We are Ragnarians: Local contingent completes grueling Chattanooga-to-Nashville relay race

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From left, Ricky Johnson, Eli Tooley, Sherri Pruitt, Jake Miller, Jeania Norton, Allison Hadorn, Jessica Northington, Jeff Fleming, Kristie Thorn, Clint Lauderdale, Teresa Lawler and Kasey Cook pose with their medals after completing the Ragnar Race. Photos courtesy of Ricky Johnson

A first-person essay by Ricky Johnson, Contributing Writer

 A couple of years ago I had heard about a road race called Ragnar. I was running with a local friend of mine, Krista Scott. The race intrigued me, so I did some research about it.  There were several locations that offered from the Ragnar group. I decided I would sign up for the next race that was nearest me.

I soon found out the race I chose was already sold out.  So, about a year ago I watched the website and signed up shortly after registration opened for the next races.  I chose the Ragnar Race that started in Chattanooga, Tenn., and ended over 200 miles later in Nashville.   

This race was a relay race, which meant I had to get a group of six or twelve for my group. When I announced on Facebook that I was needing a group of eleven to join me for this journey, I immediately started getting responses.  I had several interested; however, as time went by, a lot of those that first expressed interest just couldn’t commit 

to a race of that distance. I knew I would need to find half and full marathoners for a race of this magnitude. Half and full marathoners know how much time has to be dedicated to training for a long distance run such as this. Training takes months of dedication, so we needed runners who were committed to putting in the work and being able to go the distance so to speak.  

As I got the word out to more people eventually it started to come together. Eleven signed up but then shortly thereafter, three dropped out. You know, it’s not easy to replace people for a race that stretches halfway across the state of Tennessee!  

With more searching and word of mouth I had three more to sign up and complete our group.  Our group consisted of Allison Hadorn of Fulton, Miss.; Jeff Fleming and Sherri Pruitt of Hamilton; Kristie Thorn, Jessica Northington, Eli Tooley, Teresa Lawler, Jake Miller and myself, all of Red Bay; Kasey Cook of Belmont; Jeania Norton of Phil Campbell; and Clint Lauderdale of Cullman. 

We rented two vans and split into groups of six people per van. When a runner started at point A, we would drive down to the next runner’s starting leg. We could estimate how long it would take each runner to complete his or her leg.  Then about thirty minutes before the runner arrived the next one would be standing, ready and waiting, at the exchange point.  

Multiple points

The local team’s finisher metals.

The race had 36 legs. Each of us had to run three legs each. We had four classifications of our legs: easy, moderate, hard, and very hard.   With the hills and mountains from Chattanooga and Nashville, most of our legs were hard or very hard. Some of our legs were literally uphill all the way!  

When race day arrived we were all nervous.  A lot of things could happen with a race of this distance. We were told that if a person in our group got hurt and could not run their miles then we would have to absorb their miles.  Each of us knew we had a big challenge with our own miles. In the back of my mind I thought, ‘this is really going to be tough if one of us gets hurt and we have to run more miles than we planned for.’  

Luckily we all stayed focused and no one got hurt.   

When Friday night fell upon us the temperatures had dipped into the low 20’s.  When I finished my run Friday night Kristie Thorn said, “Ricky look at your toboggan it has frost on it.”  

As we journeyed through the miles, we would pass through some small towns that reminded me of my hometown of Red Bay.  For the most part we were on open roads running through the countryside.   We all had tough runs, but everyone stayed in an upbeat, positive mood. We had all ran long distance races before but never one of this caliber.  We had such a good team. Everyone worked together and gave it all they had.  We had our tired moments and our laughing moments.

As the hours passed and the sun was rising Saturday morning, we realized we had been running for 24 hours straight and still at this point, even though we were more than halfway to Nashville, we still had many miles to go.  

We ran all night with basically no sleep.  When one of us was running, the rest of us had to drive ahead in the van and be ready when one runner completed their leg so the next runner was ready to catch the slap bracelet and take off running their leg.

Our race started the morning of Friday, November 8th. We finished the race in 32 hours and 43 minutes. Out of 95 groups, we came in 49th.  

We had to choose a group name for the race and Jessica Northington came up with CRISIS.  It stood for “Crazy Runner In A Seriously Impossible Situation.” We all voted and agreed this would be our group name.  In the future I’m sure our group will have many more running adventures together!