It was approximately 4am and I'd been slogging through 3 inch deep mud, pounded by rain, for over an hour, and I still had 3 miles to go. The 8 mile "Red" loop of the Zion Ragnar Trail Relay is the longest and, by far, the most remote of the three loops. Racers, as part of teams of 8, take turns running each loop over approximately 24 hours. Normally they have 6-7 hours in between runs to recover and socialize. However, I had paced the previous racer on our team, Deanna, on the Yellow loop - a 4.5 mile hilly route - due to the fact that she was nervous to run alone on a trail in the dark. Together we had endured the start of the rain and beginning of some mud on the trail. Often times we'd have to stop to scrape the mud from the bottom of our shoes, but we hadn't dealt with anything truly slippery. Once onto the Red loop the rain had intensified and the once dusty trails were now a bog of chocolate pudding. With years of muddy Spring training under my belt I knew how to move through the mud and quickly passed people along the trail. Most of the time people were moving in groups, I would assume, for safety. Each time I passed I would get questions about how I could move so fast. I would change my answers each time, mostly for my own amusement. Several times I would answer only to follow up my response with a lack of focus and a 'splat' into the mud. I probably fell six different times on that loop, each time laughing as I picked myself up.
During the hour and 40 minutes I was out on that loop my mind often drifted back to the previous day when I had the pleasure of taking my brother on a little adventure run into Zion National Park. The adventure runner in me isn't much of a Ragnar guy. I had been coerced into running this one because it was with family. Ragnar is not a race and can hardly be considered a running event. By definition I would have to call it a social circus. With the right expectations it can be whatever you want it to be though and ultimately enjoyable. But as a serious runner I know that it would have been unwise to go into the event thinking that I was going to actually run on Zion-like trails in pristine wilderness. So with this knowledge I had picked out a little adventure route from camp that would take us on a round trip, 14 mile loop out to Observation Point. And since my brother, Brent, ran the first leg and I the 7th I was certain we would have plenty of time to accomplish our outing. And make the most of it, we did. The 8 mile trek out to the point was gorgeous, to say the least. Then, the breath-taking vistas of the overlook were the icing on the cake. We ran down the steep switchbacks into Echo Canyon, then up the East Rim trail and back to camp. In that place I age backwards. I turn into a kid again, who was just given a new toy and hours to play with it. Zion is my favorite place on earth and each time I return my fondness for it grows.
Brent running the East Mesa Trail
At Observation Point
It was those memories that carried me through the low moments of my 8 mile slog through the mud; during those moments when I would take one steep step up only to slide backwards four feet. The low points only came once or twice though as I was in my element, during my time of night (I love running at night). In 40 degree weather, being pummeled by rain and slogging through mud, I was wearing tiny shorts and a garbage bag over me to keep the rain off and my body heat in, and I was happy. Deeply happy. I sprinted into the transition area fist-pumping and yelling "that was awesome!". I tagged off with Callie as she headed off onto the 3 mile Green loop. I then cleaned up, woke my brother with a few words of advice, and tried to get some sleep.
I was awoken just over an hour later by members of my team discussing whether we should quit, that conditions were too poor to run in. Apparently in that hour I slept it had snowed 2 inches. Then, minutes later Ragnar officials announced over the PA system that the race was being canceled. While it was a good thing for the teams my heart began to pound because I knew that Brent was still out on the course. A competent back country runner and explorer, I still worried for his safety, so I stirred and prepared to go out after him. I made my way to the transition tent and did the mental math for how long he had been gone. I told myself I would give him another 10 minutes and then I would go run the course backwards looking for him. Teams had been warned that Search and Rescue (SAR) was called and that no team members should go looking for there potentially lost mates. Had it not been my brother, I would have heeded the warning, but I also know that I am equally as strong and even faster in those types of situations than SAR and I would find him if I needed to. To my surprise, only minutes later, he came running into the transition tent with a smile on his face. Of course, I should have known better. With tears in my eyes I embraced him as we explained the race had been canceled. My mom too was there and I could hear the emotion in her voice. Her boys were safe.
Ragnar ghost town after it had been canceled and people left
Others were not so lucky. A friend had a team member who got hypothermia and passed out on the trail. She was carried in by another racer and taken to Kane County hospital. Other runners came in fairing not much better. Ultimately, Ragnar made the right decision to cancel the race, if even a little bit late. They were responsible in calling in SAR and all unaccounted for racers were found within a couple of hours. And while it was a bit of a madhouse getting everyone out of there, it all worked out in the end. For my team, we will look back fondly and begin planning for a future race. While the concept of Ragnar is not for me, if I am able to spend a weekend of running with my family (mom, brother, aunt, and cousin), there is no place I'd rather be. Especially if I can throw a little adventure in on the side.