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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Medals at the finish line of the Ragnar Relay at Park City High School in Park City on Saturday, June 16, 2012.
My favorite thing (about Ragnar) is the friendship. The sweat, tears, blood, happiness, sadness. …We love it. It's a goal; it's exhilarating; it's so fun. You get to know everybody really well. —Kim Dickerson of Team

PARK CITY — It took an overnight relay race in Las Vegas to show Jason Davis the kind of life he could have.

"I'd been a smoker for 10 years, and I went from zero to running in eight weeks," the Alabama resident said Saturday afternoon after finishing the Wasatch Back Ragnar Relay in Park City. He was feeling good about improving his health when his former boss invited him to a Ragnar Relay in Las Vegas in 2009.

"I joked that I could do 45 minutes on the elliptical," he said. "She asked if I was serious, and I said, 'Sure. It's in Vegas. How hard could it be?' "

Not only was it harder than he ever imagined, it showed him a lifestyle he didn't really know existed.

"I didn't have the desire," he said of giving up smoking and exercising regularly. "I just saw so many different things in my life, physically, that I didn't know I could do before. It's like once I was exposed to a road, and now you can travel that road. Once I saw what having fun, doing these runs and seeing parts of the cities that I would never have seen was like, that's what hooked me on these races."

He smoked the Sunday after he finished that race for the last time.

"I was devastated," he said. "I went to the doctor on Wednesday and that was the day I said, 'I will never buy another pack of cigarettes.' "

Davis also heard about the original Ragnar Relay while running in Las Vegas in 2009.

"Everyone kept talking about Wasatch this and Wasatch that," he said. "I thought, 'What is this word Wasatch?' Now I learned it is mountains. And I got to run up and down them this weekend."

Davis ran with Biofuel, a team made up of runners from around the country, including team captain Laurie Pratt of Kaysville. He said his eighth Ragnar Relay was the toughest.

"This was the most challenging," he said, citing the altitude, terrain and traffic as reasons. But it wasn't so tough he won't be back.

"I'll definitely do Wasatch again," Davis said. "It just challenged me. Cape Cod ran the fastest I've ever run in my entire life. Came here thinking I would have similar times, but didn't happen."

The Wasatch Back Ragnar Relay started at 5 a.m. Friday at Utah State's football stadium and runners were still on the course Saturday night trying to traverse the course's 197 miles to Park City High School.

BYU's cross country team won the race with a time of 19 hours and seven minutes. Weber State University's cross country team was second with a time of 19 hours and 49 minutes. Davis High's cross country team was third with a time of 21 hours and 40 minutes.

Wasatch Running Center's Ultra Team earned a three-peat in the Ultra division, which means the team only has six runners and they each run six legs instead of three. They navigated the course in 24 hours and one minute.

"It was strangely calm," said first-year Wasatch Back race director Kent Phippen, who also oversees the company's Washington, D.C. event. "We didn't have many issues. We didn't even have one ambulance call going over Guardsman. It was amazing how smoothly everything went."

Organizers were concerned about the 1,127 teams because of the hot temperatures, which reached the 90s on Saturday.

Runners on the course and at the finish said they were enjoying the experience.

"My favorite thing (about Ragnar) is the friendship," said Kim Dickerson of Team "Seriously?" from Park City and Heber City. "The sweat, tears, blood, happiness, sadness. …We love it. It's a goal; it's exhilarating; it's so fun. You get to know everybody really well."

Jared Peterson, a BYU student, said he and his friends ran because it's "fun."

"It's exhausting," he said, "but we're getting through it."

His favorite thing?

"The two hours of sleep I've gotten. Those were awesome."

The worst part of the race?

"Probably the two hours of sleep I've had," he said laughing with his friends, who all echoed that sentiment.

Many runners participated and raised money for charities, including Davis. He wore a T-shirt and wrist band supporting an organization called Mr-mee.com.

"I ran my first leg for them," he said, noting that the T-shirts they sell (which say "Do-gooder" on them) helped the organization provide clothing for underprivileged children in Jacksonville, Fla.

"They do a whole lot of different things, and I'm happy to be associated with them."

email: adonaldson@desnews.com