Ragnar Relay team: what happens in the van, stays in the van.
  • Ragnar Relay team: what happens in the van, stays in the van.
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There’s a run coming up next week. Post time is Friday, April 19, 5:30 a.m., Huntington Beach State Park, read 25 miles down the coast from Long Beach. The race ends Saturday at 8:00 p.m. in downtown San Diego, read Embarcadero Marina Park North.

It’s a 192.9-mile footrace entitled Ragnar Relay SoCal 2013. It’s the relay part that draws one in. Here’s the setup: one team, two vans, 12 people. Each person runs three times with distances varying between 3 and 8 miles and difficulty varying from easy to are you kidding?

According to the Ragnar website: “While one person is running, the rest of your teammates are on support duty in your race vehicles. Teams require 2 vehicles (Runners 1–6 in van 1 and 7–12 in van 2). Van 1’s runners will cover the first six legs. As each runner begins, the crew in the vehicle 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 6 legs, van 2 picks up the slack and starts putting in the miles.”

And repeat. And repeat again. Teams run all night.

There are some logistical problems to deal with, beginning with the need to find 11 teammates; getting self to the start line, to the finish line, and home; the $120 registration fee; van-rental fee, say, $150 for that; gas money, food money, money money; do you want to stay in a hotel the night before the race or the night following?; plus booze, plus recreational drugs, plus race memorabilia, plus gear, plus sundries, plus money spent training for the race. Bottom line: it’s pretty cheap.

Ragnar’s Matt Braun emailed me with the following factoids. There are 7000 runners in this year’s race. With the runners come 950 vans, which brings us to our new Fun With Math section. A Chevy van runs 224.1 inches in length: 224.1 × 950/12 = 17,741.25 feet. Think three-mile long caterpillar inching along SoCal roadways at 8 mph. And the beast does not stop, day or night, typhoon or monsoon, as it crawls inexorably southward into the heart of San Diego. Freeways are impassable, commuters by the tens of thousands are trapped on the highway with no food, no water, road rage erupts, drivers reach for their guns and begin shooting, doesn’t matter at what, could be me, could be you, could be Fluffy or Spot. Kill or be killed.

Matt see things another way: “To lessen traffic impact and congestion, we stagger the start throughout the day, with teams starting as early as 5 a.m. and all the way up to 6 p.m. on Friday. This allows us to keep traffic flowing.”

Really? Well, boyo, who are you going to believe, a seasoned journalist or a corporate hired gun?

Setting to one side certain death, I must, in fairness, admit my vision comes from a nonrunner. Participants report running a relay is one king-hell of a party, a life-changing experience, some say, with new friends, lifelong memories tucked alongside pain and sleep deprivation. The last two, oddly, always seem to mix well with new friends and great memories. People sit in vans hour after hour, smelly, achy, and hungry. With the right companions, that can be big-whoopee fun.

Ragnar Relays was founded by Tanner Bell and Dan Hill, then students at Brigham Young University. Ragnar, by the way, is taken from the name of a 9th-century Viking. Don’t ask why.

Bell and Hill were not the first relay promoters, they copied the already established Hood to Coast relay, but they are the largest with 72,000 entrants last year. Their first race was the Wasatch Back relay. Start line in Logan, Utah, race to the Wasatch Mountains, finish in Park City. That was 2004 with 262 runners. Eight years later the runners count was 10,000 plus.

Like everything else, some people are in it for the fun, others for COMPETITION. On the fun side are team names: Lost my Sole in Sin City; Where the Hell’s the Van; Chicks with Kicks; SWEATY RAGS; the Many Faces of Chuck Norris; What Happens in the Van Stays in the Van; Strangers with Candy.

And the costumes: pirates, gay construction workers in tight cutoff jeans, brides in wedding dresses, runners in tutus, marshmallow runners, clowns, beer-can runners, green hair, pink hair, blue hair, no hair...

This year Ragnar added trail relays to their offerings. Trail relays measure 120 miles or so. Teams are eight or four runners. The slogan is, “Run. Camp. Sleep? Repeat.” There’s a trail relay for Lake Tahoe in July; Scottsdale, Arizona, in October; and Temecula in November.

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