I just got back from the Ragnar Relay Del Sol in Arizona. It was my first Ragnar event, and believe me, it exceeded every expectation I had going into it.
For those who are unfamiliar with Ragnar, they put on long distance running relay events around the US. Races are typically 180-200 miles long and have 12-person teams where each runner runs 3 legs of 3-7 miles. The fastest teams complete the race in 20-21 hours; the slowest up to 30 hours. Each team has two vans, which is where most of the participants hang out when it isn’t their turn to run. Runners come in all skill levels, from 5-minute milers to 10- and 12-minute milers. Teams can be all men, all women, or mixed.
More than 200 teams, or about 2,400 runners, competed in the Del Sol race.
The race kicked off in a beautiful state park just north of Prescott, Arizona. Most of the runners were enthusiastic and eager to get started, although a few of the newer runners were also a little bit nervous. Who wouldn’t be? After all, what is it like running at night, sometimes alone along a deserted stretch of highway? What is it like to run three times in a day for 15-20 miles? And how about spending the rest of a time in a van with six other runners be like?
They got their answers soon enough. As I watched team after team cross the finish line on Saturday afternoon, their exuberance at having completed the race was overwhelming. They’d also done it with their friends, in an experience most people can never even imagine. The finish line area also provided free massages, photos, food and drink for the runners, as well as a live band that played all afternoon.
I talked to dozens of runners after the race. Everyone said they had a fantastic time, and couldn’t wait to do it again next year!
My favorite memory of the race will be of the time I spent volunteering along the race route. I was at Exchange 15, about 5 miles north of Wickenburg, along an empty stretch of highway. I purposefully chose the 11 pm to 3 am shift; I wanted to understand what it would be like to run at that time of day.
It was great! The other race staffers, volunteers, runners and I would patiently watch in the dark looking for a sign of the approaching runners. Suddenly, we’d see a little white light bobbing in the distance slowly coming toward us. It was the headlamp of a runner! Eventually they’d make it to our station and hand off their baton to the next runner, who’d take off down the road. This time, it was the red flashing light that those runners wore on their backs that we’d watch get smaller and smaller until it too disappeared into the darkness. Everyone would cheer for each runner, while the runners vans parked along the side of the road were the site of both team celebrations as the race went on or runners trying to catch precious sleep while awaiting their next turn on the course.
The Del Sol race was an unforgettable event. And the best thing is it also raised money for Operation Kids and our locally benefited charity – Future for Kids. Future for Kids will use the contribution to fund fitness and sports programs for at-risk children in the Phoenix area.
Ragnar Events and Operation Kids decided last year to increase their partnership for Ragnar’s future races. Many runners like to run for a cause; the Ragnar relays are a great opportunity for runners to contribute to healthy living education and sports opportunities for the next generation of Americans.
The next Ragnar race happens in April in Los Angeles. I can’t wait!