Last weekend I had my first experience crewing a friend in a 100 mile race. The thought of taking on a supporting role in an endeavor like this has always been daunting to me because of the responsibility involved. It would mean being exactly in the right place well ahead of time, remembering which supplies and aid to have on hand, assisting with decision making, being supportive while staying focused and task oriented, and being ready for pretty much anything.
My run through the Smokies a couple weeks ago would not have been successful without Adrienne, Jen, and Warren being on time, carrying out our game plan, and thinking quickly on their feet when obstacles like a downed tree and road construction got in their way. On my Appalachian Trail thru-hike last summer, I didn’t reach my goal of breaking the overall or women’s record, but it certainly wasn’t due to being hindered by my crew. I still wanted to reach Katahdin and do my best, a dream I fulfilled in completing the trail in 51.5 days. Warren is very proud that he met me 427 times over the course of 2,193 miles without ever once being late.
While the task seemed daunting, it was a no-brainer to offer support to Eric. He was doing a tough race far from home and I felt like I could be useful. It’s the kind of thing I’d like to keep doing for others in the future, so in a way it was like getting some real-life job experience to put on my crewing résumé. I also hoped to learn and gain something from observing other runners and crews in the race, since I’m running my first 100 mile race this Saturday, the Kettle Moraine 100 in Wisconsin.
The race was the Bryce Canyon 100, a scenic and rugged mountain course running along the western edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau just outside of Bryce Canyon National Park. It’s at high elevation, with most miles on between 8,000 to 9,000 ft. Conditions were dry, dusty, and exposed; hot during the day and freezing cold at night.
I picked up Eric dark and early and drove the three miles of bumpy dirt road to the start line. As we approached the parking area, I had to gun it across a particularly powdery, almost sandy, stretch of dirt as to not let BB, my Honda Fit, get stuck! I took Eric’s photo by the start line, wished him well, and watched as the runners set off, a couple hundred headlamps bobbling into the pre-dawn darkness.
After sending a flurry of social media updates and texting Eric’s wife, Nora, that the race had begun, I hustled back to BB to beat the other crews out of the parking lot and start making my way to the first aid station where I’d be able to see him at mile 13.1. On the way I found a beautiful, sparkling rest area with bathrooms (score!) and was treated to a magnificent sunrise.
I turned off onto a winding dirt road which I’d follow to reach the next aid station. Many cars were parked there already, with some crews that looked like they had set up camp the night before, and volunteers scurrying around laying out drop bags and preparing hot breakfast for the runners. I had at least two hours until Eric would arrive so I grabbed his drop bag (which was oddly piled in with the 50 mile runners’ bags and not the 100 milers’), went back to BB, pulled out my laptop, and went on a caffeine-induced writing spree.
I heard a clamor of excitement as the first runners rolled in. Even though I knew there would be a bit of time until Eric arrived, it seemed too risky to continue sitting in my car, so I threw the trunk open, grabbed my fold-up tripod chair and cooler on wheels that I’d bought specifically for the weekend, and made my way to the designated crew area by the course. About an hour went by of eagerly watching the dispersed runners make their way in before I finally spotted Eric. I leapt into action, waving my arms so he’d see me. He was all smiles running in. I asked what he needed, offered to take his water bottles to fill up, and directed him to where I had his stuff all laid out. He told me that he was feeling surprisingly good, that the altitude didn’t seem to be bothering him, and that the trail was extremely runnable with its soft surface and lack of rocks and roots that he was used to in Pennsylvania. I snapped some paparazzi photos as he took off, packed up the gear, and hustled back to the car.
The next aid station I’d see Eric was at mile 19. To get there was to follow more winding dirt roads. This time, I followed a string of vehicles going up a very long, gradual hill. We shared the road with the runners themselves, who were also making their way up the very long hill. Despite traffic moving at a crawl, the cars inevitably kicked up clouds of dust, immersing the poor runners who all had their bandanas or buffs up around their face. At that point the sun was also beating down from high in the sky. It looked miserable and I was impressed by how collected the runners looked, just chugging along and getting it done.
