Why do I still run Ragnar?
Sometime around 2:00 A.M. I stumble into a dimly lit high school in the middle of a small Utah town. I have no real idea of where I am. I’m filthy, smelly and exhausted. My teeth are coated with sugar and plaque. My contacts are foggy. My hair’s full of grit. My hamstring is crying. I’m sore and desperate for sleep.
I duck into an empty bathroom stall inside the girls’ locker room and change from one race skirt into another. I grab a few wipes and “shower”. I squeeze in between two other ripe girls and brush my teeth and then stagger to a dark gym covered in seemingly lifeless bodies. “If I fall asleep right now, I’ll get 3 hours of sleep before I wake up and run another 8 miles,” I think. Yeah. Three hours of sleep is plenty of time to recover from the 29 miles I ran earlier that day. Or yesterday. It’s all blending together.
As I set my pillow down on the hardwood floor and play sleeping bag gymnastics in a futile effort to find comfort, I wonder what is wrong with me. Why would I choose to give up the comforts of home to wander the Wasatch Back for two straight days on purpose? Why would I do it, not once, but six years in a row? Why do I do it without hesitation and how am I able to find 11 other crazy souls to join me?
In honor of Ragnar’s 10th anniversary running of the Wasatch Back relay, here are my top 10 reasons I keep coming back to my favorite race of the year. (in no particular order).
1. A chance to see the gorgeous Wasatch Back in a way I never could before. I’ve driven through these mountain numerous times. I’ve biked my way through many of the same cities this race runs through. But the perspective you get as a runner winding your way through some of the most beautiful countryside in the U.S. is unparalleled.
2. A chance to accept and conquer a challenge. People ask me all the time if running Ragnar is more difficult than running a marathon. I can’t answer that. It’s just different. All I know is I go home feeling stronger and more capable of handling just about anything life throws my way after two days of running on no sleep and questionable food.
3. An excuse to eat questionable food. Where else do I get to enjoy a breakfast of Tootsie Rolls and Cheez-its and not feel guilty about it. Freedom!
4. I get to stay up past my bedtime. I rarely see the moon at night anymore. With early morning wake-up calls almost every day of the week, I’m usually in bed by 9 pm. What a joy it is to cut the alarm clock ties and just enjoy.
5. Creativity! I’m always amazed at others’ creativity. Team “Legs Miserables”, thank you for two days of smiles every time I saw your van!
6. It’s always different. I have been Runner 1 every year of the six years I’ve run this race. People ask me if I get bored with the same run. The thing is, it’s never, ever the same. Even if the course is the same, it’s different at 3 am than it was last year at midnight.
7. Running. Two days with no responsibility other than to run the three legs I’ve been assigned? Yes, please.
8.Two days I don’t have to worry about doing my hair. Okay, I don’t do my hair all that often anyway, but during the Wasatch Back I feel as though I’m among my people. No judgment. No finger pointing. Au natural is the word of the day.
9. Everything’s funny at midnight. Just ask my van. What was so funny that we were laughing until our cheeks hurt and our driver almost had to pull over because she couldn’t see through her funny tears? Diet chocolate cake. Yeah, I don’t get it either, but it was hilarious at the time. Everyone needs to laugh so hard they get a six-pack core workout once in awhile.
10. This race changes people in wonderful ways. Not to be melodramatic, but this race has most definitely changed my life. Some of my closest friendships have been forged in our stinky van. Some of those runs are smooth sailing. Others fraught with potholes. Sometimes the legs are fresh. Sometimes they buckle under us and it’s all we can do to finish and pass on the baton.
No matter what kind of run I’m having, no matter how difficult the road ahead, I know I have people in a van following my progress. I have people cheering me on, offering support and water. I have people who understand the ups and downs and how quickly things can change. I have people willing to step in at any moment and run with me if necessary. I have people to celebrate the triumph of every victory.
The bond forged on the road is a tough one to break. I don’t see these friends every day. But I do know that when my daily life feels like Leg 2 at midnight, they are still there to cheer me on, step in when needed, and celebrate when I finish sweaty, exhausted and happy.
I’m an introvert at heart. I’m guarded and shy. For two days I and five other people laughed together. We suffered together. We cheered together. We often ran together. We expressed hopes and confessed fears. We dug into each other’s life stories and came away with a greater understanding of who we are at our core. This race became a bond, a glue, binding us together in the most wonderful way.
This is more than a race for me. This is a special time spent with special people in the most special of places. It’s not about the race. It’s about the run.