A little over a week ago I participated in my first Ragnar relay from Madison, Wisconsin to Chicago, Illinois. About 200 miles over a day and a half living in a van with five other women. The experience was exhilarating, exhausting, humbling, adventurous, nostalgic and oh-so-worth it, even when it got difficult. Here’s a recap of my adventure.
8:30 a.m. My friend Erin picks me up in the minivan she rented. I’m loaded with gear – a hiking backpack full of clothes, shoes and personal care supplies; pillow and blanket; a bag full of bath towels for my van-mates; and a bag full of food for us to share. We organize the back of the minivan for the first of about a million times to fit the items Erin, Marissa and I brought for ourselves and to share. Now we are three.
9 a.m. We venture to our next van-mate, Brittney’s, apartment. We organize the van again to fit her things. Now we are four.
11:30 a.m. We arrive at Lake Mills High School and see runners starting to come in. This is where we meet our other van of six teammates, who have been running since 7:30 a.m. It’s also where we pick up our fifth runner, Paty, who got dropped off there because she doesn’t live near Milwaukee. The scene is part track meet and part high school or college leadership conference. Spirits are high, people are walking around with matching t-shirts and costumes and the school grounds are filled with registration tents and people lounging on picnic blankets resting or preparing to run. We decorate and register our van, have lunch, check out the merch tent and find our teammates from the other van.
1:30 p.m. The other van’s last runner comes in and our first runner takes off. It’s about 80 degrees out and sunny. She has about 7 miles ahead of her, but she’s energetic for her first run. We travel from one exchange to another, getting running gear ready, ringing cowbells, and preparing to hydrate our runners coming in.
5 p.m.-ish. We’re already a little behind schedule because the heat is slowing some of our runners down. I take off and have a nice 6-mile run on a flat gravel trail. I stay on pace and arrive at my exchange, hydration belt empty, shins aching, Weezy blasting in my headphones. When I get there, our last runner, Jenn is waiting to meet the van. She missed her first run because of work and will have to do two runs in a row.
8 p.m.-ish. We arrive at Martin Luther High School in Greendale, Wisconsin. This is where we rest and wait for the other van of runners again. They have shorter runs and it’s cool out, so we don’t have much time to rest. We eat Chick-fil-a, which messes up Marissa’s order and she eats BBQ sauce for dinner. We go to Walmart, which is out of sweatshirts. We’re all starting to get tired. We take ice cold showers and attempt to sleep on the hard gym floor. It reminds me of a middle school lock-in.
12:30 a.m. It’s time for us to start running through the night. Trying to sleep on the gym floor makes us more tired and achey. Our runner Jenn takes off with her headlamp, tail light and reflective vest. She throws up on the course. We make more stops at more exchanges and declare “No one appreciates Van 2!” since we have longer runs in the heat of the day and middle of the night. We’re so tired that we’re delirious and silly.
4:30 a.m. After a few hours of sleeping 20 minutes here and there in the van, it’s time for me to run again. I start to feel more energetic as I start moving. My 6-mile run starts out fine. It’s cool out. I’m listening to Mumford and Sons. Then I turn on to a dark horse trail through the woods. I have to run slowly and watch my footing. At the same time, I’m basically scared shitless and try not to fall behind another runner’s reflector I see about 50 yards in front of me. Of course it could be a killer… who knows. I’m finally out of the woods about a mile and a half later and onto more dangerous footing – an old plank road with uneven boards. I need to be more careful or I’ll trip and fall. After that, it’s on to rolling hills and seeing animals’ eyes on the roadside. The hills are exhausting on little sleep. I reach a busy road and hope I don’t get hit by a car. The sun is starting to peek over the horizon, and I stay on the shoulder of the road. Finally, I see the next exchange and sprint to pass the wristband to my teammate. I’m exhausted. I lie down and immediately start having vocal cord spasms. My shins burn, but I’m mostly focused on getting air in my lungs. I stay on the ground for a while until I can haul myself back to the van.
7:30 a.m. Our last runner arrives in Racine, Wisconsin where we are waiting for her at the YMCA. Unfortunately, all of us fall asleep in the van and don’t see her hand off the wristband at the exchange. We wake up to her texting all of us, trying to find our van. We enter the Y, which is our next rest stop to sleep and shower while the other van runs. I decide to shower before I sleep. The showers can only be described as disgusting. They’re full of clumps of hair, old razors and travel-sized shampoo bottles, and even a pair of shitty underwear. Really? Throw out your drawers. I quickly rinse off, put on clean clothes and head back up to the carpeted rec room to sleep for three hours. Either the room is more comfortable, or we’re exhausted.
10:30 a.m. We slowly start to wake up. My van-mates who haven’t showered do so. They apparently find a different, cleaner bank of showers. We pack up and head for Lake Forest, Illinois, where we will start running again in a few hours. The other van is moving a bit slower because temperatures are in the upper 80s and it’s windy.
12:30 p.m. Our runner takes off down a long, paved recreational trail next to a public train line. She’s equipped with a hydration belt and a cooling towel. Her run is short, but she gets leg cramps from a combination of exhaustion, heat and dehydration. Soon, she’s done running.
3 p.m. I take off on my last run. It’s short – less than 4 miles. But it’s 95 degrees out in blazing sun on a dusty trail with 25 mph headwinds. I go slow. I tell myself I’ll run for two or three songs before I can take a drink from my hydration belt. There are lots of stops because my shins hurt, my lungs hurt and I’m thirsty. I finally turn off the trail into a neighborhood and get some shade. There is no 1-mile marker for me to alert my team I’m coming into the exchange. I think I’m close so I text my team. I ran slowly, but not so slowly that someone from my team is waiting for me. I wait for my teammate to meet me at the exchange.
5 p.m. We’re finally done running! We meet our teammate at the beach in Chicago. By now we’re sick of everything, including heat, sand, wind, feeling dirty and especially, running. We get our medals in an anti-climactic finish, take photos and head home to Milwaukee. We were exhausted, but still so grateful for the experience of running “200-ish” miles as an amazing team of 12.