With my most recent Facebook blasting of Ragnar 2017 photos, I've gotten a lot of crazy looks and inquiries from friends. I think many knew I ran, but many didn't realize that I'd do something as crazy as a 200 mile relay with people I had never met before.
Semi-quick description of The Ragnar NW Passage Relay: It consists of a team of12 runners, split into 2 vans of 6 each. Usually each section of the team has a driver, but sometimes the runners alternate driving themselves. "Vans" can be anything from short school buses (luxury), sprinter vans and 15-person vans, to not-very-big minivans. Runner 1 kicks off the Team's start up in Blaine, WA. They run to the next "exchange point" where runner 2 picks up. This continues for the remainder of the runners, until the larger exchange where Van 1 hands off to Van 2, or runners 7 through 12. This is typically a larger exchange with food booths, merchandise, etc. Van 2 then continues it's portion of the run. Now, each running "leg" or segment varies from "Easy" 3 miles to a "Very Hard" 9 miles. The descriptions of the sections are divulged before any runner signs up, so yeah, we know what we're getting ourselves into!
Now, here's where it gets fun. During the time when Van 2 is running, Van 1 gets to rest. And vice versa. There's no stopping, it's a continuous race. So, when Van 2 is done, they pass back to Van 1. This happens 3 times total, so each runner runs 3 sections of the race. These sections happen as they come up, so if a few runners are faster or slower than anticipated, it affects the overall time of the race. So, for instance, I was runner #3, and I ran at approximately 10:30 in the morning on Friday, then again at 10:30 that same night, then again at 8:30 on Saturday morning. The key to all of this is van to van communication. The driver is usually on point with this, getting runners to the next large exchange so they can rest, eat, sleep, and use a normal bathroom. We were lucky in that 2 of our vanmates had a home close to the 2nd large exchange, so we were able to rest on normal beds, have hot showers, and real bathrooms. During the middle of the night Saturday, we slept in the gym at Oak Harbor High School. Keep in mind that there may be anywhere between 4-5 hours in between Vans, BUT you have to account for travel time (sometimes up to 35 miles driving to the next large exchange) bathroom wait times, finding a spot on the gym floor, etc. Eventually, Van 2 brings it all home when they finish in Langley at Saturday afternoon.
I was lucky enough be added to a team that was pretty amazing. A previous Team in Training coach/friend had posted that his team was looking for a few more runners. I assumed he'd be in my van, and I responded with an "I could be convinced." After explaining that I wasn't trained up, and I wasn't fast, we all decided I'd be a good fit. Welcome Sarah to Team "That's What She Said!" I arrived at 6:00 a.m. on Friday morning after a long, hard day at the Farmers Market on Thursday. Nervous but excited, I proceeded to meet my fellow van mates. Several had done the event before, together, and a few others were new to the experience. We had a Ragnar-assigned runner that we picked up on the way to the start, so I wasn't the only "newbie." They were a great group of people, and I have formed some lifelong friendships after spending 36+ hours crammed into a Suburban with them all. They saw me at my best, and my worst, and showed me grace the entire time. We had some laughs and some tears, but overall, I'm pretty damn thrilled to be part of their crew. *We're already discussing team names and runner sections for next year.
What's the big deal? The thing is, this wasn't my first rodeo...or Ragnar. It was actually my 3rd, but I'm sure my friends aren't counting as closely as I am. In fact, I have a "Running Resume" note saved to Facebook so I can refer back to it from time to time and check in on my #40by40 goal. (That's 40 races of 13.1 miles or greater, by the time I'm 40 years old. Currently at 27, this deadline is coming up faster than I like to think about...)
So, I had a random thought today..."why not write a blog post" to explain the terrible and wonderful reasons that I run, both long distances and in general. I get so many "you're crazy" and "why would you do something like that" questions, that I thought it would be good to share.
Note: I stole the title from a great comic artist (and runner) Matthew Inman. You can see his hilarious (and very true) comic representation of what I'm about to personally describe here: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/running. *And in case you're wondering, yes I've run the "Beat the Blerch" race too!
I've been running for nearly a decade, after spending much of my life as a non-active person. I did everything I could to avoid PhysEd classes in school, I opted for library aid, study aid, any aid I could be other than having to physically exert myself in front of other people. I was awkward, and uncoordinated. I loved playing outside with my actual friends on the weekend, and especially when I was able to spend long days at the dog lot where my dad trained and raced Alaskan Huskies. So, in 2008, I came across one of those Team in Training pamphlets announcing that I, too, could complete a marathon. I went to the seminar and was hooked. It was perfect timing as I had just started working for a running company, and had also lost a dear family member. With TnT I could get in shape, raise money, and feel a purpose behind the activity.
