Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Running in the Dark

Sarah at the now infamous Exchange 25
One of the best parts about writing this blog is not only sharing my experiences, but interacting with those who read it.  Since May, my friend Sarah and I had been diligently planning and replanning for Ragnar.  Now that it's (somehow) over, we keep rehashing those 32 hours.  After reading my entry from last night, she sent this over to me, and I had to post.  So, without further ado, here is On The Bus Running guest blogger, and Got the Runs co-captain, Sarah.... 
As I hit the road on my last leg, I was alone… Rachel made the handoff sooner than expected… slapping the bracelet on me as I sprinted out of the port ‘o johns from my half nervous, half performance pee… my radio semi working, my feet not yet into the groove, though I hadn’t slept I felt stumbly, like I’d just woke up…. 4 a.m. and the world was asleep, I should have been asleep, my van was asleep… no one seemed poised to watch me off or wake up, so who knew if they’d make it to pick me up at the other side… 3.4 miles didn’t seem that far… but the dark made it a bit ominous.  I felt really alone… maybe a tad bit of a martyr, considering I’d chosen to run leg 11, but I wanted them there… I (the extrovert) surged off their power… Since the course began with a double back from the previous leg, I passed a few runners who were headed into the switch… but there was no one ahead of me, just blackness… the few passing said “morning.”  My legs screamed – this would be the second 5K in a matter of hours… coming from the girl who doesn’t really run.  I had just run before Rachel, dumb dumb, but I started to fall into pace…. Deep breath, loose shoulders… thinking about how far we had come already and how the “weekend” was almost at a close.  All this planning… and here we were, running our way home.  My eyes tired, the headlamp made the road ahead glow like a halo… just a weak ring in front of me, I kept blinking to see if I really could see.  The road had just been stripped, so the pavement was uneven and the brush on the side was dense.  There was broken glass in a few places… but in my haze it seemed like some sort of pixie dust.  My mind started to drift to the “What if” questions – melting out the Enrique in the background.  But I’d done that on leg 3, so I pushed the thoughts of disappearance or creatures in the trees to the side… and started thinking about me – I was proving something to myself.  Maybe that I was an athlete, maybe a runner, maybe that I was stronger than I thought… maybe that it was okay to be alone and depend on me… maybe that I didn't need someone else to feed my happy... maybe that I'd try anything once or that I could gut anything out if I had to, my mantra became, “You will not walk, you will not let yourself down, you can do this, you are awesome, come on Sarah, you will not walk, you are strong”… therapeutic in a way, under the stars, iPod low enough that I could still hear the silence through the candy pop.  1, 2 … 1, 2… just a few more steps… then just a few more… up the hill…. Then the fork – was I supposed to turn? Damn Ragnar and the unmarked trails, it all seemed harder to figure out in the dark, on country roads, hazy as hell from lack of sleep… as a van whizzed by, I put my thumb up in the air… and pointed in the direction I was headed.  The driver thumbs upped me back.  Then again, silence.  No one… 1, 2 … 1, 2… each step seemed to be smaller than the one before, and I was starting to breath hard and sweat in buckets.... the fronts of my legs ached... still no other runners in sight.... where was everyone? Out of the blackness loud honking and cheering on my right… the team woke up! But their passing felt like a blur, a race car whizzing by the stands of a race course, and then back to the silence... and my personal therapy session with the road and the stars - soul searching, finding my own reason for Ragnar.  Fatigue set in and while the incline was slow, it was steady.  Different than the exhaustion felt from hockey games or speed training… though I hadn't studied my legs, Ragmag said “easy”… come on Sarah, it’s “easy!”… I could see orange at the crest of the hill, and part of me imagined that I was the first runner to get this far and they were just now setting up the cones… but it couldn’t be.  If I could just get there…. I’d make it.  Still no other runners… I was alone.  As I neared the orange, a woman with a flag came up to me… I pulled off the headphones, thinking somehow I’d disqualified the team… but NO! It was my VAN! It was like a mirage in the desert… A ground swell of joy put an extra spring in my step… Betsy ran with me a few strides while I took a swig of water… renewed life force… like eating a magic mushroom on Super Mario brothers, I could hear the growing music in my head.  They were there with me in the night! They hadn’t let me down or forgotten about me! They were headed to wait for me at the switch, in the dark… minutes later I passed the one mile to go mark… then on up the next hill… sucking in the darkness and silence of the morning… This was Ragnar and I was running.  Spanish rap flooded the background of my brain… finally seeing lights, flares…. I increased my pace… deep breaths, relaxed shoulders, my feet doing their job without much mind control… almost there.  Finally, I did it! As I hit the switch, Patrick wasn’t ready… I turned and jogged backwards for a moment fearful that if I stopped running I wouldn’t start again... we passed the bracelet with a quick slap and the butt blinker, so he could blink on through the morning shadows... He took off… I somewhat collapsed... legs like jello, probably orange jello, but knelt down to smile near marker 25 before the rush of changing in the pine trees and getting back in the van.  A slew of runners fell through the slot behind me, I’d set the pace this Saturday morning, I’d kept both them and myself moving.  Dawn hadn’t yet broke… but something inside me started to glow. For the first time in my life, I think I felt a runner's high.

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