I had 30 minutes to rest before I start on my 6.7 mile loop. I had just run 7.7 miles of a grueling downhill trail in the dark of night. I sat down a bit dazed from the exhaustion and the sleep deprivation. I tried not to sit too long because my legs would seize up: instead, I stuffed my mouth full of beef jerky and salt-n-vinegar chips, took a piss and tried to poop anything -if anything- out, then stood woozily at the transition area for my teammate to swoop in and force me back out into the cold night.
This is what it is like to be part of an ultra running team for the Ragnar Trail Relay Races. It’s 136 miles of trails divided by four people over the course of 28 hours.
I got suckered into it.
Although I’ve run ultra distances before (meaning anything more than the standard 26.3 miles needed for a marathon), I had thought we were part of an EIGHT person team, meaning each team member would only have to run about 17 miles each with lots of breaks inbetween. 17 miles? Easy enough, most distance runners can do that off the sofa even with a bad training base. 34 miles? Ummmm, that requires training… or a lot of cocaine… neither of which I had come race day.
I didn’t get the memo. Or the email. I had no IDEA.
All I knew was that being active kept my mind from dwelling on sad things in life, so when asked if I wanted to join the team, I enthusiastically said yes and packed my tent and sleeping bag and running shoes along with my cheerful bushy tail and bright eyes.
So there I am, in the middle of the night, having hallucinations and still running. I blame the sleep deprivation. I had not slept in 2 nights. (One night was totally my bad time management. My fault!) I had just spent the last 1 1/2 hours imagining seeing houses in the forest made of glass that turned out to be nothing but trees. I had seen plastic toy giraffes on the path. No, those were pine leaves. I had a full conversation with my teammate about how hard it is to run down rocky terrain in the dark.. and realized that I was talking to myself because I am.. um… by myself.
It’s 4am. My teammate runs in, awake and cheery. I take off. I’m grumpy, and sleepy, and miserable. The sound of clanking wakes me from my sleep-running. It’s a ski chair lift.
Wait, this is real? Yes, I remember in the trail guide that stated one of the routes required a chair lift to the trailhead. I’m stunned. I’ve NEVER gotten on a chair lift.
The operator looked at me kindly. I was the only runner at 4am. He offered me a blanket. (Am I hallucinating?) “Just run in there and pull the metal safety bar over your lap,” he instructed. (Sure thing there, Bob of Twin Peaks.)
I nervously held my ass out for the chair lift to catch. And catch it did. I’m now flying above the strewn boulders and dead tree trunks which are only lit by my paltry headlamp. I. Am. Terrified. There is NO ONE. Just me on this rickety metal chair and the sound of cables screeching. My breathing is shallow. I wildly look around for something to give me a sense of safety just in case I faint and my limp body slips thru the safety bar and down to our eventual death against the granite below.
Silence. Thump thump goes the cables.
As terrified as I am… the darkness is… serene. Still. A waning half moon mournfully shines down on me; stars erupt in their splendor above me. Below me, darkness.
Is this how it is to fly? To be a bird? Is this what they see?
It’s… beautiful. It’s like being Peter Pan but without the noise. It’s silent coasting, like a hawk circling above the world on air currents.
And despite the nervous Nellie that I am, I experience… calm. There is a bizarre peace that settles in when you stop fighting the situation. I sit on the chair, completely still from the paralysis of fear… and with complete peace in my heart. It was the purest form of magic. I was in awe of the world around me, and the world inside of me. And for that split-second, it all made sense: the ups and downs of life, the bad and the good, the suffering of death and the joy of living.
And no, it wasn’t a hallucination. It was clarity disguised as the breeze.