Ragnar Race, 2018:
The view from someone who hates running
Sarah K. Dallos
I joined a Crossfit gym in September of 2015, called NIKA Athletics in my town not realizing how many ways it would change my life. Besides wanting to become a little stronger to tackle Savage Race and Tough Mudder that I had registered for just two months after I joined Crossfit, I was looking for a new way to exercise. I walked into the doors after speaking with one of the owners Ashley and while I was familiar with a lot of moves, she allowed me to jump into a workout and see how the workouts were structured. I knew right away, I had found what would work for me and I’ve never looked back, since.
Now, let’s fast forward to 2018. I have found that I grasp weight lifting movements and gravitate more towards becoming strong as opposed to fast. Let’s face it; I’ve never been fast at anything, except eating. It’s true. I love food, I’ve always eaten fast and that’s just one thing I’m good at. However, Crossfit has improved my stamina, my mental grit, my will to keep going, no matter how uncomfortable I am, or how much I don’t want to do something. I have learned to push myself to that dark place, where you know you should probably stop, but also have just a little bit more in the tank to keep going. I thought I always had that, but really, I was not even coming close to tapping into my full capabilities for who I am, my current conditioning, diet, age, etc. I was always picked last in gym class, I was made fun of for being overweight as a kid, and even beat up a couple of times. Yet here I am challenging myself to do things I’d never thought possible.
Jumping back to 2017 a group of what I call the “elites” at our gym signed up for this race called Ragnar; a 24-hour race, where everyone on the team runs a total of 3 loops, on mountain bike trails at all hours of the day until all 8 members have done all 3 loops. You camp, you might sleep, you have to run in the dark. I thought instantly, “These crazy cats would do this because they can handle it. They are the fastest, strongest people I know and have ever known.” And I thought they were maybe slightly insane. Why would someone pay to do that to themselves? Why would anyone want to go through that torture? For a Medal? A free t-shirt? I mean I did two rather long races with obstacles, but they were over in a matter of hours. Ragnar Race was another level of stupidity, I thought.
Through an unfortunate loss in the community and I assume a never-ending quest to pay homage to the certain member of our gym that was lost, Ragnar became the talk of many members and coaches a few months ago. My distaste and poor aptitude for running is easy to recognize; on my face, in my times, and I will swear and say it aloud. But a few others who weren’t looking to break any records, decided to form a team, to join those honoring our lost comrade and I joined in. I’d be lying if I said I spent many hours training for this grueling event. Mostly because I hate running and prefer lifting weights and also work nights. My schedule was not aligned with others running and training. I ran maybe a total of 10 extra miles, split up. I only ran a trail once. It probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but honestly, that’s how much I really don’t like running. But December 7th, quickly approached and I told myself there’s no going back. I was going to do this, and that’s it.
Setting up camp was fun because I love camping. I love the struggle and the laughs setting up a bunch of stuff where I was going to live for the next day. I loved all the swearing and eating and conversation. It’s just one of those seemingly unending tasks that eventually pays off. Well, until you wake up on a completely deflated air mattress, stiff as a board and numb arms. That’s awesome (said no one, ever). Being the first runner, was a bit of a scare for me. I told everyone on my team not to expect huge time gains. I can’t go fast, I mean I could if something was chasing me, but I am more of a slow and steady pace kinda girl. I can go for a while, but it’s going to be a slow and steady pace.
I was passed and deserted by everyone that started with me. I was even passed by the people that that started after I was a mile-and-a-half in. One woman flew by resembling a deer, barely touching the ground or sweating as she ran. Then many more runners passed me, but all thanked me for getting over. I most likely added to my run times because I was slow and had to stop and let people fly by. The Green loop was about 5.5 miles, and fairly even. It was actually very pretty in the morning. Except for the sugar sand. That was not that fun, but I just slowly trudged through it, and counted down the miles on my watch. I remember hitting the .25-mile left mark, thinking “Wow, I did it. But I have to do it two more times!” I can say while I was excited to be finished, I was also disappointed in myself. I am just so slow, and no matter how hard I try, running just takes a lot out of me and my time really reflected that.
After my first loop, I was hungry, tired, a little spacey feeling. It took me a few hours to feel energized again but eating sandwiches, carbs on carbs, some fat, and protein, I felt pretty good. I didn’t nap between the first and second loops, I just hydrated, ate and relaxed. Oh, and I laughed. A LOT. There really is something to say for laughing with a group of people. It’s something that always helps me! But this was when some people started describing the Red loop; my next loop! I was slotted to begin the “toughest” loop after dark and I was feeling a bit anxious. Everyone described hills, and cliffs and slippery inclines. I went in thinking I might not make it. I went in thinking I might have to turn around.
