Thursday, February 26, 2015

Crewing the 2015 LOViT 100 Miler

My friend Jeremy Day was signed up to run the LOViT 100 Miler, named for the Lake Ouachita Vista Trail outside Mt Ida, Arkansas, on February 20, 2015. So I came along to drive him home after the race and to crew him during the race, helping out however I could so he could finish and collect another 100 mile belt buckle.

I’m going to post in this blog entry about crewing the race, and I’ll follow up in a couple days with a blog post about pacing the race (updated: pacing report here). My hope is that (1) this helps those who crew, pace, or run LOViT 100 Miler in the future, and (2) more people learn that crewing is one tough job! I hear so many jumping and frothing at the mouth to crew and pace strangers without realizing the time and energy involved.

The Set-up and Getting to the Race

This race was unusual with its 6 pm start on Friday. That would mean about 19 hours of the 30 hours to cutoff would be in the dark. Unfortunately, it was also going to be cold and wet.

Jeremy and I had discussed that I would not pace him at this race. Besides the logistics of getting a ride to an aid station, neither of us were crazy about the possibility I could roll an ankle on the slick technical terrain. But Friday morning, after he had been up with his 7 week old son off and on during the night, Jeremy was worried about getting sleepy during the race and warned me he might end up wanting pacing. Luckily, I had brought running clothes (thinking I would get out for a run nearby between crewing moments) and then he brought one of his extra hydration packs that I could use just in case.

I arrived Thursday to spend some extra time with the Day family and love on baby Oscar.
He is such a cutie!
On Friday afternoon, we traveled the 3 hours to the host hotel just a mile from the start/finish line, and Jeremy was able to get a short nap on the drive and again when we arrived, before the 6 pm start. There were 13 starters in the 100 mile. I said hi to my friends Lalita, Dat, and Chris. The 100K (which Dat and Chris were running) would start at 6:00 the next morning and have 23 starters. It was a small event with a personal feel  - depending on your pace, this can be lonely, but the individual attention by volunteers and the race director is pretty special.

Race Start, a Surprise Visit, and a Restless Night (for me!)

When race directors Dustin and Rachel sent the runners off to start the race, it was 34 degrees and raining. It was forecast to rain all night until midway into the next day. Jeremy doesn’t require a lot of crewing help usually so, with the unusual timing of this race start, I had told him I wouldn’t see him again until mile 47 because I planned to get a full night’s sleep until 5:30 am.

I went to dinner at the resort restaurant and, while looking over the crew document, I realized the aid station for mile 9 was only a few minutes’ drive away. I thought that with an entire night ahead of rain and darkness, it would be a nice surprise to see a friendly face when he wasn’t expecting it, and it could be a chance to fix anything (like deciding he wanted different layers once he was out there running) or get something from his supplies that he had forgotten. So I bundled up and grabbed Jeremy’s supply bag and drove out there. I was walking up to the aid station just as he arrived! He was good with what he had but seemed happy with the surprise visit, and I headed back to the hotel.

The rain was pouring down when I returned to the cottage and I felt bad that I wasn’t helping through the night hours. It’s hard to accept responsibility for helping someone for just part of the race, especially the later parts, where things not taken care of early in a race can start to go downhill fast. Not that he isn’t perfectly capable, but a crew member can just be that extra little objective voice to keep things on target, especially speed, hydration, nutrition, and temperature regulation. So I set an alarm for 1:30 am, thinking that if his pace was slowing, I would run out to the aid station (the same one I had been to for mile 9). I then proceeded to wake up every hour. L I would check the online live tracking (which was phenomenal and timely). At 1:30 am, he was still running on the pretty fast side of the time range we had discussed, so I hemmed and hawed but assumed I would miss him by the time I drove out there (turns out I was right). I went back to sleep and tossed and turned more. At 4 am, after more bad dreams and waking up every hour the whole night, I got up for good.

Miles 42 and 47 - In Good Spirits

Now I had time to go to Charlton aid station at mile 42 when he wasn’t expecting to see me until mile 47. Driving to the aid station, I went through rain and also experienced the worst fog I’ve driven in in years. And I made a bonehead move of passing the mile 42 aid station, driving all the way out to mile 47 because I was sleepy and groggy, and then having to hurry back in the fog to the mile 42 aid station.

My friend Lalita (who was crewing friend Elizabeth who is a similar pace as Jeremy) was there when I arrived. It seemed like she managed to be at all the aid stations all the time! Magic? While waiting, Lalita squealed as a field mouse ran through the pavilion, and I was told I had missed the big campground rat who had gotten curious about the aid station before I arrived!

Jeremy was in great spirits at mile 42 and seemed surprised to see me already. He definitely didn’t look like he had spent 12 hours in the rain! 