We won't go through every struggle and set back I had in those first few years of running, but I did figure something out very quickly: running = clarity. Running was a catalyst for many changes that were to come over the next 9 years. It made me strong enough to weather the storms and celebrate the victories. No matter how slow I went, I still put in the miles. I still worked hard. Running helped to show me that I could get through anything, just like I plugged through yet another 0.1 mile at the end of those 13 to cross the finish line.
In becoming a runner, my partner at the time finally felt like I was strong enough to accept the fact that our marriage was broken. He saw me grow, shift, change as I became stronger physically. He saw me start going for the things that I wanted. I don't chalk ALL of this up to running, but for much of it I really do. You see, running gives you a lot of time to think. TnT training strongly suggested NOT using headphones and actually getting to know people on the team. And, if you can hold a conversation while running, you're pacing yourself in an appropriate manner. So, there's been 7 years of talking. Talking through problems with people I've come to call my closest friends. Talking through decisions while sweating out frustrations. And those times I did go solo - having the peace of mind to work through things in my head, without having to say a word. I learned that as angry as I was because of this, that or the other...I could go for a run and come home tired, but no longer pent up and angry. Running releases endorphins, it elevates your heart, and it really is almost impossible to start a run, and end a run angry. You can try, but it's likely not going to work out well.
Another aspect of running is the competitive nature, but not in the way that you might think. Now, I am known to be competitive, and I realize that every run I've ever participated in had a winner. It just wasn't me. Nor did I ever dream of even placing in a race. I'm not fast, and that's not why I'm there. But the competition is always within and with myself. There are pros and cons to this. Pros: you are constantly pushing to do better, and isn't that a life lesson in itself? Cons: beating yourself up about pace and time is tough. It really is, and it sucks. And, I do it all the time despite the fact that I would never tell a friend that they should have done better. It's an inner struggle I'm working with. Someone passes you and you think "push harder, you can beat them," or "you ate cake 2 times last week, the least you can do is finish this run in xyz time." The thing is, there are good days, and there are bad days. Just like life. You can build a house, secure it with locks, buy insurance and never leave a candle burning inside. But, one day, a thief might break in and steal everything. An electrical fire might burn everything you own. You cannot predict the "what ifs" and running is the very same thing. One day you might get hurt. One race you may have to walk a huge portion of the miles. Another day you might achieve a new persona record. Now, I'm working on becoming stronger and more consistent, but at the end of the day, I feel thankful to be able to do this physical thing with my body that many cannot. I try to remember that when pushing through the inner battle with myself.
So, here I am, at one-week-from 37 years old, trying my best to get through life. We're in the midst of buying a house, renting our current house, moving, working our normal jobs, and striving to to better for ourselves. All of the aspects of these hurdles can be found in running. Mental, physical and spiritual. So when people looked at me, eyes agog, as I stated what I was doing last weekend (Ragnar) this is why. I plugged through 19 miles last weekend and put my body through hell, in some ways, just to say that I did it in the midst of chaos. If I can do that, I can do just about anything right? I also did it for a bit of a break (insert your eye roll here). In joining a group of 6 people I'd never met before, I got to have an experience, in the midst of chaos both in my current situation and in running a crazy race, that I haven't had before. Deep down, I think that opens up the brain to more creativity, and focus. Those 8.6 miles I logged through extreme heat allowed me to focus on the physical me. On my body reacts to things it doesn't like, and how at the end, I still managed to do it and beat my estimated time. Talk about feeling badass. Those 6.7miles I logged in the dark, along the Skagit Valley with only the moon, a breeze and the occasional headlamp running by helped me have some moments of peace in this hectic time of life. The cool air kissed my skin and I really thought I got a glimpse of the "runners high." It's a mental calm that comes despite the exertion your body is performing. Those last 3.1 miles that I did on less than 3 hours of sleep, proved to me that my spirit can push through and finish what it's set out to do, even when it feels like the hardest thing in the world. It's almost a "this too shall pass" moment when the halfway point comes, then the 75% mark, and finally that last bend in the road to the end.
As we're finalizing documents and plans for moving, I'm having to dig up old memories that I don't want to remember. Divorce, bankruptcy, foreclosures. All "marathons" of emotion that I tucked away, but are now resurfacing and causing hurdles that we didn't expect. I've trained, I've practiced and I've defeated these ghosts before. Just like I've trained and pushed through the thousands of miles in my running lifetime.
You can bet after a few more days of rest, I'm going to be out there running. Running to forget, running to move forward, and running to beat the insatiable voice inside all of us that tells us we're not good enough.