By: Kriste Peoples, BGR! Denver
Check out this awesome blog from Kriste. She recaps the Ragnar Snowmass race.
“Every time I hear the song ‘Just Like Fire’ by P!nk, it makes me think of us.” That’s the note our captain, Tonnett, sent us just this morning. It was the latest in a thread of months’-old messages that laid out our team’s training plans, random questions, and race logistics leading up to the Ragnar Trail Relay. In the midst of our busy lives and sporadically planning for an event that seemed so far off back then, we’d come to rely on that thread whenever we needed information about what we’d signed up for. All of us lived in Colorado already, and between the eight of us—DeAnna, Heather, Kia, Teya, me, Ronnie, Shanla, and Tonnett—we’d collectively covered thousands of miles in full and half marathons over the years, hiking, cycling, kickboxing, and running races for all kinds of cures and causes, so when the chance came to take turns running our share of 120 miles around the clock, on little sleep, while camping out between runs, we leapt at the challenge. Little did we know how uphill it would be.
Coming from the Mile High City, adjusting to an elevation of more than 8,200 feet complicated the easy breathing we’d grown accustomed to at home. Add to that the unrelenting inclines that gained as much as 1,100 feet within the first two miles of each leg, and we knew we had our hands full. But we were Girls on Fire, and that meant we came to see what we were made of, leave it all on the road, and tell about it later.
It’s been said that ‘character is what gets us out of bed, commitment moves us into action, and discipline enables us to follow through’. That statement couldn’t have resounded more loudly among us, given how hard we worked to dredge up determination that seemed to dwindle by the hour.
“I went up that mountain, outside of my running comfort zone, to find my ‘inner wild,’” Heather said. “What I came away with was so much more. I found myself and learned that I am more than the sum of my parts. Or maybe it’s that my parts actually summed an approach to infinity.”
My friend Jaime likes to say a real struggle will ‘break you down to your last compound’, stripping away your notions about who you think you are and what you’re capable of, and Ragnar threatened to shift us into struggle mode long before we turned up in Snowmass. That message thread I mentioned earlier? It’s how we learned of Kia’s injury and her doctor’s orders to drop out of the race. By the time we got the news, it was too late to bring a new teammate up to speed, so we decided to absorb the added mileage among us in order to keep what was left of our original team intact.
As beneficiaries of sponsorship from Black Girls Run!, REI and Ragnar, we were proud to embody a shared mission of testing our mettle in the elements while competing against our former selves on the trails. We were proud to be examples of healthy black women who flourished in the outdoors while running opposition to the dire statistics of disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and other ills that plagued us. It was an historic series of firsts on levels we have yet to discover. At the same time, it was complicated.
There’s not enough room in this post to cover the distance we trod in that day-and-a-half odyssey, but I’ll tell you this much: showing up together as an all-black women’s team was a game changer for us all. We were as diverse in temperament and tastes as any athletes could be. We were wives, partners, military vets, mothers, straight, gay, creative, academic, messy and neat, introverted and high energy, and each of us would stare down the mountains we faced—individually and as a team. “Now that it's all said and done,” Shanla said, “Ragnar Snowmass was an experience that took me outside of myself and forced me to push harder than ever before.”
Here’s the thing about pushing harder: you’ll never know how deep your well goes until you tap it. Ronnie said, “I felt as though I pushed myself to the limits and with the exception of childbirth, I haven’t required my body to do anything as physical and taxing as the Ragnar Trail.” She continued, “Our surroundings were beautiful and tough, and there were some of the most amazing views I have ever experienced.”
“Ragnar gave me a pride and peace within myself that I will be forever grateful for,” Heather said. “My fears were keeping me from experiencing a life that was wide-open, shielding me from falling. Well, I didn't fall, but I know that I am capable of getting back up because fallen or shielded is not where I want to be.”
To look around at the lot of nearly 200 teams that weekend, they spanned the gamut from weekend warriors who sort of ran between partying to elite racers determined to go the distance alone. Girls on Fire was somewhere in the middle. We were fast when we didn’t expect to be, we walked, climbed, struggled and hiked when we had to; no techniques of prayer and internal bargaining were off-limits. Like Tonnett said, “There is no shame in walking the uphill, in fact, it made me stronger on the downhill. Failure was NEVER an option!”
With the race more than a month behind us, we look back at those runners who took their headlamps out for a spin one night and posed, hugging trees in the dark, getting giddy at the prospect of camping out at Snowmass Village. We had no idea how much the trail would take from us when we gave it—our petty limits, our fear—and how much it would leave in the aftermath. Had we known how hard we’d weep, breathless at the sight of our last runner coming down that hill at the end of it all and running her across the finish line together, we’d have done it all again. Gladly. Like Tonnett said, “Victory is so much sweeter with a team.”
We came together above any differences, seeing past our own pain into a new experience of possibility. “Bonding with amazing, dedicated, beautiful and hard-working athletes was a great experience. From the quiet times in the tent during the night to watching the sun come up on the beautiful Saturday morning, it cannot be replicated,” Ronnie said. “And even if we never run Ragnar as a team again, we will forever be linked because of this experience.”
I won’t soon forget the kinship I felt with strangers on the path. Though we were each a dot of light winding through the darkened trails at night, when our paths crossed, it was meaningful. Everyone I encountered ran with a word of encouragement for each athlete they passed. ‘Great job’, ‘looking good’, ‘you've got this’ all go a long way when you think you can’t.
There was a fox I locked eyes with one afternoon as she passed with fresh prey hanging limp in her mouth. So much for the wilderness emergency training I received, because all I could do was marvel. And the man from Texas who thanked me for encouraging him along the hardest trail at 3am: “I don’t know where I’d be without you,” he said as we hugged in the transition tent before parting. I never saw him after that. And I don't even have words for the perilous drops on either side of the trails that could have meant curtains in the dark if we hadn't been extra careful watching our labored steps.
The things our bodies can do: It’s humbling. Gratifying. Tear jerking. The long conversations with ourselves to keep going, to give it all again and again. The glory of discovering our ‘inner wild’ and welcoming her home. Touching in with the miracle of our strength and frailty, seeing my teammates meet themselves in this way, I know we won’t ever be the same.
The more I think about it, this morning’s reference to P!ink’s ‘Just Like Fire’ makes me think of our team, too. It’s the defiance and grit, the ‘inner wild’ and blazing nature of it all:
Just cause nobody's done it
Y'all don't think I can run it
But look, I've been here, I've done it
Watch, I do it with ease
You just gotta believe
Come on, come on with me
Just like fire, fire!
Running, running, running
Just like fire!
Ragnar has burned itself into our hearts. We know this because we came home with a fire that blazes higher and hotter than the one we started with.
**UPDATE: After this piece was submitted for publication, we learned that Girls on Fire won the Best Team Spirit award out of nearly 200 teams! Congratulations, runners!