Ever wonder what it would be like to grab 3 friends to help you cover 120 miles through the WV Appalachians? No? Well, I have. So a few months ago, I started searching for people that had the right stuff to form a trail-running fantastic foursome – my 1st ever Ragnar Trail Ultra Team (has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?).
Truthfully, I thought it might take awhile to find 3 other people who — like me — thought this slightly insane idea would be a good one. I really didn’t expect to get 3 Ragnar newbies to sign on for this madness, but as luck would have it, that’s precisely what happened.
Each of us signing on to run 30 miles of tough mountainous trails, round-the-clock relay style, 3 legs per person, in less than 30 hours.
Fast forward 9 months to August 11, 2016, when we all arrived at Big Bear Lake – my friend Drew and I from Maryland and a friend-of-a-friend Allison and her friend Sara both from Philly. The first time the 2 halves of our team had ever actually met. Turns out, the Philadelphians weren’t so scary 😉
We set up our campsite under a stunning sunset and shared some adult beverages as we talked about the long journey ahead. Of course, tons of excitement (plus the ridiculous heat and humidity) meant that we barely slept but we were all pretty pumped and ready to rock at 11AM the next morning.
Drew lead off as Runner #1. Since the course is actually designed for teams of 8 — and we were a 4-person team — each runner on our team had to run a leg that consisted of two (regular-person) loops back-to-back. So after you ran a loop (each loop ranging from 3.6 to 6.5 miles), you’d just run through the transition area and head back out for your 2nd loop. This was awesome because you got to hear your team cheer for you as you passed through but it also kinda sucked because, well, it was a bit of a tease since you aren’t actually done with your leg.
Anyway, all was smooth for Drew. Allison went next followed by Sara then me. Before we knew it, one full round of legs was done … only two more to go!
The second round began the night runs — sounds terrifying but those are actually my favorite runs. Running through a rocky forest on the side of a mountain is tough, each step requiring your full and complete attention … that is, unless you wanna bite it out there and potentially lose some teeth.
But running through the rocky forest on the side of a mountain with only a headlamp to light your way is an interesting exercise in staying completely present. You can only actually see about 3 steps in front of you so that’s all you can pay attention to. Your field of vision is narrowed. It’s impossible to think too far ahead. It’s awesome, I love it, the miles fly by.
The morning came and we were all still feeling pretty good, even after our second round of legs.
In the wee hours of Saturday morning, I passed the timing chip to Drew for the last time and he headed out for his final 12 miles. He crushed his final legs and so did Allison and Sara.
The last 12 miles miles were up to me and I headed out around 12PM. Here’s what I remember about those last 2 loops: (1) it’s REALLY freaking hot; (2) it’s really freaking humid; (3) the bugs are eating me alive; (4) I’m more chaffed now than I’ve ever been before in my life, and (5) I’m unbelievably proud of this team.
Seriously, I was truly blown away by the courage of the peeps who made up our awesome foursome. I know lots of seasoned runners who wouldn’t sign on for this race but these peeps did and they CRUSHED it like pros! This truly was the best Ragnar team ever! No drama. All guts.
The Dream Team.
I’m usually a solo runner. I spend many miles alone in the woods prepping for long races that I’ll also run on my own. But these team events hold a very special place in my heart. It’s the people and the stories of courage and spirit that get me every time.
You can take a random bunch of strangers, full of doubts and fears, and in a few short hours watch them transform into badass runners and life-long friends. There’s so much magic in it.
It never gets old … seeing regular folks uncover their inner superhero.
And so, in a few days I’ll do it again. This time with a team of 12, on pavement, covering more than 206 miles from Cumberland, MD to Washington, D.C. The team is again mostly Ragnar Rookies and mostly self-proclaimed “non-runners” — what can I say, I’m very persuasive, it’s my gift.
As race day approaches, the nerves are mounting among the ranks but I find myself just smiling because I’ve done this enough times to know what happens to people out there on that course … the person that starts isn’t the same person that finishes. You leave so much of yourself out there but you gain an entirely new perspective. Step on that course and prepare to see how awesome your potential truly is.
Running is awesome like that.
So even though the doubts and fears are weighing heavily on the minds of my new teammates, you can bet there’ll be a whole lotta magic out there on that course too.