Pardon me as this is another one of my philosophical reflections after completing a Ragnar Relay Race—technically the third I’ve participated in and the second one I completed with a majority of my University of Florida track and cross-country teammates and friends.
The Muscle Hangover
A few days have passed since I participated in the 2017 Ragnar Relay South Beach Race. For those not familiar with this racing series, it involves teams of 6 or 12 people splitting the mileage of a major distance like the 200+ miles my team known as “In It To Win It Dos” just finished by starting in Melbourne, Florida and finishing in Miami’s South Beach.
Although it’s a relay with the mileage broken up, it still means that each individual runner has a substantial amount of mileage in three different parts. Post-Ragnar racers usually have the same hobble-waddle-like walk in the days shortly afterwards.
Our team took over 26 hours to finish this running challenge and those hours are spent in close quarters with folks in a van and involve trying to refresh and refuel one’s body several times without the luxury of space or time. In short, it’s a bit grueling and perhaps masochistic—but for someone with an athletic background, it’s familiar and in a weird way comforting to be able to still participate in something like this with others.
Another Sort of Family
We’ve heard of family by blood and family by Spirit (especially in religious traditions). I now propose that there is definitely another sort of sister-brotherhood to be found in having been on an athletic team with others through high school and/or college. Like anything where you spend an extended amount of time with others in close quarters and under physically stressful circumstances you’re bound to be bonded for life.
For our 2017 team “In It To Win It Dos”, we were a mixture of University of Florida teammates and high school competitors as well as an additional respectable athlete in her own right who had agreed to join us for this crazy ride of a race. Seeing each other again was a balm to the spirit and even if there was awkwardness it was only because it had been so long since we’d been in each other’s presence.
If you think about it for a moment, after you’ve known a certain set of folks for twenty years or more, there are many life moments that are traversed: Marriages, births, miscarriages, divorces, deaths of loved ones, military service, regret over not serving in the military, Olympic aspirations strived for and perhaps not reached, disappointments, victories and unexpected surprises both positive and negative. Catching up in during the in-between moments of the competition allowed us to share what we’ve experienced and learned thus far in our respective lives.
The Actual Race
In our particular team with twelve participants, it meant that we split into two vans each of six people to tackle the 200 plus miles of this Ragnar Relay South Beach. Thankfully we had planned ahead and had matching tank tops that exploited our team’s name and gator logo. We had fun with our name monikers and also numbered respectively our tops in the order we would run the legs. Other teams would “tag” other vans with magnetic names or mottos for fun–the racing atmosphere joined all racers in a funny if not friendly camaraderie.
For a race set in mostly south Florida, it was impressive how many different weather patterns we encountered as each of the twelve team members were responsible for running three legs respectively: with various running legs going over intercoastal bridges, we had a number of runners dealing with gale force winds and rain, roads during the night with little light and lots of animal noises or whiffs of swamp gas.
Personally, my second leg involved a post-midnight 8+ mile run through my own familiar city ground but was quickly humbled when I took a fall so hard that I felt my neck and spine rattle as my left shoulder thankfully took the brunt (my face was about to take it all, thank God I was able to twist in time). Was blessed with the presence of an Army soldier as a running mate during this particular leg and he was standing over me asking “Are you okay, that was quite the face plant fall!” All I asked was that he “please pick me up”. He did and we were on our way toward the exchange point.
We had runners who encountered confusing road signs, muscle fatigue and unforeseen events. For a moment in time, we took a break from our respective work, our children, our spouses, our co-parents, and our general life routines just to participate with each other in a fabricated competition against nothing but ourselves really—and in some ways it can seem absurd, but it also was an awesome exercise to have with each other in how life can unfold.
Some of us on this team had run in these Ragnar Relay races before and so had a pre-conceived notion of how these things should go from a logistics standpoint. This specific race course was on its inaugural run so we were unknowingly the guinea pigs as it unfolded.
Isn’t that life though? Don’t we encounter systems in place that are supposed to take care of us but we’re disillusioned by at times?
Being with my teammates and navigating the snags along the way with the different challenges that presented themselves was also a great exercise on how to pool resources between our skill sets and know-how on the fly. It reminded me of the sort of government or corporate retreats where they organize workshops to help teams or groups of people tackle problems in a cohesive and effective manner.
That being said, Ragnar Relays may have to take note that they’ll receive a large amount of feedback concerning the South Beach race in weeks to come.
Crossing the Line
There is an anti-climax to the end of things–like after you receive a diploma, finish a certificate program, give birth and so forth. It’s the same after a long race like this where for hours we’ve been using our mental and physical energies in a heightened mode to achieve a great completion.
“In It To Win It Dos” didn’t win like we had hoped, there was even raw frustration about losing to a team we’ve faced before by only seconds. We still gathered to run through the finish line for our photo shoot (I apologize publicly for being absent during that particular “finish line run” as the race had taken its toll on me and I was appreciating a non-porto-potty bathroom situation nearby).
Nevertheless, we were all reunited for our final photo together afterwards in the finish area on South Beach and deserve to feel proud that despite our places in life that we could pull together and achieve a great physical and mental accomplishment!
Until next time…