South End runners finish insane 189-mile relay race

  • Wed Aug 1st, 2007 5:00pm
  • Sports

With Jon Chapman in the lead

For Jon Chapman, running the final lap of the 189-mile Ragnar Relay on Saturday meant pride of place — he lives on Bayview Road.

“I ran right past my house,” he said after finishing at the Intermediate School. “It was fun to see people I know along my normal training route. I waved to my kids as they were eating ice cream in front of the Dog House Tavern. That was the high point for me.”

Chapman and 11 others in bright orange T-shirts — Brenda Dawson, Nisa Heggenes, Suzy Windes, Maria Reyes, Mynda Myres, Tori Komenda, Brian Vick, Kelly Henriot, Katie Grindon, Jason Grindon and Kristie Chapman — began their two-day adventure in Blaine the morning before.

The team left in two vans at 5:30 a.m. to be in place for their scheduled start at 9 a.m. Dawson was first, running along the Birch Bay shoreline. “We stopped every mile or so for a quick squirt from a water pistol,” she said. “I’d call it spirited fun. We had a real blast.”

In Bellingham, the two vans switched and the next set of relayers took over; the process continuing as they leapfrogged south toward Langley.

“Running into Bellingham with the band playing just for me, as it seemed, was great,” Komenda said. Later that night she ran through farmland near La Conner, wearing a lighted headband and reflective vest.

“I saw a bunch of cows. It was quiet and peaceful.”

In fact, the only serious complaint was the lack of sleep.

“Pure adrenaline kept us going,” Chapman said with a yawn.

At the finish line Nisa Heggenes was chided by her husband.

“I can’t even get her to go camping with me, and now she’s running across the state,” Don Heggenes said.

Windes said they had estimated 10 minutes per mile and that was the goal. “For me, the best part was being together and hanging out with friends I went to school with,” she said. Ten of the group graduated from South Whidbey High School between 1985 and 1991.

The race is part of a relay series called Northwest Passage for novice and intermediate runners. Each team member runs three legs, ranging between seven and eighteen miles, supported by two vehicles.

Expecting 40 teams for their first time out, race organizers ended up with 62 — more than 750 runners crossed the finish line throughout the day, spaced about 15 minutes apart, to the unanimous cheers of friends and family before rapidly decompressing on the lawn.

The rock band Crawlspace serenaded the crowd before the awards ceremony for fastest team, craziest costume and silliest moniker.

Named after a ninth century Norse king, the Ragnar Relay group sponsors similar relays in Arizona (Del Sol), Wisconsin (Great River) and Utah (Wasatch Back).

“When we pick a new course our criteria include a beautiful route, cooperative local officials and an active running community,” organizer Tanner Bell said. “South Whidbey certainly qualifies on all counts and we’ll definitely be back.”

Bell said that each year the event typically doubles in size and they expect the same will happen with the Northwest Passage event.

“People like running with their friends and the word spreads,” he said. “It turns into an overnight party with a competitive edge.”

Island Insanity didn’t make it to first place but that didn’t seem to matter.

“We finished in 47th place with a time of 29 hours, 27 minutes, 26 seconds which is not too bad,” Myres said. Each team member also received a bronze baton for finishing in third place in the over-30 age division.

“Our volunteers won the most spirited award – Patti Sargent, Mary Ann Chapman and Kay and Richard Stanley.

“I also want to give a huge credit to our van drivers Tasha and Chris Blasko, who were critical in our success,” she added. “Chris actually got on a bike and rode beside the girls at night for 14 miles. He’s had a hard time sitting since then.”

Each team pays $840 to cover expenses if they register early. Last minute team registrations cost up to $1,200. For details on next year’s relay schedule, visit