I am sitting in Mc Donalds...By myself for the first time in over 40 hours. Knowing I must be tired and hungry and a little delirious to be at McDonalds finding 2 double cheeseburgers, fries and a coke the most fabulous meal....the other options were less appealing and involved chicken nuggets at a gas station served by a Chicken wearing boxing gloves. I had the opportunity to crew, pace, and work medical for this race over the course of 30 hours.
The day began with hotter than expected temps - 80s with over 60% humidity and intermittent showers and sun. My runner, as most were having a hard time with the weather. At 31 miles several were starting to drop. My runner desperately wanted to do the same, unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your perspective, we did not give him that option. We saw many runners come in, many struggling with heat/humidity, obviously disheartened and not sure if they would make the full 100. We cheered and encouraged and filled water bottles. It was here I met Frank. 82 year old aid station caption. A 2:29 marathoner back in the 80's. He lives on Marathon Lane on a mountain in Arkansas. He still runs with his dog, but has learned when trucks/cars pass him on the dirt road and stop ask him what he's doing/if he needs help to say, "I'm just taking the dog for his exercise". He says when he tells them he's "out for a run" people think he's crazy and ask too many questions about why he runs at 82. He chuckles, "It's ok to take the dog for exercise, but one should not run at 82" ;)
We left that aid station not entirely convinced our runner was going to make it to the next crew station at mile 47. That would be where I would start pacing him. I would be with him for 20 miles. We grabbed a bite to eat and headed on to the next station. He came in looking much better than he did at mile 31. It was around 5pm and the heat/humidity was letting up. We were off. We ran with others, we ran alone. After a while he was walking more and talking more about how many miles were left, how far behind his goal time he was and how bad he felt. he was trying to convince me of his logic. He was wanting to quit. He picked the wrong pacer. "Lets try running this" when we'd hit a flat, down, or lesser incline. The next aid station we put some more calories in. The dark clouds lifted a little and he readjusted his goals. He said, "if I can keep a ____ pace I can make it in in ____ time. "Ok" I said, and we went. He wanted to walk, I encouraged him to run. He would look at his watch and see his pace way over what it needed to be for his new goal and he would slow more, discouraged. He needed encouragement....my encouragement wasn't working, he didn't buy what I was telling him...so I pointed him to what nature was telling him. What the mountain was giving him.
We hit a nice downhill section. I told him, "Look, she's giving you free speed...take what she's giving you" We started rocking a very nice sub goal pace. Nature chimed in just on cue...a nice little breeze blew in. "Listen runner, she's rewarding your effort...she's giving you a breeze...she's tellling you good job". We hit a slight incline, runner wanted to walk. "Let's work this hill" I said. He was reluctant, but relented and ran. The breeze blew again and the trees rustled their leaves. I said, "Listen runner, nature is clapping for you, she's telling you good work, good job runner". Right on cue the leaves rustled even louder! "The mountain is rewarding your effort, she sees you working". Runner wouldn't listen to me, but now he was listening to something much bigger. We picked and climbed. He ran uphill well, he ran downhill better and all the while the breeze blew and the trees rustled, applauding and rewarding his effort here. Runner was starting to believe again he could do this. He could meet this new challenge. I told him, "Show the mountain respect. Respect her by giving her your effort, your time , your dedication to this and she will reward you" and she was. The mountain was alive with frogs and crickets and rustling leaves and breezes and stars all for runner to experience and draw from and show respect for the gifts she was giving. And he was doing it. His effort those 20 miles was awesome. And runner knew it. I warned him, "She still has some tricks up her sleeves", "It's not all about the gifts she gives, it's about accepting everything she offers without judging it. Let go of ego. Figure out how to work it, like a puzzle, figuring out how to adapt and prosper, how to take the pieces she gives and put them together and create your picture, your puzzle, your whatever". And I left him at mile 70 with his next pacer. I got in the car and the downpour began and the temps dropped about 30 degrees. We headed to the next crewing station at mile 83.
We got to the aid station. We had about 2 hours before our runner would come in so we put some relaxing tunes on the radio and dozed off and on. 20 miles of pacing got my legs a little stiff and tight and really just wanted to either be moving or be in bed. My van full with clothes, food, and 3 other people. I the oldest of the crew needed some ibuprofen!! My younger com-padres went straight to sleep, snoring and breathing loudly. I was in the driver seat... and with a sleeping human behind me, did not want to scootch my seat back or lean the back down any. I wrangled my legs and feet up on the dash on either side of the steering wheel. The vents blowing warm air through the socks that have been wet for 20 miles pacing on the course. The young man in the passenger seat stops snoring and says, "Is that my feet or yours I smell?". I smiled...."mine". I made mention that the rest of me probably did not smell much better. He informed me it was ok, he just wanted to make sure it wasn't his feet that were generating the scent. About that time I heard some girlie chitter chatter coming down the road toward the aid station. I thought, "Is that Shelley?" She had been the lead female all day. It was! She was smiling and chatting and looking fantastic! I was so happy to hear her happy voice. This was good. She was having a good day all around and she was enjoying the day she was having. I managed to unfold my stiff legs and get out of the car and immediately realized the sig drop in temps. It was cold. We checked in concerned that we might have missed our runner. The aid station chief confirmed that our runner dropped at the last aid station. Damn. I was super proud though. He got through some tough stuff.
We stayed and saw a few runners in. They were getting cold and they were wet. We helped get em soup and gave encouraging words. Some looked a little bewildered but were moving forward. We moved forward too, arriving at the start/finish around 3:30 am. Our runner was shuttled back there. This day took many runners out of this race. At one point, they were losing so many runners they had to send 3 shuttles out to get them just to one aid station, very unusual for this course. Race HQ was busy trying to process all of the dropping runners. There was a lot of hypothermia. My runner and crew that I had spent the last many many hours with headed to the hotel and I met my new friends at the HQ. We had a trickle of cold/wet runners in. Just a few IVs needed and lots of blister popping and tending to feet and aches and pains. Mostly just listening and smiling and offering encouragement and warmth was all that was needed. Night turned to dawn and more runners came in. Dawn turned to morning and more runners came in. Morning turned to almost noon- cutoff time. My crew came back to me and brought me my van and my keys. I was tired and ready to leave, knowing I had a long drive and desperate for something to eat/drink besides coke and broth...and really just time alone.
I left the HQ and walked out to the finish. It was 11:40 am. Cutoff at noon. I saw these last runners coming in. I was and am now overcome with emotion for these. The first runners finished 10 hours ago. These people had endured 10 more hours of rain, cold, aches, pains, blisters, nausea, fatigue, mental "stuff". I wanted to run them in, I was so thrilled for them. They were the toughest of the tough and I wanted them to know that. I had a deep sense of respect for them and I wanted them to know that. I wanted me to know that.
I didn't know that when I came in at leadville or at San Juan. Both races, finishing late in the race. Hoping to miss cutoffs, hoping not to come in over 30 hours. I felt like I had let people down. I felt I had let myself down. Sure I knew I had given every moment my best effort all the way, or did I? I felt like I let people and myself down, I felt like everyone felt sorry for me for being so slow, for being one of the last ones in. I felt like my crew felt sorry for me and I didn't like it. I felt like they were saying, "look at that poor girl", "she's just not as tough as she thought she was", "she's not as tough as the others". They were'nt. They felt what I felt for those late finishers this morning, and what I now can give myself. "Look at you go girl, look what you have done girl! Look what you have accomplished! You stayed out there, you endured, you are awesome!" To feel such a thrill for someone else and ultimately for oneself.