In the Name of the Hairy-Trousered King

Dearest Rachel –

Sometimes I find myself shaking my head in disbelief at the things I’ve gotten myself into since your departure. For just one example, I would have never considered even making a go at the marathon were you still with us… and here I am, still hanging out with the long-distance running crowd regardless.

Of course, I’m not running; I’ve learned my limits, through actual experience (which is at least a more honorable thing than simply dismissing the possibility out of hand). However, I haven’t let myself off the hook, because those who are running need a support team behind them. And as the old joke goes, if you can’t be an athlete, be an athletic supporter.

So today, I’m going to be driving one of the vans taking the two-person (or occasionally more) running teams to and from their relay hand-off points, in this Ragnar-style race from the Des Plaines church campus to Camp Awana, a distance of some 135 miles over the next 25-30 hours.

Now, why is this called Ragnar style? Honestly, I have no idea. At least the RAGBRAI is an understandable – if slightly awkward – acronym for the Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Race Across Iowa, for instance. But the Ragnar™ relays – and yes, it’s trademarked, so we have to refer to our race as a Ragnar-style relay – is just named after the legendary Viking ruler Ragnar Lodbrok (which apparently translates to “Raven Hairy-Breeches,” adding a whole other layer of piquancy to this tale), who is said to have ruled much of Scandinavia during the middle of the ninth century or so. From what I can tell, certain individuals alleged to be his sons are confirmed to be historical figures, but Ragnar’s own story, while documented, is of considerably lesser authenticity. Such are legends, especially when written at such a temporal remove. Why his name should be associated with a long-distance relay race is beyond me; at least the marathon has the storied Pheidippides as part of its lore. Surely, there exists some legendary relay of news over such a great distance that could be commemorated by taking its name for such an event.

But no, all the sagas can agree on is that he was a militantly pagan king who, while decidedly successful in war and raiding by and large, only had to lose once to get thrown to his death into a pit of snakes. Not much tie-in to long distance running there, unless you count the serpentine path that would need to be taken to avoid traffic throughout the bulk of the relay north.

All of which still begs the question, why on earth am I doing this? It’s not that I owe this group any allegiance; even from the first time I went running with them, I realized that a.) I was in over my head, and b.) even if I thought I could do this – which I didn’t – these folks have made running their thing, which I could never see myself doing, no matter how good I was at it. I’m still blown away at how Jim, the guy who organized the marathon training session, and has put together the logistics for this upcoming relay, talked over and over at the planning meeting for this about how much “fun” it was going to be. And all I could do was to look at him incredulously:

I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means GIFs - Get the best GIF on  GIPHY

Look, I can accept the fact that this is a challenge to be overcome, and some people take it and embrace it in that context. I certainly do, and I’ll touch on that in a bit. I understand the sense of accomplishment that comes with being a part of something bigger than yourself, and seeing it all come together as a member of a team. But I’m never going to understand the concept of doing for the sheer ‘fun’ of it, because I just cannot see this as fun. That’s all there is to it.

I’m sure that some of the group think my participation has something to do with Erin. I’ve certainly made no secret of the fact that it was my challenging her to run that got me into this, since I assumed she wouldn’t take me up on it, due to her upside-down schedule (which gets that much worse at this time of the year, as UPS gets overwhelmed by the holiday shipping rush – and probably even more so this year, as people have been encouraged to order their Christmas presents as early as possible, since the supply chains have been thoroughly broken thanks to all manner of reasons our current administration insists on blaming upon the previous one). Jim did make a point of letting me know that Erin might be joining the relay in media res at some point, and to be prepared for her addition; subsequently, she texted me directly to let me know she’d decided otherwise – and called me for clarification when I responded that it was perfectly within her rights to decide not to run. I think she was afraid I’d be disappointed.

But I want to prove to myself that there’s more to this than Erin. The team needs people on the sidelines supporting them, and if I can fill that need, and make what they’re doing possible, then for me to refuse what I can provide goes against Scripture.

Whenever you are able,
    ·do [L do not withhold] good to people who ·need help [or deserve it].
If you have what your neighbor asks for,
    don’t say, “Come back later.
    I will give it to you tomorrow.”

Proverbs 3:27,28, Expanded Bible

And so here I am, sitting in the front lobby at church (thank you, Tobin!) to stay out of the cold – and to think, this group will be running in this 40° weather! – waiting for the rest of the team to get here so we can get started. The emails implied that we need to get here between nine and ten, so that guarantees that most people will lean towards arriving at ten.

Jim is the first to arrive, and he points out that they’ve rented vans; I won’t have to drive my own, even though I think it could have fit the two teams of two I’ve been assigned to carry. Oh, well.

I’ll admit to having had worse accommodations, but not for quite some time
I’ve been assigned this van because it’s lacking most of its seats; it would only be able to carry two teams. At least there’s room to sleep in here, for some people.

On the subject of sleeping, it’s occurred to me that I’ve forgotten things I should have brought, like blankets and gloves. Still, I’m not suffering anywhere near as much as these runners; a few privations are nothing in comparison.

I’ll try to keep you filled in as to how this goes, but I can’t promise anything. It’s one thing to dictate to Siri like this when I’m all alone; it’s another thing entirely to talk to you by way of her in front of other people.

As always, wish us ALL luck; we’re going to need it.

Published by randy@letters-to-rachel.memorial

I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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