During my entire 26 years of my existence mother has told me to not get in the car with strangers. At 11 am on June 1, I got in the car with 4 strangers that I met over the internet. I felt no fear as they told me that we were going to pick up two more girls, then go on a remote hike into the Mountains of Utah. If this sounds like the makings of a new Taken movie, I assure you it is not. It was actually the start of one of the best weekends of my life.
For the past 2 years I was on the fence, off the fence about doing a Ragnar. It just sounds like so much stress and hell on your body. Being crammed in a Van with 5 other people, not eating a proper diet, staying awake for over 24 hours, and running a race, what part of that sounds pleasant? However being a part of the Nuun ambassador team has opened many opportunities for me, so when I learned they were putting a team together, I decided why not try it out.
The days leading up to my flight to Utah were a mix of stress, panic and unequivocal joy. I was told ahead of time over the internet that I would be runner five and my first leg would be nine miles… uphill… with a 1,500 foot elevation climb. Yeah, I’m from Jersey. My highest training elevation is like 200 feet and that had me stressing. I was panicking because I did not know how serious our team would be, if it was going to be a win or die kind of situation, and then I was in joy because… HELLO I was going to Utah to represent a brand that I love and to run in a new place and meet new people.
Fast-forward to getting into a van with 4 strangers… Adrian, Dave, Jen and Justin and the two girls we picked up, Amanda and Lauren to make it 7 of us to go hiking at Donut Falls. It is called Donut falls due to the shape of the rock around the waterfall, and if it wasn’t for the water pressure we would have been able to see the underside of this. But nevertheless we hiked, up to 8,000 feet. I was so out of breath you would have thought I was just running 400’s on the track. The elevation was not kind to me, but the views made up for everything. After a snowball fight we made our way down this mountain to get ready to pick up more people and prepare for our undertaking in the morning.
Before dinner we were joined by three more teammates and greeted by one who lives in Salt Lake City who would be joining us in the morning. Casey, Kalee and Standley all flew in and joined us while Catey was the local. Van 1 consisted of the previous 4, along with Amanda and myself.
The next morning we filled up on waffles and coffee and headed out. Excitement and nervousness controlled the van… but somehow broke the awkward silence with bad jokes and crude humor, how else. Since I never ran a Ragnar, and did embarrassingly little research, I was not sure what to expect at the start. To my surprise, there was no one there. They start in waves every 15 minutes or so, this way the course never gets too crowded and with the slower teams starting first and faster teams starting last everyone finishes around the same time.
Standley started us first toeing the line with four high school varsity track teams… it was weird. Here we are full grown adults, competing against kids who are used to the elevation and running in these conditions. Standley did amazing to start and got to us at the next stop to hand off to Kalee. Kalee was a hot mess, talking a mile a minute obviously nervous about the elevation and the temperature which was climbing into the high 80’s at 11am. Kalee had one of the longest legs of the Ragnar going 10.10 miles, as Standley came in and handed the bracelet off to Kalee we had full confidence in her.
As we drove to the next stop we realized how hot it was. We were sweating sitting in the shade eating peanut butter pretzels. Finally a while later Kalee showed up gasping for air and handed it off to Casey. Kalee confirmed that it was super-hot for running, the air was super thin for us lower elevation dwellers, but the scenery was beautiful. When Casey took off we had to hurry up and get to our next stop fast. He had a five mile leg, but he was the fastest in our van. The next exchange would be between Casey and Catey, however I was after that and was slightly freaking out. I filled my handheld waterbottle and had a super long debate about which nuun flavor tastes better warm which ended in me putting strawberry lemonade in. After Casey came in and Catey took off the reality was setting in. After Catey’s 4.4 miles I will be taking on an uphill battle against 8.8 miles.
