One question, and that is why

There were 280 teams which finished the two-day Ragnar Relays last weekend, including several from Rochester and the surrounding area.

Which  brings up the questions, what is the Ragnar Relays and, most important, why.

And those are good questions.

Long story short on the Ragnar Relay. A relay team of 12 starting Friday morning and ran 192 miles from Winona along the Great River Road to Minneapolis. During the relay, each team member runs three legs, each leg ranging between three and nine miles and varying in difficulty. Meaning hills.

There's only one runner on the road at a time, so  the rest of the team rides in two vehicles.


Some background. There are 12 Ragnar Relay events throughout the United States. Ragnar — not the Vikings guy —  takes is name from a marauding ninth century king who fearlessly explored and conquered new lands. At least, that's the explanation from the press release.

Teams run day and night. At night, runners are required to wear reflective vests and lighted headbands.

And did we mention that it was quite warm last weekend?

All that said, why?

"Well, just because,'' said Donna Gathje-Mueller of Rochester. "We did it last year and had most of our same group together. And it's a really good time. Awfully tough, but fun. You get to know each other very well before it's over, I can say that.

"Maybe more than you want. Try sitting in a van with five other runners for over 24 hours. Everybody looks crappy and stinks but, hey, we're having fun.''

Gathje-Mueller can be put in the legend category when it comes to Rochester running. She graduated from Lourdes in 1977, with numerous track and cross country accomplishments and then enjoyed a stellar career at Mankato State University.

She was inducted into the Rochester Quarterbacks Club Hall of Fame in 2003 and the Lourdes Hall of Fame in 2009 and is now a surgical technician at St. Mary's.


The Gathje-Mueller team at Ragnar was dubbed PDQ — Pretty Darn Quick — and finished 42nd out of the 280 teams. They started in Winona at 9 a.m. Friday and finished in Minneapolis at Boom Island at  11:15 a.m. on Saturday.

""Don't ask why, we were going on very little sleep, but most of us ran faster than our predicted times,''Gathje-Mueller said. "Last year we finished in 29 hours.''

PDQ featured a distinctive Gathje flavor, with Jim and Steve — Donna's brothers  — running along with two of her daughters, Kristie Mueller and Katie Stinson.

Other team members were Mark Freund, Trinity Schumacher, Aaron Schumacher, Kristine Thomsen, Dane Bush, Kate Thompson-Scharenbroich and Mike Scharenbroich.

"I know running this is a crazy thing to do,'' Donna said, "but personally, I was more determined than ever. I was doing it for my dad.''

Ronald Gathje, 82, was diagnosed with lung cancer three years ago.

"He's really struggling now,'' she said, "and has been ever since Christmas. And now he's in hospice care.''

And she thought about him all the time, especially when going up, up and up on one particular hill.


"I thought it would never end,'' she said. "You won't believe how many hills there are between Winona and  Minneapolis.''

In other words, the relay  was tough, but doable.

"At 3 or 4 in the morning maybe you're asking yourself why, but this (running Ragnar) was the least I could do for dad; he's been through a lot with me, and also with my family and brothers.

"I can speak for everybody when I say he's always been an inspiration to us all. Whatever we've done in life, we owe it to him.''

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