Race Recap: Ragnar Zion – May 13-14, 2016
I’ve had a pretty lucky time with my running, all things considered. I suppose the minor injuries I’ve suffered while pushing my middle-aged body to the limit can be thought of as simple bumps in the road. After all, I did kinda jump into this running thing head first (or with both feet) a few years ago, quite out of shape and probably not ready for the types of things I immediately pushed myself to achieve.
But I did it, and as that’s my nature, I’m not likely ever to stop doing it. Even after what happened at Ragnar Zion, I expect I’ll find some way to get back into it soon.
Anyway, this is a race recap. So let’s get to recapping.
Ragnar Zion was my 4th Ragnar in my 13-run series scheduled for this year. I was after the Immortal medal, which I may have mentioned before, and that one takes 12 Ragnars in a calendar year. I threw in one extra for good measure in case I missed one due to illness or something else.
Ha. Little did I know what was heading my way when I left town on Thursday May 12th to run Ragnar Zion.
For reasons that I can’t remember on this side of the trip, we decided early on to drive to the race. My friend hadn’t seen much of the country and driving seemed like a way to prove what I’d said all along: there isn’t much worth seeing between here and, say…Connecticut.
I was wrong. Just a little, but not much.
We got out of town a little late and barreled down the highway in our rented van, enjoying the scenery in the late day and chatting about anything and everything. We talked about family, friends, running…silliness, seriousness, and all things in between. I like to think we came to know each other better during that drive, as long as it was, and I’m glad we had that opportunity. Even with the cows in the road and the other small obstacles (see below) of the drive, it seems cool in retrospect.
Until we came to Zion National Park, where it became clear I’d thoroughly underestimated the beauty that lies in Southern Utah.
Although we arrived in the middle of the night, it was clear Zion was something to behold. We passed through the small town at the entrance to the park and continued on, as our destination lie on the far side from where we were. We followed the winding road through tunnels and up hills, our headlights occasionally allowing us a glimpse of the sandstone walls and cliffs that looked made of waves of dust, frozen in time. I couldn’t wait to see what all of this would look like in the light of day.
Soon, we found the Zion Ponderosa Ranch, site of the 2016 Ragnar Zion relay race. It was the middle of the night, and I’m not kidding when I say the camp was dark and everyone asleep. Our team captain had posted that, due to unforeseen circumstances, the semi-permanent tents we’d rented were no longer located where they had been when he’d sent us the map – but he failed to tell us where they had been moved to, so we drove through the site hoping to come upon them somehow.
After an hour, we gave up, exhausted from our trip, and made the drive back through the park to the small town on the other side where we rented a hotel room and crashed for the night.
It turned out to be a good decision, as we had a solid bit of sleep, a shower, and breakfast before heading back to camp.
Our team didn’t start until 2:30, so we got going and made it back through the park around 11:30. The trip was lengthened because one tunnel in the park, constructed long ago, can only accommodate one-way traffic. During our time to wait, however, we made the best of things by getting out and enjoying some fun (i.e., dancing in the middle of the road) with other Ragnarians headed to the race.
That’s what I like best about Ragnar. The people. Everyone likes to be crazy and have fun.
Making it back to Zion Ponderosa was easy, and as it turns out we were seriously only 10 feet from the tent sites when we’d decided to turn back for the hotel room the night before. Ridiculous, no?
We pulled in, met our team, and unloaded before having a look around the resort. It was beautiful, complete with swimming pool, hot tub, REAL bathrooms, and showers.
For experienced Ragnarians, you know that real bathrooms are worth more than their weight in gold.
Showers, well…at a trail race, they’re unheard of. Loved it.
Zion Ponderosa, for those who have never been, allows regular camping along with rental of “glamping” sites, semi-permanent tents like we rented in a group of 4, small rustic cabins, and rental of luxury homes. There is a clubhouse with all manner of things for sale, a restaurant, and a barn with tons of activities. I quickly noted the zipline and put it on my list of things to do. I also noted that the rented ATVs but didn’t realize how that would intersect with my future until it was too late.
Oh, and they rented golf carts for moving around the resort but as we’d come to run, I thought it was silly to rent a cart when the entire purpose was to be on my feet. But I digress.
We examined Ragnar Village, cool as always, and raided the gear tent. My first purchase is nearly always a finisher shirt, but for some reason I picked this one up, looked at it, and decided I’d get it later.
Fortuitous, as it turns out.
I picked up a visor, my companions chose a few things, and we headed over to check out the other booths. I set my sites on a peach hefeweizen for later while Tracy got a pizza and another team member filled up his bottles with Nuun. We tried out the hammocks (I’ve decided I need one for my backyard), and headed back to camp.
