Crewing. What do you do? Do you just cheer for your runner and offer them a drink? Uh, no. Well, friends, let me tell you about my experience. I was able to have my first crewing experience this year at Mountain Lakes 100 run in Oregon. I had no idea what to expect. I have done road races before, but I was brand spankin’ new to the trail running scene and had only heard of crewing. Let me tell you, trail running is a whole new animal. Then add in crewing, yeah, that takes it to a whole new level! Overall, I wanted to make sure I did an exceptional job since my sister, Kayleigh, was the crazy, awesome, hardcore chick running this 100 mile race! Not only did I want to witness this spectacular, inconceivable event, but let’s be honest…I was scared something awful was going to happen and wanted to be there just in case. C’mon, she’s my twin sister!
Let’s go back to the very beginning. I remember when Kayleigh was looking at races trying to decide which one to do. As soon as she mentioned 100 gazillion miles, I knew I had to be there! I volunteered as soon as I heard she wanted to do this! Did I know when…nope! Did I know where…nope! A little life lesson: Generally, a good rule of thumb is to find out exactly what you are volunteering for. But in this case, I didn’t care. I wanted to see my sister run 100 miles!
Okay, fast forward to the night before our flight to Oregon– I still needed to pack (yeah, that’s how I roll. I’m a last minute packer). Getting ready, I had no idea what to pack. I thought of this as a long weekend getaway, but 1) there was a possibility I might be pacing my sister (my sister’s other pacer was not able to make it and I wasn’t sure if Juan was going to be able to go from pacing 15 miles to ~45 miles), 2) I would be staying up for at least 24 hours straight 3) I had never been to Oregon before. Good idea to check the weather forecast. So what do I need? Workout clothes! OK well, I decided to pack for warm weather, cold weather, have layers. Easy enough, right? Also, I figured I should bring something for the time in between seeing my sister at the various checkpoints. How about a book? At this time, I happened to be studying for the Board Certified Ambulatory Care Pharmacist exam—2 volumes of pharmacy materials….that will pass the time, plenty of study opportunity.
Prior to this trip, I should mention my sister was great in sending out communication to the crewing group—she sent out an informational e-mail with course information (providing us with the locations where we would see her), the crew team (contact information, experience, role during this race), and troubleshooting tips (what to do in situations where her stomach starts hurting or if her fingers are swollen). As great as the e-mail was, I had only glanced at it when she had initially sent it out. I figured I would have time at the airport to read the e-mail thoroughly.
At this time, I would also like to add that not only was I crewing for this race, but I happened to be the designated driver of a Dodge Caravan (yes, I was a soccer mom for a weekend). The majority of the driving was through Mount Hood National Forest. I had the pleasure of driving the three of us (Kayleigh, Juan, and myself) to the Friday night spaghetti dinner. Great dinner plus a chocolate chip cookie for dessert. Simply, driving was stressful! It was a big surprise of how narrow, bumpy the road was. BIG, CRATER-SIZE POTHOLES! Well, maybe not that big, but big enough to be scared of getting a flat tire. Sometimes, I just couldn’t help it…BUMP! WHOOSH! I did a a lot of driving in the dark and you better believe I was gripping the steering wheel hard…white knuckles…boy, was I sore afterwards. When it was all said and done, I drove that minivan like a pro. I will be a great soccer mom one day.
Of course, the night prior to the race, I realized I did not think things through. I had taken things step by step…OK, what to pack, OK, make it to the airport on time, OK find Juan, OK get the rental car, OK we need to eat, OK we need to pick up Kayleigh from the airport…you get the idea. For some reason, I thought we would have more downtime then what we did. You may be wondering, what did I not think through? I realized the night before, when we are at our hotel in the middle of nowhere, that we didn’t pick up any food, snacks, or beverages. Uh oh, I was going to be huuun-gry! I am one that needs my 3 meals per day and coffee (if I have an early morning, which I did). We did find a gas station and bought some water and Dr. Pepper. Poor Juan had the vending machine eat his money. Luckily, we did have a coffee pot in the our room…score! However, when I went to make myself coffee in the morning, the coffee was decaf. The driver of the precious cargo needed some caffeine! The hotel did offer a continental breakfast starting at 6am. We were leaving before 6am, but there was a chance food could be out early, right? I went down to the dining room area…2 muffins…Score! Oranges…cool! Yogurt in the refrigerator…rats, it’s locked! What about the milk in the other refrigerator…open! Oooo, oatmeal packets…I’ll grab 3 of those…there’s breakfast!
