It all started this past January at the Winter OR Show. As usual a conversation with Landon made its way from gear talk to trail talk + it become obvious this needed to be the year he ran his first 100 mile race. Obvious, I tell you…because I will always encourage people to do the things that seem just stupid enough to be fun. By the time February rolled around we had both grabbed our spot on the list of Bear 100 registrants, hours before the race sold out. We were doing this! Or, that was the plan.
As always, training cycles have their ups + downs but going into September we were both as prepared as possible. He has cranky ankles, I had tight hips. You know, normal niggles that show up when you’re hundreds of miles into training for a trail race. All was well…until I impulsively pinned a bib on my shorts two weeks prior to the Bear 100 for a fun run at the American Heroes Run.
I spent the night before manning the aid station for the 24 hours runners + snagged myself a bib for the 9 hour 11 minute race the next morning. My plan was to run casually + get some solid time on my feet but not pushing the pace or overall mileage. It seemed like a pretty solid plan…in the beginning. About 32 miles in my left shin went from “yay, this is kinda fun” to “omg, something just broke” over the course of 3 steps. Fantastic. I immediately stopped running, made a pit stop at the aid station to tug on some compression socks + spent the next two miles walking while stretching everything out.
No dice. The pain wasn’t going anywhere. Nothing worked. My left shin felt like I had walked through a parking lot in the dark + smashed my shin into about 6 truck hitches, in exactly the same spot.
[insert string of swear words that would make a sailor blush]
The few people I told about this seemed to expect me to freak out. Surprisingly, I didn’t. Instead I willingly took time off + attempted to self massage the stabbing ache away. On Saturday night, when a familiar tendon crunch showed up, I relaxed. I know tendon pain…I know how to handle tendon pain + how to attempt to heal tendon pain. Or so I thought.
A week later, the pain was still there + it didn’t seem to be going anywhere. I started playing with the idea of a DNS at the Bear 100…a “did not start”. My mind was all over the place — I had a handful of options. I could hold out + hope for some miraculous improvement over the next 6 days. I could start the race + fight until I was too broken to keep moving forward. I could start + battle to the finish only to be forced into months of recovery, again. [I busted up both of my Achilles tendon taking on my first 100 miler at Run, Rabbit, Run two years ago…worth it, but not fun]
Ultimately, my heart wasn’t in it. By Sunday morning, 5 days before the Bear 100 started, I made the call…I was not going to start the race. I had already proven to myself that I could cover 100 miles on foot at Run, Rabbit, Run 100. I had already proven I knew how to fight off tendon pain + persevere. I had already proven how much I was willing to give for a race. I simply did not want to do that again.
A bad reason to DNS? Maybe. For some. But, for me, it was the right reason. This was re-confirmed on race day when all of the pain + tendon crunch flared back up when I ran back to my car at an aid station. Oh yes, I went up to the Bear 100 to enjoy all the glorious fall weather even without a bib pinned to my shorts.
Once I made my decision to DNS the race I decided to go for the second best option — volunteering. I hit up the race directors to see where they needed help. Come race morning I was officially a roaming volunteer. My job was to go from one aid station to the next, essentially following the rush of the middle of the pack around. I checked in on food, became the sag wagon for any DNF’s + splashed around in the mud helping out every runner I could.
Oh, yes. Mud. So much mud.
When I called the race on Sunday the weather forecast was pretty awesome — it rivaled the beautiful weekend Run, Rabbit, Run had just had. By Tuesday the forecast had taken a turn for the worse — rain, rain, more rain + a little snow. Come Thursday morning the forecast forced a full course re-route — rain, freezing temperatures, inches of snow + drifting winds. Well then…let the adventures begin!
The rain rolled in an hour before the pre-race meeting + stuck around for a solid 36 hours. It let up a bit for the start then picked right back up to soak all the runners, volunteers + crew for the next 24+ hours. It was a cold rain so Natalie + I layered up, topping off our colorful fall cuteness with rain jackets.
