The Ragnar Relay: 200 Miles Can Test Your Friendships, Fitness and Desire

Physical education was the best and worst class I took in middle and high school. On one hand, I figured, “Are you kidding me? I get an easy A for playing basketball, softball, dodgeball, flag football and I get to watch ‘Remember The Titans’ over-and-over again when inclement weather strikes.”

Then there was the downside of PE. The phase that every awkward kid covered in baby fat loathed, even feared: “The Mile.” I’m sorry for bringing flashbacks for those who still have nightmares of our PE teachers actually paying attention. Mr. Ham had no idea that from time-to-time I’d walk three-fourths of a lap before trotting past him with a fabricated grimace. He had no idea that I’d cross the finish line after three laps, not four, after sandbagging an 11-minute mile that was actually three-quarters of a mile (evil laughter).

Running was never one of my strengths. I had R.A.D.D. or running attention deficit disorder. I couldn’t convince myself to focus while running the mile, especially when the 98-degree Inland Empire heat was beating down on my forehead.

I had my first real crush during my junior year of high school but had zero confidence within my chubby skin. I decided to make a change. The scale read 188 pounds, and my mirror cackled at me, calling me unhealthy. Weighing 188 pounds wasn’t bad for a ripped football player, but for a sub-6-foot-tall kid who lacked muscle and whose daily exercise was jumping from green to blue to yellow to red on an Xbox controller and lifting an AP psychology book out of my backpack, it was too much.

I wanted to look fitter. Instead of being called a “fatass,” I wanted at the very least to be considered by an attractive girl, so I held my own Biggest Loser competition.

As an alternative to running, I hit a punching bag and ate healthier: no more bean-and-cheese burritos at Alberto’s, Caprisuns were crossed off the grocery list and Golden Spoon became a guardian angel that saved me from Cold Stone and DQ. After a year of dedication, the scale read 158.

It’s been a few years since my 30-pound weight-loss challenge ended. My weight has remained rather constant, because of my heightened understanding of nutrition and exercise, but up until last winter, I had yet to jump on the running bandwagon.

As a freshman last year at UC Irvine, I hadn’t kept in contact enough with high school friends and was eager to find some way of reuniting. One of those high school friends, Justice, called me up with a proposition in February 2010. “Let’s run the Southern California Ragnar Relay!”

For those who haven’t heard of it, Ragnar is a 200-mile running competition that allows anywhere between 4 and 12 people split 36 legs of a relay based on ability level, over 36 hours and two vans.

Justice explained that if we formed a 12-person team, I could run three legs ranging anywhere from a total of 12 to 15 to 25 miles. Mind you, Justice had done more than lift his psychology book in high school; he had also finished 5Ks, half marathons and even a marathon.

I thought to myself, “I’ve never run two miles in a row, let alone 12 or 15, screw 25.” But after consideration, I thought about my weight loss. I thought about the fact that I had R.A.D.D. What if this was the cure? “If all of my friends train, I’ll be guilted into running hard. Maybe it’ll force me to learn how to run long distance.” So I agreed to it.

At first, I regretted committing to it. In my third day of training, my feet and ankles burned following a five-mile run.

My mindset all seemed to change when I walked out to the corner of University and Campus, cranked up a playlist that ranged from Citizen Cope’s lyrics, “The son’s gonna rise in a mile, in a mile you’ll be feeling fine,” to Ludacris shouting, “I stroke so good like Tiger Woods then I growl like a tiger would,” and began to think of Justice and the rest of my friends.

On Friday April 23, 2010, I arrived at the race with bronchitis, after having trained vigorously for the cause, nevertheless ready to run 15 miles.

Surrounded by teams with hysterical names and costumes (one of which was “Born to Run” and they wore adult diapers the entire race), I was on a ten person team named “Kanye Better Let Us Finish,” making light of the Kanye West and Taylor Swift incident at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.

Despite my illness, as the fourth runner, I ran my first leg of 7.8 miles in 75 minutes at noon. The run was along a desert highway in Calabasas, boring as could be with very few runners around me because of the length of the course, but nevertheless I kept going for my team and was greeted by my friends with a bottle of water and high fives.

I gulped down an energy boost prior to my second leg (3.7 miles) at midnight. Sprinting through Hollywood wearing a reflective vest, while holding a flashlight and a map, I sidestepped club bouncers and women in high heels before finishing in 28 minutes. At a 7:34-mile pace, it was the fastest run I had ever completed. But when I got to the end of my leg, my team was not in sight.

“Haha,” I laughed while barking coughs. “I ran faster than they expected.” I coughed up a storm as my wait neared 10 minutes. Then I realized that Justice’s phone number was on my iPod’s contacts list. I borrowed a friendly stranger’s phone, called Justice and received bad news. Our Suburban had broken down. That car was carrying a majority of the team and our hopes of finishing.

I escaped the cold, pacing a parking lot near the end of leg 16 for 90 minutes before I was finally picked up. Justice’s dorm was minutes away at UCLA, so we met there to decide whether we could make do with 10 people in two compact cars.

One teammate quit and left us exhausted and one man down at 3:45 a.m. The rest of us refused to let our training go to waste. We skipped ahead 50 miles to account for the mileage we had missed in the time it took to get our act together, and we finished. I ran my final 3.4-mile leg in 32 minutes. Years after cheating my way through the mile, I finished 15 miles of Ragnar at a nine-minute pace.

Bittersweet, we crossed the finish on April 24, on a pristine beach in Dana Point, 200 miles from the start line in Ventura. We ran 150 miles and were given a DNQ (did not qualify) for our official time, but we received our medals as the announcer said, “I guess Kanye let them finish.”

After the relay, for months I couldn’t motivate myself to run. All of my motivation stemmed from my teammates and my R.A.D.D. returned.

In December, while wearing a memento Ragnar T-shirt, I called Justice up and said, “Let’s do this! I want to finish the Ragnar Relay, all 200 miles.”

On April 15, team “Kanye Better Let Us Finish” came to the starting line at 6:30 a.m. in Huntington Beach, composed of five returners and seven newcomers. We crossed the finish line at 6:30 pm on the 16th of April in Coronado, just as advertised, in 36 hours. Next to us at the finish line was a team wearing blue T-shirts that read, “The Biggest Loser”; they were former contestants.

Some of the thousands of runners were gifted, sprinting through the competition with ease. Some jogged, some ran shirtless and some overheated, while others humorously carried pineapples, flags and capes for 200 miles.

For me, the Biggest Losers and probably many others, the race was a symbol of how strong a friendship can motivate a person. Every time I thought about walking, running into Carl’s Jr. for a cup of water and throwing my arms in the air, I thought of those who I would let down.

My R.A.D.D. is kicking in right about now. I guess I’ll have to wait until next spring for the visions of disappointed friends in my head to motivate me once more.