Several months ago, my friend Jasmine said, “Hey, let’s put together a Ragnar team!” I’d had a couple of glasses of wine, so I said, “Yeah, that’s a great idea! What’s Ragnar again?”
Ragnar is a 24-hour trail relay race. Eight team members take turns running three different loops at three, five and seven-and-a-half miles. I’d maybe run five miles once when I committed to this, so I was way out of my comfort zone. And as our team came together — a formidable group of marathon runners and Crossfit champions, I began to worry about holding up my end of the bargain. We each had to submit our “10K road pace,” and since I’d never run a 10K, I guessed. I was quite obviously the weakest link, which made me uncomfortable.
I’ve been pretty good at almost everything I’ve ever done. Yes, I’m a coordinated, talented person, but what I realized as a part of this all-star team was that I gravitate towards things at which I can excel reasonably easily — activities where I can be in the upper echelon of ability. Being more introspective than I was in my younger years, I decided that being the weakest link was good for me in a “get comfortable being uncomfortable” kind of way. I did repeatedly make sure no one was intent on winning this thing. My goal was to complete my loops without hurting myself, especially considering two of my loops would be run in the dark.
We drove out on a Friday towards our destination, ironically named “Comfort, Texas.” It was pouring down rain, and we were all worried about spending 24 miserable hours wet and cold, sloshing through the mud. I was nervous but excited. It was an adventure.
As we got settled in our camp with a ridiculous cache of gear and supplies for one short day, I chatted and got to know some of the team members I hadn’t met yet. I began to feel reassured, as everyone seemed concerned about getting through the course sans injury, and no one was obsessing over their times.
My first loop was five miles. I was so jazzed, I made my typical, rookie mistake of starting off too fast. Then, half a mile in, that adrenaline abruptly ran out, and I was all, “Oh shit, I can’t do this!” But then I slowed down and hit my stride about a mile or so in, and it wasn’t so bad. The Hill Country views were gorgeous.
Back at camp, the rain was holding off and we were all grateful. Between legs, we sat, ate, drank coffee, told stories, stretched, laughed and slept as best we could. We also poured over Jasmine’s sophisticated spreadsheet which predicted our times remarkably accurately. I napped before my second leg, which started around 9:30pm. It was just three miles of smooth trail, so even though it was dark, it felt like a cakewalk.
Flash forward to 4:30am. I’m outside the ready tent, waiting for Laura to return. I am sleep deprived and standing in duct-taped rain boots in eight inches of squelchy mud, watching the screen that will alert me when Laura is a quarter mile out. People are sitting around a bonfire making s’mores to my right. Wonder Woman is playing on a big screen. I can’t hear the dialogue, but I keep drifting from the alert monitor over to the movie, where I get transfixed by Gal Gadot for a while before I remember I’m supposed to be watching for Laura. Runners keep returning, yelling for their next teammate: “Drew! Where’s Drew! Has anyone seen Drew?” (My guess is that Drew is fast asleep in his tent.)
Laura rolls in from the 5-mile loop at 5:25am, and I take off for my last and longest run — 7.5 miles, in the dark, on little sleep, after having already run farther in the past 16 hours than I usually do in a week. I got my mind right. I intentionally started off slow, and I told myself to just make it to the one-mile marker. When I saw that one, it was time to shoot for mile 2 and so on.
I was tired. I tripped a few times and almost fell. I walked a lot because of fatigue and fear of stumbling over rocks and tree roots. The depth of the trail terrain was washed out in the glow of my headlamp. I felt cautious and also peaceful out there in the quiet night.
Mile 5, over halfway there.
Mile 6.5, one mile to go.
Mile 7, almost to the quarter-mile gate.
As I ran the final stretch around 7am, there were no people cheering at the finish, as there were earlier in the light of day, but I honestly did not care. As I approached the ready tent, suddenly it hit me. I did it. I wasn’t sure I could, but I did. And tears welled up behind my eyes. I tamped them back down, though, because it seemed embarrassing to cry over seven miles, amongst people who regularly run 26.
We finished up about 24 hours after we started. We were delirious and relieved. We broke down camp, hauling our gargantuan amount of gear up the hill to the parking lot in an ox cart, pulled not by oxen but our own, achy selves. On the way home, when it started to rain for the first time since we drove in, we stopped for food. I have never seen eight adults devour Whataburger so fast.
It was exhausting, and I questioned my sanity at times, but it was also really fun. The bonding you do with people in a situation like that speeds the friendship process. It’s hard to put on airs when you haven’t showered in 10 miles and are so tired you barely remember your own name.
I noticed something else, too. The day after we got back, a Sunday, I was in a calmer, better mood than I’d been in a while. Perhaps it was hangover endorphins or maybe a much-needed break from the daily routine, but even a day later, all the stuff that had been worrying me — politics, the kids’ education, my career path — didn’t seem like such a big deal. Someone find me a new race before this wears off.
P.S. This part is probably only interesting if you ran the race:
Thanks to our captain, Jasmine, who got our team together and organized us right down to the minute. Thanks to Tammy and Josh for bringing the bulk of our gear and getting there first to get a good camp spot. Thanks to their daughter, Lucy, for being a good sport and shoveling mud from the walkways. Thanks to Laura for suggesting we stay up and shotgun beers all night (and then thanks to her for not actually doing it.) Thanks to the bad-ass Elizabeth for being a perfect tent mate. It’s not often you meet someone who knows all the requisite tent etiquette. Thanks to Christy for driving us and doing the very last leg of our race. Thanks to Tad for doggedly doing most of the packing up and hauling back to the parking lot. We made a good team, y’all.