From the Catbird Seat...Ragnar and the 'School of Jocks'
For Mackenzie Carlson, it was one more opportunity to run with people she knew in high school, and a chance to spend time with some friendly rivals.
Carlson recently organized a high school team made up of runners from the Carlton County and Duluth area to take part in the Ragnar Relay, a 203-mile relay race from Winona to Minneapolis along the Mississippi River.
The team, called the "School of Jocks," included several of Carlson's cross country teammates from Esko High School as well as runners from Cloquet and other Carlton County schools.
Matt LePisto, Dylan Marvel, Isaac Boedigheimer, Connor Denman, Erika and Marisa Shady, Kailee Kiminski, Anya Maijala, Izzy Evavold and Megan West joined Carlson on the trek, which turned out to be quite an experience.
"Each person ran between 15 and 25 miles (in the race)," Carlson said. "It's a curvy route into and out of Wisconsin, and since you're running in the upstream direction, it's uphill most of the way. It was fun."
Carlson had heard about the Ragnar series, which runs races all over the country, and decided to take advantage of the lower entry fee for high school teams.
"It was quite a bit cheaper than adults running it so this was the time to do it," she said. "It was a good way to end all of our high school cross country experiences for the seniors in our group."
Most were seniors -- and Carlson said that with the exception of West, Evavold and LePisto, all were from Carlton County.
"There were enough of us [local runners] to make a special end to things for the seniors," Carlson said. "The younger kids just got pumped up for the rest of their cross country careers."
The race was simple: when it was your turn to run, you ran, between five and seven miles in a leg.
"Our chase vehicle would follow and they'd cheer me on," Carlson said. "Then it would go ahead to the end point for the next person to run and they would be ready to go."
"The lack of sleep was definitely challenging, and when you have to get up and run at three in the morning that was a challenge too," she added. "But the race was put on really well."
Each team was given a bracelet, which was passed from runner to runner like a relay baton. The team atmosphere was great for the runners and gave those from different schools a chance to get to know each other.
"Lots of us didn't really know each other before," Carlson said. "Everyone knew somebody on the team but we all didn't know each other. In a race like this you hang out as a group a lot, so it's a good way to get to know everyone."
Each team also kept track of "road kills," a car chalk tally of how many runners team members passed along the course. The "School of Jocks" had 179 marks by the end of the race and may even have missed a few.
The kids did surprisingly well. The "School of Jocks" was the best of three high school teams entered in the event, and finished 15th out of 301 teams entered in the overall competition, taking 26 hours to cover the 203 miles.
They even found a way to finish the race together. The team finished during Evavold's relay shift and team members made a tunnel for her to pass under at the end of the race.
"We turned and followed her and we crossed the line at the same time," Carlson said. "It was great to be so supportive and you can't get too hard on yourself if you aren't running well because you have a team running with you."
That team included adults as well. Carlson's mother Anna helped chaperone as did longtime area running coach Arnie Maijala. Esko assistant coach Brent Smith was a "run pacer," helping the team members run at night and stay on the course.
"Brent paced a couple of runners very early in the morning and we really appreciated that," Carlson said.
And now, Carlson will head off to college at Dartmouth, where she will run on the school's non-varsity endurance team, taking part in triathlons and marathons while majoring in math and physics.
Carlson is justifiably proud of the "School of Jocks."
"For high school kids, we did pretty dang good!"