I drove down Thursday night for the pre-race party (very chilly, we didn't stay long), where for the first time I met Kate's crew (which now seems impossible, feels like I have known them for years). I then led the group back to check into our hotel 30 minutes away, taking a wrong turn and finding a sweet shortcut in the process. I shared my room with Brian's Stuff. Everything was unpacked, sorted, re-packed, drop bags labeled, and then we went over some of the logistics. He left to stay in Kate's room, and I slept like a rock until he came back at 5am to get ready. Breakfast was eaten (& included a dance party by the girls, so much excitement for Kate's big day!), then cars were packed, and we were off. The race began at 8am, and we were there by 7am to soak up the pre-race atmosphere.
The Zumbro 100 is a six-loop course, with only three aid stations for me to visit (because 1 & 4 = same stop and 2 & 3 = same stop, plus start/finish line), which made crewing far simpler than the Superior 100, where we were always hopping in the car to drive up the SHT another 10 miles to search for the next stop, on unfamiliar roads, fearing missing turns in the dark north woods, fingers crossed the GPS wouldn't fail. Here, after lap 1, I always knew the route I needed to take. And I could drive from start/finish to AS 1/4, so I still had access to ALL of our things in the car at least once each loop.
But Brian's time between 4 & S/F, or from S/F back to 1, was always VERY short. I sped down the hilly windy gravel roads like an asshole, because I had a cushion of AT MOST 10-15 minutes between my arrival & his. In those 10-15 minutes, I had time to visit the vault toilet (best choice over the porta-pots at 1/4 or the woods at 2/3), update the iPad spreadsheet for a fresh projection on his overall finish time (too heavy to tote with me, and no signal to be able to transfer the spreadsheet to my phone), eat a cold hot dog from the cooler, make a sandwich for myself to eat later, plus gather any gear or food requests for Brian. And then I was set (or stuck) for 3-4 hours with whatever I had on me only. Brian had drop bags at the two ASs for us to work with, but I was also supplying myself of course. Unlike Superior, I wasn't pacing, only crewing, so that was less off my plate - but I was his entire crew, versus the 5 peeps we had last time.
Each lap I had 10-20 minutes at AS 1/4 on the way out, trekked 1 muddy mile back to 2/3, where I had 60-90 minutes to hang out, then the trek back to 1/4, then another 30-ish minutes before the blast back to S/F to start it all again. On the first lap, I went on foot from S/F to 1/4, to figure out whether it was perhaps faster than driving. It was about the same, but a lot more work (only a mile, but up & over a helluva ridge), and I would slow down a LOT if I had to do it every lap, so I took the car for the 5 remaining laps. Still, I put on about 17 miles myself, a loop just crewing!
The drive was also my only chance to attempt a text to FB to update the crowd on how Brian was doing. Half my updates didn't even go through. There was zero coverage anywhere else (unless I trekked to the top of the ridge again, for which I didn't have much time, and even less desire), and not a chance at actually getting onto FB to properly tag him so that all of HIS people could also see the updates. Next time maybe he'll let me take his phone to send the updates from.
The 100-miler (6 laps) began at 8am Friday, the 50-miler (3 laps) at midnight, and the 17-miler (1 lap) at 9am Saturday.
I do this because Brian needs me.
I was able to help one of my very best friends, my favorite running buddy, to completely CRUSH his goal.
Experienced runners come to these things with A, B, C (& etc) goals, which can (& usually must) change as conditions change (usually deteriorating) from expected/hoped-for conditions. There was an AS where we talked through Brian's math on his finish time, I think at S/F before his final lap, and he literally said, "So, worst case scenario, I still hit my A goal." That, my friends, is a statement that can only be made by a talented, amazing runner.
