So, last year I got writers block. It happens. Oh, I always have loads of ideas and can usually pull one out of thin air with little effort but those stupid transition chapters give me trouble. Last May I sat at my computer wondering how to get my protagonist from point A to B and I started questioning my future. I realized that in less than I week I was going to be at a conference with real writers and editors and that they were going to read my crap writing and they would know that I suck. I panicked. Then I did the only thing I know how to do when I panic. I surfed the internet.
That's how I learned about the Ragnar Relay series and how once a year teams of twelve cover 188 miles in 24 hours. So I called everybody I knew and signed 12 of us up for 24 hours of pain. See, this was my plan B. When Janette Rallison and her critique group read my stuff and told me I should under no circumstances quit my day job, I'd have a backup. I'd become a distance runner. Brilliant! So what if I dragged 12 of my closest friends and family with me.
Fast forward twelve months. Nothing turned out as I planned. Turns out plan A was working. There was no need for a back-up. My writing career was moving along quite nicely. But there was just one problem. That damned plan B. See, I already paid my money. And practically forced eleven other people to run with me because I had writers block in 2008! Like so many other things in my life, the easy way out ended up being so much more work. Now I had no choice but to go through with the relay. And of course in my attempts to persuade my friends to run with me I agreed to run the toughest leg on the course. (I'm persuasive. I didn't say I was smart.)
So I stood at the starting line of my first leg and the last year of my life flashed before my eyes. There was a lot of typing and praying involved. And running. Did I mention all the running? I started to hesitate. I got runners block. "What am I doing? I hate plan B. Plan B was a serious mistake. These other people are real runners with tight butts, fancy hamstring stretches, tanned bodies and very short shorts." I was surrounded by gazelles. Sleek blonde gazelles with white teeth, long legs and prosthetic . . . Well, let's just say in Utah most of the gazelles are enhanced.
Anywho, I felt a little intimidated with my short little italian Body and ahem . . . natural form. The Ragnar was like seventh grade gym but on a massive scale. Of course my first leg sucked. Hard. Mostly because I'd psyched myself into believing that my last ten years of running were all a big lie and I was still that lumbering beast wheezing through the mile and a half while being past by Tiffany and Amber gazelle. Okay, so I was running against traffic on a busy highway with a teeny, tiny shoulder. Seriously, I thought those semis were going to knock me right off the road.
When I passed the baton to Jamie. I was pretty certain I was done for. I'd just finished my easy leg. The other two were going to be harder. Much harder. I forced down a banana and considered updating my will.
By eight o'clock my brother Jaren, the last runner in our van, passed off the baton to Van 1 and it was our turn to have a little rest and a shower. So we drove to Morgan and paid ten dollars for a spaghetti dinner, a hot shower and a camping spot on the high school lawn. For some reason the event planners traded locker rooms and the women had the pleasure of fighting over the one toilet wedged in the corner of a bank of urinals in the boys locker room. I guess when you gotta go, you gotta go.
Anyway, my friend Tracy and I wandered into the locker room eager for a hot shower when— Holy Crap Did I Really Just See that? There's Naked Women in the Shower! And not artfully Nude either. I'm talking full frontal— "Why didn't you tell me these were group showers?"— naked.
It was high school all over again. Tracy nearly passed out.
"I can't do that." She said her eyes wider than the green urinal cake floating against the wall.
"Oh you can too." I said, sounding like I swallowed a bar of soap.
"And it's your fault I'm even here." She said. "I thought you said this was going to be a fun weekend."
"I'll say anything when I have writers block."
"What?" she asked.
"Nothing, just quit your whining and take off your clothes."
We wrapped ourselves in towels and haphazardly washed an arm here, and leg there, under the icy water until we were more or less washed over 50% of our bodies. The whole time I'm flashing back to seventh grade trying to remember how to shield all the important parts with a wash rag and a bar of Ivory soap.
Tracy, completely white faced and in shock from seeing so many naked bodies in one place, didn't say a word as we dressed. Apparently they had private showers at her high school. We wandered to the cafeteria where we ate school lunch spaghetti— served from a vat of gray water—some kind of fruit cocktail/cool whip salad and brown corn. Tracy salt and peppered her corn with a faulty pepper dispenser that left her with more pepper than corn. She moaned over her ruined meal at the cafeteria table while I reminisced over apple brown betty. Where was my notebook? This high school was a gold mine of details.
After dinner we spread our sleeping bags out on the LDS Seminary lawn and just closed our eyes when all six of our cell phones began to vibrate. Van 1 was an hour and half ahead of schedule. We needed to be at the top of East canyon in fifteen minutes. It was a twenty minute drive. We rushed back to our van and sped up the road. Dave, the first runner in our van, leapt out of the moving car and took the baton before we even had a chance to slow down. It was 1 a.m.