Two words– Emotional rollercoaster. This race evoked excitement, fear, happiness, tiredness, and negative feelings toward the cold. The race started early at Ollalie Lake. After driving for approximately 2 hours from the hotel to the start line, we were pleasantly surprised to see there were coffee and hot chocolate available, a tent with heaters,, AND port-a-potties! We got to the start line a bit early so we had time to relax, drink something warm, and take everything in while realizing the day has finally arrived. Prior to the race, there was a race meeting. During the meeting, there was mention of snow being on the course! What?! The runners didn’t seem too concerned. It was great to see all these eager runners who were bright-eyed, bursting full of excitement and energy, ready to start their 100 mile journey. At the sound of the gun, there were no waves of runners like in a road race. It was just the group of these warriors running by with the crowd cheering. As I watched Kayleigh run by, there she went with a smile on her face, then she turned the corner and was gone! Afterwards, the race coordinators told us that we could surprise the runners and see them prior to the 1st spectator checkpoint. Both me and Juan felt like we should stick with the original plan. Why you ask? Well, we would have had to drive to this “surprise” location and did not want to risk getting lost. If we had gotten lost, we felt that it was more important for Kayleigh to meet us at the 20 some mile checkpoint instead of some earlier checkpoint. Besides she didn’t know any different. So, with that, oatmeal time!
At the start line area where the coffee and hot chocolate were, there happened to be some hot water left. Juan and I got some hot water and made our way back to the minivan. By the time we got back, the water was cold. But, we didn’t care…the oatmeal tasted so good. Afterwards, we decided to try to nap. After 1.5 hours or so, I woke up and Juan was gone. Later on when I found Juan, I found out he had been adventurous and decided to explore the Pacific Crest Trail. With a lot of time to kill, we decided to hike around for a little bit. A little while later, we started to get hungry again. We went back to the van to indulge in the leftover Voo Doo donuts we had gotten the day before when we had explored the city for a bit. So good! During this time in the minivan, we chatted, strategized and re-strategized. We pulled out Kayleigh’s handy dandy race sheets (these sheets were in plastic sleeves to protect them from the elements…smart!) and estimated the time she would be hitting the checkpoints as well as goal times we were shooting for, memorizing where the checkpoints were located, and looked at the elevation gains. Then, we thought about food again. I was concerned Juan did not have anything to eat and was going to be pacing Kayleigh for 45 miles! We’ll come back to that later. Juan and I had planned to leave the minivan around 1pm to see Kayleigh at the first spectator checkpoint (2nd spectator checkpoint if you count the surprise location, but Kayleigh didn’t know any different).
Crew/spectator Checkpoint 1. This was where Kayleigh would have completed about a marathon. It was exciting watching runners come in…the first girl looked strong and she was doing great! Just kicking ass! Some runners had cuts and scrapes. You could hear the chatter of the racers with their crew members, hearing about stomach problems, the snow, watching some runners changing their shoes. Every time a runner would come around the corner the crowd would start cheering, the cowbell would be ringing, and we were eager to see Kayleigh. We kept hoping Kayleigh was in the top ten for girls, but then we settled for top 20 (that’s right Kayleigh, we had high expectations for you!)Let me take the time to say how great of a job Juan did laying everything out! Juan had the idea of spreading out all of Kayleigh’s items from her drop bags so she could just see and point or tell us what she needed (instead of making her remember what was in the bags). Genius! However, one thing we had forgotten was Kayleigh’s PB&J sandwhich!!! Luckily, the checkpoint station had some…whew!
