I’m going to say with overwhelming confidence I would likely not accept an invitation to go for a run at 3 a.m. I can say with the same level of confidence that I would not accept an invitation from one friend to go for a run in the morning, from another friend to go again later in the day, and from a third friend to head out sometime that same night.
Unless it’s Ragnar.
That’s the one exception, a truth I now know.
Knowing that now is pretty badass, I must say. Knowing that Ragnar is in the rearview, that is. Knowing that medals are hanging in our family room.
Knowing that my team and I completed one of those insane-sounding challenges without major injury or mishap is…well, insane.
If Ragnar sounds like a foreign language to anyone reading this, it is definitely its own beast. It’s an endurance running event married to a group campout, having an affair with food trucks and sneaking out to get a taste of bare minimalism and tight quarters with new friends.
It’s all that. With eight team members.
It’s an endurance relay. It’s a bonfire, or three. It’s outdoor movies and loud music. It’s crowding around heaters in the night, positioning yourself in front of a monitor to see how your runner is doing. It’s wearing two sweatshirts at once. It’s sleeping in a tent with folks you might just have met. It’s sharing food, beer, sports drinks and KT tape.
It’s passing bags of ice for sore spots, watching the sun rise and set, attempting to count stars and then, it’s more running.
At night. By headlamp. Away. On rocky, sometimes steep, trails.
It’s a juxtaposition, squeezing in tight when you’re not running and absolute solitude when you are.
Which is good, for a number of reasons. It’s a really rare thing to be alone anymore. Like really alone. Out on a trail, hearing just the sound of your feet, your breath, the water jiggling on your back, and your stomach doing a job it normally does without an audience.
Because, at 3 a.m., you’re usually sleeping, oblivious to the sweet moves your digestive system is making on your behalf.
It’s one more reason I appreciated the solitude, even despite allowing my mind to wander and question whether coyotes hurt when they bite or how to “get big” if a bear wandered my way or whether to run or stop if a snake reared up.
Look, things happen to your body at 3 a.m. And when they do, you’re thankful for a crappy headlamp and a totally deserted desert. Because that kind of desert keeps secrets. Forever. Even from your team.
Even when you ran the easiest trail in the depth of darkness, and had hoped to kill your time, explaining your unexpectedly sluggish pace on “tin man” legs and an “upset” stomach.
Good enough. No one needed to know, even though a sign in the transition area gave advice on how to handle those shameful moments in the desert. Avoid them if you can, it said, but handle them if you have to – away from the trail.
And that wasn’t even my biggest fear. Tripping was. Because trail running is some kind of other challenge than road running. Trails have rocks. And cracks. And inclines and downhills and skinny, winding moments and others that take you through spongy washes.
Ragnar tests you. It has each runner take three different trails, hours apart. Our pace was between 7 and 8 hours apart. Do the math, and that equals about 23 hours of running. Collectively.
One trail is rated easy, at 4.1 miles and relatively flat. One is rated moderate, at 4.4 miles and hilly (really hilly – so hilly teams name themselves after their hatred for that quad-busting loop). And one is rated difficult, at 6.6 miles with a couple steep inclines, the kind that put your feet at 45-degree angles.
The order you run on your team predicates the order in which you run the trails. Where Ron got the easiest loop first, with plenty of daylight, I got the moderate loop first, in total darkness. He ran first and I ran fifth. But everybody does every loop, handing our chipped team bib from runner to runner in the transition area.
We saw a little blood. We woke each other up one by one throughout the night without getting grouchy about it. We experienced a little knee pain. We cheered at the transition tent, even when we wanted to sleep. And we witnessed how a body sweats out White Claw. As a team.
And in the end, we all took home a totally sweet multi-tool for our efforts. That’s some kind of sleepover.