Monday, May 28, 2012

The Art of the Marathon

True artistic talent is worthy of envy.  The ability to create beauty whether it is with paint, words, voice, or musical instrument is inspiring.  It calls others to emulate and develop similar talents.  Beauty often inspires the creation of more beauty.  Not all art translates immediately into beauty.  At times art reminds us of pain and sorrows, sacrifice and loss.  The beauty becomes apparent as the emotions and memories are experienced.  Often beauty becomes apparent while art is being created. 

Kyoshi Nakamura, the famous Japanese marathon coach, said, “The marathon is an art; the marathoner is an artist.” 

Now, after only four marathons and a handful of other long distance races, I can’t claim to be a world-class marathon artist, but I have seen and experienced the art. 

An artist learns to be an expert in their medium.  A runner’s medium is the body and time.  The course, whether for a training run or a race, provides the canvas. 

An artist seeks and finds the best tools to create art.  Painters select their brushes; runners pick their shoes.  Musicians select their reeds and strings; runners pick their favorite form of lubrication to prevent chafing.

An artist practices before presenting their art to the public for naked evaluation.  The flutist plays musical arrangements repeatedly.  Different pieces are played to sharpen different skills, often dependent on the next performance on the docket.  The runner hits the trail or road repeatedly before the race, running different distances and different routes to develop the endurance and speed necessary for the race at hand.

The artist, having learned from practice which strokes work and how long to hold each note, develops a strategy for the performance or piece to be exhibited.  The runner, following miles of practice, develops and executes a strategy for the race; at least they execute it as best they can.

The artist often seeks inspiration as part of their creative process.  They seek meaning and purpose for their efforts.  The runner needs inspiration to push through the hard miles, to train on days when there are so many other things demanding attention.  Inspiration is required to push through the pain on race day, reaching out for the day’s goal whether it is simply finishing, achieving a new personal record, or placing.  A true artist is able to share their inspiration, passions, emotions, and message through their medium.

 At this point, it’s likely that many of you remain unconvinced that distance running is an art form.  How does running and sweating mile after mile compare to the paintings of Michelangelo, the poetry of Robert Frost, or the musical genius of Mozart?  To continue my argument I think a clear definition of art will be helpful.  According to, art is:

“The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”

Does running produce a work “to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power,” particularly in the non-participant, in the observer?  Absolutely!  The canvas of a marathon is an amazing panorama stretching from the bus ride to the start line and ending in the winners’ area.  Have you ever been to the starting area of a marathon?  The variety of runners astonishes and inspires.  As expected you see the skinny, athletic runners.  You also see the older runners, those in their 50s, 60s, 70s and a few in their 80s.  You see runners who are overweight, disabled.  You see mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, grandmothers, grandfathers, and loners.  Looking at them you begin to think about their backgrounds and their motivations.  The emotions begin to come forth as you consider what would motivate these people to do something so hard, so physically demanding. 

At the starting area you see strategies unfold.  Clothing was selected carefully and donned to include shoes.  Proper hydration is addressed.  Nutritional supplements are placed in pockets and belts for easy access.  Muscles are warmed and stretched.  In the faces you see worry, fear, and confidence—sometimes all three rolling across one face.

A marathon, as an art, perhaps compares more favorably in its construct to a symphony.  Like the music, the efforts of the runner ebb and flows building to a crescendo. 

What about the audience for the marathon?  Great art, after all, demands an audience.  Art has three basic types of audiences: 1) non-participants; 2) critics; and 3) other participants.  Many marathon courses have limited access for non-participants to view the runners.  Outside of a few courses along the way, most of the observers gather at the finish line to watch the culmination of the runner’s efforts.  So much of the beauty and inspiration, however, is found along the course, as runners take that initial step all the way through the last.  But who observes these breathtaking moments of glory along those parts of the trail where no one lines the trail to watch?  The other runners, fellow artists, watch and draw strength from the herculean efforts and athletic abilities of one another.  The runners experience the splendor and magnificence when, after pain and exhaustion has set in; each foot continues to follow in order. 

