My next role was to get him to the starting line well-fueled, with all of his gear and ON TIME, which was not an issue since he woke us up at 2:30AM (whatever your racer says, goes). Our friend Matt drove while I managed the the playlist of pump up tunes and Jordan and Josh (who raced the 55k) prepped their gear. We arrived at the race site at 3:45am which allowed plenty of time for final race prep (breakfast, lube, bathroom trips, etc) before lining up for the 5am start.
Once our racers were on their way, the crew went back to the hotel for a short period to nap, eat breakfast and get situated for the rest of the day. I made a quick trip to the grocery store to stock up on some fresh eats and fluids to make sure I fueled well in the long hours to come. Around 10am we made it back to the mile 30 aid station (Diamond Peak) to wait for our racers.
Jordan carried a spot tracker which made it much easier to predict/know when he would arrive at each of the aid stations. Usually we just depend on any live tracker updates provided by the race (not typically reliable) or goal-pace type estimates. Early in the race, needs are pretty straight forward and racers try to get in and out of aid stations as quickly as possible. Jordan showed up around 10:45am smiling, happy and ready to tackle next section. With his arrival, we jumped into action refilling his hydration pack, swapping out sports nutrition, filling his bandana with ice, etc, before sending him on his way.
Left-Right: Jordan, Trevor and Brett arriving at the first aid station accessible to crew (mile 30- Diamond Peak)
Crewing an ultra is typically a lot of driving and waiting. After the racers came through the Diamond Peak aid station, we drove back to Spooner Lake which was the location of the start, finish and mile 50 aid station. We arrived around noon, set up camp, and hung out for the afternoon. I was thankful for our hammock which is easy to set up and allowed the crew to take turns getting off of their feet. We had 3 people in our group planning to pace the 50 to 80 mile section of the race so they needed to be resting and fueling in preparation. I thoroughly enjoyed the down time to relax, chat and simply be still for a while!!
The crew hanging out and resting while waiting for racers to arrive at Spooner Lake (which served as the start, finish & mile 50).
The first racer arrived at the aid station at about 2pm and my husband around 3:45pm. It was really neat to see the aid station "come alive" and take in the energy all around us. Aid station workers are a special breed. You often don't meet more energetic, friendly and self-less human beings. They aim to please!!! If you are a people watcher, you would definitely enjoy being at an aid station and taking in all of buzz and excitement.
Once Jordan arrived, we each sprung into action doing something different. A few of us had cameras, some signs, and two of us tending directly to Jordan. I helped him switch out socks and shoes while Matt refilled his hydration pack and got ready to pace him. In longer races such as these, "pacers" are typically allowed after a certain distance. In this case, racers were allowed to pick up a pacer anytime after mile 50. Our plan was to have Matt, a regular training partner of Jordan, to run the last half of the race with him. Once they were set, they took off into the woods not to be seen again for another 7 or so hours.
From there, we pretty much stayed on our toes knowing that Trevor, Brett and Josh would be following close behind. We remained on the lookout for their arrival and sprung into action with each. Everyone played a different role, from refilling hydration packs, helping the racers to switch out gears, requesting food and drink, taking pictures or offering words of encouragement. It's a little chaotic, but oh so fun! I love the picture below because it captures so much of the multi-tasking that occurred with arrival of each racer.
After our racers passed through the mile 50 aid station, it was back to Diamond Peak to wait at mile 80. We had at least 5 hour to burn so picked up dinner along the way. Some took naps, though I was feeling antsy and could not sleep so I hung out at the aid station area chatting with other pacers and race crew.
When your athlete is feeling good, crewing is straight forward and easy with the goal of getting them in and out. Other times athletes require medical attention, complete gear changes and major pep talks. Crew and aid station volunteers can serve as a steady hand when racers are in a fragile emotional and physical state. These races are not just physically straining, but mentally and emotionally draining. Mental fatigue and sleep deprivation can cause racers to drift off-course, fall asleep on random rocks or logs, or attempt to quit during low moments. Most racers use aid stations to replenish and move on, but others camp out needing a long nap or to be still enough to allow nausea to pass. The later you get into the race, the more likely one will have some special needs to be accommodated. Preparation and flexibility is key!!
