Leg 1: This Won’t Last Forever
- Leg #: 11
- Route: Old Snow Basin Road
- Distance: 7.3 miles
- Time: 1:24
- Elevation gain: 1830 feet
- Elevation loss: 384 feet
- Starting elevation: 4965 feet
- Finishing elevation: 6411 feet
- Starting time: about 3:15 p.m.
- Kills: 10, plus one deer
The long story, with photos:
The day before Ragnar, I read a blog entry someone had written about running Ragnar. "I tried not to think about the process of running," he wrote, "but to enjoy the experience of it, no matter how tough it got." That is exactly how I wanted to experience this year’s Ragnar, because I knew it would be tough. Especially my first leg, which looked like this:
(That is a lot of uphill running.)
I wasn’t entirely confident that my training had been enough, so when our van finally arrived at my exchange (meaning I was the next runner to run) after lots of fun with my teammates, I was nervous. I felt, in fact, like I had never run a single step in my life. I think most runners have that moment when we think what the hell was I thinking? and the last ten minutes or so before I started running were that moment.
I expected my nerves to calm down once I got the slap bracelet from Dave and headed up the hill. They did, but my lungs were an entirely different matter: all that time hanging out on the beach at sea level, even the running at sea level, zapped all of my altitude conditioning. 4965' felt painful, so what would it feel like as I pushed upward? I started to panic a little bit.
But then I thought about my goal: not to think about the running but just to experience it. "This won’t last forever" came into my head, and for the beginning twenty minutes or so it was my encouraging thought. The heat, the esophagus that felt skinny as a pencil, the tired legs: the scenery, which for the first while seemed discouraged by the heat as well, wasn’t inspiring enough to balance out my discomfort. But reminding myself that it was only seven miles, and seven miles aren’t eternity, and this run wouldn’t last forever: those things kept me running.
Then I passed a few people. I came to the first water station, where my teammate Sheila’s brilliant idea popped into my head. Before her first run, she’d soaked her headband in ice-cold water, so I decided to do the same. I grabbed two cups of water from the table; I drank one and I doused my headband in the other. Oh! The coolness of that fabric on the top of my forehead, and the droplets of water it send running down the nape of my neck—my discomfort started to fade.
Next, I re-passed a runner I’d passed before the water station (he hadn’t stopped to dunk his headband so he got back in front of me). "You can totally count me as two kills," he joked, and then he told me that his wife had passed a dead rabbit and counted that in her kill tally. ("Kill tally" = Ragnarese for "amount of runners you’ve passed.") I told him I’d only count him once, and we talked for a bit about the hill we were climbing. We were in the Enormous Castle-esque Houses section of Old Squaw Peak Road (which was blessedly short, as castle-esque houses leave me thinking of my own little hovel with discouragement) and we made a few ginormous-house jokes and then the caffeine from the Cliff Shot I had at the water table kicked in and I was off.
Just past the houses, I turned a little switchback and a deer darted across the road. Any vestiges of nerves or discomfort I had vanished as the deer made me think my dad was with me, or perhaps sprinting off down the mountain behind it. My "this won’t last forever" refrain turned from encouragement into a reminder: this magnificent and gorgeous and amazing and perfectly-Amy run could not last forever, so I’d better enjoy it. And I did.
I made it to the top of the first uphill stretch, and as I came around the final curve of it I could see down into the valley, with the road I would run on weaving its way around hills and ridges. It was so beautiful—the road changed directions, so the light changed, and it cooled off just a bit with a little breeze, and the downhill felt like flying with all those trees fluttering their leaves like applause.
The downhill lasted for a little less than a mile, but it was just enough to revive everything for the last 3.5 uphill miles. I refreshed my wet headband at the next water station and hit the uphill with joy in my stride. I know this sounds corny. But I was blissful. People always say that runners frown while they run, but I wasn’t. I was smiling. I was tired and pushing myself but nothing hurt because the world seemed ravishing. This won’t last forever, this won’t last forever and I promise: I was there. I wasn’t running through the run, I was running it, breathing and aching and striding and looking, and it really was the perfect route for me. The road was closed to cars and the runners had spread out enough that sometimes I’d go for eight or ten minutes without seeing anyone else. It felt like pure solitude and all the training miles I’d run were worth the sweat and the quivering muscles because they got me there.
I smiled all the way up Old Basin Road.
When the road ended, I still had about a half-mile left before I got to the exchange. This was run on a tiny sliver of road next to an endless line of Ragnar vans. My this won’t last forever turned back to encouragement because that was the worst stretch of all the 7.3 miles. It felt like it lasted forever and I was sucking in car exhaust and nervous that someone would open their car door and hit me, and I knew the end was close but I couldn’t see it. Once I could, though, I picked up the speed and started smiling again because there was Becky waiting for me. I slapped the bracelet on her wrist and started walking to cool off.
But I didn’t stop smiling. I was so happy, the happy that comes when your muscles are tired and your lungs are throbbing and your pelvis has that deep ache of exhaustion but all of it is joyful because it was hard and you did it anyway. This was one of my favorite non-running Ragnar moments: sitting on the grass at Snow Basin, stretching with Melanie and Sheila while we waited for Becky to run her leg, talking about our runs. Lying on the grass and looking at the circle of blue sky with its peripheral crescent of mountain and pine trees, breathing and talking and smiling.