Do you wonder if a marathon is art?  Watch the faces of those lining the finish line as they watch the runners cross.  You will see looks of amazement as they watch the first and early runners come across in unbelievably short amounts of time.  They catch a glimpse of the devotion, ability and strength required to cover 26.2 miles in 2 hours and 17 minutes.  They see the look of grim determination as these elite runners having executed their training and race strategy well, finish.  Does this call forth emotion?  Is it beautiful to watch them stride across in good form, doing something that seems so unreasonable for a human to attempt?  Absolutely.  Watch the observers’ faces as each runner comes across.  You will see the observers begin to tear up as they see the pain and determination in the face, step and mere shuffle of each runner.  Watch their faces as the clock passes the five-hour mark or the six-hour mark, as the final runners, those that ran on sheer mental determination or for a personal cause, force themselves to cross the line.  Watch the anticipation and the turning heads as the approach of a runner with special circumstances is announced.

Think of the inspiration and the emotion invoked by observing and experiencing a marathon.  How many in the audience, observers and participants, are overcome by an impulse to take on a new challenge or to finish something difficult?  How many find a sense of sympathy or empathy for sufferings and trials of a friend, a family member or a mere acquaintance?  How many observers of a marathon find themselves riding a bus to a start line for their own marathon months or a year later?

As I hit mile 18 on my first marathon three years ago, my quads and calf muscles began to cramp and lock up.  To finish I had to alternate between limping and shuffling for the last 8 miles.  Looking down at my legs I knew this would be my first and last marathon.  If I could finish, I would have no reason to run another one.  I saw others in a similar plight as myself.  I could tell which of them were going to give up; which were going to sit down and wait to be picked up, feeling they had given it their best.  The same thought danced center stage in my mind.  As the next few miles passed by so slowly, I noticed something.  Many of those I thought would or should drop out, continued to press forward.  I’m not a small guy.  In fact, I probably should lose about 20-30 pounds to be more effective at running.  At around mile 21 I watched a guy pass me at a good pace, a runner who outweighed me by probably 40 pounds or more.  Others continued to find a way to keep moving.  I found that there was a group of us who took turns passing one another. 

The strength and perseverance of the other runners was the message passed through the medium of their motion.  It inspired me to continue.  Their art helped me to finish.  As I crossed the finish line I felt the tears well up in my eyes, both for what I had just accomplished and what so many others had done as well.  Walking into the winners area and feeling the medal placed around my neck, I knew I would run another marathon, even if it was only for the honor of seeing and experiencing the art first hand.

Since that first marathon I have completed a total of four along with other distance relays and races.  My own art, if it qualifies to be called that, is nothing special.  I doubt that many people feel an overwhelming sense of inspiration or emotion when they see me.  Well, the blood seeping through my white shirt on my last marathon, did call forth some emotional reactions from volunteers along the course.  The art of other runners continues to inspire me and pull me into races.  My father has run three marathons and a number of other races with me.  Often he runs with some type of injury.  He has finished each race.  His canvas, while perhaps not beautiful in the traditional sense, has inspired others to run marathons.

Is every marathoner an artist?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But I like the following quote by Mary Wittenberg:

"A marathoner is a marathoner regardless of time. Virtually everyone who tries the marathon has put in training over months, and it is that exercise and that commitment, physical and mental, that gives meaning to the medal, not just the day’s effort, be it fast or slow.  It's all in conquering the challenge."

- Jarad Van Wagoner

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Life in Siberia: Elder Wetzel—Trainer Extraordinaire, Part II

“You know living here is like being in Disneyland all the time.  It never seems quite real.”

Elder Jeremy Spencer spoke these words of wisdom while we were on splits together in Yugo Zapadni in Novosibirsk during the summer of 1995.  I stopped walking for a few moments to consider what he had just said.  It was kind of funny, but he was right.  After eight months in country, many aspects of life still seemed not quite real.  In many ways this was a blessing.  The cultural and linguistic separation between our investigators and me gave me the freedom to be bold in teaching and inviting.  This separation also allowed me to enjoy situations and experiences that may have otherwise scared me into inaction.  Life as a missionary in Russia, however, was fun…at least most days.

