As we return to our setting of a van full of trail mix and an ever-growing potpourri of sweat and feet, I feel it's important that I preface this next adventure with a little background.
My 7th grade science teacher, who had what I'm now realizing was a borderline disturbing sexual obsession with Bill Nye the Science Guy, decided one day to measure our lung capacity. With a simple balloon and some equally simple method of measurement, it was determined that in addition to being the nerdiest person in my class I was also able to intake significantly less oxygen than my fellow classmates. A gym class blackout and doctor's visit later, my shiny new asthma inhaler became an accessory to the oversized flannel shirt I wore multiple times a week at an attempt to follow trends.
It also should be noted that around the same time we were asked to run a mile in gym class. As the skinniest person alive, one would think I'd be speedy. One would be wrong. In fact, I came in COMPLETELY LAST with a mile time of 11:47 (yes, I remember the exact time) because I had to walk most of the way after I completely failed to pace myself on the first lap.
Returning to Sonoma County, we'd had a delicious meal at lunch of burgers and - wait for it - poutine while the other van's runners did their thing. We came to the exchange where I would be starting my second leg in the parking lot of a library somewhere between San Francisco and Napa. After attempting to sleep on the grass next to the building because the van itself was too hot, we finally received a text that the second van was nearly there and the runner would follow posthaste. Time to get suited and booted.
It was approximately 6pm as I began to get ready, which meant that during my run it was going to get dark. Ragnar has about seven pages of rules on running in the dark, most of which relate to the amount of reflective and blinky shit that must be on your person between the times of 6:30pm and 7:30am so that cars can see you and make a conscious decision on whether or not they wish to hit you instead of simply an unfortunate accident caused by nighttime's cloak of invisibility.
Over the shiny pink bridesmaid dress I was still required to wear, my friends now placed not only a reflective crossing-guard vest, but a blinking neon armband and a red bicycle taillight. To top it off, over my super rad orange headband I had to wear a headlamp, akin to those worn by mechanics and spelunkers. It looked like there'd been a fucking mining disaster during prom and I had volunteered to help my fellow (wo)man in the crisis.
Now I was about to "run" 6.6 miles. No part of me thought I'd be able to run even half of it without stopping, but I at least figured I could run-walk it without significant injury or suicidal thoughts. Once again, I was completely hallucinating and had no idea that the worst 1.5 (2? 3? I don't even know honestly) hours were seconds away from beginning. I saw the bride run around the corner in her completely ridiculous poofy running dress and 80s veil and knew I was about to start. Fear was setting in.
I started off on sidewalks. I didn't realize what a beautiful and glorious thing sidewalks were at the time, and they went completely unappreciated. The scenery was boring - apartment complexes and office parks, with a couple of "nice" trailer parks thrown in, all of which found a way to use the word "estates" in the name of their subdivision. As I mentioned in the first part, I have absolutely no concept of distance. None. So to me, half a mile was probably a mile in my mind, and I found out later that 6.6 miles actually was what I would have imagined to be ten. Whodathunk.
We ran forever on this one long street, obviously a main thoroughfare - I was absolutely convinced that by the time we actually turned that I was going to see the finish up ahead. Funny, this was in fact nowhere NEAR the finish, even though I'd been going for at least half an hour. Like I mentioned before, there were no mile markers, so I just had to imagine how far I'd probably gone and then divide that number by two to get the actual likely distance traveled.
When we finally turned, three things happened:
1) It got dark, IMMEDIATELY
2) The sidewalk disappeared and turned into either a ditch, a 1-foot shoulder with uneven gravel or actually running in the middle of the road
3) All parts of my body gave out so that I was unable to properly navigate things like ditches, bushes with sticky burrs or slanted roadways
So here I am, not even attempting to run because even with my miner's hat I could barely see in front of me, on some farm road in the middle of nowhere. No wineries, no grapevines - not the scenery I'd anticipated. Part of the time I was so miserable that I started hallucinating that I was in Missouri and that I should go to my Grandma's house. Because after traumatic events one is not likely to remember many specific things, here is a vague rundown of what was going through my mind at the time:
- Oh hey, my ankle stopped working. Yeah, the one that basically doesn't have tendons. Whoopsie. That kinda hurts like fuck.
