At 3 a.m., as we wearily headed for the next relay point in our 36-hour, 200-mile relay race, everything changed.
Our motley team of newbies and veterans had expected just about anything, but not this.
As our van approached the exchange 18, we saw people huddled together in the pre-dawn dark.
Payson had two teams in the race from Prescott to Phoenix, contributing about 19 people to the 3,500 participants. Our next runner, Bobbi Doss, was ready for a brisk. 8-mile run, but we noticed the exchange box didn’t look “right.” People bunched around it instead of lining the sides to allow runners to come through.
As we pulled into the parking lot, Amity Justice received a phone call from Tim Wright with news that a runner had been hit. We poured out of the van and made our way to the exchange. As we waited for Shelly Christian to finish her leg, we overheard a woman ask, “So legs 18-24 are being cut from the race completely?”
Sure enough, our six legs of the 36-leg race had been dropped as a result of the tragedy. Suddenly, everything had changed.
So we piled back in the van and drove to exchange 24, where chaos awaited. Hundreds of race participants sought any scrap of information they could find. People ran around trying to find members of their teams, others hurriedly trying to figure out what to do next. Some weary runners threw down sleeping bags to get a few precious minutes of sleep. Saturday had turned into something completely unpredictable, despite our months of planning and training.
The Ragnar Relay Series hosts 11 races around the country and each race is about 200 miles long. Teams of 12 divide up the 36 sections, each runner covering 3 to 9 miles on each leg. Competitors run around the clock. The Arizona, or Del Sol, race begins in Prescott at Watson Lake and this year concluded at Tempe Marketplace.
Obviously, a 200-mile race has a lot to do with running; but it’s really so much more. The race piles eight people into a van — some old friends, some near strangers, some lifetime runners and some who have never run long distances in their life. Throw in minimal sleep and an average distance of 18 miles per runner and solitary long-distance running suddenly becomes a team sport. A runner needs their team in this race; they need support, encouragement, humor, handfuls of ibuprofen and the occasional ice pack. The team provides all of these things.
Our team, Mile High Running Club, arrived in Prescott at 11 a.m. on March 26. The air absolutely electric and everyone ready to go. Lance Chabot, one of six of us who had not competed in Ragnar before, would run the first leg. And start us he did, finishing the first section ahead of our projected time.
The first runner in our van was Bobbi, in her first race ever. She had proclaimed herself a non-runner and, on the way to Prescott, she made a point of telling Amity, “You put my pace at 10-minute miles and I run 11-minute miles.”
We would soon find out.
As she started her four-mile leg, we stopped about every mile to cheer her on as she ran past. When she completed her 4.4 miles, she hadn’t run 10-minute miles; she ran 9.5-minute miles, something she never thought possible. Now, she could officially call herself a runner. We celebrated our first big victory as a team. We continued, each of us running just a little faster than our pace, moving bit by bit ahead of schedule.
After dinner and a couple hours of rest while the other van took over, we drove legs 18-24 where everything changed. Instead, we jumped ahead to routes runners in the other van had trained for. We decided to stick with the same order, and mentally prepared for these new challenges.
Bobbi fearfully studied the map, seeing that the gentle, downhill 8-mile leg she had prepared for had turned into a grueling 8.7-mile rollercoaster. We pumped her up and sent her off.
At 1.5 miles, she looked strong, so we moved to the 2.5-mile-mark. She teamed up with a racer and they helped each other keep going no matter what. Each time we stopped along the route, we saw two big smiles running up the highway together. They even ran into the exchange at the same time — now friends and unofficial teammates. We couldn’t be with Bobbi every step of the way, but that runner could. Our slow, non-runner turned herself into a quick, long-distance runner literally overnight.
We finished our final runs and passed the torch to our final six runners for the dash to the finish. Shelly ran the last leg for our team and we all ran the last stretch alongside her, knowing we couldn’t have done it without each other.