Trail vs Road, Ultra vs Full – A Comparison post Ragnar Zion as an Ultra team

I looked at my watch, it was just after midnight. I desperately needed to get up and make something for Casey to eat before his leg in two hours. I sat up, everything was sore, swollen and covered in a silky layer of dust.

“I don’t want to go back out there.” I squeaked out, “I’ll do anything not to go out there again.” I got up anyway and boiled water to make cup of noodles for Casey.


On May 11 – 12 I spent time on the ridge of Zion, where the dessert met the hills and the weather could not decide if it wanted to be 90 degrees or 50. It was great, it was horrible, it was everything I expected it to be and more but most importantly it was very different from the road Ragnar that I had experienced before.

Last year around the same with around the same people I participated in the Wasatch Back Road Ragnar (for someone that is not from Utah I completed all the Ragnars in that state and none in Jersey).  This traveled 200 miles from Logan to Kamas, and up and over several mountains along the way.

I’ve ran 2 Ragnars, one road and one trail. With two types of teams, one ultra and one full team.  With these differences came there own challenges, there was positives and negatives to both road and trail, and positives and negatives between ultra teams and full teams. Since I tested both, let me tell you about my findings.

Trail vs Road:

Quality Team time:

For the Wasatch Back Road Ragnar I was on a team of 11 and we split ourselves between 2 different vans that served as our home base for the weekend. While there was 11 of us, we really only spent time with the 6 that were in the van with us, and we only interacted with our other teammates at transition areas and when we were finished running.

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We found Santa!

During the trail relay we only ran with 4 people.  We spent almost every moment with each other, the only exception being if we were sleeping or running. We had two camps set up, a camper further away from transition area, and a tent closer. We lovingly referred to them as camp (the RV) and summer camp (the tents). We prepared food together, had drinks, and kept a lot of our equipment at the RV – only using the tents as a pass out before our next leg area.

Toll on the body:

With the road relay our legs took a beating. Besides for a few segments most of the runs were done on hard concrete. Some were done on hard packed dirt but the constant pounding was very tiring on our bodies. Since we had to quickly jump back into a van we barely had time for foam rolling or stretching. Also with the little space that we had, the only tool we could bring with us was a lacrosse ball, which did not really hit all the right spots.

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So much sand

Ragnar Zion was on sand, sand box sand in some places. While the sand was a bit more tiring on the calfs, I felt it kept our legs more fresh than in the van. I still wore compression socks for every run, as I did for the road relay as well, which kept my legs happy. The best part was we had time and space to roll out, we also had the space to have foam rollers, sticks, balls, personal masseuse whatever we needed.

The course:

Wasatch Back Road Ragnar was 200 miles from Logan to Kamas. The legs ranged from 2 miles to 13 miles, and the elevation changes ranged as well. My first leg I had a 1000 foot elevation gain over 8 miles. My other legs were relatively short with little to no elevation gain. All three legs were in different locations, different towns even.

During Zion we ran around in circles, 3 different circles 3 times. If we did not run it as an ultra team we would have done about 2,500 feet of elevation gain, but since were crazy we ended around 4,500 feet of elevation gain. The repetition of the loops got to me at one point, I never wanted to see a red loop again after the first time I ran it, but less than 6 hours later I found myself getting ready to run it again.

Overall Road vs Trail

In my honest opinion I liked the trails better, but I do identify as a trail runner who likes to spend her days outside so I might be a little bias. I enjoyed the team bonding we were able to have with the full team, instead of only with part of the team like on the road. As a full team my body was not as sore after or during the road relay as it was the trail, but typically trails are easier on your body. The only downside about trails is the greater risk of injury from a twisted ankle, falling down a switchback or just eating it in general, trails can be a scary place especially at night.

Ultra vs Full team:

If you are doing a road relay I think I would like a full 12 person team better. Since there is a lot of pounding that happens on the concrete it is nice to not have to run a full 30 some miles. However finding 12 friends is the hard part.

On the trails a full team is 8 people, which works out to be about 15 miles each. If that sounds good for two days more power to you, however to me (just like Ariel from Little Mermaid) I want more.

If you can get a full team (either 12 or 8) the recovery on your body will be a lot easier. You wont wake up the next morning wondering what truck hit you, or how will you ever get off the toilet as you would on an ultra team.

However, being an ultra team gives the ultimate bragging rights – especially if you place.


Overall Recap on Ragnar Zion:

Casey, Issac, Kym, Kalee and Myself all met up on Wednesday (4/9/2018) in Salt Lake city.

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Casey drove his camper from Montana, while the rest of us flew in ready for the adventure of a lifetime. Recently Kalee had to drop out due to a hamstring injury and after much scrambling, Issac was able to find Kym on the internet and kidnap her, uh, I mean, coax her to join our team.

We spent Wednesday driving down to Zion Ponderosa Ranch, and Thursday morning exploring Zion itself. If you have never been to Zion or a canyon its honestly

breathtaking. These giant walls of rock dwarf you in there valley. It is incredible to think that once water filled these canyons and the little stream trickling through is a reminder of that power.

