Our sixteen-woman flock arrived in Logan, Utah prepared, mentally and physically, to win the Wasatch Back Ragnar Relay: 184-miles and over 10,000 feet of elevation gain across the gnarly and beautiful Wasatch mountain range. We also came prepared to do donuts in fancy resort parking lots, run hard fast on zero hours of sleep, and outrun mountain lions in the middle of the night. With her wings fully extended, our first runner, Emily (mom of four), stepped onto the Utah University’s track—the only woman among a dozen or so teenage boys—prepared to fly. And she did. At the first exchange, she’d successfully reminded half a dozen high schoolers that 40-year-old women can burn some asphalt (perhaps winning the Salt Lake City half marathon in 1:22 this year was a good warmup?).
We were the last team to start and we were going for gold, but the first few hours were lonely. With only a dozen or so all-male or coed relay teams to contend with, we were on the hunt for our all-female competition, but they were nowhere in sight. Regardless, we stuck to our promised paces as the “You Got Chicked” tally of all the dudes we passed continued to rise and the high-elevation mountain temps started to dip. Speaking of paces, when Tee, runner eight, ran a 5:30 first mile on her first leg, we had a feeling BirdMachineUT was going to represent Oiselle well. But first, we’d need to make it through a sub-freezing night in the mountains.
Hollie, with a purple feather tucked behind her ear, rewarded van one’s completion of their first legs with enough donuts to make us all toss our cookies. But we held it together, rolled our sleeping bags out on the lawn at Snow Basin Resort, and got the French press coffee going (we’re fancy like that).
The sun had set and it was very dark as we waited for Badass Betsy Bies, runner twelve, to hand things back over to van one. Betsy emerged looking too fresh to have just climbed over 1,700 feet up a canyon, but we knew, right away, that she had a story to tell. “There was a mountain lion,” Betsy said. “I had to stop a couple of minutes to figure out what to do, but then a teenage boy just ran right past it, so I was good to go.” Summit a mountain in the dark and survive a mountain lion encounter? Check. Now things were getting interesting.
Throughout the night, we continued to run hard and fast, hardly veering from our projected pace calculations. We washed Luna bars down with coffee and Pepto Bismol. Some of us tried to sleep next to flirtatious giggly high school kids in the school hallway; others, like Devra (runner ten), tried to sleep on the floor of the van (to each her own).
Anne and Janae, our fearless crew team, gave up precious sleep to stand at every exchange, made sure no runners were ever left behind, constantly reminded us to hydrate and eat, and performed myriad other tasks that easily made them the unsung heroes of this whole Ragnar ordeal. And they didn’t blink an eye at the unfortunate smells (both silent and quite noisy) coming from the back of the van; they always found a way to blame it on the skunks.
At 6AM on Saturday, the sun finally climbed higher than the snow-capped Wasatch peaks and we swapped our down sleeping bag onesies for Oiselle Go tanks, Roga shorts, and Roll Mama socks. We were ready to throw down on our last legs. What started out as a lonely quest for the podium was crowded by dawn. Van one’s “You Got Chicked” tally went from a dozen to a hundred by late morning. We finally had people to chase. Things were getting fun.
By noon, Badass Betsy Bies was tearing down the mountain toward the finish line at High Star Ranch. A quarter mile from the finish line, we saw Betsy’s pop of snap orange emerge in the hills. We crossed in 22 hours and 24 minutes having accomplished our Oiselle Podium Project goal of first all-woman team and top ten overall, beating the second-place female team by more than five hours.
