Last weekend I was a cow.
Wait, wait. Let me be more specific. Last weekend I was one of 12 Dairy Queens. Not the place that sells Blizzards. The Ragnar team called the Dairy Queens. Dairy as in cows. We are 12 runners who have gotten together in Wisconsin the past two Junes to run from Madison to Chicago while making ridiculous cow jokes. It’s basically the coolest thing I’ve done as an adult since Green Cove.
So if you don’t know much about a Ragnar Relay, let me explain for a hot second. Ragnars are run between two towns, places, cities, whatever, and are around 200 miles. Teams are made up of 12 runners (or 6 if you’re extra crazy), each of whom run three legs over about 30 hours give or take over a Friday and Saturday. Your team runs straight through the night on Friday and into Saturday and is divided into two vans, six people per van.
Everyone in van 1 runs first.Then van 2 takes over. That goes on two more times.
This whole thing, this being jammed into a 15-passenger van with five other stinky, sweaty people who are running 15-25 miles on more or less no sleep, sounds fairly horrible. I swear to you though, it’s not. You cheer each other on. The support is beyond any other I’ve found in running. Typically runners are nice. They smile at each other on the street and give each other encouragement. My Dairy Queens though, they sped ahead of me to give me water, to pour it over my head if I needed it, to high five me, to moo and scream at me, to cross a street waving an orange flag. We stood in a swarm of mosquitoes to cheer each other on.
They let me use their toothbrushes, slept with me in sleeping bags on the grass by a parking lot, opened their lake house for me, and washed my cow print socks. They ran with me at 1:30 a.m. through winding Milwaukee roads and spotted a deer standing just six feet away. My fellow Ragnar runners who weren’t on my team cheered for me from their vans as they drove past me on hot country roads. They offered me water. They laughed when they read “Show Me Your Udders” written on the side of my mode of transportation. Ragnar is this weird community of runners who come together in a team for what is normally a fairly individualistic sport.
And the amazing thing is at the end of it all, you want to do another one. You have pounded your poor joints, you sleep either for only about three hours during the night or during times of the day when sleep seems ridiculous, and are then expected to wake up feeling like warm poop and run another dang leg. You smell. Your van smells, mostly like feet. You get confused about which direction you are driving and which direction Lake Michigan is in relation to Chicago. You stare at said lake and forget which lake it is exactly, because you can’t think straight at 6:00 a.m. after only three hours of sleep.
And you’ve eaten like shit while attempting a decent amount of physical activity. But when we crossed the finish line on the beach by Lincoln Park in downtown Chicago as a team with our Cow 12, I felt nothing but joy.
Yeah sure, joy that the whole thing was over, but also joy as in I was proud of what we’d accomplished, proud that we’d pushed ourselves together, and happy that we’d bonded over stupid things like a spicy meat stick and a vomiting stick cow.
A few days later we’re already planning our next relay. I once heard that running is addictive. That’s a pretty true statement.