Ragnar Relay Colorado brings midnight running to Copper Mountain | SummitDaily.com

Ragnar Relay Colorado brings midnight running to Copper Mountain

It's 3 a.m., and you're still running. By now, you feel a bit loopy — you've been at it for 10 miles already — but there's no time to lose focus. You have another 10 miles to go before finally curling up in the backseat of your sweaty, smelly support van. That sounds like heaven on Earth.

And then, from the darkness on the Vail Pass recpath, a man wearing a tutu, fairy wings and maybe cat ears (Or is that just his hair?) runs up behind you. Then another, this time a high schooler in a Wonder Woman costume, and then two more, a husband-wife duo dressed in typical trail-running shorts and shirts. You shake your head once or twice — yep, they're real people, not witching-hour fantasies — and keep on running. Until it's time to sleep, this right here is heaven on Earth.

Welcome the Reebok Ragnar Relay, one of more than 35 trail and road relays spread across the country.

"Ragnar is really special because we route our courses in beautiful places, and two, since it's a team effort, there is a lot of bonding in the middle of the night," said Stephne Hanscom, the market development manager for the Colorado Ragnar event. "You have those 2 a.m. talks in the middle of the night, and that brings a new level to the race."

On Friday and Saturday, more than 190 teams and 2,200 runners come to the heart of the Rocky Mountains for a two-day relay between Copper Mountain and Aspen Snowmass. The course covers roughly 194 miles on rec paths, roads and occasional trails, with teams of 12 or 6 running nonstop past Colorado's most iconic landscapes: Lake Dillon, Red Peak and Buffalo Mountain, Vail Pass and the lush White River National Forest, Glenwood Canyon and the roiling Colorado River, the Roaring Fork Valley surrounded on all sides by aspens and sage and red-rock canyons.

"Personally, I think this is our most beautiful course," Hanscom said. "The Colorado mountain towns are just gorgeous: Copper, Breck, Vail, Snowmass Village — just the most beautiful places of Colorado."

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Night runners

The Ragnar Relay isn't a formal race, per se. Like the Warriors Dash and Tough Mudder, simply finishing the event is the reward, with no prizes for first-place finishers.

Instead, the relay is more about teamwork and putting one foot in front of the other. The course is split into 36 legs total, meaning each member of a 12-person team runs three legs of the course. Legs range from 10 miles to 20 miles, and just about every leg comes with elevation gain — pretty typical for mountain running. The six-person teams are a bit more intense: each person runs six legs total.

No matter what, just about everyone on every team runs during the middle of the night at some point. Between legs, runners can sleep in support vans — every team is required to have one — or wait until they reach one of several full-service aid stations with food, water, showers and indoor or outdoor beds. Teams are finished only after everyone has completed the entire course, through sweat and sun and rain and the peaceful nighttime air.

For most competitors, that's the true allure of the event: bonding with friends, family and even costumed strangers on a 48-hour adventure through the heart of the mountains.

"You can have beginning runners on the same team as ultra marathoners, and everyone is having a great time together," Hanscom said.

Ragnar in Summit

The first stretch of the race takes place in Summit County. Runners begin at Copper Mountain early on Saturday morning and run east toward Lake Dillon. From there, they turn south to Breckenridge and then back north to Swan Mountain Road for a complete circle around Lake Dillon.

After leaving Summit County, teams have another 30 legs and 145 miles left to go. The route is lit with LED lights to keep runners on course through the night, and all teams finish with a post-event party in Snowmass.

Not only are they celebrating a relay well run — they're also celebrating a cause worth running for. Most teams are raising money for a charitable cause, including St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, one of the event's main partners. There's a team from the Vail Police Department that runs in honor of Robyn's Hope, a nonprofit founded in honor of a former Vail PD officer, and then there's a team from Copper Mountain running to raise funds for Summit organizations.

Now, back to visions of tutus and Wonder Woman. You only have 9 miles to go.

2016 Ragnar Relay Colorado

What: A two-day relay race for teams of 6 or 12 on a 194-mile course from Copper Mountain to Aspen Snowmass Village

When: Friday and Saturday, Aug. 12-13

Where: Copper Mountain start line

Cost: Registration closed

Registration for the 2016 event closes 5-6 weeks early for logistics and route planning. Competitors will run through the night when in Summit County on Friday night and Saturday morning, with LED lights along the route. A portion of all proceeds goes to St. Jude Children’s Hospital

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