The Ragnar Relay was but a blowtorch welding Molly Hayes and her group of running partners closer together.
How else could someone grow to tolerate any group of people for 24-plus hours? she joked.
But her relationship with her teammates - Sharon Stone, Tanny Bennett, Kim Sutherland, Jen Gallant, Sherry Gallant, Christy Fazio, Carol Frazey, Mary Walker, Cara Buckingham, Shannon Buckley and Jen Stack - is one stabilized by love, and reinforced by support.
"Spending 24-hours plus with stinky, smelly women who have been running through the night, eating crazy food, (having) lot of crazy conversations. ... I couldn't image doing it with a better group of women," Hayes said in a phone interview. "It is such a fun experience for us."
The Ragnar Relay, which starts Friday, July 19, takes groups of 12 runners - Ultra groups have only five - through 196 miles starting at Peace Arch State Park in Blaine and winding south to Langley.
Hayes and her running group, Galbraith SPOT, are partaking in their fourth Ragnar Relay in a row, looking to achieve similar success as they did the previous three years. Hayes and her group have won their respective age bracket - 40-50 years of age - all three years while also winning the overall women's team title two of the three years.
For Hayes, moments of reflection come when stepping on the near 200-mile course each year. A realization coincides, reinforcing the notion that she has so much more than just a group of running partners.
When Hayes' father passed away after being ill, she came home to a yard that had been weeded. A small task on an ever-growing list of chores, she said, but the gesture was one she would never forget in a time of grieving.
"It was overwhelming," she said after seeing what they had done for her. "(When) you are losing someone you love, you don't care about your yard.
"They recognized you don't have time for all those menial tasks that we all let build up. ... It is such a gift to have someone do that stuff for you."
Upon returning, her refrigerator was stocked with milk and everyday necessities, too.
"They have been there for me," she said.
All seriousness aside, she noted, the team isn't above having a bit of fun during the relay at another team's expense.
Just a few years ago, Hayes and her team ran side-by-side with a group of firemen from Seattle. The two teams jockeyed for position throughout much of the race, she said, with the group of women besting the burly firefighters.
"It is a part of that Ragnar spirit," she said, "having fun with other runners."
They didn't pass on the opportunity to remind the firefighters they had won, constructing a woman-made tunnel for them to run through at the finish line.
In that vein, the Ragnar relay merges competition with friendship, Hayes said, making the race so enjoyable.
"They go hand in hand," Hayes said of balancing the two. "We wouldn't be willing to lose our fun part (just) to win."