I parallel parked in a perfect little spot right on the course about 1/8 mile from the aid station. I opened up BB‘s hatchback and set out a nice little mini-aid station for Eric with an array of snacks on the cooler, a sleeping pad on the ground with some various clothing and first aid items, and set out the folding chair in case he needed to sit to clean his feet or change his shoes. While I hadn’t passed him on the road earlier, I was beginning to recognize some of the runners that came in ahead of him at the previous aid station and knew he would be there soon.
Suddenly, with a pang of dread, I realized I had forgotten a crucial thing- Eric’s drop bag, waiting ahead at the aid station! I paused for a second, calculating whether I should stay at my mini-aid station so he would see it and be able to grab anything he needed, or run up to the actual aid station to grab his bag, but risk him missing out on a fresh pair of shoes or a stick of anti-chafe balm at the car if he needed it. CRAP. I didn’t want him to miss anything!
I took off running up the hill to the aid station and immediately started sucking wind and seeing stars. Oh right, we’re at 8,000ft of elevation. I kept huffing and puffing up the hill until finally the aid station came into view, with several tarps laid out on the ground piled with various runners’ drop bags. They were labeled with the names and bib numbers, but they weren’t in any sort of order and not all the labels were even facing up. Still trying to catch my breath, I scanned the bags, hoping his might jump out at me. I had zero idea what his bag looked like or what I was even looking for. I started to frantically turn over bags with the labels facing down, but still I couldn’t find it. It wasn’t there. I hopped over to the pile of 50 mile runners’ bags to see if it had gotten into that pile by accident. There were so many bags, and all different colors, shapes, and sizes. Eric 308 Eric 308 Eric 308.
I felt so panicked and frustrated I could have cried. This was the last time I’d see Eric until mile 57 (so 38 miles without crew support!) and it was crucial that he had what he needed. In the meantime, I kept looking over toward where the runners were coming in, worried that he’d not only miss my mini-aid station by the car, but that I’d miss him all together. After going back and forth between the 100 mile and 50 mile drop bag piles countless times, finally- FINALLY a bright yellow label caught my eye in the 50 mile pile. Eric 308. I let out a joyful whoop, grabbed the bag, and dashed back down the hill.
I didn’t see quite as many stars on my run back downhill, though my lungs felt close to bursting in my oxygen-deprived state. My mini-aid station was now covered in a light sprinkling of dust as many cars had gone past since the time I’d laid it out. I set out the contents of Eric’s bag and gave myself a mental pat on the back for having everything ready, though just barely in the nick of time.
Minutes later, I spotted Eric hiking up the hill and I waved him over. He gave me a weary smile, took a look at the set up, and said, “Wow, this is nice!” I started to refill his water bottles and he started grabbing the items he’d need for the section ahead, along with applying another layer of sunscreen as the sun was out in full force. Eric told me he was starting to feel the altitude a little more, and that he was feeling more fatigued. There was a bit of doubt in his voice. I pointed out to him that he had been going uphill for a very long time, so it was okay to feel that way, plus he was still right on target with his predicted time. That seemed to lift his spirits a bit. Eric took a few moments to carefully review that he had gotten everything he needed. While there can be a temptation to rush through aid stations, he knew he’d be on his own for a while and wanted to be really sure he didn’t rush off without forgetting anything. I thought that was wise. I asked him to please grab some real food at the aid station up ahead. As he took off up the road I got a few more photos, sent off another social media blast as well as a text update for Nora, and breathed a sigh of relief.
I then had around eight hours of downtime ahead of me. I had enough time to swing by my hotel and make the 9:30am breakfast cutoff, which was awesome. I changed into my running clothes for when I’d be pacing Eric later that evening. After that I went to a local coffee shop with outdoor seating and worked from my laptop for a few hours. Eric wasn’t expecting to roll into the aid station at mile 57 until 8:00pm or so, but what if he came in ahead of schedule? Around 3:00pm I couldn’t stop the “What ifs” from circulating in my head. What if my car broke down? What if he’s early? What if I get lost? There was no way I could stay at that coffee shop when I wasn’t where I needed to be, despite having potentially five hours of wiggle room. Off to the aid station I went.
