From Ragnar with love

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Jathan and Steph get ready for Steph’s first leg during Ragnar Relay 2012.

It’s Sunday, November 11, and another Ragnar Relay is in the books.

For the last two days, I’ve been running through Las Vegas with 11 friends, starting on Mount Charleston (in the snow) and winding our way around the city out by Red Rock, to Jean and back (in the middle of the night), past Boulder City, to Lake Mead and finally to Lake Las Vegas. In the process, we covered 197.6 miles, ran for 32 straight hours, slept for maybe an hour or two and loved just about every minute of it. Why? I’ll try to explain, but you just have to try it.

In brief, Ragnar is a 200-mile relay race in which teams of 12 runners pile into two vans and run three legs each over two days. But really, it’s much more than that. It’s a crazy bonding experience in which real estate agents, TV personalities, journalists, teachers, doctors and students all ditch their day jobs to focus on their footsteps and making it over the next hill to whack a slap bracelet on a teammate’s wrist. It’s an incredible challenge, as much for the lack of sleep as the mileage, and the kind of race that pushes every competitor, whether they’re a marathon veteran or a running novice. But most of all Ragnar is just fun. It’s a run-all-night, scream-all-day, no-sleep, stomach-aching party—and as miserable as that might sound, it’s a hell of a good time.

This year, was my second Ragnar and just as tough as the first but for very different reasons. Last year’s race started by Lake Mead in 95-plus degree temperatures and full sun. I pushed so hard on my first run—a mere 4 miles—that I felt brutally sick after and barely recovered in time for my second leg some 8 hours later. This year, with the race a few weeks ahead on the calendar, we had the opposite problem. Van 1 started in literal snow on Mount Charleston, and by the time Van 2 took over, we were closing in on sunset with a stiff wind blowing in our faces. As runner 12, I ran all three of my legs in gloves, reflective gear, headlights and darkness.

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These tallies are what motivate you to sprint past that guy in front of you when you can’t feel your calves and your hamstrings are protesting in pain.

Still, Ragnar is one of my favorite weekends of the year. For two days, running is a team sport where you’re cheered on not just by the people leap-frogging you in a van on lonely stretches of pavement but also by your competitors. It’s the only race I’ve ever run where people encourage you as you pass them, and the only race I’ve ever run where the costumes and van decorations are taken as seriously as the pace. This year’s Las Vegas Ragnar even featured American Olympian Nick Symmonds running with Team Nevernudes in full Nevernude regalia (jean short cut-offs).

And team Tireless 12? We kicked some serious ass, conquering middle-of-the-night uphill slogs, vicious cold, 9-mile downhill quad crushers, crazy switchbacks and our own lack of sleep. My best run turned out to be the one I was most nervous about—an 8.9-miler north along Las Vegas Boulevard toward the M Resort during which I locked into a good pace and “killed” 27 other runners on my way to major exchange 24.

For the next few days, I’m sure I’ll start way too many sentences with “During Ragnar …” Then, I’ll get back to the real world, regular running and a life in which we get real sleep and people don’t stop to gawk at our gorgeous Sprinter van named Molly.

It’s been fun. Time to start planning the next Ragnar.

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