All-girls ultra running and how I got roped into that one

Every once in a while, an impulsive decision can turn out to be the adventure of a lifetime.

It was all Corinne‘s idea. She sent a message to a few dozen Delta Zeta sorority sisters, asking if we wanted to have a reunion at the Ragnar Trail weekend at Anne Springs Close Greenway in Fort Mill. Ragnar Trail is a 131.2 mile relay race that you run in teams. We could get a few teams together and just make an amazing weekend out of it, running and catching up with each other, Corinne said.

I have ALWAYS said no to relays. I am a horrible sleeper, I hate sleeping in vans, the idea of running in the middle of the night pretty much alone with nothing to keep me company but wild animals … no, thank you. But this relay was different: no vans, instead we get to camp. And the idea of seeing so many of my college friends I haven’t seen in so long was magical! Without even thinking about my other fears, including the fact that I’m a horrible klutz and trail running has never been for me … I was an absolute YES.

Anne, Corinne and Melissa

Many others did not share my sentiment, though, one by one saying no (or in some cases, HELL no). In the end, there were four of us: Corinne, Anne, Jessica and me. A team is 8 members. We had a choice to make — we could invite other non DZ friends or we could be an ultra team. Of course, we went the hard route.

A chance meeting of Christy Siebert at Aubrey Turner‘s Divine Barrel Brewing yoga class was a meeting of fate. Christy had just moved to the area from California a day or so before.

Not only did Christy and I become fast friends, but we bonded over the fact that we were both DZs (from different schools).

Melissa and Christy

I told her about our race and instead of saying “Are you crazy?!” like 99 percent of the rest of the world did, she said “Omg that sounds like so much fun; do you need runners?” Alas, we did not, as our ultra team was already set.

Training (or lack of)

As time went on, I got more and more nervous about what I’d agreed to. June and July were great – I ran a lot with my sister at the beach in June. In July, I did a workout challenge with Quinn, where I steadily increased my mileage. In August and September, however, I did not run much, between the hot summer and other commitments (other workouts, work, traveling). I have not run often on trails and I am far, far from trail-run trained. I’m slow on trails, I’m scared of getting hurt, I’m not one of those people that can hop from tree root to tree root with grace or speed. My team assured me that it was all about having fun and doing our best, with no pressure of a speedy time.

The weeks before the race were exciting, interesting and not-at-all running focused. We had breaking news: I was covering Hurricane Florence for a publication I write for, so work was insane. I even caught a cold about a week before the race, which hindered my energy levels and killed many of my planned workouts in the days leading up.

And then, the week of the race, Jessica sent us a frantic message that Monday morning: “Hey ladies, I have some horrible news …” She’d had a mountain biking accident and had stitches in her leg and could barely walk. It was devastating to hear for our bonding time with our old friend, and we had to think quickly about who we knew that would a) be interested and b) be ready to run 32.8 miles with no training. I knew just the person — and the fact that she was a DZ just made it all the more perfect.

Christy gave an enthusiastic yes, followed by a “What is this I’ve agreed to?” followed by a Facebook post in which she announced that she’d committed to running 16.4 miles … I had to break the news to her that she’d actually committed to twice that.

Race weekend

Hammock life

Ready or not, here we were. Corinne and I headed in on Thursday night to set up camp and enjoy the moments before the race began. I surprisingly slept very well that night (thank you, CBD oil) and woke up happy, ready to run and even more ready to enjoy our time together. I had found out one of my childhood best friends, Jenny, was running! So we got to spend a lot of time together over the weekend. Anne arrived, we ate breakfast from a food truck (it was delicious) and set up camp and got ready to go. Christy arrived from work just in time to start her run later that day.

The basic premise: Corinne ran 3.25 miles, then I ran 5.6, then Anne ran 7.6, then Christy ran 3.25. Then Corinne ran 5.6, I ran 7.6, Anne ran 3.25 and Christy ran 5.6. Then Corinne ran 7.6, I ran 3.25, Anne ran 5.6 and Christy ran 7.6. If we were a “regular” team, that’s all we would run and four others would run those same distances. But because we were an ultra team, we did it all over again after we finished the first round.

