A special type of person willingly signs up to run distance races, like the Northwest Passage Ragnar Relay that ends in Langley today.
To go from Blaine — the Washington border town and gateway to British Columbia/Canada — to the Island County Fairgrounds covers 196 miles and two days. Katie Anderson, a former Clintonian and current Coupevilleian, is one of those people who elected to register for the grueling run that will take her up hills, down bluffs, over bridges and through three counties.
“It’s someone who has a regular weekday job and likes to find [a challenge],” said Anderson, 29. “I’m not a professional athlete; I played softball in college, but I want to find ways to push my body, see what my body can do and feel that achievement.”
Anderson and her 11 teammates and many more volunteers who will drive a pair of vans to carry the resting racers comprise #HashRag. The team, like nearly every one of the 520 teams signed up for the relay, has some type of clever name: Adult Supervision Required, Will Run for Donuts, Lacey’s Breast Friends, and Marga-Relay-Ville to list a few of the first 12 teams.
Pageantry in the form of brightly-colored outfits, team T-shirts, van decorations and window writing is part and parcel of the Ragnar Relay. The race is less about who finishes first, and more about who finishes with flair. For Anderson, who is the only Whidbey resident on the #HashRag team since her husband Chris had to drop out because of an injury, and team, that means bright green shirts with #HashRag printed on the front. She said she expects some of her teammates from Seattle and one lone wolf from Spokane to come in costume.
“We’ve got a few folks who really enjoy playing dress up, though,” Anderson said.
Event organizers expect more than 6,000 people to filter through the fairgrounds as teams cross the finish line. That number seemed a bit high to Langley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Marc Esterly, who noted that it rarely feels like a packed finish line because of the spread-out nature of the teams. Some will reach the course’s end by 11 a.m., and others will come in the late afternoon.
Despite the large influx, Esterly said the race is not expected to be a significant bump in business in downtown Langley.
“Some stay, have their lunch and dinner and head home,” Esterly said. “It’s not like we see truckloads of people coming to watch the race.”
Hosting the race’s finish line was not viewed as a nuisance either. Esterly noted that businesses have rarely complained to him about the traffic or any congestion/parking problems on the weekend of the race.
But having a course as long as the Northwest Passage means there is not one set viewing place for supporters to congregate and cheer, except the finish line. Even then, they are usually in the vans with the racers, or handing out water or directing race traffic, rather than all waiting in Langley.
“The Ragnar ends at Langley, but it’s not like a lot of people come for the end of the race like an Olympic event,” Esterly said.
The race began at 5 a.m. Friday and is expected to conclude by 6 p.m. Saturday, July 19, and requires each racer to run three segments of the course. Broken up evenly means 16.3 miles for each team member. It’s rare that each racer runs an equal distance, however, because of the varying degree of difficulty of each leg. Some are uphill the whole way but only a few miles. Others are flat and go for several miles. Teams are allowed to sort out which runner takes which leg, as long as each registered racer puts their feet on the pavement.
Langley was selected as the finish line after Bruce Matheson, who scouts areas for Ragnar Relays, visited Whidbey Island. Setting courses around natural wonder is part of Ragnar’s draw, according to its director of market development.
“Really, it’s all about the beauty,” said Steve Frazee. “One of the focuses for us is to have our races in an iconic, beautiful spot.”
Added Matheson: “We also have to take into consideration safety as well as beauty.”
For Katie Anderson, this race will be a first despite having competed in four marathons of 26.2 miles each. And yet even with all of her competitions and the hundreds of miles she’s logged, she still gets the jitters. On Thursday, just hours before she met with her teammates and friends for a pre-race dinner at her Coupeville home, she said she could feel anxiety and nervousness settle in.
“I get nervous before every single race,” she said. “It’s one of the best parts — my stomach doesn’t want to calm down, my body doesn’t want to sleep.”
“I’ve already got the nervous stomach.”
After the hills, the sore legs, the protein bars, the electrolyte sport drinks, water stops, exchanges and van naps, the race is mostly about having fun with friends.
“With Ragnar, I get to celebrate with my friends every step of the way,” Anderson said.