Song of the post: “Home,” by Phillip Phillips
BRUCETON MILLS, W.Va. — It’s dark. Too dark. My headlamp … it sucks so bad right now. Now is 11 p.m. on a Friday night, in the middle of a West Virginian forest.
A faux British accent from the app “Zombies, Run” pops into my head as I work my way through the trail. Nearby, I hear the shuffling of feet as they brush by the ferns on the ground. Where’s the trail marker, I think to myself as I search for where to go.
“Runner 3, they’re behind you. RUN.”
So, I listen to the voices in my head and start running on the uneven trail. Then my Brooks Cascadias hit a patch of mud, and I slip and go down on my side. This is my trail shoes’ retirement party, and they are partying hard. Mud, water, trails … the perfect thing for a pair of trusty shoes.
My body isn’t so trusty. I am part of a team of eight participating in Ragnar Trail Appalachians – WV, a 24-hour relay race through scenic West Virginia forest. And I almost fall what seems like a million times during the weekend.
The team is set up so each person does three loops. As the third participant, I started Friday with the 7-mile Red Loop, which is supposed to be the most difficult.
I am on my middle loop, yellow, a 4-mile gaunt that wasn’t as scenic and pretty as my other loops. My $8 headlamp’s light is showing it’s cheapness. I can barely see, so I tell another runner about my plight.
“Wait here a bit. A group of girls is coming down. Maybe you can run with them,” he said as he whizzes by.
Sure enough, the girls, each with about four lamps a piece, come down. And one of them gives me a lamp.
My view is better, so I pick up my pace. I calm my fears of zombies, bears and snakes by reciting a bit of the lyrics from “Home.”
Settle down … pay no mind to the demons/they fill you with fear … Just know you’re not alone …
About two hours after I started, I come to the volunteer who lets runners known they have less than a quarter mile left.
“Nice socks,” he says, looking at my formerly white socks that are now caked in mud.
“Thanks,” I wheeze as I run to the hand-off, which is after a high bridge over the main road into the event site.
I hand off our bib to Runner 4 and head to the group fire. I’m not alone. There are about 310 teams here, about 2,000 runners and their families and friend.
And as I walk in the dark, I’m not alone as I head to my tent. My husband and kids are sleeping, dry in the tent I put up in the previous night’s storm. It’s our first camping trip. What nightmare did I drag them into.
I give my Cascadias a look as I ease into a chair outside our tent. The seat is soaked with rain water, but I’m too numb to care. I’ve had these shoes for a year and a half. And now, I didn’t even recognized them. There was too much mud caked on them.
Our tent is in the back, way back of the camping area. Each group is given 300 square feet to set up their tents. I had the misfortune of coming Thursday night during a rain storm. After sitting in my car for 30 minutes, the rain let up enough for us to set up our tent right where we were. There wasn’t time or daylight to find my team.
My team consisted of members of Team RWB – Morgantown Chapter and their spouses. Others brought their kids too, so my kids had some playmates.
After several hours of restless sleep, it’s time to get up again. By this time, the very organized Ragnar staff determined that my team wouldn’t finish within the deadline, which is 6 p.m. Saturday. (We started at 9 a.m. Friday).
So we double up the final three loops. I run the 3-mile green loop with Runner 6, whose laps match mine. It’s still muddy, but it’s early in the morning. And not raining. We finish in triumph, as it’s our last lap. Now for everyone else to finish.
I head back to the tent, this time putting my Mizuno Wave Inspire 10s outside to dry.
The kids and I wander around the main area, which features an electronic device powering station, vendors such as Nuun and Nathan, and a first aid tent. In an effort to be environmentally friendly, there are bins for compost, recyclables and trash.
Shortly after my husband and Runner 8 finish, we head out for a team shot. We gather our medals, nice multi-tools made of medal and hung on a rough cord.
Everyone is done. Except for me, who still has to do my volunteer shift. Tropical Storm Bill comes into the area about two hours into my shift. My family is still in the tent, which is filling with water and threatening to take off in the wind. I have to call it a day. The staff is very understanding. If I stuck it out, I would have received a volunteer hat.
I wasn’t alone. I felt at home among my trail runners. People of all shapes and sizes, all doing the same thing: Taking in the beauty of my home.
I’m going to make this place your home.
The race came at the right time for me. “Home” has been in flux this month. A lot has been going on and I needed something. It was a release of emotions and fear, and taking in love, friendship and unfiltered beauty.
If you can get a group together and have a chance to run a Ragnar relay, do it. You will not be disappointed.