Rehearsing Relay

Over the past six months, I’ve traveled down the river and met not only hundreds of amazing river people, but perhaps most importantly, I met the one man who I believe I’ll spend the rest of my life with. Right on the river in Minneapolis! This river, and this project, are already—and swiftly—changing and uprooting in ways very welcome!

The fortunate thing of this new union is that my new partner is not only a great person connected to the river, but he is a runner! And we have become quite the relay team. Since August, we have run in three relay events together, winning our last in New Orleans! (also on the river!)

And about a month ago, after running our second relay in the northwoods of Wisconsin, I wrote the following narrative about my experience. So I thought I’d share it here as well. I think it’s applicable to all things Relay:

Over the last several days, you could say I was a bit out of my element... "Finding my inner wild" is something I tend to reserve for the dance floor—shaking it out, twisting and turning, hands waving high! The WILDERNESS Wild, on the other hand, had me WAY outside my comfort zone.

I went into this weekend with fear and trepidation—mainly about whether I'd have to be squatting in the woods or they would have port-a-pots. To my pleasant surprise, rows of those magnificent portable toilets lined the campsite! One huge sigh of relief.

Trepidation #2. The impending cold... My Louisiana blood was flowing strong, and I was not quite ready for a blast of winter at this early September juncture. However, Friday started out misty and overcast. 50s that felt like 40s. The forecast projected very real 30s overnight—And did I mention I'd be running overnight? In the dark? First run slated at 7:30pm, just after sundown, taking me into the woods for 7.6 miles. Second run at around 2am for another 4.6 miles! BRRRR.

I was nearly at tears in preparation for my first run. I felt like a child in fact. There had been so many warnings about wild animals, and hunters in the woods, and just the propensity for falling and cracking your skull open! But I pulled myself together and got ready to run. Adrenaline pumping at full throttle.

Into the gate I went and the relay exchange took place, I was off and flying down the trail. Suddenly, I felt good again. Running had me settling down, and even hitting the technical trails with roots and rocks, I was flying, figuring out my footing better than I expected. I passed a group going slower and heard them say, "she's like a gazelle!" — boy! did the ego blow up and I kept flying UNTIL...

The rocks got craggy and I didn't slow down. Tom's warning that the trail was "treacherous" had apparently not sunk in enough, but here it was to catch me out in my big headed moment. One wrong step on a rock and left ankle twisted out, a pop that seemed to resound through the silent forest. I paused, having flown forward a bit, catching myself on some dark something, and I hear a voice coming up behind me—the gazelle voice—saying "you ok?" I got myself up, yelled out, "twisted ankle," and ran on. Determined not to get passed. Determined to finish.

At this point, I thought maybe it wasn't a huge deal. The ankle. I was still running pretty hard, making decent time I thought, passing lots of runners. Finally that last "one mile to go sign," and I felt good. I landed in the exchange tent and my teammates weren't there. They had expected me to go more slowly. But soon there came Kristi and she got off onto her first leg.

Tom and I stopped off for the pasta dinner and suddenly the chill started to set in—I turned shivering into a new winter sport, he said. And the ankle, well, adrenaline wearing off, pain setting in, it was clear things weren't as OK as I'd hoped. Looked like I was out for the next leg or maybe the whole relay, as the swelling and bruising revealed itself.

Trepidation #3. Now you thought being alone, falling and hurting yourself in the dark woods was bad enough. But no. Now your alone in a tent in the dark with no flashlight, with the urge to pee growing and growing inside of you as you wait and wait for someone to come back to the tent and walk you to the line of port-a-lets what seems like a mile away. Peeing myself in the dark cold woods was perhaps my greatest fear this whole weekend.

In the end though, the end of all these trepidations, Tom came back and walked me to the toilets, the sun came up and warmed up the day, my ankle got a second wind and I made it out for my third leg after all in the warm light of morning at around 9:30am! And can I just say, being able to SEE the course, just KINDA helps! 

Once done, leg up and icing, cold Wisconsin beer in hand, good friends all around, one Hero (Tom) by my side, and truly very ready to get home.

Learning to be Wild. Learning my limits. So much more to learn. Always.

Victoria Bradford