Ragnar relays are pretty unique in the running world. And very cool. The basic premise is that you form a team of 12 runners, separated into 2 vans of 6 runners each. Each runner runs 3 legs of the 36 leg relay, each leg typically ranging anywhere from 3 to 10 miles. Once all 6 runners in a van finish their legs, they have free time to do whatever they want until the 6 runners in the other van finish their runs. Some of the races are run on the roads, others on the trails, but they are usually somewhere around 200 miles long. There is also the option to complete the relay as an ultra team, with only 6 runners, each running 6 legs.
I had never even heard of Ragnar until the fall of 2012 when my friend and co-worker, Tegan, asked if I would fill in for her husband, who had gotten injured and could no longer participate. Intrigued by the format and in decent running shape at the time, I immediately agreed and thus became a part of team T.H.E. Katt's Conquerors.
This Ragnar was before the days of fancy GPS watches, at least for me, so I don't have many details about the three legs I ran. I remember that I was the first runner in van 1, so I kicked us off up at Mt. Charleston on a very cold, windy, and snowy day in November. I was underdressed and freezing and thus ran very fast on the entirely downhill portion of leg 1. My recollection is somewhere in the neighborhood of 7 minute miles. My second leg was later that evening in the Summerlin area. And my third leg was the next morning out on St. Rose Parkway in Henderson. I distinctly recall how tough the third leg was after I slept a few hours and my muscles tightened up. It was brutal - and hilly.
In any case, our team finished the 193 mile Las Vegas relay in 30th place out of more than 500 teams. And I earned this cool medal, which doubled as a bottle opener. It was definitely the coolest medal I had at the time.
And I thought that was probably my first and last Ragnar. But I was wrong. 9 years later, I would run another one.
Some of my friends and former colleagues at the Clark County Public Defender's Office were putting together a team to run Ragnar Northwest Passage, consisting of 199 miles, starting in Blaine, Washington and finishing up on Whidbey Island, in the Seattle area. They asked me to be on their team. I agreed on one condition - I wanted to be assigned runner number 5, the runner responsible for the most miles in our van. Thankfully, they obliged. Not my smartest request, as we had just finished a legislative session the month before and I was far from tip top running shape.
The other runners in our van were Deborah Westbrook, Dan & Alison Martinez, Tegan Machnich (yes, the same one who had invited me to do Ragnar some 9 years earlier), and Anna Stone. David Westbrook would be our driver. Although we had reserved a van, COVID had wreaked havoc on the rental car market and we had to settle for a Tahoe, which made for a very tight fit with 7 people and luggage.
I'm not entirely sure what our connection was to van 2. I didn't personally know anybody in that van, but somebody on our team did. The team captain, Claira, was responsible for picking the team name and she chose Mario Misfits. The runners in van 2 dressed up as Super Mario characters. We did not. But we all ran nonetheless.
The night before the start of our race, I flew into Bellingham, Washington, not too far from the start of the race. I flew Allegiant Airlines, which is always dicey, but I was delighted the plane was on time, I had a whole row to myself, and they were serving alcohol, a rarity during COVID.
We all stayed at a hotel next to the airport and met up for a trip to the Target to get snacks and supplies. We then go some takeout and went back to our hotel where we ate and were treated to a beautiful sunset. We talked through logistics and picked a time to meet in the lobby in the morning for our drive to Blaine.
Blaine shares a border with Canada and the race started in a really cool park, Peace Arch Historical State Park. We picked up our race packets and took some photos, including one with a Canadian Mountie patrolling the border!
Team start times are staggered depending on your estimated finish time. Our start time was 8am which was nice because it could have been a couple hours ealier. And next thing you knew, it was 8am and the race was starting, with Anna kicking us off:
The weather was beautiful. We lucked out because there had been record heat in the pacific northwest just a couple of weeks prior. Here is some footage of Deborah finishing up leg 3 and handing off to Dan:
My first run was leg 5, which was rated as hard, mostly because of the length. The anticipation started to build up as we handed the snap bracelet off from one runner to the next until it was time for me to head out. As Dan handed the bracelet off to me and I headed out, I remember it being hotter than I thought it would be and the running feeling substantially tougher than I had envisioned it. It really was more of a struggle than I thought, which made me very nervous about the fact that I had two more legs to go after this one. My legs were simply not cooperating and that had me plenty worried.
