I was alone. No matter what happened, there would be no help and no van support of any kind. It had all come down to this nasty dogfight of me versus nine and half miles in the bright, mid-afternoon sun. I was soooooo done with the cramps, but found little relief. I was honestly getting pretty used to having them. As I coasted down the hill, I realized to finish Leg 36 of the Ragnar Cape Cod Relay, I was going to have to walk some. I just HATE walking in a race. For me personally, I believe I should be able to run through anything, but it just wasn’t happening. If I wanted to finish this race, I’d have to make a new plan and stick with it.
Only 2.5 miles from the start of my final leg I started to walk! It’s just crazy it was so early in my run, but this was my new plan. I would walk at a brisk pace until I caught up on my breathing and with a little rest, I would start running again. I determined I would never walk more than half a mile, and only when it was absolutely necessary. Otherwise, intermittent breaks of walking a brisk quarter mile was the plan. I started running again around 2.8 miles, and that’s when I started to worry.
Had I missed a turn? I hadn’t seen a runner, a van or any indications I was on the right course. There was nothing. Doubts crept into my head, and I envisioned myself having turned off course and running the wrong direction. How many miles would I actually go off course? If 9.6 wasn’t tough enough, what would it look like to get to 10.6 or maybe even over 11? My spirits dropped with each step of the way.
Suddenly, I looked back and saw two runners catching up to me. I have never been so excited to be passed in all of my life! I very happily let them pass me by, and started walking again around 3.1 miles. I breathed a deep sigh of relief knowing I was on the right path to the finish. This turned out to be my longest and only half mile of walking throughout my run. I walked as quickly as I could, while getting the cramps a little under control. At 3.6 miles I felt a renewed strength and ran for awhile, and then walked into the highly anticipated water station at 4.5 miles. It was a simple table with 3 ladies and cups of water. I was hoping for a couple bottles I could grab and go with, so instead took two cups, and was off again. The water felt amazing going down and was all I needed.
As annoyed as I was with the cramps and the walking, I found some contentment in now being over halfway to the finish. It was time to get moving and get this done. I began to run again and committed to only walking a quarter of a mile at the most. As slow as mile five was, I was encouraged, but now the physical brutality of the final leg was wearing me down. I enjoyed my new view off running along the bay, with the beach to my left. I was picking up a second wind, and my strength was coming back a little. I ran almost every step of mile 6 and was feeling better, until I hit the next mile. Mile 7 was getting tougher and tougher with each step. I was getting better all the time at ignoring my cramps, but this road was just a bunch of cones leaving me almost no space to run against the traffic. There was nothing to look at, as the course had moved away from the water and towards the finish. I kept my head down for most of the final grind, looking at my New Balance 860’s as they led me through to the finish. Somehow I was going to get there.
I saw her. Melanie. Carrying my big green water bottle, right before mile nine she had walked down to help me. She sprayed me with some of it, and then I drank some as we ran together towards our final turn and towards the finish. I knew I looked like a disaster, but she was okay and was quite aware of what this run would take.
“There’s a big hill once we turn, but everybody is there waiting for you!” she said with a huge smile on her face. “You have to run to the top of it and you’ll see them right as you come around a corner. I am so proud of you!”
“I walked,” I said in shame.
“I’m so proud of you,” she repeated with a huge smile.
All I could do was nod and keep running. I passed some runners walking as we turned off of the road. We ran for about minute, and then made a right turn and there was the hill she told me about. I could only hear the crowd, since they were over the hill and out of my sight. The hill. This hill looked tough, but I wanted to run straight up it, and have the strong finish I had earned and felt my team deserved. Didn’t they deserve to finish well with their final runner giving it everything he had? The other runners were walking up, but I was absolutely to try to run the whole stupid thing. We finally got to the bottom, and I picked up my pace and intensity and ran as hard as I could all the way up to the top of the hill, and that’s when I saw him.
I don’t know who he was. He was about my height and in his twenties. He stood in front of the crowd and was just staring at me as I came up the hill. He must have been watching me the whole time. He started cheering for me and yelled to the crowd behind him “This guy ran the whole way up the hill!!!”