The Red loop was my favorite! The elevation and hills were nothing in comparison to hills and elevation that I was used to hiking in both Southern and Northern California, as well as Upstate NY. I was very thankful for all of my hiking years once I hit those hills. Did I run them? No- it was dark, I can’t afford to fall and be injured and if my 208lb. self, hit the ground, it would be like a sack of fish-guts and a whole lot of yelling. It wouldn’t be pretty or graceful and there’d be no more race for me. I ran most of it alone. I heard things scurrying off into the woods, I heard bats over my head, I would every so often see a head lamp come up from behind me and I’d let them go ahead of me with lots of “You’re doing GREAT! Keep it up!” I also zoned into my music and when I had both earbuds in, it was like I was running myself into war. Never looking back. I was pushing onward, upward, downward and nothing was going to stop me. Then the trails begin to merge. This is when I pass one runner, who was probably on a different trail, but I didn’t care, because I thought “Oh yeah, I’m killing this!” Before I knew it, the .25-mile left point was being crossed and my awesome, smiling teammate was there to greet me. My words to her were “I can’t believe I just fucking did that!” And she was off.
Getting back to camp after the Red Loop, I wanted to bring a bit of relief to some of those who hadn’t run that loop yet. But the organizers of the race are lying when they say it’s 5.6 miles – it was almost 6.5 miles! I experienced it a little differently than others, and I absolutely loved it. I liked that it was not monotonous, it was all different, difficult and required a lot of focus to not fall, misstep or go plunging to your own sudden death down the side of a cliff. The incline was not nearly that difficult and as long as you have good leg strength, it was merely just a couple big steps. So, I shared my excitement, ate an amazing pork Gyro and French fries, and slept 4 hours on my useless piece of crap air mattress that my boyfriend won’t let me throw away because he just has to fix everything. This is when I’d insert the biggest eye-roll in the history of mankind.
0330 hits, and I’m up, listening to our neighbors who are some kind of pink flamingo running group talking about mindless crap. At one point they talked about where they were going to get tattoos and I wanted to barf. Insert another eye-roll. But alas, I got up and ventured to get coffee. It was hot, it tasted like coffee and it helped me feel more human. I was slotted to begin my last run at 0515 but due to the previous runner getting injured she took a little longer than anticipated so I began closer to 0615. This time, it was Yellow which was a moderate trail, and under 5 miles. I started out with what I am going to call a running buddy. Only, we never talked to each other and she doesn’t know my name and I didn’t know her name. Kind of creepy but hey, I wasn’t alone, and she stayed just ahead of me until daylight hit and I never saw her again. Oh, probably because I stopped to take pictures and just absorb some of the scenery. It was really beautiful to be on that trail as the sun came up. I thought “This is what heaven is like.” Well except I’m not religious and I’m not so sure heaven exists, but this was pretty close to what I would imagine it being like. It was also when it hit me, that I was almost done. I was close to the finish line. The 39-year-old woman who hates running, is almost done running a total of 16.74 miles. To be fair, I did walk some of it. But really, not much. I was almost finished completing what I thought was absolutely absurd, a year ago. My body was sore, but it did not fail me. I did not falter in the midst of this challenge. I kept going and felt strong. I now know why, too. It’s not because I am a fast or good runner. It’s not because I eat perfectly or take a ton of vitamins. It’s not because I trained so much and perfected my technique. It’s because I have an inner light that is so incredibly bright and warm, that it leads the way. It leads me to keep going. It reassures me that I can do anything. It drives me not to quit. My inner light thrives on these challenges. It dims when I am not challenging myself. It goes out when I limit myself.
Some days I feel like I have so much love to give to the world and I don’t know how to give it up. It builds and builds within me and I have nothing to give it all to. This is not to be confused with the love I give to my friends, family or boyfriend. This is something different. This is that love you give back to the universe because it’s leads you to something you think would overtake you in the past, but now seems so miniscule. Ragnar race allowed me to give my love back to the world. It allowed me to see just a fraction of what I am really capable of doing. It allowed me to realize that I truly need to commit to giving more to other people, so they can discover this about themselves. I may not know where to begin right now, but at least I know I need to do this. One thing is for sure, I let NIKA Athletics change me. And every day, I aim to better myself because of all the coaches and members.