In fact Russia in the 1990s was all kinds of exciting, especially for a 19 year old from a small town in Utah.  After I returned home I shared many of my “adventure” stories with my wife.  At some point, once she had heard most of my fun stories two or three times, she asked me if I ever had any spiritual experiences.  Once again, I was pulled up short.  For whatever reason, I was hesitant to speak about my spiritual experiences.  I faithfully recorded them in my journal and thought of them, but for some reason I wasn’t ready to share to many of them. 

So, with this installment I hope to share a few more fun stories with a sprinkling of the serious.

Russian Cuisine vs. Missionary Cuisine
During my pre-mission years I was very careful about what foods I would eat or even consider trying.  In terms of meat I was always happy to eat any normal cuts of meat from normal farm raised animals: pork, beef, and poultry.  Occasionally I would venture to eat deer or elk, and even some moose my freshman year of college.  My vegetable world was very limited: corn, peas, beans, potatoes and tomato sauce.  I wasn’t very expansive with my fruits either: apples, oranges, bananas, grapes, and watermelon.

Suddenly, here I was in a foreign country with foreign food.  I was terrified of eating anything a Russian might fix me.  How could I verify that it didn’t have anything I didn’t like?  With Elder Wetzel I was lucky for the first little bit.  We didn’t eat with any members or investigators for a couple of weeks.  I never said anything to him, but I was happy to put the moment off for as long as possible.  Unfortunately, our own meals weren’t anything worthy of mentioning in a letter home.  In fact, I avoided writing about what we ate.  A common meal, at least a few times, was canned beef from China with lentils.  It looked amazingly disgusting, but often I was hungry enough to love it.  (I need to find a picture of our stove in that apartment.  We didn’t clean it for over a month.  It became sort of a badge of honor.)

We did manage to find a few decent places to eat out.  There was a hot dog place down on Krasniy Prospekt not far from the mission home.  It was great.  They take half a baguette and poke a hole in it.  Next they take the hot dog and dip it in your condiment of choice—ketchup or mayonnaise.  Finally they slide the dripping hot dog into the baguette and hand it to you.  Their ketchup didn’t taste a lot like what we had back home, but it wasn’t bad.  I could never get myself to eat a hot dog completely smothered in mayo.  Another favorite was a little manti shack not too far from the hot dog joint.  Manti is a dish from Central Asia.  It is spiced, greasy meat wrapped in a type of pasta.  You pick them up and eat them with your hands. 

Our branch had a Christmas party with a dinner about a week and a half after I arrived.  I was still in that dark phase of my mission—always tired, far from home, unable to understand anything anyone said.  Being away from home on Christmas was weighing heavily on me as I considered having to eat something foreign and scary that night.  My mood brightened considerably as a plate with a piece of fried steak and potatoes were set in front of me.  The taste was wonderful.

My first meal in a Russian’s home was scary.  Elder Wetzel was busy talking and I was too nervous to ask about the food.  The food looked very strange, some kind of white, wrinkly ball.  Several of them were put in a bowl and set in front of me.  It was terrifying.  I broke out in a cold sweat wondering what it could be with my imagination running wild.  My hand was shaking as I lifted the spoon with one of the balls on it toward my mouth.  I fought the urge to gag as I put in and began chewing.  I was relieved to realize it was spiced meat wrapped in a sort of pasta.  The food was Russian pelmini, one that would become one of my favorite dishes.

Within the first couple of months of my mission, I learned to love much of Russian cuisine.  The soups and potato dishes were some of my favorites.  Usually I tried to avoid most of the salads, especially the one that had mayo, beets and raw herring.  That one almost emptied my stomach more than once.  Another dish to avoid is kholodyets.  This is a frozen gelatin dish with scraps of meat and vegetables.  The gelatin is made as meat and bones are boiled down until the gelatin forms.  It doesn’t taste good and the texture is horrific.  I ate it once, after a member promised me that hers was better than everyone else’s.  Now, you may say I can’t judge the dish after just tasting it once.  But, I took the good sister at her word.  If hers was the best, I never wanted to try one that might not be as good.

