My “Joy” Run

Those of you who know me, or who follow this blog, have heard me talk about Fellow Flowers.  Fellow Flowers is an awesome company that honors women and their journeys, both in running and in life.  As the name implies, a large part of what connects our group are the flowers that we choose to wear in our hair.  There are thirteen different flowers, each one a different color and with a different meaning.  Most women involved with the group own many different flowers, but find that there’s usually one or two that especially resonate with them.

For me, that flower has often been the yellow one, “Joy.”  The description of Joy is as follows: “Joy, happiness and confidence.  To smile for a reason.  To appreciate sunshine.  To find your happy.  Embraces laughter, believes in dreams.  I run because I get to.”  That last sentence in particular has always been one that I connect to – “I run because I get to.”  Running has given me so much in life that I try to always remember how privileged I am to have the opportunity to do this as much as I do.  I probably wear my joy flower more than all of the others combined.  The petals are now ratty and frayed, some nearly falling off, but I continue to clip it in to remind me of how lucky I am to have the chance to do what I love.

Fellow Flowers recently announce a virtual run series, focusing on the thirteen different flowers.  The first run, coincidentally, is for joy.  When I first heard this, I was excited about the thought of signing up.  Joy is my flower.  Of course I should do this one.  I began to picture what my joy run would look like.  It would definitely be on the trails.  It would probably be fairly long.  A beautiful autumn morning with the sun beaming through the trees.  Then reason kicked in.  See, I don’t really like virtual runs.  For me, the joy of running races is to be out in a new location, with like-minded people, celebrating something we all love together.  I appreciate the idea behind a virtual run, the thought of connecting runners across great distances, but it has just never felt that meaningful to me.  With my new job, money is tighter than it used to be, and I realized that I couldn’t justify spending the money on a race that wouldn’t make me super happy.  I decided it was wiser to pass.

Then of course, we hit the officially race period, and it felt like every day, women were posting on social media about their “Joy” runs.  I felt a bit left out.  Ironically, reading about others “joy” runs was bringing me less joy.

Over the years, my kids and I have run together a handful of times, but it’s not something we do regularly.  I am normally running too early, or too long, for them to be able to reasonably join me.  Last week, however, they began clamoring for a run together, so we made a plan to go out for a short run on Saturday morning.

Saturday was a jam-packed day, as they often are when you have young children, and the only way for us to fit in our run was to go early.  Like 6am early, which means that it was still pitch-black outside.  I wasn’t sure how the kids were going to react to running in the dark, but we got up, got dressed, and outfitted ourselves in headlamps and reflective vests.  The first thing they noticed when we got outside was that it was dark enough to see the stars.  (I love that I have kids who notice things like that).

We set off down the street at an easy pace, our usually busy neighborhood surprisingly peaceful and calm.  We crossed through the main intersection, then turned onto the quiet neighborhood streets.  As I loped along with my kids by my side, I realized that I was feeling a sense of peace that can be hard to find in my busy days.  On that run in the dark, the kids and I were isolated from all of the noise and distractions and busy-ness of the outside world.  It was just the three of us together, sharing something that we loved.  The thrill of being outside in the dark invigorated them, and they ran with a sense of ease that they don’t often have.  We covered three miles with only one short break, and it’s hard for me to think of another run that I enjoyed more.

I realized in that moment that I didn’t need to pay an entry fee and pin on an official bib to be able to experience a “joy” run.  I didn’t even need the beauty of the woods, or the calm of a leisurely morning.  I didn’t need hours to myself to gather my thoughts.  I just needed a dark stretch of pavement and two beaming children by my side.

When we finished, the sky was just beginning to lighten.  There were no medals waiting at the finish, no crowds there to welcome us home.  There was just the comfort of our front door, the wagging tail of our beloved dog, and the satisfaction of knowing that we had started our day together in the best way possible.

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Our blurry attempt to document our early-morning run.  

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Ragnar Trail Wawayanda Lake Race Report

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In fourteen years of running, I have discovered time and again that the first time attempting a new type of race or distance is usually a challenge, and that subsequent attempts at a similar race almost always yield better results.  I don’t know why that continues to surprise me.

Last year, I ran my first Ragnar Trail ultra with my awesome teammates in West Virginia.  The experience overall was a fun one, but I really struggled with my running throughout that weekend, to the point that I probably would not have attempted another ultra Ragnar Trail without their encouragement.  When I discovered that the entire team was up for another race, however, I knew I couldn’t be the one to hold us back.  We signed up for Wawayanda Lake, hoping that the closer location and later date would provide us with more ideal conditions.  My feelings towards the race vacillated as the date drew closer, but my teammates’ excitement, coupled with our decision to have a “Harry Potter”-themed team eventually won me over, and I went into the race weekend feeling great.  Wawayanda definitely did not disappoint.  In an attempt to keep this more concise than many of my past posts, I’m going to attempt to break the highs and lows into a bullet-ed list.

The Highs?

  • The location was beautiful.  The Ragnar village was situated right on the banks of Wawayanda Lake, and teams had the option of camping by the beach or up in the woods.  Our team happily chose a spot in the woods, which kept us near the action, but gave us a greater sense of privacy.
  • The autumn date allowed us to have beautiful fall foliage and ideal running temps.  The cooler weather made it easier to run and comfortable to hang out in the village in sweats in between legs.
  • The layout – There was so much space at the race that it made it feel like a much smaller race than WV did.  Multiple boards with runner info made it easy to keep track of when your next runner was expected to return.  There was also plenty of nearby parking.
  • Running with an experienced team made a huge distance.  We all had an idea of what to expect, which made the entire experience more relaxed.
  • Our team theme – Last year we were too focused on the actual running to pull together much in the way of a theme.  This year, we decided we would be “Hogwarts Express” and we went all out.  From team shirts, to coordinated hats and scarves, to incredible campsite decorations, our team radiated “Harry Potter” love the whole way through, and it made everything a lot of fun.

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The Lows?

  • Less daylight – Autumn gave us cooler temperatures, but a lot less daylight as well.  That meant that I once again ended up running the two hardest legs at night, as well as the majority of my fourth leg in the growing darkness.  It also meant that one of our poor teammates had 4/6 legs in the darkness.  In addition to the increased difficulty of this, she was really bummed to have so little running time when she was actually able to enjoy the sights around her.
  • Food – All of the pre-race materials advertised a complex food truck schedule for the weekend.  We decided to make life easier and take advantage of the multiple offerings, so we brought along less prepared food and more cash this trip.  Thursday night’s dinner, while providing small portions, went okay, but things went downhill from there.  By Friday evening, it was pretty chaotic.  At least one truck didn’t show, others ran out of food, and the lines to get dinner ranged from 30-60 minutes.  Many runners we talked to were unable to take advantage of their “free” Friday night dinner, and there was a lot of frustration.
  • A lack of consideration from some runners.  If I’m going to stereotype, I would say that usually trail runners are a pretty awesome group of people.  They tend to have a deep love of running, be respectful of the environment, and be really chill and friendly.  The majority of runners at Wawayanda seemed to uphold this, but there were a few teams who really ruined the atmosphere for everyone else.  These teams showed no consideration for others, not only talking through the night, but intentionally making noise for no apparent reason other than to be disruptive.  It was frustrating to try to get any rest in these conditions.

The above challenges aside, the race was an incredibly positive experience, so much so that it made it hard to return to real life once the weekend was over.  Within 24 hours, our team was already researching the next Ragnar Trail that we hope to tackle.

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