Quotes from the team:
“Little things that made me laugh: the girls with the snake, Emily lining up with the cross-country boys teams, everyone reporting their kills in the later legs, Hollie pulling donuts just for the hell of it, Nan foam rolling on the side of the road, and Nicole saying it was a pretty place to die.” ...“Favorite Oiselle gear: those Lux gloves. Totally kept my hands warm and were workable with the phone screen. I ended up losing the left one so let me know if you come across it.” - Anne, Crew (van one)
“It was awesome to be part of a team with so many speedy girls! It made me want to work harder and run fast to be part of the crew.” - Nicole, Runner (van one)
“My favorite quote was from the announcer at the first exchange between vans one and two: ‘I'm calling it right now, Team 209 is gonna win it. When a team shows up in head to toe all black team jumpsuits, you know they are going for one place...first.’”...“What makes a 2am leg with a 700-foot climb even more fun? When you have lean over during the middle of it because you're about to throw up...but still gotta keep on going. Giving new meaning to puke and rally.” - Cassidy, Runner (van two)
“Being the only runner coming from sea level in Florida, I was really worried about running fast at altitude. Running 13 total miles at 7,000 feet on hardly any sleep required me to dig really deep, but what got me through it was the grit and tenderness of the women on this team: we struck a beautiful balance between competitive and supportive. Women have a way of boosting each other in hard times.” - Lauren, Runner (van one)
“First things that come to mind that were totally awesome: Captain Karie and driver Hollie taking one for the team by making the rest of us coffee in the (literally) freezing cold at 4am. Emily’s participation in the high school boys cross country race, amazing wildflowers of UT, and making new friends.” - Megan, Runner (van one)
“When I was running at 1am and tried to pass a guy in Hawaiian shorts-and he just looks over and says, ‘good job dude’ since there is no way a girl could actually be passing him, right? Also, when Van 2 left Tee and I at the finish. Tee didn’t think it was super funny, but we made it home just fine.” May, Runner (van two)
“Funny moment: when a high school boy came up to our van and pointed to the you got chicked count which at that point was only a handful, and said, ‘that one is me.’”...“Special moments: running my last 5 mile leg at dawn, my hands freezing because I couldn’t find my gloves. Picking off targets one by one to keep my mind off the hurt. The smell of mountain farmland, the air cold, my breath visible, the steeple-chase like puddle that I didn’t slow down for, and the cool collected Nan ready and waiting to finish out her 9 mile up hill battle. Last, but not least, crossing the finish line with all these beautiful ladies that agreed to join me on this podium quest.” - Karie, Team Captain (van one)
“Favorite moments: Tee prancing like a unicorn, Meryl’s resourceful finding of people to take pictures, rock climbing with Betsy at check in, Janae’s great pictures, Cassidy hanging tough on her last run, and Van 2 getting me water three times on my last leg – they made my run possible. I would have died without my awesome team.” - Devra, Runner (van two)
“The teenage boys walking by the van laughing like Beavis and Butthead at ‘You got Chicked’.” - Hollie, Driver (van one)
There’s a lot that’s remarkable about what the 16 of us did over the course of those 22.5 hours. Despite our busy lives, twenty children between us, we showed up prepared and ready to commit ourselves to a shared goal. United by one woman, Captain Karie Underwood (yes, the original Karie Underwood), we came together from very different philosophies, lifestyles, and running goals to work hard for something we all wanted: to test ourselves. We didn’t bitch. We didn’t moan. We didn’t complain. We were a flock of no-drama roll mamas with what we like to call the “muscle memory”—hard earned running tenacity that comes from decades of running experience—that led us to victory.
For most, the Wasatch Back Ragnar Relay was about making it to the finish. For BirdMachineUT, it was about winning, first and foremost, but it was also about winning gracefully: resisting the temptation to curl up in a sleeping bag and, instead, cheer your runner in at 3 in the morning; telling a group of girls holding a gigantic snake along the route to flex because they are strong, tough girls who can do anything; boiling water in a parking lot at 4AM to make fancy French press coffee.
The best part about Oiselle’s Podium Project was the uniting of women used to competing against themselves and each other. For 22.5 hours, we flew in a fierce flock of fast women into first place; a V formation none of us will ever forget.
*The list of animals seen: dogs, rabbits, snakes, mountain lions, llamas (or alpacas... who can tell?), skunks, goats, horses, miniature horses, sheep, cows...
- Lauren Udwari, Runner (van one)