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 


Raffi Darrow said...

Can we pretend your last name actually rhymes with Ragnar? That would be cool! I'm doing trail in Yosemite. Hope it's not as cold as Cape Cod was last week!!

Sondra Larsen said...

Awesome! It was so good to see you, I hope to see you and your cute family again soon. but, I hope it's not at another Ragnar. That was brutal...on my husband and daughter of course hahaha! I think I will opt for the spa retreat next Ragnar. Unfortunately for me my 16 year old Ashely loved it, and 14 year old Mitch, can't wait to do it. They might have to join the VanWagoner Team!

Jarad said...

Sondra, I will keep your daughter and son in mind for some future races. What about your husband? Is he interested in running again?