I’d been chasing that little red blinking light for a couple kilometers. A three quarter moon was shinning brightly and the once inky black sky was giving way to infinite deep blues. My last leg of Ragnar Wasatch Back was a little mind numbing. It followed an old train track with less than a 2 percent incline. I beat back the monotony by chasing down the little red lights flashing in the distance. Each runner is required to wear a taillight.

I could see the finish line grow larger as I approached but that little red light wasn’t going to make it there before me. I turned up the speed slightly. Soon I was pulling in beside this last runner, his Ear Pods protruding from his head, his breathe in time to some silent beat. A few hundred meters away and I felt bad about passing the poor guy so close to the finish. Would his last memory of this epic race be my back flashing past him to sour his victory? “Let’s go! Don’t let me pass you right at the end!” I called.

He seemed to come to, to shake out of his dull cadence. He put on a burst of speed and I pushed harder. We seemed to drop through successive gears as we pressed our acceleration. The crowd at the finish line loved it as we barreled through shoulder-to-shoulder breathing hard and having fun. This was a near repeat of a scene from Ragnar Zion. In fact, it ended the same way. Where was my team? There was no one there to pass on the baton to. Could this really be happening again?

I called our team number. I called the name of my next runner. Nothing. Just as before the crowd thought this was just as enjoyable as whipping my opponent across the finish line. Their absence was my own fault. It was cold and my body was miserable at the start line so I estimated I’d be rather slow. A near flat 7.9 kilometers in my current shape and attitude might take me 50-55 minutes. I had no plans to run hard.  I crossed the line in a little more than 41 minutes. Still slow but much faster than I imagined I’d be. In the end we burned up at least 5 minutes before the team realized I was there already.

Ragnar Wasatch Back is a different beast than Ragnar Zion. Our team of 12 was split across two vans. Where the trail run had us all start and end in the same spot Wasatch Back is a point-to-point race. Race teams elaborately decorate their support vehicles but no amount of bling would mask the odor of a can of ripe runners. I barely knew any of these folks before we started. They all know me a little more than they’d probably like to now.

Ragnar didn’t disappoint. The atmosphere was party like. The trail was stunning and the test was formidable. The many legs of the course made it possible to customize the run to the skill level of each runner. Our less seasoned runners could take the 2-5 mile legs or the down hill portions and those with a little more grit the 6-9 mile legs and torturous uphill.  One 7-mile hill was so grueling the race provided a special medal for the runner from each team who tackled it. In our case this was the team captain and he dominated that hill. I was impressed. Next year that thing is mine.

We had a fellow on our team who stepped in last minute for us. He took the place of two runners. His first leg was more than a half-marathon and he’d end the event having covered more than 26 miles. I hammered out an easy 15 miles and my legs are still very annoyed with me a few days later.

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Our team t-shirt logo

I was also added to this team at the last minute. I didn’t tell the team I’d be making this post so I won’t list the names of the team members here but I’ll say that it was a fun group of writers, editors, historians, students and this lone librarian, so, a bunch of nerds. Our team name is a play on an obscure quote of Joseph Smith’s though less obscure since the publication of Richard L. Bushman’s acclaimed biography of Joseph by that title, Rough Stone Rolling. We were the Rough Stones Running. Sufficiently nerdy, I’d say.

I thought I’d be able to say which race I preferred (Zion or Wasatch, road or trail). Turns out, I enjoyed both of them on their own merits. If I take my kids in the future it will probably be to the Zion trail run. I think it’s much less dangerous. Though, I’d be up for another Wasatch Back anytime.

Things that could be improved on:

  • Better finish line management. So often the finish lines were crowded with spectators and it was hard to tell exactly where to stop or transition
  • Something besides water at aid stations. You pay a good deal for these races. I feel like there could be more food and freebies along the way
  • Food trucks at the busier transitions. That epic hill run could have used a handful of food trucks – so many people
  • Double the number of portable toilets at those busy transitions too

Things that I really liked about the race:

  • Being packed into a van was actually good fun – road trip!
  • People really got into it and the sportsmanship was inspiring
  • Some great scenery on the trails
  • The high-school gyms that allowed for sleeping and showering. Those were awesome. Sleeping on a mat in a gym isn’t really great but it did look like a makeshift morgue dealing with a pandemic – which was kind of cool (only because it wasn’t actually a make shift morgue)
  • They’ve got great medals
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Left: medal for running both Utah Ragnar events. Centre: medal for running two Ragnar events in 2018. Right: medal for running Ragnar Wasatch Back.