He blasted through incredibly fast first laps, then slowed down right on schedule, and never came too close to falling apart. For one little block of time on lap 4, the wait between 2 & 3, I was worried, as he sat down a long time at 2 to take in a ton of calories (and LOTS of salty soup) & recover from a massive bonk. But when he came back through 3, he was back to normal, ready to kill it again. What makes Brian so easy to crew is that he never loses his faculties. He KNEW what he needed post-bonk, never turned down food after that, doing his best to take in whatever he could stomach, even when he didn't WANT to eat.
Generally my crewing job is as simple as: have Brian's gear changes ready, provide the food & liquids that he wants, take notes for the next AS needs, and don't fill him full of bullshit about how good he looks or how "few" miles he has left. He is EASY. I don't have to think for him, just have to fulfill his needs; many times crews need to do all the thinking for their runner. Not me! I might have worried about his mental state for 5% of this thing, whereas other runners take a LOT of support in that arena, more like 95%. Sure, he complained that he hurt, that this next section is the worst, that he didn't want to do this anymore, etc, but I just agreed with (or flat-out ignored) his opinions without needing to prop him back up, because he wasn't really DOWN. We both knew that he would go on anyway, regardless, because he was well prepared to have those thoughts in advance and knew that they would come but they didn't matter. Zero doubt that he would finish, barring perhaps an unforeseen injury. The aches and pains he developed (or re-developed) as the miles went on, were all expected, and again, he knew they would come but they didn't matter. The dude has mental toughness, times infinity. This makes crewing for him so damned easy, and is why I have so much mental energy left to give the other runners.
Brian's finish time was 22:05:08, a mind-boggling 5th place against unbelievable competition. I am in awe that I ever get to run with this badass, much less help him conquer these insane goals. Or, crush them, being his original goal was sub-24 when he signed up, then increased to sub-23 by the time it came. And here he is at 22:05. I can't even fathom how he does this, but I am grateful he lets me help!
I do this because I need this.
I spent 7am Friday to 2pm Saturday in the woods. I soaked up the sound of running river water each of the dozen times I crossed the bridge. I contemplated the height of the ridges in awe, with jealousy of the runners who climbed them & experienced the views from the top. I enjoyed the crunch of leaves underfoot, especially if it meant a runner was cruising up to be greeted. I thanked a tree whose branch saved me as I slipped in the mud on a trek to 2/3. I watched the sun paint the sky as it sank. I took in the smoky bonfire smells and felt the glorious HEAT. I stared up at the stars SO MANY TIMES, both silently still & soaking, but also searching for constellations with Todd at AS 2/3. I greeted, literally out loud, the fat half-moon as it rose, and sent it my love on a trek to 1/4 with it guiding my way. (Doesn't everyone talk to the moon?) I stopped and listened to amazingly loud frogs, wondering whether they were happy with the chilly night. I watched the fog move in, in awe of the speedy fast beads of moisture flying through the light of my headlamp as I stood on the bridge over the river. I marveled at the sparkly morning frost everywhere, even on the jackets of the runners. I happily watched the sun lighten the sky and asked it to please burn off the mist and warm us all up, especially my cold feet, but not so much to make the runners overheat. (Doesn't everyone talk to the sun?) I lounged in the abundant sunshine of Saturday morning like a kitty cat, enjoying the race atmosphere without making any effort for a couple hours. This kind of deep, extended immersion in nature is magic for this girl's brain. I didn't think, even for a second, about work or emails or much of anything from my "regular" life. I didn't miss Facebook (other than wishing I could see comments to relay to Brian if he should need them), or even my own bed. I was FILLED UP TO OVERFLOWING by all of that nature.
