Leg 3: Not a Dude in a Sparkly TuTu!
Leg #: 35
Distance: 7 miles
Elevation gain: 336 feet
Elevation loss: 2066 feet
Time: 1 hour 3 minutes 12 seconds
The Long Story, With Photos:
It's taken me a long time and a lot of running to be able to feel this way: I love running downhill. As my third Ragnar leg (which I have been trying to write about for more than two months!) looked like this
, that's a good thing. I especially love it when you've been going uphill for awhile, and you finally reach your turn-around spot. Once they realize that the uphill is over, all of the muscles in your body (it's surprising just how many of them it takes to get you up a hill; it's definitely not just your hamstrings and glutes) quiver with relief. Your heart slows down a bit, your breathing moves away from a gasp, and your quads are happy to take over.
So I'm happy that this route, while primarily a steep and consistent downhill, includes some up, too. It starts right out as an uphill run, in fact, taking me to the very top of Guardsman Pass before plunging down into Deer Valley. Then there are three other uphill sections to conquer. I was so much better prepared for this leg this year, mostly because I knew what to expect; last year, the uphills caught me by surprise and were more than a little bit discouraging. In fact, last year I was so tired I didn't even try to run the uphills (except for the first one); I allowed myself to walk and tried to talk myself out of feeling lame.
This year, my goal was to run all of the uphills, even if I was tired. And I was tired, I realized, once I made it to the 8950-foot summit and started down.
(This is right at the start of the leg. I didn't know that the exchange was as close as it was so I was totally not ready to go. I forgot my Bloks and my headband!)
My legs were tired, and my lungs, but I still tried to push. I listened to the song "Get Down, Make Love," which Becky had reminded me of, four times in a row. (I have a theory about how naughty songs make for good running but it is a post of its own.)
(This is the first time the van stopped to talk to me; I'm shouting to Becky, asking her to get my pink headband and my Bloks for the next stop. Thanks Becky for being a slave to my Ragnar sloth!)
I went through my own little running-downhill mantra (shoulders down, relax, lean forward, your feet know what they are doing, you're not going to fall, don't be afraid, let go); I got encouragement and a Blok and a headband from my teammates. And when I hit the next two uphills, I ran them.
Not as fast as I would like, but I still ran.
The fourth and last uphill section is pretty steep. It happens right after the van leaves the runner for an alternate route. So you're there, on your own, facing this enormous hill made steeper by the perception of exhaustion. I was determined: I'm going to keep running. I'm tired but I can conquer this hill. Someone passed me and we encouraged each other, and I put my attention on the pink shirt of the runner ahead of me, who was walking. If I can pass her I can add her to my count I kept thinking, a motivation to keep my tired legs running. I didn't want to walk.
But as I pulled up next to her, she tapped me on my shoulder, so I yanked out my headphone to hear what she had to say. "I have a favor to ask you," she said. "And it's a big one. Would you mind walking with me? Just to the top of the hill? I'm just so discouraged and tired right now, and my van is gone, and I'm totally mad because they said this was all downhill and after that Old Snow Basin Road I just can't handle another hill."
What was I going to say? Of course I walked with her.
This was her first Ragnar but my second, so I knew this was the last uphill, a piece of news she received happily. As we walked up the hill, we talked about the race and the Ragnar experience and finishing strong. She told me how she hadn't slept one wink and I told her that next time she'll be able to, and she said "there's not going to be a next time because right now I hate this race" and I joked with her that it's like having a baby and once she was running downhill again she'd forget the pain.
I didn't ask her name, but I wish I had.
We got to the top of the hill, where there was a water station and encouraging volunteers. I followed my new routine with the two waters. "Good luck," I told her. "You have so totally got this. I promise there's not one more step of uphill." I slipped my cold, wet headband back on, tossed my water cup, and started running again. My quads happily went to work, and I smiled, I smiled hard, as I ran. I let my refrain from my first run—this won't last forever—fill up my head again so I could savor instead of rushing.
On Ragnar legs, none of the mileage is marked except for the "one mile to go." Just as I got to that sign, another runner caught up to me. "Hey!" he yelled. "I finally caught up to you! You can see that sparkly skirt for miles!" I said something encouraging about it being the last mile, but he kept on with his story. "I saw you about three miles ago and I totally thought you were a guy!" (At this point my enthusiasm for the conversation started waning.) "And there was no way I was going to let a dude in a sparkly tutu beat me!"
I think my response might have sounded cold. Actually, I hope it did. "Well, I'm glad you're comfortable with beating a girl in a sparkly tutu" I said while he was still in earshot. Then I started to get all conflicted because hello: I thought I run like a girl who's trying to keep her enormous boobs from bouncing while she really needs to pee. I had no idea that translated to "dude in a sparkly tutu" to other runners. I almost got a lump in my throat.
But somehow that last uphill and the stopping to walk to help another runner also helped me. It reminded me that we all have our own races to run, and if my sparkly man stride was the thing that pulled that slightly chauvinistic runner down the hill, so be it. The race gave me what I needed, too, to get off the mountain.
As the finish line came into my view, I heard feet closing in. Someone was trying to kill me! And, you know, I didn't want them to. I didn't want to finish my last leg by being someone else's last kill. So I sprinted. I pushed as hard as I could while shouting over my shoulder "no! nononononono! You're not passing me!" and then I made it to the end, slapped the bracelet on Becky's wrist, and started laughing. Because I sounded like a moron and I'm not even sure there even was anyone behind me. Because of a guy thinking I was a dude. Because my sparkly skirt and my flying yin-and-yang tattoo and my orange shirt all made me happy. Because I had made it and finished strong and helped someone else and had enough left in my tank to sprint and yell at imaginary runners.