Its 4:00 am in the morning and I’m halfway through a 9.5 mile run on the Cape Cod Rail Trail. It’s so dark and I can see nothing but what my headlamp lights up right in front of me. It’s eerily quiet with the exception of my ipod whispering in my ear. Enough volume that I can hear some music but not so much that I can’t hear anything that might make a rustle around me. But there is nothing to hear because I’m running alone at 4:00 am on the Cape Cod Rail Way. Why? Because I’m a team player. Because I’m a little crazy. Because this is one of my four assigned legs for the Ragnar Relay Cape Cod. A running friend of mine recruited me for her all-female Ragnar team earlier this year and without thinking much about it, I committed to the May race. It was just a few weeks after Boston but since I had mastered the art of ‘bouncing back’ over the past year I figured it wouldn’t be much of a problem. The team ‘Sweaty is the New Black’ was planning to be a small group of 10 with most runners taking on an extra leg to make up for being short of the standard 12 runners. Eventually we would end up with only 9, but we were 9 runners willing to go an extra mile or 5 to have a successful relay.
I was concerned a couple of weeks before the race. I had barely run since the marathon and a stomach bug held me back another few days. Eventually, when I finally felt like myself again, I stared getting excited for the relay. While I have run several Reach the Beach relays and flew cross country for Hood to Coast last summer, this would be my first Ragnar. I’ve always had amazing luck with relay teams and have met some of my closest friends this way so I had no reason to think this would be any different. Our team had a very early start time of 6:15 Friday morning so our goal was for ‘Van’ 1 to arrive at the start area in Hull, MA by 5:30 to take care of registration, the safety meeting and any other pre-race logistics we would need to have finished by our start time. My alarm went off at 3:15 to be ready for our pick up time of 3:45 and we were off to Hull. Van 1 (which wasn’t actually a van, it was teammate Barbara’s Honda Pilot) was made up of only 4 runners (the standard is 6). Judy would run legs 1 and 2 of each set, then me, then Barbara and finally Alex. Barbara, Alex and I took turns running a ‘bonus’ leg of each set to make up for being short a runner.
My first run started at 7:20 in the morning. I would run 6.3 miles from Hingham to Norwell. I was wishing I knew this run started in Hingham since I have so many friends that live there. Maybe they would have hung out a little after putting their kids on the bus to cheer me on. Along my run I couldn’t help but wonder if someone I knew would be driving on their morning routine and then see me running on Main St (or wherever I was). I did see a lot of school buses and most of the kids looked at me like I was nuts but some of them smiled and waved. I had told the team I was hoping to average about 9:00 minute miles for my runs but since I had such a hard time getting back into form after the marathon, I wasn’t certain I would be able to deliver. Somehow, the excitement of the race beginning for us and the training I had done for the marathon came together and I was able to average 9:07’s for my first leg. Barbara, Alex and then Barbara again finished up our legs for Van 1 and we had some time to relax while Van 2 tackled their first set of legs. We were extremely lucky because Judy has a house on the Upper Cape that was somewhat centrally located to most of the course. Our break between the first and second set of legs was rather long so we had an opportunity to eat a simple lunch, sleep for a couple of hours and take a shower. Normally, in an overnight relay scenario, all of these things are luxuries. You eat most of your meals in restaurants, sleep a few minutes here and there in the van and showering just doesn’t happen at all. After the nap and a warm shower we were all ready to jump back on the road for our second set.
My 2nd run was my shortest and since I was feeling so refreshed after resting and a shower, I really went for it. It felt great to find some speed and I was pleasantly surprised with how great my legs felt on the 4 mile run from Sandwich to Mashpee. It was 7:00 at night and the weather was perfect for running. The leg was about a third of mile longer than anticipated but I felt so great that I didn’t mind. I averaged 8:22 minute miles which is one of the fastest runs I’ve had in a long time. The push definitely affected my next run which was just a couple of hours later since I was running my ‘bonus run’ during this set. This time it was a 5.8 mile run from Osterville to Hyannis and now it was legitimately dark out. The road was pretty busy but I was all lit up with my head lamp and reflective vest with blinking lights so I felt safe. I was very thankful to be done with this run at the end since it was the last run for our van’s second set but when I finally reached the exchange… no one from the team was there. I was a little concerned at first since I didn’t see my team during the run but then Alex appeared and told me that Van 2 was missing! When we finally got in touch with them they told us that they were at the exchange but we soon figured out that they went to the wrong exchange. The directions can be a little confusing and since my team did this at Hood to Coast last year I could understand exactly what happened. Van 2 quickly made their way over to us and they were off right away. Van 1 had another chance for a quick nap and another shower before finishing up our portion of the relay.
