My name is Cheryl and I’ve been running for almost 10 years. I only participated in 5k races during most of that time, because I believed that anything beyond that was far past my reach. Self-limiting thoughts consumed me until I moved from the Kansas City area to North Idaho. The West had a way of opening up my eyes to the possibilities of adventure and growth. I joined a relay race that changed my life. Here is my story of going from 5k to 200 miles.
Westward Bound: A Journey of Discovery
Flying over the Cascade Mountains was an exceptional way to begin my journey to the West side of Washington. I was traveling with someone I had only one phone conversation with and many texts. Two weeks prior, as I looked for runners to join my team for the Spokane to Sandpoint 200-mile relay, she gave me a proposition. “Run in my race and I’ll run in yours,” she said. I obliged and joined her on the journey to run the Ragnar Northwest Passage 200-mile Relay.
There were two weeks to plan, and I took on the challenge. I offered to pick her up from her house and jointly go to the airport. We hit it off seamlessly. She seemed like a sister I had in a previous life. Funny enough, we both grew up in Missouri, just a few hours from each other. It was another clique story of moving out west to escape the grasp of monotony that home states held.
Team Dynamics: The Heart of Relay Races
The Ragnar Northwest Passage is a 200-mile relay, typically with twelve team members. The race begins on a Saturday, extends through the night, and ends on Sunday. These types of relay races come with their own set of unique challenges. Teammates are stuck together in their prospective vans, smelly and tired, for better or worse. Sleep is a scarcity on the journey and exhaustion can easily settle in. During the race, there are “exchanges”, which are stops where runners switch out with a teammate. The “legs” in this race are the distances a runner must go before reaching the next exchange. The most challenging aspect of this type of race is the team dynamics and variability of the environment.
Navigating the Unknowns: A Leap of Faith
Cruising through the clouds, I kept thinking about the scary unknowns ahead. This experience wouldn’t be like any other, I could taste freedom. I had zero control over this situation, and I embraced that, probably for the first time in my life. When we landed in Everett, I wondered how much this relay would push me and how I would mesh with the eleven girls on this team. Other than the one I’d met in person just a few hours prior, I was on a team with strangers, trusting their judgment, advice, and support for the next 48 hours. We traveled in two separate vans, each with six people from Blaine, WA to Whidbey Island, WA. The journey from 5k to 200 miles was about to begin.
My first leg wasn’t incredibly difficult, although my feet went a little numb at the end. I could hear the crowd yelling and screaming from a distance, but it wasn’t until I rounded the last corner with about 100 meters to go that I noticed my team. I was handing off to another teammate, relieved that I had some time to rest, and excited to take a full breath. On my next leg I got lost, I must have taken a wrong turn, although to this day I maintain that I followed the map and signs meticulously. My teammates thought I was injured and sent a medic out for me, while they sent the next runner to begin, assuming I was a lost cause. I’d never been more relieved to see a bunch of waiting, sweaty runners ahead.
Conquering the Dark: Midnight Revelations
I had a leg in the middle of the night, the string of runners began to widen, and I could hardly see the tiny guiding lights in front of me. I wasn’t aware of how far I’d gone or how far I was about to go; running in the dark was a new one for me. It was a peculiar feeling being alone in the darkness, stars twinkling above; I wondered how many people were sleeping soundly in their beds while I pounded the pavement.
Headlamp on, hat flipped backward, glasses bouncing aggressively from my nose to the top of my occipital bone, I felt like a drunk stumbling out of a bar. I kept thinking, “boy I hope there’s not an animal out here waiting to pounce on me.” The only car that drove by on that stretch of pavement was my van about a quarter of the way through my leg, faces sticking out of the window waving in encouragement and asking if I was A-Okay. I nodded that I was fine, and they could drive on.
Sleep Deprivation and Sunrise Resurrections
When I arrived at the exchange, my newfound friend stopped and guided me to the van. I began grabbing my sleeping gear thinking it was time to rest. On the contrary, we had a little bit of a drive before I could rest. I blacked out until we arrived at a school gym. I climbed over my friend who was coming down sick and was not moving until it was her time to run again. My sleeping bag and I arrived in a dark gym, with hundreds of cuddled-up sleeping runners, unbothered by my presence.
I had to shower, just to feel more refreshed, before divulging into a well-deserved rest. My eyes were shut for barely 30 minutes before we were up and at ‘em again. I felt like a stale cracker, hungover from the bars, as we traveled to the next exchange admiring the sunrise. I guess that is what dehydration and lack of sleep feel like.
Party, Snack, Run: Last Leg Adventures
As the next day approached, vans and groups of people were partying, drinking, and dancing on the streets. Competitive teams were finishing, and we weren’t too terribly far behind. On my last leg, I could see the coastline, and the ocean beneath me as I ran up a curvy hillside neighborhood, stopping for snacks that locals had put out. Alcoholic beverages, gummy treats, granola bars, and crackers were at my fingertips along with encouragement shout-out cards. I neglected the alcohol but indulged in the other treats.
The trip was near its end, and out of the corner of my eye, I noticed an albino deer standing proudly in a field. I thought I was hallucinating. Maybe this angelic creature was a sign of good luck or maybe it held no meaning at all. It stood there for another split second before it dashed off into the forest. That was the moment when I realized this race was an enormous blessing. In my heart, I am confident I was led there by a force more powerful than myself. God planted me in that exact spot to prove I will be rewarded for my hard work, tenaciousness, and grit. The journey from 5k to 200 miles was almost over but I was elated.
Endurance Beyond the Physical: Mental Triumph
The endurance I gained from this race was not only physical, but mental. I released my mental blocks, which were controlled by limiting beliefs and negative self-talk. By releasing control, anxiety, and worry – I gained power over my mind. I embodied the confidence to keep going forward no matter the circumstance. As I left sore and stumbling, I had a new sense of what it was like to live and take a chance on myself. I was off to captain a relay race in the coming weekend. After months of planning, I had a true taste of what it took to step up for my teammates and lead. All because of one quick and steadfast decision, I went from 5k to 200 miles. Take the risk and run the extra mile, you might even make new friends along the way.