The 10th anniversary of the annual Ragnar Relay concluded early Saturday morning with former and current Weber State University students taking home the first-place prize in both the men’s and women’s divisions.
The 198-mile relay race started out in 2004 with just 22 teams. The race began what is known as the Ragnar Relay Series — more than 15 races around the country. The event has become so big in Utah that Gov. Gary Herbert has declared the fourth Saturday in June Utah Ragnar Day. More than 1,500 teams competed this year.
“It’s amazing to me how much growth the relay has seen and to see how many people have become interested in running from the relay,” said Corbin Talley, a WSU alumnus and an organizer of the winning men’s team. “It really gets people motivated and the atmosphere is really fun.”
Talley has been a team captain of the WSU team since 2004, the first year of Ragnar. His team has run in every Wasatch Back race except one. His team finished in first place in 2004, 2007 and 2013 and finished runner-up four times. One of those second-place finishes came last year in a loss to the Brigham Young University team, which didn’t compete in this year’s event.
“We were hoping that the BYU team would be there; we’ve got a rivalry going with them in this relay,” Talley said.
The WSU men’s and women’s teams, like most other teams in the relay, had 12 members each. This year, the men’s team had an even balance of members of the 2013 WSU cross-country team and alumni runners on the team, while the women had an all-alumnae team, its oldest member having graduated in 1988.
“We wanted to put together one of our strongest teams ever,” Talley said, “which is why we targeted so many of the younger guys this time. They’re in great shape, and they ran very well for us.”
Of the 17,000 runners, many were current or former Wildcats. The race was a different experience and a different challenge for each one.
“I was Runner 9, and my very last leg started at Homestead Golf Course and ended halfway up Ragnar Hill, or Guardsman’s Pass,” said Aaron VanBeekum, a recent WSU graduate. “There were seriously times where it felt like you were going straight up, (like) if you were to fall backwards you would just roll. It was probably one of the hardest runs I’ve ever done. I probably did a lot more walking than running.”
VanBeekum started racing in the Ragnar about a year ago, joining a team with his family, including his parents. His team shaved three hours off its time from last year.
Many people compete in the Ragnar not to win, but to prove something to themselves.
“It was really hard and I just felt like really challenging myself,” said Ogden resident Angela Middleton, a single mother of two. “I’m getting to the point in my life where I don’t really want to back down from challenges. It’s something personally where I’m trying to push myself harder to do more things. I started running about a year ago, and I’m not a natural runner, but . . . it’s kind of a therapeutic thing for me. So, once I started running, I realized I could do it, (and) that’s when I thought I would like to do some kind of race. I can always say I did it, even if I never do it again. Now I know I can, so that’s a really cool feeling.”
Others needed to be dragged into running.
“I always told myself in the past that there’s no way I could do it,” said WSU senior Travis Brown, an accounting major. “I always saw the runners that would run and I was like, ‘That sucks, I don’t know why they would even want to do that to themselves.’”
Brown’s friend talked him into running the race, and he took the challenge.
“I just wanted to see if I could do it,” Brown said. “As we ran up by Echo Reservoir, it was just really peaceful, because you could see the full moon glaring onto the reservoir and you could see the current of the waves. I found that to be my favorite part of the Ragnar experience.”
Some runners are more serious about running than others, but Middleton said everyone in the race was encouraging and happy.
“There are crazy runner people, ultra-teams, but we just did it for the experience,” she said. “We just wanted to finish; we knew we weren’t going to win. It’s just really fun. Everybody cheers everybody on, and it’s just a really fun event.”