Soon, our first runner was off. The excitement I always feel at the start of a Ragnar came rushing in and, despite the heat (last year it was rained out, the year before snowed out, and now…boiling heat) I was excited to get going. As runner 5, I had some time.
Craig, runner 1, was back before long, and Tracy headed out for the yellow loop. We all chatted with Craig about the green loop, and he told us it was harder than he’d expected. It’s nice to run later in a Ragnar because you can have the benefit of the experiences of the runners before you, so I took it all in.
As the yellow loop went right by our camp, I snapped a few pictures of Tracy and shouted some encouraging words as she headed past. I was excited to hear her take on the loop that would be my first.
Runner after runner came and went, and before I knew it 6:30pm was upon us and it was my time to run. I loaded my hydration pack with water and ice, packed my oxygen shot (the elevation was already killing me and everyone else was saying the same thing when they returned from their runs), and threw in a couple Gu for good measure. The yellow loop was only 3.9 miles long but I wanted to be prepared. In went my phone (although getting a signal in Zion is next to impossible) and I was down at the transition tent early.
Somehow, I missed the runner coming in. Our team never showed up on the screen. But I only missed him by 3 or 4 minutes so it wasn’t a big deal.
By 6:40, I was off.
The first mile was nearly flat and a bit of downhill, so it wasn’t all that bad. My Garmin had picked up the GPS satellite and I was running at a respectable pace, although I was indeed feeling the altitude. At exactly one mile in, I saw it.
It was seriously a climb, and in that altitude, it was killer.
A few runners passed me, but we fell into a rhythm of walk/run that meant three of us were leapfrogging our way up the hill. One man, one woman, and myself all made our way up the incline by alternating running and walking and, when we needed to, stopping.
During one of the leapfrogs, I mentioned the altitude to the woman. She mentioned that she was from Salt Lake City and should be prepared, but even she felt it.
The man, I noted, had both earbuds in and wasn’t very chatty. Mentally, I considered how dangerous trail running can be with earbuds, but as it wasn’t my business at that point, I moved on.
In retrospect, I should have said something. It is, after all, in the safety video. One earbud only, and even that is discouraged.
On and on we climbed, up to the summit. It was a beautiful view from both vista points, and I did take a moment to enjoy the scenery. I rarely do this and had promised myself I’d try to do so more often.
I didn’t take pictures, although I should have.
By this point, I was ahead of both the man and the woman I’d been with. I made the turn toward the descent, and stopped.
The route was an ATV route, obviously. Badly rutted, as Zion had apparently been flooded with rain and snow in the month of April. The middle of this portion of the trail was a rut nearly 18” deep, and both sides were slanted. Beyond the sides was scrub brush, low and prickly.
I took a moment to assess the most appropriate route down, selecting the left hand side as the smoothest. As I knew I was ahead of my small group, I felt it was safe to move on that side. No one else was in sight.
I headed down and made it about 200 feet or so when I heard footsteps behind me. Fast, hard, and out of control. The footfalls slapped on the red earth as though the person were unfamiliar with how to descend a mountain and it was clear they were going to be in trouble if they didn’t slow down.
I had no idea who it was, and didn’t have time to wonder. I waited briefly for the “on your right” or “on your left” that would signal the direction I should move to get out of the way.
Instead, I was blown past by the man I’d been running with, whose arms were flailing as he careened down the incline. I turned my head toward him to assess what I should do, and his left arm flew toward me. I think I ducked.
I might be wrong, though, because this is where the story gets fuzzy.
I had nowhere to go, he was on that left side of the trail and I was falling. I didn’t even have time to think to fall toward the scrub before my right foot went down and there was nothing underneath it.
At least, nothing where there should have been something.
It was stuck down in that rut and the rest of my body was still headed downhill at around an 8 minute/mile pace.
I heard it snap.
I think I screamed, but accounts from the woman behind me and others behind her differ.
At any rate, the next thing I remember is sitting on the side of the trail, looking down at my ankle which was pointed in the wrong direction and swollen over the top of my shoe. The woman and another man were trying to get me to move, and I explained that I couldn’t. She looked down at my foot, shrieked a little, and used her own to prop up the side so it wasn’t simply dangling.
Somewhere along the line someone said they’d head down to the next volunteer and let them know we needed a medic. I unpacked my phone (which had no signal, I promise you) and was miraculously able to place one, clear call down to my team mates.
“Send help. I’m at exactly mile two of the yellow loop and I’ve broken my ankle.”
“Send help. Mile two, I’ve broken it. I’m positive.”
And the line went dead.
Runners passed, some stopping to see how I was, others continuing on. One asked how he could help, and I detached my bib, handing it to him with the mission to get it to the bottom so my team could continue their run.
I forgot to pause my Garmin. Damn, first rule in the runner’s bible: If you find my body, stop my Garmin.
I encouraged the woman to continue her run although she didn’t want to, but eventually she found a rock to replace her foot and left me there.