Rather run along muddy single track in the rain we got to drive up mountain roads from one aid station to the next. I got lucky, a whole handful of friends were running along with this middle of the pack group I was chasing along the course. I got to see so many people at each aid station, dancing through the mud to feed + hydrate them one at a time. I may not have been running but I was getting a full ultra experience!
As was Big Red, my current form of transportation + home on wheels. En route to our first aid station visit we lost a metal do-hinky that looked like it might be important. Logically we tossed it into the backseat, hoping that having it in the truck would have the same effect as having it properly attached to the suspension. That’s how vehicles work, right?!
Shortly after we lost + rescued that slab of metal Natalie + I got Big Red stuck in some ankle-deep, super slick mud at the Leatham AS. I say “Natalie + I” because I don’t want full responsibility but…yea, it was all me. I’m used to mountain driving with an AWD Subaru, not a rear wheel drive diesel. Or, that’s my excuse. With a little help from another crew [hey, Jeff!] we got the truck twisted into 4WD + out of the muck. Let the real adventures begin…
As the day wore on we spent time at Leatham, Cowley, Right Hand, Temple Fork and then Cowley again. At first our volunteering tasks were pretty straight forward — feed people, water people, dress people. By the time I got to the Temple Fork AS my skills [ahem, bossy demeanor] had me upgraded to traffic controller. Personally, I prefer feeding stinky runners but I will say, 98% of the crews driving into that tiny parking area that gave them access to Temple Fork + Spawn Creek were incredibly patient. As were the few people stuck on a narrow road with no runners to chase — their facial expressions when I explained what was happening were priceless. Thank you! Thank you all for being awesome + thank you Mr. Police Officer for finding a tiny bit of humor in our stupidity!
Eventually I made my way back up to Cowley, an un-crewed aid station. I spent the night up there, scampering around to stay warm, popping in + out of the “zombie tent” trying to keep runners moving + driving the occasional DNF’er back to civilization. It was a long, cold, wet night…but it was kind of awesome. Nothing about it sounds fun on paper but I really did enjoy my time up there with the volunteers + runners. It’s one of those things you have to be there for, I suppose.
Even cleaning up after the last runner came through was somehow enjoyable. There’s something about the organized chaos + pseudo urgency of an aid station that gets my blood pumping + keeps me awake for far too many hours. As we cleaned up we used snow to clean off totes + tarps as sleds for drop bags…before we just gave up completely + embraced the mud, even as we attempted to “clean up”.
The weather cleared up around 9am or so, as if the sun was popping in to warm us up after a long, cold night. Just before noon I made my way back to the finish line to watch all of those people I’d spent the last 30 hours enabling chase down that finish line. From the comfort of a camp chair, wrapped in a sleeping bag, I clapped + yelled as runners found their legs + ran up the sidewalk to the finish line. They did it + I got to witness it. Gawd, I love ultras.
…the original route’s finish line views, that cleared up nicely as the race finished up…
All in all, it wasn’t the weekend I had originally planned on but I’ll take it. I legitimately enjoyed myself + am so incredibly grateful I decided to make the drive up even though I knew I wouldn’t even be crossing a start line. Once again, I was reminded of all the reasons people run, all the things we give up to chase goals + everything our bodies are capable of if our minds say so.
I got to show Natalie the crazy of utlras. I got to take selfies with Landon’s disgusting feet. I got to help Val prove you don’t need to take off shoes to get on a pair of leggings. I got to befriend complete strangers over cups of steamy hot chocolate. I got to push Tara’s drop bags into her tired lap as she tried to warm up. I got to lend out a pair of trekking poles to Brian, in turn befriending a very bubbly runner. I got to toss Jeremy’s wet, muddy, disgusting shoes into my truck in an attempt to keep his drop bag dry. I got to…do all of the things for all of the people.
In all seriousness, how does one become a professional volunteer at trail races?!
Yes, I am sad to have missed my “A race” of the year but in the end, it was all worth it. My leg is getting back on board with life + there’s a chance I can pull off another ultra later this season. A tiny glimmer of proof that playing it smart really is worth it…I hope.