Last weekend I had the opportunity to participate in the Vail Lake Ragnar Trail Relay race. These races are often summed up with the words "Run. Eat. Camp. Sleep? Repeat."
We ran gnarly hills, in the dark, with little or no sleep. Not only was it a unique and fun experience to share with friends, but it also brought moments that caused me to pause and think.
Unlike most races, the Ragnar Trail Relay had lots of opportunities to mingle with fellow racers. In a normal race you show up, line up to start, run the race, and go home. You might exchange a few words in passing with other runners, but that's about it.
In this race, we were all camping out together in a huge field. Only one person per team was out running at a time, which meant everyone else had lots of down time. Last weekend was quite chilly and damp, so a lot of people hung out at the bonfire.
As I sat by the fire, waiting my turn to run, I talked to other runners and observed the conversations around me. We compared which loops we had run, shared our experiences, and gave tips. People talked about their kids and shared humorous stories. I heard one man say, "Becoming a dad is the best thing that ever happened to me."
I was struck how so many people, from different walks of life, could come together and camp peaceably with each other and even enjoy good conversation. It is amazing how one common thread, a love of running, can unite people. Outside of the race venue we may have never spoken, but in that moment we weren't really strangers or competitors, but friends who were in this crazy adventure together.
The craziest thing about this race was running on trails in the dark. We all wore headlamps, but really those only gave you a view of what was right in front of you; it was like running with tunnel vision. Once the sun came up, I looked out at the course and couldn't believe that I had just run all those trails. It looked so different at night.
Part of me was disappointed I didn't get to see the views from the tops of the hills or have the complete picture of my course as I was running it. However, the more I've thought about it, the more I realize that maybe not seeing the whole picture sometimes is a good thing.
One of the loops, the "green loop," had one hill that required you to be part mountain goat to climb. Some people scaled it on hands and knees; most at least touched their hands down at times to keep balanced. Because I could only see what was right in front of me, it didn't seem scary or overwhelming. I just took it a few feet at a time and kept moving forward.
But now I wonder, if I had seen the grand scale of it and how high on the mountain I was, would I have been so confident as I climbed? For all I know, the trails could have been close to a cliff. However, my limited field of vision forced me to focus on the path in front of me and did not allow me to get distracted by my surroundings or overwhelmed by what was still to come.
Have you ever had a mountain you had to climb, literally or figuratively, and thought you'd never get past it? Or, have you trudged through a difficult time in life not realizing just how hard it was until after it was over and you looked back on your experience?
It can be nice to see what's ahead, but I think that sometimes it's also nice to have blinders on, so to speak, and only see the path that is right in front of you. Sometimes difficult things are best taken in small pieces. And then, when it's over, you can look back in awe at what you've accomplished.
However, I think the guy who got sprayed by a skunk might disagree: It would have been nice to see that coming.
Karen Thomas is a stay at home mom of four daughters, has been on the PTA board at her kids' school for four years, and is a volunteer at her church, in addition to her activities as a volunteer soccer referee, a piano teacher, and a runner. Her column will appear here every Thursday. Comments are welcome.