I headed off to the Crystal Springs aid station at mile 47. The aid stations were never more than 7.5 miles apart, and most of them were 4-5 miles apart. Driving from one to the next was never more than a 22 minute drive! Usually crew were allowed at every other one, but this was the one place that you could access two in a row. Jeremy was still doing well but asked at that point that I might want to plan to pace from mile 87 because he was feeling a little sleepy already. He gave me a bunch of wet clothes to dry out with his car’s heater after he changed into dry stuff. I also took his headlamp and flashlight from him.
In the middle of the glamorous task of
changing headlamp and flashlight batteries
I traveled back to the hotel to grab a shirt Jeremy had forgotten to pack in his bag of supplies, and I grabbed him a coffee at the country store to try to perk him up a bit now that the store had opened for the morning. Then on to the Brady Mountain Aid Station at mile 58. This was the longest stretch between seeing him, with 11 miles.

Miles 58 and 65 - The End of the Rain, Time for Something Drastic

When Jeremy arrived at the aid station, he got to see the creek crossing just 20 feet from the aid station. There was some cursing as he waded across the shin deep cold water. 
He is only smiling because I demanded that he do so.
It was now noon and, after 18 hours of rain, the rain probability had dropped to almost 0%. With the help of two of the guy volunteers, Jeremy changed all his top layers. Wet clammy skin plus dry performance fabric equals a sticky time trying to get new clothes on!

I said I would meet him again in 7 miles. At Mile 65 was the Avery Recreation Area aid station, with a pretty view of the river with the dam and spillway. Jeremy was right on the cutoff pace tied to the 30 hour final cutoff when he arrived. The volunteers weren’t bothered because he was still moving. He seemed relieved. But we were both worried going forward. He decided to do something he called “drastic” – he went from the 110 oz LARGE pack he had been carrying (to train with it for Bigfoot 200 coming up in August) and had me grab his 20 oz handheld. Lighter now, he hoped to make up a little time.
I showed Jeremy a picture of his 7 week old baby that I asked his wife to send me, and he headed off again. I would see him again back at the Brady Mountain Aid Station at mile 71.

I went to a convenience store and grabbed Butterfinger Bites. A favorite candy of his, in addition to the pictures from his wife of the baby, it was in my arsenal of psychological tools I was ready to employ to keep him moving if needed!

Mile 71 – Just Keep Moving! No DNFs Allowed!

I waited at the Brady Mountain aid station eagerly with Lalita and Josh (both of whom knew Jeremy). Lalita was crewing Elizabeth who came into the aid station very focused and close to cutoff pace. But in what makes this trail community awesome, in the middle of downing some food and while she's working through her own race issues, Elizabeth looked up and saw me, and probably my concerned look, and said “He wants to drop. Don’t let him.” Uh, ok. Now I was really nervous.

He came in, just a little behind cutoff pace. And yes, he was talking about DNFing. He had fallen early in the race and hurt his hip flexor. And with another 60 miles on his legs, he was in a lot of pain and having trouble with each step. He couldn't imagine being able to continue with how painful it was feeling.

I love this moment when I think back, not because he was hurt of course, but because Josh, Lalita, and I rallied and triaged and troubleshooted (troubleshot?) and that's what the ultrarunning family does! A lot of pep talks and tough love on the emotional side. I showed him another picture I had been sent of his infant son. I had brought him more coffee and had him drink that. On the physical side, we found a foam roller for his hip flexor, then Lalita and I each offered up a hip flexor stretch (hers hit the target area!), Lalita poked around at his hip flexor trying to massage it out, she found a tennis ball and rolled it with that, and then he was moving a little bit better…. And we kicked him out of the aid station. 

But not before I told him I would pace him at mile 82 instead of 87. “Are you sure you can do that?” he said, referencing that we had agreed 18 miles of that much hilly terrain would be difficult for me at my current training. In the middle of his pain, he seemed genuinely concerned about me. “Yeah,” I said. “I can keep up forever at the pace you are now going.” He he he.

He crossed the shin deep stream he had cursed on his way out to this aid station. He was prepared with dry socks from his drop bag at the previous aid station at mile 68 to change into after crossing the stream. He sat down on a rock to change socks, and Josh said he was taking too long. He said, “Hold my gloves.” He proceeded to jump across this 5 foot wide creek crossing! After helping Jeremy, where I gave him crap about “it can hurt a little more by running or you can do 22 minutes per mile walking and it hurt a little less. So I expect a run.” And he hobbled down the trail away from us.

Prepping To Pace at Mile 82

Lalita was so nice to help me out with the logistics of pacing (which are SO much easier on a looped course than an out-and-back like this one or a point-to-point). I parked my car at the finish line and she gave me a ride back to the mile 82 Crystal Springs aid station. And she further took care of me by stopping at the country store to make sure I ate a burger before my long night of unexpected pacing ahead AND bought that burger for me when I lamented that I had left my wallet locked in the car at the finish line!

Then I just worried for hours. Each headlamp that appeared in the distance was a moment to hold my breath and hope he was still moving forward. 11 miles of waiting. Then it was the cutoff for that aid station. Then it was after the cutoff. 

And I’ll separate my pacing into a separate post to come next! (Updated: Pacing Report HERE)

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