I picked up a Subway wrap to-go, remembering that I had to make sure I was feeding myself ahead of running twenty miles in the night with Eric. I made my way down a very long stretch of wide open dirt road. This road was well groomed, allowing for slightly faster driving (so like, 25 mph instead of 15 mph), but of course that caused even more dust to swirl up everywhere. The race course did not share this road, fortunately for the runners. It was easy to tell when a vehicle was approaching from the opposite direction because of the accompanying cloud of dirt dispersing into the air. Every time a car passed I had to slow down nearly to a stop because of the few seconds of absolute zero visibility shortly after. Despite having my AC set to circulating within the interior of my car and a bandana pulled up over my nose and mouth, pretty soon my eyes were watering and my throat became bone dry and I couldn’t stop coughing. This stretch of road went on for about an hour.
I finally reached the aid station, which was situated at a forest road intersection. There was no parking lot, only parallel parking along a narrow strip of road. After driving down the road, flipping around in a probably-twenty-point turn, and parallel parking into a wee space between a van and an SUV, I was where I needed to be. Approximately four hours early.
I was glad I had purchased a cooler on wheels and a lightweight chair with a shoulder sling, because I had a little ways to walk to get to the grassy area where crews could set up. I once again laid out my mini-aid station and collected Eric’s bag to include among the goods. A crew member setup near me asked if she could take a photo of my set up because of how neat and organized it was! There was zero cell phone reception, so I was also very glad that I brought a book. The truth about my mini-aid station was that Eric didn’t really need it, though it was stocked with pretty much anything he could want: snacks, candy, fruit, first aid, soda, water, baby wipes, and more. Eric packed his drop bags with everything he knew he’d need, and so far he hadn’t even used the chair. All the same, I was so glad I brought it all just in case, and also because I realized that I needed an aid station too! While everything I’d brought was with Eric in mind, I was so glad I had a place to sit for the hours of waiting, with plenty of snacks and drinks so I had the energy I’d need to be my best self for supporting and eventually pacing. The actual aid station amenities, of course, were reserved for the runners, so crew members definitely had to be prepared to take care of themselves.
At this point in the race, the runners were extremely spread out, anywhere from maybe five minutes to twenty minutes apart. Every time a runner was spotted emerging from the woods, the crews and aid station members would cheer, ring cowbells, and applaud them in. I found a good vantage point and read my book for a couple hours, while occasionally pausing to observe the incoming runners meet their crews. Everyone that came in looked pretty ragged and beat. It was clear the miles and the course were taking their toll. I kept hearing about how hot it was under the sun and how tough one of the bigger climbs was, reaching a height of around 9,000ft.
Whereas at the earlier aid stations the runners stopped for just a minute or two, or five at the most, now the runners were stopping for up to twenty, thirty, or forty minutes. Most of them sat down, some even laid down on mats their crew had brought. I watched as the crews hovered around their runners, asking them questions, offering words of comfort or wisdom, applying anti-chafe balm to their backs and arms, stretching out their sweaty, dirty legs, changing out their shoes… whether these were friends, significant others, co-workers, or teammates, wow–that is love. The race was getting hard, and it was clearly past the point of being “fun” for the runners. In fact, I learned later that over half of the participants dropped out of the race by that point. I witnessed one runner that I remembered from the start line, who I had picked as a potential front runner come walking in, his face downcast, surrounded by his friends who had likely run in to meet him. He wouldn’t go on. I saw another runner come in offer a smile but then burst into tears upon seeing his wife. I later saw them walking together to their car. Of course I was starting to worry and wonder about how Eric was doing out there.
My watch started reading closer to 8:00pm, then 8:15, then 8:30, and I started to get worried. Eric still hadn’t appeared and it would be dark soon. I was pretty sure we hadn’t packed him a headlamp, as his time estimates were on the conservative side. It was also getting cold. Earlier I was lounging around in shorts and a t-shirt, but as the cool air seeped into the valley I had pulled on a long sleeve, then a fleece, and still my teeth were chattering. Just as I was preparing to run in to go and find him, I spotted Eric by his yellow t-shirt, running cheerfully down the hill with a couple other runners. I waved my arms so he’d see me, and before making his way over to where I’d laid out his things, he and one of the other runners gave each other a big hug.