The exchange location was absolutely beautiful, grass fields, a stream running through, blue sky, cotton ball clouds it was perfect. I reached a nervousness that was a calm nervous. I saw what was ahead of me and I just accepted it. I saw someone leave before me and I knew I had at least one kill on this leg. When we spotted Catey I just accepted it, the worst was in front of me and I had to take it on.
Catey slapped the bracelet on me and I was off. The air was teasing me with every breath. I am not used to running in altitude and I found myself out of breath and exhausted not even a mile in. The first mile was rolling hills which I live for. As long as there is a downhill I will ride that hill out as long as I can. I managed to keep an 8 minute pace for the first mile but slowly it was noticeable that the hills were getting steeper and steeper with less downhill. Mile two I struggled with an 8:59. I told myself as long as I can maintain a 10 minute pace I’d be happy. Mile three and four were amazing, sure they were uphill but still strong and efficient. I met my team at about mile 4.5 they assured me I looked strong, I felt strong, I told them I did not need any water and they left. A half mile later the climb started.
What is air? What is downhill? What is life? Why am I here? The next few miles tested my mental strength. I think I found the meaning of life, I might have talked to god… I am not sure. I just kept telling myself over and over again I did not come here to walk, but eventually I did that too.
The views kept me going, lush green pastures with rolling hills, snowcapped mountains in the background, the sky bluer than a robin’s egg – it was a definition of paradise. Soon all I could do was a mix between a shuffle and a walk but as long as I kept moving forward it was progress to me. My team met me at mile 7, they told me we could switch now. I remember looking at the map and at the exchange point it leveled out, I told them no I wanted to finish my run. They figured that was what I’d say and left. As soon as I turned the corner I knew I made a mistake. There was no leveled out area the last mile was all uphill.
I kept looking behind me, there was more vans looking for their runners, but other than one guy I passed I saw no one that entire leg. Still coming up this mountain my last mile I was the only one here… King of my personal mountain. I walked. I walked until something told me to run, and when I turned that corner there was my team. Casey met me maybe a quarter mile out and ran in with me to make the exchange, and trust me the view from the top made the last hour and a half completely worth it.
While Amanda was running we drove to the next exchange point, this was the first time all day we would see the second van. I was relieved that my long leg was over, but at the same time upset; one third of my adventure was over. Amanda had the downhill of everything I just ran up, I envied her most of the drive down.
We met up with the other van briefly, we told them of our adventures from the day and wished them luck. As fast as we got there, we left. Our mission now, other to rest up for our night leg, was to find food. We decided to go to the next exchange point and find food around there. I guess it was my fault we ended up where we did. I read the directions wrong and we ended up at once exchange point past where we should have been. The van exchange was at Snowbasin resort, we drove past that and ended up at a gas station next to our vans next exchange point. With time passing we decided on stopping at the gas station for our dinner because what the worst that can happen is.
At this point I was fighting throwing up hard, I am typically salt deficient and running up a mountain in the heat did not help my situation. I drank water with nuun, but still found myself nauseous. Both Amanda and I decided that cup of noodles would be our go to meal which ended up being a fantastic choice for both of us, but the boys in our group, Casey and Standley both decided gas station gyros were a good idea.
After our meal we drove up to Snowbasin, what I was most excited for was running water. That was the best bathroom stop ever, after being in a van and using porta potties for seven hours, it felt so good to wash up in a sink and use a toilet that did not have the left overs of hundreds of people before me floating around it in.
This exchange point was super relaxing, it was beautiful. The mountain next to us, the heat just starting to cool off, it was the start of a beautiful night. The second van arrived and we were able to catch up again while we were waiting for Alaska Lauren to finish her leg. Our personalities between the two vans fit so well it was weird. We were like family who had known each other for years instead of the less than 24 hours. We ended up having a dance party, telling inside jokes and making a tunnel for Lauren to run through as she finished her first leg up Snowbasin. After Lauren handed off to Standley van 1 was running again.
