Reach the Cape Part 4 – Into the Dark

If you’ve ever slept in a high school gym with a couple hundred strangers, then you’re totally comfortable with a Ragnar Relay. You first look for the corners and go there. It’s just what you do. There is safety in walls. At least, you do this until the Fire Marshall comes in and talks in his “outside voice” while moving a bunch people away from an exit door. I totally understand moving folks from an exit, but man was he scary loud in a dead silent gymnasium. People looked like startled infants with hands flying up in the air out of their sleeping bags. Anywho…

Some people, maybe the smartest of us, quickly find an open space and go right to sleep. Melanie and I were fast to grab a spot on the wall close to a entrance and our team was nearby. I stayed awake to watch for the text from Van 1. They would be heading into the transition area around 11:30-11:45PM and we absolutely could not oversleep. The high school was the transition area, so Stephanie, Runner 7, would again wait for Kevin and get Van 2 started on our second set of legs of this journey. Timing was critical to the transitions and throughout the relay, so we didn’t want to miss a beat. This was my mission as the driver and having done a Ragnar Relay before, I took it seriously and decided not to go to sleep. Whatever happened, as long as we were there for the runner racing to us, we would be good.

The other 5 van members went to sleep around 9:15PM, which gave them almost two hours of sleep. I sat there just taking everything in. I went to bathroom and waited for about twenty minutes to get into the single stall that had been opened for runners. The other men with me all were quite friendly and we shared stories of what we had experienced so far. It turns out I’d see a few of the men throughout the race, which always makes it a little more fun. It’s like this crazy common bond we all have for what we are doing and what it took to accomplish it. So, late night conversations in the men’s room can mean something, and seeing your new friends out there fighting for just one more mile means even more. If you’ve raced this, you understand.

If you’re wondering about when we eat on a Ragnar Relay, it’s pretty much whenever we can. We make one big food stop after the first set of legs, and that along with a few fast stops and snacking will usually get us to the finish. After I finished my previous leg, we went to a pretty basic restaurant. I had a barbecue burger and a pile of onion rings. Maybe not the healthiest decision, but I didn’t really care. I was very hungry and wanted a good meal. My mind was stuck on my final run anyway. I don’t think I gave much thought about what I was going to eat for dinner. After dinner, we headed off for a few hours sleep in our lovely gymnasium.

Christy sent me the text and we were about forty-five minutes behind the estimated times I had set, which was actually pretty fast at this point. To run Ragnar, you have to estimate the mile pace for each runner for all of their legs. It’s a little tricky, since I ran my 3.2 miles a minute faster than my 9.6 mile leg, but I did some math and figured it out. I also made everybody a little bit faster, in case everyone was setting personal records each time out, just to be safe. My mission, as I stated, was to not leave a runner waiting in the transition area, and my brain works pretty good at this, so the team just goes with me. I did this last Fall at Reach the Beach, and found it fun to play with the numbers. It also leaves the rest of the team feeling safe and not having to think about it. Yes. I’m a little weird about it. Anyway, with the aggressive approach I took on times, I was surprised when Van 1 lost no time on their second legs and we were back at it again! Just before 11PM I woke everyone up, and we got ready to meet Kevin at the transition area.

There is almost nothing like watching the runner from the other van come flying into the transfer station to meet you. We waited with anticipation, but suddenly it got a little crazy. Fortunately, Stephanie was ready, even though they missed announcing our team until the last possible second. I didn’t even realize Stephanie was gone until she was probably thirty feet out. She was moving and so were we. We had loaded everything up before she left, so went back to the van, jumped in and were headed off again. She had about 6 miles to run, and at her pace, we needed to get moving if we wanted to safely be there on time.

We passed Stephanie about a mile and a half in, and she was flying. The street was fairly well lit, but she was headed off into some pretty dark neighborhoods ahead. We found the transition area and prepared Christine for her arrival. We recognized Stephanie’s lights, she handed off the new and perfect bracelet, and we were off again. This was Christine’s toughest run of her journey and she would be running on some very dark roads on a very dark night. She was tough and finding her groove. She was pacing right behind a runner with a missing leg, a blade runner as they are commonly known. I saw one in Reach the Beach last Fall, and there is nothing more inspiring than seeing someone out there fighting through an endurance challenge, knowing what it must have taken for them to get there. We stopped a few minutes later to check on Christine, and were quite pleased she was doing so well. She had a lot of small hills up and down on this leg, and was fighting through one after another.

At the next transition area, Melanie prepared for her night run. We parked and I awkwardly took up two spots due to the poor parking of the vans on my left and right. I didn’t think much about it, and I was sure no one would complain. I hit the ever-lovely port-a-potty, which looked like something out of a war zone at this point. I even helped another runner find the port-a-potties, which probably isn’t my most philanthropic moment, but it felt good to be a nice guy. It’s the little things.

