It’s hard to believe that our Ragnar Trail Appalachians adventure was ending two weeks ago today. Lots of memories still fresh in my mind. Months ago we began to assemble our 2 teams of 8 – almost completely made of beginning trail runners. I remember being amazed once again by the courage this group displayed. Trails were a new frontier for them and the thought of running 3 times in 2 days, even through the night, while sleeping in tents, un-showered and smelly, did nothing to deter them.
In April, we began to get serious with the training. Hitting the trails 3 times per week, uphill repeats, downhill repeats, back-to-back long runs, and night runs. But before we knew it, we were standing at Big Bear Lake Campground in West Virginia, pitching our tents and eagerly awaiting the start of our latest adventure.
Well, the storms started the first night and pretty much went non-stop the entire weekend. The ground was saturated making the stakes anchoring our tents useless so when the insane winds began to blow, multiple tents collapsed and we lost an air mattress in the process. Some tents leaked from above, some leaked from below and before long we were literally camping in the middle of a muddy swamp.
The trail conditions were the worst I’d ever seen, deteriorating rapidly and becoming more dangerous with each passing hour. Many people came off the course bloody from tripping over newly-exposed roots and rocks. The mud was 6-8 inches deep in places and the puddles ranged anywhere from ankle-deep to hip-deep. We were all dirty, wet, and exhausted.
The last few hours were extremely chaotic in camp as another massive storm was rolling up the coast toward us. We broke camp down as quickly as we could. The race organizers began to force teams to “double up” and run their loops together in order to get people off the course as quickly as possible, meaning some had to run with no sleep only a few hours after coming off an overnight run.
Standing at the finish line waiting for our final two runners to come in, the mood of the group was…let’s call it “less than enthusiastic”. We were all totally spent – physically and emotionally – and in our weakened states, the misery of what we’d just endured was all anyone could think about. We sat quietly around the table waiting for this experience to be over and as we huddled in the pavilion, watching yet another crazy storm pass over us, many said “I won’t be doing this again”. After the last runners came in on Saturday evening, we got our team pictures, congratulated each other, and said our good-byes to head for home.
Now this is not my first rodeo. I’ve sworn off experiences and events more times than I count in the hours immediately following certain races…but it’s usually short-lived. So as we left the event, I told my athletes to give it a week first – you always remember it all very differently once you’re dry, warm and rested. Then I waited to see what the ultimate reaction would be.
But it didn’t take the group a week to make up it’s mind and the first few Facebook posts that rolled out weren’t what I expected. Approximately 24 hours after the race, the majority of the team was signing up for Ragnar Trail Richmond in April, even recruiting enough people to form 3 teams. No one spoke about the grim and miserable nightmare we’d endured during our 3 days together. All of the posts highlighted the proud and beautiful moments we’d shared and experienced during our awesome adventure – and there were MANY.
To an outside observer, it appeared that this race went off without a hitch and I suppose it did. We rocked it out! Only good memories of a life-changing experience that tested each of us in very different ways. Each of us filled with pride that we didn’t just survive – we THRIVED.
Now filled with gratitude for the opportunity to be a part of this moment in history, we have learned that within each of us exists a steadfast strength and unwavering determination that will get us through anything life can throw at us. And we got to see some AMAZING views in the process.
When people ask me why I keep doing this after all the insane stories I have to tell, I just smile – explaining it won’t do it justice because it’s something you have to experience to truly understand.
We are runners and these are the moments we live for.