On Saturday I ran as part of a relay for the Burning River 100 mile endurance run. Believe it or not there are souls that run the whole damn thing by themselves! (I am a crazy triathlete, but DO NOT sign me up to run 100 solo miles, ever.)
I would be running 16.1 miles through the trails of Cuyahoga Valley National Park…but here’s the kicker…I would start around midnight. Teams have 28 hours to cover the 100 mile distance. The teams are also responsible for figuring out the logistics of getting their runners to each of the starting and ending lines. (Some people run this as a FOUR person relay oppose to eight!!)
The first relay started early and I was in a group text all day getting updates from all the runners — even the ones running! It was SO MUCH FUN!! The team was so positive and I couldn’t wait for my turn and to experience it. I had never even met my teammates in person either until race day (and never even met a few in person due to timing.) Yet another reason why I love the running and endurance community!
I didn’t end up starting my relay until 1:10AM and I finished slightly before 5AM.
IT WAS EPIC.
In a nutshell basically this race/relay was kind of my own personal nightmare, but it was also incredible. Running alone in the woods in the pitch black at night. (Think: Blair Witch Project.) I mean I saw numerous runners out there at different points, but it was not like your typical race where you are always surrounded. I would go 10 or 15 minutes without seeing ANYONE. Sometimes this freaked me out to the point where I was desperately praying to see a headlamp of another runner in front of me.
Since I knew my relay was going to be in the middle of the night I opted for a headlamp and one of my teammates had suggested Christmas lights on my camel back. The lights were such a hit and people were wishing me a Merry Christmas and calling me a Christmas tree LOL. I’m glad I added these because at the last minute I was debating it. It not only helped runner moral, but it helped me to see!!
Let’s just talk about the darkness for a minute… Pitch black. Like to the point where my headlamp battery died (thankfully I had another with me) and when I changed it, my Christmas lights weren’t even providing me sight coverage in front of me. It was wild. We were in the middle of the freaking woods in the middle of the freaking night. I kept laughing out loud as I ran like how did I get here and what on earth am I doing?? It felt like a dream because I had tunnel vision from my headlamp illuminating the path directly ahead of me. Why would I sign up to run 16.1 of trails in the middle of the night?? But I had THE TIME OF MY LIFE YOU GUYS. So much fun!
We climbed up hillsides and rocks. Jumped over mud pits, rivers and trees. We dodged pricker bushes and rooted trails. I saw and heard people falling, but some how I managed to only trip violently, always catching myself before hitting the ground.
I met so many hilarious people who were so incredible — many who were between miles 70 and 80 of a 100 mile solo race. Some were in good spirits, some wanted to chat, some didn’t say anything and I could tell they were fighting dark mental places of despair. I tried offering encouraging words and prayed for everyone I saw. Going into this relay I had no idea just how ridiculous, amazing and CRAZY this entire race was.
This might have been crazier than even my full Ironman — we’re talking that epic. One of my friends who had run relay #7 before even went so far as to call it “spiritual” . You see the world and yourself in a whole new way. Even with the Ironman I wasn’t running in the pitch black alone, in the woods, at 3AM.
Around mile 14 I had been running alone for quite some time and was starting to climb up a giant hill. Suddenly I heard what sounded like sirens…until I heard the other “dogs” start chiming in with these “sirens” AKA howling…it was a pack of wild coyotes. And judging by how loud they were they must have been close by and it sounded like A LOT of them. I felt panic and fear in my chest and I started sprinting — looking for any sight of headlamps around me. I just wanted to be near someone else because I was so scared. I saw a faint light somewhere a head of me and ran as fast as I could to a girl slowly running the trail. (I felt like I wanted to puke from sprinting the hill), but when she saw me she looked just as scared “DID YOU HEAR THAT?” She asked me. And I explained how scared I was too. We continued on together for the next mile or so, but were were very skid-ish and jumpy. I even took out my mace! We eventually split off, but not first without making the “we’re not out of the woods yet” joke as we promised not to get eaten by coyotes. (Girl was running the 50-miler! Bad ass!)
A few times the wooded trail would open up into a field and the full moon was brilliant, casting an eerie but beautiful glow all around me. Moments like that took my breathe away as I realized just how incredible this entire experience was. I crossed over fields with fog rising and the stars were so clear and vivid. I was speechless at the beauty around me. I knew that not many people got to experience moments like that and I felt so grateful to be one of the lucky few.
Somehow I managed to make it to mile 16.1 and I met my relay exchange teammate, Cohen. She was bringing it home running the last 10 miles to the finish.
I tried to eat something before making the hour drive home, but I had no appetite. I pulled into our driveway at 6AM and felt like I was drunk, but really I was just exhausted and in awe of the entire experience.
What an epic adventure with incredible people. I love being a part of something much bigger than myself.