Afunny thing happened on the way to Ragnar Events’ Wasatch Back relay becoming a huge event: The number of teams has grown significantly since 2004, while their collective running times have gotten noticeably worse.
Talk about fuzzy math—which new CEO Ken Jacquin says makes perfect sense heading into this year’s race, scheduled for June 19-20 (regular entry registration deadline is April 15). “We’ll still have the ultra-fit, competitive teams that are out to win, like the cross-country teams from schools like Weber State and BYU bringing in their groups of 12,” Jacquin said from the event organizer’s new offices in Kaysville. But, “as the event has caught on, more and more people want to get involved—even people who don’t really run.” Last year, one third of the teams ran a mile in more than 10 minutes during the 178-mile trek from Logan to Park City. That’s a stark contrast from three years ago, when none were that slow—a statistical hint that the race can appeal to people who don’t know much about Asics and GU gel. Give Wasatch Back your tired, your overweight, your huddled, out-of-shape masses. Their beacon of good (breathtaking) times is now a 30-hour race that involves spending time either running or sharing van space.
Jacquin, 44, moved from London nearly five years ago for the same reasons so many of us became Utahns: the weather and the mountains—particularly the skiing. The former Winder Farms CFO—and Columbiaeducated CPA—fancies himself a runner but “certainly not a fast one.” He recently became the highest officer for an event that he and some business partners pumped support into a few years ago. Jacquin loved the energy and ingenuity of founders Dan Hill and Tanner Bell, and the bet has paid off. Growth has come at double speed for the Wasatch race. There were 180 groups in 2006, nearly twice that number two years ago (300), and participation doubled again last summer as word of mouth spread.
Each team has 12 members that run three legs apiece, with distances from 3-8 miles. Yes, it’s probably appropriate to do a little training in advance.
This will be Gary Pedersen’s third year, and he points out that he’s more prepared for the parts where novices might think, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” The 32-yearold West Valley resident didn’t even run before he joined the Winder Farms team. Now, he’s doing marathons. He needs the endorphins as much as he hopes valley residents need locally produced dairy.
“I used to hate running. I did the Ragnar run and absolutely loved it,” Pedersen said. “The competitive nature in me, staying up all night in a van, the challenge. On the trail, you see a little bit of everything.
You see the highway, and you’re also going through the mountains.” This year, about 580 groups are expected to participate. The official Website (RagnarRelay.com) has a message board for teams looking for racers and vice versa.
Jacquin expected growth to be slower this year. “I get asked how the bad economy is going to affect the race probably three times a day,” said Jacquin, who has a penchant for the one-liner, “and I worry about it at least six.” Jacquin thinks people will still come out in droves, throwing caution to the wind for the chance to run into it. “People will still do what they’re passionate about,” he says, “and, the fact is, people still need an outlet.”
Jacquin has a few tips: Good shoes and a competitive spirit help, yes, but nothing trumps friendship. Or at least the avoidance of choosing annoying teammates.
“The great thing about this is it puts a team aspect into something that’s not normally about the group,” Jacquin said. “But you better think about who you want on your team. Some will go for the fastest times, but you still have to remember that it’s a lot of time in vans with people if you don’t like them.”
Thu., Nov. 20, 7 p.m. / Free