We Drove All Night: Tales From The Ragnar Relay Cape Cod


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 three delicious 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.


Gratitude for Pessimists, Masochists and Chronic Over-Thinkers


One day this summer, I was having a particularly good run. My legs felt strong, my endorphins were kicking, and inspiration struck:

I am going to sign up for the marathon.

And so I did.  26.2 miles on November 23. Let’s do this.

When I dropped this bomb on Phil, he was cautiously supportive: “Maybe we should talk to Dr. K. first.”

“Why? I’ve run a marathon before.”

“Uhh, yeah but you had all your organs then.”

Dr. K. is my hematologist. One unfortunate side effect of having my colon removed is that now my body refuses to absorb iron.  So, I need to have iron infused into my arm intravenously.  I figure this is the cost of doing business in the field of major organ removal, and for the most part, it seems to work. So well, in fact, that when I am feeling good and all juiced up on ferric carboxymaltose, I kind of forget about it.

But Phil had not forgotten, so off to Dr K’s we went.  Phil was pretty confident we would get the answer he was after (NO. WAY. IN HELL), but I knew something he didn’t: Dr. K runs marathons.  Two a year, in fact.  She would have my back on this.  She gets that the decision to run 26.2 is not rooted in common sense.

But soon my bravado would shrivel like a deflated balloon.

As Dr K flipped through my chart, I asked, “So what do you think about me running the marathon in November?”

And she started to laugh.

Then she saw my face.

“Ohhh,” she said, sitting down.  “Oh, you are serious.”

I nodded.  My eyes felt hot.

We discussed all the ways you lose iron through distance running: foot strike hemolysis, sweat, microscopic GI bleeds, etc.  I knew all these things already.  I had just chosen to stick my fingers in my ears and sing “LALALALALALALALA!!!”

On the car ride home, I stared out the window.  The rational side of my brain was doing its best to talk me off the ledge: It’s not a big deal, Dr. K is right, just move on.  

But my inner crackpot control freak was not giving up without a fight: Maybe I should get a hysterectomy, because then I wouldn’t get my period and that would save iron!  As if removing your reproductive organs was equivalent to say, getting your eyebrows waxed.  I turned to Phil to share this potential plan, but he was in a quiet space, deep in thought, his eyes glued to the road.  I thought better of it.  Even the most tolerant man reaches his capacity for crazy.

This battle in my head raged on throughout the weekend – a mental boxing match between “Sad” vs. “Stop Being Sad.”  I played the game “Stop Bitching and Be Grateful Because How Can You Cry Over a Marathon When People are Starving and Homeless or Don’t Even Have Legs.”

But bullying myself into gratitude did not prove to be an effective strategy.

I remembered a book I had read half-heartedly early in the summer called Make Miracles in Forty Days: Turning What You Have into What You Want.  I dug it out of my secret drawer of shame self-help and gave it another try.

The book is basically a backwards approach to gratitude.  Author Melody Beattie explains:

A monkey can count his blessings. We’re going to practice being grateful for everything we don’t like about ourselves and our lives.  That includes people, places, and things that happen now or happened before.  It also includes our feelings, especially those we judge as being bad or wrong.

I admit, this exercise felt ridiculous to me at first.  But I figured I had nothing to lose, so I just rolled with it.  My first list looked something like this:

I am grateful:

1. That I can’t run the marathon and I am filled with all this  sadness and disappointment that I can’t explain

2. Being out of the good chocolate because then I can’t eat my feelings. Although I wish I had some.

3. Wine.  So I can drink my feelings instead

So right now you are saying, “What the….?”  But just hear me out, because this nonsensical bitch list had unexpected results.  I plowed through my resistance each morning and made my list, and after a few days something began to shift. I felt lighter.  The mental boxing matches subsided.  Why?

Because I stopped fighting the thoughts and feelings we label as “bad.”  Beattie writes:

When we surrender to and accept that which we judge as negative, we move into the light.  The reality is that negative and positive are different sides of the same coin.

I found myself trying to over-complicate the exercise (shocking) by searching for the silver lining of each item on my list.  But Beattie encourages the reader to resist that temptation:

It’s crucial that you’re honest about who you are and how you really feel, not who you think you should be and should feel.

There are times when it is appropriate and effortless to turn lemons into lemonade.  But other times, someone steals your sugar and all you have is a shit pile of lemons.

And it’s ok to say: “I’m just going to write it down and leave it alone until I figure out what to do with all these fucking lemons.”

And yesterday, while sitting in carline, it dawned on me that my sadness is not about the marathon.  It’s about wanting to feel in control of my life.  It’s about wanting to feel like I have direction, I have a plan, I know where I am going.  Running is a blessing in my life; it gives me structure and discipline.

But there is a difference between running and running away.

Beattie says that “feelings tend to come in trios….they come in layers.”  Underneath the marathon disappointment is fear and insecurity.   And knowing this gives me permission to be a bit kinder to myself – a bit more patient and compassionate.  I am learning to love myself through it.  You know, instead of mentally screaming: “AT LEAST YOU HAVE LEGS!”

And for that, I am grateful.