That Time I Ran 18 Miles

Last fall, my sister asked if I wanted to join her yoga studio's Ragnar relay team for a race in June 2015. The details: Park City, Utah + 200 miles in 24 hours.

I had never heard of a Ragnar race before but I said, sure, why not? 

The months flew by, I semi-trained (aka ran whenever I had time to), and then all of sudden I was boarding a plane to Utah to run 18 miles in a new altitude, with new people, in a new city.

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Why not indeed.

We arrived late Wednesday to a rented condo in downtown Park City, and mostly got to know the whole team, talked about our fears and goals for our individual leg distances, and then hit the hay. Thursday kicked off with a hot yoga session, which felt amazing after all that cramped travel on the plane and in the car, and headed out for lunch at a Mexican restaurant (can't remember the name) where we enjoyed drinks, chips and tacos on a patio.

One huge thing about Utah: NO HUMIDITY. Like, it was hot, but you didn't feel as though you were being smothered by a heavy, wet blanket at the same time. I did get a couple of nose bleeds over the course of the weekend, due to the dry air, but for the most part, I loved the lack of humidity.

We spent the remainder of Thursday preparing for Ragnar. While I knew that we would be in vans some of the time going from location to location as part of the race, I didn't realize that we would actually be . . .  living in a van for almost 48 hours. Hence the need for coolers chock full of Gatorade, coconut water, bottled water; snack bags brimming with almond butter and raspberry jam sandwiches, trail mix, granola bars, Clif bars, shot blocks (basically gummy, sugary energy bites --  gross yet effective), pretzels, apples, bananas, etc; bags with changes of clothes and pillows and blankets and extra shoes and race belts and reflective vests and hats and sunglasses; printed directions for when cell service disappeared in the mountains . . . you get the idea.

Thank God I only had to show up and run. The team at the yoga studio was incredible -- they rented the house, collected the money, scheduled the vans, assigned the runners, handled registration, bought food and drinks to cover all dietary needs and desires, and much more. 

Friday morning, my sister and I walked to grab coffee from Main Street, which is the core area of Park City, super quaint, and fairly hilly. The views, of course, are beautiful, and it serves as a neat area to walk through all kinds of boutiques, stores and restaurants. We went to Atticus almost every day during the trip and picked up iced coffee (their fruity iced tea was also outstanding), but also tried some neat nitro brewed coffee at a sweet dog-themed place called Hugo.

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Then we were off! After an almost two-hour drive north to Logan, UT, we found the starting line and hung around until our first runner, my sister, began. Interesting fact about Ragnar: teams start at various times on the first day depending on their collective pace; our time was 11 a.m. but teams started as early as 7 a.m., which meant that there were probably only 75 or so other people there with us at the starting line. So if you imagine a big crowd, as with a marathon or half (or pretty much any other race), it was kind of the opposite: a small group of runners with folks cheering from the sidelines.

Liv kicked things off with six miles, and our team hopped in the Explorer to travel alongside her. Following along in the van became absolutely essential during each runner's leg -- the temperature quickly rose to 92 degrees, and everybody needed constant encouragement and most importantly, WATER, nonstop. When we reached the first exchange and started watching runners come in, they all had the same look on their face: "That was so hard, and so hot." Many runners flopped on the grass to exclaim their gratefulness that it was over, red faces and all. 

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Our next runner went, and killed it since he was super fast, and then it was my turn as runner three. Seven miles -- not an easy-peasy distance by any means but one I'd accomplished back in Iowa multiple times. I became almost immediately humbled by the heat and direct sunlight and straight roads. I'm a runner who needs constant distraction: music, water, hills, turns, scenery, shade, anything to get my mind off the fact that I'm running until I hit a groove. This particular run? No trees for shade. Minimal turns, which had me feeling like I was running with no end ever in sight. Spotty wi-fi service and a cell phone battery depleting faster than I anticipated.

But the scenery? Stunning.

I felt incredibly grateful for my teammates, who kept stopping every two miles or so to offer water and words of enthusiasm, and I picked up my speed slightly toward the end when I realized my phone was definitely going to die if I didn't get moving. 

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Once I finished, our next three runners went in order: up mountains, down dusty red paths, through tree-lined gravel roads. Then we had about a six hour break while the other van, and other half of our team, started their first leg. Our downtime included showering, resting in the cool grass, dinner, a quick nap, and then before we knew it, it was midnight and our second leg set to begin.

I had thought that I would sleep while the first few nighttime runners ran, but the exact opposite happened. Honestly, the overnight running turned into one of the best parts of the entire race. The temperature dropped quite a bit, which made a world of difference. I personally prefer running when it is 60/65 degrees or lower, and so at 55 degrees, it was perfect! 

