Annual race attracted hundreds of runners

Participants of the 2017 Reebok Ragnar Northwest Passage watch for fellow teammates and competitors to arrive at Bellingham High School. The high school was an exchange point for teams to meet and switch roles in the relay. Photos by Alyssa Evans

By Alyssa Evans

Brightly costumed runners traveled by foot and van to cover 200 miles of Washington state within two days and one night last week. The reason? The annual Ragnar Northwest Passage.

Participants started at 5:30 a.m. on July 14 at Blaine’s Peace Arch Park for a journey that took them to Langley, Washington on Whidbey Island for the long-distance overnight relay.

The 2017 relay that ended on July 15 was the fifth Ragnar relay Leondra Weiss has participated in along with friends met through the Mukilteo School District. Every year, the team consists of teachers, staff and parents who met through the district.

“It’s a tradition. People who don’t do it one year always regret it,” Weiss said.

Every year, the team changes up its name and theme. This year, the team was named “What the Hill?” Last year, the team had a Prince theme and was named “The Team Formerly Known As.”

Participants of the 2017 Reebok Ragnar Northwest Passage are greeted by their teammates on Friday, July 14 at Bellingham High School.

Runners are divided into 12-person teams, which are then divided into groups of six. Each group has its own van and schedule for the race. At all times, only one teammate runs. As the teammate runs, the five teammates from their van stay nearby as a support system. Once a runner has completed their share of the course, they switch places with a teammate.

The other six teammates drive ahead to a rest point, where they will start their part of the relay. Each participant runs a total of three times, for an overall total of about 17 miles, according to the organization. Runners travel along sidewalks, trails and road shoulders.

For Whitney Johnsen, from Bellevue, the race was her second Ragnar relay, while her teammates were running the race for the first time.

“It’s fun, great and exciting. It’s nice knowing what to expect,” Johnsen said. “There’s a sense of anticipation for the nighttime portion, which is surprisingly more fun. Adrenaline runs faster later on and the race is more intense.”

The concept of a 24-plus hour overnight relay began with Steve Hill, from Utah. Hill, his son Dan and Dan’s college roommate Tanner Bell, started the first Wasatch Back Relay in 2004. The relay was 188 miles long and located in Utah.

Since that first relay, Hill’s dream has expanded to several relay races located throughout the U.S., the Northwest Passage being one of them. Ragnar is the largest overnight relay series in the U.S., according to the organization.

Volunteers make up a large portion of relay support. Terry Frazee was a first-time volunteer for the event and ran a check-in booth for those in the second vans.

“It’s fun and exciting. Action is going on everywhere. Being able to support people and their passions is the best part,” Frazee said.

Frazee is from Tumwater and decided to volunteer after his daughter from Woodinville encouraged him to.

Joy Koker, another first-time volunteer, said she decided to volunteer after learning some friends from California were participating in the relay. Koker loves interacting with people so she decided to help during two volunteer shifts, she said.

Participants in the relay were eligible to win the “chronic addiction medal,” which represents an addiction to the Pacific Northwest.

More information about the Ragnar relay is available at

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