Sweat, Tears, 200 Miles and Brain Surgery


I am blessed.  My friends are amazing. I’m not sugar coating this, they truly are amazing. This is my weekend.

I signed up to run the Ragnar Relay Chicago some time ago.  It’s a 200 mile relay from Madison, Wisconsin to Chicago, Illinois ~ going thru the “rolling hills” of Wisconsin to the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan. I paid money to race in this event. My relay team consisted of 11 other women, all seriously the most amazing, supportive and wild women I know. I can’t imagine even thinking about embarking on an adventure like this with any other people. And if I were to ever even consider doing it again (which right now, is not even on my radar), I would ONLY do it, is if these women were doing it too.

There is much planning that goes into a successful Ragnar Team.  Our team captain Kelly had prepared many excel spreadsheets, emails and facebook group posts to ensure our team was well informed and as ready as we could be for our “Girls Weekend Away, with a little running thrown in”.  We left on Thursday.

~ Team Perfect Strangers ~

Our Perfect Strangers team consisted of Van 1: Kelly, Jaime, Briana, Meghan, Meggie, Karen and Van 2: Megan, Donna, Jess, Stephanie, Sandi and myself.  I traveled to Chicago with Kelly, Jaime, Bri and Sandi and we picked up Megan and Donna in the Chicago burbs before arriving in Madison.  It’s truly crazy that of the 11 ladies, I really “knew” 2, Kelly and Jaime.  I had met Bri, Meghan, Karen and Meggie before but I didn’t feel as though I really knew them ~ although we have been on a couple group runs together and we are Facebook friends and I read their blogs, I felt like I knew them, but truth be told….I didn’t really “know” them.  The other girls in our group were complete strangers to me… PERFECT STRANGERS, it turns out.  All of these women, who I spent the next 2 days with, have absolutely made their way into my heart.

After a 6 hour drive on Thursday to Wisconsin (and a lot of “getting to know you stories”, singing and dancing in the van) we had a delicious carb loaded dinner at Paisan’s, a nice little Italian place in Madison.  We shared quite a few stories at dinner and early on tears were shed both thru laughter and sadness.  I roomed with Sandi, Megan and Donna Thursday night and assured Sandi that I wouldn’t spoon in the night. The three of us really connected and we are all so glad that none of us will be a feature story on Dateline anytime soon!

Friday morning was an early wake up – 6:45am,  just enough time to grab some coffee and oatmeal, have a picture with the entire team and send off Van 1 to the start of the race.  While they were at the start line, Van 2 decorated the windows of our van and “organized” all of our stuff.  We had a couple hours to relax in our hotel rooms, one of which we designated for using the bathroom, to allow a bit of privacy – needless to say, it was the most used room that morning.  Our nerves had set in, for sure.

Team Perfect Strangers

Van 2 Windows with our names and legs to be crossed off as we finished them.

Prior to heading to our first major exchange, we stopped by the start line to capture the Ragnar spirit.  We had some photo ops in front of the start line, a little shopping in the gift tent and I ran into a friend from home.  A great start to our morning.

Look who I ran into at the starting line ~ Steve Wallen from home!

Van 2 walking to the start line to capture the Ragnar Spirit

I think writing about each exchange would probably bore the majority of readers ~ suffice it to say there is little “down time” when your van is the active running van.  We would load up after exchanging the bracelet for the next runner, determine our next location, navigate to it, try to “eat between legs” and massive hyrdating all while waiting for our runner.

Waiting at Exchange 9 for the hand-off

There were a couple times where we had time to go to the bathroom at a gas station (thankfully because at one point the port-o-lets were nearly overflowing – it was disgusting).  After the Major Exchanges where we handed off to Van 1, we would have a little more time.  We were able to make a trip to Applebees (maybe not the best decision we made on our trip), rest our eyes a bit (sleep? Not really…) and constantly remind each other that “this is happening and we can’t do anything about it now”, thanks to Megan’s keen sense of reality.

Friday was intense all by itself. The running, the driving, the exchanges and then I got a phone call.  It was home. There was an emergency.  My mom had been taken to the hospital, and my family was waiting to find out when she would go in for brain surgery. I could barely speak, I cried, I prayed. I was scared and I was at least 6 hours away from home.  After intense conversations with my amazing team (who 4 of which are nurses, 1 a nurse for neuro – seriously PERFECT!) and urging from my mom and family, I decided to stick around for my second leg of the race.  Mom was out of danger, in a hospital and she wanted me to finish this race.  I would run for her.

Our Van 2 second set of running legs were all nightime (midnight-ish thru about 6:00am).  Running during these hours defintely had a different feel than the first leg of runs.  First of all, the temperatures were so much more tolerable. We all ran with reflective vests, headlamps and flashing lights on our backs. My second run started around 3:00am (I recorded this video)… it was the darkest 4.8 miles I’ve ever experienced – and seeing the set of eyes in the woods next to the road, was a bit unnerving.  I kept my focus on those eyes until I was well past them – I’m sure it was a deer, but since Sandi’s mom insisted we bring a “bear bell”,  I was on edge.  But I took this time to pray.  It was me, the dark road, the moon, the stars and God.  I was running for my mom, that is all I could do.

Me and the dark, the moon, the stars and God

After my second leg, it was apparant that Van 2 was suffering from a bit of dehydration.  I had two pukers and 3 with “lower intestinal issues”.  It wasn’t pretty.  Of course Applebees did get a big bit of blame for the tummy issues, but I’m sticking to the fact that these girls ran in 95 degree heat index, bright sun, and ran hard…. Their bodies were not too happy with them.

Waiting, feeling good.

Time seemed to not really matter anymore.  I drove from the majority of all of the exchanges to our next points. I didn’t seem tired. My stomach didn’t reject me. I felt really good.  I had amazing friends “on-call” to come and get me if things changed with my mom, and unfortunately Saturday mid-morning that happened.  Three exchanges before my last run, I got a call from my sister that mom was going into surgery “in the next 15 minutes”.  It was originally thought it would be Sunday or Monday – and in that I was supposed to be home Saturday, I thought I would be home in time for it. The doctors were drilling two holes in my mother’s skull, to remove a very large sub dural hematoma.  I called my amazing friend Kat and she headed north to get me.  My team had determined that due to the weather, pure exhaustion and the physical condition of Van 2 (remember the vomitting and lower intestinal issues?) Van 1 was going to pick up my last leg of the race. We met Kat and Andy one more exchange down the road and through hugs and tears I told my team good-bye.

the white line in the center should cross thru the middle of the Y shaped vessels – her brain was pushed nearly an inch and a half off center due to the large hematoma.

While I didn’t get to cross the finish line with my team – I did endure the same sleepless night, the same heat and racing conditions.  I ran a few less miles than everyone else, but I felt just as much a part of this experience than everyone else.  I was sad to not cross the finish line with my Perfect Strangers, but I am blessed that I got to visit with my mom in the ICU when I returned home.  After a dinner with my family, my dad and my friends who drove me to Indy, I arrived at the hopsital, still with no shower, my grimy  and smelly running clothes and a very heavy heart.

This adventure does end on a high note.  Our team placed 11th in our division.  We finished the race in 34 hours, 21 minutes and 52 seconds.  This happened  (yes it really happened). We all arrived home safely to our families. We made friendships that will last a lifetime.  And my mom is alive.  She is home already and on the road to a full recovery.  It really can be summed up in one word: amazeballs.


Van 2 ~ Steph, Jess, Donna, Megan, Rachel, Sandi



2 responses »

  1. Pingback: What’s B Been Up To?! | Nurse with a Purse

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