I am sitting in McDonalds…by myself for the first time in over 40 hours. I had the opportunity to crew, pace, and work medical for the Arkansas Traveller 100. I’ve run a few 100s, and always wondered what it was like to be on the other side.
The race began at 6:00am with uncomfortably warm and muggy conditions. A little misty rain, not enough to refresh the runners, just enough to keep the warm air heavy. We watched runners come in to the first crew station around 10-13 miles. They were drenched in sweat but looking good. The humidity held and the sun peeked out a bit.
By 31 miles the weather was taking its toll on runners and several were dropping. We saw many runners come in, many struggling with heat/humidity, obviously disheartened and not sure if they would make the full 100. Others were out with injuries. We cheered and encouraged and filled water bottles. I helped tape a few blisters and checked out a few feet. It was here I met Tom. 82 year old gent ,very much in charge of things at the aid station. He was a 2:29 marathoner back in the 80s. He lives on Marathon Lane on a mountain in Arkansas. He still runs with his dog. He chuckles and tells me that cars/trucks often stop to see if he needs help. He says he has learned to say, “I’m just taking the dog for his exercise.” When he tells them “I’m just out for a run” people think he’s crazy to be out running and ask too many questions. He laughs again, “It’s ok to take the dog for exercise, but one should not run at 82.”
We left that aid station and I thought about all of the faces of the runners we saw. Lots with a look of uncertainty, deep concentration, trying to work through what nature and the course was giving them.
We made it to mile 47 aid station around 4:00-5:00pm. There had been a nice rain and temps were now in the mid 70s. This would also be where I would start pacing my runner. All the runners looked like they had been given a new lease on life here. It always amazes me as a runner and now an observer, how you can feel and look so horrible at mile 31 and look and feel like a completely new human at mile 47. Totally defies logic. That’s why we run ultras, to defy logic.
My runner too was coming back to life. Poor thing had an overly excited pacer on his hands. Like a little chihuahua I yipped and yapped and was quite annoying I am sure. My runner felt good like most, for a little while, but then those dark clouds that always come came. We ran with others. We ran alone. My runner’s conversation moved to how many miles left, how runner was not going to get the goal time runner wanted. Aches and pains became more prominent. Runner was trying to apply logic at mile 60. Logic would say, “why continue?” She whispers, “You are so far behind where you thought you’d be” and “you are hurting, if you continue, you might end up injured and not able to run…for months!” and “Why continue?, let this go…this just isn’t your day, go home and sleep, there is always another 100.” But, what logical human being would run 100 miles anyway? So runner, tell logic to go away, she doesn’t belong in a 100 mile race. Don’t think, just do.
Runner dug deep and reworked the puzzle. Runner says, “If I can keep ____ pace I can still finish in _____ time.” “Alrighty then, lets do it!” I said, “let’s just see how close we can get.” The clouds lifted for a bit, and then as they always do, they returned. And when the clouds come we are always convinced that this time they aren’t going to go away. I tried to encourage and cajole. I sounded stupid, even to myself. I was saying all of the things I hated to hear my pacers tell me. I always felt like they were lying. My encouragement wasn’t working, he didn’t buy what I was selling….so I pointed him to what nature was telling him, to 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 and a nice little breeze blew in. “Listen runner, she’s rewarding your effort, she’s giving you a breeze, she’s telling you good job.” We hit a slight incline, runner wanted to walk. “Let’s work this hill”, I said. Runner was reluctant, but relented and ran. The breeze blew again and the trees rustled their leaves. I said, “listen runner, the mountain is applauding you, she’s telling you good work, good job runner.” Just as I said that, the leaves rustled louder…yes yes! “The mountain is rewarding your effort, she sees you working.” Runner wouldn’t listen to me, but now runner was listening to something much bigger. We picked and climbed. Runner ran uphill well and downhill better, and all the while the breeze blew and the trees rustled, applauding and rewarding runner. Runner was starting to believe again.
