Teamwork wins in relay race
August 18, 2023
They didn't start out with winning in mind. But as the Small Town Kids team morphed and the Ragnar road race got closer, the team from Carlton County started looking pretty good.
So good, in fact, they learned upon arrival they were seeded No. 1.
Ragnar is a relay race, which starts near the capitol building in St. Paul and finishes in the Duluth Rose Garden. In between, racers take turns running on country roads, highways, the Munger Trail through Mahtowa and Carlton, Skyline Parkway in Duluth and more, overnight and into the next day, until they're finished.
"The moment we found out that we were seeded first, that's where it changed from 'OK guys, we're doing this for fun' to 'OK guys, we need to go out there and compete,'" said team captain Calvin Snesrud, a senior at Cloquet High School this fall.
But first they had to get to the start line.
One of two vans transporting the 12 area runners got a flat tire before leaving the Northland, then popped the spare on the way down. But they made it.
Small Town Kids ran the "200ish"-mile race in 22 hours, 44 minutes and 43.5 seconds, taking first place in the open men's category and second overall. They beat the Eagan Cross Country team - the large school team they made it their goal to defeat - by over 21 minutes.
Like the name says, they are a bunch of small town Minnesota kids. Snesrud and Emmet Prosen were the sole runners from Cloquet, while Esko had four in the race: Ben Meysembourg, Spencer Hipp, Alec Halverson and Joel Barta. Noah Foster and Phoenix Anderson came from Cromwell, Gavin Gibson and AJ Olesen from Wrenshall. The only two non-Carlton County runners were Parker Jackson from McGregor and Cameron Stocke, a Rock Ridge grad and state champion runner.
One of the last two teams to start the timed race, Small Town Kids passed more than 200 teams on the way north. Every team member ran three legs of varying lengths. Snesrud passed 23 on his second leg, another team member passed 27.
"They're called kills in Ragnar," Snesrud said. "It's tradition, for every team you pass, you put a tally mark on your van. We had so many tallies they went all the way down one side of the van and we stopped before we were finished."
There were other challenges. One runner got pulled off the course because of stormy weather, which caused lost time. Barta got stuck behind a train.
The longest stretch for any runner came in the middle of the night and fell to the only football player on the team, Emmett Prosen, who had not trained very hard for the race. That was not the best bit of planning, Snesrud admitted.
"Emmet ran 11 miles on very little sleep, averaging 7:13 a mile the first six miles. Then he starts cramping. He falls to the ground and had to roll into a ditch to avoid getting hit by any cars, got sick. ...After he managed to get up again, he finished the last five miles without any stops. We gave him the overachiever award."
But now the faster members of the team had to pick up the pace in order to keep gaining in the Eagan team. As they handed off the baton (a slap bracelet) to each other, they're all going way faster than expected. Foster runs an uphill leg at a pace between 5:40 and 6:30 per mile, and hands off to Stocke.
Stocke had already run nine miles at an average pace of 5:30 per mile earlier in the race, now he runs uphill to Lincoln Park Middle School in Duluth at a shockingly fast pace, handing off to Snesrud.
"I knew he was coming, I just didn't know how fast," said Snesrud, calling Stocke "the true MVP" of the team.
Meanwhile, Snesrud was feeling rather anxious. Hipp noticed and gave him a big hug, and everything got better and he was off. The Cloquet senior said he found another speed when he spotted his teammates waiting for him near the end. They spontaneously joined him.
"All 12 of us sprint around the last corner and everyone is yelling," Snesrud said. "The baton falls off my hand but bounces up to Spencer and he just kind of tosses it back to me as we cross the finish line at an insane pace."
Snesrud said the win was great, but the friendships are even better.
"I love the competitive nature of everyone on the team. I love how uplifting everyone is," he said, adding that other teams were also supportive. "Running is just an amazing community."