The Hymn
As I’ve mentioned previously, my first two or three weeks in Russia were not entirely enjoyable.  Staying busy and tired gave me little time to think about myself.  Elder Wetzel did a great job at keeping us working all day, every day.  Occasionally I would start to feel sorry for myself in the mornings during our study time. 

One day I was sitting in my chair as the melancholy feeling began to come on me.  It must have been around seven in the morning and it was still pitch black outside.  Rather than reading my scriptures or studying the language, I felt like reading my letters from home again which I knew would only make me feel homesick. 

Suddenly Elder Wetzel began to sing a hymn from his corner of the room.  I’m not sure if many of you have heard him sing before, but it was amazingly beautiful.  There I was worrying about myself, feeling alone in the midst of an internal storm.  At that moment he chose to sing Be Still My Soul, a hymn that I didn’t remember hearing before that day.  I sat there quietly listening to the words as tears began to build and slide down my cheeks.  I knew that was a changing point in my mission, a point where the Lord reached out to me to let me know that He loved me and was aware of my struggle.  Being a missionary in Siberia didn’t suddenly become easy, but I had a reference point that allowed me to get my bearings whenever I felt overwhelmed.  That morning I don’t remember saying anything to Elder Wetzel about the hymn, but at our next district meeting I asked if we could sing that same hymn.  I had to ask the title of the hymn.  It’s been one of my favorites ever since.

Doc Martins and Father Winter
Siberia is cold.  That may seem obvious, but it’s difficult to appropriately express the magnitude of the cold.  We experienced it first hand every day.  About eighty percent of our travel was by foot exposing us directly to Father Winter.  The buildings funneled the wind nicely down each street.  I became a huge fan of my muskrat shapka, with the earflaps pulled low and tied under my shin.  Winter boots with wool socks also helped make life bearable.

One day while we were out and about, Elder Wetzel tripped over a piece of metal, tearing a large hole between the leather and sole of his boot.  Being a thrifty individual, Elder Wetzel took his boots to a local repair shop rather than buying a new pair.  The gentleman told us it would be two or three days before his boots would be ready to go.  That left him with only his pair of Doc Martins to wear.

As Cliff from Cheers would say, “Here’s an interesting fact for ya’, at temperatures below -20 degrees Celsius the sole of your standard Doc Martin will freeze hard like glass and you’ll slide all over the place.”  For two or three days, Elder Wetzel slid everywhere and fell down repeatedly.  He would scramble to get up on a sidewalk only to slide off one side.  The lack of professional construction and uneven surfaces made his situation extra challenging.  At first, being as sensitive as I am, I found it very amusing.  But after three days of pulling him everywhere, literally, I was ready for his boots to be repaired.

I can’t make too much fun of Kevyn for sliding all over the place in his frozen Docs.  I prided myself on slipping and falling on the ice only very rarely.  One day, however, we were walking back to our apartment after stopping by a small gastronom, or type of grocery store.  We bought a few supplies including a bag of twenty eggs that I carried in my hand as we walked to the apartment.  Coming down a steep hill not too far from our apartment, I slipped onto my back.  As I was falling I did my best to hold the bag of eggs up off the ground.  Unfortunately my elbow hit the ground throwing my hand forward and into the bag of eggs.  In one fell swoop, I managed to break all twenty eggs at once…with one hand and an assist from the ground.

Weekly Service
Missionaries are expected to look for service opportunities, donating a couple of hours each week.  In Russia the default option was to teach English at a school, a library, a museum, or anywhere they would have you.  Teaching English was great fun and a wonderful way to meet new people.  In Novosibirsk we met a great group of young people who were hari krishnas.  It wasn’t my favorite form of service though.  I preferred looking for ways to help people in real need.

