It was a test of endurance.
Sitting in her home in Battersea one-week after completing a 200-mile relay race from Sarotoga Springs to Lake Placid, Melonee Dowdall smiles at her accomplishment.
"The hardest part was the heat and elevation," said the 46-year-old brunette about the Ragnar Relay Race in New York State last month that left her sore, hungry and tired. "I'm not good in the heat. It really affects me."
A member of a 12-person team of Canadians called the Crazy Canuckleheads, Dowdall trained for 14 weeks down the quiet backroads of South Frontenac Township.
Runners were expected to run three times (legs) over the duration of the race which lasted two full days and nights. Many ran on little to no sleep over steep terrain and in unseasonably warm temperatures; often wearing fluorescent vests and headlamps to mark their way.
"It was definitely a life changing experience," notes Team Captain Lisa Johnson. "The elevation was the biggest challenge."
Wrapped in warm pajamas on a cool fall evening more than a week after crossing the finish line, Dowdall describes her first leg with her trademark humour. She sums it up as 40 degree heat and mostly uphill.
"I considered taking a cab for part of it, but I didn't," she says with a smile.
The last part was up a 1.6 km hill, affectionately nicknamed What the Hill.
"It was brutal," she says in hindsight. "I didn't enjoy the experience. I think I didn't really appreciate the accomplishment (finishing the race) and I still don't."
Dowdall describes the race as one of the most difficult experiences of her life.
"It's the lack of sleep," she says with an incredulous laugh. "One night I laid down alone and I woke-up a short while later with two strange men sleeping beside me."
Taking time to reflect on what she did with a group of fellow Canadians, Dowdall admits, "It was exceptional. Everyone was supporting each other. They shared food, helpful tips and encouragement. They just wanted everyone to succeed."
"The entire team was amazing. We all gave it 100 per cent," says Johnson proudly about the Canadian team that placed 188 out of 218.
Looking past the mental and physical challenges, Dowdall found inspiration all around her.
"There were some hills I would look at and say 'How am I going to do this'?" says Dowdall.
She adds that she runs “because I can, because I'm healthy and strong. Because I was with my mom in the hospital before her radiation treatment on her brain, when she could still walk. I was with her the last time she walked. When she came back, she never took another step and never stood up again. I vowed then and there, I would live as healthfully as I could as long as I could so I decided to start running in her honour. I do it because I can, even though I had always believed I was not a runner and still don't consider myself a real one.”
Runner or not, the mother of two teenage boys found a sense of peace running through the Adirondacks after dark.
"It was peaceful and almost spiritual to run at night," she confirms.
"I went there a stranger and left with some new friends. The people I ran with were amazing. I could never have done this by myself. Overall, it was a great time and I don't regret it at all."