They initially fell short during a bang-bang finish.
But a disqualification gave Team Big Horn from Central Oregon what one team member called an “anticlimactic” victory at the fifth annual Elkhorn Relay race Friday and Saturday in La Grande.
It was the second year in a row the team won the increasingly popular relay race, which takes teams of six or 12 runners through 206 miles of hills, trails, mountains and more in Union and Baker counties before finishing at Riverside Park.
“Super fun course, course directors are awesome, volunteers are top of the line,” Big Horn’s captain, Stephen Snazuk, said. “We’ve all done a lot of relays before, but (other relays don’t have) so much climbing. We all love running trails, the climbs (and) the descents.”
The “ultra” team of six runners finished the grueling race in 25 hours, 8 minutes, 41 seconds, shattering their course record from a year ago by almost three hours. Snazuk noted the team averaged a 7:20 per-mile pace for the 206-mile race.
But unlike a year ago, when the team coasted to victory, they had 25 hours of often intense racing. They jockeyed back and forth along much of the course with team Hyperventilation, but had the lead late before Hyperventilation closed in.
Big Horn’s Brandon Brasher ended up falling just short in a footrace to the finish line for what seemed to be second place, but Hyperventilation was disqualified for a rules violations.
The finish was the end of about 40 miles of running for Brasher, who ran a couple extra legs with teammates struggling with overheating or physically succumbing to the challenging race. In fact, by the end, Brasher and Aaron Heskett were the only two team members still able to run.
“It is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I’ve done six marathons,” Brasher said.
But Snazuk said that is part of why the team signed up a year ago the first time and made a return trip this fall — the challenge.
“We heard about it, so why not check it out,” he said of when the team first signed up. “It’s right in our back door, kind of.”
The course features thousands of feet in elevation change, the breathtaking scenery of the Elkhorn Mountains, and a daunting eight-mile straightaway, to name just a few of the features.
“Torture. Pain. But that’s what we all love, and is one reason why we do it,” Snazuk said. “What can your body do? And I think everybody likes it when they can look back and see how many miles they did.”
Drew Roberts, another member of Team Big Horn, said the challenge a year ago was the elevation change while dealing with extreme heat. This year, it was the elevation change and the elements, as rain and hail greeted runners during the race.
“(And) you don’t sleep. You run 24 hours,” he said.
But with all the race itself had to offer, each team member who spoke to The Observer pointed to an element of the race that made it stand out and has become a staple in its brief history — volunteers at the checkpoints.
“It was just as awesome as last year. The volunteers — we had pulled pork sandwiches, sodas, chips. Coffee at two in the morning was nice,” Snazuk said.
The need for caffeine, in fact, was met every time, Roberts said.
“All the coffee at all the right places. Just when you’re thinking, ‘Oh, man, I’m dragging, (there was) coffee. Every time,” he said.
Added Brasher: “We’ve done a lot of races (and) nobody compares to these volunteers. They’re amazing.”
Better at Runnin’ up a Tab was the championship team of the 101-mile six-person race with an overall time of 14:44:25.
The remainder of the final team times will be available later in the week.