Thursday, May 2, 2013

Leadville, Backing up to week 12: Crewing Zion 100

Standing on a cliff, around mile 20, of the Zion 100 mile race
I missed a week (actually now two, no three...I'm really 10 weeks out to Leadville. gasp) of this weekly journal to Leadville Silver Rush 50 thing.  Life is traveling faster than the eye can see and I'm in a bit of an overwhelmed funk.  I can't articulate the words I want to write, they aren't effortless and fluid anymore and I don't really know what to say.  Life right now feels like Humpty Dumpty, fallen and broken, pieces shattered everywhere on the ground.

But I do miss the blog, friends, and writing, if that matters any.  And I have lots to say, though most of what's taking up my brain space is related to things not blogging (for one example: Brendan leaves for 4 months, performing with the Blue Knights, in a mere 13 days Whaaaa).  So I'll just sum up the past couple weeks and hope I can get back on track after this.  Grab your coffee mug, this could get lengthy.

Week 13 found my biggest vertical climbing yet at 6300' and 50 miles.  Sad, really, because this isn't even close to what I should be climbing.

Week 12 was my lowest vertical week with 850' and about 42 miles (I have yet to tally up my data, which for those who know me well, speaks a telling tale).  It was a back-off week so I shouldn't beat myself up...still, the lack of anything vertical was a bit deflating.

Week 11 saw the worst mileage in training yet with a tad under 32 miles.  Because of a fairly vertical race sandwiched in the middle of the week, I was able to squeak in 2000' of vertical, which is pitiful (hence, the fear part of my training...I'm going backwards).  But the race was good and I felt far better than I thought, so I'm not writing off the week as a complete loss.  I'll try to touch upon that race, and an upcoming one, later this week.

But let's back up to week 12, specifically April 19th, and see if I can formulate a few pitiful words about the adventurous experience I had in a little remote part of the earth, an incredible geological gem, near the Zion, Utah National Park region.  I'd skip it and move on to whatever current week I'm on but the scene was one of those moments in life that will just be forever laminated in a small corner of my brain, and I wanted to share some of it.

I casually mentioned to Tim a couple months ago I would gladly help crew for upcoming his Zion 100 mile race if he was in need of a clueless crewer.  I've never crewed for a race of that length before, nor have I even witnessed a race that long in duration where one human being was on their feet for an entire 100 miles.  At one time.  So with my beefy 100-mile crewing resume, it seemed fitting I'd blindly raise my hand for a ludicrous beast like the Zion 100 (sort of similar to when I signed up for the Leadville Silver Rush 50 where I only half knew what I was getting into).

It's been a tough process for me to sum up my 22+ hour Zion 100 feelings without getting too tedious; the gamut of raw emotions I felt was vast - from sheer excitement, to utter sympathy (with a couple tears mixed in).  Whatever words I do manage to muster here are going to fail miserably compared to what I actually experience out there in those 100 miles.  But I guess most race reports and summaries can't ever paint a real picture in a single blog post anyway (and I'm not writing 6 editions), so I'll just sum up the day, and the feelings I endured, as best I can.

Selfishly, I thought volunteering in such an environment, hands on, would give me some sort of quick, magical insight or tips to overcome pain, malice and fatigue for my own little race in Leadville this summer.  I wanted to witness how one bounces back after hitting a low and then still miraculously runs 50 more miles - or more.  I wanted to hear runners' tales of perseverance and witness grand triumphs of heroism.  I wanted to hear what deep thoughts enter ultrarunners' heads when they have their 'dark moments.'  I'm going to hit a low at some point in my measly 50 miler at Leadville; any clues I can walk away with to help my plight surely had to be found here during this incredibly long day.  Plus, come-on - what geology geek doesn't want to spend time in such a beauty as this:
But, mostly, I volunteered because I've read enough 100 mile race reports, especially Tim's, to understand the importance of having someone there.  Not just to drastically cut minutes off the finish time (it did), but also just someone you know, a familiar face, for when those low points hit (they do) and the miles become long - and arduous. I know Tim's perfectly capable of doing this 100 mile thing alone, but the worrier in me just wanted to be there to hopefully make it a tad bit easier, and, perhaps, a dash more comforting for him.

This is only the second year this race was run, so I have to give a huge pat-on-the-back to Matt, the RD, who had the vision to put this thing on and pretty much single-handily pulled the thing off without much incident that I am aware of.  I know the race was brutally tough, evident by Tim's, and other's, disposition I witnessed towards the end, so I do hope the RD takes note of their feedback and makes some changes next year so those poor runners aren't crawling up the most difficult section of the race (2000' up in a single mile, with a rope on some parts, because it's - oh my god - so steep) - on legs with 85 miles on them.  But overall, I think the consensus was, though this was a crazy, merciless course, it was also very well-organized, well-run throughout and an incredible race overall.