Then, finally, here comes Kayleigh!!! She’s looking good! You can’t help but burst with joy when you see your runner approaching. When Kayleigh finally made her way to our little area we claimed as our crew squatting site, I felt like the coach in Rocky (or any coach during breaks in boxing matches)…we had Kayleigh sit down in the foldable lawn chair and while she is telling us about the first 20 miles in ankle deep snow (gross!), I just started taking off her shoes and socks right away, dried her feet, re-lubed her feet with Aquaphor, put clean, dry socks and her spare trail shoes back on her feet. While she used the bathroom, Juan went to refill her water bottles. Then Kayleigh came walking back over to us and was ready to take off again. Juan ran as far as he could before Kayleigh was on her own again.
Now what? We pack up and put the items back in Kayleigh’s drop bags the way she
had them organized (just in case later she was looking for a specific item). We drop the stuff back off at the minivan and decide to check out this small store near the start line. Remember, we were hungry! We walk in and to our surprise, we see food!!!! Chips, cookies, crackers, ramen noodles, tuna. We were in heaven!!! We decide to buy a couple packages of tuna, Wheat-thin crackers, and a couple packages of Ramen noodles. We went back to the race starting area and there was still some hot water (well now warm water) left in the containers..yay! O.M.G. Ramen never tasted so good! The noodles did not get as soft as they normally would, but I didn’t care. I’ll take al dente noodles! The Wheat Thins were so tasty too! Juan ate the tuna to help fuel him for his upcoming pacer duties. After enjoying our gourmet lunch/dinner, we re-strategized the timing as Kayleigh was running a bit behind. We agreed that she could not stay as long at the other spectator checkpoints. We also decided that Kayleigh’s goal of running the race in under 24 hours was a bit of a stretch…the snow really was a surprising obstacle. We now wanted her to beat the cut off time of 30 hours.
We started our drive to the next location which was approximately 1.5 hours away. During the drive, we were not quite sure where to go. At one point, there was a fork in the road and no signs to follow…um, let’s go left? Other cars were following so that’s a good sign. Funny that we finally got back on one of the main roads and we went ahhh, that’s were that road went. We got to the next spectator checkpoint and the sun was going to go bye-bye soon. We checked out the stop, took some pictures (definitely important to document everything for Kayleigh), went to the bathroom, re-strategized the timing again and looked at the elevation, I studied for ~1 hour, Juan was getting his gear ready and the headlamps ready. A little bit prior to Juan’s debut as a pacer, he tried taking a nap, and then I decided to try to take a nap. We had estimated Kayleigh would be coming in approximately 3-3.5 hours and so we started watching for her. Another point I had not considered…it’s pitch black and all you see are runner’s headlamps when they are coming up the hill and turning the corner….you can’t tell who is who! Kayleigh had a red blinker on, but so many people had blinkers on. Every so often, we would say, “is that her?” A couple of times we got out of the mini-van and starting yelling Kayleigh’s name to realize that that was not Kayleigh. Then, finally we see Kayleigh!!! Again, super excited! I’m thinking, OK, she picks up Juan as a pacer here, the rest will be easy for her. Juan will motivate, motivate, motivate! At this point, I should explain that Kayleigh is at mile 55.4 and is allowed to pick up her first pacer (Juan). Then, they run 15 miles and come back to the same checkpoint and I’ll see them both and crew for them both. Then, they leave me and I won’t see them until the finish. I had heard a lady telling someone that with this race, mile 55 is where runners call it quits if they are going to stop. So we thought, OK, if we can get Kayleigh to keep going, she will be golden! And, the next 15 miles is flat, Kayleigh will finally have her pacer, and she can make up for lost time.
