Two weeks ago, I participated in the Reebok Ragner Relay-Cape Cod. What is that, you ask? As described by the official website:
The Ragnar is the overnight running relay race that makes testing your limits a team sport. You and 11 of your craziest friends pile into two vans and tag team running 200(ish) miles, day and night, relay-style. Only one runner hits the road at a time.
In a nutshell: A team is made up of 12 runners divided into two vans, and each person runs three different legs (of varying distance) over the course of about 30 hours. The first runner starts in Hull, MA, and the last runner finishes in Provincetown, MA. Someone is always running, even throughout the night. When you are not running, you are fake-sleeping or inhaling trail mix.
The whole thing kicks off on a Friday morning at 6:00am – I am at my friend Meredith’s house loading my duffle and sleeping bag into a 15 person van, which will be our mobile home for the next 30 hours. By “us” I mean the six crazy women from Scituate who make up Van #1 of our running team called “The Scituation.” Clever name, right? Van #2 holds another crazy six women also from – you guessed it- Scituate.
I could give you a play by play of the whole 30 hour experience, but to be honest most of it is a bit foggy, as I was never entirely sure of the time and/or my exact location. So I will stick to the part of the story that stands out for me, which was my 6 mile night run:
It is around 10PM and we are sitting in the van waiting for my teammate Jenna to finish her run so the next runner (me) can start. It is my first real low point of the day. It’s raining. Hard. I am cold and tired and it’s so dark. Darkness in general disorients me. When Phil is away on business, I sleep with the lights on in case I need to fend off an intruder or vomiting child. Light makes me feel sharper somehow.
I am trying to calculate how long Jenna will take on her run. This requires math, which is not something I can manage in full daylight on a normal day. I say out loud to no one in particular:
“So if Jenna runs around a 8.5 minute mile…and she’s running like 4.5 miles..or was it 5.5? Wait, when did she start?”
No one knows. We are all in the same wet, leaky boat.
“Ok, I am just going to walk over to the finish line and wait.”
My teammate Katie walks with me, as someone needs to guide Jenna back to the van. Along the way we stop at a water-logged tent serving a Dixie cup of weak, $2 coffee. I chug it. The text bell on my phone dings. It’s from Jenna:
“I am done.”
Shit. Apparently Jenna runs like a 6 minute mile. I run to the finish line, where Jenna slaps the bracelet on my wrist. I am not ready; I feel discombobulated. My headlamp is secure but my reflective vest keeps coming un-velcroed and my headphones are dangling from my hand. Considering that it is pitch black and pouring, and I am running on a road with cars, I decide that silencing yet another one of my senses might be a bad idea. Lose the music. I try and stuff my phone and headphones in my waist belt but I am also trying to run and it’s just not a good Scituation. With every other step my foot lands in a pond like puddle. My feet are already squishy and I am only about .2 miles in.
After a few minutes of tinkering with the gear, I get my shit together and find my groove. It is dark and rainy but I am running. Because the race start times are staggered, there are not a large number of other runners with me, but enough that I see some running ahead of me; headlamps and reflective arm bands bobbing up and down like a small army of fireflies.
I tune into my surroundings and suddenly the sound of the rain and the crickets combine into a symphony of natural sound. It is lovely and my eyes fill with tears. I am having a moment. I thank God for this – for this feeling of total presence and aliveness. I have legs and lungs that work well enough to bring me to this place, and that is a beautiful, miraculous thing.
The footsteps of another runner behind me interrupts my reverie. I slow down ever so slightly, allowing him to pass me. But he does not pass me. He keeps pace directly behind me. And I do mean DIRECTLY. I can hear him breathing. I am a personal space kinda gal and this is making me uncomfortable. If I were in a mall parking lot, this is the time I would start saying the Hail Mary and pray that when they find my dead body in the trunk of the car, I am at least wearing nice underwear. That is how close he is. Apparently the reflective light clipped to the collar of my vest begins to come loose, because my shadow runner dude reaches over and re-clips it. BECAUSE THAT IS HOW CLOSE HE IS.
My running watch beeps and he says, “Where we at? 3 miles?”
I smile in spite of myself. “Yup,” I say. “Half way there.”
I realize my running buddy is not going anywhere. This is what it is. The Scituation is not going to change so I need to change the way I look at the Scituation. Instead of tuning him out, I decide to tune him in. When teaching yoga, I encourage students to sync up their breath to their neighbors; to create a powerful wave of prana/energy that will carry them through a difficult pose, together. This what I do with my running buddy. I allow his breath to carry mine. I tune into the cadence of his feet sloshing through puddles. The sound becomes less of an intrusion and more of a meditation: slap, slap, splash, slap, slap, splash.
I slowly feel my jaw unclench and my shoulders sink away from my ears. Suddenly I have the thought: My runner buddy is meant to be here. And I know this because he is here. Maybe he saw my vest come un-velcroed at the same time both shoelaces came loose and thought to himself, this chick is a hot mess and needs adult supervision. And just like that, my creepy mall stalker guy is transformed into my Ragnar Guardian Angel. My feelings of annoyance and unease give way to safety and gratitude. My imaginary boundary bubble evaporates. I choose connection over isolation, and this brings me back into the moment. I am alive again. Me and my running buddy, sloshing it out in the dark, together.
The week leading up to the race, my mom kept asking me, “And why are you doing this, exactly?”
My answer was a less-than-profound: “Uh, I don’t know….because someone asked me to?”
But now I know why I did it, and why I will do it again: For me, the Ragnar was an education in choosing my perspective. There is something about stepping outside your comfort zone that tests your meddle in the attitude department. Relay running 200 miles on no sleep and spending 29 hours in a van with women I only sort of know was way outside my comfort zone. But with new experiences comes personal growth. I learned to:
- Let my guard down. (ie. Strip down to my thong in the back of a van).
- Surrender to what is. (Sometimes at 2am, there just is no coffee. Anywhere. And you just have to deal.)
- Connect with people in unexpected places. (Like in line for a port-a-potty.)
- Be grateful: For my teammates who drove the van because I don’t know how to use that rear-view camera thing-y, that one decadent hour of sleep, my body for hanging in there, the
threedelicious beers I pounded when it was over.
My soggy night run comes to an end, and I hand my baton-bracelet off to my teammate Nicole. My running buddy turns around and I see his face for the first time when he says:
“How did we do??? What was our time??”
I relay our stats and he raises his arms above his head for a double high-five. Our hands meet with a loud clap.
Before disappearing into the crowd he says: “Thanks for pushing me!”
And my eyes get a little misty, because it never occurred to me that maybe he was grateful for me, too.