Finding the I in Team

Ragg Mopps – the whole team at the finish line.

Let’s just say I had my doubts going into my first RAGNAR relay.

The RAGNAR concept is this: Twelve people divided into two vans embark on a relay race. With one runner on the course all the time, they traverse 200 or so miles to the finish line. There are also ultra-runner teams who choose to run the same course with six people. In our case, the starting point was Saratoga Springs, NY and the finish line a mere 193.1 miles away at the Lake Placid Horse Show grounds.

Van 1 is Tracey, Rory, Jeff M, Jeff L, Josh, and me

Months ago, a co-worker, Allison, asked me if I had ever run a RAGNAR race, and would I ever consider one if the opportunity arose. No, I had not, and of course I’d consider any endurance event. A few days later an email arrived from Allison saying her RAGNAR team was a few runners short and would I like to join the team.

I’m in.

Then I read up on it.

Everything about the RAGNAR experience seemed awesome. Smiling people in team uniforms, costumes, and decorated vans running through communities around the clock, living out of a van and catching rest and food when they can. I’d never run in the wee hours of the morning, so the prospect of running under a clear, star-filled Adirondack sky at 3:45 am appealed to me.

But then it hit me. For the first time ever I would have to share something that, until now, had been a complete solo effort. Hmmm…

My support ‘team’ has always been with me over the long course of my endurance career – either on the sidelines cheering or somewhere else in the race heading for a finish line reunion. But, when I race, I race alone with my own thoughts at my own pace. I’d never had to rely, or be relied upon. Sharing something so personal felt odd. I wasn’t sure I’d like it.

In the weeks leading up to the race, several other runners were unable to toe the line, so I reached out to some gym mates and found myself surrounded by four friends in our van, with one runner we didn’t know. Rory, Tracey, Jeff L. and Jeff M., all members of CrossFit MidHudson, agreed to step into the unknown with me. Josh, who we would soon meet, was also a first-timer.

This would certainly be interesting.

From the very beginning we clicked, each of us making room for the others and finding room for themselves in our new vaniverse. We reveled in the weirdness of it all, and Josh fit right in.

Then, after a leg or two, Jeff L. realized we were ahead of schedule. Prior to the race, each team member submitted an estimated pace for the race, so each leg was theoretically timed in order for us to estimate when we would arrive at the checkpoints. Jeff L. pointed out we were beating our estimates.

That’s all it took. We were no longer running for ourselves, but for the team.

My first leg was 6.3 miles, which I dispatched faster than I had ever run that distance. Over the course of the ensuing 30 hours, we hung out with friends, laughed a whole lot, supported and encouraged each other, and, through our running, inspired each other to reach deeper, feel better, and run faster.

We celebrated every victory we could find – passing runners and other vans, never walking, shaving more and more time off our estimates, and remembering which band recorded that 90’s song. On occasion we’d stop at check points which, overnight, looked like Reebok-sponsored refugee camps. And, on occasion we’d meet up with our other teammates to commiserate and celebrate.

We were relying on each other, and it was okay.

It was at 3:45 am Saturday morning on my last leg when I realized I was running a long, straight stretch of paved darkness under a clear, star-filled Adirondack sky. It was beautiful. And I was alone…with friends.

In that moment I realized the brilliance of the RAGNAR concept; if you surround yourself with the right people, you just might find the I in ‘team.’

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Gratitude

Vassar Farm

Year’s ago while running trails at Vassar Farm an emotional epiphany stopped me dead in my tracks.

It was November, the brilliant leaves carpeted the pastel trail ahead while several stalwarts clung to steely branches, painting defiantly bold-colored swatches against a stark, grey canvas. I stopped, engulfed in silent serenity but overwhelmed with emotion. I searched to make sense of the moment, but didn’t have to look far.

I was paralyzed by gratitude.

There was no mistaking it; appreciation had set in. It occurred to me how grateful I was to be able to do what I was doing in that moment exactly where and how I was doing it.

This perfect storm of thankfulness was inescapable. Up until that point I had been taking my opportunities and abilities to participate in athletic pursuits for granted.

To this day, Vassar Farm waits for me to return, reboot, and remember.

For 10 years, which was the length of our marriage, my wife Lisa lived with metastatic breast cancer. After her initial diagnosis and the 24-hour rule, we proceeded to live life, setting our own terms whenever and wherever possible. Every so often it occurred to us that despite her diagnosis, we had a really great life together.

And for that, we were grateful.

Even today, I realize that by circuitous routes, my girlfriend Kathy and I found each other in what otherwise may never have been the coinciding of two lives.

And for that, I am grateful.

So, let’s get to the point. When are you truly grateful at work? How hard do you have to look to stop yourself in your tracks and say, ‘yes, this is what I was meant to do’?

A friend posted recently that she was so grateful she chose the profession she had, and that she looked forward to waking up each morning. I fear that more friends, however, post the ‘can’t wait til Friday’ picture every Monday, just waiting until their time becomes theirs again.

True career gratitude has nothing to do with being thankful you’ve got a job. I hear that way too often these days, that people should feel grateful or lucky they are employed, as though a paycheck wipes out accomplishment, self worth, or peace.

In a crappy economy it is great to have a regular income, benefits, etc., but it doesn’t make everything alright.

Where is your Vassar Farm? Where is that place you go to or find yourself in that fills you with gratitude? This is a place you should seek with every ounce of energy you can muster.

Gratitude is the result of living an engaged life of purpose. One where you’re calling the shots and not paralyzed by the puppeteer’s strings.

It’s never too late to find your place in this puzzle called life friends. Get on with it.