That meant I ran two overnight runs – one around 9:40pm and one around 3am. I ran again at 8am. I got one hour of sleep between one set of runs and I dozed a little between another set. Otherwise, we were all hydrating, foam rolling, changing from sweaty clothes to dry ones, or eating, eating eating. Not to mention, encouraging each other every step of the way.

Running and falling

29.something miles in

Personally, I had a fantastic race … for the first 4 miles of my first leg. Then, as I ran on a trail across a field, an invisible root jumped out and slammed into my toes, causing me to fly through the air like a cartoon character and eat dirt. I’ve fallen a couple of times while running, and while it always hurts badly, I always tell myself to just jump up and keep going.

So I did what I always do, but this time was different — I fell right back down immediately, in real pain. I started crying, tears of pain and frustration, and I ripped my water belt and race bib off of my waist — my whole body was in pain. A volunteer rushed over to help me and she called a medic to bring a stretcher. But then she suggested maybe she could help me up and see if I could limp on it, and I agreed to try, and it worked. With two miles left, I knew I could make it to the finish line, even if I had to crawl there.

I texted my teammates to let them know what was happening and got nothing but encouragement back. I managed to walk / jog back where I was promptly sent to the medic upon crossing the finish line. I have to say, that felt a lot like getting sent to the principal’s office! They were wonderful there and kindly cleaned the dirt out of my skinned elbow and sent me on my way.

My second leg, 2.5 miles into my 7.6 mile run, I fell again — on the same knee and same elbow. It hurt so badly to re-skin up the same skinned-up knee and elbow. But this time, I jumped right back up and kept going. I was mad and determined. I got sent back to the medic promptly on my return, bloody and dirty knees and elbow and all.

Chasing the moon on the yellow trail while trying not to think about that creepy tunnel at 3 am

Leg 3 went fine, but by leg 4, I was icing my knee every chance I got, as the pain had grown to include the back of my leg. Every running step was excruciating. Leg 5 was my slowest, then leg 6 I just powered out everything I had — which wasn’t much, considering I had gone about 30 miles before that leg started, and it was about 90 degrees out. It was hard. Knowing my team was counting on me and knowing we had a deadline to meet (we had to get our last runner on the course by 4pm) is what kept me going. Oh, and I definitely sacrificed some toenails.

The experience

It was amazing. Hundreds of people were camping out, and there was a great energy all around, even in the middle of the night. There was a Ragnar Village, which included a campfire with s’mores, movies playing on the lawn, a recovery area with foam rollers, yoga classes and food trucks. It was as much social as it was a challenge. I got to have major bonding time with my sorority sisters and with Jenny.

Jenny and Melissa

We were sweaty, dirty, tired and energized all at the same time. I can only imagine how much fun it would have been if we’d been running half the distance and had more time for the other activities (I missed out on my yoga) — and next year, we will find out! Yes, we are already making plans to expand our team.

At the end of it, we looked at each other and we ran the gambit of emotions. When I crossed my finish line and realized I’d done it, I burst out crying in the transition tent and the workers around me shared in that emotion with me. We were all so amazed at what we did. We crossed that finish line, with half the team members of a normal team, and with all girls. Girl power is needed more than ever these days, and I have to say this one felt so good.

Total run: 32.8 (ish!) miles according to the race course | 34.7 miles according to my Map My Run

Total hours: 30 hours, 56 minutes, 43 seconds

Place: All-female ultra team | second place
(I should mention, there were only two all-female ultra teams!)

Turtle sisters | ultra team


One response to “All-girls ultra running and how I got roped into that one”

  1. Aubrey Kathryn Turner Avatar
    Aubrey Kathryn Turner

    Melissa!! You’re amazing!! Your team sounds amazing! What a fantastic experience!! I loved reading about this!! THank you for sharing, and although I agree with your sentiments about not being a trail runner, this has me swaying a little bit!! Very good on you, girl!!