The tent of women next to me had been talking all night. Somehow, I fell asleep for about an hour, only to wake up to one of them saying, Shut up. But she wasn’t saying it to make her friend be quiet. No, she was just saying it as a statement of disbelief. To which her friend responded, No, you shut up!
I checked my phone. It was 4:30 AM.
My next leg of the race would probably be in about an hour or two. Which is to say, it took every ounce of me not to scream, How about you both shut up!? Instead, I rolled over in the my sleeping bag. And I laid there, eyes squinted shut, reflecting on how I ended up here in the first place.
This past weekend, a bunch of us Solcanauts headed to the middle of Wisconsin for the Ragnar Northwoods Trail Relay. And to be real, it was one of the hardest but most fun things I’ve ever done. Here’s how it works: the relay is 24-legs, with teams of 8 taking turns running one of the three loops, each of varying difficulty.
The best part about the relay, was that I was surrounded by the most amazing people. It reminded me of being at a college track or cross country meet. There were a bunch of us sitting around the camp, eating bananas, spoonfuls of peanut butter and as many Cheez-Its that a fist can hold, all complaining about how sore we are. The worst part about the experience, though, is that it’s a one-day relay race that never stops, meaning that you run at different times.
I registered for the race in the spring, because I wanted this summer to be the one that I get back into running. And I figured, if I register for a race at the beginning of fall, then I would have no option but to train all summer. But we all know how that story goes. Basically whenever I wasn’t working, picture me sitting on the couch, watching re-runs of Parks & Recreation, drinking beer, muttering to myself, I really should go for a run. or That race is coming up in a couple weeks.
Either way, September 20th reared it’s autumnal head, and it was time for me to hit the trail.
The night before the race, in typical Spencer-fashion, I started to pack. I was nervous, but also excited. It felt like heading off to summer camp. Which is when I realized, that I didn’t know what bag to bring. My rolling suitcases felt a little to “city girl” to bring on a camping trip. And it seemed a bit ridiculous to pack a bunch of purses full of running clothes. And that’s when I saw it, the track bag on the floor of my closet. Yes, that track bag that I wrote about in Problem 3: Clothes. It’s the bag that has all my skinny clothes in it.
Somehow, when I moved apartments, I brought the bag in its entirety. So, when I emptied all of its contents onto the carpet, it was the first time I had opened the bag in probably a year. I’m not quite sure how, but it felt symbolic in a way.
It didn’t feel like I was admitting defeat. It just felt like, for the first time in a year, I was being honest with myself.
My first leg of the relay was at 11:00 AM. It was the loop with intermediate difficulty. But it was hot and humid as hell that day. I drank way too much Gatorade. And maybe, just maybe, I ate McDonalds on my way to the race for the first time in forever. It was just some hash browns, but still, McD’s is McD’s.
Personally, this was the most challenging part of the relays, and not just because I began running the wrong direction of the loop. I started at a normal pace (for someone that had not trained all summer), and it didn’t take long for seemingly everyone to pass me, right out the gate. But I reminded myself, these were the first steps in a race that would be going for over 24 hours. So I maintained the rhythm of my feet, all the while blue liquid sloshed in my stomach, with the incessant phrase On your left! being heard on repeat every minute.
But at the highest point of the trail, I began to notice something. The people that were passing me, weren’t rocketing more forward like they were in the beginning. I was actually even gaining on some runners. Which is when I saw him, the man on the ground, with some Ragnar staff and other racers surrounding him. He had passed me pretty early on.
I had fallen earlier on the trail, but not like this. He was holding his leg and rolling on the forest floor. I asked them Do you need any help? but they said they were was enough people already. So I kept running. And not more than 400 meters later, there was another man, another who had passed me, on the ground, this time holding his head. Again, I asked, but he said there was help coming on the way.
I finished that loop passing just as many people that passed me in the beginning. And that felt good. Like a small victory for every fat person that runs.
My next loop was the easiest of the three, but surprise, it was in the middle of the night. I put on My Favorite Murder podcast, until I realized that was far too on-the-nose for the activity. It sorta felt like I was asking for a clown to be just waiting around the corner for me, whisper-singing Frère Jacques slowly to himself. So I decided to put on something that was more upbeat.
My final loop was the most interesting. It was almost eight miles (cue: mom’s spaghetti), and the timing worked out that I started exactly at dawn. For almost the entire time, I walked. Which, at first, I was frustrated by. All I could think about was the women talking in the tent next to me, and how I wasn’t able to sleep, and how I drank one too many beers the night before, and how I drank one too many beers probably all summer. I was frustrated at myself. But that’s when the light broke through the trees, and I felt this sense of placidity come over me.
I could be mad at myself and struggle for the 2-plus-hours that I would be walking through these woods at sunrise. Or, I could take it in, and accept that this is where I am at now. And just keep putting one foot in front of the other, running when I could, but taking a break when I needed to. Because sometimes, it was beautiful and looked like this:
But other times, it looked like this:
(Like, lol, nah. I’m not running on that.)
I came back home, more tired and hungry than I’ve ever been. The afternoon I got back, I ate an entire sleeve of Original flavor Pringles before passing out and sleeping for more than 14 hours.
Still, a week later, my pile of skinny clothes are on the floor. But I’ve made an important decision today. I’m going to donate the clothes. I don’t need them. And it’s a better use to recycle them, then to constantly torture myself over a t-shirt that I could fit into five years ago.
It bums me out, knowing that I haven’t lost enough weight to squeeze back into a medium. But it’s a relief, knowing that there’s a new day, and another challenge, just beyond the horizon.