In It for the Long Haul, by Candace Charles

In it for the Long Haul.
Candace Charles


Call it masochism; call it crazy; call it what you will. I am hooked on endurance racing. The crazier the event, the better. I caught the race bug in 2014 when my friend Erin, a legitimate and talented runner (she won the Foot Locker Cross Country Championship when she was a freshman in high school) was helping one of her old track teammate’s recruit people for their Ragnar Relay team. “What the hell is a Ragnar Relay?” was my response to her. She sold it to me as a “low-key fun run” that lasts for about 24 hours with a team of 12 people in two vans with one member of your team always running until you covered a distance of about 200 miles, in this case from Saratoga Springs, NY to Lake Placid, NY. Intrigued, and also confused as to how a 24 hour run was either low-key or fun, my replay was, “You know I don’t run, right?” She promised me it was mind over matter and I was in good enough shape from biking and lifting to do it. I, in turn, rounded up two of my not-really-but-kind-of-runner friends, including my “swolemate” Jess, and a team was formed.


The Ragnar experience can only be described as miserable fun. Each runner on the team runs three legs of the relay, ranging in distance from a half marathon to a 5k, with each runner totaling about 15-20 miles to complete the 200 mile course distance. In a Ragnar, the running is secondary to the van shenanigans, trying to get an hour or so of sleep in less than desirable conditions, port-o-potty debacles, and pushing through deliria to complete your last leg. You come away from the experience with inside jokes and a van load of close (literally) friends. It was the sense of team and fun that got me hooked. That feeling was something I had been missing since I played sports in high school and college. The classic Ragnar track jackets that we all ended up gleefully buying made us a part of something, a type of Members Only jacket for the crazy people running through the night, chasing the sun. (Well, that and the Ragnar participation medals are also pretty cool, as they feature a functional bottle opener.)

 

Ragnar Team Van, aka home for the next 24 hours.

Ragnar Team Van, aka home for the next 24 hours.

Ragnar symbol on the start line arch.

Ragnar symbol on the start line arch.

Infamous One Mile To Go sign. Best and worst sight ever.

Infamous One Mile To Go sign. Best and worst sight ever.

Passing the slap bracelet to the next runner.

Passing the slap bracelet to the next runner.

ADK Ragnar finish line.

ADK Ragnar finish line.

Jumping for joy at the finish.

Jumping for joy at the finish.

Ragnar, being the marketing geniuses that they are, has something called the “double medal” race series. When we completed the first Ragnar we saw some people getting a second medal that said “Docks to Dacks.” When we asked about it, we learned that it was for people who ran the Cape Cod Ragnar and the Adirondacks Ragnar in the same year. Driven by medal lust, the chase for glory, and forgetfulness of the miserable parts, our team committed to Docks to Dacks in 2015. The Cape Cod Ragnar was another mix of hilarity and horror. It was during this Ragnar that I discovered I had a pretty severe allergy to cashews thanks to the caramel cashew trail mix I was snacking on in the van. However, I did run my fastest pace to date as I was essentially trying to get to the next block of port-o-potties. (Coincidentally, this race also cured my trust issues with port-o-potties.)


During a team dinner before the second Ragnar of our season, everyone at the table was discussing the marathons they had run. Jess and I were the only members of the team that had not run a marathon. Apparently, she was not ok with this and me, being a go-along get-along type of girl, agreed to sign up for the 2016 Vermont City Marathon with her. Things were starting to get serious. We bought Garmin watches, and kept an eye on each other’s training; we scheduled our long runs for Sundays so we could do them together.


Our training motto for the marathon was born during the 2015 Adirondack Ragnar when a motorcyclist pulled up next to our van while we were waiting to cheer on our runner, and said “You guys are running at night in the dark? That’s stupid!” and then sped off. Whether it was the sleep deprivation or the fact that he was right, that phrase stuck and became our marathon training joke battle cry. 20 mile training run? #thatsstupid. Plantar Fasciitis? #thatsstupid.
The Vermont City Marathon course weaves around Burlington and is traditionally a cool-weather event. However, as race day approached, the forecasted temperature kept rising. Race day was a balmy 88 degrees with high humidity. #thatsstupid. The gun sounded, and we were off. Jess and I stayed together for the first half of the race, but were separated at about the half marathon point. During the first half of the race, we were watching people faint from the heat. The spectators of the race were amazing though, and kept the racers motivated offering drinks (some helpful like water and Gatorade, some gag-inducing like cans of Budweiser), “hand-fruit”, and my personal favorite freezer pops. There were also plenty of people offering a spray from their hose to help cool overheated runners. The heat and humidity continued to rise and during the final stretch of the race the wet bulb temperature exceeded the threshold and the race was black flagged.

