Beginning runners typically run about 16 miles per week. The more advanced run 60 miles a week. Then there are the extreme runners who somehow endure events like the Ragnar relay in Kentucky that covers 200 miles over a two-day, one-night period.
Such are group members of the Woodinville Early Birds, who sprang out of a small contingent of moms and dads who started running about five years ago in the Wellington area.
“We ran our first Ragnar three years ago,” Woodinville Mayor Elaine Cook said. “We ran in two teams of six people and not the usual 12 per team over Northwest Passage. We started in the morning from the Peace Arch in Blaine and finished in Langley on Whidbey Island.”
The 200-mile trek saw the teams run over the Cascade and Olympic Mountain ranges, Deception Pass and along Puget Sound.
Cook said she first became interested in a long-distance run like the Ragnar after watching a documentary called Hood to Coast. The course begins at Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood and finishes at Seaside on the Oregon Coast.
“It was a relay that started in the morning and they’d run until they were done. Those not running were riding in a van along the route awaiting their leg of the race.”
The Early Birds ran the Northwest Passage relay again in 2017 and one of the runners, Elim Yoon, Cook said, came close to falling asleep during her leg of the race on Deception Pass.
“I had committed myself to take the longest leg in order to get others to join me on this 6-team relay,” Elim said. “One of the legs was a 19-mile stretch from Anacortes to Oak Harbor—had never run that long of a stretch before.
“The leg of the relay was during the middle of the night and no one else was around. I thought it was working out okay the first 14 or 15 miles, but the last 4 to 5 miles, I was so sleepy and tired. I thought I’d close my eyes for a second and I actually nodded of a couple of times.”
Elim has since qualified for the Boston Marathon to be run in April of 2020.
The group ran the Northwest Passage race for the third time in 2018, but this year they decided to do a destination run.
“Most of us wanted to do Napa Valley because it was closest. But someone in the group—it might have been Elim—said there was a Ragnar run in Kentucky called the Bourbon Chase,” Cook said. “You run from Louisville to Lexington with stops at all the distilleries.”
Half of the Early Birds group that included Cook ended up making the trip to the Blue Grass state a little over two weeks ago.
“We started at 5:30 a.m. on a Friday and finished on Sunday,” Cook said. “It was the hardest run we’d ever done before because the hills we’ve run were no match for the Kentucky hills—it was very difficult.
“But it was a beautiful way to see a new location. It was obviously different from riding in a car, as you don’t get to see everything as we did.”
Cook said it was a sight to behold.
“Everyone in Kentucky knew we were coming because Ragnar takes over the roads,” Cook said. “Thousands of runners share the same roads with cars.”
Early Bird team groups are typically gender-specific, Cook said, but George McKinnon, owner of the Woodinville Running Company and a former Ironman winner was among the van full of women headed east.
“It felt like college students on a road trip —being with a bunch of friends,” George said. “But unlike being with a bunch of guys in a van with sweaty smelly socks, we all had to remove our sweaty running gear and put it in zip-lock bags.”
George said he is the rookie of the group only running with the Early Birds for a short while.
“I do a lot of running on the Burke Gillman Trail and that’s where I met the group a while back. They asked me if I wanted to run with them and I said sure and then they took a hard left and started running up Heart Attack Hill on the Tolt pipeline and I thought, ‘What did I get myself into.”’
Eventually, the group asked George if he wanted to join other runs, but they conflicted with his other races, so he politely declined. He had run a lot of triathlons, but he had never run a 200-mile relay so admittedly he didn’t know what to expect.
“Everyone runs 30-40 mile legs. I knew it was in my wheelhouse, but I ran shorter events,” George said. “Running at 2 a.m. along the freeway at night was different but fun … not something you do every day.”
The other half of the Early Bird group traveled to the Napa Valley, only to learn the race was canceled due to the fires in the surrounding area.
“That was a shame because they had all trained hard for the run and had to adjust their diet as well,” said Cook.
As one could imagine, you must be in tip-top shape physically to attempt a Ragnar run. You must also be strong-minded as well, Cook said.
“There’s always the possibility of hitting a wall on the long runs,” Cook said. “For me, I need to run with a group of people to avoid doing that. Even though there are thousands of runners on the road for a Ragnar run, you might not see anyone for miles and I have a hard time with that. What keeps me going is knowing that my team is waiting for me—I have to get to them because they are counting on me.”
Equally as important as being in top physical and mental shape on extremely long runs is being properly hydrated.
“I carry a handheld water bottle and on most races, you have van support so I can tell the driver to meet me in five or so miles so I can refill my bottle,” Cook said. “You also have to eat enough calories, but the right food so your digestive system is all in one place and not upset.”
The next run Cook and her fellow group members plan to participate in are the 5 and 10K events that take place during Winterfest in Early December.
“I’m calling the 10K a 10K with a twist. We’ll run down the Wilmot Park Trail and a mile and a quarter into it, make a sharp left and go up the Tolt,” she said. “I’m not sure everyone who has signed up for the 10K realizes that.”
Last year Cook said between 450 and 500 entrants participated in the event. It’s guaranteed to be quite the event once again with all decked out in their elf and reindeer garb.