I first learned about Ragnar in the spring of 2012 when I was tagged in a facebook post with, “You in?” It was for Ragnar Tennessee with my fearless cousin (cousin-in-law? That just sounds weird) who is constantly tackling every physical challenge that comes his way. I so wanted to say yes, but the logistics were a little much to conquer then, and frankly, my mileage had just reached 6.2. But, he sparked the idea, and the idea became a goal.
This spring, Sarah and Dimity of Run Like a Mother posted a contest to join their DC Ragnar teams. I tried to gain a spot, but so did tons of other badass mother runners across the country. I had this idea that it would be amazing to go back to my old stomping grounds, the place I lived for ten unhealthy years, the place where I wanted to become the girl I now am, yet repeatedly failed at becoming. I thought literally stomping on those grounds would be cathartic, and maybe chapter-closing. But it was not meant to be. The goal grew, though.
Then came the amazing opportunity to run Colorado Ragnar with 3W Races. I think it took me about 4 seconds to reply to the invite with a resounding, “YES!!!”
On Thursday, Sept 5th, I packed my bags (it took me almost as long as the relay itself). My RagNERD was in full force as I packed each ziploc bag, one for each leg of the race, complete with a race outfit, socks, sports bra, fuel, my leg map, and smaller leg map notes to carry with me (because I was freaking out that I would get lost).
I also packed a ziploc of first aid supplies, a ziploc with recovery tools, and a ziploc of fun (really. That’s what I labeled it. There were robot stickers and gel pens and a glue stick and tape and window crayons). I made Power Balls (so, so good, and I’d definitely bring them on another Ragnar). And then, I grabbed all my bags of stuff and my bags of nerves and headed to meet the members of my van that were headed to Copper Mountain that night.
We had a great dinner together and stayed at a fantastic condo, thanks to E’s awesome planning! But my head was hurting and my nerves were jangling and I needed more water than God had put on the planet. My sleep was fitful, despite my best intentions to sleep well before not sleeping at all!
The morning came before I was ready, and I was the first runner. A cup of coffee and a granola bar later, I was ready to run. We took some pre-race pics in our temporary race shirts (our real shirts were stuck in Portland because it was raining. Huh).
And then we headed to the start, where I checked myself in and then stood around with a huge lump in my stomach.
And then, before I had time to get any more worried, they said, “Go!” (Or something along those lines indicating I should begin moving). I crossed the start line and headed off for the most beautiful run I’d have during Ragnar (it was the only one in the light, so that could play a part).
It was 7.9 miles (labeled very hard, but I disagree) of gorgeous mountains, and I was present for all of it – for the shadows of the trees and the sun slanting in through the branches, for the breathtaking views of the mountains and the energy of being part of something that I knew was going to be epic. I passed two people (kills, in Ragnar-speak) during that leg, and as will be the case in all my legs, we won’t speak of how many times I was killed.
I finished strong and felt so, so good. But sweaty. I went to change beside our van, thinking it would shield me a little, but I didn’t realize we had a passenger inside, right at the window where I was changing. Sorry, N. Didn’t mean to scare you.
Our van (really a Yukon) followed our next five runners through their legs, cheering them on as we went, and then we passed the baton (slap bracelet) to van 2.
At one exchange, S and I went in search of food at a farmer’s market, and we found Qdoba giving out giant samples of their house-made guac (so, so good) and tortilla chips with lime and kosher salt (who knew?). It was EXACTLY what we needed, so huge thanks to Qdoba.
After passing the baton to Van 2, we headed for food and we tried to get a little rest. It was 5pm on day one, and we were eating our first real meal. It was so, so good. I’m not sure it would have mattered where we ate at that point, but we chose Gore Range Brewery in Edwards and if you’re ever there, the roasted edamame vegetable salad is incredible. Really. Just. so. good.
We headed to the Fieldhouse in Edwards, and inside there were two fields (indoor soccer?) where you could spread out and try and catch some sleep. I took my sleeping bag and pillow in and tried to rest, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that we all looked like refugees. Sleeping bags. Random space. Small groups huddled together. Whispering. Looking haggard. Shared foodstuff of odd varieties. Hobbling. First aid. It was Red-Cross-like and a bit surreal.
After laying there for a bit, I headed back out to the van and donned my gigantic reflective vest, then used some twine that B had to cinch it closed a bit. I added the blinkie light to my back (well, really E did). Then, I was ready to run again!
By the time the baton reached me at 8:45pm, it was pitch black. My second leg was 2.9 miles (labeled easy) and while the leg map said it was along a “trail,” I might be more apt to call it a sidewalk. Along a busy road. Lots of lights coming at you. Then all of a sudden, it was a real trail that plunged down a hill and into darkness. The “One Mile Left” sign appeared and I was like, “Really?” Because I couldn’t see any lights. None. No blinkies. No exchange. About 50 feet away from it, I finally saw the exchange point, and I was relieved that I was, in fact, in the right spot.
We continued on, exchange to exchange, trying to cheer our runner on along the way and meet them at the end of their leg. What I can’t quite capture in all of this is just how much our van was laughing. None of it would sound funny if you weren’t there (ok, some of it might) but there were just so many great lines and shared jokes. I am so glad I got to experience this with such FUN people. The wrong people could definitely make Ragnar a miserable experience, I think.
After our last runner from Van 1 came in from his second leg, we hit the showers at the rec center Gypsum. I was so tired that I didn’t really care how dirty I was, until I felt the warm water. Ooooh, how I could have stayed there indefinitely. We decided it was like Disneyland to us at that point. We drove on to the next exchange (a gym…somewhere) and the gym was very quiet and well set up as a sleeping area. I plopped my sleeping bag down, crawled in, put on my face mask and slipped in my ear plugs, and slept the sleep of the dead for an hour and half. Then – you guessed it – time to run again!