My only grumble about my small measly part of the 22+ hours I was out there, if there is one, was the inconsistently worded, and lack of detailed instructions, for the crewers.  I found myself hopelessly lost and panic ridden countless times; had it not been for the incredible people I met to guide me to the right places, I'd probably still be somewhere along Grafton Mesa writing out my last will and testament and throwing it in my Diet Coke bottle to the bottom of the canyon for someone to read to my kids one day.  Those kids aren't getting squat, because, let's face it - I have nothing, but it'd be nice for them to know I actually do love them.  Sometimes.
Tim, flying into, and out of, aid station #1 around mile 10.
In retrospect, it probably wasn't so much the minimal instructions from aid station to aid station that had me in an occasional frenzy out there, but more so, the fact I was soloing this sucker.  I discovered early on, like within seconds into this race, that most people out there running didn't just have one crewer or a pacer - they had teams of up to several people crewing and pacing for them.  Teams where one would sleep or fuel between stations, so the other was fresh and ready to roll when their runner came in.  Or the team would formulate a plan to get to the next stop - together.  The couple crewers I met who were flying alone, most (if not all) had all done this crew gig before.  I had clueless me.  And that was absolutely OK, but I'd better step out of my normally introverted ways and ask every single soul out there for directions and opinions if I was ever going to finish this thing in one piece - and somehow find Tim along the way.

And questions galore I asked.

The people I met out there were incredibly forthcoming in advice and invaluable getting me where I needed to go.  I met a woman early-on who was the caretaker of the Barr Camp, a hut found mid-way on Barr Trail to the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs.  She was instrumental in getting through a couple of the most harrowing sections of road my poor car would drive through.  I met one of Tim's friends, Ryan, who understood my worry when I'd stand and wait for Tim to come in.  As I anxiously awaited for Tim at mile 37, Ryan drove by, stopped, and told me saw him about a mile up.  I met Kelly Agnew's wife, Jo, who witnessed me at my worst in the middle of the day when I discovered the road I was to embark upon was some of the most horrific stuff I'd ever driven.  We later shared countless laughs for a couple hours at the finish line when I was so deliriously fatigued and my normally closed-off personal life suddenly became a best selling book.  It was these people, people I don't normally socialize with, that brought me such relief that day (along with Tim's very gracious appreciation :)).  I realized somewhere out there I have missed out on a lot of incredible stories and possible formed friendships by standing in the corner too much of my life.


Anyway...  at one point while standing on this ledge, 1500' above the valley floor, I remembered it was my 50th birthday.  I was so wrapped up in the job at hand (and really, does anyone actually care they're turning 50?) I had completely forgotten.  As I stood there watching a couple runners come up this crazy beast, I had someone snap my birthday photo.  Lame, but I wanted the memory forever coated.  I couldn't think of a more fitting setting to celebrate the day - totally immersed in geology heaven, surrounded by those with an impeccable desire to run a really, really long way.
Happy Birthday, me

Tim looking super strong, climbing at mile 20.5
I tried to give Twitter updates via Tim's account, which proved difficult not only because here I was in a land so vast without any semblance of cell phone coverage, but my Tweeting skills are as lengthy as my 100 mile crewing resume.  I actually set up an account two years ago - I have no idea what my username is.  Tim gave me pointers and said to be sure I said "Zion 100" in there so people could follow.  I think I managed four updates, one may possibly had the proper wording.  I apologize for my lack of Twitter knowledge...one day I'll jump on the bandwagon.


Not long after Tim came through mile 37ish, I knew I had a bit of downtime (aka: able to breathe again) and I actually got in a little run of about 5 or so miles.  It felt good, but I was starting to feel the fatigue standing on my feet all day and the pressure of my job :).  I had a great run though and not too soon after I came back, I ran into the infamous Cory coming in to the aid station.  God, it was so good to see him, he's like this big rock star - EVERYONE knows Cory and we were all clapping him in.  Tim and I managed to hook up with Cory and his beautiful family for a couple brief minutes the day before the race at packet pickup...


So I easily recognized him when he came through at mile 37.  We talked for a couple minutes and I realized that I'd probably never seem him again, which hit me pretty hard for some reason.  The day was starting to get long, Tim was starting to take a front position, and crewers I'd been around prior, the ones vital in aiding me to the next check points, were thinning. It was starting to become just me out there, for the most part, and it was a bit scary.
Cory at mile 37
As you can see by paper and pencil, I was very diligent in my crewing duties.
Cory was such a bright ray, what an incredible upbeat attitude - constantly!
Tim came into mile 52 shortly after Cory left at 37.  I had his gear bag all set up on a tarp so he could sit, if needed.  He did.  God, he was in so much pain...and it was here I encountered, what was to be many episodes throughout the rest of the race: total helplessness.

