by Jordan Markley, Nashville Business Journal | Jul 01, 2011

Does the idea of packing 11 co-workers into two support vans and running a relay race from Chattanooga to Nashville intrigue you?

What if completing the nearly 200-mile trek could lower your company’s health care costs and increase worker productivity?

Healthways Inc.   Healthways Inc. Latest from The Business Journals John Ballantine named Healthways chairmanForty Under 40: Scott Blanchette HP lands 0M Healthways contract Follow this company  CEO Ben Leedle Jr. is hoping that Ragnar Relay Tennessee, now in its second year, can do just that.

“We track health and wellness across the country, and Tennessee frequently ranks dead last in some of those measures,” said Leedle, whose company helps employers cut costs by improving the health of employees.

To get more Tennessee businesses involved, Leedle is sweetening the deal. Healthways, a race sponsor, is offering a well-being analysis to the company that registers the most interoffice teams as a percentage of its total work force.

The analysis includes a survey to gauge the health of employees and a report of findings that helps employers identify their staff’s wellness needs.

A Ragnar is a 193-mile relay race that bills itself as a “slumber party without sleep, pillows or deodorant.” In the Tennessee variant, which runs Nov. 4-5, each team of 12 starts in Chattanooga and runs through the night to reach Nashville the next day. Team members take turns running three- to eight-mile legs of the race and cheering their teammates on from support vans.

Ragnar Events LLC has been organizing races since 2004 when the first Ragnar relay, which winds through Utah’s Wasatch Mountains, debuted. As Ragnar Events expanded to new locations, the staff sought to craft courses that appeal to a broad range of runners. The Tennessee course boasts legs designed for everyone from a casual jogger to an experienced distance runner.

Ragnar “is a less daunting avenue for people to enter into running than say a 10k or a marathon,” race director Leslie Keener said.

Lucie Beckhis, a senior specialist in Ragnar’s marketing department, said the retention rate is about 70 percent year to year. More importantly, she said few return runners come back to the same team. Instead, they go out and recruit new teammates, increasing the number of people training.

That’s exactly what Leedle hopes will happen in Tennessee. He said the race could motivate workers to exercise more often, which can lead to increased productivity and lower costs for businesses.

“If Tennessee is going to remain competitive as a state it’s going to require a change in the health of our work force,” he said.

One new team joining the race this year is Mapco Team leader Jake Frank, Mapco’s chief operating officer, said he organized a team to increase awareness among his employees “about a complete approach to health and wellness and about the way wellness improves productivity in the workplace.”

“It is a very powerful recruiting tool and rallying cry to the organization,” he said, “that says, ‘If I can do it, you can do it.’

Last year 161 teams participated in the inaugural running of Ragnar Relay Tennessee. Sixty-eight teams have registered for this year’s race so far. The deadline to enter is Sept. 30.

Ragnar Relay

Want to enter a team? Here’s what you need to do:

  • Clear your calendar for Nov. 4-5.
  • Track down 11 co-workers and friends looking for a challenge.
  • Acquire two vans.
  • Come up with a name. Puns are in this year.
  • Talk three people into volunteering to help staff the race.
  • Register at ragnarrelay.com. If you register before July 15, the fee is $1,140 for a team of 12.
  • Start training. November will be here quicker than you think.