While we were waiting for Jordan, I slowly prepared myself to run. Even though Matt was slated to run the last 20 miles with Jordan also, I had a feeling I should be prepared to step in "just in case" Matt was unable to continue. I am glad that I did because when the pair arrived, BOTH were looking rough and quite sick. Jordan debated a DNF, Matt stated he preferred to not continue, and while the rest of our crew tended to Jordan's needs I finalized my preparation to run. A few minutes later we walked off into the dark preparing for a 2 mile climb that racers nicknamed "the wall" (it's 2 miles up a double black diamond ski slope, averaging 15% grade... yikes!!)
Regarding the wall: Jordan has also completed this same climb at mile 30 of the race and when I saw him at mile 50 he matter-of-factly stated, "You wouldn't make it up that climb." Needless to say I was intimidated, but I did have two things going for me: (A) Jordan was smashed and by no means moving very fast (2) It was pitch dark and I couldn't see more than 5 feet in front of me. Hills have a way being much less intimidating when you cannot truly see them! Here is "the wall" during daylight hours:
I let Jordan walk the climb, but once we reached the top I encouraged him to run. From there we took things one aid station at a time. My role was to provide company while encouraging him to keep moving, eating and drinking. Though he was moving well (all considering), he was NOT taking in many calories whatsoever which had me very concerned. I can't imagine how he must have been feeling, but nonetheless kept encouraging fluids and calories through alternating sips of water, tailwind and mountain dew. At aid stations, I browsed the food table for things I knew he would like, requested tums, and kept him moving. Between aid stations, I followed closely behind while offering words of encouragement, singing songs and patting his butt when he was keeled over sick. At one point as we walked under the starlight sky in a state of half-awake delirium I told him the story of "how we met." Totally romantic, right?
^In the last 20 miles, I saw a very different side of my normally smiley husband.
Around 3am, I felt my energy start to fade. At that point, I had been up for 24 hours and my body was begging for sleep, but that didn't matter one bit. In front of me my husband was gritting his teeth to reach that finish line. In his own words he was "hurting but happy." Behind him were our friends, also fighting the same battle. It was incredibly humbling and inspiring to witness.
Jordan offered no excuses or complaints, but instead kept putting one foot in front of the other. I too was digging into a new level of fatigue and fought to hang on. At one point, I had to return to an aid station TWICE because of items I had left behind because I just wasn't fully with it In the last 2 hours I struggled to eat and maintain proper footing while fighting off sleep. Depth perception on trails is tricky at night and even more so when your mind and body are severely fatigued. Yet, after we left the final aid station, Jordan was determined to run the final downhill. He took off and I simply tried to keep up. One would think with a 7-mile downhill that those final miles would be smooth sailing, but it was not. The pounding on my quads was painful, and my heart rate rose to its highest level of the night with the increase in pace. I was running on empty, yet here I was trying to keep up with my husband whom I KNEW was hurting much more so. Since Jordan's watch had died at about mile 83, I was the time keeper and encouraged him to make haste: if he continued to move quickly, he could potentially finish under 24 hours. I could tell by his uneasy form that he was fighting for each and every step. The miles seemed to drag on forever and in the distance we saw both the finish line and signs of daybreak. The birds began to awaken and chirp and I told him they were cheering him on... anything to insert some humor into the situation!!! Two more miles around the lake and we FINALLY approached the finish line, greeted by eagerly awaiting friends and family.
^Obligatory crew pics after finishing: (L) Jordan and I with Matt and Josh (R) With Jordan's Godparents and Parents.
After Jordan finished, our work was far from complete! We made a quick trip back to the hotel for some food, showers and a short nap. Meanwhile our friends were still out on the course fighting to reach the finish line, so we returned to Summit Lake around 9am to await for their arrival. One by one throughout the morning the racers trickled in, each experiencing their own personal victories in reaching that finish line, no matter the time on the clock. We were all tired, weary, hungry and covered in dust, yet none of that mattered as together we hung out as one big "family" celebrating the victories of the day.
Kristen Chang is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) and triathlete residing in southwest Virginia with her husband and dogs. Follow along as she shares favorite fueling recipes, general wellness and sport nutrition tips and stories from her athletic endeavors.
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