At the last minute I decided to run a road race, the River Rail Relay which runs the paved trails from Roy to West Jordan. I ran the entire distance solo. I truly made it a solo run. Friday evening, I parked my car at the finish, and then took Trax (light rail) and Front Runner (train) to Roy (the start) and then ran 2.5 miles to a motel. Riding the train all that way certainly put in my mind just how far I would be running.
After 5.5 hours of sleep, I got up, got ready and did a 2.5 mile warmup run to the start where I met Vince Romney who was also running the course solo. I think we were the only two to attempt it. The rest of the field were mostly Ragnar types, with either 2-person or 4-person relays.
I ran with Vince for the first half mile or so and then decided to open it up and see how the legs felt running faster. I was curious to see what they would do after the back-to-back 100s the past two weekends. Things went well early, mile pace: 8:16, 8:01, 8:16, 8:51, 8:45. I was keeping pace nicely with the leading relays. The relays would switch runners about every 6-7 miles, so at the beginning of each new leg I would get passed by one or two fresh runners.
But at mile 9, I warmed up and clocked some speedy miles, 7:59, 7:56, 8:13. My half marathon split was 1:53, OK. But at the second relay point, the water station was about a quarter mile away at a parking lot. They didn’t think through logistics. It is fine to have it there for relays, but what about the solo runners. People kept encouraging me to go to the parking lot to get refilled, they just didn’t understand that I was running solo. I asked for a refill from the runners standing around, but they looked at me with blank stares, couldn’t understand why I needed a refill on the course. This was discouraging. I just kept going and hoped for the best.
I was clearly going to run out of water. I was carrying just one water bottle and I just had a little left. Finally two women riding slowly on bikes passed me. I called out and asked for help. One rider was so kind and filled my bottle to the brim. I thanked her over and over again. OK, I could avoid deep dehydration now, but it had halted my fast miles, I was clocking 9:52. 9:27, 9:38 now.
Once I reached the 3rd exchange point about mile 19, again the water was about a half mile away. My bottle was empty. I stopped and loudly explained to everyone standing around there that I was running solo. I couldn’t go run a half mile away to get water! This time runners started to understand and two of them filled up my bottle, also a race volunteer finally understood and said he would radio ahead to make sure there was water at the future stops on the course.
So all this bugged me and slowed me down. At least they brought down water at this stop by the time Vince arrived. I continued on this leg clocking miles averaging 10:10 pace. When I reached exchange 4, the volunteers there quickly escorted me to the water. The race director had personally brought it down for me. I reached the marathon distance at 4:04, not bad for a 50-miler. I took my longest stop here, bathroom, drank like crazy, and refilled my pockets with gels, candy and bacon from my little pack. At the early stops there was no food for us, so both Vince and I hauled everything we needed on our backs for 50 miles. I probably ate a pound of bacon along the way. It was fantastic.
The Legacy Parkway trail was the worst part of the course. Boring, exposed, and tons of bikers going by very, very fast without regard to the runners. So I was very careful and avoided ear phones in that section. My mile pace crept over 11:00 for the first time. I hit the 50K mark at 5:02, a nice solid split time.
Finally on the Jordan River Parkway in North Salt Lake, there was more shade and more to look at. I enjoyed it a lot better. I’ve run all this section before and that was very helpful because I knew what to expect and knew all the turns. This race uses paint on the paved trail to show the way and the paint doesn’t go away. That continually bugged me. I noticed that some of the cities had painted black point over last year’s markings but others still remained. Races should not do that! It is as bad as tagging.
To keep myself entertained, I tried to greet every person I came across with a cheerful hello. It was really interesting that at least half of the people out for walks, runs, bike ride seemed shocked that I said hi to them and a quarter of the people would look away as I approached. I know that I’m not much to look at and probably looked like a scary old man, but this urban road runner culture is much different than those who run trails, always cheerfully greeting you.
Even half of the runners who passed me during the race would not respond at all with my “Good job” or hellos. Odd. I don’t pretend to understand the Ragnar culture, but my theory from reading reports is that runners are focused on “kills”. I guess you wouldn’t greet someone you just “killed.” That is opposite of ultrarunning where you encourage your competitors and even stop to help them if needed. But after awhile as I ran into the exchange areas, the crews and runners knew that I was a solo runner and they started to greet with with loud cheers and smiles. That was wonderful.
Things continued well. My pace was still pretty good at the 40-mile mark, just 11 more miles to go. I was in high spirits and enjoyed singing away as I ran, further scaring every person I met. Running along the river in Murray is the best part of the course. The trail is well maintained and there is plenty of nice shade. The clouds also came in and helped cool things down. But overall, I was still somewhat dehydrated. I probably should have ran with two water bottles. The joints started to ache but I pushed ahead.
Nearing the finish, I hit the 50-mile mark at 8:48. That was good, I had hoped to at least break 9:00. My pace all day was similar to that at North Coast 24, two weeks ago. On the bright side, I really didn’t feel any ill effects from last weeks 100. If anything, the legs feel stronger.
I reached the finish at Gardiner Village at 9:03. I finished about mid-pack for the relays. The finish area was mostly populated by women teams waiting for their last runner to arrived. They were all flabergasted that I ran the course solo. The race director made a nice announcement and presented me my 1st place ribbon. One lady insisted on taking my picture. I felt great at the finish and could have continued on for a very long time. It had been a great unique training run.
They won’t be doing this race next year, I heard that they can’t get the permit as the race is growing (and probably because they tag the trail like crazy). I heard the RD mention that they might be moving to Antelope Island….huh? That is Jim Skaggs territory. Well, it would introduce the Ragnar community to the island. They should instead go run the Golden Spike railway bed. I wish there was a race there.