- Shit! Does that truck see me?? I guess I'll go run in this ditch - OW GODDAMN IT WHY ARE THERE BURRS IN THIS DITCH? WHY AM I RUNNING IN A DITCH??
- I think I might actually die. There's no one out here, all these houses seem dark. Maybe they're making meth. Is this the meth part of Sonoma?
- No one has passed me in like ten minutes. Am I still going the right way? I see no blinky lights in front of OR behind me..yeah, I'm pretty sure I'm lost. Do I have a cell signal? HA of course not, I have Sprint, the company that lets you die in the middle of nowhere.
- That's interesting, when I run I feel like I'm about to shit my pants with every step. I should probably stop. I can't afford to shit my pants a SECOND time as an adult. Should I go shit in this woodsy area? Oh wait, I'm fucking BLINKING. I can't hide. I'll just be the blinky person shitting in the trees instead of directly at the side of the road. That'd be a little hard to explain.
- Oh hey, that burp was that hamburger. My stomach feels gross. Maybe I'll just vomit so I won't have to shit my pants.
- Ok SERIOUSLY I've been running for like eight hours, how am I not at the end yet? Where's the "one mile to go" sign?? I have to have run at least 15 miles by now, maybe 20. It feels like 2am. Oh wait! There are people up there with lights on! That must mean I'm close!
As I pass the people who had pulled their van over to cheer us on, I asked them how far away from the finish I was. Expecting a "just around the corner" or "half a mile!" they told me "Only about 2.5 miles!" as though that was a short distance.
"ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?" I shouted back. Based on their silence I don't believe this was the response they were expecting.
- Uh oh, my friends are texting me. "Where are you?" I HAVE NO FUCKING CLUE. I actually texted them something to that effect. They reply with something encouraging, when I really deserve "HURRY THE FUCK UP YOU ASSHOLE" - what nice friends.
- What would happen if I just sat down? Would someone come find me? Would I become roadkill?
- There's a light on in that house. I wonder if they'd let me nap on their sofa. I promise I wouldn't report the meth.
- Are there bears around here? Because honestly I'm feeling pretty ok about being eaten by a bear right about now. I mean, I'd be in the newspaper. No one would say I was a wuss if I was eaten by a bear. It's like a legacy. They'd forget I was a terrible runner and spent most of my time sleeping, they'd just remember how brave I must have been fighting that bear that ate me. Little would they know that I'd simply sit down and let the bear go at it. No use in fighting, that'd just make it harder for the bear to eat me. Is that considered suicide by bear?
I finally see a sign with a light on it - one mile to go! This would have been much more encouraging had I not already been on this road for approximately 17 hours and 45 minutes. I was limping because in addition to my ankle ceasing to function I had blisters on both of my feet, my hips hurt from being on a slanted surface for miles, I still couldn't decide if I was going to vomit or shit my pants, some unknown part of the back of my knee was hurting, I had burrs on my socks and I still had to make it the last mile. I couldn't fake run anymore when I passed people.
"You can do it! Just one more mile!" people would shout. NO. NO I CAN'T. I ACTUALLY CANNOT DO IT, which is why I'm limping past you at 1mph instead of pretending to get a second wind as you cheer for me, so please just stop. You're making me feel stupid. Let me live this humiliation alone, alone in this darkness of this weird NorCal farm country backroad. I wanted to punch all of the encouragers in the face. They may have been yelling "good job" but all I heard is "start running, people are going to see you soon!"
When I got to the finish line it was so weirdly disorganized and I was so dazed that I couldn't figure out where to go - luckily our next runner just ran up to me and grabbed the bracelet (our relay "baton") because I couldn't even tell who she was at first. My team found me and led my limping ass back to the van, as I heard people come in behind me. "How was it??" their teams would ask. "It was GREAT!"
Great? My teammates knew not to ask. "Well, it was actually the worst couple of hours of my entire life, right up there with the food poisoning I got in Hawaii. The only part of me that doesn't hurt right now is my hair, and I actually considered taking my own life approximately nine times. I'm bleeding through my socks and tripping over my own feet, but other than that, I suppose it wasn't too bad."
The actual greatest moments of my life came shortly thereafter, first when a teammate agreed to run my last 3-mile leg for me without even requiring monetary compensation and second when I took my Klonopin and passed the fuck out on one of the bench seats in the van. It was at that moment that I knew that never in my life would I ever have to run again. Ever.