Community Sports

Local runners return to Ragnar with a winning legacy

Cross country coaches Jay Sloane, left, of Mount Baker High School and Collin Buckley of Nooksack Valley High School train Wednesday, August 1, 2012, on Galbraith Mountain. Sloane and Buckley are part of the Wander Brewery team competing in the Ragnar Relay.
Cross country coaches Jay Sloane, left, of Mount Baker High School and Collin Buckley of Nooksack Valley High School train Wednesday, August 1, 2012, on Galbraith Mountain. Sloane and Buckley are part of the Wander Brewery team competing in the Ragnar Relay. The Bellingham Herald

They have won all six years they have competed. They hope to win again. The returning team of 12 Whatcom County runners are making the nearly 200-mile overnight trek from Blaine to Langley as part of the 9th Annual Ragnar Relay Northwest Passage.

“What I really find interesting are how many folks look forward to doing this,” said founding member and Sehome High School’s Mark Kerr. “Some of them might run once or twice a week or maybe five times a week, but they’re all looking forward to getting a couple vans together and running through the night, as odd as that sounds.”

The Ragnar Relay is a 24-hour, or longer, running event broken up into 36 course legs covering 192.2 miles. Most groups have 12 members, each of whom run three legs of the course. If six people want to run, they can form an ultra team and members double their distance.

Race starts are staggered, beginning at 6 a.m. Friday, July 17. The last start is at 2 p.m. All teams are expected to be finished by mid-day Saturday, July 18. This year it is sold out, with 574 registered teams.

Kerr’s team, previously the Klicks team but now running under the Wander Brewing Company banner, can win the relay in 18 hours without pushing themselves , Kerr said.

“We made it 19 hours as an ultra team (the first year), and with a 12-person team we can take it easier and still hit 18 hours,” he said. “So we haven’t really had to go all out yet as a 12-person team.”

The group formed eight years ago at a track meet. Three coaches — Kerr, Nooksack Valley’s Collin Buckley and Mount Baker’s Jay Sloane — were talking together about a relay debuting the year before and someone suggested they do it.

Prior to Ragnar, they all knew each other only through school sporting events, but suddenly they were bonding over meeting to plan this race . Now, the team of 12 is comprised of the three Whatcom County coaches, athletes who trained with them, and members of the local running community.

Kerr compares Ragnar to Ski to Sea. Ragnar is coming up as an exciting event in a similar way, creating a place for the running community to bond, he said.

Last year was the only year since its first run the group did not compete in the Ragnar. Team members all run different races throughout the year and getting together is dependent upon their schedules.

Being able to race is also dependent upon finding a sponsor.

The registration fee is about $1,400 per team, and Kerr said the team tries to have the fees and uniforms covered through sponsorship.

This year, they registered without a sponsor, but afterward asked the owners at Wander to cover sponsorship.

“We just love being part of the community,” said Wander’s owner Colleen Kuehl. “These guys are excited, passionate and competitive just like we are.”

Kuehl knew Buckley as a friendly customer, and one evening he came up and asked if they would be the team sponsors, she said.

“They have been doing (Ragnar) for years, and we wanted to support them,” Kuehl said.

It became a natural rivalry, Buckley said, because Kulshan has a Ragnar team and now it’s a local brewery competition.

“Its a great group of guys,” he said. “The Brewery rivalry will be fun. One of the brewers at Kulshan used to run with us and so it has some of that friendly competition.”

The level of competitiveness on the course varies between serious athletes and recreational teams who run for fun.

When signing up, teams include their running pace with registration so Ragnar organizers can stagger start times in a way that won’t clog up the course. As one of the faster teams, the Wander group will start its race at 2 p.m. From there, the fun part is finding personal competition, scoping out the course to see which teams are similarly paced and making it a point to pass them, Buckley said.

When racers are not on the course, they are in one of the team vehicles, either trying to catch up on sleep before their next leg or encouraging each other. According to the Ragnar website, if you “can’t seem to move your body into sleep mode, try harder because you will need it,” but Buckley joked everyone knows falling asleep in the team van can only result in bad things happening. Van time is bonding time, he said.

“We are all local athletes who run together all the time,” Buckley said. “Some are college kids back in town coaches continue to work with.”

Wander team members vary in age from 17 to 53.

Part of what they want to do as coaches is impart a love of running to the younger generation, Buckley said. Ragnar is a way to bring the running community together.

Ragnar Relay Northwest Passage

When: Friday, July 17-Saturday, July 18

Where: From Blaine to Langley

Distance: 192.2 miles

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