Plants First, Fish Next

The original intent of this journal was to chronicle the trials and tribulations of the struggling twenty-something, as I searched for love and happiness in the small city-burb of ManchVegas, NH. Now, I'm thirty-something, I've found love in many forms, happiness in even more, and now the struggle is just... well... life. And finding time to do the million and one things I want to do- including writing.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

MMT 100- Crew Report

Entrance to Caroline Furnace Camp

We arrived at Caroline Furnace Camp in Fort Valley, VA in time for the pre-race meeting. The race director reiterates all the important stuff from the website and points out important people. The runners grab their race packets, we get some grub and set up camp. It's 8pm by the time we roll into our sleeping bags, but since the alarm went off at 3am, we're ready for bed. My very chivalrous Runner gives me the sleeping pad- I feel like a wimp accepting, but he won't take no for an answer. Only later do I realize he knows he's not going to get any sleep anyways: his mind already running the miles ahead.

The alarm goes off at 4am, giving us enough time to put on clothes and eat breakfast before the start of the race at 5am. My Runner and Ultra Dad pose for a few photos, line up with the other 180 runners, and with a shout, they're off. We had briefly gone over the plan the night before, and someone had mentioned it would be 9am before they arrived at the first Aid Station (AS) with crew access, Edinburg Gap. 4 hours to go 11 miles seemed a little slow, but perhaps they knew something about the terrain that I didn't. Kiddo and I head back to camp to catch some z's. We planned to arrive around 8-ish so we would have time to get a good spot but not have to wait too long.

Kiddo and I got to Edinburg Gap at 8:15am. There were about 7 people standing around. We unloaded the Binto Bar (a pack the size of a Rubbermaid tote), the camp chair and the cooler, and settled in. Someone asks if the last runner has come through yet... oh shit... CREW FAIL! Checking with the volunteer in charge of timing, I find we missed them by mere minutes. I try to keep my voracious swearing under my breath, but I'm beating myself up. My one responsibility and I fail at it. I'll be damned if I miss them at another AS.
My Runner and Ultra Dad coming in to Edinburg Gap.  Thanks random photog for catching my missed moment.

The next AS we could be at was mile 32, Elizabeth Furnace. I estimated a 10-minute mile, knowing that even feeling good they wouldn't go faster than 12-minute miles. But the sun was shining, the air was warm, and I would rather be way early than miss them AGAIN. I had no idea what they might have needed at the first AS that I wasn't there to provide- blister prevention, Gu, sun screen, bug spray... The stations were well stocked with food, water, and Gatorade, so I knew they wouldn't be hungry or thirsty. I didn't know if My Runner would be fuming that I wasn't there or worried that something happened to us. (The second. He's a nice guy. I was fuming at myself.)

Crewing is a "hurry up and wait" activity. We got to Elizabeth Furnace about 3 hours before the guys showed up. I put on sun screen, moved the stuff closer and closer to where the runners come in, chatted with folks, and generally hopped around anxiously. Kiddo did his best to amuse himself without phone or internet, which was kind of a stretch for him. He IS thirteen after all.

Temps were high and the guys were wilting as they came in. Food, water, sun screen, cold Boost and iced tea, refill on Gu, and a bit of a rest. Kissed My Runner and they were off. Not long before we'd see them again- 5 miles later at Shawl Gap. Of course in those 5 miles they'd be going 1000 feet up, AND 1000 feet down.
Check the elevation change between #5 and #6.

I'm telling you, this terrain was beautiful, but RUGGED. Ever driven on the Kancamagus Highway in NH through the Whites? Yeah, something like that. I mean, I've run 5 miles under an hour, but that was in friggin' Lowell. These 5 miles took two experienced and strong runners just under 2 hours to tackle. Ultra Dad came in strong, but My Runner was downtrodden. I shared words of encouragement from Sherpa, who had called when I miraculously had service. They were in and out at Shawl Gap and ready to move on. Good thing- as much as I love hanging out with my honey, time at an AS is time wasted.

After a not-so-brief trip to Wal Mart where Kiddo and I ostensibly picked up supplies for our runners, but really were just killing time and grabbing dinner, we headed to Habron Gap, mile 53. The scenery on the drives was breathtaking. The sun was setting and the guys hadn't taken headlamps with them. Too heavy to carry 20 miles, but useful to, you know, see when it's dark. The runners come in to Habron on a wide gravel road, so at least it was a safe(ish) place to not be able to see your footing. My Runner came in feeling pretty good sometime between 8 and 9pm, having gotten a second (or third, or thirtieth) wind now that the temps dropped with the night. He asked how close to the cut-off he was (each aid station will pull runners if they arrive after a certain time), and I tell him he's got a bit more than 2 hours. The Reaper is chasing them, but not too closely.

