FLORIDA CENTRAL #1
Almost as soon as I climbed in the van Heather Lo told me she hated running.
“I do,” she said without a smile. “I hate it.”
But she bought a Ragnar Relay team from someone else and then strong-armed everyone she knows into running 201 miles with her. (She even volunteered to pick up a stranger at the Orlando Airport, feed her, find her a place to stay and let her run on her team “Reach the Beach.”)
Lo organized the two-day event and then trained for an experience that’s hard to imagine until you actually go out and do it – especially considering what her life was like just a few years ago.
Consider that at 29, she sat in a doctor’s office contemplating how to deal with critical health issues. The junior high English Teacher listened as doctors told her she was pre-diabetic with high cholesterol.
They told her she’d need medication for the high blood pressure, and that she’d have to test her blood five times a day to deal with the pre-diabetes.
Nope, she said. Not going to happen. Pills and blood tests were not going to become part of Heather Lo’s life.
Instead of filling her prescriptions and starting blood tests five times a day, she went directly to a local gym and signed up for personal training.
It was there she met Carrie, who eventually would later be hired by Ragnar to be the Florida Central race director.
“I have athletic asthma, which only manifests itself when I run,” she said. “My lungs would burn, and then I have to walk for a while and try to catch my breath…Carrie would say, ‘Breathing is over-rated. Shut up and run.'”
It took consistent exercise, meticulous attention to her diet and eventually medication (temporarily) that allowed her to shed about 35 pounds. All the while, she entered triathlons and races.
Which is what led her to Rangar. It sounded fun, and as Lo is the organized friend, she put together the plan.
And then, just a few seconds before her first leg on Friday afternoon, Nov. 19, she twisted her ankle. I handed her some Advil and she took off. When she finished, she was hurting but happy.
Anti-inflamatories, ice packs and an ace bandage helped keep the pain from spiraling out of control, but the dull ache never really went away. She spent most of the time in the van’s very back seat, foot elevated and on ice. This was not the party she’d envisioned.
It wasn’t until the third leg, however, that I thought she was finished. Just before her last leg – which was 6.5 miles in the afternoon heat and humidity – she admitted she was losing two toenails and that pain was really causing her significant discomfort.
Still, she insisted on preparing to run her third and final leg – 6.5 miles. It was hot, humid and there was a headwind, but she started her last leg like she felt great.
I could tell as soon as we passed her, about a mile into the race, that something was different.
Her stride was different, more labored. Her posture was more hunched over, but it was her demeanor that really made me doubt her.
I stood on the opposite side of the road and cheered. I offered the thumbs up sign, which she reluctantly returned.
I got back in the van.
“She’s not doing well,” I said. Right away Simon Reynolds, who’d just finished his last leg, said he could take the rest of her leg. We stopped at 2 miles and she waved us off again.
We watched her get water at a water station at about mile 2.8, and drove ahead about a half mile. She looked terrible; she was shuffling. Instead of a thumbs up, I got a shrug. I told her about Simon’s offer, she waved me off.
We drove another mile and once I saw her come into view, I knew something had changed. I asked about a substitute again, and she said, “It’s 2.5 miles. I can do anything for 2.5 miles.”
She ran into the next exchange with another runner looking exhausted and in pain. We had to help her to the car.
“I was just bawling,” she admits of the first couple of miles. “I was ready to maybe quit; if you had shown up at the right moment on that mile, I would totally taken the offer.”
She said when she stopped at the water station, she ran into Carrie, who gave her a hug.
“I got a fist bump from her dad and some water,” she said. Limping because of the sprained ankle had caused her other leg to hurt.
“As quickly as it came on,” she said of the urge to quit, “it went away. Then I met Runner 68.”
She didn’t get his name, just his team number.
“We just ran together,” she said. “If he walked, I walked. If I walked, he walked. We said we’ll just bring it in together.”
They talked about their various aches and pains and pushed each other on.
“I won, of course,” Lo said of the complaints. “One thing we talked about was how we couldn’t believe it had only been a day and a half. At one point he said, just go, tell them 68 is coming up behind you. I said, ‘Nah, you’re going to get there when I get there. Let’s get a move on.'”
After she’d had some time to rest, I asked her if she’d consider doing it again.
“I think this was fantastic,” she said. “I still hate running; don’t get me wrong. But I love the group atmosphere, the celebration and achievement of it. I really like setting the goal and pushing through the adversity and B.S. and setting out to do what you said you would. It’s a good metaphor for everything else. I don’t think there is enough of that these days.”
FLORIDA CENTRAL #1