OGDEN -- The Ragnar Wasatch Back race may be named after a looting and pillaging 9th century Viking, but the Ragnar Relay Series is doing the opposite of their namesake. This year they'll be building and improving the communities that their races run through with their new Extra Mile Program, piloted this year in the Utah race occurring this weekend.
Meeting community by community, Ragnar Events LLC, the company that runs the relay series, listened to city councils and community and business leaders to learn what they could do to help the Utah communities they run through in the 192-mile relay race that begins in Logan and ends in Park City.
"The Extra Mile Program is an idea we've had for a long time," said Chris Infurchia, CEO of the Ragnar Relay Series, in an email to the Standard-Examiner. "For us, it's always been about the community. Wherever we go, we're supported by local communities -- they come out to see our runners, they cheer, they even hold bake sales -- so it's natural for us to want to help make a positive impact with their communities by supporting these organizations and their healthy, active lifestyles."
As they spoke with communities along the Utah route, Ragnar learned of needs like finishing a tennis court, helping organize a local race, or donating money for schools' healthy lifestyles programs, all needs that matched the Extra Mile Program's core values: promoting active and healthy lifestyles; enabling people and communities to form lasting connections; helping people conquer challenges; and helping people and communities celebrate these accomplishments.
"Almost from the beginning, Ragnar has had a designated charity, and over the years as that started accumulating the company stood back and said 'We've donated quite a bit of money,' and it occurred to them that where the resources are going ought to be in communities that their races pass through," said Rick Larsen, the Ragnar Director of Community Relations.
"I think runners expect to run for a reason. They're just that kind of people. We always have teams running for someone-- in memory, or for a teammate with cancer, or something important to them. We thought it was important to figure out, 'What do we stand for?' and we stand for supporting the communities we run through," he said.
Larsen said that Ragnar isn't going to drop existing charity programs, such as the one that allows teams to pay for volunteers instead of providing them, but instead is expanding those charitable programs to include local communities.
"Because Ragnar is this massive event with a lot of runners and a lot of traffic, we feel like as we get back to communities there is more of a sense of partnership, and we can help race participants develop more respect for the community as they go through -- even if it's just being more careful, or going back and spending a recreation weekend there and contributing to the economy," Larsen said.
Signs along this year's route will inform the 12-person teams about the program and Larsen said they have plans to expand The Extra Mile to all the Ragnar races.
"We have a pretty grand vision about how we can roll this out as we combine participant, corporate, and Ragnar dollars," he said.
Of the $130,000 that Ragnar donated this year, the Community Foundation of Ogden Valley, Snowcrest Jr. High School Relay, the Ogden Valley Balloon Festival and some Ogden Valley Parks were all Weber County organizations that received money and services for their programs.
Steve Clarke, the chairman of the Community Foundation said that the Ogden Valley communities along the route can have varying feelings about events hosted there, and that Ragnar's reaching out has already had a positive influence.
"We were pleased to see them want to come and talk to us about how to work with them and how to work with us so there's a positive influence on the community, not a negative. By working together, our businesses won't feel like they're getting shut down, but can actually use it as an event to grow business. Ragnar tried to show us how that could happen. It's a great program that they've put together to try to work with us and each of communities along the route," said Clarke.