What’s the best way to get to know someone?
Endure 24-36 hours temporarily crammed in a passenger van with 5 others, run 3-11 miles on adrenaline, sleep-maybe- and repeat twice.
What brings together road and trail warriors, often complete strangers, in one of the toughest overnight challenges offered in 19 of the most scenic locations across the United States?
Reebok’s Ragnar Relay. A veritable test of endurance, collaboration, and will.
And what, pray tell, are the motivating factors that stir the hearts and soles of these participants known in Ragnar lingo as Ragnarians? After spending an enthusiastic 3 days following teams PimpMyStride and SupaFupaTroopers, it was abundantly clear: Camaraderie, Challenge, and Conviction.
I had heard of the wildly decorated team vans, the clanging of cheering cowbells, the colors of warrior-like painted faces, and the creativity of costumed runners, but admit I never explored the relational depths of such an undertaking. A Ragnar Relay team consists of 12 runners divided into 2 vans with approximately 200 miles to cover in the span of 2 days and 1 night. Each runner completes 3 of the 36 varying course segments accumulating a minimum of 12-13 miles. 6 people and 1 van is considered an ultra team, with each runner performing double duty and 26+ miles. Intrigued by challenges involving endurance and mental fortitude, I decided to venture into the welcoming community of Ragnarians. Thanks to a volunteer opportunity with the local police department and a gracious invitation on social media, I was afforded an insider’s glimpse.
Eager to share the Ragnar experience from the runner’s perspective, I met team captain and repeat Ragnarian Annie Pham of San Diego at her team’s strategic location, a rented Vegas mansion, for some pre-race interviews Thursday night. Together with team Unsupervised Adults, we lounged on the back patio, under the glowing light of a low-hanging desert moon as teammates proffered their resolves for accepting this rigorous endeavor. Christy, Kelly, and Claire expressed their appreciation of fostering new friendships within this united tribe of spirited adventurers. “Running is usually a solo sport, ” said 13 time marathoner Claire, “but Ragnar gives you the opportunity to share your love of running in community.” “It’s the togetherness, the friendships that form, the bonding that happens during an event like this that keeps me coming back, ” shared Kelly. “I’m a first timer,” said Christy, “and I am glad Kelly invited me for this amazing challenge .” Annie’s impact as team leader was self-evident. The meticulously planned and printed running time tables, scheduled wake-up calls, and the abundantly stocked kitchen mere hints of her exceptional leadership abilities.
“I decided that before my 55th birthday in March of 2017, I would run a 1/2 marathon and compete in a Ragnar Relay,” said team member Rowan, a Dosimetrist from CA when I asked him why he chose to accept the call to run. Rowan graciously admitted his status as a novice runner, highlighting his commitments to stay in shape and connect with others in a satisfying team environment.
Over 350 teams took the Ragnar Relay challenge in Vegas this year including groups from Central Christian Church, Hakkasan Group, and a local high school team from Henderson called the Coronado Sole Runners. Some teams combined challenge with philanthropy, opting to add a fundraising component for their favorite charities.
In addition to the inherent course challenges (uphill climbs, knee-stressing descents, fatigue, fear, and inescapable desert sun) was the relational challenge. An interruption of all things comfortable: space, sleeping arrangements, and status quo. Teams carried the task of motivating each other, lifting spirits, and continuing to encourage weary and worn-out minds and legs that yes, they could finish the race set out before them. They had to believe, even when the pain and struggles seemed impossible to overcome.
Enter team 1: SupaFupaTroopers. I met van 1 of team 1 at Exchange 3 of 36 in the middle of Lee Canyon Road, approximately 12 miles downhill from Mt. Charleston Snowboard and Ski Resort, just off US95. It was the first runner witnessed at our exchange that afternoon. I grabbed my brass bell, dashed into the street cheering with ebullient enthusiasm as teammates Mark and Mark exchanged the slap bracelet– the Ragnar version of a relay baton. Ranging in age from 17-41, this team not only lucked out getting their team number to be 1, they actually finished in first place! Mark Bennett, a collegiate runner for Southern Utah University and 15:06 5k runner took the relay’s longest leg, an 11.1 mile run through the desert’s Joshua trees and thorn bushes on a trail of rocky gravel, the last 5 miles of which he said were an uphill battle .
I learned at the finish line late Saturday morning talking with the wife of one runner, that the team set a specific goal of finishing in under 24 hours. As seasoned participants, this team held fast to the belief that they could and would accomplish this quest. Together, they did.
As a relational and community bonding event, Ragnar Relay rallies dreamers and conquerors to bring their best selves to a team to accomplish the goal. With social media tags like #bettertogether, #innerWild, # chasethesun, and #chasethemoon, it was clear that this experience had implications reaching far beyond the scope of running. Thank you Ragnarians for sharing your culture and inspiring the notion that everything is achievable when you are in it together. The impossible becomes possible, the unrealized turns to reality through the power and strength of togetherness.