Talking to myself, encouraging others to pass. Until a man came by, telling me I still looked beautiful despite my mangled foot (at the bottom I learned his name was Gabe; thanks, Gabe).
I smiled a little, as I needed that.
I tried to place a few more calls from that mountain, but none would go through. I’m not sure what miracle helped the first one get to my team mate, but I’m glad it did.
Soon, a volunteer came up the mountain and stood at the top of the descent portion, shouting at runners to walk the course as there was a runner down.
Few listened to her. Most had two earbuds in and simply ran past.
I screamed at those who came to close to me, but again, few cared.
I really was disappointed in the people who did that, because for the most part the Ragnar Nation is amazing. These people, however, were not. One almost kicked my foot and looked at me like I was ruining his entire race.
Medics made it up to me eventually, driving the type of ATV that had created the rut, ironically. The medic who helped me was there with his wife, who was also a medic. She drove the ATV up and he jumped out with his bag.
“Oh, damn. You did a number, didn’t you?” he asked.
“I think so.” I replied
He talked to me a little more and then tried to get me to stop trembling. It wasn’t cold; I was going into shock but didn’t know it at the time. He became a little more alarmed and then asked for the bag his wife held, from which he produced a pair of scissors. He still hadn’t looked directly at my foot from what I can remember.
“It’s bleeding.” I said, “Is it compound?”
“I don’t know yet,” he replied, “but I hope you don’t like these shoes.”
And with that, he cut through a pair of $160 Hoka One One trail shoes and a $14 pair of trail running socks that are (were) my favorite.
I began to tremble more, so much more that it was hard for him to steady me. I couldn’t focus my eyes and my hand, meant to steady me, was drumming up and down on the dirt.
He shouted for his wife to get him the morphine they carried in the bag as I was quite “shock-y” as he later described it.
“Not compound, sweetie, just badly scraped. And broken. You’re gonna be fine.” He reassured me.
But as it turns out, no Morphine was in the bag. He had to try the first set on my ankle with no Morphine, right there on the mountain. He had to try because they had to stabilize it in a splint to get me down.
“I can’t feel it.” I told him, “Go ahead.”
“You will.” He responded as he yanked my foot straight. I made no noise whatsoever. I couldn’t.
He stared at me as I pretty much sat there trembling like a madwoman, making no sound. I hadn’t even cried.
“Damn.” Said his wife, “We better get her down off of here.”
They loaded me, with some difficulty, into the ATV. We drove down that mountain, sometimes sideways, always bumpy, but at a speed I think was driven by their fear of my reaction to the entire situation. Or lack of reaction, for that’s what it really was.
They called on the radio to have a Morphine IV ready for my arrival at camp. Unfortunately, none of the people there was able to get a line into me, so they tried and blew out four different veins, eventually giving me an IM shot of Morphine when I couldn’t stop trembling.
I was talking, lucid for the most part, when Gabe from the mountain came by. I tried to get his name to thank him and my friend was able to. My team was around the medic tent I learned later, but I could only focus on one or two people so I may have forgotten to thank them all.
The Morphine helped calm the jitters and they loaded me onto an ambulance for transport to the hospital.
Fifteen miles out of the resort I was transferred to another ambulance as the one I was in had to be present at the race. Somewhere during the transport my blood pressure went haywire and my pulse dropped, so they got a line into me and pushed more Morphine. I was pretty well done by the time I reached the emergency room in Kanab. I’m quite sure I was pleasant, though. They told me as much when they discharged me. They talked of how I was remaining upbeat and cracking jokes. I don’t recall.
Three shots of Morphine later and I’d had them try to set it four times or so. X-rays showed an ankle badly out of line with bilateral malleolar fractures. I was told I needed surgery.
I responded that the logistics of surgery in Utah, where I knew no one, made it impossible. They wanted to transport me to a hospital 1 ½ hours away still, and my van and team were back at Zion.
The orthopedic surgeon relented and said as long as I got to an ER as soon as I returned to California, he was ok with it.
At 3am, I was picked up by a team mate and returned to Zion, where I remained with my team until the finish.
I was there when they crossed that finish line and although I never finished, I stayed ‘til the end.
They gave me my medal, although I hardly earned it. I only ran two miles, after all.
A few hours later and we were back on the long road home. That part of the trip is a medicated blur to me, but as it’s really not part of the race, it’s not important.
What is important is the cheer I received from my team mates when I showed up at the finish. What is important is the spirit of that race, shown by the race director, the medics, and countless others who were NOT the runners flying past me on that yellow loop as I sat injured.
What is important is that, while I’m not sure if or when I’ll run again, I’m still part of the Ragnar Nation.
That Immortal Medal may not be mine this year, but if I’m back on my feet, there’s always next year.