I manage the run team for a non-profit organization and this year, we decided to do Ragnar, a 200+ mile, 36-ish-hour relay race for a team of twelve. I decided I couldn't, in good conscience, manage this event as a bystander. I was going to have to run this bastard.
Each runner on a team runs three legs of the race, and the total mileage for my legs was 16.9 miles, so I'd have to run roughly a 10K three times. Okay. I can do that. It's more running than I'm used to but I can do it.
The days leading up to the Ragnar were lovely. I kept texting, "Can we order this 68-degree weather for the Ragnar??" to our run coach, thinking that we may just get that lucky.
The heat index on the first day of Ragnar made headlines. It was so fucking hot that as I waited to start my first leg, I could feel tears of fear pinging behind my eyeballs. Heat and I do not get along. My husband and I never, ever vacation at beaches. I would be more than happy to retire in the Yukon. As a kid, I remember barfing and fainting because I'd get too hot playing outside in South Dakota. I don't know why. Maybe my mom had affair with Frosty the Snowman and heat is actually deadly for me. All I know is, I dread heat the way most people dread death. And now I had to fucking run in it.
I was terrified. As the first runner triumphantly finished his first leg and slapped the bracelet on my wrist to signify my turn, I was off. I began running through a little town in Wisconsin that happened to be where my husband and I had vacationed only a few months before. The recent happy memories there were enough to distract me from pending doom. As my playlist blasted in my ears, I started to feel good. Bouncy, even. I reminded myself over and over to pace myself, slow down, and save my energy for the miles ahead. My fear receded and was replaced with a calm confidence.
After I got through the town, the rural fields were laid out in front of me. Barren. Open. Not a cloud in the sky. "Wow," I thought. "It seems to go on....forever." My phone pinged. I looked at the screen: a message from Ragnar Headquarters. Hmm. "WARNING: EXTREME HEAT INDEX. TAKE PRECAUTIONS AND WATCH YOUR RUNNERS....." Great. I plodded on. The heat was starting to sap my energy a little, but no matter. There was a water station coming up....somewhere.....
About 40 minutes into my run, something shifted. I started to feel really, really warm. And then, all of a sudden, I felt HOT. Like, hotter than I've ever felt in my life. I felt like my core body temperature had matched the 105-degree heat index. And that goddamn SUN. It was unrelenting, and I swear it had focused all its sadistic evil heat rays on me. "Holy shit," I thought. "How am I going to get through this.....uh oh...."
And then I got that same feeling I got as a kid. An unsettling light-headedness, and my body said nope. Nope nope nope. Nope to sun. Nope to running. Nope to everything that was happening. And then my stomach said nope. Nope to water, nope to protein drinks, and I noped that shit out of my stomach and onto the lovely Wisconsin landscape.
As I stood up and realized I had just up-chucked whatever water was in my stomach, I got a sudden and overwhelming sense of fear. My body was saying no. And I was all by myself. And it was so blasted hot that I was afraid that if I sat down, I'd still have heat stroke and no one would be around to know.
I walked for about five minutes, trying to talk myself out of this fear. Do I call my team? Do I tell them I can't do this? The thought was devastating. I had been planning this for a year, and I was going to call it quits within the first HOUR? Would that disqualify our team? Would everyone's training be for naught? How could I disappoint everyone and myself so completely, and right at the beginning of the goddamn race??
My brain nope-nope-noped as much as my body did. There was just no way I could stop. I slogged on. Finally, I saw the water station up ahead and for a brief moment believed in miracles and unicorns. I was so happy to pour as much water over my head as much as I did into my mouth. I asked the volunteers how much farther I had to go. "'Bout a mile and a half," was their answer. Beautiful. I can do a mile and a half.
But about a third of a mile down the road, I realized a mile and a half in this blasted heat may as well have been Mount Everest. Soon I was just as hot as I was pre-puke, and I was truly frightened that I may be in real trouble.
Just as the fear was paralyzing my brain, I heard a breathless, "Hi there!" from my right. I looked and couldn't believe it. It was a runner from my other team, catching up with me. She looked like a sweaty angel with a water belt.
"I threw up!" I blurted out. She looked a little stunned and I blathered, "Will you please please please run with me I'm so hot I don't know if I can do this I'm afraid I'm going to have heat stroke and I feel alone oh my god please please please run with me!"
"Sure!" she said, back to her normal cheerful self. "Do you want me to talk, or do you want to concentrarte on running?"
I wanted to concentrate on running the same way I'd want to concentrate on a kidney stone. "Talk! Yes! Talk about anything! What did you do yesterday?" And off she went, talking about her day, about anything that came to mind. This distraction was better than ice cubes in my bra (although I would have traded my car for that at the moment). After she ran out of things to say, she said, "Do you want me to sing my husband's old camp songs?"
"YES! Camp songs! Love it! Anything!" I said. And so it went. I think she may have sung the songs twice, I'm not sure. I loved and needed every second of it.
At one point, I puffed, "You know.... today is my seven year sobriety anniversary. And this is my way of celebrating, but I dunno... I think I should have just stuck with cake."
"That's a big deal!" she said between breaths. "Drunk you could never have done this."
I thought about that between fantasies of popsicles and ice baths. No, drunk me couldn't have done this, or anything else I'd accomplished over the last seven years. And I immediately realized that this anniversary was another reason I couldn't quit, barf or no barf.
She ran with me (with some walk breaks) the rest of the way, giving me water, talking about happy things, keeping me going. Eventually, we made it to the next check point and I handed off the wrist band to the next runner. Good luck, sucka!
My other two runs went much better (I discovered I really love running at night) and I was able to cross the finish line with the rest of my team - smelly, triumphant, and full of gratitude. Grateful for my sweaty angel with the water belt. Grateful for such a supportive team. Grateful for another year of sobriety that will pave the way for the next year.