Sidelined these days, I had to find a way to stay "plugged in" to my family outside of my immediate family...that being the trail running/ultra-running community here in NE Ohio. The Burning River 100 Mile Endurance Run kicked off yesterday morning at 5am and the deadline to cross the finish line passed at 11am this morning, 30 hours later. I have never been on the "giving side" of the aid station table, instead always on the taking/receiving side as a runner. My post today is just my point of view at one stop on a very long journey for everyone.
I woke up around 3:30am on Saturday and immediately thought of the Cuyahoga Falls school buses pulling away from the finish line, en route to the starting line 100 miles away at Squire's Castle. I fell back asleep, knowing that I would need it later, and woke up at 6:30am, of course thinking that I missed the 5am start and everyone is 90min into their journey. As a past finisher, I know the course and can imagine it all. For me, though, I was going to be working with Maria and the NEO Trail crew at Mile 64, Happy Days, just off of Route 303 in Peninsula. I headed on down for setup at 1:15pm and the lead runners came through just over an hour later. The running order that those first few men and women came in at stayed the same and a guy from California broke a course record and won the race in under 16 hours...simply unbelievable. Same for the ladies, too. Annette Bednosky from North Carolina came through looking strong and never gave up the lead and broke a course record as well.
Once the front runners came through, the traffic slowly picked up and I knew more and more fellow runners as they came in. I don't know many of the speedy folks out there since I'm a mid-packer myself, so as the day wore on, it got more busy and more fun. My brother, Jim and his wife, Bekah, showed up as well. They stood a few hundred yards away at the exit of the trail to direct runners through the high grass field to the aid station. It wasn't long that Jim was texting me every bib number so that we could record the arrival, retrieve their drop bag if they had one, and cheer them in by name. This really helped our station do our job and best serve each and every runner.
The experience flew by and midnight came quickly. I thoroughly enjoyed it and found that my experience as a 100-mile finisher really helped in how I spoke to and served each runner. Some came in as fresh as can be while others looked like death...literally. Knowing what they need to eat, drink, etc. is huge when they aren't thinking clearly. Telling them to eat those Ramen noodles or take 2 salt tabs is sometimes necessary. A few of them really stand out, too. One girl who I think is from New York...Deanna...came in with the highest spirits. "I can't believe I made it this far!" she proclaimed. "Is this your first?" I asked. "Yes!" "Well," I said, "you look awesome and have the best attitude. Keep doing what your doing and you'll finish strong!" She then whispered a little request to me...to change her shoes and socks for her. She was having trouble bending over and refused to sit down for fear of cramping up and not getting back up. I got her drop bag, got her dirty/muddy shoes and socks off, cleaned off the filth, then got fresh socks and shoes on her. She'd never had a salt tab, either, so I insisted she have 2 and some soup. I got her back on the trail and away she went. From what I can gather, she finished 3rd in the women's group in 22hrs, 4min!!! AWESOME!!!! She epitomizes some of what I love about this sport.
Then came Chris. Chris and I have run together a few times and follows my blog a bit. Yesterday was his first bite of the 100-mile event. Waiting for him at Happy Days was his wife and family and more on the way. Chris was soaked, dehydrated, and took a seat. As he sat there, the lights went out and he fell limp. Arms like jell-o and out cold...stone cold. We put ice cold rags on him, tried to revive him, but he just wouldn't wake up. I was squatted down in front of him at the time. As many of us started to reach for our cell phones to call 911, he came back. He had no idea that he just passed out. I was concerned. He was just sitting there and went out. Being really dehydrated and then standing suddenly can cause you to pass out but he hadn't done that. I asked him how he's been drinking AND going to the bathroom. In ultra-running, we have a saying of "Eat, eat eat...drink, drink, drink...pee, pee, pee." If you aren't doing all three, something is wrong. He said he had and continued to talk to him, getting him some soup and a coke. As I spoke, his eyes rolled back in his head and I caught him from falling and starting yelling at him and slapping his arm, trying to wake him up. He wasn't out as long this time but when he awoke, he again was totally unaware and wanted to get up and go. No way...no way he was leaving, we told him. His wife was visibly concerned now and couldn't disagree. He was stuck in our aid station for awhile, until we felt he could continue or he pulled the plug. Once he got a fresh shirt on and walked around a bit, eating and drinking all along, I told him: "Chris, you passed out twice...out cold. Something is not right. Your wife is concerned and I can't blame her. However, I won't tell you what to do. Only you can make this decision and you need to live with it. There is nothing wrong with stopping. You have given it all. You've done nothing wrong." I made that call two years ago at Mile 55 at Burning River. My wife didn't dare tell me to stop...I had to make that decision and I stand by it today. However, I swore redemption and I got it in 2009. :-) For Chris, he pulled the plug. He didn't quit, he didn't give up. He considered all of the circumstances in front of him and made a decision and now that's it done, I say this: "Chris, you made the right decision. Never, ever say that you quit. YOU DID NOT. Stand behind your decision and come back next year and finish the job. The 100-mile race can deal even the most elite of runners a raw hand. You need to stand tall and not let this beat you down. Come back stronger in 2011...with your newest child, of course. I am thankful you walked out of our aid station under your own power so look at the positive in that. There are many other ways July 31st could've ended for you."
I won't dare try to name all of my friends who crossed this year's finish line for fear of missing just one. You all know who you are and hopefully, I had the opportunity to shake your hand, get you some food, or at least shout you some encouragement. My hat is off to you for a significant achievement. Rest and recover well and take good care of that BR100 belt buckle. To the volunteers: for some reason, much of the country far from us doesn't pay us much attention here in Ohio when it comes to trail running. I am confused as to why that is. We have a booming, vibrant, selfless community of runners and volunteers. We HAVE to...otherwise, a point to point, 100-mile event would be impossible. The logistics are staggering. Many 100-mile events are loops within a contained area. This one passes through several state parks, a national park, several counties, cities, townships, etc. Total and complete cooperation and teamwork are the only way WE can pull off the BR100 with such success. We should all stand up and soak this all in...it is not common. The best part? I think it's only going to get better which, considering how good it already is, is amazing.
For me, I am thankful to have been a volunteer. It was incredibly satisfying to be just a fraction of someone's journey to the finish. For those who are paying close attention...no, I did not pace Kathleen to the finish as I have written about for weeks on end. Kathleen did run and did pass through Happy Days but due to a diagnosis I received just 3 days ago from Dr. Shah, I was ordered to total rest with zero load-bearing activity. I'll talk about that later because this is not the time for it. Let's just say that I'm in full "Volunteer Mode" right now and will be at as many events as possible this fall.
Here are 47 pictures I took of runners as they passed through Happy Days. Some are quite good!
Happy Trails, everyone, and Happy Burning River 100 Weekend!