He was about 10 minutes ahead of Ultra Dad, who came in dragging. Kiddo was psyched up because Ultra Dad had been talking about him pacing the guys, ie, stepping in and running some miles with them; a true Team Robert.  Kiddo's not a runner, but he does bike and swim competitively, and I think getting the chance to "help" on this run really inspired him.

But Ultra Dad was done. He had dehydrated, and that messed up his feet and his back (so many crazy things happen as a result of dehydration in these endurance sports...) I could see in his posture he had given up. Finally My Runner had to head out- he had stayed way too long. Kiddo pleaded, whined, goaded, enticed, I even through a few carrots up for him, but to no avail. Ultra Dad was done at 53.6 miles.

I knew this could be tough on My Runner mentally and emotionally. He started running Ultras BECAUSE of his dad. They were a team.  I'd get to break the news to him in 10 miles at Camp Roosevelt, by which time he had already guessed.

We're now well after midnight, and I'm bushed. I haven't even run today, but hauling gear to and from the truck, anxiously awaiting the runners, listening to a 13-year-old prattle on about energy drinks and video games... it's enough to tranquilize a horse. I gave Ultra Dad some time to pull himself together after running 53 miles, we drop another runner off at the start/finish whose blisters have taken him out of the race, and head to the next AS. I help the guys setup at the AS and take 20 minutes to snooze in the camp chair before beginning my AS ritual of restlessly pacing around. My Runner is in pain. He's gone through all his water, he's got a rash, he's tired. I give him what his body needs, then I try to give him what his spirit needs. Rubbing his back I encourage him to go on. Kiddo is ready to pace My Runner, and I think that helps seal the deal; he's ready to keep moving. Gap Creek is only 5 miles away, but just like the other short leg, it's a CLIMB. 1450 ft up, 1000 ft down.

Gap Creek is the most festive AS I've seen. Christmas lights line the trails. Acoustic covers of well known songs are playing. The station is serving pancakes, bacon, and eggs along with other standard AS fare. There's a fire pit where folks have gathered around, dozing. Runners sleepily clamber in, for it's now just before 4am; they've been at it for almost 23 hours. The course comes through here twice: once at 68.7 miles, and again at 95.4. We see some of the leaders coming in for their second round- these folks might still make 100 miles under 24 hours. There's a cot near the tents where runners can catch a quick nap- might be all they need to regain the strength to keep coming.

Ultra Dad and I pass some time chatting, but soon we're both nervously waiting at the trail head where the 68 milers are coming in. We can watch the headlamps of the runners as they descend the incline into the AS. They're so high up they look like fireflies in the sky. As My Runner and Kiddo come in around 4:20am, I can hear Kiddo yakking away. I pity My poor Runner and hope Kiddo has been more of a help than a hindrance. As he comes in, he asks how close he is to cutoff. "One hour," I told him, and I watched him deflate. Without admitting it, without him saying a word, without him consciously making a decision, I could see he was done. He took time before admitting what his body had already decided. Doing the math over and over in his head, factoring in the pain he was in, he realized there was no way he'd make the finish before the 36 hour cutoff. He relinquished his number to the AS volunteer, signaling his official dropout. 68.7 miles in exactly 24 hours.

Some runners view a DNF (Did Not Finish) as a black mark, a scourge. Some see it as a challenge to try again next year. I think My Runner is at peace with his decision. I'm proud of him for the hard miles he ran. The man barely trained, was (unknowingly) battling a chest cold, and ran for 24 hours, 68.7 rugged-ass miles.

I've written before about my love of crewing, and this race was no different.  I wish I hadn't missed the first AS, but luckily the guys weren't in much need and if there were any to miss, it was that one.  Hopefully I made up for it by being as prepared as possible with fuel for their bodies and their hearts.  Having to focus so intensely on someone else's needs is oddly freeing, almost meditative.  I'm able to push my own issues aside and trivialize my personal traumas, leaving room for a kind of calmness. I wonder if this is how my mother feels when she's nursing...

The Finisher's Belt Buckle

My Runner and I talked about next year on the ride home.  Would he come back for another attempt?  Would Ultra Dad?  What does he want from Massanutten?  A finisher's buckle?  Time with his father?  These questions are still unanswered, but My Runner did quote, "The will to finish means nothing without the will to train."

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