I normally avoid that which I know to be painful.
I do not like to suffer.
So while I cannot adequately explain why I love the MyoMed Ragnar Relay Wasatch Back so much, I know I am not alone in my affection for an event that has required me to sleep in positions and places I'd never considered possible and allow myself to smell like something I'd have guessed to be dead.
"I have run 110 marathons," said George Sunderland, 53, whose run the Wasatch Back, which requires 12 people to run three different legs of a 181-mile relay, all five years. "I've completed the Wasatch 100, run Boston, New York, and as fun, exciting and unique as all of those experiences are, this is the funnest thing I do all year."
Interestingly, that is exactly how I feel about it.
The question I had for him, and some of the others I talked to along the race route, was why? The consensus seemed to be two things making a distance race a relay makes it accessible to people who might never consider other types of endurance races and the camaraderie.
"It basically makes running a team sport," said Tanner Bell, who co-founded the race and has since started six other relays around the country.
Like everyone else who ran the Wasatch Back, one of the best aspects of the event is the people you meet. In writing the main story about the race, I talked with Sasha Pachev, who started a blog on training in 2006. It's called Fastrunningblog.com, and I loved it. I also enjoyed talking with Sasha, who said he has been training since he was 11-years-old without missing more than three consecutive days.
His philosophy (which you can read in much greater detail on his blog) is train consistently and you can deal with whatever a race throws at you.
"Don't do anything fast until you can go long," Pachev said.
When I asked him how he trained specifically for a race like the Wasatch Back, he said he didn't.
"Get out of your mind that you are training for St. George Marathon or a specific race," he said. "Just train. Then when the event comes, you taper."
I did try to simulate the race a little in my training. I ran five miles Saturday morning and six and a half miles Saturday afternoon. Then I got up early Sunday and ran eight miles. My goal was to see how my body would handle three runs in 24 hours.
I'm not sure there is a way to train for running in 96-degree heat unless you just go do it.
I'm not sure there is a way to get better at hills unless you just force yourself to run them on a regular basis.
And I'm certain that if you want to be able to run in the middle of the night, you just have to either snag a nap (impossible for me to do) or stumble through the fatigue.
I did have an easier time with the hills, but food was an issue again.
As usual, I ate too much and had stomach problems for my last legs. Also, for the first time in five years, we had two runners unable to complete their legs due to illness and injury, which meant extra legs for three of us. As I came up the last hill to the finish line, I saw my teammates standing there cheering for stumbling, slow me, and I was filled with the kind of joy that is impossible to describe.
I am barely an athlete. My greatest competitions are with myself and usually over whether or not I will train today. But for 36 hours, I am saturated with shattering my own limits and watching others do the same.This is a race that connects you with what is best in yourself, and toughest in those who pretend you don't stink as they settle in beside you for a short power nap.