Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Ragnar Trail Relay Snowbasin

So, for those of you unfamiliar with what Ragnar is.  It's a company here in Utah that puts on relays, usually road relays, but they are venturing into trail relays as well.
One of my HUMR friends (Lindsay) works for Ragnar and got them to let her enter a team at no charge.  I originally wasn't on the team.  First, I didn't get picked in the team member drawing, second, because I had a race scheduled in Oregon that weekend.  Well, I backed out of the race in Oregon, and one of the team members injured his leg running El Vaquero Loco 50K the previous weekend, so I got tapped.  I was glad.
Here's the premise of the relay.  Eight team members (or four if you're an ultra team, we weren't), three different trail routes (red, green, yellow).  Each team member runs each route once.  It adds up to almost 15 miles per team member, or about 120 miles total.  Your start time is staggered so that you get a lot of teams finishing at around the same time.  Builds up the excitement level, at least that's the theory.
This trail relay was held on the trails at Snowbasin ski resort.  Snowbasin has a messload of trails that a lot of mountain bikers, hikers, and us trail runners use during the summer.  It's a great place to go to get out of the valley heat and get some serious vert if need be.
The main staging/start/finish/camping area was on the bunny slope near the main lodges.  This is nice and grassy, unless you were camped on the hillside, then you had some nice dry weeds as your campsite, not to mention rocks, dirt, and other teams around you.  Team HUMR was lucky, thanks to Lindsay, we scored VIP camping on the other side of the lodge, quiet, flat, soft green grass.  As you can tell, we're special.
We were scheduled to start at 3:30pm on Friday, so most of the team showed up by around 1:30pm to check in, get tents and canopies setup, get camp HUMR up and functional.  Then it was time to sit around and drink some beer.

Lindsay ready to start and us cheering her on
As our 3:30pm start time approached, the entire team (less Breein, because she had to show up fashionably late, actually, it was something about working) made our way to the start area.  Since there were several teams starting at 3:30pm, there were a bunch of people standing around.  They announced each team that was starting, and we tried our best to embarrass Lindsay, since she works for Ragnar and was our first runner.  We're pretty sure that she's never going to invite us on a Ragnar team again.
So, after Lindsay took off, the rest of us headed back to camp HUMR to hang out and drink some more beer.
Lindsay finishing her first run
So that's how it went.  A runner would go out, we would hang out until it was the next person's turn to go out.
My first time out I ran the yellow loop.  This was the longest loop, so I was kind of glad to get that one out of the way early.  It's 6.3 miles, of which 2.4 is uphill, right at the beginning.  After that, it pretty much just rolls along the hillside, then towards the end it's a screaming downhill.  Pretty cool.  Since this was a short race, I decided my strategy would be to work it as hard as I could, treat it like a 5K or 10K.  My goal was to not get passed by anyone wearing the same color wrist band while I was out there and to pass as many as I could.  Goal  accomplished, for the most part.  On the yellow loop, I got passed by one person wearing yellow, but I managed to pass 5-6 during my time out there.  Even though there were 100 teams, I didn't encounter that many people on the trails.  If you figure that there were only 100 people out there at a time spread across 15 miles of trails, there was plenty of room to not see anyone for long periods.  I really was hoping to go under one hour for this loop, but it was not to be.  I managed a 1:03:48, which I thought was pretty respectable given that there was 1000'+ of climbing involved.  My only regret of this loop was that I shouldn't have had the slice of pizza before I went out.  Yeah, not good.  Still, it didn't seem to slow me down any.
Dan finishing up one of his loops
So, after the yellow loop,  I had about seven hours of downtime.  Since it was dark shortly after I finished, I opted to try and get some rest.  Set up the cot, throw out the sleeping bag, hit the hay.  thank goodness we were in the VIP area, nice and quiet.
My next run was at about 3:30am.  This time it was the green loop.  This was the shortest loop of the three at 3.5 miles.  Aric rolled in, I took the bib and headed out.  I love it when someone else heads out at the same time as I do, bolts up the hill, then promptly dies when they hit the first flat.  Meanwhile, I just slowly motor on by.  Makes me feel all warm and happy.
Since the green loop was the shortest, I decided to push as hard as I could even though it was dark.  Usually when I run at night, it's during a 100 mile race and I'm usually doing a fair amount of walking by this point.  It was a bit different to actually run hard at night.  This  time, no one passed me and I passed several.  Most of the runners I passed acted as though they were afraid to run at night, that they might fall down and get hurt.
I managed to finish the green loop in just a hair over 40 minutes.  Not too bad for some night running.
Now I had another seven or so hours of downtime.  I did manage to sleep a couple more hours then got up.
Bj cooked everyone breakfast.  Sausage, pancakes, eggs, and coffee supplied by Ragnar.  Good stuff.

Bj cooking breakfast and Harrison just sitting around
And the race went on.  WE just kind of hung out at camp HUMR, chatting, enjoying the nice cool morning.  Every once in awhile we'd make the trek to the starting area to cheer on the transition to another runner.
My last loop was the red loop.  Supposedly this was the most difficult due to it having the most climb.  The distance was 4.8 with just under 1200' climb.  I knew from the others that all of the climb happened in the first 2.4 miles.  The climbing actually ended at 2.15 miles, followed by a little bit of flat, then a
Corey getting set to head out
screaming downhill to the finish.  Most of the downhill was on access roads so I didn't have to pay as much attention to my footing as normally would be the case.  I was actually running some sub 7's down this section (that's fast for me).  Only two people managed to pass me while I managed to catch quite a few.  Some looked pretty zombied from all of the running.  Some were running pretty tentative due to the steep downhill.  I ran on the ragged edge of control.  Fun, fun, fun.
PBR's in hand

And with that, I was done with my running.  Three sections, all ran as hard as I could.  Fun stuff.
Corey and Harrison rounding the final turn
The HUMR team managed to finish around 2:30pm with a final time of 22:58:52.  This was good enough for 6th place in the mixed open division (out of 69 teams). and good enough for 19th place overall (out of 106 teams).  So we made a pretty respectable showing.  I think it helps that we all run trails and ultras on a regular basis.  We're all used to running technical stuff, and used to running at night.  I think a lot of the other teams came from a road background.
Anyway, I had a great time hanging with some friends, getting a bit of running in, and engaging some ribald conversation and beer drinking.
Thanks to my teammates, Corey, Harrison, Bj, Aric, Breein, Dan, and our fearless leader Lindsay.  Also thanks to Ryan, our designated volunteer.  It was a good time.