I helped, everywhere. Something about trail races flips my caretaking switch into overload, and I want to help in any & every capacity. I like to help where I'm appreciated, and trail runners are effusively appreciative. I helped Brian, obviously. I also helped Kate, of course, at one point hiking & chatting with her from 1/4 to my turnoff to 2/3, carrying her trekking poles for her later use. But that isn't enough for me. I helped AS 2/3 set up when I got there on the first lap. I helped them serve runners when they were short on volunteers, I shared the banana-slicing tip, I fetched drop bags, I repeated numbers to the radio operators. I had to stop myself from diving behind the tables to take charge at every AS visit, honestly, because I simply wanted the best possible experience for each & every runner. Any runner that I recognized in any way (via previous trail races or UMTR on FB or other runner friends or anything at all), I dove in to help. I regularly helped Doug, who was neck & neck in competition with Brian, because it's a delight to help such a gracious runner go forth & be badass. Besides, it's not about beating another runner, it's about beating your own self. I was Jordan's personal helper one lap as he mentally struggled at 2, and was rewarded when he came around a brand new man at 3. I tried to help Alex's mental state as she sat down to take in soup & let Julio deal with her injury at 2. I helped a runner at S/F whose crew was MIA, as several of us offered what we could as substitutes to his missing gear & grub. I saw a runner with a shirt from Bigfork, MN, a teensy town next to the teensy town my cousins grew up in, so I swooped in to help him out and I became his personal cheerleader ("Hey, Bigfork!!") each time I saw him. Brian W got a loud, perhaps downright obnoxious "Mr Wooooooooods!" greeting whenever I saw him, and was rewarded with his infectious laughter & great spirits. I finally met DailyMile friend Rachel in-person, as she passed through 1/4 in the 50-mile race. At the S/F area as the 17-milers showed up to check in, filled with nervous energy before their 9am start, I chatted with several that I knew, and they got to see & congratulate Brian, a nice dose of motivation for their "little" race (not at all little!). Every runner I dealt with, even just passing them on my hike between AS's, got nothing but enthusiasm & love from me, which I was overjoyed to give. It fills me up as I give it out.
Oh, and did I ever enjoy the PEOPLE. Kate's crew was a bundle of energy, and I loved their ridiculous enthusiasm, which included Mary & Karen dancing under the disco ball in the tent at 1/4, in the middle of the night. I reconnected with peeps like Todd & Amy & the Bartons & Arika & Matt & Doug & the Thiedes & John & Robyn, but I also made new friends. I dropped down to pet so many dogs at this race, it was like a pooch playground and I wished my two could've been there as well, as both owners & canines enjoyed each other's company. In addition to the many runners I helped & greeted, I talked to AS workers: about the logistics, about the race, about the runners, about their own WHY for helping out at this strange little party in the woods. I accepted a ride when halfway out to 2/3 from a volunteer on a 4-wheeler, and asked him where he'd been all my life, or at least my first 5 laps. I talked to other crews about how their runners were doing, empathized with the effort we were all making to help them have their best race, joked about how happy we'd be some glorious day when our feet were warm again. I learned of a less-muddy shortcut (for crews) from the winner's very nice girlfriend, then found it with Julio's help. I learned of the course record set by said winner from another crew that I enjoyed lots of bonfire time with. I may not know a thing about these people's "regular" lives,
The aftermath: I'm tired.
I was up at 5am Friday and didn't crawl into my bed until 830pm on Saturday. I am stupidly sleep-sensitive, as anyone who knows me is aware, but I was fully energized for Brian's entire race, easily giving all my brain power to his logistics, upbeat enthusiasm to the runners, and physically managing it just fine. But after his finish, as my crew duties wound down to minimal (I still kept tabs on his recovery), and more bodies were around to be cheerleaders to the runners, I slowly became dumb & lethargic, and should have napped. But how could I? There was still Kate to watch for, other known runners to cheer on, and (even more!) friends to chat with. Post-finish, we cleaned up, went back to 1/4 to see Kate on lap 5, back to S/F to see Kate start her final lap, and then returned to 1/4 as she masterfully trekked through without stopping, After, even though Kate still had another 5 hours to go and I very much wanted to see her finish this incredibly hard thing, I simply HAD to get home.
When I left, I was in tears. I had to say goodbye to all these lovely trail-race friends at AS 1/4, goodbye to Kate's lovely people, and of course goodbye to my bestie Brian. But I didn't want to say goodbye. I didn't want to leave. I didn't want Zumbroday to end, and I certainly didn't want to go back to normal life. After a weekend like this, normal life is a vast pit of boring suckage, even though my normal life is really damned good. So, honestly: I literally cried as I turned away from 1/4, the people, the race, the woods, on a sad slow trudge back to my car.
