The little mother that could

When you have a mother that is given 4 days off and she chooses to go and run a Ragnar 200 miles relay race, you know you have a BADASS Mother Ragnar Runner. Well, Actually, you have 24!

This past June I was lucky to be selected as a member of one of the Another Mother runner teams that will participate in RAGNAR DC. A Team relay race that runs 199 miles, with 12 runners in 2 vans in less than 48 hrs.

I was ecstatic until I found out I would be runner #11 for Team Sarah. Which meant I would have the longest mileage for my whole team.

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I also found out later that my second of 3 legs would include a 9.6 mile trail run in the middle of the night with a 1,000 feet ascent.
Did I mention I run on Vibrams and that I have never run in a trail before?

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Since I was already training for the ING NYC marathon, I told myself that I would be ready, but, in the back of my head I went through different stages of anger, then panic, then denial and finally acceptance that this would have to be done as I had committed to be on the team and do my bit.

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Finally the day arrived and the journey started. One of my team mates that lives close to me, offered to give me a ride since she would be driving to Cumberland, MD where the race would start. Left my dear husband and 2 boys to begin this adventure.

We had a lovely dinner that evening with all of the women on both teams: Team Sarah and Team Dimity. And then we headed back to the hotel for a security briefing and to go over the logistics of the next 2 days. Then off to decorate the vans.

We finally got back to our rooms to get some shut eye as we would need to be ready in the lobby for team pictures at 6 am. I can honestly say I did not get a minute of sleep. Anxiety was building up and I could feel my stomach churn in fear. How did I get here? Why did I think this would be a good Idea? Can I go home now?…all these kept resonating inside my head, until it was time to get up and go.

Since I was on the second van and was runner 11 of 12, I knew I would be spending a lot of time in the van getting to know my team and building up the anxiety until it was time for my first leg. Exchange after exchange we cheered for our runners and supported them while they ran. Anxiety was out of control at this point, and I knew I needed to run. Finally, at 6:35 PM, I was on.

Also, did I forget to mention that there was a HEATWAVE for the length of the race in the area. Temperatures are usually in the 60s this time of the year but of course, to make things even more challenging, we were expected to go into the high 90’s with a 65-70% humidity index for the whole time Ragnar would last.

I ran my first leg of 8.9 miles on a mostly flat course. The lack of sleep and the fact that I forgot to eat anything before running (YES, Ragnar will do that to you…) took a toll on mile 3. I hit a wall! I had just done a 20 mile run the previous weekend and I never hit the wall. But at that moment with only 3 miles in, on flat roads, I felt like I could not go on.

I took an energy gel and knew it would take about 20 minutes to kick in. I kept going, and the afternoon turned into night. The glucose kicked in and I felt stronger, until I got to mile 6 and realized I had 2.2 miles to go on a long incline until the exchange point. I dug deeper. And then I saw 2 of my teammates cheering for me! That did it! I ran.. and I finished my first leg. There was barely any time left to change into dry clothes before getting on the move again.

When my van was done with our first set of legs, we had a chance to get a couple of hours of rest on a local high school parking lot. We took our sleeping bags out and crashed in a grassy part in front of our van. Even as we could hear all the other vans noise around us, our bodies gave in and we rested. Until we were woken by a fire department alarm that randomly blasted in the high school speakers and woke everyone up. That was our signal to pack up and get ready to run our second legs.

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The first runner in our van started a little after 1 am. I knew I would have to wait for hours again until I was up. I also knew that the leg that I feared the most would happen in the night time. This time I forced myself to eat a PB and jelly sandwich at 3 am. I have to say it was realy hard to shove it down my throat when all I wanted was to be asleep. But I knew I would not make the same mistake I made with my first leg twice.

I think I must have told everyone I know about my second leg on Ragnar. The infamous Leg #23 that is described as a 9.6 VERY HARD trail run that would go through a state park including a mountain climb in the dark at 4:30 am. When I was picked as runner #11 for team Sarah, I was very scared that I had gotten the longest mileage for the whole team and I would have to run in a trail as I am a true born ROAD runner. Sarah reassured me that I would be OK and that she truly believed I could do this. Since June, I started having nightmares and panic attacks about this leg. I dreamed of getting lost, of failing and not finish, and disappointing the team. I went through anger, then denial, and finally, acceptance that I would do this no matter what. As I had written on the pre-Ragnar report, I chose leg 23 as the one I was looking more forward to, because it scared me to death, and Boy, Was I right!

My team mate Rebecca showed true team spirit and paced me on the first 3 miles of the run. We left the exchange point at 4:45 am. We ran and chatted together for a little while until we arrived to the entrance of the mountain. Our Van picked her up there. Then, it was all me… the darkness of an unknown trail, the sounds of the forest. All I could see was 3 yards ahead of me, or whatever my head lamp and knuckle light could show me. Far away I could see small lights of runners ahead of me getting farther and farther. Climb after climb the anxiety continued to rise, until I met my team van again on mile 5.

