It’s here. After four months of intense training, The Reach the Beach Ragnar Relay is almost here. In just 3 and a half days I will be standing in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, at the starting line with our team of six runners. Most of the vans will run 203 miles with twelve runners, but not us. Not this time. This is about the essence of true endurance, and so five others like me will begin a journey into the unknown. We are an Ultra Team. We are called the Ultra Avengers.
I have completed two previous Ragnar Relays, last year’s Reach the Beach and this year’s Reach the Cape. Both times I was on a team with two vans carrying twelve runners. In the first race, last September’s Reach the Beach, my toughest of three legs by far was my first. In the heat of the day I ran ten miles, finishing on a pretty tough hill. My next leg I ran into the mountain darkness, feeling like I could reach out and touch the stars. I flew down a hill, and onto a small road in the darkness, as some woman dressed from head-to-toe in glowing blue, looking like someone from the movie Avatar, blew by me at a seven minute mile pace. I know this because I tried to sprint to the finish behind her, which somehow I found the speed to do. My final leg was a quick 3 miles, and nothing, maybe nothing, had felt better than that much anticipated handoff. My goals had been reached and I ran every step of my legs and stayed below a ten minute per mile pace.
At Reach the Cape, I had a different mission. This time it was all about the finish. I was Runner 12, meaning I had the second longest leg to end our race, a 9.6 mile hilly adventure in the heat. My first two legs were both around 9 minutes per mile and fairly uneventful. My final leg, was torturous, and because of the time of year, I hadn’t had the opportunity to train in the heat crushing down on me throughout this leg. I was slow, and walked some, but I ran as fast as I could up the final hill, and together all twelve of us crossed the finish line. Two Ragnar Relays complete. I had survived another endurance race.
This time it’s twice as many legs and twice as long. Instead of running the 15-20 miles over three legs as I ran previously, this time I’ll be running 40.5 miles over 6 legs in somewhere around 32 hours. Every mistake or potential obstacle that plagued me before I have trained for. I have run ten miles through the crazy hilly Massabesic Lake three times in the past forty days. I have been purposeful in running at the hottest times of the day, finishing long runs in 85+ degree temperatures. I have run up and down, and into the night. I have dealt with a sore ankle and knee for four months, but still keep getting a little faster. My endurance is better than ever. I’ve dropped over ten pounds, and even though I haven’t hit my goal weight, I’m more ready for a race than I’ve ever been. And I better be. Because I’m about to face this…
I am the third runner on our team of six, which starts at 9:15am this Friday, September 16th at Bretton Woods, right in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Each of my legs is pretty unique, and will deliver a different challenge. My first leg is probably the best warm up I could have hoped for, a 4.1 mile run, which saves the hill for the last mile and a half. It’s actually a little tougher than at first glance, and the incline based on the short run length is just what I need to gain the mental edge out there. I’m thrilled to start with this leg!
My second leg is a doozy. There is zero van support, and if my team helps me in any way we will be disqualified. Apparently there is a small issue with the town I’m running through, so I’m on my own for 6.8 miles this time. It’s a run pretty flat until the end, just like my previous leg. Miles 4 to 6 are a 400 foot climb, and then I drop over 300 feet the last half mile. Protecting my knees is everything, and knowing what I could be facing before I go will make me all the more successful in this leg. I’ll be running with my Nathan Hydra Pack, which outside of my running shoes, has become the most important tool to get me through these legs. I’ll be running this leg in the heat of the day, so if I’m smart, I’ll stay hydrated and be in excellent shape for the three beasts about to come at me.
My third leg is 8.3 sneaky miles of hills. It looks alright on the map, but it’s a pretty hilly trot around Squam Lake. Before I get there, I will take on a tough climb for about half a mile towards the end of mile 1. While I’m running, my team should be able to take a cool dip in the lake while I’m out there for about an hour and fifteen minutes. Once I finish this leg I’ll be at the halfway mark, and I will probably try to sleep before my night run. It will be getting dark on this run, so I’ll be wearing my reflector vest, head lamp and, of course, my Nathan Hydra Pack.
I will likely be wiped and hit the wall in here. I know my body and what I can handle, and this is probably where things will get very interesting for me. After this leg I will have about 4-5 hours before my next run, so my priority will be to use the foam roller, stay hydrated, down some grub, and get some sleep. It will definitely be time for the infamous Ragnar Relay Baby Wipe Shower in here, and I’ll change into my fourth outfit of the race right before my next run.
My fourth leg is going to be the proof of my training. Either I was successful, or I didn’t do enough. 8.5 miles of over 1,500 feet elevation change, with a hill so nasty in the middle I don’t even know how to describe it. If I survive miles 2 through 5 I’m home free, with a 3.5 mile coast to the transition area. I’ll be running this in the middle of the night and hopefully will find the tenacity I will need out there on the open road. I’ll be fighting the negative voices in my mind in the darkness, which must not be my undoing. If I don’t get sleep, I have no clue how I’ll make it. I will need to fight mentally probably like I never have at this point in my life. It will be dark, the temperature will have dropped over 25 degrees, and every doubt will creep into my mind. Its runs like these that can make or break a runner. Its runs like these that cause runners to quit. I have to finish strong. I have to. Mentally, it’s all about this run.
My fifth leg will be my longest, but the finish line is getting closer. I’ll be on a hilly 8.9 mile run in the morning light. It will feel crazy, and if there’s ever been a leg to test my physical endurance, it will be this one. Mentally, if I approach this leg confident as the “Master of the 8 Mile Run” than I’ll run a smart leg with few mistakes. I’ll need to pace myself carefully early and take care of myself. This last leg will be my slowest, along with the previous leg, and ten minute miles will be just fine through here. Once I hit mile 5 my mental game will turn this into a 5K, knowing my final leg is just ahead. I will be flying in to the transition area, ready to be heading into my final leg.
Greatness. For me, that’s what this will all come down to. It’s for no one else, but me. Running 40.5 miles in about 32 hours is something I probably never thought I could do, but I will be ready to give it my all. My final leg is my flattest, a lovely 4.1 mile jaunt drawing my team closer to the finish line. I have no clue how I will run this leg, but I don’t want to walk. Not an inch. And that’s not just this final leg, but every leg. I want to run every step of these legs, and finish this like I’ve never finished anything before in my life. For me, this will take everything to complete this final run. It will be the toughest 4.1 miles I have ever run. Almost no sleep. Having run over 37 miles in the 30+ hours before this. This will be it. This will be almost the end of my journey.
I will drive with five other runners to finish line and wait a few hundred feet for my good buddy Dan to come flying down Hampton Beach. We will finish this race together, just like we planned to. Months and months of training will all come down to this one moment when six people have given every ounce of physical and mental strength they possess and finish this journey just as we started this. As one team.
Our team name is the Ultra Avengers, but for me this isn’t about superheroes. For me, this is about avenging something else. It’s about the races that didn’t go my way. It’s about last Spring’s brutal finish where I walked for chunk on my final leg and the heat ate me up at the Ragnar Reach the Cape Relay. It’s about not finishing the 2012 Flying Pig Marathon. It’s about every moment I gave up on myself or somebody else gave up on me. It’s about avenging the moments we didn’t believe we could do something amazing, and about the times we needed a team to believe in us, and there was no one there. This about the moments in my life when I have stood alone. For me this was never about running. It has always been and will always be about determination, tenacity and faith. That’s why I do this. And that’s why I won’t give up. It has always been so much more than running.