They crowd to the finish exploded! They were cheering so loudly for me and I wasn’t about to let them down, either. I got mad and faster. Chills swept through me. They all reached their hands out to me to slap them as I was started sprinting by them. In a chorus of cheers and high fives I realized, I had one more corner to turn and the crowd would lead me to the finish. I banked left as fast as I could and that’s the moment my emotions went crazy as I saw my team cheering and screaming for me to finish this nightmare run.
Everything was surreal. If I thought I had chills before, they were now surging through me. I was getting faster as I was climbing one more hill and dug in to get to my team. My old friend and teammate from Reach the Beach, Christy Ramos had a gigantic smile as she took pictures of me (like the one on this blog). Melanie stayed with me the whole way in, right by my side. Christine Sliwinski was in a squat position coaching me to the top, just like she did for me once before many months earlier, but that is a story for another day.
The crowd, my wife and my team were all there for me, and I was able to make the most of the final stretch of the last leg of The Cape Cod Ragnar Relay. My team ran with me across the finish line and finally, after 192 miles through the hills, the sun, the night and everything else, we were done. I doubled over and held my gut. I didn’t know if I would vomit or not. I think I wanted to, but it never happened. Everything was going to be okay.
I couldn’t talk about it without getting choked up. I didn’t say anything really, otherwise I was going to cry. Maybe I needed to let it all out, but this wasn’t happening. I was overwhelmed by an amazing crowd at the finish, the love of my wife who found me out on the course and stayed with me the whole way in, and my team was there for me when I needed to see them the most. Everyone was so happy to be done, but I also found out Beth Moore was sick and missed the finish line with us. I felt horrible for Beth, and glad to hear she recovered so quickly. It meant the world to me, though, to see most of my team with me at the finish, and Beth totally would have been there if she hadn’t struggled herself. I was pretty dehydrated and quite exhausted. Our team was grateful to be done, and for what we experienced. Van 1 and Van 2 of The Coast Crusaders had finished 328th out of 514 teams, with a total time of 31 hours and thirty minutes.
After the finish there was a beer and a bowl of quinoa and rice, but I couldn’t digest either. I had some sips and a few bites, but somebody else took over for me, and I just sucked down some water. Eventually we headed to get on a bus to get back to our cars, and I was congratulated by folks who wanted to talk about my finish and how they felt inspired by my final run. I thanked them a kindly as I could, still choking back the tears. I was way too tired and emotional to speak about it. Maybe there wasn’t much to say about it anyway.
It takes everybody to do something like this. Beth, Cathy, Christy, Steve, Joya, Kevin, Stephanie, Boz, Christine, Rebecca, Melanie and I all did our part and contributed to our teams. Sometimes it was the fight up the tough hill on a long run, and sometimes it was an encouraging cheer during the toughtest moments of adversity. Whatever it was, we were team, and we finished the Cape Cod Ragnar Relay knowing we had done our best to be there for each other.
I am grateful for my team and for what I experienced on Ragnar. I am incredibly grateful to Ragnar as an organization for the races and events they have provided for all of us over the past 6 months. Most of all, I’m grateful to God for giving us two legs and the ability to fight for something bigger than just a race by ourselves. This test of stamina, strength, teamwork and endurance means something to me, and rightly so.
As one adventure ends, a new one begins. I have signed up for Reach the Beach again this fall. This time, however, I will be running as an ultra runner, meaning I will have a lot more training and work to do. As of today, I weigh just over 260 pounds. To be at my best for this next race, I will need to have dropped close to sixty pounds and run 30 to 40 miles a week on average for the next four months. I have never been able to drop below 240 pounds as an adult, but it has to happen asap if I’m going to pull this off. I’m strong and can fight my way through almost any physical battle I might face, so I wouldn’t bet against me. September will be here before we know it, and when it is here, I will face the greatest physical challenge of my life. I’ll be ready. Training starts now.
Great share – thank you. It’s amazing what your team can help you accomplish.
I ran the Pittsburgh marathon two weeks before the Cape, and in spite of being in great shape I still found myself walking in my 2nd leg. A runner behind me talked me into joining her, and she ran me all the way into the transition area (thank you, Stephanie, wherever you are). You never know when you’re going to need a hand.
James! Congratulations on all of your success in your running adventures. Running a full two weeks before the Cape is tough! Good for you, man. And totally true, you never know when you’re going to need a hand out there.