I had two fears about late night running: 1) that I would get lost, 2) that I would be afraid in the dark. Neither occurred. A van, either your team's or someone else's, was pretty much always visible ahead or behind you, and just as we did during the day, we kept pulling off to check on our runners and make sure all was well. That's why I ended up not sleeping much more than an hour -- my sister was the first nighttime runner, and I really wanted to cheer her on and follow along to check in. By the time my route rolled around, I felt wide awake, and took off at a clipped pace feeling like a million bucks. Even as a giant hill rolled around, I felt full of energy and excitement. It was so quiet and peaceful running by a lake, with only the sound of your footsteps pounding the ground. (Note: runners on our other team had many more experiences with wildlife and feeling more scared/lost, so it depends on the route, I think.)

More downhill running had me feeling crazy fast, and then, it was all uphill. For the rest of the run. It didn't help that my leg was 0.5 longer than the map originally said. Trust me, half a mile feels like forever when you thought you were technically done! Again, thank goodness for my team encouraging me from the side of the road, because running up, and up, and up for 2.5 miles was so challenging. 

Still, it was over before I knew it, and by the time the next two runners powered through, daylight broke to show us the most incredible views.

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(Yes, we put a Go Pro on the hood of the car. Seemed like a good idea at the time.)

We finished our 2nd set of legs around 7:30 a.m., and the other van took off. Around this time, we realized that we didn't have that much time in between our 2nd and 3rd legs -- partly because the other group of runners were collectively a little faster, but also because their 2nd set of legs distance-wise was slightly shorter. After a group conversation, and in talking to other teams plus some of the race officials, we decided to start our 3rd leg at the same time: both vans would begin running, in the hopes that we would be able to finish by 6 p.m.

Now, nobody on our team was running for time, but we had all indeed been running for almost 48 hours -- and we wanted to be able to enjoy our Saturday night! The thought of not being done until 9 p.m. made everyone cringe. Due to the heat, multiple teams were behind schedule, and so this recommendation was widely distributed to anyone not running for time. I'm so, so, SO glad we did this and finished at a reasonable hour.

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Luckily, the 2nd leg ended fairly close to Park City, so we were able to run back to the condo, shower, eat and take a quick hour-long nap before carrying on with the race. This break was CRUCIAL for my mental game -- I was totally reaching that "this sucks, I don't wanna doooooo this anymore" moment and it felt so good to refresh and reset before finishing strong.

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We began again around 11 a.m., and our new conditions meant that the first few runners would essentially start at the same time. It ended up being another incredibly H-O-T day. My last run was also my longest run, more than 8.5 miles. It started off entirely uphill and on concrete (fun), again in broad daylight with barely any shade; however, the first mile also went through a golf course at the very top of aforementioned hill. I kept my mind distracted by thoughts of "Is this the golf course for the rich and famous of Park City? What is it like to golf on top of a giant hill? Do a lot of balls get lost?" And so on. Really important questions, I know.

The next two-thirds of my route consisted of running up a mountainside, and then back down the other side, all on a rocky, bumpy trail. I walked off and on quite frequently during this leg, mostly because I was nervous I would sprain my ankle on a rock or trip and fall off the side of the mountain. Ha. Yet again, the views were outstanding, and the higher I ran, the more I felt motivated to reach the top and see the sparkling blue lakes, the snow-capped peaks and valleys, and the greenery stretching as far as my eye could reach.

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Ahh. So gorgeous! I remember feeling very triumphant at this point, and glad to only have a few downhill miles left before being done, done, DONE! 

Of course, those last miles ended up being the longest miles of my entire life. I'm not kidding. My shins screamed due to the sharp decline, my mind was over it, and again -- no water, no shade, no nothing in sight except the beautiful views I just mentioned. Which, I mean they were beautiful, but I had started to feel so tired and hot that the novelty wore off fast. Luckily, I saw my sister and another teammate in the distance, waving a water bottle at me; they had brought me ice cold water and a wet towel to put on my neck. Sweet relief. They also informed me that I only had a mile left, which revved my engines to finish strong.

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We picked up the rest of our crew, all equally hot and sweaty and sick of running, and headed back to the condo for a quick shower before meeting up with the other half of our team at the finish line.

Amidst a huge crowd, we inched our way to the giant Ragnar balloon indicating the conclusion of the race, and waited in the bright sunshine for our last runner to come through. I have to admit that this took a while, but it couldn't have felt as long as it did for the runner to make it through 6 miles in 95 degrees at 5 p.m. after already running 10 or so miles. Yuck.

We finished with cheers and claps, and felt so proud of ourselves. As a whole, we collectively ran almost 200 miles in less than 48 hours!

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Go Team Downward Dog!

I learned so much about myself  by participating in Ragnar, namely, that I'm stronger than I think, both mentally and physically. The race also reminded me that team support makes a significant difference in terms of experience and attitude. I've always been a casual runner, but running so many miles in a different location showed me that moving by foot in an unusual environment allows you to see things you never would have otherwise. There's nothing quite like it.

Traveling to new places continues to be a top priority for me. For all the people who asked me, "Why go to Utah to run?" Well, why not? I love to challenge myself with new opportunities to do something I've never done before, and go to places I've not seen before. The world is a big place, and I'd like to see as much of it as possible.