Monday, June 30, 2014

Crewing Mohican 100 miler

Last year I crewed for a friend that ran her first 100 miler at Burning River. It was an amazing experience and it made me fall in love with my sport all over again.

This year, another good friend decided it was time to try his hand at the 100 mile distance. He asked a few people in my running group if they would be willing to help and I signed on. My husband signed on for some pacing duties as well. It was going to be a family affair!

Crewing and pacing seem easy compared to running 100 miles. However as we got closer to the race I started to get stressed about time off work, kenneling dogs, and the added stress of camping! I grew up camping, but my husband has never been willing to camp. It took a friend running 100 miles to him to finally agree to it. But, to be honest, we both had our doubts about the sensibility of this plan. Whatever concerns I had were thrown aside when I realized that a good friend is going to do something that's really difficult. If me being there was going to help him.... OF COURSE I WAS GOING TO DO IT! So, Friday morning we were off!

Our team of five arrived at the campsite in the early afternoon... in the rain. I was nervous about this being my husband and I's first camping experience, and oh joy, now it's raining! We waited for the rain to lighten up a bit then set up our tents as quickly as possible. Soon after the tents were up, the rain stopped. That gave us a nice break for our runner to give us a tour of his gear, nutrition plan, and address any other questions we might have about "the packet".

What is "the packet" you say? Our runner was so organized that during our team meeting the Wednesday before race day we were provided with a packet that included maps, time estimates, and detailed instructions for things he would need or might want each time we saw him. We went over the packet on Wednesday, with the main lesson being CHRIS (our runner) WANTS ICE! He was very worried about heat and humidity during the race (and who could blame him, it's late June in Ohio).

After weathering one more storm which included lightening and thunder, 3 of us headed to the prerace meeting. I wanted to go because aside from our runner I was the only person in the team of five that had attended a 100 mile race. That and the fact that I'm a complete control freak and was terrified to screw up Chris' race. The meeting was pretty uneventful and after a bit more chatting at the campground we headed to bed for some fitful sleep.
Race day came early...but Chris, myself, and one other crew member were wide awake and ready to get to the starting line. We let the pacers sleep in. We parked the car and headed over to the park to start the race. Only to find out that we were in the wrong place.... A bit more walking and we eventually found our way to the ACTUAL starting line. Is getting lost before the race starts a bad omen? We hoped not. After a typical uneventful GO by the race director, the runners were OFF.
Arielle and I set out right away to find the first aid station. We knew we had a few hours before we would see Chris again, but we wanted to figure out where we needed to be, then we would try to catch a quick nap. We drove to the next aid station at around 3 miles per hour trying to figure out what road to turn on. Thank god there was no traffic at 5:10 in the morning.
Eventually we did locate the Pleasant Hill Dam crew access point it was my favorite crew access due to the close quarters and beautiful location.
The close quarters  allowed for chatting between crews that were all nervously waiting to see their runners pop out of the woods. This is where we met our crew friends that we would see off and on all day. The lead pack was coming through expecting an aid station, but this was only a crew access point. Someone said it was another mile to the aid station and we all agreed blindly. We told every runner that came through that the aid station was just a mile away. I still have no idea if that was true...
This crew access point was also where we started to pay attention to the runners as they went by. I found out at the last 100 miler I crewed for that it's good to find out who is running near your runner so that you know your runner is coming. What's the easiest way to keep track of the runners? Give them names!

-Visor/shampoo model - this guy wore a visor all day and night. About halfway through the day we realized he had been running for 8-9 hours and his hair didn't look gross at all. So his name switched halfway through the day from Visor to Shampoo Model
-Fake Chris one and Fake Chris two - Chris started the race with a red shirt on and there were two guys that were 30-40 ahead of him that had on red shirts too. We thought it was him EVERY TIME we saw them coming. I even thought it was him after he changed into a blue shirt, but hey a gal gets tired and her brain stops working so well.
-Brunette double braids (pretty self explanatory)
-Blonde double braids (yep, it's not rocket science)
-Bayshore guy (This guy wore not one but TWO Bayshore Marathon shirts, it was helpful to us that he kept the theme going even when he changed shirts)
-Super dad with awesome kids - This dad was a great runner and his wife was a SAINT. Because, she wasn't just crewing for him, she was toting two of the cutest kids to the aid stations as well. And the kids were FANTASTIC! At one aid station they were helping to crew for dad and told him that they brought him snacks, asked him how he was doing, and then asked him if there had been "any barfing going on?" This family was pretty cool to watch. I wasn't just in awe of the 100 mile runner, I was amazed that it was a family affair.
-Movie star guy - This guy had someone filming him and interviewing him when we saw him at the starting line. And he was super sweet and appreciative every time we saw him. He seemed like he was having the time of his life.
-Long sleeve shirt - He wore a long sleeve shirt the whole day. Even his girlfriend that was crewing for him couldn't believe hadn't changed at any point. But he was near our runner's pace all day so it was nice of him to not change clothes for our sake.
-Guy that looks like he shouldn't be doing as well as he is - Just looking at this guy, you would think he was struggling. But this guy was SOLID all day. This is one of the things I love about ultra running. You never know who's going to be running near you, or kicking your butt. This guy had a great attitude too. And he ran a strong race.
-The most delightful woman ever - This woman came into every aid station with a smile on her face and just so dang grateful we were all there. At one crew station she came through and it was like she was hosting a party! She said hi to everyone and headed to get some water. It was the coolest thing ever. EVERYONE at the crew station offered her water or whatever she needed!

