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Covenant group to hit the road

Covenant group to hit the road

Some Florida United Methodist pastors will take their covenant group on the road -- a road traveled long ago by circuit riders -- when they participate this week in the 200-mile Ragnar Relay from Cumberland, Md., to Washington, D.C. 

Rev. Steve Price
Rev. Steve Price

Unlike their pastoral predecessors, however, they will depend on foot-power, not horsepower. As they test the endurance of 40-something- year-old bodies, the pastors also expect to strengthen the spiritual relationships that have bound them together for the last couple of years, said Rev. Steve Price, one of the participating pastors.

Price is senior co-pastor with his wife, Rev. Catherine Fluck Price, at Harvest UMC, Bradenton. He and Rev. Dave Miller, senior pastor at First UMC, St. Petersburg, are leading the team, which will start the two-day, overnight run Friday, Sept. 21, along with many other runners. The team is called "Mr. Wesley Goes to Washington," alluding to members' Methodist affiliation and affinity for traveling long distances over hill and dale.

“There will be 300 teams participating,” Price said. “Most are 12-person teams, so that means we’ll be en route with over 4,000 people over a two-day period.

“We’re hoping that our team name may prompt some questions along the way and spark some dialogue.”

Other team members are Rev. Craig Hammond, First UMC, Melbourne; Cameron Lashbrook, Lakeside Fellowship UMC, Sanford; Brett Opalinski,  Memorial UMC, Fernandina Beach;  David Williamson, Spring of Life, Orlando; and team driver, Rev. Roy Terry, Cornerstone UMC, Naples.

Price and Miller participated two years ago in a Central Florida Ragnar relay with a 12-person co-ed team gathered from their congregations. This year will be the first time they have attempted a six-person “ultra” team of runners. They are pumped and ready for the challenge, Price said.

“This race is just for fun, but it is something that will be tying us together,” Price said of the 2012 event.

The Ragnar Relay is an overnight running relay race designed to test the limits of the team. Each individual runs three legs of the race, which can vary in difficulty and distance from 3 to 8 miles. The variations allow runners of different skill and experience levels to run together.  

Price plans to take pictures of United Methodist churches along the route and share them with the Florida Conference. Those interested in the team's progress can click here.

Central Florida Ragnar Relay with UMC team
Rev. Steve Price took part in a Florida Ragnar team event in 2010 and now is leading a team in a 200-mile relay in the Washington, D.C., area.

The Ragnar Relay Series has events all over the country. It was created in 2004, with the first event held in Utah. The unusual name, “Ragnar,” refers to a 9th century, adventure-seeking Norse conquerer, according to the series’ creators, Tanner Bell and Dan Hill.

Created to encourage endurance and camaraderie, the race also allows for some silliness, with imaginative team names, crazy costumes and a great finish line party, all presented by NordicTrack and other sponsors. Price said he and his team are looking forward to all of it but especially the camaraderie.

“The idea for us to do this germinated at a retreat about a year ago,” he said. The covenant group has acted as a kind of professional support group, encouraged by Florida’s former Bishop Timothy Whitaker.

“It’s basically a group of colleagues who get together, including twice-a-year retreats, and doing this race reinforces the closeness.”

The group started training for the event four or five months ago and followed a regimen similar to that recommended for a half marathon, which suggests increasing individual mileage by 10 percent each week.

Price has been running about 10 years, with four marathons under his belt. During the upcoming race, he is slated for the longest stretch: 43 miles.

The team members already know what they’re in for and where the designated exchange spots will be according to maps plotted for every day, he said. The terrain includes forests in the Appalachian mountains and part of the Appalachian Trail, and some historic Civil War-era towns. The group also is looking forward to retracing some steps of Methodist history.

“(Francis) Asbury and some of the early circuit riders rode this way, and we’re hoping to cover some of their territory,” Price said. “The first half of the run, we’ll be coming out of the mountains and down across to Washington, D.C.”

The route also passes the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. The event will end at the National Harbor on the Potomac River, where there will be a Ragnar party and most likely the first good night’s sleep the runners will have in a few days.Then Sunday, the team will head back home, no doubt having made some history of its own.