There, I saw my teammates look at me with true fear in their eyes. I could see they were afraid for me, that I would not be able to make it. And then, that is when I knew I had it. I could and would do this. I reassured them I would be OK and took off into the dark again. I embraced my run, my struggle and ran in the moment. I reflected and was thankful for being lucky enough to be there at that exact moment, doing what I was doing, and for being physically capable of finishing this off. I had been chosen to participate in the adventure of a lifetime…My thoughts drove me to complete the hardest climb on the leg and as I reached the top, the sun came out and the horizon was filled with light. From the top of the mountain, I could see the valley below, the farms, the mountains surrounding me. I HAD DONE THIS. I felt alive!

There were several hard climbs afterwards, specially the last 2 mile long climb that I would have to complete to get to the exchange point. When I finally got there, I was ecstatic. I yelled and screamed because I had done it. I had conquered the biggest fear I have had in years and I had done it in a tutu! 5 years ago I never believed that I could run even a mile. Today, I had almost done 20 miles in less than 10 hours and had 5 more to go.

Back in the mountain an ultra runner that passed me said something to me that will stay forever in my heart. When he passed me as I was taking a walking break I told him “good job” and he stopped and went back to where I was. He told me that even as he was going faster than me, we were both completing the same distance. Putting in the same hard work. No matter how fast or how slow, we all were running the same leg. That is when I truly believed I belonged in the BAMRR team as I was in fact BADASS.

 

The last leg would be done in pairs, as the shutdown of the federal government forced the race director to cancel some of the legs that ran through national parks. Leg #35 that was supposed to be my one “very easy 3.5 miles leg” got cancelled and instead, I would run with runner 12 on leg 36. The last run of the race, that was also a mile longer than the one I originally had, and would go over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge from Alexandria to finish the race in the National Harbour.

My teammate Lorraine and I were finally on. We would close this journey. Months of preparation, logistics  and training would come to an end as soon as Lorraine and I would cross that finish line. We just had to complete almost 5 miles on a 95 degree weather with the full sun high on our backs and go up a bridge and down.

The view on the bridge was spectacular, and we both were looking forward to get to the middle of it so we could start going downhill. To our surprise, once we started the descent, it did not feel easy. We were running with head wind from the river and the vehicles so we had to push harder. Once off the bridge, we could see the finish line. We got into a gravel road that would be the equivalent for us to the yellow brick road that takes Dorothy to Oz.

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We pushed harder and we got there. Our whole team was waiting for us there. They made an arm tunnel for Lorraine and I to cross over and then they ran behind us. 12 pink tutus as one. We had finished this Ragnar. We were all true BADASS MOTHER RAGNAR RUNNERS. We had ran across 200 miles, on a heat wave, through the darkest of the night, with no sleep, and no rest. We had done it.

My heat was filled with joy not only for my personal accomplishment but because of the friendships I had made on the last 2 days, that would last a life time. We now all shared Ragnar, it was within us, and it would always live inside us.Photo Oct 06, 10 55 29 PM

These 2 days changed me as a person. I learned that I must do things that I am afraid to do, because it feels amazing when you finally complete them. I learned that you can never prepare for Ragnar until you have run one.and that I am way stronger than I thought I was. I also learned to give up control. As a barefoot runner, I refused to run on shoes on my trail leg until I realized I would hurt myself if I didn’t. I gave up my vibrams and ran in my beautiful Saucony  Mirage shoes I got from our sponsors, and it was OK. It only took me 3 miles or so to remember how to run on shoes and that saved my feet from hard gravel, tree roots and the unexpected things you find on a trail, especially when you can’t see more than a yard ahead of you.

I learned that it was OK to be scared, as long as you were willing to give it a try and maybe stop being afraid. I learned from all the women I met on this race, and I felt honored that I was chosen to be one of them.

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I will always be grateful to Sarah and Dimity for changing my life.

Once I was a girl that had 2 babies and was sad, tired, overweight and started to run. I had no one to talk to about running. And then I found their book, and met them. Then I became an active member in the tribe that they had founded…and I became one of them. A runner.

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And one last note of advice. If anyone invites you to run a relay race, watch this first. Totally accurate!

special thanks to all the other sponsors that made this race possible with their support and AWESOME products:

Saucony: for awesome Mirage shoes and Gear. I am a true convert of your running apparel line
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-Nuun for keeping me hydrated after I was able to wring almost 8 ounzes of sweat from both of my socks after my second leg

-110% Play Harder: Loved their compression socks and head band!

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-Skinfare: their coconut oil stick allowed me to have ZERO CHAFFING even under a 95 degree heat and 65% humidity

IMG_6590Larabars, Nutzo and Gu kept us fueled and going

and Hyland’s for helping me get rid of my cold right before Ragnar, with their Cough and Cold formula and their “leg cramps” that kept me going

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8 thoughts on “The little mother that could

  1. Oh my gosh. I cried when you recounted what the ultra runner told you. That must have made you feel amazing!!
    You did a *great* job. And I’m so glad you shared these details from the race. I just wish we could have spent more time together!!

  2. Iliana- thank you so much for sharing your experience here. I absolutely loved reading every word. Congratulations on an incredible achievement!

  3. First off, I too love Sarah & Dimity & listen to their podcast. So jealous you hooked up w/ them! Secondly, you are AWESOME. That sounds like such a tough run and you did it!

    Thanks so much for commenting on my blog with the barefoot shoe reviews. I really want to try out the Vibrams!

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