Amity Justice says the Ragnar Relay overnight running race is the country’s premier weekend adventure.
“The excitement, camaraderie and uniqueness make it special,” she said. “It’s hard to explain, but there’s nothing else like it.”
Expedition and Mile High Running Club, a pair of Payson-area teams, were among the squads to participate in Arizona’s 2012 race, officially tagged “Ragnar Del Sol,” held Feb. 24-25. All proceeds from all Ragnar Relays benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, which is the world’s largest voluntary agency dedicated to blood cancer.
Justice was one of 12 members of the Mile High Running Club along with DPS officer Seth Meeske who was competing in his third relay.
For Meeske, the Ragnar is a way to fulfill the obligations of his career, “Part of law enforcement is to stay motivated to stay in shape and this is a good way to condition.”
The members of each team are asked to prepare for the rigors of Ragnar by beginning a running conditioning program several months before the actual 200-mile relay, that this year began in Wickenburg and ended in Tempe.
Meeske points to the fatigue factor and lack of sleep as the toughest challenges team members must overcome during the Ragnar.
Justice agrees saying it’s almost impossible to prepare for the sleep deprivation that goes with staying awake night and day.
Tim Fruth, the oldest member of the Expedition team the past two years, suffered system overload at about the halfway point of the 2011 race.
“We were wired with caffeine with little sleep and the fumes from our unclean bodies had affected our minds,” he said.
Fruth swears he awoke from a catnap to see a strange character chasing him in a European-style swimming suit.
“I couldn’t have imagined that, but being sleep-deprived, anything was possible.”
For Meeske, who as a law enforcement officer has seen his share of crowd and traffic control duties, the logistics of successfully hosting a Ragnar are overwhelming.
“There’s so much to be done — putting up cones and taking them down all along the course,” he said. “It’s a lot of work and takes planning.
Justice, as a veteran Ragnar competitor having entered all of the Ragnar Del Sol Relay Arizona events, has watched the popularity of the races grow in leaps and bounds since their national inception in 2004.
In 2011, more than 40,000 runners competed nationwide — a huge jump from the original race that drew 100 entrants.
The Arizona event doubled from 2009 to 2011.
Official participation totals are not in from the 2012 race, but the numbers are expected to once again spike
What renders the Ragnar different from other relay races is that each leg varies in difficulty and distance, enabling elite and novice runners to run together in teams.
For the event, only one team member runs at a time and members who are not running are shuttled back and forth in two vans.
The 12 runners must finish three legs each of varying distances from 3.5 to 9.2 miles. The pace recommended by Ragnar officials includes easy, moderate and hard depending on the length of the leg. The runner assigned leg three must complete the longest distance — 21 miles.
From the eyes of a runner
Here’s how the relay works as explained by Ragnar competitor Carrie Colvin.
“Teammates who are not running are on support duty in one of the two race vehicles.
“Runners 1 through 6 should be in van one and 7 through 12 in van two.
“Van one’s runners cover the first six legs.
“It’s a relay, so as the each runner begins, the crew in the van can drive ahead, cheer their runner on, and meet them at the exchange point to pick them up and drop off the next runner.
“After the first six legs, van two picks up the slack and starts putting in the miles. A day, night and day later, runners have made it all the way from start to finish.”
Expedition finished the 2012 event in 30:04.07 and 45th among 203 teams.
Mile High was 60th in 30:37.41.
While the two Payson teams were in competition with one another, Meeske contends it is a friendly, good-natured rivalry.
“We are all good friends, we cheer one another and want to see everyone do well,” he said. “There are never any hard feelings.”
Ragnar takes its name from a Norse King who marauded the countryside in the 9th century exploring and conquering new lands.
In 2012, Ragnar events were held in the Florida Keys, Las Vegas, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the nation.