US Army Corps of Engineers
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The Ragnar Relay: “We can accomplish anything, if we do it together”

Where running, camping and teamwork come together.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District
Published Sept. 14, 2021
Kaufmann and Stoughton meet before the race starts. (U.S. Army photo by Josh Kaufmann)

Kaufmann and Stoughton meet before the race starts. (U.S. Army photo by Josh Kaufmann)

The finisher medals for the black loop, completed in teams of two, can be placed together. (U.S. Army photo by Josh Kaufmann)

The finisher medals for the black loop, completed in teams of two, can be placed together. (U.S. Army photo by Josh Kaufmann)

Stoughton and Kaufmann in the starting shoot, ready to kick off the relay. (U.S. Army photo by Josh Kaufmann)

Stoughton and Kaufmann in the starting shoot, ready to kick off the relay. (U.S. Army photo by Josh Kaufmann)

A shot of the race’s yelow loop, which draws several thougsand runners per year. (U.S. Army photo by Josh Kaufmann)

A shot of the race’s yelow loop, which draws several thougsand runners per year. (U.S. Army photo by Josh Kaufmann)

Just weeks before racing for a day and a half together in a grueling relay, two competitors on the same team didn’t even know each other, despite that they both had a lot in common and worked for the same organization.

Chris Stoughton and Josh Kaufmann both knew it takes a team to succeed as they prepared to compete in a Ragnar Relay.

The relay, which took place in mid-August, is a team-based, long-distance race across outdoor recreation areas. Teams of eight compete in a 30-hour race where each competitor covers roughly 15 miles of the race. This race was hosted at Big Bear Lake campgrounds in West Virginia.  

Stoughton and Kaufmann work for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District. Stoughton is a lock operator on the Allegheny River, while Kaufmann is the district’s Chief of Contracting. They met thanks to the district’s deputy commander who introduced them a few weeks before they were set to run the relay.

“It was an excellent opportunity to connect a field staff employee with a district office employee to show that, hey, we’re all part of one team,” said Lt. Col. Albert Butler, deputy commander, Pittsburgh District. “We can accomplish great things when we work together.”

Ragnar Relays consists of either a road relay where the team travels in a van alongside a runner, or the trail events where each teammate runs loops back to a central camping area they call ‘the village.’

A recent addition to the Ragnar family is the black loop. In the black loop, a team of two tackle all three traditional loops together with mandatory start times for each loop, forcing competitors into a stop-and-go pattern resembling the wait in a normal relay.

Before the race, Stoughton texted Kaufmann: “No matter how hard something is, we can get through it as a team,” and they did every step of the relay as a two-person team, covering up to 50 kilometers of distance. 

Both runners had completed a Ragnar before but not together and not the black loop. At 7 a.m. on a Saturday in mid-August, black loop teams took off on a 17.1-mile loop to claim victory. If a member of the team cannot finish, both members get a Did Not Finish (DNF).

After the race, Kaufmann told Lt. Col. Butler, “I knew I would enjoy the running even with a stranger, but by the end of the race, Chris had become my friend.”

They met for the first time less than 48 hours before the race, and by the end, they had tackled more than 31 miles and several thousand feet of elevation on some of the most beautiful and rugged trails, such as old logging trails and single track-switch backs.

“The Ragnar was a really good example when two members of Pittsburgh District, who had never met before, come together to forge a team and get through a grueling race in the mountains of West Virginia,” said Butler. “Adversity is made easier through teamwork, and it goes to show how the Corps of Engineers’ team coming together can accomplish some pretty amazing things.”