Friday, October 28, 2011

  Crewing ? I'm supposed to be running the Pony Express  but I'm currently in the middle of a 6 week break due to, " robust bone marrow edema consistent with stress reaction. "  It took a few days for the reality of my injury to sink in. My gait was so off it was affecting my SI joint in the opposite leg. Even my coach was urging me to back off, not something he  does often.  The pony express  was going to be my first 50 mile race. I signed up based on the low technicality of the course. It appeals to my strength, endurance. Most of my friends know I'm not a fast runner "yet" but I can go far, how far remains to be seen.
I decided to offer to crew for someone instead. I told Davy Crockett the race director that I was thinking of crewing and rolling my entry over to next year. He quickly responded with the name of a runner, Tim Long, and said he is in need of a crew. My friend Jill said "let's go!"  We will learn the course and know better how to prepare for next year. I already had the time off so what the heck. I thought if I can't run I'll be the very best crew person possible.
We decided to stay at my sisters house, I was reluctant because I like to show up early for races but Jill thought a good nights sleep was going to be important. Race morning we got off track driving to the race but luckily we ran into others trying to find the start and followed them. Jill called Tim and told him the deal so he left his things on top of his car. I was anxious because I like to feel more prepared and wanted to have a  conversation with our runner before hand. We started off down the course and Jill described what Tim would be wearing but when we saw him I did not stop at first until he waved, oops,  sorry Tim I didn't recognize you. Crewing for someone you don't know is a bit awkward.  I knew he was not used to having a crew and judging by the way we were connected to each other I assumed Tim was emailing Davy to see about running without one. 
I'm very much a communicator and like to focus on details of how to go about things in the most efficient way possible. So I'm often trying to negotiate these things beforehand not just with running but life in general. When facilitating a meeting we call this contracting. This is where you go over all the details of expectations and requirements you all have and come to agreements about things in order to eliminate as much of the guess work as possible. (a skill I want to better develop )  We did not have much time to do this but I did get a few ideas about what our guy would want during his run based off some email exchanges. We started off just giving him gels and water and driving ahead as far as he told us each stop.  I brought all kinds of extra things, clothing, batteries, mashed potatoes, assorted gels, arnica, magnesium lotion, the stick, k-tape, first aid, and even a tennis ball for IT issues.
The way I imagine this would play out was he would tell us exactly when he'd want to change his shoes, put on warmer clothes,  eat real food,and maybe even what to do when he's thinking about dropping. Maybe a safe word?? I heard Ellie Greenwood had a phrase, bangers n mash,  for her western states plan, she took first this year. My friend and lead woman Michelle, and I share the same coach, Douglas. He is an accomplished runner who has won his age group in Leadville three years and at 50 years old ran to Winfiled in under 9 hours. He told Michelle's handler (that's what he called her) that at twin lakes he wanted her to sit in a chair eat soup, change shirt  shoes and socks and have  a washcloth ready for her face. He was very specific. I also watched ,  Margaret Heaphy crew for a guy at Hardrock and observed her at several of the aid stations taking care of her runner and even massaging his feet. Something I was willing to do but not without a conversation first, lol. I asked my friend George about crewing for Marshall Ulrich and  what he does and he also gave me some tips.  Earlier in the year I volunteered at a race in California and saw Wild Bill, known for his burritos at coyote2 moon, bring runner after runner back from the dead.    One thing I kept thinking during this race was that the dust had to have an effect on all the runners.  That was another aspect, recovering from a cold,  I got laryngitis and was not communicating very well which was extremely  frustrating. This meant I could not check things out they way I'm used to.  I did not want to focus on my being sick that because I could tell from Tim's polite and quiet disposition  that he was starting to focus on us too much.    My intuition was in tact but I was not following it it as well as I usually do.  I have no regrets but I like to look at things in retrospect and determine what I'd do differently next time. Even if next time means I'll be asking a crew what I'd like for a run.  It was challenging because I would pick up on cues but then not follow through on my intuition. I knew he told us to go to 7 miles ahead but if I would have stopped short and he found out it was only 3 or 4 miles I thought that might also be defeating. Jill kept saying he was not dressed well enough and she was right. I think she told him to put on gloves at least five times.  It's tough to tell a person what to do when you don't know them and they have much more experience running than you do. I would not have listened to us either.  :) To expect a complete stranger to trust you is a bit unrealistic.  One thing I really wanted to see Tim do was eat something. The soup was not prepared and it turns out it was up to me to make it at the aid station. I panicked because this was one thing Tim and I  did discuss. While passing through the aid station I asked the guy there if I could take some in my thermos  on our way back through and he said "sure." it turns out I was supposed to make it too!  We got back to that aid station the soup was still in the can.  I quickly dumped 6 cans of various soup in a pot and started to attempt to heat it up. It was taking forever. I'm not complaining, the guy there was super nice I just did not plan for this and might of known more had I been able to speak and ask questions.  So when Tim was ready to eat there was no soup. I did  not give up on the idea of Tim accomplishing his goal until he pulled up in a car. He hitched a ride only a mile back from where we stopped.  He was on track for a pretty fast time and when he arrived at our car he was 7 miles out and only 18 hours and 45 minutes had elapsed.  I said to Jill I should drive back  and see how he was doing but I didn't. It turns out he was in some trouble. My intuition is usually a much better guide than the plan but I still take comfort in having a plan.  I think if I crew for someone again I will ask more questions about what to do late in the game. I would do many things differently. Clothing is important. If you are still moving OK you can stay warm but if you start moving slowly because of any kind of physical issue your body temperature can drop way too much.  Also, I would have had two handhelds and just swapped them out each stop but as far as we knew we just had one ( later we found a second one )  I would ask at what point the runner  wants a recovery drink or electrolyte drink if at all.  I'm always happy to gain more experience whether it be running or crewing, although I prefer running. I recommend crewing for someone at least once if you are a runner because I think it makes you smarter and better prepared to know and ask for what you want. I still think had I done a few things differently I may have been able to at least impact the outcome if only slightly. I personally have learned so more about myself from the not so successful races I've had.  Bighorn 50 mile was bigger than me. I was not prepared and signed up on a whim but I learned I'm brave and that I'm bold enough to risk failure for the sake of feeling alive. Leadville marathon I got lost, and I learned that I can climb a 13,200 and some odd foot mountain feeling utterly defeated.  Pony express crewing I learned that I still have so much to learn about running and people in general.  I learned that when you are crewing for someone it is not about you.  This can be a tough pill to swallow because I really wanted to see a different outcome but it was not my race.
Getting to know my friend Jill better was a pleasure and it was fun to explore Utah with her after the race. In fact,  we headed out the Antelope island and I made a decision to shoot for the 50 mile race out there in the spring.  My mothers ashes are there so this will be the perfect place to run 50 miles. One reason I started running in the first place was to deal with the grief of  loosing my mom and my foster son in a very short period of time.  Feeling inspired after meeting Jeff Galloway, I signed up for a half marathon and then later a marathon. In a few days it will be a year since I ran my first marathon. Since then I have ran a total of four marathons, two 50k races and a handful of half marathons. I have had many different experiences running with lots of different people from new runners to elite athletes and have learned something from all of them.  I have surprised myself over and over. I have embraced every aspect of running and it has  brought me out of a very dark place in my life and I'm extremely grateful.    It was truly a unique experience crewing for this type of race. Thanks for the opportunity Tim!  Also, a big thanks to Davy Crocket, I will see you next year! 


