I rarely view running as a team sport. Sure, I love hitting the pavement with friends as a means of social time and motivation. And yes, I’m aware that track & field and cross country are wildly popular, varsity-rated teams at most high schools and colleges around the country. But running, much like swimming, is something you can only really do yourself. There’s no ball to pass in order to move forward. There are not any goals besides PR’s. What you do in running is yours and yours alone. After this weekend’s experience participating in Santa Barbara’s Tough Enough race, I’m considering a total eclipse of the heart. Combine running, new friends, opportunities to cheer, and lots of ways to be helpful, and we just wrote a recipe for this Runner Delight’s best. day. ever.
Tough Enough is a race that takes runners from Carpenteria to somewhere outside Solvang via twisty, hilly backroads and dense trails. It’s 100 kilometers of challenge. Some take their dose of racing solo—we call them ultra-marathoners—while some hit the run in relay teams of five, splitting up the run into ten different chunks. My friend Liz, who has always been my inspiration for running, sent me an email back in January asking if I’d be part of her team, Ghosts of Goats. Distractedly, I agreed with enthusiasm, and promptly forgot about anything Tough Enough related until the end of the January, when she faxed me for a signature. Fast forward to mid-March when another email shows up detailing the race (what order we’ll run in, what lasagna we’ll be dining on, etc) and I finally remember to plug the race into my calendar and thank my lucky stars I’d been doing twice-a-day workouts for the past month so I have a glimmer of hope for being in shape.
Meet the Team
Except for Liz, I’d never met anyone else on Ghosts of Goats until Friday night when everyone showed up for team dinner. There’s Liz, longtime runner, excellent planner, and overall amazing motivator. There’s Leah, an fiercely intense competitor with legs for days. And not just legs. Runner legs. And there were the guys: Todd, a tall, lean grizzly bear of a guy who looked ready to both nuzzle and knock out some miles, and Jeff, an energetic, enthusiastic lean human being. Finally, there was Boris, who wasn’t running, but was cheering, supporting, and surprising us all with dinner and ice cream after the race. Everyone’s legs were intimidating. I wouldn’t want to get round-housed by any of them.
My adoration for meeting strangers manifested itself as delighted hugs to everyone as I opened the front door for them at team dinner. Over Leah-made lasagna, Liz-made salad and Fat Tire-made beer, we hashed out who was driving (Liz and Jeff), the complicated rider swapping based on who was running which leg, and made sure we’d have enough water and pain-killers to make it through. A theme song meant to inspire Todd became the team’s anthem, and in the next 24 hours we were all prone to bursting out with lyrics of Great Big Sea’s Donkey Riding.
5:30am – wake up! Ponytail! Help Liz get the cooler in her car with mad Tetris-style skills!
6:15am – pick up Leah, who was donned in knee high argyle socks. The Duke would be proud.
6:40am – at the start-line, checking out the costumes of other participants (bunny ears and tutu’s were prevalent)
6:55am – Leah, Todd and Jeff manage to concoct a plan that involves changing the order of their runs and a mountain bike, that will ensure Lean and Jeff have over 3 hours of uninterrupted exercising time, and Todd will run his two legs with an hour of rest between.
7:00am – Todd, not Leah, starts to run!
7:00am—4:30pm – Running!
Highlights include low visibility due to fog (literally, at times as a runner I had just a few feet of visibility ahead of me and had no idea if the road was going to go up or down), trying to get Todd prepped for leg 3 while simultaneously cheering on Liz as she kicked ass on three miles of sharp uphill on leg 2, watching runners not want to run through creeks that looked more like rivers, Leah running 15 miles straight of insane terrain, Boris’s ability to procure a cup of water for Liz when the whole reusable Nalgene wasn’t cutting it, any time Jeff smiled, and the fact that every single person in the race went to “look at the lake” at one point or another.
4:30-? – Imbibing beer, taking photos, cheering other teams, eating fruit salad, hot tubbing, laying on the floor, laying on the couch, falling asleep, waking up, laughing.
Expect some in the weeks to come. I’m incredibly pleased that Liz said she thought I looked like a runner. I don’t think that compliment could be beat. My legs were #4 and #10 — I did nine miles and about five miles, averaging 7:30 minute miles on both runs.
Returned to the East Bay unable to sit without assistance and needing to take lots of my own advice for sore muscles, but with new friends, a voice nearly MIA from all the cheering and singing (much of which took place at the same time), and feeling incredibly grateful for the YMCA pool this morning.
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. This weekend, Tough Enough taught me that running really can be a team sport. Sure, we all could have run 100 kilometers separately, and that would have been interesting. But we did it together offering water, encouragement, and donkey songs all the way. And knowing that I don’t have to go at running solo is better than any temporary aches.