us on our legs at the Ragnar Trail Relay to honor his absence.  I laughed him off not wanting to focus on the fact that he would be absent.  As the day of the race approached I realized that we, or at least I, needed to do something to honor his absence and his service.  So, with the solid encouragement of my wife I reached out to Stew West, a friend from church who prints church for a living.  He agreed to print some shirts for us at cost and on short notice.  I quickly sent out an announcement to family, friends, and running partners that we were putting together a t-shirt to honor my dad to be used for the upcoming race and the entire race season.  Within a few short hours I was happy and surprised to have requests for a dozen shirts.  The shirts are gold with the word “Navy” on the front, “Van Wagoner” on the back, and the anchor on the sleeve all in navy blue lettering.  To go with the shirts I purchased a US Navy flag from the Base Exchange at Nellis AFB to fly at our campsite. 

I spoke with my dad the day before the race.  His sadness at not being able to run with us came through in his voice and in his words.  He asked me to give him regular updates on the race.  I decided not to tell him about the shirts or the flag until after the race so we could send him pictures.

The day of the race came and we handed out the shirts and hung the Navy flag.  We had another runner stop by to ask about the Navy flag, a Chief Petty Officer in the Navy Reserve from Chicago.  We chatted about my dad’s deployment and the fact that some of the sailors from this Chief’s unit are deploying with my dad’s unit.  Each of us ran in our Navy shirts for our last leg and then took the following photos.  (Please excuse Brett for his white shirt and for showing off his hiney.)

On Saturday after the race my dad called me while I was in St. George eating dinner on my way home.  He was a little bummed that I hadn’t given him many updates during the race.  Part of the reason was because my phone battery was almost dead and also because I wasn’t tough enough to speak with him.  It was difficult for me not having him at the race.  I’m sure that I missed him the most.  I enjoy watching him interact with everyone on the team, encouraging them on their runs and cheering for them.  I enjoy watching him run, listening to him get psyched for his next run and swapping stories about the last leg we ran or the next one coming up.  The gap for me during the race was real and more than a bit painful. 

As I spoke with him from the hamburger place in St. George, I apologized for not keeping him updated and gave him a quick overview of the race.  Then I told him to go look at the photos on Facebook of all of us in his shirts and with the US Navy flag.

My dad is my biggest hero and friend.  The race sort of encapsulated the whole fact that he’s going to be away for the next six to seven months.  I hoped that doing the t-shirts and the flag would make me feel better about him not being there with us.  They didn’t make it better but it felt good to show our support for him and to show that we miss him.  While I couldn’t bring myself to talk with my dad during the race or even speak with the others about him, I did spend my time during each run reminiscing about all of our races ran together and everything that my dad does for everyone else.  And, I’ll be honest, a part of me wished he was there experiencing the pain of running the brutal hill on the yellow leg of trail relay.

So, while my dad is away I will run each of my races (or at least a leg of each race) in my gold Navy shirt, despite the fact that I served in the Air Force.  Each race will remind me that he is away serving others, doing what he’s done so well for over thirty years.  And during each race I’ll repeat to myself, “My dad is way better than your dad.”

-- Jarad Van Wagoner