Ragnar Relays Is Stealing Races

Paul Vanderheiden - Race Director

August 2011

read an update at the bottom

How do you think the running community would react if some deep pocket corporation swooped in and copied the marathon course of say Boston, New York, or Big Sur? The reaction would be swift and brutal. What if a big race management company came into your town and staged a new race on the same date as a local favorite, a race where the race director had worked his butt off over the years, nurturing his event to make it as professional and enjoyable as possible? While such a jerky move might not get national sports media attention, it would probably offend your local running community, so much so that you would go out of your way to let others know what was going on and to boycott the new race.

A race director cannot trademark a route, and we certainly cannot reserve exclusive use of a date. However, there is an unwritten code of ethics between race directors that you don’t steal someone’s course, and you don’t piggy back on an established race’s date with a nearby, similar event.

Unfortunately, in this day and age, many individuals and businesses put making money over ethical behavior. Politicians lie and cheat, bankers on Wall Street rob us blind, and now, a national relay race organization is stealing other relay race director’s routes and dates for their own benefit.

The business that is practicing this unethical behavior is Ragnar Relays. First, they copied a large portion of The Relay, a relay race that has been held for over a decade, and is put on entirely by volunteers to raise funds for a charitable organization called Organs ‘R’ Us, for their Ragnar Relay Napa Valley race.

California map comparison

Now, they are stealing the entire route of the Colorado Relay, they are just running it in reverse, as part of their Ragnar Relay Colorado.

Colorado Relay Map


Ragnar Relays Colorado Map

Ragnar Relays will probably deny they are stealing either of these relay’s routes. They’ll explain the start and finish are different or they are running the opposite direction. I call bullshit. It takes a lot of time, effort, and expense to design a route for an overnight relay, and I have a hunch that Ragnar, in at least these two instances, wanted to save themselves the trouble of designing an original course. Instead, they blatantly disregarded standard ethical behavior.

Members of Ragnar Relays, including one of the co-founders Tanner Bell, actually ran the Colorado Relay last year, and are running other small relays. It would not surprise me if they had run The Relay prior to launching their Napa Valley Relay. Tanner told me in a phone call he runs other relays to see how they do things. Fair enough. He also told me Ragnar wanted to enter the Colorado market. Fine - make the time and financial investment to design your own original route. But in reality, and what is blatantly obvious now, is they are running various relays around the country to scout their courses with plans to see if they fit their business model of 200 – 1000 team relays. They are adding to their inventory of relay races by stealing the hard work of others.

Are they sensitive about other established relays’ historical dates? Not at all, as they’ve decided to schedule the Ragnar Relay Colorado on the same dates the Wild West Relay has historically scheduled their race for the last seven years, the Friday and Saturday closest to the full moon if in the first half of August. When the full moon was not in the first half of August, the WWR was scheduled the first weekend in August

Wild West Relay History

Full Moon
Aug 19 - 20
Aug 19th
Aug 11 - 12
Aug 9th
Aug 3 - 4
Aug 28th
Aug 1 - 2
Aug 16th
Aug 7 - 8
Aug 5th
Aug 5 - 7
Aug 24th
Aug 12 - 13
Aug 13th
Aug 3 - 4
Aug 1st

It’s not about stifling competition. This year, Epic Relays started a new relay race in Colorado. They came up with their own unique course and scheduled it when it would not directly conflict with the other relay races in Colorado – just as the Wild West Relay and the Colorado Relay have coexisted for years. I have no problem with this form of competition. But Ragnar Relays has shown no such ethics.

Most relay races were started by individual runners like myself, who fell in love with the relay race format, and created a race in their home state. Now that relay races are becoming more popular, deep pocket businesses are getting into the field. You will start seeing more and more relay races designed to hold hundreds of teams (my Wild West Relay is capped at 150 teams, the Green Mountain Relay at 100 teams, and Civil War Relay at 75 teams) as companies want to have the payoff that Hood to Coast has, crowds, traffic jams, and safety be damned.

So I am asking for your help. I am just a one-person business up against the deep pocket, investor-owned Ragnar Relays. They have demonstrated in the past that the only thing that gets their attention is a potential loss of revenue. I respect runners, and assume that as a fellow runner, you do not want to give your hard-earned money to a race management company that has ruthless business practices. Instead, you can help raise awareness and call out Ragnar Relays for their bad behavior. Here are some things you can do:

  • Call or email Ragnar Relays (contact details are at the bottom of this letter) and tell them what you think of their business practices, and that you will be boycotting their races until they start practicing ethical business behavior.
  • Write what you think on the Ragnar Relay FaceBook wall.
  • Call or email their sponsors (contact details below) and let them know how you feel about Ragnar Relay’s business practices and that they, as sponsors, are guilty by association
  • Spread word of their behavior with your running friends. Use social media to inform others of their business practices
  • Post the link to this letter on runner forums

If you have any questions about anything I’ve written in this letter, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you for reading and for your support.

Paul Vanderheiden - Race Director

Timberline Events LLC - Roads Less Traveled Relays
Wild West Relay – Colorado - since 2004
Green Mountain Relay – Vermont - since 2006
Civil War Relay - Oregon - since 2009
Twitter - @RLTRelays
Roads Less Traveled Relays Facebook page

Ragnar Relays
Tanner Bell tanner@ragnarrelay.com
Dan Hill dan@ragnarrelay.com
Toll Free: (877) 837-3529
FaceBook page
Twitter - @ragnarrelay
(877) 837-3529

Ragnar Relay Sponsors

Media Relations: Colleen Logan, VP Marketing, media@nordictrack.com
FaceBook page
Twitter - @NordicTracklive

Media Relations, Hilary Hutcheson, (503) 828-7074, hilary@outsidemedia.com
FaceBook page
Twitter - @Suunto_Moves

Freeport Center Building M7, PO Box 160447, Clearfield, UT 84016
(801) 926-1310
FaceBook page

GU - was a sponsor in 2011, no longer per email from them

4752 W. California Ave; Suite 1000; Salt Lake City, UT 84104
(800) 921-2294
FaceBook page


Ragnar Relays has changed the date of their Colorado race, but the route is still a rip-off of The Colorado Relay's route, and they never seem to comment on that.

There will now be four relays in Colorado in a six week time period, with a relay three weekends in a row. This tells me that the folks from Ragnar ARE NOT runners, if so, they would care about well run, established events, and they would either not invade that area, or at least have the consideration of not scheduling right on top of other, similar races. They only care about one thing and I do not have to tell you what that is, but the symbol is $$$. Can you imagine a marathon race director inserting their race on top of three other marathons? I've never seen nor heard of that happening.

Other relay race directors have contacted me and congratulated me for outing them. One race shared a horrific story of how Ragnar lied to him and in outright fraud, took the valuable information from their relay for their own purposes. I am trying to get him to detail Ragnar's actions to share.

January 2013: From www.DirtyFeet.us: Thanks for the Ragnar article!  They are also doing a relay on the SAME date as the Chimera 100 trail race in SoCal about 20 miles away.  AND they are doing a relay on the SAME trails as Javelina 100 in AZ only 1 week prior.  They are definitely stepping on trail races.  Those aren't direct copies but it's creating quite the stir around them that I think was largely prompted by your article!