Church St. during VT City Marathon.

Church St. during VT City Marathon.

Blistering hot pavement, fun!

Blistering hot pavement, fun!

I was about 3 miles from the finish line when a volunteer at a water station told everyone they had to stop running, that the race was cancelled and there would be no official times or medals. Confused, disappointed, and borderline delirious, I started walking and talking to a girl who I had been running near. We decided after walking for about 8 minutes or so that we would finish it for ourselves. It was really hard to start running again, as the walking had made my legs stiffen, but just then I saw my and Jess’s husband literally telling the runners to keep going, finish strong. “F*%k the Police!” Bolstered by this and the knowledge that I was less than 2 miles from the end, I picked it up, and eventually crossed the finish line with a time of 4 hours and 33 minutes. (Just missing the time cut off from the black flagging by 3 minutes; the race officials allowed enough time so anyone running at the slowest pace to finish in the original 6 hour time cutoff, who had passed the final water station when the race was called, would be able to finish. Had I not walked, my time could have been official.) Thankfully, the race clock was still running, and we were given our medals, but the time was no official and that was not ok. Jess convinced me to sign up for another marathon before we had even foam rolled out our legs. #thatsstupid. Before we left Vermont, we were signed up for the Mohawk Hudson Marathon in October.

23.2 official miles, 26.2 sort of success.

23.2 official miles, 26.2 sort of success.

In addition to adding the 2016 Mohawk Hudson to our race schedule, Jess and I were signed up for the Wasatch Back Ragnar, which went from Logan Utah to Park City. This race was also hot and as an added bonus lacked oxygen. However, it was a gorgeous course and we got to spend some time sightseeing in Park City and Salt Lake City. (The Great Salt Lake was more of a dead, jerky-bird beach, I would recommend skipping it.) At the airport on the way home Jess convinced our teammate “Papa Ryan” (so named because he is responsible for wrangling everyone on the team and serves as the team captain for our adventures) and I to do a Trailnar, which is a Ragnar, but instead of a van you camp out and trail run. We couldn’t convince enough people to run with us so we delved into the world of “internet strangers” and found two cousins from Massachusetts who were interested in being on the team.


Trailnar took #thatsstupid to another level. Again the weather was uncomfortably hot, and the safety meeting inside a tent felt like a spiritual quest in a sweat lodge. My first leg was the longest of the three loops, seven miles of technical trails, and the sun set about halfway through. I was having issues with my headlamp, swallowed a moth, and spent a few minutes puking up moth dust. #thatsstupid. We were short one runner and our original plan was to just “ultra” and run back to back loops to make up for it, but as our team was emerging from the woods with twisted ankles, bloody heels, and the taste of moth still lingering in our mouths, we decided to convince my husband who was there as a volunteer (and who was also about a 6-pack in) to run the extra legs. He took little convincing, and after giving him one of my tank tops and a pep talk, he was off, participating like a champ in his first Trailnar. When our last runner emerged from the woods, we loped along behind her and claimed our medals. The Trailnar medals are multi tools, which are pretty cool as they could double as a weapon in an emergency. All in all, it was a fun time, but we decided this race would be “one and done.”

Look at all the fun we are having at Trailnar!

Look at all the fun we are having at Trailnar!

Multi Tool weapon medals.

Multi Tool weapon medals.

Around this time, my friend Lucille from Vermont, who I snowboard with and who has been on her own fitness journey, texted me to ask if I wanted to do a Spartan race at Killington with her. My response, “Sure, the Sprint, right?” “No” she said “the Beast.” As I have previously mentioned, I am a go-along get-along type of girl, so I said, sure. And just like that, Lucille, Papa Ryan, and I were signed up for the rugged Spartan Beast at Killington, the Beast of the East itself. #thatsstupid. The Spartan Beast covered 16 miles of steep, rocky terrain and about 30 obstacles, including a frigid swim across the pond in front of the Grand Summit Hotel, featuring a mid-swim ladder climb and monkey ropes. Eight hours after jumping the wall into the start corral and summiting each of Killington’s six peaks, we were back at the K2 Lodge, jumping fire, getting our medals, and using what little strength our battered, broken bodies had left to high five and congratulate ourselves on being Beasts. As these things seem to go for me, on the way back to the car, Lucille mentioned that Spartan has this thing called a “Trifecta” where you do a race of each length, Beast, Super, and Sprint, and you can put your medal chips together to form a super medal. My reaction: SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!!! #thatsstupid.

