I’ve done four of these relay-type races now (3 Ragnar Del Sols and a Hood-to-Coast) and without fail there’s been a point in each of them where I ask myself: Self, why? Why?? WHY IN GOD’S NAME DO YOU DO THIS TO ME?”
It’s usually between 1 and 4a.m., after I’ve stopped drinking fluids because the horror of peeing in a dark porta-potty (or ‘honeybucket’, as they’re called in Portland) is too much for me to bear and I’d rather die of dehydration than from my bladder bursting. It’s when I’ve been trying to sleep sitting up for an hour or so, but have only succeed in self-inflicting scoliosis and encouraging my knees to harden into permanent right angles. It’s when, if I’m in van 1, it’s just about time for me to struggle into my third sports bra of the last 24 hours (if I’m in van 2, it’s only my second, which is almost even more disheartening) and stick my feet back into my shoes that haven’t even dried out from the last time I’ve worn them. It’s when I’ve eaten little besides runner muchies, I’m sleep deprived, terrified of what I might encounter in the pitch black, and worst of all (yes, WORST OF ALL), I have to leave the warm confines of the (stinking, but warm!) van, only to immediately begin shivering and then run between 4 and 8 miles. In the dark. The cold, cold, murdery dark.
This last relay (Hood-to-Coast, the original relay upon which all other relay models are based, in its 33rd year of existence) that moment came in the wee hours of the morning while we were sitting in a dead-stop, turned-off engine traffic jam just outside of some godforsaken Oregon town named Mist. Mist, was, appropriately enough, covered in terrifying, Stephen King-ish, killer-creature-obscuring mist, and completely devoid of cell service. So this time, not only was I exhausted, sore, starving and freezing, I was also pretty sure we were inching toward the apocalypse, and I couldn’t even tweet about it.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking if I had 2 braincells to rub together I’d quit putting myself in that situation. You’re thinking I knew good and well what I was getting into and I should stop my bitching. You’re thinking what this chick says at 3:19:
And you’re not wrong. It’s kind of insane. But it’s also the only type of race I’ve had any interest in repeating. I’ve run one half-marathon, one color run, one obstacle-coursey (try not to die) thing, but four relays! Why do I keep coming back to this torturous mistress? Am I just a masochist at heart?
I’ve been mulling the whole thing and I think I’ve actually figured out what the great draw of these are for me. No, it’s not the free hand sanitizer you get with every visit to the porta-potty.
The reason relay races are so great isn’t despite of the misery they involve, but rather, because of the misery. Not just the misery part, of course, but the misery in direct juxtaposition with the joy they also involve. Which, really, if you think about it, is what’s enjoyable about running, itself. It’s awful, with the sweating and the joint pain and the chaffing, but then, for a minute, sometimes only after you’re finished, your body is humming, you feel amazing, and it makes it all worth it, right?
The same is true of a relay race. In 36 or so hours, it encompasses both the lowest lows and the highest highs. Sure, you wake up after 45 minutes of “sleep” in a moving vehicle with something crusted on your face and you don’t know if it’s salt crystals from dried sweat, drool, or Nutella with pretzel dust from your midnight snack. But you also lay in the sunny grass at a rest stop and listen to someone you didn’t even know 24 hours before tell the filthiest, most hilarious joke you’ve ever heard.
It’s that the horribleness actually makes you appreciate everything wonderful so much more. A dirty, unisex, gas station bathroom is magically transformed into a beautiful thing, merely because you have the luxury of washing your hands and it’s not a porta-potty. Miller Light out of a can on the side of a road is better than champagne, simply because it means you’re done running.
In 36 hours you hate everything and everyone, but then you love everything and everyone. You experience the full spectrum of human emotions, sometimes all at once, even, during one horrible, beautiful, hilly, terrifying leg of the run.
I guess I run relays because they make me feel things. Which I sort of like.