I led Eric over to his gear so he could gather what he needed for the next section, while I grabbed the empty water bottles from his vest and set to refilling them. We ran through a mental checklist together to make sure he had warm layers, lights, and food for the next twenty mile section, which I’d be accompanying him for. The runner that he had given a hug to earlier, a young woman, approached us and told me tearfully, “This guy is an angel. You treat him well!” Eric told me later she was attempting her first 100 mile race, but got dangerously cold and nearly stopped at the previous aid station where she wouldn’t have had to wait for a ride for hours with no way to warm up. He gave her his long sleeve and convinced her to keep running until she got to the big aid station where her family would be able to take care of her. She did end up dropping out, but she still ran farther than she’d ever gone that day (57 miles).
It was mostly dark when Eric and I set off down the gravel road for the next section. A minute or two in, Eric exclaimed, “Shoot, I forgot hot food!” I told him to keep going and that I was all over it. I turned around and ran as quickly as I could back to the aid station, where the volunteers were offering grilled cheese and roasted potatoes. I took both and ran like hell back up to Eric. He chose grilled cheese. Finally it felt like we were settled and moving onward.
We turned off the road and onto a single track trail, and Eric was excited to finally be able to tell me all about his race so far. As I gathered from the previous runners that had come into the aid station, the last 38 mile section sounded totally brutal. It had a nasty climb, nasty terrain, and nasty sun! He told me that for the first time ever in a race he seriously questioned whether or not he could finish. He said he had his argument and excuse all prepared in his head to share with me why he’d decided to drop out. That all changed when he turned his focus toward helping out the nearly-hypothermic young woman. After lending her his long sleeve shirt, he stayed with her for the remainder of the section, going at an easier pace, which he thought ultimately helped him to conserve and renew his energy for the later miles. It also helped that he had taken his mental focus away from his own discomfort and put it toward helping this woman get to her family. In the end it was all very mutually beneficial for both of them.
Overall Eric seemed pretty light and peppy. For being so far into the race, I was surprised by how okay he seemed. Since I was finally moving after hanging out at the aid station for four hours, I got warm enough to take off my fleece. I told him to go on ahead and I’d catch up. I set down the hot potatoes wrapped in tinfoil, tied the fleece top around my waist, and trotted back up the trail to find Eric. As soon as I reached him I realized with dread what I’d left behind and exclaimed, “POTATOES!! Be right back!” And dashed back down the trail to where I’d stopped. Now, on a cold night and for a runner who’s been surviving off gels all day, hot salty potatoes are like a lifeline. And now for the life of me I couldn’t find them. I shined my flashlight all around but no luck. No no no no no. Then two runners approached and one said, “You looking for these?” And handed me the precious, shiny bundle. I thanked him profusely, told him he was doing a great job, and once again darted back up the trail. It took me a while to catch up to Eric again. He was moving well and I told him so.
The single track trail led us to a long, gradual uphill wagon road. It seemed to go on forever. I was reminded of the early miles of the Hellgate 100K because I could see headlamps floating on the switchbacks above us and below us. We had a long way to go. Eric grew quiet and his pace began to slow. Every so often I’d say, “Good job” or “Way to move” or “Have you been drinking?” or “May I offer you some potatoes?” At first he declined, but I eyed my watch and saw that we’d been going for around 50 minutes. I said, “Okay. Let’s say in ten minutes you eat some potatoes.” He said okay. Ten minutes later he ate most of the potatoes and within a few minutes he became a little more bright and talkative, and his pace began to quicken. Alright!
This pattern continued for the next while. Eric would eat, his mood would improve, he’d pick up the pace a little, but after 30, 40, or 50 minutes he’d start to fade and get really quiet. Instead of asking him, “Would you like to eat something?” I switched to more declarative statements like “Hey, in X minutes we’re going to eat again.” If you consider his perspective, dude’s been eating all day. Eating was not fun at all. Food was not appetizing. Eating was the last thing he wanted to do. But the results from my perspective were clear- eating made an enormous difference in his outlook and performance. Eating (and drinking) was absolutely crucial for him to stay in the game.
We climbed a steep, rocky section up to the top of the mountain, maxing out at 9,400feet. You can bet we were huffing and puffing the entire way. Eric refilled his bottles and a lone water station at the top of the mountain and we started winding our way back down the other side. Now we had a nice, gradual, mostly downhill section to the next aid station at Crawford Canyon. It was an out and back section, so we encountered many runners heading back while we made our way out. Eric was making good time (I made sure to tell him so) and we occasionally even passed some runners on their way out too.