 

Killington Spartan Beast.

Killington Spartan Beast.

Killington Spartan Beast.

Killington Spartan Beast.

Killington Spartan Beast.

Killington Spartan Beast.

The next weekend, Jess, Papa Ryan and I ran the 2016 Adirondack Ragnar. With our Garmins, we were able to see how much our running had improved and how distances that used to seem daunting, like nine miles, now felt like a walk in the park. Where we turning into runners? #thatsstupid.


In October, Jess and I ran our second marathon of the year. The Mohawk Hudson Marathon. We finally got a good weather day, with it being on the cool and overcast side. The race began in Central Park in Schenectady, continued on a bike path until mile 17, then weaved through the streets of Cohoes, until getting back on a bike path next to the Hudson River in Albany, and finally finishing at Jennings Landing. Jess crushed it and had a PR, just missing a sub-four hour marathon by seconds and I knocked about 25 minutes off my time from Vermont City, also achieving a PR. Happy with our results, we vowed to never run another marathon again.

Success! Official marathon times, PRs, and a foil blanket.

Success! Official marathon times, PRs, and a foil blanket.

During all this, I had been trying to convince people to sign up for the Las Vegas Ragnar with me because it completed the “Saints and Sinners” double medal series that I had started in Utah, but I was not getting any takers. I fancy myself a risk taking individual, so I decided to toss my name out on the Ragnar Facebook page and let the world know that I was an internet stranger looking for a team. I soon was contacted by an Arizona native named Brooke who was working on building a team. Shortly thereafter, FOMO set in, and Jess joined the team as well. The Vegas Ragnar was another scorcher with plenty of inside jokes (NO REGERTS!!), shame stories, “didn’t you have a shirt when you left?”, and The Chainsmokers, so much Chainsmokers “We are never getting older!!” After the race, Jess and I collected our double medals, got our picture taken with the mystical Ragnar Unicorn, and partied in Vegas until about 11:30pm when it became clear that being awake and running around the desert for the past 48 hours was not a winning combination for good decisions in Las Vegas. “Make me look sexy!” #thatsstupid.

Running through the desert, the magical Ragnar Unicorn at the finish, and the all-important hardware.

Running through the desert, the magical Ragnar Unicorn at the finish, and the all-important hardware.

I rounded out my insane race schedule by running a Spartan Super at Mountain Creek in New Jersey with Lucille. Jess came as a spectator to check out the Spartan thing, provide moral support, and cheer us on. She captured a picture of me ringing the bell on the rope climb (one of my prouder moments) and caught the Spartan bug herself. Lucille, Jess, and I all traveled to Boston at the end of November to run the Spartan Stadium Series Sprint in Fenway Park where Lucille and I earned our Trifectas.

 

Successful rope climb.

Successful rope climb.

Fire jump to glory!

Fire jump to glory!

Earning our Trifectas at Fenway

Earning our Trifectas at Fenway

After all those race adventures, I have decided that Spartan races are my favorite, as they combine endurance, being outside, and the obstacles provide elements similar to being at the gym, which I love. Lucille and I kicked off our 2017 Spartan race season with the Tri State Spartan Ultra Beast, which was back at Mountain Creek. The Ultra Beast is Spartan’s longest, toughest race. It is approximately 30 miles and features over 60 obstacles, all while navigating natural obstacles, like riverbeds, rocky single track, steep climbs, and harrowing descents. This particular Ultra Beast featured one of the longest, steepest Bucket Brigades in Spartan history. It was also a pretty wild experience to be racing alongside the Spartan Elite athletes, who are superhuman in both speed, agility, and strength. Lucille and I both successfully completed the race and earned the coveted Spartan Ultra Beast belt buckles. We are both signed up for five more Spartan races this year, which will earn us our Spartan Double Trifecta. Additionally, Jess and I will be running the 2017 Adirondack Ragnar, the race that started it all!! #thatsstupid.

The most badass medal of the bunch. The Ultra Beast belt buckle.

The most badass medal of the bunch. The Ultra Beast belt buckle.