Per my Garmin, I set out for 5.28 miles in Oak Creek, Wisconsin at 2:56 in the morning this past Saturday. I ran almost seven miles a few hours prior, before the sun began to set Friday evening, and would go on to cap off my first Ragnar Relay with a four-ish mile jaunt in the North Shore, along the Metra line. I know where Ravinia is now.
The greatest appeal of signing up for a relay with strangers was the chance to run at night. Because you cling to my every word, I mentioned in my last post that I was initially kind of bummed that my second leg was slated for around 4:30 a.m. or thereabouts, which wouldn’t have been anything special given my early morning 4 a.m. efforts on a daily basis last year. But you knew that.
My team’s starting time was changed to 90 minutes earlier than originally scheduled, and a late substitute in the days leading up shifted my projected start time for around 3:30 in the morning.
Folks were swift for leg number two, and time was made up in the darkness. So off I went, illuminated (safety first, folks).
Fun fact: I bought a child's headlamp. It has robots on the band.
The early morning summer chill was all encompassing, notable in comparison to the harsh heat of leg one, the warmth overwhelming my yet to acclimate senses because I’m a delicate flower. Wasn’t feeling all that great, but set out conservatively so as to not keel over and succumb to the wilds of suburban Milwaukee. After an exchange with the runner prior to me in a parking lot, I ran along a nondescript sidewalk before heading onto an asphalt bike path.
I ran the Madison half last fall, which meant I was in Wisconsin. One of the few people I know who hails from Wisconsin, someone I would consider exceedingly Wisconin-esque, was an old colleague of a friend named Carl. In my mind while in town for the half marathon, everyone in the state of Wisconsin looked like Carl. For reference, Carl looks pretty damn similar to former Badger basketball player Jared Berggren, albeit much smaller and not as skilled at basketball. So, as any logical person would, I referred to Berggren as 'Mega Carl' while watching painfully low-scoring Big Ten Basketball.
Why bring this up? Ah, well in my ridiculous, rather sleep-deprived mind, this is what I envision Slenderman looking like. Not some faceless thing, but a hulking giant Wisconsin-looking white guy, lurking in the bushes. Mega Carls EVERYWHERE. BEHIND EVERY SHRUBBERY.
This got weird fast.
The requirement of a headlamp at night was a new experience to quickly adjust to, as I’ve only previously run with one held in my hand or just gone with a flashlight (or in all honesty, nothing at all). It was a bit jarring at first as the light created a halo effect and created an odd tunnel vision of sorts, as it grew darker in a hurry. So as the hazy yellow glow from the street lamps on the sidewalk dissipated behind me as I trudged onward into the unlit darkness of the paved path…my senses heightened pretty fast. Being tired and feeling sickly earlier didn’t matter. There was a fellow runner off ahead of me by maybe no more than 500 feet (I eventually passed them---or rather KILLED THEM, a relay mark of pride, nothing more---within a half mile), known by the presence of the required taillight, there’s a blinking red beacon within sight. And as my vision adjusted to my surroundings, that was it.
Except for two shining eyes staring at me from not that far off the path.
Takes a tired brain a bit longer to process things. In the span of about 30 feet, my mind went from “Oh, its just the reflection off of a metal sign or utility box” to “nope, that isn’t metallic” to “OH SWEET BLOODY FUCK DON’T MURDER ME” as I sped up and past what I realized was a deer.
I run by deer all the time. River Forest abuts a large forest preserve off the Des Plaines River, and given that I run near dawn or closer to dusk, they are there. But never before has a deer terrified me so.
So I sped up. And kept it up. It felt invigorating to move quickly after feeling so crappy and under slept, and eventually fearful for my life, if only for a foolish moment. The elite teams start much later in the day, and I was past by a few squads moving very quickly on that leg (the winning team averaged 5:51 pace, they weren’t fucking around). Those teams made me want to move quickly, too. The asphalt path transitioned into a crushed limestone trail with a noticeable amount of more people to speed past. My eyes finally adjusted and it seemed like the moon reflected off the ground as my legs whipped and churned the cool air as I went by. My turnover was phenomenal, nothing hurt. I was loving feeling so physically in control. A few final turns and I came to the exchange point, handing off a slap bracelet to the next runner.
But even though I was moving quickly and confidently, I took it in. Because shit, I got to run at a ridiculous hour and saw the stars in a way you don’t see every day. Saw a shooting star at the 12th exchange while everyone else was staring at his or her phones (I’d be totally guilty of this too if it weren’t for a complete lack of service throughout the first 60% of the trip, thanks Obama *I don’t actually mean this*). Isn't this what the winter makes us grateful for?
I’ll wax more on the silliness and the camaraderie facet of this trip later, as well as the experience as a whole, but I wanted to write something new, previously inexperienced while it is still fresh in my tattered brain. Everything I write about always ties back to a past experience. Can't say that about those stars.