257 Days until the Angeles Crest 100/The Ragnar Vail Lake Relay

“Hey guys!”  Monya yelled from outside our tent, “Is Hope in there?  Dawn came in and she’s not over there!”

It was 2am and Kristin and I barely stirred from our sleeping bags, finally drifting into a deep sleep after our first two legs at the cold, rainy Ragnar Relay Race in Vail Lake.  There were 4 of us total, running 120 miles, in approximately 10 mile shifts.  We both had 20 miles under our legs, with 10 more to go.  We were exhausted.

“They’ll find her, right Kristin?”  I said groggily.

“Yeah,”  she responded, halfway to a coma.  “She’s out there.”

We started to fall asleep again before I heard Forrest’s booming voice.  “Hope!  Hope!!  Where are you?”

“Well crap…”  I said, as I climbed out of the sleeping bag, quickly put on my shoes and headed out to help the search.

 

Over the years, I have learned the value in taking an ‘off season.’  With running, there really isn’t one, as there is with other sports.  Having gone through some personal issues, as well as the entrance of George (the tumor) into my life, now seemed like as good a time as any to take some down time.  The only things standing in my way of complete hybernation was a little thing called the Ragnar Relay race, which I had committed to months ago.  When Dawn mentioned putting together an all female ultra team, I knew no matter what, I wanted to be a part of it.

I was undertrained going into this event, but the great thing about endurance running is that the ‘endurance’ doesn’t really go anywhere, as long as you are smart about fueling and pacing.  Undertrained just means it is going to hurt worse than usual.  I was ok with that.

After some last minute drama with our race shirts, I was on the road to Temecula on Friday morning.  The moment that I entered the campgrounds, I turned off my cell phone and breathed in the cool, crisp air of wine country, as I rode on a truck full of hay from parking to race headquarters.  I’d never needed a ‘win’ so much before in my life, and this was a perfect opportunity to press the reset button in my life.  All I had to focus on over the next two days was running 120 miles, with 3 other strong teammates.  This, I knew how to do.

As soon as I got there, I spotted the Team CrossFit Academy pop up canopy, put up by Forrest for his 8 member team.  Our 4 person ultra team was set up right beside them.  Something felt wonderfully peaceful about this place.  It was an absolutely gorgeous set up, runners everywhere, and the people that I considered my family all around me.  Jake was there, who was the son and the brother of two of our runners, having just undergone major transplant surgery.  His health was a miracle considering all he had been through.  Beyond my 3 teammates (Hope, Kristin and Dawn) who I considered some of my very best girlfriends, Monya was there.  Monte was there, another ultra Bastard, as well as Jenny, a great runner and friend to the Bastards.  Tom and Lauren, father and daughter, and part of Jake’s family were there, along with some new friends as well.  This place, these people were my heaven (if only it was a little warmer!)

Hope was already off and running by the time that I arrived, and I got set up and had some lunch before preparing to run.  There was one exchange point for all relay runners, on 3 separate courses, averaging approximately 5 miles a piece.  The ‘regular’ teams would run one lap on one course, and then hand off.  The ‘ultra’ teams would run two courses.  My first course was fun and easy.  It was beautiful watching the sun begin to fall behind the lake, where the headquarters was set up.  My 2nd course was a bit more challenging, especially as the sun set, casting strange shadows on the technical trails.  But before I knew it, I was in, under 2 hours as I had hoped, and handing off to Dawn.

I grabbed some dinner and joined the 8 person team around their heater.  It was starting to get very cold and rain was on the agenda for that night.  It was around midnight before I took off for round 2.  By this time it was raining.  I struggled through the mileage at first, until my body warmed up, and I found I was moving better than I anticipated.  Going through the exchange to my 2nd course I got an unexpected surprise.  My light went out completely.  I would say it was a rookie mistake but I had just put brand new, lithium batteries into it.  I knew from running that course once before that the moon and the overcast skies were not going to accommodate me being able to run with no light, so I back tracked to the exchange again.  I asked around before the race director, my savior, handed me a headlamp.  It set me back about 15 minutes, but it was the better decision than to try navigate that course without!

By the time that I made it back to camp, I was soaking wet and freezing.  I dried off and climbed happily into my sleeping bag.  I was so glad I would not have to run again until the sun came up!  There was a slight hiccup in the exchange between Hope and Dawn (Hope bent down to fix her shoe when Dawn came in) but it only cost us a few minutes.  All in all our team was a well oiled machine.

I got the best 2 or 3 hours of sleep of my life, before crawling out of my tent to get ready for my final leg.  Resting in the cold caused my body to tighten up, and I hobbled out of my tent to start moving around.  Monte laughed at me, before shooting me some words of encouragement.  Off for my last 10 miles, it wasn’t so bad after all.  And Monte even came to the exchange to cheer me through at the halfway mark.

Tom made us all some amazing breakfast burritos before Hope, Kristin and I made our way out to find Dawn, to run across the finish line with her.  Our goal was 24 hours and we beat that by hours!  Drinks were enjoyed at the campgrounds in celebration of everyone’s victories.  The other team had finished before us, of course, and some people were starting to fall asleep in the sunshine.  I was sad to leave, but I left recharged, excited and remembering who I am and what I love more than anything.  Ultrarunning is the love of my life – it challenges me, it hurts me, at times it even breaks me, but it teaches me how to be a better version of myself.  There are few problems I have ever had in life that don’t resolve themselves or give me at least a different perspective as I am out on the trails.  I loved everything about this weekend and decided that maybe it was time to jump out of hybernation after all.  I have a little score to settle with a race called the Avalon 50 miler.  Adventure awaits!

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