One week Elder Wetzel and I showed up at the school where we normally taught the students English.  The class had something else going on that day, so we were left to look for something else.  We decided to head over to a member’s apartment while we tried to think of something else to do.  They weren’t home so we headed back outside, still unsure what to do.

As we stepped onto the courtyard in front of the apartment building, we noticed a car stuck in the deep snow that had fallen recently.  Cars usually didn’t pull up to the front of apartment buildings in Novosibirsk back then.  Parking spaces most often were made of hodge-podge garages separated from the buildings.  Only drivers going to pick someone up or drop someone or something off would drive to the front of the buildings.  None of the snow had been cleared by the dvorniki, those in charge of keeping the courtyards clear.  We walked over to offer our assistance to the driver.  He was at one end of the lane in front of the long building and needed to make it all the way across.  It took us awhile but we eventually got him out and on his way.

Brushing the snow off my coat and pants, I turned around only to see another car at the beginning of the same lane already stuck.  The driver looked at us expectantly.  Over the course of the next hour or so we helped four or five cars get unstuck.  The physical labor, without the need to speak hardly any Russian, was so enjoyable that I was happy to stay as long as we could.  Finally our supply of bold drivers dwindled to nothing.  We headed back to our apartment, our service for the week accomplished.

During the course of my mission I had a few other memorable service activities.  Helping Brother Petr Nicholaichev and his family move from the ninth story of one apartment to the ninth story of another apartment was a highlight.  The lack of a working elevator made it extra memorable.  We moved a piano down nine stories and up nine stories, all on the stairs.  In Yekaterinburg, Elder Petrov and I helped repair books at a local library.  As a lover of books it was rewarding to tape, glue and sew bindings back together.

New Year’s Eve and Taxi Cabs
Serving a mission in a foreign country provides one a great opportunity to experience a new culture.  You are forced to spend time with people from different backgrounds, a different kind of language, different foods, and strange behaviors…and that’s just referring to missionary companions.  Getting to know the Russians and my companions was fun and challenging.  Elder Wetzel and I were alike in a lot of ways, both from small towns.  Within a couple of weeks of my arrival we were able to celebrate the New Year’s Russian style. 

We spent the entire day of New Year’s Eve trying to find someone to teach.  Most of the people we spoke with on the street or tracted into were busy preparing for the evening’s celebration.  As evening rolled around we left for a New Year’s Eve party with some of the members.  The trip to the party was an adventure.  Running behind because Elder Wetzel kept us working until the last minute, we had to grab a taxi to get to the party in time.

Grabbing a taxi in Russia is a special experience.  You stand next the side of the road and put your hand out.  Anyone driving a car can pull over to see if you’re heading in the same direction and to negotiate a fare.  Personally, I always hoped a Volga would pull over, but often we were stuck with a Lada.  Often we had competitions to see who get a free taxi ride.  The key was engaging the taxi drive in conversation was stimulating enough that they offered you a ride for free.  Needless to say, the likelihood of success increases the longer one is in the country.  Many taxi cab drivers would go out of their way to teach us new vocabulary, much of it unfortunately inappropriate.

As Elder Wetzel and I began looking for a car, it soon became clear that our choices were going to be limited since everyone was already partying.  He held his hand out for the few cars that drove past before we finally had one pull over.  With his friend in the front seat, the drive waived us into the back.  My father is a police officer.  Several times growing up I rode along with him and more than once watched drunk drivers pulled over and arrested.  It quickly became obvious that our driver was more than slightly inebriated.  The roads were wide open with very little traffic, which probably helped keep us alive, but at the same time allowed him to drive all over the place.  Our entire experience was made more exciting by the ice and snow on the road.  I was worried, on a serious level, that we may not survive the ride unscathed.  (Little did I know that a few months later I would be even more scared during a taxi ride.)