  1. Well - damn, pretty nice of you to volunteer a day to someone you had never met.

  2. Sorry for the delayed comment. First, thanks again for coming out there so far to be there for me. I was a bit relieved when I saw you guys had made it into a nice trip, visiting your sister, exploring, etc. and not just driving 10 hours to watch me run down a dust encased road for 19 hours.

    Regarding the end and what you could've done to change the outcome, nothing is the answer. I can push though anything in these races and have done it several times (San Diego, Grand Mesa, Hardrock come to mind). This was a unique situation where I was on the verge of doing serious damage by continuing. I obviously could've dragged myself to the finish but it didn't really matter to me. As tough as this run was (dust, exposure, flatness) it wasn't an "accomplishment". The flatness of the course lead me to disinterest and apathy. There were not mountains, no technical trail, nothing really difficult, just plodding along. After the substantial events I had run throughout the year, very satisfying and humbling, this race offered little to me mentally.

    I'm actually glad I stopped and wish I would've done so on the pass at mile 80 instead. It's taken me a week now to recover enough to get out for 30 min jogs. I usually bounce back after the 100s I've done in three days and by the next weekend am ready for a 3 hour run. Continuing on for that last 8 miles and 2-3 hours would've probably injured me pretty badly. So, you guys did everything correctly. I'm not used to crews, so I wasn't really communicative beforehand. It's not some giant production (crewing these things or even running them). It's just a run and you just replace calories and water. Not much more is needed and people waste a lot of energy with all the excess outside of their own run.
    Thanks so much again. It was great meeting you and Jill.