I knew this emotional overflow was mainly because I was so beyond overtired. Had there not been people in the parking lot making noise (cute little Boy Scouts doing repair work), I would have bedded down for a nap. Instead I found some crunchy & some spicy grub to keep me awake, and headed for home. I quickly realized I shouldn't be driving: my reactions were very slow and I felt like I was half-drunk. I wouldn't have worried a lick if not for the other cars, but I knew if I needed a quick response to some dimwit, or if I was the dimwit who tried to catch a missed turn at the last second, it could end badly. But what option did I have, besides keep going? I turned on the A/C and cranked up the AC/DC and did my best to stay alert. I went all the way to 494 and then realized that I shouldn't attempt multiple lanes without a nap. I took an exit, found a restaurant parking lot with some almost-shade, leaned my seat back, & made a pillow. At home I sleep with ear plugs in a pitch-black room with a perfectly worn 25-year old blanket, and not very well anywhere else. I thought I'd doze a bit, but I instantly fell asleep for a solid hour.
The rest of the drive, I was definitely still tired, but I was more alert to watch the signs, to keep tabs on the cars around me, to feel normal road rage, etc. I made a stop at the Avon rest area, a traditional "final scene" for all of Brian's epic weekends. The stroll along the lake in the breeze refreshed me enough to make it to Sauk for groceries, then finally, my sweet sweet home, where I unloaded all the things, ate all the pizza (the sole reason for the grocery stop), took a glorious shower, and then slept all the sleep.
Today, I am still tired. I am aching: lower body due to my 17 miles, and upper body due to the backpacks o' plenty that I schlepped for each of those miles. I feel the fatigue of no sleep in a major way, and will definitely be needing a nap this afternoon. I can only imagine how the runners - the ones who really & truly Did Work, Son - actually feel, when they put on 6x the miles and intensity (both physical & emotional). I'm sad that I'm not there to keep tabs on Brian or Kate, but I know Mary & Aaron are, and they are in good hands for prompt recovery. Or, as prompt as recovery can be after 100 freaking miles.
But seriously, when can I do this again?
My next adventure of this sort will be the Superior 50k, where a great big bunch of my local ROUS pals shall tackle a trail race beyond their expectations, and Brian & I are crewing the entire group. Following that, Brian's Tahoe 100, where pacer duties shall even be required out of me, in actual legit mountains, which I find a bit terrifying & daunting, yet totally awesome. This fall, another trip back up north for the Superior 100, where again I should get to pace through some dark hours under the bazillion stars. And probably even more other volunteering excursions, more than my schedule can properly handle, but knowing how vastly important such weekends are for my brain: totally worth squeezing in.
The pay for this crew chief gig, in terms of measurable things, is quite terrible. I gained a sore body. I am out a day of PTO, a night of sleep, two tanks of gas, $100 on a hotel room, and the chance for my own weekend trail run. I missed the freaking powerlifting meet at my beloved NSS, for the first time ever. In exchange for all of that, Brian gave me his profuse thanks, a Zumbro tee, and let me keep the opened Epic bar that wound up in my bag. That's it.
But, seriously? That's more than enough, because honestly, absolutely, I need nothing. I don't do this for any kind of payment beyond the experience of it, which cannot be measured. I am grateful that something I love to do is something the world needs. All I need in return is one thing: Brian's promise that I can continue crewing him as long as he continues racing. That is it.
Because if it's not obvious from all of the above rambling, I am simply in love with weekends like this...truly, madly, deeply. I get all the excitement & adrenaline of race day, without all the work. I can continue running the shorter miles that my own body is happiest with, and still experience the epic of insane distances. I do it for the love of my bestie and the love of the nature and the love of helping and the love of the people.
And I am fulfilled beyond belief.