Anyway, my frantic prayers were answered and we arrived safely to our destination.  The evening was relaxing and exhausting at the same time.  It was wonderful to spend time with several families from our branch, but as always the foreign language frazzled my brain.  Luckily I was left alone most of the evening to speak with the children.  The young children loved taking the new missionaries under their wings to help them with the language.  Many times I sat in church meetings while the children whispered new words into my ear and made me repeat them back.  In between all the courses of food for the evening, I was able to keep all the children entertained with my poor pronunciation.  With all the people coming and going, it was also easy for me to avoid having to eat anything that looked dangerous.

At midnight we gathered on the balcony and around the windows to watch a number of fireworks in different areas of the city.  By that point I was quite tired and ready to go to our apartment for bed.  I wasn’t thrilled to find out that all of us, in keeping with tradition, were expected to go for a walk around the neighborhood.  We walked with the members to a large park area where a very large slide had been constructed out of ice.  I managed a few turns down the slide without ripping a hole in my slacks.  On our way back to the member’s apartment building we walked on a trail through some woods.  Kevyn started to get very excited, telling me how he loved to run through the woods back home.  Before I knew it we were running through the woods in the snow and ice on a New Year’s night in Siberia.  I thought it was a little crazy and dangerous, but after our taxicab ride it didn’t seem too bad.

At the end of the festivities the members walked each set of missionaries back to their apartments.

Serving with Elder Wetzel was a privilege.  He kept me so busy that I ran out of time to feel sorry for myself.  After only three months in the country he was able to show me what a person with faith and confidence in the Lord can do.  While we were together that first time, (yes, I was blessed to serve with Elder Wetzel twice), we helped one person get baptized.  Brother Alexander, the wonderful man who sold things for the mafia on the black market.  A few other people we taught in that area eventually entered the waters of baptism as well.  Those months were a great start to my mission.  I don’t want to brag, but Elder Wetzel was very successful as a new trainer.  He managed to keep me alive and in Russia.

- Jarad Van Wagoner

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Why I Ragnar

It’s two in the morning.  I’m excited for my 3.9-mile run that’s going to start in about ten minutes.  No, I’m serious.  I really am excited.  After my 4.9 mile run in the 100 plus degree heat of the day six hours before, the cool of the night and the downhill course makes this run very appealing.  This run beats the pants off my middle of night run at Wasatch Back the summer previous.  It was so cold then that I woke up with frost on my sleeping bag.  After nearly freezing waiting for our runner from the other van to come in, I had a four-mile run uphill.  It was not my most pleasant run.

Here she comes—my teammate.  She slaps the Ragnar wristband onto my arm and I take off.  With the cooler temperature and downhill my pace is about two minutes faster than it was during my first run.  Within a mile I’ve found a good pace.  The problem, at least for the girl in front of me, is that it is the same as her pace.  For about three miles in the dark, with my headlamp bouncing on the ground at her feet, she has to listen to me huff and puff in cadence with my gait. 

The pace feels great.  I’m eating up ground and my body loves it.  As I come into the last mile I realize I can finish a little faster than my non-voluntary running partner.  At first I hesitate as I think about the grueling run earlier in the heat of the day.  That run took a lot out of me.  I’m pushing it on this run and in about six more hours I’ll be hitting my last run of 11 miles from Sea World around the harbor near downtown San Diego.  If I step up the pace now, it’s likely I’ll be in pain and slower on the next run.  I can’t hold back though, despite my own mental warning.  The pace, the temperature and the course combine to make me want to go faster.  Sliding around the girl, I move ahead to finish the leg a little bit faster. 

So Cal 2012.  From Huntington Beach to Coronado Beach.  My fourth Ragnar and second time running this one.  What is a Ragnar and why do so many people flock to them?  Why do I flock to them?  (Can one person flock?)  A Ragnar is a long-distance relay race, usually between 180 and 205 miles.  Sane people run them in teams of twelve, split between two vans.  (Insane people run them with six people.)  Each person runs three legs varying between two and eleven miles in distance, completing a total of around twelve to twenty total miles.  The race begins sometime on Friday, with your start time being determined by the average pace of your team.  Slower teams start earlier in the morning to give them more time to finish it by Saturday afternoon.  The first van runs six legs, and then turns the baton (wristband) over to the second van and they run six legs.