I definitely thought I would run faster but, given how bad I felt, I was fairly satisfied with sub 9 minute miles. Leg 5 run details below:
I was delighted to see the end in sight and hand the bracelet off to Tegan for leg 6. Here are some post run photos with the rest of the team, minus Tegan:
After all six of us finished our runs, we stopped to get something to eat. That was the only time I saw our driver, David, run (like he was shot out of a cannon):
We then checked into a hotel not too far away to drop off our gear and put on some fresh clothes before heading out for our second round of running. Ragnar includes plenty of down time to goof off and we took full advantage of that time.
Another interesting (weird) thing about Ragnar is that in addition to many teams wearing costumes and/or dressing up, most teams ornately decorate their vans/support vehicles. And it is a Ragnar tradition to purchase customized magnets to "tag" other vehicles at the exchanges. This race was no exception and we tagged a lot of other vehicles with these two magnets:
And now back to the running. Anna getting the bracelet and starting her second run:
Anna finishing her second run after having to wait several minutes for a train(!):
Alison heading out for her second run after getting the bracelet from Anna:
Alison finishing up her second run and handing the bracelet off to Deborah:
Deborah finishing up and handing the bracelet off to Dan:
My second leg would be leg 17, rated as very hard, because it was more than 8 miles long. By the time I ran, it would be getting dark out, which meant cooler weather. I looked forward to that, even if it meant I had to wear a headlamp and an obnoxious light up vest. When it got closer to my turn to run again, I ditched my sandals for running shoes and I realized that I had brought two right socks with me. Normally, this wouldn't be a problem, but I had the individual toe socks so this was a problem because the socks were not interchangeable. My options were to run without a sock or somehow make it work. I made it worked and hoped for the best. You don't really want to have any unforeseen complications on an 8+ mile run.
The exchange zone for Dan to hand off to me was directly in front of a really cool roadside market that was selling all kinds of great treats, including ice cream. I really wanted some ice cream, but I knew that would be a very bad idea right before I ran (think Will Ferrell drinking milk in Anchorman). So I watched everybody else eat ice cream and then Dan arrived and off I went into the night, longing for some tasty ice cream.
Thankfully, I felt much better on this leg. Perhaps it was because the sun had set, but I was relieved. I assumed I would be slower on this leg than my first one. But I was wrong. I actually ran slightly faster on this leg. Running in the dark was quite enjoyable. I put my earbuds in and got down to business. It was as if my first leg was the warmup and now the run had actually started. Fortunately, my sock didn't give me any issues. Leg 17 run details below:
Disaster nearly stuck after this leg. About 3 miles into our drive to the next checkpoint, I realized I couldn't find my phone. I suspected I had left it on the back of the Tahoe when I was changing out of my sweaty shirt and that it had fallen to the ground somewhere along the way. Thankfully, we had all shared our locations with one another so that we could track the person running. One of my teammates searched for my phone and we learned that it was still back at the last exchange. I was happy my phone was still sending a signal, but was also very nervous that another vehicle would run over it.
David whipped the Tahoe around and we sped back to the spot where we had parked. As I searched the area with my flashlight, someone asked me if I was looking for a phone and told me it had been handed in to the volunteers working the exchange. And like that, I had my phone back and all in one piece to boot. It was a miracle. I thought about how awful it would have been if the phone had been broken or lost and the inconvenience that would have caused. I definitely dodged a bullet!
And another very cool thing - my team bought me a pint of ice cream at the market and put it in the cooler. It was waiting for me when I finished my run. And it was birthday cake, my favorite kind of ice cream. I quickly ate the entire pint. Absolutely delicious!