Did I mention that we had NO cell phone service? I grew up with no cell phone, so this shouldn't be a "thing" I get stressed about. But I had a whole slew of people at home that I had told I would send race updates to.... oops. Occasionally we would get one bar and frantically try to send something out. But for me it would typically just end with me receiving a 26 hour old text from someone. At one point I said, "Dang, if Chris thinks running 100 miles is hard, he should try sending a freaking tweet out here".

Chris had us making him this gel concoction all day and night. Every time we would see him we would take out his empty bottles and we would give him full bottles. What was in the bottles? Half a scoop of EFS powder (I still have no idea what that is), put in a splash of water to mix, then squeeze in two huma gels (always laugh if they make fart noises), then top off with water and shake some more. You know what it looks like when you do this out of the trunk of a car?
Mobile. Meth. Lab.

Thank god we didn't have to explain this to any friendly police officers. Sometimes we would take a bottle and it would be half full and we had been given STRICT instructions not to mix flavors (although we really felt confident that we could come up with some winning combos). Well they all LOOK the same... so we would end up smelling and tasting if they were fine wine to try to figure out what flavor to add. They were the farthest thing from fine wine, but it certainly added to the mobile meth lab ambiance that we had created.

One of the other aid stations we spent some time at was the Fire tower. To get there you had to park at a closed(?) juvenile detention center and walk up a winding road with no shoulder to speak of. YEAH! I wish I had a picture of this place because it was a little unnerving, but just picture the prison from the TV show Walking Dead and you get the idea. Oh, and then picture us mixing those damn bottles in the parking lot. Nothing creepy going on here, Officer, no sir. This aid station was ESPECIALLY creepy at 3 in the morning with no light to speak of and just Arielle and I hoping we wouldn't get murdered. Ahhhh... precious memories.

Sleep is not really a luxury we could afford (although I completely lied to our runner and told him Arielle and I had been resting and we were GREAT when he asked) We did send our final pacer Miranda to bed for a bit of a nap before she picked Chris up for his last fourteen miles. In FACT I might have sounded like the mother of a toddler as I told her, "you HAVE to go to bed now". At least I didn't call her young lady. I feel like that would have been crossing the line. Arielle and I did decide that we had one shot for an hour or hour and a half nap right as the sun was setting, so we went to a parking lot and closed our eyes for some much needed "rest". Instead I laid there for a little over an hour trying not to move (if Arielle was actually sleeping I didn't want to wake her up) and thinking of all the things I couldn't forget the next time we saw our runner. The sun had finally set and Arielle shot up and asked, "WHAT ARE ALL THOSE LIGHTS?" It was lightening bugs or it could have been a tiny laser show. I guess we were both a little on edge.

After our last crew stop with Chris, Arielle, my husband and I headed back to the tents for a quick nap while Chris finished this thing up. I collapsed in the tent and actually fell asleep for about half an hour only to wake up in SHEER TERROR! I was convinced that we had missed his finish or that I should be doing something else. After looking at my watch a thousand times and doing the math over and over, I finally fell back asleep for another hour. After that, it was useless. We got some quick showers and headed to the finish line.

Finish lines of ultra marathons are fairly underwhelming. After 20+ hours runners can get pretty spread out, so the finish lines are typically little groups of people, anxiously waiting or congratulating "their" runner. No blaring sound system, no space blankets, just some tired folks hanging out.

We fit right in.

The finish line for this race was especially cool because we got to see all our "friends" that we had been watching all day. And at that point, we were so tired and mildly delirious, we were congratulating people and hugging strangers. And that's pretty freaking awesome. I was congratulating one runner as he was sitting on a picnic table with his feet up. Someone was taking a picture of the bottoms of his feet with a phone because I can only assume that the runner couldn't bend his legs enough to see them himself. Three quarters of his foot was ONE BLISTER... ON BOTH FEET! Seriously, someone needs to film a PSA on why NOT to run hundred mile races, and use footage of that guy's feet. YIKES!

Our runner crossed the finish line looking great and I definitely got teary when I hugged him. We got him some food, made a stranger stand in the rain to take a picture of us and said goodbye to our crew and runner friends we had met through the weekend. It almost felt like leaving summer camp (I never went to summer camp, but I can imagine that's what it's like).

It's an amazing and exhausting experience to be a part of these races. They are filled with delightful people AND the saints that lug their crap around. It's hard to imagine that we do this for "fun", but when you spend the weekend around all the fools, it kind of makes sense.

Read Chris' race report here!


  1. Man, if I ever run a 100 mile race (and I won't...famous last runner words) I want YOU to be my crew boss.

    1. 100 milers are ridiculous. :) you should stick to sensible things like 50 milers!