Team HUMR after the race

Taking a celebratory drink

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Crazy Cowboy 50K (El Vaquero Loco)

Hey, time for another race report, because I don't write enough race reports.
So last weekend, I went to Afton, WY (where the heck is that?) to run Ty Draney's little race.  Ty is an awesome ultrarunner, high school teacher, and track coach.  His race helps to raise some funds for his track team.  He's been doing this race for the past nine years and there's a threat that next year might be the last. He said something about doing it ten years, then evaluating whether to keep doing it or not.
The race itself is fairly small, I'm not sure what his runner limit is, but I think it's around 100 for each distance, 25K and 50K.
Warning, I didn't take any pictures during the race.  Sorry, but there's plenty of pictures out there of the fantastic scenery along the course.  Here's a course GPS at least.
I went up with several friends Friday morning so we could get a campsite for everyone else that was with us.  I think a good majority of the HUMR's (Happy Utah Mountain Runners) ended up making the trek to Afton.  We (our HUMR crew) ended up having a pretty good potluck dinner, good conversation, then bed time.  I should mention that we were camping at the start/finish, right on Cottonwood Lake (there's no cottonwood trees around, so why it's called that is a mystery to me).  Anyway, in a word, gorgeous.
I slept really lousy, and 5am came way too soon.  I was pleasantly surprised that the temperature was warmer than I thought it would be.  I'm not a big fan of cold temps, but with the warmer temps, I decided to opt for just a short sleeve t, no beanie, light gloves, and that's it (oh, shorts and shoes as well).
Ty started us right at 6am and we started up the first big climb of the day.  This four mile climb took us from the start at 7600' to just over 10,000'.  By the time we got to the top, the sun was up and the views were stunning.  We then headed down some switchbacks to the first aid station, manned by some of Ty's high school students.
After the first aid station, we had a pretty good climb again, up to the first of two beautiful alpine lakes.  At this point I was running with Curtis.  Shortly after the first aid, he pulled ahead and .  Before the next aid at one of the alpine lakes (did I mention they were stunning?) I managed to catch up to a few other friends, chat for a bit, then take off.
The second aid station was right next to the larger of the two alpine lakes we ran past and what a location for an aid station.  Stunning!  Anyway, after that aid station we had another couple of shorter, yet steep climbs before a seven mile descent to the turnaround.  Just before that long descent, we went through the third aid station.  This one had all of their supplies packed in on horseback.  It was pretty cool to see the horses out in the meadow just grazing.  A good chunk of that seven mile descent had us running along a river that was so inviting.  With the day warming up, it looked so clear and refreshing I wanted to go jump in, get a drink, etc., not to mention that we were running down this gorge with cliffs on either side of us.
When I got to the turn around, not only was the official aid station there, but there was an unofficial HUMR aid station setup by Lane and Steve, significant others of a couple of HUMR runners on the course.
After the turn, now I had to make the seven mile climb back up to 10,000'.  Thank goodness much of it was either runnable or at least a good quick power hike.
By now the day was warming up nicely and I started to drink more.  I was running with Aric and we made a couple of stops at these clear, rushing mountain streams to get a drink.  That cold clear water tasted far better than the getting-warm water in our hydration packs.  Splash some on your head, soak your feet for a couple minutes, refreshing.
The climb up was pretty uneventful and eventually we made it back to the horsey aid station.  After tha, a bit more climbing, then the first steep descent to the first, and smaller alpine lake.  Trot a bit along side that lake, then back up, then a longer steeper descent into the larger alpine lake.
I was still feeling really good and figured I should try to push it a bit just to see if I could.  Yep, I could, so I did.  I tried to run as much of the uphills as I could, and found out I could indeed run uphill at 10,000' without dying.  Who knew?
I started trying to catch people that I could see in front of me.  Sometimes I'll make a game of this as it forces me to try a bit harder rather than just mosey down the trail like I do a lot of the time.
I got to the last aid station, drank some Coke and headed out for the last serious climb of the day.  1,000' of switchbacks up the side of the mountain.  It was a grind, but I knew the reward (besides the views) was a 4.5 mile descent into the finish.  I managed to catch 3-4 runners going up this climb, then I started bombing down the final descent.  I tried to open it up going down.  My goal was to not get passed by anyone and to catch as many as I could.  Mission accomplished.
The last 100 yards or so take you through the campground and as I came off the trail and on to the road, all of the HUMR's that were already finished were there cheering everyone on.  It was pretty cool to see all of them there, beers in hand, having a good time.
So, I finished.  My time was nothing to write home about.  8:04.  I had hoped for a sub 8, but I'll take this one.
Bottom line was that I felt great the entire day.  Strong, everything under control.  Not only that, but I had a really good time out there.  There was no suffering by me this time.
This is a great race that flies under the radar.  Awesome scenery and course, fairly small field, great volunteers and race director.  Yep, I'll be back and you should go run it too.