Everyone in my van was pretty out of it (or still asleep). I got ready and think I told someone (B? N?) that I was going to go (and I meant to the exchange point) and they all thought I’d gone to the bathroom (not unreasonable – I was there a lot). I went to the exchange in a really dazed state and I was definitely thinking, “What is wrong with me? Why did I sign up for this? It’s 4am and I’ve not really slept and now I have to go run 6.3 hard miles and I am so. not. ready.”). I got to the exchange and I saw Van 2 searching for, presumably, me. Their arms were out as though they were literally feeling in the dark for me, and they were definitely punchy. Lack of sleep was hitting us all hard! I munched on my granola bar while I waited, and then I heard, “87!” and J pushed me and said, “That’s you!” Like I said, everyone was a little punchy. I gave her my trash and she was really, really excited to take it from me. When M arrived he patted my shoulder and said, “Have a great run!” then kept on moving through the exchange, without giving me the baton. Seriously. We were a mess. Van 2 pushed him back to hand over the slap bracelet.
And I was off on the “hard” leg that really should have been labeled, “You just might die.” It was still pitch black, and the stars were gorgeous. I turned off my tunes and listened to water rushing, leaves swishing, the occasional runner pounding the pavement, and animals stirring in the trees. That part was great. The mountains were off to my right and while I knew they were there and could make out their shapes, they looked fake, like movie props or something. The whole thing was surreal. Except for the hill. Five miles of my 6.3 were uphill. And not just a little piddly, rolling hill. Like, a “screw you” hill. Apparently my van drove up said hill before I got there, and later I saw facebook posts saying, “It’s 5am. I feel bad for our first runner.” It was the only leg of my run that felt like I was really in it with the other runners, though. People were supportive. We encouraged each other when we passed, or got passed. We pushed each other on. One team realized the stop didn’t have any water support and that the hill was insane, and so they set up their own water station and were handing out bottles of water and a dose of encouragement to anyone who needed it.
I saw the One Mile to Go sign (these were so important to me along the way), and I thought, “This could be the last mile of Ragnar I ever run.” Then I almost laughed out loud as I realized, “No way. I’ll be back.”
I came in strong from that seemingly endless run, into the dark exchange, and shouted “87!” so my teammate could get ready for the hand off. And then, I was done. I was a Ragnarian! I’d completed my first Ragnar and it was AWESOME! I wanted to celebrate with someone, but my teammates were all still quiet and sleepy and were not just coming off a runner’s high, and everyone I knew in the normal world was asleep. I settled for celebrating with the cheerleader in my head.
There was one problem. I was really sweaty, and it was cold out, and now, I was freezing and my brain just wasn’t quite functioning. I was shaking and thought I’d have to wait until Basalt – hours away – to get warm, because my clean clothes were in a car there. S had to force me to find my driest, cleanest clothes and get changed, and “Take that sweaty bra off!” Then she told me the next stop would have a coffee shop or a 7-11, and we’d get me something warm to drink. It was like Disneyland all over again. I warmed up, got some coffee, and ordered an everything bagel with eggs and cheese. Best. breakfast. ever. I was so glad S was still functioning when my brain had given out, or it would have been a long, cold morning!
Soon we were cheering our last runner in and passing the baton to van 2 for their final legs, and van 1 was finished! We’d done it!
We headed in for a pancake breakfast (except for me because I don’t like pancakes, which is apparently un-runner-like and downright un-American; who knew?) and then we hit the creek for a cold creek bath on our tired and achy muscles.
Then, to the last exchange, where we sent our last runner up a canyon in the hot sun for an 8-mile test of endurance. I’m really glad that wasn’t my leg.
We rode the gondola up to the top of Snowmass, and J was so freaked out he was almost sitting on my lap. Our team waited at the top of the slope, ready to meet M and run down the switchback with him to cross the finish. Well, sort of ready. We were all kind of hobbling about and not thrilled at the prospect of running any more. When we saw him we took off down the hill, and some of us cut across the single track switchback so that we could cheer him on without having to exert ourselves quite as much. Soon we were running under the arches of a team from BYU (the escaped prisoners) and then across the finish line! Whooooooooot! We had done it! Someone handed me two fistfuls of medals and told me to pass them out to everyone.
And then there were pics and high fives and laughter and ohmygoodnees we just ran 192 miles across the mountains! And then it was over. We moved some stuff around in the vans, and several of us headed back together, tired, but still ready to laugh, and share, and eat barbecue sauce (except I don’t like sauce. Also un-American?).
Now I think we’re all in withdrawal. I’ve loved seeing all the pictures popping up on facebook (and I wish there were more! I’m bringing my good camera next time and tying a string around my finger to remind me to capture EVERYTHING). Two days after we finished, I signed on to run Ragnar SoCal in April, 2014, and this time, I get to do it with family. I’m really excited about that. And I’m sure an equally long narrative will accompany it.
I wish I could adequately capture the experience, and despite my use of nine million words here in this blog post, I know I’ve hardly scratched the surface, because it was epic.
And remember how I thought I needed to go back East to face who I used to be and really own who I am now? I was wrong. Being who I am now, and owning that, in the place I live, in the place I love, in the place and with the people who helped me become who I am – that was what I needed. Ragnar was a way for me to close the chapter on who I used to be, and really acknowledge that I am not her any more. While the miles ticked away, I really embraced that THIS is who I am. I’ll always be a former fat girl. I may always battle the voice in my head that says “You can’t.” But I know she’s gone, and that voice is wrong. And I? I am a Ragnarian.