Christine came into sight and Melanie was off on her second leg. We knew she would be flying, and unlike her night run last Fall at Reach the Beach, this run wasn’t very hilly. Last Fall, my friend Dan Thomas, Beth Moore and Melanie ran back to back to back on some of the sickest looking hills I’ve ever seen. It was simply ridiculous. This time Melanie had a few small hills, but overall a pretty smooth course. Before we knew it, she had handed off to Boz, who seemed well recovered from the “Wicked Hahd” leg he did just hours earlier. Boz, Rebecca, and I all had shorter legs, so the van had to be on point the entire time to make the transitions. We were only running about 9 miles between the three of us, so we had to be precise in locating transition stations. I saw more teams missing from transition stations during these runs than any other. We were just fine however, and Boz handed off perfectly to Rebecca. We immediately left to get me to our final transition of leg 2.

Headlamp shining bright, reflective vest snuggly attached and blinkers on my front and back, I stood in the transition area ready to take on my second leg, a 3.2 mile run. Rebecca was a minute ahead of pace, but I was ready and tore off quickly. Thoughts of my final leg flooded my mind. Should I be going this fast knowing what lies ahead off me? Was this just too much speed? I turned the volume down on my Runkeeper app and just went at what felt natural. I didn’t push my speed too much, but I wanted to get this leg done so I could focus on the final leg of our journey.

As soon as I left the parking lot, I was on a dark road with no lights to be seen, except for one runner with a red blinker about a quarter mile ahead of me. My initial goal was simply to keep him in sights the whole way and to eventually catch him. He seemed just a hair slower than me, so he could give me a little motivation. Most of the time I couldn’t see him, with the hills and the winding of the road, but I was definitely gaining on him. My van passed by and waved, knowing I was about to leave the road and venture down a dark trail through the woods to the next transfer station.

The trees closed in pretty tight around us and I passed a few runners, also known as “kills” on a Ragnar Relay. The red blinking light of the runner I was chasing was getting closer, and I picked up my pace just a little. Suddenly, I heard a few runners coming up behind me and I was passed by what looked like a few Olympic athletes running at a ridiculous pace. It was almost a little eerie as they flew by me in silence. They looked like machines and they were out of my sight within mere minutes. The trail suddenly got weird and I was running through a tightly enclosed white round tunnel for about twenty seconds. I had finally caught the man with the red blinker.

As I came upon him I said, “Hey man. You’re awesome. You pulled me the whole way up here.”

He laughed and thanked me and asked me to pull him the rest of the way. Now I was his target. Sometimes this is how it works out there. You find a little inspiration, stay focused on it, and make something happen. It may seem a little silly or trivial, but at 3 in the morning in the dark woods of Cape Cod you’ll do what it takes.

I had no clue of my pace, but felt I was probably moving a little quick for what was coming up in my final leg. I felt great, though, so I just kept going. The end seemed to be longer than I thought. Every leg of the Ragnar Relay has a sign that lets you know you have one mile left, and I had passed mine a few minutes ago, but it still felt really long. Maybe the lack of sleep and late hour was playing tricks on me. Maybe my brain was just off. I was going to get some sleep after this run, but it wasn’t time to think about sleep. I needed to be done with this leg asap.

It’s like a whole other world. On my night run last Fall, I ran up a long, long hill and felt like I was running into the sky. It was like I could almost reach out and touch the stars. It was really high up. The people around were dressed in glow-in-the-dark colors, and all sorts of colors, almost like a rainbow collage if you looked from the sky.

I was grateful for no tough inclines on this run, knowing my legs were getting pretty tired and knowing what was coming on my final leg. Finally, I shot out of the woods and turned into a school and towards the transfer station, looking for Beth. This was Beth’s final run, and I wanted a strong finish, but you know that, right? I hate finishing softly. I want each run to end in a sprint and with all the speed I can muster out of these legs. I was sprinting now, not quite 100% all out though. I had to save something, right? I turned the corner, saw Melanie and smiled and handed off to Beth. It was over. My app said I was well under a 9 minute mile. I was too fast. Again. It didn’t matter anymore. I didn’t care. I knew what was coming. Or at least I thought I did. I can’t tell you how many 10 mile runs I’ve done before, but its more than I can guess right now. I was quite confident I could do this. I felt great! How tough could a 9.6 mile run through Cape Cod really be? It’s not like I’d be running uphill in the sand for almost mile at the start or anything crazy like that. Oh. If I only knew what was about to happen…

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