If you’ve ever been on a Ragnar course, a van exchange, or finish line, you know that people from all walks of life participate.  Young people, old people, middle-aged people, teenagers, athletes, wannabe athletes, no-where-near athletes.  Teams are made up of families, friends, co-workers, classmates, and strangers.  For instance, our So Cal Team—Team Family Therapy consisted of my father (Reed)-fifty something, his friend (Jeff)-forty something, my wife (Rochelle)-thirty something, her sister (Amanda)-late twenties, aforementioned sister’s boyfriend/presumptive fiancĂ© (Matt)-early thirties, my wife’s single/needs-to-get-married-soon brother (Brett)-mid twenties, my sister and her husband (Nathan and Heather)-thirty something and late-twenties, one of my friends/former co-workers (Brett)-early thirties, my sister’s husband’s sister (Kami)-thirty-something, and a friend from church (Michael)-late-twenties.   The wife (Nicole) of my friend from church also joined us and stepped up as a driver and team-mom for one the vans.

What would cause such a diverse group of people to come together to spend 34 or more hours together in a van with no more than baby wipes to use for shower purposes?  What makes running in the heat of the day and the middle of the night, followed by one more run seem appealing?  Before I step up and offer my own reasons for running, let me first speculate as to why some of the others on our team run.  I meant to ask them during this last race, but I forgot.  So, I imagine if I interviewed them this is what they would say.

Brett (friend/former co-worker)
-       United States Air Force Academy graduate, played football for USAFA and played arena football.

“I run to continue to convince those around me of my outstanding athletic prowess and abilities.  Also, because Jarad is one of my mentors and I’m willing to pay for the chance to spend time learning from him, even if it means running through the night.  I don’t worry about how bad the van can smell from all of our stinking bodies, because I tend to be the stinkiest.  Knowing I have a Ragnar coming up gives me a reason to keep running.  Finally, I run because I think people like watching me run.”

Rochelle (wife/best friend)
-       Mother of five with one in the oven.  Psychology major so she should know better than running such a race.

“My husband tricked me into running with him on occasion previous to my first Ragnar in Las Vegas last fall.  Somehow my husband and father-in-law convinced me the Ragnar would be fun.  Giving into peer pressure I decided to give it a try even though it didn’t sound very fun.  Surprisingly I loved the experience despite all the pressure and unease involved with the training.  Honestly, I think there’s a virus that you pick up from other Ragnar runners for which there is no good cure.”

Reed (father/mentor)
-       Survivor of four daughters, police officer, Navy Reservist.

“I enjoy getting people to do things that a person with normal cognitive abilities would consider painful and undesirable.  My goal is to get them to do it and then to decide it’s fun.  In the past few years I’ve managed to get a handful of people to run marathons, half marathons, and Ragnars.  I’ll keep running as long as I can convince more people to do it with me.  While helping incarcerate bad guys is fun, this is even more fun.  Plus, as the mail advertisements from AARP remind me, I’m getting a bit on the older side and this gives me an excuse to stay in shape.”

Amanda (Rochelle’s sister)
-       Nutritional expert and stickler for proper protocol and rules.

“I run races because we have been commanded to be healthy.”

Matt (Amanda’s boyfriend/potential fiancĂ©)
-       Public policy expert and explorer of all angles of even the most minute of decisions.

“WTH.  And I don’t even swear.  Who runs in the middle of the night after having run earlier in the day with no sleep in between?  All of this after an all day trip from Salt Lake to Costa Mesa with the offer to share a bed with Reed the night before the race.  I did this for Amanda…well for me, because I love spending as much time as possible with Amanda.”

Brett (Rochelle’s brother)
-       Outdoorsman, ladies man without the lady, sod expert.

“Don’t tell my sister Amanda, but I ran this for the opportunity to check out runner chicks.  By those criteria alone, the entire experience was worth it.  Turns out I can actually run fast for up to seven miles, maybe even further.  Also, my therapist suggested that I needed some people time; time with people who don’t just talk about sod and wild animals.  This was a great opportunity to discuss different topics.  Did you know that people in So Cal speak English?  Also, they make some great running outfits for females.  Oh, and to that nice young lady I flashed in the port-a-potty accidentally, I apologize.  (Look me up on FB.)”

