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The Ragnar returns to the Big Island

November 3, 2017 - 12:05am

KAILUA-KONA — Ragnar Hawaii isn’t necessarily all about the destination. It’s mostly about the journey — although having paradise as the race course helps.

While there are definitely easier ways to experience the Big Island, 3,000-plus athletes from around the world are traveling to the Orchid Isle this weekend to compete in the second annual Ragnar Hawaii — a challenge that traverses roughly 200 miles and seven different climates.

The Ragnar, which hosts events all over the United States, as well as in Canada and Europe, has grown exponentially over the last few years thanks to its appeal to both professional and recreational runners because of its relay-style format.

Teams of 12 runners compete in legs of 2-12 miles during the two-day race. Each runner does three legs totaling roughly 15-20 miles. There are also ultra teams, made up of just six runners and longer running segments.

Each team is divided equally into two vans. One van will follow each of its six runners as they do a leg of the race before the other van moves in to take over. This provides at least half the team a small break during the race to either sleep or go sightseeing. Ultra squads do not get a break, doing the entire race in one van.

The inaugural Hawaii race saw 300 teams with 3,600 “Ragnarians” running from Hilo to the Hapuna Prince Resort on the Kohala Coast. The route takes runners as far north as Hawi and then circles back to Waimea, before coming down through Waikoloa Village and going as far south as the Natural Energy Lab in Kona — also the turnaround for the Ironman World Championship. Runners then head back up Queen Kaahumanu Highway to the finish line.

It’s a tough course and athletes face off against many elements, including vast temperature changes, cold, heat, humidity, wind and much more.

“This was a really challenging course,” said Ragnar CEO Chris Infurchia after last year’s race. “Teams were hosing each other down and applying ice packs and sponges, but that is what this race is all about — teamwork.”

While the race draws world wide attention, several Big Islanders are also competing in Ragnar Hawaii.

Travis Castle, an avid crossfitter who trains in Kailua-Kona, got his first taste of Ragnar last year when he competed on a 12-member team.

“Some friends of mine knew a team that was looking for someone and they volunteered me,” Castle said. “I didn’t know any member of the team when I joined, but they ended up being a great group of people from New York and Washington D.C. I had a blast and I think we placed third overall in our age group. I have a fancy medal hanging up somewhere in my closest.”

Castle enjoyed the experience so much that when the team captain from last year called him to do the event once again, he jumped at the opportunity — even though it was in the ultra division.

“Going for so long with so little rest will be challenging,” Castle said. “With 12 members you can get six hours of sleep in the middle of the night, but with ultra you are going the entire time. Half as many people means twice as many legs.”

Another Big Islander, Maria Oka, will make her Ragnar debut in the 12-person race with a group of co-workers and friends from Kona Community Hospital.

“The relay aspect of the race is really cool. We will get to see different terrain and get to pick and choose what part of the island and what time of day we want to run,” Oka said. “Some people want to run during the night when it is cool and quiet, but I prefer running during the day, though my third leg is going to be the Queen K in broad daylight, which is super hot with a lot of challenging hills.”

While challenging, the Ragnar is all about fun with teammates and opposing teams alike. For Castle, it’s the little games that are played during the race that he enjoys the most.

“There are these side games we like to play,” Castle said. “Teams like to put magnets with their team name on other team’s vans. Runners will also count how many people they pass during their leg and they will put these little marks on their van, which I think they call kills. I like all the inter-team interactions. It’s just a good time.”

The Ragnar began in 2004 with the first race held in Utah. Now averaging nearly 40 races a year, it takes most teams over 24 hours to complete. However, there are a rare few teams who manage to make what Ragnar calls the 24 Hour Club.

Last year, the team of Boys Your Mama Warned You About, managed to finish Ragnar Hawaii in a time of 23 hours, 21 minutes and 21.6 seconds. The team was comprised of mostly runners from Florida, with several team members from Florida State University.

B.Y.M.W.Y.A. also raced as a 10-member team, and had Hawaii representation in James Resor, who also competed in the Ironman World Championship, and Jacob Head.

About 10 percent of last year’s field included runners from Hawaii, including a 12-member, all-female team named Wicked Wahine, which crossed the line in a time of 27:27:45.3. The team consisted of 11 Hawaii runners, including several from the Big Island.

Hyper Ventilation was the top Ultra team in 2016, finishing in a time of 24:47:37.

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