At this point we were mostly hiking, but thinking we should take advantage of some of these downhill runnable sections I said “Hey, why don’t we try running a bit?” Eric obliged and we ran for 30-60 seconds at a time either until Eric needed to walk again or if the trail became too technical and rocky.
Off in the distance we heard a dramatic, warrior-like yell and realized it was the sound of a runner horrifically puking somewhere on the course ahead. The battle-crying puker continued to wretch and as we wound down the road the sound got closer and closer. We exchanged alarmed looks and said something like “Well… yes you’re feeling bad, but at least you’re not feeling THAT bad!” A sickly runner shuffled by us going the opposite and gave us a nod and a wave, we waved back, and once out of earshot whispered “Was that him, I think that was him!” Godspeed, warrior puker!
We followed the pink flags marking the course to another single track trail, the last section before we reached the next aid station and turnaround point. It was rocky, dry, dusty, and just overall a really tough section. There were steep, crumbly drop-offs to one side and occasionally we had to cross dried up creek beds with short, steep, rocky banks that made for a treacherous footway. I hadn’t brought my hiking pole and was very glad that Eric had his. It was getting very late into the night and he was fading badly. His steps were becoming wobbly and I didn’t like the way that he was starting to sway from side to side. I walked behind him and honestly had my arms out to either side, ready to catch him or hold tight to his backpack if he lost his balance.
Although we were getting close, maybe two miles out from the aid station, we stopped so he could grab a snack from his pack to hold him over the rest of the way. Just like all the other times, food really did the trick and he started to pick up his hiking pace and even ran a little bit. Another runner and his pacer caught up to us, but rather than pass us (we offered to let them go by), they tucked in behind us and we worked our way to the aid station all together.
Reaching that aid station was like finding the holy grail. Eric was majorly, majorly out of it. I also super had to pee and my energy was fading too, though I kept that information to myself. We agreed that he needed to sit down and eat some real food. We found him a chair and I brought him Cup Noodles and a grilled cheese along with his drop bag. After making sure he was alright, I ran over to the port-a-potty to pee then quickly re-joined him and ate a little food myself. He drank all of the broth and ate as many noodles as his stomach would allow. The temperature was majorly dipping. It was very good that he took the time to eat, but we needed to go.
The next five minutes or so were a little rough, because his legs had tightened up in the cold while sitting down. Once we got going, though, running that rough single track section was like night and day compared to the first time. He moved great and cruised on through. We were treated to an incredible pink moonrise and had to stop in awe and appreciation several times. Between the stunning moon and the rocky, dusty landscape, it was as if we were on another planet.
Eric pointed out that we hadn’t seen many more runners going toward the aid station as we were heading back, and he figured he was one of the last runners in the field. I said I wasn’t so sure. Moments later, a cluster of headlamps appeared before us. In fact, the entire rest of the section we saw countless runners still making their way out. Eric knew he was behind his predicted pace and assumed the very worst, and just hoped that he could finish before the cutoff of 36 hours. I kept trying to steer the focus toward the present and focusing on what we could do which was making sure he was taking care of himself, and moving forward always.
We made our way up the mountain again, retracing our steps back up the wagon road. It was a long, long way up. We chatted some, joked around some, and shared silence as well. At one point in a conversation I said something like “Ah it’s a long story” and he said “I’ve got time!” so I told him my long story with the hope of offering up a distraction, but I could sense he was getting in his head and coping with this really difficult thing he was doing as well as he could, and resumed our silence for a while longer.
We turned around a bend and Eric said, “I’m sorry I need a minute.” And he paused, taking deep breaths and crouching over on his hiking poles, with his headlamp shining down toward his feet. I waited. The moon was shining brilliantly with the layers of mountains illuminated in the distance behind him. I snapped a photo and apologized to him for exploiting a tough moment but it looked SO COOL. He laughed and offered to crouch back down into the pose so I could get the photo just right, because of course he wanted a cool race photo too! We grinned at each other and kept going.
The rest of the section was more of the same. Eric would go through spurts of moving well and shutting down. He was definitely cognizant of how important the eating and drinking bit was, and for the most part would oblige when I said “it’s time,” though there were other times when I felt like I was force feeding him which made me feel very bad. I shared with a friend later that it was like that scene in Harry Potter where Dumbledore tells Harry, “It’s your job to make sure I continue drinking this potion, even if you have to force it down my throat, no matter what I say or do.” Poor Eric.