On our way back to the next exchange, the Tahoe was blasted by some kind of industrial sprinkler system that was presumably watering crops. We later learned that Tegan, who was out running, had been soaked by the sprinkler as well. We weren't sure if it was just water or whether there were other pesticides or fertilizers mixed in. We kept a close eye on her to make sure she didn't start to mutate and try to murder us.
With Tegan's finish, we had now all completed our second run and our van had some time off. We headed back to the hotel to get a shower and some sleep. The shower was magical. The sleep was inconsistent. I probably slept about 3-4 hours, but that was certainly better than not sleeping at all and it was rally nice to sleep in an actual bed versus outside or in the Tahoe.
The runners in van 2 ran through the night and made pretty good time. Tegan got to sleep a little more than the rest of us since she was the final runner in our group. When I was out running my last leg, David would take the other runners back to the hotel to get cleaned up and pack and he would grab Tegan to bring her to our final exchange. Then he would take me back to the hotel before going back to the course yet again to collect Tegan. It was the only way we could all be assured we would have enough time to shower and pack before checkout. David was a saint for all the driving that he had to do - arguably a harder job than just running three times over the course of 30+ hours. One lesson for next time would be to have 2 drivers so one person would not be responsible for all of it.
It was a bit chilly in the morning, but we made the best of it. I was definitely sore from the miles I had already run, but was looking forward to knocking out this final leg.
Here was the morning exchange between Georgianna and Anna, as she started her third and final leg:
A few more early morning photos:
Before I knew it, leg 29, rated as very hard, was upon me. It was another long leg, about 8 miles, and Tegan had warned me that it had some hills, as she had done this relay before and had been runner number 5. The run was stunningly beautiful, along the coast the whole way. But those hills were the real deal. 531 feet of elevation gain over 8 miles! All things considered, I was very pleased to clock in at 9:20 per mile, especially because I thought I would be running more like 12 minute miles for this leg. Details below:
And that was it. I was done. I was hurting, but definitely relieved as well. My body felt the miles but it also felt a sense of great accomplishment. A job well done.
After we finished up, we checked out of the hotel and hit up a Mexican place for drinks and lunch. Amazing how good a couple of drinks and some greasy Mexican food tastes when you are exhausted and sleep deprived! Then we drove down to Bellevue, where we would be staying the night before flying back to las Vegas from Seattle the next morning.
The views on the drive to Bellevue were spectacular, at least until most of us fell asleep from exhaustion and full stomachs. Once we got to Bellevue, I was majorly excited to learn that one of my favorite restaurants was a mere block from the hotel: Din Tai Fung. Their soup dumplings are amazing and I knew I had to go there. And I did. I sat up at the bar and ate many dumplings and had a couple of drinks too.
We had a relatively smooth flight back to Las Vegas with just the minor annoyance of a couple hour delay, which honestly left more time to hang out in the airport lounge.
We later learned that we finished in 71st place out of 190 teams, completing our relay in a little over 32 hours, about 10 hours behind the winners. Because we chose not to go to the finish line, we had to wait for Claira to mail our finisher medals to us. But that gave the team a great exccuse to get together in Las Vegas to celebrate our accomplishment. And we did just that. The medals are really cool and all 12 of them say something different on the back. Mine says "Make Memories." That we did.
The smile on Deborah's face below says it all. This was a lot of fun. I am glad I said yes despite my doubts about whether I would be in good enough shape and whether I would want to participate so soon after the end of a legislative session. And I am most grateful for Deborah and David, who did nearly all of the planning and made it very easy for the rest of us to just show up and run. I would love to do another Ragnar, but I don't think I want to plan it. So much work. Hopefully I will just get invited again. But we'll see...
If nothing else, I got this cool coffee mug that I use on the regular and it reminds me of this awesome experience.
And, lastly, enjoy this TikTok of our Ragnar adventure:
Steve Yeager is an ultra runner who rarely turns down a challenge. When he is not out putting miles on his shoes, he practices law and serves in the Nevada State Legislature. Steve lives in Las Vegas, Nevada with his very understanding and patient wife, Bita.