My left calf is spasming at random. My spine feels misaligned. My muscles ache and my throat, nose and voice are still raw. It’s the day morning after a surreal few days, and I wonder to myself, “is this what my body will feel like when I’m 80 years old?”
And yet these are the symptoms I bring upon myself. Many of us do. The triathletes rash, the crossfitters blister, the joggers sprained ankle. Through use and abuse we push our bodies beyond the comfort zone to prove that goals are worth achieving and challenges are more meaningful when they’re difficult. When you focus on that, then the pain, exhaustion and discomfort become secondary. This a few weeks ago my goal was to participate in the Southern California Ragnar Relay, and trust me, there was plenty of pain, exhaustion and discomfort along the way.
Ragnar Relays are a series of events in which teams of 12 people run a designated route in a series of individual legs. Once the race starts, one member from each team runs to a checkpoint where the second team member is awaiting a handoff, and the running continues so forth. I participated in the 2015 Southern California race between Huntington Beach and San Diego. Much like the increasingly popular Tough Mudder and Color Runs, Ragnar Relays appeal to active people seeking a novel experience, a physical challenge and camaraderie with teammates. Our team was split into two groups of six, each occupying a rented Chevy Tahoe.
My group crammed into our SUV with runners and gear and food and supplies in stow, and darted from checkpoint to checkpoint. We each of took a turn running as a cool Friday morning warmed up into the a hot afternoon. My first leg took me down a suburban bike path and along some industrial buildings, eventually crossing through some neighborhoods and ending at a local school. Along the way I got a some cheers of encouragement from a few strangers and a few high-fives from some random kids.
After handing off the snap bracelet (which acts as a baton), I caught my breath and headed back to the SUV. From there we drove to the next exchange, where the next runner was handed the baton. It continued like this for much of the day until all six of us had finished and the other SUV of six people took over for a few hours.
During this break, time seemed to slow down. After we had cooled off and changed clothes, the day seemed pass much more slowly. We stopped at a local burger place for lunch and drove to the start of the next round at a beachfront parking lot in Oceanside. A jukebox played random music as we enjoyed some fries, a few beers and a few rounds of darts at a local bar. Then the sun went down some of us went to the beach to lay down and relax.
Laying flat on the cold sand, hearing the waves crash and trying to stay warm, we chatted and watched planes cross the sky high above. I wasn’t able to get any sleep, but it was nice to be able to take a few moments and be still, quiet, and to experience something so unusual. We talked about the importance of keeping life interesting. We agreed that it’s good to find ways to break the routine and surprise yourself every once in a while.
Flash forward a few hours later I’m running down the sidewalk of a seemingly endless hill in the middle of some residential neighborhood near Vista, CA. I’m wearing my race-mandated reflective vest, my trusty Terramar Helix Tee and equipped with a headlamp and blinking taillight. It’s probably close to midnight as I pass the houses filled with sleeping families before climbing a very challenging hill, and ending at next exchange and my team.
It’s about 2am by the time the six of us are done with our second shift, and at this point we’re all very exhausted. After we parked at the headquarters of Taylormade Golf in Carlsbad, I grab a sleeping bag in hopes of getting a few hours sleep. I was directed to the “Designated Sleeping Area” by volunteers, located in the middle of a driving range across the street. The grass is wet with dew but I find a quiet spot, take off my shoes and start to relax.
PSSSSSSSTTTT Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick! Suddenly I’m jarred awake by a sound I don’t recognise, at first I think a neighbor’s air mattress has punctured. Then somebody yells “RUN!”, something you never want to hear when you’re sleeping or in a crowd for that matter. The sprinkler system had turned on and suddenly a oscillating jet of water was drenching everything in its path. Fortunately I was able to gather my things and scramble out of range, but some other people weren’t as lucky.
After the adrenaline of being jarred awake had passed, I set up in a new location, and moments later the entire scene repeated when different sprinklers kicked-on nearby. Grumpy and dead-tired I gathered my things and walk back to the parking lot on essentially zero sleep. I spent the rest of the night sitting on a curb and in line for hot chocolate, waiting for sunrise.
At about 5am our SUV’s group begins running again, commencing our final shift. At about 7 o’clock I was handed the bracelet and I ran into the early morning light. The air was cool, but clear, and it was a perfect morning for a jog. I ran due west and ended at the beach just north of Torrey Pines.
I think there’s something inside all of us that instinctively knows when the ocean is near. Maybe it’s the salt in the air or the flatness of the horizon, but when the hills became flat and grass turned into marsh, knowing that the ocean was around the corner was a huge motivation for the final push. I totalled about 14 miles during my the three runs in 19 hours, our team completing the 182 miles over 29 hours (197th place out of 732 teams).
Next morning, as I struggled to walk straight, I’m comforted by the memory of a crazy weekend. I have some photos, a finisher’s medal and a tee shirt, and the pride that comes with accomplishing something mentally and physically challenging. I’m not a rich man but what I do have is a treasure trove of life experiences. It’s times like these that add to my vault of memories, evidence of my unyielding desire to expand the resume of my life.
It seems I’m fueled by random. I see virtue in experiences that are strange, unexpected or challenging. Because when I’m 80 years old, my body slows and it’s my time to check out, I don’t want to regret a single missed opportunity. So as much as it sucks being awoken by a sprinkler in the middle of a golf course at 3 in the morning, I realize it could be worse – I could be at home in a warm bed like every other night that week.