“The difference between a jogger and a runner is an entry blank.”
George A. Sheehan
It is hard to believe that it has been six years since I have graduated college and even harder to believe that it has taken me just as long to figure out what it means to be a post-collegiate runner. Running is my exercise of choice and so much more. As I struggled to keep a consistent training schedule and set realistic goals, I was liking it less and less. I didn’t look forward to racing because I was just going to be let down.
This summer, I decided I was just going to race, not worry about times and just enjoy being out there with a group of people striving. It helped to have great running friends who recruited to these numerous races. Quite frankly, I ran so many fun ones that if I was thinking with a time goal, I might not have ever run. The list includes: a glow in the dark 10k, the PAW-louse 5k ( I borrowed a dog), a duathlon (pro tip: don’t use a bike you have never ridden) and a few low-key races that made me just feel better about myself including a mile time trial and a 10k.
But by far the craziest race I did this summer was this past weekend’s Ragnar Trail Tetons race. 15 miles, 3 legs and lots of elevation gain was in store for each participant. My team was awesome, mostly strangers that all knew the team captain but not really anyone else. Our team captain kicked major booty organizing and being the supreme queen of all e-mails. I barely had to lift a finger to be involved. Travel started Wednesday night when four of us left Moscow to get to Tetons and likely the most dramatic event was a bear ran away from us while we were driving. We camped and finished up the rest of the travel on Thursday. I could spend many sentences on the beauty and the varied terrain the trip took us through but I’m not a poet. We arrived Thursday night, signed in and got prepared for our 8:40 a.m. start.
Our team due to injury and other circumstances was widdled down to five runners, we knew we would not get an official time but we believe it worked out better in the end for us. We were able to finish a bit earlier and there wasn’t so much waiting. My first leg took me 5 miles across a ridge with two climbs and since I did it in daylight, the views really struck me. I kept it below 12-minute pace and was able not to get too light headed with the elevation. I spent the rest of the morning watching our legs come and go and getting all the recon I could. I was able to roll really well on my 3-mile leg, keeping it around 10-minute pace, with the slowest mile being the first (the climb was killer). I was off to sleep and wait for the crazy 7-mile leg. The 7-mile leg was to the top of the ski lift with around 2,000 ft of elevation gain and the downhill on the “sticks and stones” trail was very technical plus well, there could be bears.
After dinner and a nap, I dressed in my multiple layers (temperatures had dropped into the upper 30s) and put on my pack with my bear bell to wait to start my leg. With sequins, glowsticks and sparkly tights, I started my last leg at 9:30. It was dark and if our first runner hadn’t given me a small flashlight to use on top of having my headlamp, I would not have been in a good spot. I started the power hike to the top, I maintained sub 20-minute miles as I followed the headlamps to the top of the 3.5-mile climb and was thankful to reach the top. As I made my way down, I could hear a flurry of f-bombs from numerous places and just tried to watch my feet. I was able to run with a few other runners but by the time I reached my last mile, I was alone and the thoughts of bears filled my head. I started to sing songs from Alexander Hamilton to just fill the air. Luckily, my bear spray was never used. I finished the run in about 16:11 pace. My team finished at about 4 a.m. The exhaustion, happiness and pride that overcame us was hard to express being wrapped in blankets but we had a great time. Will we do it again? Likely, but we might have to forget a bit first.
During this summer, I hit a milestone in age- I turned 29. I have decided to make one last go at my 5k PR. This week, I’m sitting down to write out a plan but be sure to follow me here and on Twitter (@carabyrd) to see how it goes.