The vans are decorated, the power bars and Gatorade stockpiled and the runners are stretched, limber and ready to run. Two local teams of 12 runners will compete in the 200-mile Ragnar Relay this weekend against more than 200 national teams. Up for grabs are the bragging rights to the Rim Country for the local teams.
Amity Justice is leading the veteran Payson team, the Mile High Running Club, and Carolyn Fruth is heading up Team Payson.
The two-day event is kind of like a high school track relay event, where one person runs a leg, hands the baton off to another runner who then runs the next section and so on. Except this race will have 36 legs, so each runner will run several three- to four-mile sections over the 48-hour period on minimal sleep. The race sets off in Prescott and ends in Mesa.
With 222 teams made up of 12 runners, two van drivers and three volunteers, that’s more than 3,700 people. Logistically trying to send that many people down the highway at one time would be impossible, so groups of 25 take off from the starting line every hour from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“They don’t block the highway off, so you run in the shoulder,” runner Karen Evans said. “It’s a little unnerving.”
To keep the highway from becoming a parking lot of vans trailing runners, the first van holding six runners takes off and parks six legs down the course. While that team waits, the second van with the other six runners drops the first runner off, who jogs around four miles. When that runner makes it to the van, they pass the slap bracelet off to the next runner, and so on. You may be wondering how the runners know which van is theirs. Each one is uniquely decorated with paints, banners, lights and decorations. To highlight the Rim Country, the Mile High Running Club is decorating their van with elk horns, animal tracks and forest decorations. To showcase their rookie status, Team Payson is putting warning lights and caution stickers on their van to warn other teams of their arrival, Fruth said.
“It really helps having the vans because you can see them when you are running and you know how far you have to go,” Evans said.
While not running, each participant spends the majority of their time held up in the van, squirming for space, stretching and anxiously awaiting their turn to run.
The Mile High Running Club participated in the race last year, which ran a slightly different and shorter route, from Wickenburg to Mesa.
Last year, it took the Mile High team 30 hours to complete the race, which was 20 miles shorter. Justice said the runners on their team vary in fitness level. Some can run a 7-minute mile and others an 11-minute mile. Most of the participants are seasoned runners — Evans, Justice, Fruth and several other teammates have run half-marathons and triathlons.
“Everyone has a different pace and some people get lost and get off course,” Justice said. “Some people even get sick and throw up or get injured. It definitely takes a big commitment.”
When asked why would you want to subject your body to this kind of torture, Justice said the team just wanted to finish the race last year and wants to do it again.
“Last year, it seemed like a unique challenge and, as stiff and sore as we were, we wanted to do it again,” said Evans. “The experience of being awake for 30 hours and cheering everyone on, it is kind of like a party with a little bit of running thrown in.”