It had been raining all week—pouring actually, and grey skies and thunderstorms were predicted for race day, but it wasn’t raining at 5am when Van 1 met at my house to pack the van and drive to Light House point in New Haven to start the race. And we didn’t get rained on at all over the course of two days.

We packed the van and climbed in—and from this point on, the story is wonderful. I had such a great time that even a few days later, I just randomly think, “That was awesome.” I want a better word, but awesome is what comes to mind.

Our van consisted of five women and one man—Diane, Wendi, Sarah, Katy, Tim and me. We nicknamed ourselves Tim’s Ravishing Road Runners. I’m convinced we had the best van ever. Everyone was really laid back, no one ever got the least bit cranky, Tim agreed to do most of the driving and got us everywhere safely (even with his tendency to slightly lose control when motivating a runner running past), and we spent a huge portion of the 36 hours we were trapped in the van with each other laughing. We were a great group. Our Van 2 also seemed really laid back, but the way the race is set up we only saw them about two or three times for thirty second intervals.

It’s a little Survivor-like. You are thrown into this bizarre experience with a group of people and you connect quickly because you’re all in the same boat working toward the same common cause. Here is basically how the race works. You have twelve runners, six in each van. Each runner runs three legs total. While one runner runs for the first time, the a van drives to the next exchange. When runner one comes through the exchange they pass a slap bracelet to runner two who leaves, and the van goes to the next exchange where runner three gets ready to run. In most places the van can stop along the road to offer support—cheers and water—to the runners. After all six people have run, you get to a major exchange where Van 2 takes over running and Van one gets a few hours off. When your van is running, it’s a fun kind of chaos where everyone is constantly on the move.

The different legs vary in length from about three to nine miles. So some runners run a total of about 12.5 miles, like me, while other run a total of 20.5. Our team started at 7am and you run until you are done, so you run through the night. Vest, headlamps, and taillights are required on all runners from 7pm to 6am and in dense fog like we had. For me, the running part was a bit of an emotional roller coaster. When I started the race at 7am, I was nervous and excited. I thought that would go away on future legs, but it didn’t. I started running, following the signs Ragnar places along the route. When I came to a fork in the road with no sign, I stayed to the left since crossing the road seemed like it would warrant signage, and the other runners I could see were going left. I’m not sure how far I got when a van came by to tell me I was going in the wrong direction and needed to turn around to get back on course.

I became nervous that the whole race would be like this—a series of mishaps. I started running back when a van came to say I was in the wrong direction again. I ran back and forth like and idiot for a minute or so until finally a group of about ten runners just stopped together until an official Ragnar Van confirmed we needed to run back to the fork in the road and stay to the right. We made it to the exchange a bit later than expected.

I didn’t feel great about my first run. I think I was a little dehydrated from dinner the night before. It was supposed to be short and easy, but my lungs felt hot and I had no way of knowing how I did on time because with the mishap I didn’t know how far I’d actually run. A run that should have taken me about twenty-six minutes took thirty-seven, so I wasn’t feeling great about run one. . Our team was running for fun, not to be competitive, but I’m self-competitive. And I don’t think anyone signs up for something like this who doesn’t have at least a little competitive edge. Still, once finished I was suddenly relaxed and excited—each run gave me a burst of energy.

No one our team had ever done the Ragnar before so we were all learning together. Luckily, we went along the route supporting our other runners with no calamities. After reaching our first major exchange, when we’d all run our first leg, our van decided to find lunch and get to the next major exchange by the Good Speed Opera House so that we could relax.

The sun had come out and the day was looking beautiful. We lounged around for a bit, but 2.5 hours before Van 2 was supposed to arrive, I started getting nervous. This is a long time to be nervous. My run appeared to have a lot of hills and I wasn’t feeling great. I had a slight headache, which is abnormal for me, and I was feeling extremely sleep deprived. Late afternoon is not my typical run time; I train in the morning (something for me to consider next time I train for a Ragnar). I found myself going to the bathroom, just out of nerves every thirty minutes. This is especially bad when the bathroom of choice is a port-o-potty. So much for all those pilates Kegels—they aren’t stronger than nerves.

Our exchange van arrived, and though nervous, when I took off I felt strong. I got one tenth of a mile when I was stopped by a Ragnar volunteer because the bridge was up. I had to wait about ten minutes to run. It’s a tad disheartening; you prepare for something (like the six miles I had ahead), and you get your head wrapped around it and a glitch comes along. You just have to work with it. I was the first runner stopped, so Ragnar officials decided that because of all the traffic that would be crossing from the delay, the runners who were bottlenecking had to run single file across the bridge until the traffic cleared and I had to go first. This bothered me because I’m not the fasted runner in the world and I knew I’d be holding people up. Something like that plays with your mind because you feel obligated to start your race at a faster pace than you would normally.

When cleared to go we ran over the bridge—beautiful, but nerve wracking as I crossed over the slotted grates in the bridge. I didn’t look down because I’m scared of heights, but it was awkward to run on and I was afraid of twisting my ankle. After about a half mile the hills started. I had an approximate 400-foot climb over a two mile stretch, with little to no relief and minor plateaus. Nearly everyone I’d been holding up during the single file portion passed me. I foolishly hadn’t trained for hills.

I refused to stop and walk, but by two and a half miles I wanted to kill myself. My hip flexors were on fire. I’d gotten up the hills with sheer mental will because my body hadn’t wanted to do it, and I still had four miles to go. I was questioning whether or not I could make it. Then I saw my team and my whole outlook changed. They confirmed the hills were done and in an instant my world was transformed. I was thrilled, and quite proud of myself. I felt like I had just conquered the world. I was high as a kite. I felt like I could fly, which could actually be attributed to the fact that my run started to go downhill. I normally try to go slow downhill to save my knees, but I didn’t put on the brakes, I just let the hills carry me down; I was gliding.

The boost came partly from being done with the hills and partly from seeing my team. I love team sports. Here was this group of people, three of which I’d never really met before that day, and they could stand on the side of the street, cheer me on, and change my entire attitude. I wanted to do well for them. Seeing them at 2.5 miles satisfied me for the next two miles. I’d come across what now seemed like very small, steep hills in comparison to what I’d just accomplished and I’d burst up them thinking,” I can eat this hill for breakfast” or “this hill can’t break me.” It was awesome. My little legs were burning, but it didn’t seem to matter. My mind was so focused and seeing my team for one minute had made the world a great and wonderful place where no hill could possible beat me. With 1.5 miles to go I felt great. And then as fast as my attitude had changed when I saw my team it changed again.

To be continued….