We started to think ahead to the next section and approximate the time that Eric might finish. He was still worried about whether he’d make the 36 hour cut off. After doing some quick math I estimated that if Eric was able to complete the last twenty miles at 3 miles per hour or better, he’d need to get to the next aid station at by 9AM. We were currently just a few miles out from the aid station and it was only 3AM. Ding ding ding! Finally, finally, I had convinced Eric with cold, hard evidence that he would make it through okay. He could take a nap for a few hours and still finish well under the cutoff.
Eric’s spirits seemed to brighten and we moved quite well back down the wagon road and onto the final single track trail section before reaching the aid station. It was getting extremely cold and I kept thinking, “We just need to get down to lower elevation, then it will warm up,” but it never warmed up. At some point we got his hat and gloves out, and I asked him if we should get his jacket out, but we were so close that he wanted to just keep walking. Before long I started to lose feeling in my hands and fumbled around trying to get my gloves on while keeping up pace. All I could think was, Thank God I brought this fleece pullover as it seemed like overkill in the beginning.
About a mile out, our teeth were chattering and we were hiking fast just to stay warm. I started to run through a checklist of what we would need to do when we got back to the station. The first priority was getting Eric warm. He had pants, long sleeves, and a jacket that he could use. The aid station would have hot food that I could bring to him. I wondered how effectively I’d be able to help him considering I still couldn’t feel my hands and was shaking uncontrollably. I thought of pulling up BB and blasting the heat so he could warm up, but I worried that the moment he sat in my car that it would all be over and he’d instruct me to take him back to his Airbnb. Just then, Eric asked, “What if we sit in your car for a little bit?” Oh boy. I said okay.
We got to the aid station where we had left our cooler and bins, which were now covered in a crunchy layer of frost. I told him to get the layers he needed while I ran over to get the car. I pulled up just across from our set up and ushered him inside, engine running and heat blasting. I ran to the aid station where I made him another Cup of Noodles. After getting that to him, I ran over to where his gear was and grabbed some ibuprofen and a few other odds and ends he would need.
Finally I plopped into the driver’s seat next to Eric. His layers were on and he was eating and drinking his hot cup of soup. This was the last time I’d see him before the finish and he had around twenty miles to go. His pack was ready, save for the empty water bottles in the front pockets. I blurted out and immediately regretted asking, “Would you like me to fill your water bottles?” He sat in silence for a moment, his chin began to quiver, and he started to sob. Oh no, oh no, oh no. Liz, you idiot! Why had I asked him if he needed his water bottles filled, rather than just doing the obvious and taking care of it? Eric told me later that in that moment, the way he felt was, “I don’t want ANY of this!” I also thought about how making any choices at mile 80 would be incredibly overwhelming. Note to self, don’t ask the obvious the things, just do it!
I felt so bad. I focused on what I could do to help him. I took his bottles and ran over to fill them up for the last time. When I got back to the car he was still choking back tears. We sat together in silence for a few moments. He kept eating his noodles. It was the saddest cup of noodles there ever was. After taking a couple more bites and few deep breaths, Eric said “Okay.” He was ready. He stepped out once again into the biting cold. I had told Eric earlier I’d walk with him for a bit to see him off. We marched up the hill together that I had seen him running down 7 hours before. With his head down, he stabbed his hiking poles into the earth with steady resolve. A few minutes later I tentatively said, “Okay Eric, this is where I say goodbye. I know you can do this. I’m so proud of you.” I was so worried he’d want to turn around. He made no moves to do so. We gave each other a big hug, he gave me a smile, and off into the night he went. I really was proud of him for going on.
In my frozen state with extremely stiff legs, I did a funny walk back down the hill. I hadn’t stopped shaking from the cold yet. I made several trips to load up the cooler and bins back into the car, used the port-a-potty, then finally was able to get back into the warmth of my car. I began the two hour drive back toward Eric’s airbnb which he said I could use as a home base while he was running, since I had checked out of my hotel Saturday morning.
