By Kriste Peoples
At first glance, Ragnar’s massive foot race in Snowmass looks—for lack of a better word—insane. Over a single weekend, dozens of 8-person teams will cover more than 125 miles of Colorado’s scenic mountain trails and remote dirt roads by day and night, at an elevation of more than 8,200 feet—all while trading the comfort of beds and bathing for pitching tents under the stars in a makeshift village alongside their fellow competitors.
But don’t take our word for it; even Ragnar knows it’s crazy. At the same time, they know all about the kind of determination needed to take on such a huge challenge: it’s not for the faint of heart. “Ragnar,” according to their site, “is about coming together and accomplishing something we could never do alone.” And that’s where BGR! Denver’s relay team, Girls on Fire, comes in.
Between the eight of us—Denver co-Ambassadors Tonnett Luedtke and Teya Thompson-Ephrim, and fellow teammates Heather Kelly Randle, Ronnie Brown, DeAnna Walsh, Shanla Grace, Kia Ruiz, and me, Kriste Peoples—we’ve been running for decades, having covered thousands of miles between our weekly training and regular racing at distances ranging from 5k to full marathon. Despite our collective running experience and shared passion for the sport that can only be understood by a sole sister who knows, our individual approaches to running—what sustains us, how we see ourselves, the reasons we do it—couldn’t be more diverse.
top left: DeAnna, Heather, Tonnett, Kia, Teya
bottom left: Kriste, Ronnie
not pictured: Shanla
“I don't run in groups nor do I run no matter what,” Heather says. “I just go whenever for however long I can. Some days are good, others aren't. But this isn't my job. My daughters are my job. Running is what I do for fun.”
For Tonnett, it’s all about moving into a challenge and embracing the chance to grow in new directions. “After more than 10 years of road racing, it’s time for a change, and it’s really exciting to take it all up a notch. And the fact that REI and Black Girls Run! is supporting us in this way tells you how awesome it is.”
Lots of other runners from around the country would agree on the awesome factor. Each year, Ragnar Relays, which are held in different parts of the country, welcome repeat teams who’ve not only mastered the art of running in the wild—on very little sleep!—but they’ve also conquered their own misgivings and doubts about how much they thought they were capable of before.
Kia, who’s no stranger to the great outdoors, is ecstatic when she talks about her entry into running and the joy she feels at recovering from past injuries. “I knew I was a runner after a car accident a decade ago. I had to re-learn to walk and did not know if I could run. I run much slower than I did pre-accident or when I was a Track & Field college athlete but I have so much joy about moving my body now. It is with gratitude that my slow body moves, but it moves as a runner. This is fantastic to be back out on the trails again with Ragnar.”
Teya’s running journey began as track athlete, and her entry into the world of BGR! and long distance running took her by surprise. “I’d heard about BGR! and when I saw all of those black women at the finish line," Teya says, “I couldn’t believe it. And I’ve been running with BGR! ever since.” As for the Ragnar Trail relay, she jokes about only having run trails fast because she was trying to get off of them quicker and yet, like the rest of us, she’s in it for the personal win and team bonding.
As our most recent BGR! Denver sole sister, Ronnie not only completed the WalkB4URun couch-to-5k program last year, but she’s also completed a slew of 5k races and, most recently, a half-marathon. “I’m really excited to see if trail running is what I want to pursue,” she says, “or if I’ll just stay with road racing. Either way, it will be a great experience to have tried both, especially with this group.”
DeAnna is excited for the physical challenge of hills and distance, as well as the chance to camp and cheer each other on. “It’s just really great to push yourself and see what you can do, because sometimes you feel like you might not be able to do something. And being able to surprise yourself feels incredible.”
My own running story began on the grade school track and progressed from there to longer distances that capped at full marathons in the early 2000s. These days, I generally run with my sole sisters in training because I love the camaraderie, and the ability to keep my conditioning up. You never know when you’ll need to run 13 miles! As an equally avid hiker, I'm excited to bring two of my loves together in the Ragnar event.
The legendary runner, Wilma Rudolph, once said, “No matter what accomplishments you make, somebody helped you.” This summer, as we test our mettle in the wilderness of Snowmass, we’ll bear those wise words in mind, having been the beneficiaries of loving support from our BGR! sisterhood, from the generous sponsorship of REI, from the well wishes of our friends and family. And even as we run those trails alone—whether we’re toughing it out in the dead of night, or power cruising under a blazing sun—as crazy as it may seem—we’ll be running with passion, and on purpose in those mountains. We will be running true to our name; we will run as women on a mission, and as Girls on Fire.Ragnar relay races are hosted across the country. Visit their website to learn more: www.runragnar.com