I took this picture as we drove across the Hudson river, at around 8pm on Thursday night on our way to Woodstock NY for the Ragnar relay. The next time I crossed this river it would be at 10.30 pm, somewhere between New Paltz and Poughkeepsie, and I would be on foot.
This route summed up everything that was both terrifying, exhausting, and elating about the Ragnar relay: night running on some very dark roads; tough, tough hills, and spectacular routes that made for once in a lifetime experiences (until I do the race again, of course).
As I headed off for my first night run I wasn’t too nervous about running at night. I have done it before, both by myself on hot summer nights and on a training run with my team. I was concerned about finding my way, since my route seemed to have a pretty high number of twists and turns. It turns out I was right about the latter, except for the support of some other amazing vans participating in the race I would have taken at least 2 wrong turns (or at least been concerned about my choice). (The vans drop off their runner and then drive to the next exchange point, with the option of providing support along the way.) At those moments, with unclear forks and unlabeled streets, there always seemed to be another support van there to direct me.
I knew that I would be running by the river for most of the way, but I also knew that I would likely not see it. It seems that I was running into the depths of a nice community, with large well-spaced houses alongside the river and narrow unlit windy roads: darkness. As I twisted and turned in this darkness I could hear frogs and smell the river, and my head lamp reflected off the moisture in the air. Every time I felt a little uneasy, another participating van would drive by and cheer. On two occasions I ran down a hill and saw support teams. I would wave to them, both happy for the company in the darkness, and happy to turn the corner and run back into it: the dark and the silence, except for the frogs and the slapping of my own two feet. For a while I could see a blinking runner up ahead of me, but she was running slowly. I closed the gap and then passed her, cheering her on.
This was the perfect opportunity to run on deserted streets at night, without the nagging voice that I was doing something stupid and with the knowledge that there was a ton of support around me just on the outskirts, should I need it.
For a brief while I ran next to the river and a waterside bar. I saw the bridge I would cross blinking up ahead of me, it seemed far and high. It was stunning and beautiful and yet still so far away, and although I wasn’t quite voicing it to myself just yet I knew I’d have to climb pretty high to reach it. I hit a fork in the road and another participant sent me to the right and up a hill. The Hill.
There were many “The Hills” on this Ragnar course, but this one was mine– 250 feet in half a mile, 3 miles into an already tough run at 10.30 pm at night with 4 hot hilly miles on my legs from that morning. I ran up it maintaining my running cadence, but with the darkness had no idea how to pace myself. I stopped to walk, then ran, then walked once more very briefly and now, seeing the top and a runner I had seen blinking ahead of me, broke into pace again. As I ran towards the top I heard voices and cheering, and someone saying, “aren’t you glad you took this route from me!”. I thought it was odd that this other runner had also traded routes, then I was able to see clearer and recognized my own team mates, waving a beautiful bottle of water. I passed the other runner, drank the water and turned down a short hill. And there was my bridge, waiting to help escort me across the Hudson.
This was that moment that we all know we’ll have in an experience like this. Exhausted, happy, overwhelmed at how amazing it was that I was going to be crossing this bridge, I felt tears in my eyes. The bridge was lit up with different colored lights and below on the other side was a small riverside town with a church, a town I did not even know the name of. In fact, I had no idea where in NY-state I was, just that I was crossing the Hudson river, on foot. And that in another mile I could collapse back in my van, hope for maybe an hours sleep, and then wake up and do it all over again. This seemed both exhausting and wonderful.
And it was.
Overall report of the relay to come.