Post walk through Zion we spent our night setting up our tents (we had the camper as main camp and the tents to crash in during the night when we did our legs), cooking dinner, second dinner, and meeting other teams. Friday Morning started slowly. Our wave was not scheduled to start until 2pm, we were seeded as one of the faster teams, and honestly we got a little bored waiting around.

We did anything to stay sane, walked around the village, had a few beers, ate some more… finally it was time to start. I decided to go fi

rst and would be running a green and a yellow loop. It was hot and super dusty. I hated every second of the green loop. Call me crazy but I did not expect to run on sand. I got sand in my shoes, in my eyes, it coated my teeth, my calfs were cramping up, I was grumpy, the works. I got back to the transition area and made sure everyone knew how much I hated the green loop. After green the yellow was magical. It was a climb of 830ish feet, which was basically straight up, but the views were fantastic. What goes up must come down, the downhill was amazing it felt like running a roller coaster. I felt much better when I cooled off and came back to camp.

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And just like that our adventure was off. Kym went, followed by Casey and wrapped up with Issac. After we all ran our first legs, it came down to how many calories and nutrients could we put back into our body. I had to wait almost five hours from the finish of my first leg to the start of my second. In that time I did a lot of cheering, but I neglected to eat. I had a cup of noodles (my ultra go to) with about two hours to go time, but by the time I was up again I was hungry.

Forgetting to eat hurt me in the second leg. I had a red and a green loop totaling 10.7 miles and 1809 feet in elevation gain. The start of the red loop was awesome. I started it around 8:30 at night. The stars were just coming out and headlamps were just going on. Looking up you could see so much, milky ways, galaxies it was amazing. At the top of the red loop I stopped turned my headlamp off and just gazed for a little, I was not surprised to learn my teammates did the same thing.  On the backside of the red loop the switchbacks were a lot of fun but took a lot of energy out of me. I was bonking hard. Hungry, tired, dusty and having trouble with my headlamp, I got cranky. My entire body started to hurt I got careless and took a tumble over a rock and ended up hurting my ankle a bit. I walked the entire green loop.

I handed off to kym in what felt like was the middle of the night, although it was only around 10pm(ish). I walked back in the direction of the camper, grabbing ice on the way and telling Kalee that I did not know if I could continue. I barely made it halfway to the camper when I gave up, luckily a guy in a golf cart saw my distress and drove me up. When I got to the camper I stayed outside and cried a bit. I knew I did not have time to be in pain, I had to make Casey something to eat (he wasn’t feeling too hot after his first leg), and I had to get some sleep and recovery before I went out again. I sucked up my tears and but on my best happy face so Casey would start his second leg out on a positive note. I made him cup of noodles as well before changing and taking a nap.

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Sunrise session

Luckily for me all of our second loops were slower. I got a solid 3.5 hours of sleep and woke up before Casey got back to make myself some food and ice my ankle some more. I made my way to the transition area around 5:15 and only had to wait a few minutes before Issac came in. My last and final leg was the hardest of them all a yellow and a red. I started with a headlamp but by the time I reached the highest elevation on the yellow loop the light from the soon to be sunrise lit the way. I stopped to take a video with my GoPro and continued on my way. It was glorious. The yellow trail flew by and I had tons of fun with it. Once the red started we were back to business. The climb was fun, I got to see all the views I did not get when I ran at night, and the switchbacks were even better than I imagined! Soon around mile 9 in this 12 mile leg I started to get tired and took a walking break that accidentally lasted a mile. Once I reached the start of the camps I was energized again. People were starting to wake up cheering and making breakfast,  one camp even gave me a piece of bacon!

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So happy to see the finish

That is the best kind of fuel! Just as the sun started peaking out of the morning clouds I heard Kalee cheering me on and knew my job at Ragnar was done, 30 miles in the books.

Kym, Casey and Issac all went on to crush there third legs, Issac in particular. He killed the hardest two loops (yellow and red) making the rest of us look like we never ran before. After running I think we all realized we could not have done this without our Sherpa, Kalee. She stayed up most of the night ushering us into transition, making sure we got what we needed, and basically doing anything we asked.  Without her sane brain I do not think our team would have been as successful as it was.

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Yeah we look good

After we all finished we popped some Champagne, took a few pictures, and washed up before we had to start breaking down tents and heading back up to the salt lake city area. 120 miles took us 24 hours, 11 minutes and 54 second, if I did not walk the entire green loop we would have been under 24 hours… but still it was good enough for 4th place overall ultra team, 3rd in the mixed division and first in the runners mixed category.

It was sad to say goodbye to everyone the next day. You learn way too much about each others lives and bodily functions that after everyone leaves you feel incomplete without your teammates. Zion as an ultra team will be an experience that none of us forget, and although we all said never again, I think most of us could be convinced to give it another go.

Cheers!

P.s. now I am really craving cup of noodles.

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