Friends and family said, "You are going to California to do what?!?"
"I'm going to wear a wetsuit and stand in a river waist-deep from midnight to 5 am and help these incredible athletes cross the cold American River at mile 80 of a crazy hard 100 mile race."
Yeah. Sounds pretty crazy.
|My volunteer shirt. Each area had their own shirt and shirt color.|
First Stop - Visit the Finish LineI carpooled with friends for this trip from San Francisco airport. 2 hours later and we were at the Auburn high school stadium that serves as the finish line. Runners enter the stadium and run 3/4 of the track to run through the arch.
|The stadium where runners finish|
|They were setting up the finish line!|
|Timothy Olson completing his series of high-fives coming into the finish|
|A happy Timothy waves to his adoring audience!|
We then saw Ryan Sandes claim second place ten to 15 minutes later.
|Ryan Sandes finishes strong with 2nd place!|
It Zips Up The BackWe found aid station captain Steve, and he was happy to see us. He put everybody to work and ordered us to change into our wetsuits and get in the water. I'd never worn a wetsuit. Changing into it took entirely too long as by the time Elise and I squeezed my legs in, we then learned that I had not paid attention to her instructions, and had put it on backwards. Argh.
20 minutes later I was squeezed into this sausage casing of a wetsuit. Lovely. Into the river, created from snowmelt, I went with my headlamp on. They had a cable strung across the river and a thick rope cable-tied to it. A raft was off to the side with a boater who could take volunteers to the other side or the occasional participant who didn't want to wade across, or was deemed unsafe to wade across safely.
We were spread out on the cable every few feet. We would shine our lamps low into the water, shout jokes and encouraging words to the runners and their pacers, point out dangerous rocks, grab a shoulder or arm to stabilize them, move gear that threatened to drop in and get wet, and hold the cable steady under the weight of runners leaning on it.
|Seeing the Cable Crossing for the first time. Before I went to get the wetsuit on.|
|Where I spent Western States|
A Friendly FaceThe strength of these runners was so impactful. They dutifully waded through this frigid river one step at a time. A few of us developed jokes to tell them and statements to get a laugh. The fellas always had the hardest time with that first step into the deeper water that caused certain body parts to get very very wet and cold. We heard all manner of obscenities and shouts that night. We would joke, "Only 3 piranhas spotted so far tonight." or "We've been accident-free now for 20 minutes!" and "If you round down, we haven't lost a runner yet!!"
We were thanked by everyone. People incredulously asked how we could stay in so long, not realizing until we answered that we were blessed with the wetsuits. A dozen times runners lamented our "awful job" we'd been given as volunteers, and I would say, "Awful?!? I flew all the way from Texas JUST to help all of you. There's nowhere I'd rather be than helping you fine folks." That would get a jaw drop then a huge smile. I was happy to let them know that what they were doing was amazing and meant a lot to all of us. Ironically, friends at the aid station on the other side of the river actually had a runner say to them, "Did you know there's a volunteer in the river who flew all the way from Texas to help?" They laughed and said, "Yep, that's Libby." So fun!
|Waist deep, in a river, in a wetsuit, with a headlamp. Oh, and I can't swim.|
Around 1 am, I hear from the far side of the river someone yelling my name from the rocks. Aside from our headlamps, it's basically pitch dark out here. A million stars, the silhouette of pine trees against a black sky, and occasionally little bobbing headlamps of runners coming down the canyon and then those who have crossed heading back up. I yell, "Yes, who is it?" It's Lesli, Josh's wife. And over the next hour, she's concerned we haven't seen Josh yet, with his pacer Jeremy who is also my running coach.
2 am, Josh and Jeremy arrive! Josh gets to me first, big smile, and I give him a big hug and lots of encouraging words. Jeremy next and another hug. This was Josh's first 100, and I never get to see Jeremy because he doesn't live locally.
|A picture of Josh later, when he would come in to the finish|
|Nick as he would look coming into the finish later.|
Now It's Just Plain ColdI took a short 20 minute break after that, my first and only break, to get some pizza, some pulled pork, and Elise fixed me a hot steamy cup of hot cocoa - such a doll! The volunteer spread of food was pretty great, along with the volunteers that tended to that. You didn't know how cold you were until you got out of the river. And my shoulders and thighs ached slightly from stabilizing the cable and staying on our own feet.
Through the 3 o' clock hour, it got colder and colder. Low 40s in the air temperature. At some point the water was feeling warmer than the air, which was weird. To warm my hands, I would dip them in this river that had been created from snowmelt. Weird. You could see your breath in the air. The jobs closer to the bank were less fun because less of you was submerged so it was colder.
At 4 am, I'd spent a total of 5 hours in the river and had enough. The volunteer group was a good number. And I knew I needed extra time to get out of my wetsuit and changed in the dark in the SUV at the campsite. And man, peeling off a wetsuit is definitely a skill I need to work on. I also hadn't realized how numb my fingers were.
See It Through to the FinishA couple warning horns in the half hour before aid station close. And then that final honk at 5 am that showed that the course at this point was closed. Sadly, 2 runners and their pacers came in minutes later. There were tears. That was rough. Friend Laura was sweet and gave them rides into town.
We went back to the finish line in the stadium at 6 am and stayed until exactly at the cutoff. There were some touching finishes. I was able to scream and cheer in Josh and Nick. I was able to meet Josh and Martin's crews and hang out with Suann and Jeremy a bit. We saw a local, very social runner, who had an entourage cheering for him as he was the last official finisher, a little over a minute before the 30 hour cutoff.
|Josh Witte completes the Western States 100-mile Endurance Run, raising his arms in triumph!|
|Nick Polito finishes the Western States 100-mile Endurance Run!|
Homeward BoundA long 2 hour drive back to San Francisco. I'd slept a restless 30 minutes all night but the adrenaline was still there so no sleeping in the car for me.
Flying out of SFO ended up being a disaster. And by our 3rd plane change due to "broken part" issues, I crashed hard and slept the whole plane ride. Home at 2 am instead of my originally planned 9 pm arrival. But worth the trip.