Sunday, April 28, 2013

I am a Ragnarian

On Saturday morning I got in the shower and realized I didn't have underwear.

Normally this wouldn't be a problem, but that day it was, for a couple of reasons: 1) I was not at home, and my underwear was far away in my tent; and 2) When I left my tent, I had underwear.

My first thought went something like this: "Oh no, I dropped my underwear right outside the shower where I was just talking to a really attractive man." My next thought was, "If it's out there and people are out there, I am not picking it up when I leave."

Keep in mind that I'd spent more time running than I had sleeping that night. Fortunately, my underwear was not outside the showers; I discovered it a little ways down the sidewalk and the only person around was a guy about 10 feet in front of me eyed it but did not notice its embarrassed owner claim it and scurry back to the bathroom to end my time going commando.

This weekend I ran my first Ragnar relay, which also happened to be the first Ragnar Trail Relay. In this race, eight people run three different trails, covering a total of 120 miles. We finished in just less than 25 hours. Also, I slept in a tent. (And by slept, I mean laid in my sleeping bag, listened to the night noises, listened to the people outside the tent and listened to the voices in my head who wanted to be in a real bed, not a sleeping bag.)

This race is sort of insane. Actually, you just have to be sort of insane to do it. It doesn't sound that bad at the outset; everybody runs about 13 miles, which really is a not a huge deal. That's a half-marathon. It's difficult, certainly, but most people, if they did even some training, could hack 13 miles. Sure, this was trail, and yes, it's all spread out instead of running it all at once, but it doesn't seem that bad.

And that's exactly what I thought as I started my first run. I was the seventh of eight runners and I started at about 8 p.m. Friday. The sun was on its way down, but there was still plenty of light. It was cool, the trail was a gentle downhill, only a couple of people had passed me and I was feeling pretty good. At one point I thought, "I got this." Then I started climbing. Suddenly all of my training was completely useless. And this was the easy trail! I wasn't tired, it wasn't hot and I was struggling. I didn't even have music to distract me; Ragnar recommends not having headphones in so you can hear what's going on around you, such as a runner trying to pass or a mountain lion trying to make you its dinner. Drat my penchant for doing activities that require a "possibility of death" waiver!

Fortunately, the closest I actually got to death was seeing a piece of tire on the trail that I thought was a snake. That was on my final run, which climbed 500 feet in about a mile. At the top of the trail was a stunning panorama of Cedar Breaks and the Court of Patriachs in Zion. If it were a picture in a museum, the entrance fee would be six pounds of sweat, three plant attacks, two aching lungs and seven "I wish I was deads."

However, that steep fee comes with a bonus -- 500 feet downhill. Nailed it!

The 7.5-mile night run, however, was my favorite. It was the longest run by far, but had the least incline. Also, running at night is magical. I worried I would be a little freaked out -- I mean, I am a serious chicken both about the dark and about unfamiliar places, particularly unfamiliar places in the middle of nowhere. And although there were other people on the trail, none were particularly close to me and for the most part me and whatever was hiding in the grass were the only living things around. But I wasn't. It was amazing. I found the Big Dipper and watched my moon shadow's running form (solid) and turned off my headlamp so I could be one with the night. It was warmer at 5 a.m. than it had been at midnight, and the whole thing (switchbacks not included) was just good.

Plus, camping, runner's cough and living off Sport Beans and ShotBlox aside, it was just fun. I had met three of my team members before, and I wasn't close with any of them; two were coworkers and one had done physical therapy on me. One guy was a stranger to everyone; he'd responded to a desperate plea on Ragnar's Facebook page and flown in to join us. He was a ton of fun. I rode down with one coworker and her husband and found a couple of kindred spirits in more ways than one. I just felt like part of a family, and as someone who hates people -- and that's only gotten worse since the last time I wrote it -- it was great to find people I immediately liked. And being surrounded by runners is just good for the soul. Runners cheer for everyone, they ask if you're OK if you fall down, they all chat at the transition tent about their experiences and they joke that the co-ed sign on the door of the showers must mean guys and girls are supposed to be showering together. (You see why I couldn't go out there and ask if there was a pair of underwear on the ground?)

Yesterday when we talked about if we were doing another one, I confessed that I didn't know if I could. My shins were aching from that stupid climb and one knee had moved from threatening to hurt to full-blown something-is-wrong pain. I was sunburned and sweaty and tired and had runner's cough. I hadn't slept or gotten a full breath of air in a day and a half.

It's been 24 hours since I laid down in my bed and was asleep in about two minutes. I've eaten, slept, eaten, slept and eaten. I'm not limping anymore. Going to work tomorrow doesn't seem impossible. Going to the gym in a couple of days has some appeal. And yes, I would do it again. Now I know how hard it is to force my mind and body to do that, and I know that no matter how hard it is, I can do it.

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