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Amelia Nielson-Stowell: Reasons to Run: Wasatch Back turns strangers into family

Published: Thursday, June 30 2011 8:02 a.m. MDT

Van 1 of runners from team "It Runs in the Family."

Amelia Nielson-Stowell

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It was 12:30 a.m. early Thursday morning and I had just finished mixing batter on some killer protein and fiber muffins.

"Go to bed," I kept telling myself.

In four hours, I'd be driving up to Logan, Utah, with my five teammates to begin the Ragnar Wasatch Back relay, but everything had to be perfect.

Is the car clean? The water cold? The van decorated? The food plentiful?

This year was my first year captaining a Ragnar Wasatch Back team. My initial plan to fill a van with my siblings fell through and I recruited a mix of running buddies and my family's running buddies. We kept the team name, "It Runs in the Family."

I was nervous our random assortment of runners wouldn't get along, wouldn't "click," or wouldn't find that connection that makes running an overnight relay trapped in a van in cramped, stinky conditions for hours fun.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

The 2011 Wasatch Back was my fourth overnight relay, and my van — made-up of my dad, his pal Brent from grad school, my Aunt Kim and my two training partners Melinda and Candice — was the most fun group I have ever run with.

It was a group of runners so dynamic that you didn't want to get out of the van to run because you knew you were going to miss out on great conversation, hilarious stories and a lot of laughs.

This is what I love so much about overnight relays. It turns a solitary group of runners into a team of instant friends. And when that relay is the Wasatch Back, one of the most difficult race courses that traverses four mountain passes, loses 13,045 feet in elevation and gains 15,091 feet, the race becomes a challenging, bonding adventure.

I especially noticed this on our last leg. This was the leg where I slept-in and started us off 10 minutes late. We all laughed about it. This was the leg where my dad was nursing a black-and-blue runner's toenail. We all checked-in on him.

This was the leg where we all were all thankful for our "easy" three- to five-mile last legs, but Kim got a grueling 7.9-mile uphill. We all cheered her on. This was the leg where Brent, who filled-in last-minute and did not have the luxury of training, was feeling the pain. We all encouraged him.

This was the leg where Candice and Melinda, our No. 5 and No. 6 runners, who had conquered the grueling Avon Pass hours earlier, wanted to make their final leg their fastest. We pushed them.

We shared a questionable mid-run plate of fried chicken and potato logs. We had asked, "You sprayed Febreeze where?" We napped on the same blanket between our first and second exchanges. We shared water bottles, clothes and ibuprofen. We watched one another accomplish running feats.

So even when I was bandaging a silver-dollar sized blood blister at the finish line, I didn't want the race to end.

We began our race with most of the vanmates as strangers, and by the time the race ended, our team name fit.

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