The legs for Van 2 went by quickly so it wasn’t long before we were back on the road again and ready to run. We started our last set just after 2:00 am and we were all exhausted but determined to get through our runs. Judy was up first with a total of 6.6 miles for her two legs. She had barely slept on our breaks but still had a ton of energy to get through. I was next with a big run ahead of me, 9.5 miles – by far the most I have run since the marathon. Right away I knew this run was going to be a struggle but the girls in my van stopped every mile and a half or so to make sure I was okay. The course notes said there would be water available on the course because about half way through we would be running on the Cape Cod Rail Trail and the vans would be taking a different route. I high-fived the girls and headed to the trail. So there I am running alone in the dark in the middle of the night, freaking myself out and trying not to imagine all the awful things that could happen in a situation like this. For several minutes I tried to strategize what I would do if a bear appeared (I recently googled ‘cape cod rail trail; bears’ and came up with nothing so I was never in any danger. at least no bear danger). Eventually, I found the water stop and some other runners caught up to me and finally the sun began to rise. This was my slowest of the four legs but it took a lot for me to complete the run and I’m certain that its situations like this that builds character. I actually met a woman after the race who told me her teammate who was in the service had run that same leg during the night and she found it to be scarier than her time in Iraq. I was so happy to be done with my final run but now it was time to support the rest of my van with their final legs. Barbara had 5.6 miles to power through and then it was time for Alex to bring us home with back to back legs of just over 3 miles each. We were all exhausted and Alex had been working hard to do her best even though she had not been running as much as she would have liked to prepare for the relay. After the first couple of miles it was clear that she was struggling and needed some support to help her through. Barbara and I hopped out of the van to cheer her on and throw some team spirit her way, as well as some water and Gatorade. We jumped back into the van and continued cheering her on from the road. And then I got a little silly. I wanted to make her smile and help her find some joy in this run so I yelled at the window and called her awesome and pretty and all kinds of other compliments to make her feel good about herself. And laugh. Nothing sucks all that much if you can laugh. In no time at all (according to me, Alex may have seen it differently) we made it to our last exchange and passed the sweaty slap bracelet to van 2. And we were off to find some breakfast.
We drove to the finish in Provincetown to park and find a place to eat. We found Café Heaven and arrived just in time before other runners and people in town wandered in and a line formed. It’s a relatively small restaurant but the menu had everything we were looking for and we enjoyed a feast in celebration of our accomplishment. After breakfast we decided to see what was happening at the Finish Line. It was early so not too many teams were crossing the finish yet but many of the vendors were setting up and we were able to get a quick but awesome massage. I was limping a bit due to some discomfort in my calf so she spent 4 and half minutes of the 5 minute massage working on one calf but it was worth it. It was around then that Judy and Barbara somehow convinced me it would be fun to climb the Pilgrim Monument. The tower is 252 feet, 7.5 inches and is “heart healthy walk to the top on 116 steps and 60 ramps” (according to the website). We got to the top and admired the view and then came right back down.
People had started arriving at the finish and the sun was coming out for the first time all weekend. We were getting excited that van 2 would be arriving soon and we would finally get to celebrate all together. After they arrived we all waited anxiously for our final runner, Denise, to make it to the finish. We all got a text message from her complete with a selfie from the One Mile To Go sign and we got ready to join her for the last stretch of the course. We waited, and we waited and then someone got a call that she took a wrong turn and would be coming from a different direction. We frantically looked for her and sure enough Denise emerged from the crowd and we scrambled to join her up the hill and through the finish line. Sweaty is the New Black proudly finished Ragnar Relay Cape Cod in 30:29:34 – not too bad considering we were 3 runners short of the standard team. I personally ran just under 26 miles and was very pleased with my performance. Leg 1: 6.26 miles; averaged 9:07 – right around goal pace Leg 2: 4.36 miles; averaged 8:22 – killed goal pace Leg 3: 5.8 miles; averaged 9:06 – close enough to goal pace on exhausted legs Leg 4: 9.45 miles; averaged 9:42 – completed goal of not crapping my pants on the scariest run of my life so far I consider myself lucky that in all the relay races I have participated in I’ve shared the experience with amazing people who make it fun and worth the struggle of such a tough event. An overnight distance relay isn’t for everyone but those of us who love the challenge of them know it’s not the running or the course that makes it great, it’s about the people you share it with. Thank you to my girls on Sweaty is the New Black for making my first Ragnar so awesome. Let’s do it again next year!!