This past weekend I participated in my fourth Ragnar Wasatch Back Relay. From the moment I agreed to run the race, Ragnar 2014 promised to be a whole new experience.
My three prior Ragnar Wasatch Back Relay’s were all run on the same sponsored mens sub-masters (30-40 year old) team with a singular goal in mind, win the sub-masters division at all costs. I was the most inexperienced Raganarian on the team. As a matter of fact, a few of the runners on the team had competed in every Wasatch Back Relay since the race was started. A detailed spread sheet has been kept with the average pace that has been held on each leg over the last decade. When you were assigned your legs, you knew that you were expected to run the average pace from the prior years or better. Our two vans had matching coaches stop watches that kept track of where we stood on the official race clock. This team was a blast to be on, but when our sponsor didn’t renew with Ragnar for 2014, my teammates and I split up to join new teams with new goals.
My new team was completely different than my prior team. I was no longer the least experienced Ragnarian on the team. Many of the runners on my team and in my van were running their very first Ragnar Relay. There was no spread sheet that showed the average pace you were expected to run for your leg. There was no coaches stop watch to keep track of where our team stood on the official race clock. Our teams goal was simple; finish the race and have a good time doing it.
From the very beginning my new teammates and I overcame obstacles that stood in our way of our goal of finishing the race. First, we didn’t have a full team roster. We had to find two more runners to fill up our van and to finalize our 12 person team. We were able to reach out to our friends in the running community and we filled the empty spots fairly quickly. Our first true challenge came the night before the race. Our team captain Suz called me at 8:30pm the night before the race to let me know that a team member had just dropped out and asking if I knew anyone that could replace him. I immediately did the only two things that I could think of to come up with a runner with only 8 hours until our team started the race. I posted a plea to all my friends in the running community on Facebook hoping for a miracle and I called Bill Hiatt. If anyone could get me a runner at the last minute, it was Bill. My Facebook thread lit up immediately with many runners saying they would join us if they weren’t already on a team. I stepped away from my phone and computer for about ten to fifteen minutes and when I returned, Bill had worked his magic. I had a text message saying, “I got you a runner. His name is Ammon and he is pumped!” After informing everyone that we had filled the final spot on our team and thanking everyone for their help, my friend Jim Gastelum posted on the thread, “great teamwork! I love it when a Ragnarian plan comes together!” I appreciated the enthusiasm and the A-Team reference equally. 🙂
A picture of our AWESOME team…
This was my first experience with a mixed gender team, so we had to up our team modesty. An all male teams idea of modesty is “Hey! All you perverts close your eyes if you don’t want to feel like less of a man!” My new teammate Bridget solved the modesty issue by creating, what she called, the modesty mumu for changing in public or the van. I was the first to use the mumu and it worked beautifully. The picture below is of me at the first major exchange in Eden changing into my running clothes using the modesty mumu for protection. Success!
As I was waiting for my first leg, Bridget pulled me aside and asked me how many roadkill I planned on getting. I told her I was just going to go out and have fun, but she insisted I mow down some other runners to add to my enjoyment. With Bridget’s encouragement, I took off when Suz handed off to me at the exchange. In hindsight, I probably went out way to fast. My legs felt great, but my lungs were definitely feeling the pace. The leg was only three miles long, so I kept up the faster pace and passed 10 runners. Running faster than I had projected did not come without consequences. When I arrived at the exchange to hand off to our next runner, my team was nowhere to be found. I waited for about a few minutes and then told the volunteers to let my team know that I had kept running and to pick me up on the course. About half way into my teammates leg, my team found me and picked me up. With 15 roadkill in the bag, I got back in the van and began resting for my second leg, a 12 mile midnight run with no van support allowed.
I have never been too fond of the night legs at Ragnar. I guess the lack of enthusiasm stems from a couple of things. First, I don’t like running with the head lamp as my only source of light. Second, I am not particularly graceful. As I waited for Suz to hand off to me to start my second leg, I joked with my team saying “with my luck, I am going to fall and hurt myself and I won’t have anyone there to help me.” As she had before my first leg, Bridget pulled me aside and asked me how many roadkill I was going to get during my run. I told her I would do my best to get 30. When Suz handed off to me, I took off into the night and passed two runners in the first half mile. After passing the two runners, I was alone in the dark with only my head lamp to light the way and my thoughts to keep me company.
A little under two miles into my run, my foot landed funny on a rock in the road and my left ankle went down hard. My hands hit the pavement and I rolled and quickly jumped back on to my feet. The first thought that went through my mind was, keep running or your ankle is going to tighten up and you have a long painful 10 mile walk ahead of you. As I continued running, I wanted nothing more than to see another runner. Unfortunately, I did not see another runner for at least the next three miles. My ankle was holding up OK with minimal pain until I began the second half of my leg which was on an uneven trail. I could feel my ankle starting to swell and the pain was getting a little worse with each mile. Fortunately, I had seen and passed a steady stream of runners since the course turned to trail and I was able to use the other runners flashing backlights as motivation to keep me moving to the next exchange. By the time I saw the one mile to go sign, I shouted “hell yeah!” and I began my final push to the exchange. I fell short of the 30 roadkills that I told Bridget I would get, but I figured the 24 I got were sufficient given that I ran 10 of the 12 miles on a bum ankle. As Suz and I walked back to the van, I told her about my ankle but assured her that I thought I would be OK to run my third leg. I would find out very soon that I was wrong.
When we pulled up to the next exchange I had to use the restroom. As soon as I stepped out of the car, I knew I was in trouble. A sharp pain shot through my entire foot and all mobility in my left ankle was gone. At the time I was still not willing to admit that I would not be able to run my third leg. I just told myself that I needed to rest and try to stretch the ankle out a little bit.
Later that morning, when our van was finished with our second legs and van 1 was running their third legs. We pulled up to the middle school where runners can sleep and take a shower while waiting for van 1 to finish up. As soon as I stepped out of the van to go into the school, I knew I was out of the race. I went in and took a shower and that is when I saw the bruising that had already started. After my shower I went to the first aid tent and told me team that we had to come up with a plan to cover my final leg if we were going to finish.
My awesome team rallied behind me and started discussing our options. My final leg was the dreaded “you’ve got to be kidding me” leg that consists of 4.4 miles, three of which are at an 18% uphill grade. I owe a serious debt of gratitude to Marlene and Ammon (as well as the rest of my team). Marlene agreed to take my final leg if Ammon would run her last leg, giving Ammon the final two legs of the race. Ammon, who had only joined our team the night before agreed without hesitation. By accepting the challenge of running the final two legs back to back, Ammon raised his final mileage for the race to a little over 24 miles. Little did he know when he agreed to join our team that he was agreeing to run nearly an entire marathon and that he would be the runner that helped us finish the race.
I’ve been asked many times why I keep returning to run the Wasatch Back Relay when I have already done it multiple times. It is, without a doubt, because of the experience of being part of a team and doing whatever it takes to cross the finish line, even when quitting would be much easier. I have never walked away from running the Wasatch Back without making new friends and challenging my physical limits. This year I was the beneficiary of my teams generosity and determination to finish. Next year, I hope that I can return the favor.