I like to run. I've learned that it really isn't about where you're going, it's about the getting there - the how, the why, the who with. This blog is just a little repository for my thoughts along the way; the setbacks, the lessons learned, and the occasional triumph.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Crew

There are runners who go to these hundred-mile events alone, prepare a few drop bags to be distributed along the course and then go “solo” from start to finish. I’m sure there are even runners who prefer to run their races that way, even though it’s certainly harder to do it like that.

Not me. I get by with a little help from my friends. I enjoy the luxury of a support crew. I like the idea of having a pacer, someone to run with me in the wee small hours late on the course.

But it’s one thing for me to drag my own butt all the way out to a race three states from home and spend a weekend working my way from aid station to aid station along a 100 mile course. It’s something else entirely to ask a small group of people to trek out there with me to sit out in the woods for 30 hours just to help me limp through it all. If I finish, I get a nice little award from the race director, a permanent record of my accomplishment to show off to my grandchildren (or you fine folks). The people who come with me just to carry me through it? Well, they mostly just get a sweaty hug from me, and my eternal gratitude, and, you know, hopefully not a sunburn or too many bug bites.

So, yeah, I’m pretty humbled to have friends willing to do that for me.

My team for this year’s Burning River 100 is coming together. I got confirmation this week from two friends in the Cleveland area who are both in to pace me for chunks of those last 40 miles. That brings my crew total to five. Five gracious, generous people who are going to show up and help out of the goodness of their hearts. That = a bounty of riches.

This is who they are:

I first met Sean & Amy at the 2009 installment of Burning River. Sean and I ran a big chunk of the first 50 miles together, shared a lot of stories along the way, and got to know each other about as well as any two people can who meet during a race. Amy was supposed to be running the race with him, but had to change her plans in the weeks before because of a foot injury. Instead, she insisted that Sean still run, crewed for him during the race… And Sean repaid her by popping The Question at the finish line. (She did say ‘Yes.’)

They passed through Chicago last fall and stayed over with me for the weekend. Sunday morning they convinced me to come out and run a little race with them, and we all did a brisk little half-marathon together. They will both spend a chunk of time pacing me overnight at Burning River this time. Sean will take me from around mile 62 to mile 75. (Sean will also be pacing a second runner, later on the course, after he has dropped me off at 75.) Amy is planning to take me the last 12 miles of the course. More than the pacing help, they have also offered up their home for all of us to stay at during race weekend. Have I mentioned that they are awesome? You meet a lot of great people in the ultrarunning world, but they are two of the best.

I met Ryan while on a little show tour four years ago. He worked on the house management staff for the theatre, and was assigned to drive our touring van that spring. It was during that little show that I ran my first ultramarathon and, soon, my first 50-miler (much to the amazement of everyone on the tour). Ryan’s dad was a runner and he inherited the habit from him, but his first obsession was martial arts. Jeet Kune Do is the style that Bruce Lee developed. His goal was to create a martial art practice that would exist outside of parameters and limitations – an idea that will fully apply to running 100 miles.

Ryan will be driving out from Chicago during the day on Saturday and will do about 15 miles with me overnight, bridging the miles between Sean & Amy. He was famous on our tour, four years ago, for starting us out each and every morning with a new ‘Chuck Norris’ joke. I'll be looking forward to sharing some quality time with Ryan -- and to hearing a few of those jokes.

My girlfriend, Jennifer, is flying out from New York to play crew for me out on the course. This will be her first time at an Ultra and the first time she’ll see me in a race. As a runner, your crew is just vital. It’s a lot like a pit crew at a NASCAR race: the driver pulls into the pit, and his crew does a full service job on the car (and the driver) while he just sits there waiting for them to finish so he can go back out and race more laps. The pit stop has to be brief and furious, but without that pit crew, neither the driver nor the car will finish the race. Stretch all that out over a 30 hour event, and remember than my crew will only be seeing me for a few minutes at a time every 2 or 3 hours. That’s it. They get to an aid station, wait two hours for me to get there, then I arrive, grab some food, maybe a couple of supplies and a few minutes later, I’m gone, and the crew heads to the next station to wait some more.

But I can’t do it without them. Having a good crew means there is so much less for me to have to think about. It means so much. Not least is the moral support of having my beautiful girlfriend out there in the woods urging me on. I’ll be looking forward to seeing here every 5 or 6 miles. (As an added bonus, Jen is a licensed massage therapist. At some point, those skills will be a gift.)

Finally, my sister, Heather, is returning, once again, to run this little show and keep everything together. She was with me for my first 100-mile attempt at Burning River in ’09. She came all the way out to San Diego with me to try again last June. I DNF’d them both, but she is almost as determined as I am to get me to the finish line this time. We’ve both learn a lot over the last two years. Hopefully, that applied knowledge and some stubborn sibling will-power will see us through.

Heather really is a perfect crew chief. She’s a professional stage manager, she’s used to making decisions, she’s not bashful about asking other people for what she needs, and she's willing to step in and step up whenever the situation calls for it. Plus, she’s, you know, my sister, so she loves me and worries about me is unafraid to coddle me or push me as she sees fit. These trials and errors the last two years have been as much hers as mine, and I’m very glad she’ll be back out there with me one more time. I'm also glad that Jen will out there with her, so she won’t be alone. I think, between the two of them, they might even have a little fun with it all.

As for me, my job is simple: Just keep moving forward, get myself from aid station to aid station, and never forget to say thank you thank you thank you to the incredible people who are volunteering just to help me do this silly thing.

Thank you, guys.

1 comment:

Chris said...

A crew? That's awesome. I should try that sometime. Of course, it all still comes down to you the runner putting one foot in front of the other...over and over for 100 miles. Best of luck. Hope this crappy Midwest weather cuts you a break next weekend.