Three hours later I waited on the sleeping streets of Coleville. I didn't care what I looked like at that point. I was too tired to care. Even the gazelles looked a little worked over. All I cared about was getting this hilly eight miler over. I adjusted my headlamp and fancy reflective vest and took the baton from Tracy. I started off slowly gaining speed as I jogged through the sleeping town. Coleville is a lovely jog at 4 a.m.—even though it smells like cows. It's quiet and hilly and not a bad place to watch the sun rise. But by mile five my left leg started to hurt. By mile six my calf was on fire. My husband met me at mile 7. "How you doing?"
"I need ibuprophen and an ice pack." I mumbled. My tongue felt thick and dry. My insides rumbled. All I wanted to do was curl up under a tree and sleep and I still had two miles. So I started to play the "I'll stop when I get to there" game. For two miles I gave myself signposts, promising myself if it was really that bad when I got to the mailbox, or the fence, or the parked car, I'd stop. When I reached my goal I'd tell myself "Okay, now just a little bit further." It worked.
When I finally passed the baton to Jamie I wanted to die. Okay. Not die. Just collapse dramatically on the road. But my wobbly legs carried me to the car. All the runners in the van looked horrible: green faced, fighting nausea and exhaustion. We split an orange five ways and forced the sections down, promising each other we'd feel better if we ate a little. Runners are crazy. Plan B was the dumbest idea ever.
A gagged down the orange and a half a chug of chocolate milk and started to bargain with my creator. "If you kill me now, I'll be the best dead person. Really. I promise to be one hard working angel." What can I say? I was tired.
Four hours later I prepped to knock off my final run. The one ominously named Ragnar. *Dun, dun, dun*
Four hours later I prepped to knock off my final run. The one ominously named Ragnar. *Dun, dun, dun*
It sits in the mountains above my old mountain home in Midway winding through a pass that leads to Deer Valley. As I waited for my turn, I watched it blanketed in fog miles above the valley floor. I waited at the exchange. This exchange didn't have nervous energy. This exchange felt solemn, frightening. A cross country star stumbled through the orange barricades. He collapsed as soon as he passed the snap bracelet to his teammate. He was delirous. No one said a word. Had I actually eaten anything besides that measly orange I probably would have thrown it up.
I didn't see Tracy's face as she crossed the exchange. I was too focused on the work in front of me. I trained to run up the mountain, not walk it. I was going to run it so help me. So I plodded along slowly. Other runners dashed ahead of me. They call it a kill I when you pass another runner. I died a lot that day.
But on this run the killers pooped out not that far in front of me and those poky little Italian legs of mine kept going. I killed a tall strong guy, a sporty girl in her twenties, then another. I was the master of the mountain. I was doing it! Then I made a horrible mistake and looked at my Garmin to see how far I had left to go. I'd only run .2 miles. My legs wobbled. I couldn't breath. My entire body cramped. I stopped running to catch my breath. Defeated, I stumbled forward speed walking as best I could. I failed. I couldn't run this. I failed plan B. I wanted to scream. This was what the whole year had been for me. One big failure as I tried to be a parent and a wife and a writer all at the same time. So many days I wanted to throw my laptop out the window and quit.
But then a minivan passed me. They slowed and slid open their door. "You look great. Keep it up. You're almost there." I didn't know the team inside but it didn't matter. That was what I needed; just someone to give me a little encouragement. "You're almost there." Every vehicle that passed shouted positive words to me and the other runners. This was the big one. Everybody could see that. This run wasn't easy for anybody. Like writing a novel it's never easy. One discouragement follows another. And just when I'm ready to quit. Someone on the trail shouts. "You're doing great. Keep going."
So I did. I threw one wobbly leg thrown in front of the other and kept running.
A warmth ran through my limbs into my center and suddenly I couldn't feel anything but exhilaration. Some people call it runners high. I think it was something else. But it didn't matter what it was called all that I knew was suddenly I could do this because it stopped being about me and a mountain. This run was about God, me and a year of writing. With every step I felt stronger and a little more confident.
Hadn't this been the hardest year in my life? Hadn't I stumbled again and again? Hadn't I nearly quit more times than I could count? But I didn't. I just kept going and like magic—or something more transendent—I didn't feel alone or tired at all. A song came on my ipod and I could see my whole life laid out before me on that road. I won't share what I saw— that's between me and my Heavenly Father—but at that very moment I saw my husband standing at the top of a very tall hill holding a bottle of water. And I knew I could make it. Because I knew I couldn't do any of this alone. I had people that loved me and I loved them. I cried huge, sloppy tears—the ugly kind that make sounds. I tried to stop but just cried more. Then he cried because he knew by the look on my face I'd conquered a mountain of doubt. I am capable. I can do this. God's got big plans. And you know what? He's got big plans for you too.
I matter. You matter. And you have something to offer that only you can do. I learned this on top of a mountain last week. I just thought you'd like to know.
My theme song for the 2009 Wasatch Back Relay.