ELKO COUNTY — The full moon made the mountains glow. Bats flew up from the Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge. The sun rose twice and set once as 25 teams ran completely around the Ruby Mountains in the first-ever Ruby Mountain Relay.
More than 24 hours and 184 miles after starting atop Lamoille Canyon, nearly 300 runners crossed the finish line in Wells City Park Saturday.
The first team crossed the tape around 10:30 a.m.; the last teams about 5 p.m., after nearly 35 hours of nothing but running.
Ben Smith, of Home Star Runners, took the honor of being the first athlete to cross the line.
He and his teammates are already planning a return.
“We talked about it in the car ride that even though we were tired, we just loved it,” Smith said.
“Home Star Runners” was the first team to cross the line, but due to a staggered start time “Matties B & G” was the fastest team. They won the race in 24 hours and 49 minutes, nearly 45 minutes faster than “Home Star Runners.”
They had half the number of runners as other teams — six — and averaged close to 30 miles apiece. One of the members was Mattie Suver, the woman who inspired the name for Elko’s “Matties Bar & Grill.” She qualified for the marathon Olympic Trials this year and plans to go back for the next trial in four years.
Her husband was even faster. He also ran the most legs on the team. “Mattie’s B & G” ended the race averaging a little more than 8-minute miles.
Cody Krenka, Elko’s track and cross country coach, was another member of the team and said the race was taxing.
“(We felt) very sleep-deprived,” Krenka said. “We pulled it off. It was a long-haul.”
Krenka said he and another member probably slept only a half-hour over the two days.
This feeling was mimicked by all the teams in the relay, who embarked on the two-day adventure.
The first runners started at 6 a.m. Friday in Lamoille Canyon, in the heart of the Ruby Mountains. By sunrise, the fastest groups were running up Harrison Pass, but most ran the grueling 8-mile leg in the depth of darkness.
Known as the hardest leg of the race, one exhausted runner simply called it “a grind” over and over again after finishing.
On top of the pass, a glowing full moon rose to greet the runners, accompanied by a full canvas of shining stars.
“That was one of those golden moments,” said race director Robert Johnson.
For the rest of that Friday night runners ran to the Ruby Lake National Wildlife Visitors Center, the third wagon exchange of the race. At each exchange half the runners substitute out the other half for rest and sleep.
Bathed in floodlights and with hundreds of weary people milling about near midnight, the exchange was described as a “refugee center.”
In the heart of the night, runners ran across Ruby Valley, single beams of light bobbing up and down the highway with only the sound of tennis shoes slapping on the road to accompany them.
Cari Anderson, of Cashman’s Equipment, started her night leg at 2:45 a.m. and finished an hour later. She said the run was peaceful, but hard.
“The challenging part was keeping a pace. I was all over the place. I was so tired I couldn’t think about anything. There were no worries. I had nothing more to think about,” she said.
While half the team ran, the other half slept at the Ruby Valley LDS Church.
Sleeping bags filled every square inch of lawn. The quiet was only broken by the cheers of another team, which watched as one their runners came in and passed off the baton.
The sleepers ran with the sunrise into and through Secret Pass, while the other half traveled ahead to similarly sleep in the front yard of the Dahl Ranch in Starr Valley, the final exchange point.
Saturday morning the teams traveled through ranch country, running through the backyard of homestead after homestead. Coming upon a herd of cattle some runners were personally escorted through the animals by the owner on horseback.
Through it all, runners were escorted by support vehicles, forming a constant caravan and continually leapfrogging down the course.
By late morning and that afternoon teams hit the finish line in Wells, ending two days of straight running.
“It exceeded my expectations,” co-director Anne Simmons said at the finish line. “This is a special year, year number one. It’ll never come around again. It’s a special date.”
With 25 teams competing, the race has more than enough momentum heading into years to come.
The directors also saw the local community rise up to take a hold of the race.
With 40 registered volunteers and 40 more unregistered land owners, friends and family members manning each of the 36 exchange points, they provided food, water and motivation to the runners.
In Jiggs, the town had a hometown runner competing with the team “Run Like You Stole It” and celebrated its arrival by sounding fire station alarms, cheers and signs.
Some volunteers dressed up with wigs, bowling shoes or glow sticks. Others fed the runners, one with a mammoth bowl of grapes and another serving a bloody mary bar alongside fruit.
“One of my favorites was a little table by an outhouse. They had lotions, soaps and really fancy stuff for people to use at the porter-potty. I just thought, ‘Oh, who would think of that,’” Johnson said.
“They made the race their race. It’s not our brain-child anymore. It’s Elko County’s race. It’s overwhelming,” Simmons said.
Along with winning the race, “Matties B & G” was the first ultra team (those with six members).
“Home Star Runners” won the category of first male team. “Young Spirit” won for first Mixed Male & Female Team.
“Sole Burners” won first corporate team, “Wells Leopards” won first in the high school team category and “Rapid Thigh Movement” won first in family team.
“My Turn, Again!?!” won for best name and “Mom’s On a Mission” won best decorated wagon and first for female team. “One Man Wolf Pack” won for best team costume.
The winners received cowboy boot trophies and a horse-shoe key chain. All participants received a custom-made belt buckle by renowned, local silversmith Mark Dahl.
Teams also have until Sept. 1 to raise the most money for the Northeastern Nevada Autism Network. As of Thursday, the teams had raised more than $6,000.