It was nearly five in the morning and the sun was beginning to rise. Of course I hadn’t slept a wink since the night before. The adrenaline from being “on” all night was wearing off and I was getting sleepy. I started to have an uncontrollable feeling of wanting to nod off, which was very bad as I was DRIVING, so I immediately pulled over by a lake, threw the car in park, put on the e-brake, laid my seat back, and slept hard. I was missing the beautiful sunrise, but it didn’t matter. Around an hour later I came to, feeling somewhat refreshed, and drove the rest of the way back.
I was completely filthy from head to toe after being out on dusty roads and trails all day. What I wanted was more sleep, but I mustered up enough energy to at least rinse myself off then text Nora that Eric was on his way to the finish. After having no cell phone reception for a very long time, I knew she’d be worried. Again, I crashed hard, this time for several hours. I had my alarm set for 10:30am thinking that I should be at the finish line by 11:30am at the latest, even though it was more likely that he’d finish early afternoon.
I grabbed an iced coffee from the local spot down the road, drove down the dusty dirt road to the finish area one again, and set up camp by the finish line. The sun was high in the sky, and I thought of Eric and all his layers, which he’d probably shed and stuffed in his pack by now. The finish line was right by a big dirt parking area, and every so often little dust devils would formulate, sometimes swooping near the finish line and knocking over the gong (yes they had a gong for the finishers to hit at the end).
I sent out several more social media blasts now that I had a cell phone signal and more energy to do so. The runners were even more spread out now, maybe 20-30 minutes apart it seemed, so every time someone came in, the crews would gather at the finish line and give them big cheers and rounds of applause. It was really touching to see the emotion from the runners and their crews. Some had their crews or families run in with them. One guy let out an enormous yell as he crossed the finish line. I secretly wondered if he was the warrior puker.
At one point an enormous dust devil made its way through the parking lot and I thought for a second I might have to gather up my things and run! It looked like a full on tornado! This video I took is a must-see.
I had likely a couple hours to wait, but every time I had to use the restroom it seemed like a huge gamble. It would be horrible to miss Eric at the finish! Then later I realized how hungry I was, so left for a bit to purchase food at the food cart, where they had their windows down most of the time to keep out the blowing dust. As I was eating my pulled pork french fries by the finish line I had to crouch forward and shield them when the dust got really bad.
Then, way off in the distance, I saw a speck of bright yellow. Eric’s t-shirt! He had made it! I leapt up from my chair, my fork falling to the ground and leaving my french fries exposed to the elements. He ran to the finish line looking so smooth and collected, and grinning from ear to ear. I took a million photos, and the announcer directed him to go hit the gong. I ran up and gave him a big hug, congratulated him, then immediately started to think of what he’d need. First, I offered up pulled pork french fries which he gladly accepted. But what he really wanted was the one thing that kept him going through the mountains, dust, discomfort, and tears: The Belt Buckle reserved only for 100 mile finishers.
After collecting the belt buckle we went back up to the same sign he’d taken his photo at 32 hours and 15 minutes ago. It was a long journey to get “there and back again” and he had done it. I felt so much relief and satisfaction that he had done what he came out there to do, without being hindered by me. He said it was the hardest race and thing he had ever done. Finishing was never a sure thing. There was teamwork involved, but at the end of the day what impressed me the most was his resolve to get out of that car at his very lowest point and keep going.
I’m so glad to have had the opportunity to crew Eric, which felt every bit as rewarding as running and executing a race myself. There’s a set goal and strategy involved to get from point A to point B as efficiently as possible. I’m positive I did not get it all right, but I was happy that I was where I needed to be on time, always had Eric’s stuff ready for him, and hopefully set him up for success in the miles we shared and beyond. I learned a lot and hope it’s a skill I can continue to develop so I can help more friends to run and feel their best. It gives me all the more appreciation for those that have given so much of their time and energy to help me in my endeavors.
As always, thank you for reading! If you connected with this or felt inspired in some way, please consider buying me a coffee! Your support means so much to me.
Speaking of 100s: I’ll be running the Kettle Moraine 100 Mile TOMORROW!! I will be supported by Adrienne Mitford and my dad Rodney Derstine. It will be my first attempt at the distance. I jotted down some pre-race thoughts here. For real-time updates on my progress, give M1ndurance a follow on Instagram and Facebook. Ornery Mule Racing will also be live-streaming the race on YouTube here! The race starts Saturday, June 12th at 6am central time.
‘Til next time! ~Mercury