Van 2, ready to go.
33 hours later, after running 12-23 miles each without a shower or access to a proper bathroom, through no sleep and tired legs, after being chased by dogs (Will) and getting hit by a kid on a bike then having a panic attack (me), and with our first van dropping out of the race, six of us crossed the finish line, filthy, exhausted, and victorious.
I went in thinking it was probably going to be difficult, but not that difficult. I was only running 15 total miles. I've done two half-marathons this year, how hard could it be?
After my first 5 miles.
I knew that much of the race would be hilly. I didn't realize how hilly.
After that first run, I started to realize what I had gotten myself into.
We go on the weirdest dates.
Because along with the hills and the all-night running, Ragnar isn't able to shut down the streets. It's not like a regular race where you cruise through blocked-off streets. You're waiting at stoplights and dodging cars and in Will's case, getting chased by a dog.
Will finishes his first leg.
With legs 6-12 out of the way, we handed off the baton to Van 1 and went to get some food and head to the next major exchange. It finally sunk in that this was going to be a grind, mentally and physically. I would go through pre-race jitters two more times, try to calm my nervous stomach in a porta-potty that had been anointed by thousands of runners before me (and baking in the hot sun for hours.)
I would try to gauge hydration and nutrition and experience running through pitch blackness past abandoned fields and through freeway underpasses at 4:02 in the morning, trying not to let my brain get the best of me but still managing to outline a full Law & Order: SVU episode.
I decided to run as fast as I could through these sections, imagining that if a killer saw me they'd be so threatened by my physical prowess that they wouldn't bother. It made a lot more sense at pre-dawn and on no sleep.
After Van 2 finished our second legs of the race, Van 1 told us they were dropping out. We weren't sure if the Ragnar officials would let us continue, so while we waited to hear from race command, we all vowed to finish the race regardless. Even if we got a medal and a DNF, we'd finish the race we came to run.
Word came through minutes later: we weren't eligible to win the race (like that was ever a danger!) but we were cleared to carry on.
So we did.
My last leg was my toughest leg of the race. Not only was it the longest distance, but there were multiple hills, including a final one that was going to be a bastard of a climb.
As it turned out, the hill was the least of my worries.
I got through the first two miles and met up with my team who gave me a fresh bottle of water and cheered me on. I told them I'd be fine and I'd meet them at the exchange.
Mile two found a ton of traffic light and running past a drainage ditch, but after cutting through a parking lot, mile three was Fiesta Bay. It was a warm, sunny day and everyone was out, rollerblading and riding bikes. I navigated through the crowd and gave wide berth to a couple of 10-11 year old boys on bikes. I'd guess I was about 10-15 feet in front of them when I heard them laughing and yelling and then an exclamation and a skid and as I felt the rush of air on my left side I tried to get out of the way. He only grazed me, but I tweaked my back in the process.
I slowed down my pace, realizing I was at the halfway point and I still had about three miles to go.I thought that was going to be the worst part of my race.
Again, I was wrong.
Here's something you may not know about me: I do not like running over freeways, even if they have tall fences to prevent you from going over. I don't know why. I've never fallen off a freeway overpass. I don't know anyone who's fallen over a freeway overpass. But it freaks the crap out of me.
As I navigated the cars entering and exiting the freeway, I realized I was not only going to have to go over an overpass, bu there was no fence. The only thing that separated me from the 5 down below was about as tall as my hip.
I tried not to look, moving straight ahead, but I didn't feel like I was getting enough air. So I took a deep breath. And a deeper breath. And a deeper one. I was gulping air and it wasn't enough. I was starting to get fuzzy around the edges.
I crossed and then realized about twenty feet later, there was another one.
My throat hurt and now those fuzzy edges were going black. Tears sprung to my eyes but since I was salty and dehydrated, I was now blind. There was a part deep in my lizard brain that told me that if I didn't keep moving forward, the thing that I feared the most (falling over onto the freeway) was most definitely going to happen.
I crossed the freeway and saw that I was at the bottom of my final, two-mile hill. I used the last of my water to flush my eyes. My throat was raw from trying to suck down air. I wondered if I should text Will, but I knew if I told him what had happened he'd insist on coming out and getting me. You're not allowed to run with a pacer during the daytime hours.
I decided as long as I was upright, I was going to finish.
I closed my eyes, calmed my breathing, and remembered that final hill at the Tough Mudder. It was just one foot in front of the other, all the way up.
I opened my eyes and started up the hill.
Runners passed me, one by one, each with a "good job" and "you got this." Another team was out there waiting for their runner to pass and saw that I was clearly in distress. They asked if they could help and I just said I needed to finish and each one high-fived me and promised me I would. A guy in a Tough Mudder shirt carrying an American flag gave me a thumbs-up. (Later, when turning in the flag we were issued by Ragnar staff, Will ran into the guy. He recognized Will's shirt and said he had seen one of Will's teammates in distress but committed to finishing and was she okay? Will said that was his wife, and she finished. This is why I love racing.)
I got to the last exchange and told Will I just needed five minutes and a cold towel. Afterwards, I celebrated with my crew. My Ragnar was 95% done.
Will brought us home with the last 5+ miles, and we ran toward the finish as a team.
It wasn't the race that I thought I would run. My guess is that it wasn't the race that many of my teamates thought they'd run. But I think the point of a race like Ragnar is that you give up that control. You deal with the task in front of you, and when you hit a roadblock, you solve those problems together.
Will, Tim, Shira, Brian, Zvia, our rockstar driver Desiree who took care of every single one of us and Elizabeth for being the best van decorator and mascot we could have ever asked for: thank you. Thanks to Eva for organizing the group, because wrangling a group of people to do anything is always a Herculean task.
After my final leg, Will said we were never doing this again. After a shower and a good night's sleep, we're figuring out when we can do our next one.
It's not a race for everyone. The physical and mental grind, the lack of sleep, being filthy and sore and trapped in a van with a bunch of people, even if they are your friends, is a challenge. I won't lie: it was one of the hardest things I've ever done. But in life, the hardest things we do are usually affairs tinged with grief and sadness.
Now if you don't mind, I'm going to take another shower.