We drove back down to our gas station to get ready for our second exchange. As Standley ran into the sunset, we got prepared to take on the night. There was a hype around us, all of a sudden we wanted to run fast. Most of our legs were a short distance and after talking we all planned on pushing our pace. Standley handed off to Kalee and Kalee sprinted her two miles. We barely made it to the next exchange point so Casey could run his miles, and then again when Casey was running we barely made it to the next exchange so Catey could take over for her five miles.
When Catey handed off to me I was so pumped to run, I literally took off I was just so excited. Breathing was easier at night, and not climbing up a mountain helped too. My run was a little sketchy, it went under an overpass and down a one way. At one point I had a mountainous cliff to my right and I heard something rustle to my left so I shined my head lamp over and all I saw was hundreds of eyes staring at me. I screamed. I wonder if anyone was around to hear, I doubt it. It was cows. Lots and lots of cows. I only saw one kid that entire three miles, and it was one of the scariest run of my life, but also the fastest in Utah or at elevation.
As I handed it off to Amanda we drove to our next exchange where we met van 2. They apparently had a rough night so far as they got lost on the drive over, some blame the bad directions of a team member, but I won’t point fingers. As Amanda arrived and handed off to Jen we were done our second legs just after midnight, which happened to be Standleys birthday, so we all broke into song.
After wishing van 2 good luck in the night legs, we drove to our next van exchange point and hopped to get a few hours’ sleep, at least some of us did. Standley decided 2am was the perfect time for BBQ and stayed up and ate… to each their own.
When we decided to fall asleep it was around sixty degrees outside. It was starting to be chilly but it was perfect for running. At 4am however when we woke up to meet Lauren at her exchange it was 34 degrees. Lauren came in and was miserable, the night must have done something to van 2 they were not happy campers. We did not see any of them at the exchange, but they had a few hours of napping a head of them.
For van one we were on our final leg and loving every minute of it. Loving it so much that Kalee decided to extend her leg by half a mile by missing a turn, or something. We never quite figured it out. On Casey’s last leg we watched the sun come up and watched him pass over 50 runners ahead of him. My last run which consisted of 2.5 miles downhill was a dream. It was so fast and so short, the weather was perfect and the views were spectacular, it was everything a runner could ask for.
After my last handoff to Amanda we drove to the last van exchange and watched Amanda hand off to Jen and our journey come to an end. I don’t think we realized what we just did, we just created a friendship out of nothing and ran through heat, elevation, creepy cows, and minimal sleep. We celebrated with the best breakfast we’ve had all trip giant cinnamon buns, French toast, and coffee, lots of coffee.
After we stuffed our face we headed to the finish at soldier field. Here we changed in fields, hydrated, got our lives together in vans and took a nap under the nuun tent at the finish. Three hours later van 2 arrived and we waited for Lauren to finish and right on time she came crashing through the finish line. That was it, it was over. 27 hours, 2 minutes and 8 seconds to run 200ish miles, not bad. Good enough for 9th* overall and 3rd in our division and new friends that should last a lifetime.
Before returning to the hotel we decided that we were going to jump in a lake… which was freezing. After running, sweating, freezing, laying on the ground, getting caked in dirt, using dirty porta pottys, and other questionable activities jumping in this lake felt like a rebirth. It was so cold, it felt great on tired muscles and exhausted souls. We splashed around for a while and took in the scenery before we headed off back to society and the hotel where we finally got a real shower.
That night at dinner we learned we were more than just a team we were family, and after a couple margaritas and a shot of tequila we were closer than ever. That night we sat around a fire and dreaded the awful goodbye that awaited.
I still can’t listen to summer of 2000 playlist on Spotify or look back at my pictures without thinking of the fantastic time that we all had. It was my first Ragnar, it was my first time in Utah, and it was my first time meeting 10 random strangers from the internet. Even though we are from all over I know we will meet again. If you have never run a Ragnar I highly recommend it, and if you have never run it with 10 strangers, I recommend it even more!
Till next time,