Michael (My friend from church)
-       Physical therapy student

“Have you ever been cornered by a sad desperate person who turns to you for help?  Well that’s what happened to me when Jarad asked me to run with them.  Before I knew what was happening I had said yes.  Plus, the challenge sounded fun and exciting.  Except for the drive back, it was a great experience.”

Heather (my sister)
-       Mother of three with one more on the way.  Yeah, she ran six months pregnant.

“I run to get away from it all (mainly my wonderful family).  My kids tell me I’m a happier person when I’m running, so really, I do this for them.  Sleeping in a van with bad BO is actually quite relaxing compared to chasing children and keeping my husband in line.”

Nate – AKA “Shin Splint” (Heather’s husband)
-       Serious computer nerd and recovering athlete.

“I tried to run my first Ragnar because my wife told me were taking a weekend trip to Las Vegas.  I was like, oh yeah!  Party time!  We loaded into a van and drove to Lake Mead.  At some point they pushed me out and drove away yelling at me to run as fast as possible until I saw them again.  I ran this Ragnar to reclaim my honor after the terrible injuries I incurred during the Las Vegas race.  After losing over 30 pounds, I decided to make this Ragnar mine.  No way was I going to trip and roll over sagebrush along a lone stretch of road in the desert and then sprain my ankle stepping off the curb.  No way was I going to have someone else run my last leg for me.  Plus, did you know that on a Ragnar you have a captive audience for about 36 hours.  There are some amazing facts about programming that the rest of the world needs to know.”

Jeff (Reed’s friend)
-       Inventory expert and poor chooser of friends.

“After Reed convinced me to run a marathon with him last year, my doctor, who helped me recover from the marathon, told me I needed to find new friends.  Since I have trouble developing new relationships, I said yes when Reed asked me to run the Ragnar.  It was actually quite fun.  Besides, hanging with the Van Wagoners makes me feel a bit more normal in my own life.  I’ll probably run the next one if asked.”

Kami (My sister’s husband’s sister)
-       Mother of three and sister to some crazy brothers.

“I ran this because the Van Wagoners were desperate to get one more runner and I knew the expectations for speed would be low.  No, I’m kidding.  Who doesn’t want to spend three days with the Van Wagoners non-stop? ”

Why do I run Ragnars?  Mainly because I love to laugh and every Ragnar I’ve ran, even the one with strangers, gave me plenty of cause to laugh.  I love the challenge, the motivation to stay in shape.  I love the shared adventure of doing something hard and crazy.  It’s fun knowing that your teammates are counting on you to run each of your legs.  I love being around other teams who are excited to be doing the same thing.  I love the novelty of running in new places and in the middle of the night.   I love teasing people when they’re sore and sleep deprived.  I love throwing a sleeping bag on a patch of grass at a golf course in hopes of sleeping for a couple of hours before my next run.  I love all the teams that stop and cheer for and support all the runners on their final leg when most of us are physically and emotionally exhausted.    

The Ragnar creates memories that will not soon be forgotten.  For instance, sharing a bed with Brett (Rochelle’s brother).  Who wouldn’t line up for that?  Being there when the same Brett forgot to lock the door on his port-a-potty giving a random girl her Ragnar highlight when she opened the door too soon.  Eating Krispy Kreme Donuts right before we started our first leg.  Taking a dip in a lake after our first leg.  An amazing meal at IHOP.   Their food can taste so good after a long run.  Watching Heather push through an excruciatingly painful run in the heat of the day.  Once the six month pregnant woman completed a very tough leg it was pointless to complain about any of my runs.  Watching Brett (the other one) ask a group of guys sitting around a fire if he can sit down for a second as he drops his pants in front of all of them. 

Check out this video about why to run the Ragnar.

- Jarad Van Wagoner