Most foot races end when the sun goes down, but a race of a different sort is coming to Blaine this weekend.
The Ragnar Relay Northwest Passage Race starts at Peace Arch Park in Blaine Friday, July 19 and ends 196 miles and around 24 hours later in Langley on Whidbey Island. Teams of 12 compete in the relay race.
Runners will depart Blaine in waves between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Friday. The route in Blaine travels on 2nd Street, Peace Portal Drive and Portal Way, and runners will be on those roads all day Friday. Their route will take them through Bellingham, Burlington, La Conner, Oak Harbor and Coupeville before reaching the finish line at the Island County Fairgrounds in Langley between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday, July 20.
Ragnar Relay races occur throughout the country, and have grown in popularity due to the unique setup of the race. One teammate runs at all times while the others follow along in vans. Exchanges occur every 3 to 6 miles, and each runner runs three legs spaced evenly throughout the course. This keeps runners fresh, but it means the race continues around the clock, which adds an unusual twist that makes some racers nervous.
Ray Leone is a Blaine resident who is captaining a team from Island Hospital in Anacortes. He and one of his 11 teammates have run this type of relay race before, but he said the rest of his team is a little anxious about running at night.
“I think my teammates will surprise themselves,” he said. “These races are easier than you expect going in, and they’re so fun people usually want to sign up for the next one as soon as they finish their first.”
Leone said the biggest draw to the race is the camaraderie it instills among teammates.
“You’re all tooling around in a Suburban for hours between your runs, so you all laugh together, sweat together, hurt together and cheer together,” he said.
At the finish line, the whole team often gathers to run the last 200 yards with the final runner.
“It reinforces the team aspect,” Leone said. “Everyone’s endorphins are raging, so it’s a great feeling.”
Leone said runners’ muscles usually aren’t overworked by the end of the race because each section is short, but sleep deprivation creeps up on participants, who are often exhausted by the time they reach the finish line.
“Most people only get a couple hours of sleep over the 24-hour race,” he said.
Because it’s a relay, the race allows runners of all levels to compete on a much longer course than the average 5k. The distance adds to the feeling of accomplishment, Leone said.
“It makes people realize that there’s maybe more of an athlete in them than they thought,” he said.