Runner could meet this new challenge. “We have asked a lot of this mountain, to let a whole bunch of us goobers trample around, make lots of noise, build fires, set up camps and disturb her peace. She’s happy to have us here, but show her respect. Respect her by giving her your effort, your time, your dedication to this, and she will reward you.” And she did. The mountain came alive with frogs and crickets, rustling leaves, a breeze, and a sky full of stars and sparkly rocks for runner to experience and draw from. And runner was doing it!
Runner’s effort those 20 miles was awesome. And runner knew it. “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. Don’t judge the hills, the heat, the rain, the pain..embrace it. Figure out how to work it, like a puzzle, figure out how to take the pieces she gives and put them together and create your picture, your puzzle, your whatever.” I left runner at mile 70 with the 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 arrived about two hours before our runner would be coming through. We turned on some chillaxing music and dozed off and on. 20 miles of pacing got my legs a little stiff and tight, and I really just wanted to either be moving or be in bed. My van full with clothes, food, and two other people. I was in serious need of some ibuprofen!
My youngest compadre in the passenger seat was snoring. I was jealous. I was also rather stinky…kind of a wet dog smell. With all our stuff I couldn’t lean my seat back and my dangling legs were throbbing. The only comfortable position I could manage to find was with my feet up on the dash, directly in front of the defrost vents. the snoring passenger roused up….”Is that my feet?” referring to the unpleasant odor. I smiled, “nope…it’s mine.” He was relieved not to be the one generating the smell. I informed him that the rest of me probably did not smell much better. Time was up and it was time to get out of the van.
I unfolded my stiff legs and got out. It was still misting and raining intermittently. It was very cold feeling. Runners were coming in wet and quite cold. Many runners did not make it out of the last aid station. Ours included.
The sudden downpour and drop in temps took its toll. We helped some of the runners here. Giving them warm soup and coke to refuel them. Encouraging them, letting them know that they were getting there and could continue on. Some were doing well and feeling good. I recognized the autopilot look on others, the ones that were struggling.
Sometimes its a rough go and there comes a point where you just relent. You quit fighting the course, you’ve moved past the stage of debating giving up or trying to convince your crew to let you give up. You make it to the point where there is no giving up, you’ve come too far now for that, you just move forward. You do what you are told by the people around you – “eat this, drink that”…and you do. You just do. Not every 100 miler is like that, but I do know what it feels like when it is. But that passes too. You drink, you eat, you walk, you run or you walk more. You just do.
For the first time I was the one telling the bewildered looking runner in front of me, the one who had told others he had to prove to his father he wasn’t a failure, to “eat this, drink that.” And he did. He stared blankly at me, wet, shivering, lips blue, skin white as ghost. He didn’t remember he had something to prove. At that point he didn’t care. But he had others at the aid station who did. “You can do this! Now go!” and he went.
We arrived at the start/finish around 3:30am. I bid goodbye to my runner and the crewmates I had spent the last many many, many hours with, and checked in with my new friends in medical. There were some cots that looked awfully appealing. One runner tucked in, warming. We had a trickle of cold/wet runners coming in. Just a few IVs needed and lots of blister popping and tending to feet, aches, and pains. Most just needed a smile, a touch, and an ear to listen. 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. By now medical had plenty of help, and few runners that needed any. I was tired and ready to leave. I knew I had a long drive ahead and I was desperate for something to eat/drink, and really just some time alone to decompress.
I stepped out of the building and walked out to the finish. It was 11:40am. I saw these last runners coming in. I was overcome with emotion and exhilaration for these. The first runners finished 10-12 hours ago. These runners had endured 10 more hours of rain, cold, aches, pains, blisters, nausea, fatigue, and 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 (100) or San Juan (50). Finishing both late in the race, hoping to miss cutoffs, hoping not to come in over 30 hours. Coming in, I had felt like I let people down. I felt I had let myself down. Sure, I knew I had given every moment my best effort the whole way…or did I?…I would later wonder. I felt like I let my crew, my coach, my husband, and my pacer down. I felt like everyone felt sorry for me for being so slow, for being one of the last ones in. 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.”
I realized at that moment they felt what I felt for those late finishers this morning, and what I can now feel for myself….”Look at you go runner! 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.
– Lori Enlow
Posted on 15 Oct 2013