Who Needs Toenails Anyway?
Is This Your Sweaty Sports Bra or Mine?
Every now and again in life, if you're lucky, you find yourself part of something special. Maybe it's something you've planned for and anticipated for a long time or maybe it's something that's sprung upon you unexpectedly. Regardless, when it happens, you know it. And if you're wise, you pause long enough to acknowledge and embrace the impact it has made.
Last weekend, I found myself part of something special. Don't worry... I'm not about to go all Mary Poppins on you. I still enjoy turning a garden hose on a stray cat just as much as the next person. But because I like to consider myself somewhat wise, I'm taking this moment to pause long enough to acknowledge and embrace. Then, when I'm done, I'll make it a point to honk numerous times at slow, geriatric drivers just to make sure no permanent damage was done.
I find it very intriguing how running can be such a personal, individualized sport but also a celebration of a community effort. 95% of my running is done alone-- just me and the floating matter between my ears-- and it's easy to feel like I'm the only one out there slogging through the miles day after day. It never fails to fascinate me at races to realize not only am I not the only one out there, but there are thousands upon thousands of people who do what I do for the same reasons I do it. Running can be the most lonely sport in the world one day and the most crowded one the next.
My Wasatch Back experience was the perfect example of this dichotomy. The event boasted more than 650 teams and 9,000 runners, which by any definition would be considered a crowd. But as a 24-hour relay race, there were often times we were running completely alone-- sometimes in the middle of the night in the dark-- only to round the corner or climb the hill and be greeted again by a crowd of enthusiastic, cheering runners. Never before have I felt more strongly the distinct spirit of camaraderie that exists between runners than during this race.
I was one runner of an all-women team of 12. We came from different locations and backgrounds but we all had at least one thing in common: a love of running. Going into the race, I didn't know a single one of them and to say that was a little bit daunting would be an understatement. I soon learned my apprehension was totally unfounded, however, as one by one, I met the women whom would comprise my team and one by one, I connected with them. Over the course of the next 30 hours and two minutes, we shared our living quarters on wheels and took turns running, eating, sleeping, driving... and bleeding, sweating, crying and puking. We each had some of the most physically and mentally challenging runs we've ever accomplished due to stifling heat, driving rain, rough terrain, towering inclines and plunging downhills. And we did it all on two hours of "sleep" on the floor of a muggy high school auditorium, surrounded by hundreds of other equally exhausted, foul-smelling runners.
An adventure? You better believe it.
Of course, there was plenty of light banter and laughter along the way (Shorty McHotPants, anyone?). We once made stopping to use the bathroom a religious event. We dined on fine cuisine such as turkey sandwiches, string cheese, gogurts and homemade cookies and declared Diet Coke to be the cure-all to everything evil. We learned the Spanish words for road kill we encountered along the way and unanimously decided communal showers in the girls locker rooms are as bad now as they were back in high school.
Fortunately, we never suffered from injury or illness as did some other teams, but it was truly one of the most challenging things I've ever done in my life. My specific legs were difficult and severely tested at times my professed love for the sport of running. But there was something inspiring about watching my teammates-- normal, everday runners like myself-- conquer their own challenges in their own ways. I saw will and determination in each of their faces that motivated me to keep going, especially when I would have loved nothing more than to quit. The teamwork, the camaraderie, the combined dedication to something we loved-- it was thirty hours and two minutes of character defining moments I'll not soon forget.
I went into the Wasatch Back feeling like a lonely runner. Along with the company of 11 of the most amazing women I'll ever meet, I came out of it feeling part of something remarkably special.
Now quick... I gotta turn on the hose and find a stray cat.
A few photos from our weekend adventure:
Team Energizer Runnies (hence, the bunny ears) at the start line before the all the fun (and misery) kicked in.
My first leg at 5:15 p.m.: a hot and dusty steep descent for 6.9 miles on treacherous rocky terrain. I hurdled ruts and ravines, boulders, tree limbs and one severed animal leg. Thanks to this run, I'll be the proud owner of two less toenails in the coming months.
My second leg at 1:30 a.m.: A continuous uphill climb for 8.1 miles in the dark. The adrenaline I was riding on abruptly ran out around mile 5 and what was a rather enjoyable, pleasant run under the stars turned into a grueling uphill death march. The road kept climbing, offering very little reprieve and although it felt sickeningly similar to the last 10K of a marathon, I never allowed myself to stop to walk. When I finally reached the top of the last hill and handed my baton off to my teammate, I leaned over to put my hands on my knees to sob for a few seconds. Probably the single toughest run I've ever done in my life.
Flexing the guns after my midnight run. At that point, I felt like I could conquer the world.
Sprinting to the finish of my third and final leg: a flat 3.1 miles at 12:30 p.m. through a quiet residental area in the wind and rain. I was running on dead legs, no doubt the slowest 5K I've ever done, but when I heard the crowd cheer and saw my team in their bunny ears, the adrenaline kicked in one last time.Team Energizer Runners at the finish line behaving a little strangely... but can you blame us after what we'd done? We ended up placing 27th out of 81 women's teams. Not too shabby. Not too shabby at all.