Well, Kayleigh was NOT in the best state of mind and was cold and hungry. Can you blame her? She had just run a little over 55 miles. Juan had some work to do to radiate his positivity onto Kayleigh. We tried encouraging her and asked if she wanted any different clothes. Her hat was wet so I took my hat off and put it on her head. She complained that her pack was hurting her back so Juan muled for her. Once they took off together, I estimated that I should see them around 1:30am. I went back to the minivan and tried to nap, but it was so cold that I couldn’t sleep (and I didn’t necessarily want to keep the van running the whole time). Around 1am, I decided to make my way over to the checkpoint station in case they had run faster than I thought, especially if Kayleigh’s adrenaline kicked in with Juan joining her. I walked over and just stood looking into the forest. I would occasionally see headlamps and hope, this is them! But no! I felt really bad because a lot of the runners thought I was a race volunteer taking their bib number to check-in. I would cheer them on and try to point them in the right direction/to the correct side of the corral. Again, come on, running 71.7 miles, not uncommon to be delirious. I remember seeing one girl and she was complaining how miserable she was and then she starting crying. Her crew member embraced her and just held her for a few minutes. Then, she pulled herself together and kept going. This is serious stuff! Finally, I got to the point where I could not take it anymore. I was so cold. I could not feel my toes or my fingers. I did not want to miss Juan and Kayleigh, but I needed to go back to minivan to warm up. I rationalized this by thinking what good
am I if I can’t use my fingers. Besides, Kayleigh had said to take care of ourselves. So I go back to the minivan and turn the heat on full blast. I look at the time…it is 3am. I was standing staring at the forest for at least 1.5 hours! I sat in the minivan for 5 minutes, just long enough to thaw my fingers and toes. I decided to bring the foldable chair and a blanket this time. I went back to the checkpoint area and set up my chair and waited.
I am still staring into the forest and then finally, I see Kayleigh and Juan…YAY!!!! They don’t see me right away, but as I head over to them, Kayleigh heads to the bathroom. Juan tells me she is not doing well…she is not picking up her feet, stumbling on thepath, her stomach is bothering her, and she is cold. Kayleigh comes back over and is extremely cold and wants to go to the minivan to warm up. She’s hungry, but can’t eat anything because of her stomach issues. We get her back to the minivan and open the side door and she lays down saying she wants to be done. To me and Juan, she is so close to finishing!!! However, we both know there is elevation gain for the rest of the course. But, she can do this!! The longer Kayleigh sits, the more she is becoming stronger in her conviction to stop. “I don’t think I can do this.” We all know that this time would happen when the runner is tired and wants to quit and we are there to motivate them and help them pick themselves up and carry on, right? I say to Kayleigh, “Ok, what I am hearing you say is “I think”…I do not hear absolutes. I do not want you to quit and regret this later.” Kayleigh states how even if she made it to the next aid station, if she decided to call it quits at that point, she may have to walk back to this checkpoint anyways. Or if she kept going, she may get DNF if she can’t finish in 30 hour limit (that would suck). It was a difficult decision because the next time she would see me would be at the finish line as I couldn’t meet her anywhere to pick her up. We deliberate for a few minutes weighing the pros and cons and tell Kayleigh no matter what she decides that we support her– if she wants to call it quits, we are still very proud of her; if she wants to keep going, Juan will continue to run by her side and keep her going until the finish. It truly was a difficult decision to make. Kayleigh decided she didn’t want to risk injury and wanted to go back to the hotel. We asked her if she was sure, “final answer?” She was done.
On the drive back to the hotel, I maneuvered around those potholes like a pro. It was going to be nice to sleep in a bed and shower. On the way back, Kayleigh is talking to us and then I ask her a question, no response.
Me: “ Kayleigh? Kayleigh?!”
Juan: “She’s passed out.”
Me: “Is she breathing?!”
I thought maybe her body finally took a hit and got scared. I had heard that when these runners stop running, their blood pressure can drop and they can pass out. But yes, she was OK, just exhausted. I’ve never seen my sister fall asleep so quickly in my life. We finally make it back to the hotel, help Kayleigh inside and force her to drink some water, then down she goes….Zzzz.
Overall, crewing was a unique, fun, exciting, tiring opportunity and a great learning
experience. I would do it again, but definitely would prepare in advance. Although it is important to be prepared, it is equally as important to be able to troubleshoot if issues arise and to re-strategize. Lastly, it is also important to know when to push your runner, but also when enough is enough. Thank you to Juan for being an awesome member/pacer and for allowing me to be a guest blogger. I had fun!