Help: The one thing I wanted to make his journey easier, I felt completely unable to do for him.  This, combined with the fact I was having a hard time reaching certain aid stations via my car before he'd attain it on foot, was starting to rip a hole right through me.  And as the day progressed, and Tim fell into some rougher patches, the hole grew larger.


I could write a million words about my whole experience in Zion (I know, I'm close). How I got lost repeatedly, how I lost my car key, how my car - and bike - were covered in 15" of red sand.  And more.  And more.  And more.  But to hurry this thing along (thank God), let me just jump to mile 83, because this was a big turning point in the race.  For me.  (And I'm really tired and need to finish this thing up :)).

As I was sitting and reading my book in the car while waiting for time to pass (and trying not to fall asleep), a guy named George tapped on my window and told me to come and join his motley crue of aid station helpers.  They were a lively bunch having the best time together and I momentarily hung with them... but it somehow felt wrong to be there, having fun, while these runners were out there suffering, so I just went and stood at the corner - waiting and watching.  George was incredibly nice; as the evening progressed and I starting to worry about Tim's whereabouts, George would run ahead on the trail for a half mile or so, check to see if he was coming, and report back to me.  A older gentleman, who was manning the radios, would come over periodically and tell me, repeatedly, "He'll be along soon, don't fret, Honey."  He'd make me run back to the campfire at the aid station to get warm for a few minutes, then I'd quickly run back to my post after my feet thawed.  This scene was repeated at least 15 times.  But the kindness found at this aid station made those long hours there pass by faster and helped calm me some.  I talked to the eventual second place finisher's (3rd) pacer for a good hour - a great bunch of very young guys all traveling the country, racing (and pacing) whatever suited their needs.  How they afforded their really nice Jeep is beyond me, but we had a really great sub-surface conversation that wasn't so mundane as what seems like my life has become anymore.  Sometimes, it's the small things like this, just the tiniest of intellectual conversation, that make me think eventually, I can lead a better life.

Tim made it in, of course.  I think he was running,I really can't remember anymore.  Regardless, he was starting to crumble physically, and mentally he was a marshmallow.  I and had no power whatsoever to help him feel better.  He eventually ate a bit of a pb&j and I got his jacket out as nightfall, and cold temps, set in, and watched as he took off for the final, horrific, stretch of the race.  Tim told me not to drive to the last aid station because there wasn't anything he needed from his crew bag, so I wouldn't see him until he finished, around 4 hours later.  This was hard for me ...  as he started that climb out of the aid station, I kind of fell apart.  I so badly wanted to witness this very moment, a moment where the toll of the ultra race takes over your soul, yet you somehow keep moving forward ... yet I was emotionally unprepared to be more than a bystander watching his agony. This was incredibly tough for me to watch.  I couldn't formulate any encouraging words and uttered something stupid like, "Good luck."  No one needs luck at this point, and worse - they don't want to hear it ... they need the internal will to survive.

I stood and watched him crest this hill until I couldn't see him any longer - I hoped it was possible for Tim to draw a new starting line here, just when he thought he couldn't muster another step, and persevere.

Four hours and twenty some odd minutes later after I last saw him, after tacking some of the most brutal sections of the course, in sheer darkness, he made it across the finish line.

He did it:  22 hours and some change.

I couldn't help it, I was emotionally choked-up.  I was glad it was dark....no one could see the tear streaming down my face.  He was a mess.  And I couldn't do a thing to help ease the pain; damn if that didn't just tear me up; I'm sure the words I tried to speak just after he crossed, to give some sort of comfort, were bleak and ridiculous.  I was so happy for him; he finished this ruthless course in a very admirable time. I was proud in one of those really hard tried to process ways, so I tried only to think of the good this race brought him.  I realized soon, time was the only thing going to fix him.

When I was a kid, I spent summers at my grandmother's country house on the outskirts of the tiny town of Lansing, Iowa, in the NE corner of the state.  I didn't have the most glorified childhoods (that's an understatement) so all my adolescence memories, those which were spent there, are the most sacred and most clear.  I remember the way her house smelled, the way the breeze would rustle the big white birch tree in her front yard, the big backyard where you could see rolling farmland for endless miles, sitting at her vanity and brushing my long, blonde hair and trying on her pearls.  I had no program.  I just played, ran around, fished, played cards, wandered around the old one-room school house, and spent hours reading old issues of Reader's Digest (I loved the "Drama in Real Life" stories).  To this day, when I need some self-imposed therapy, I go to this magical place at my grandmother's for a few minutes - and smile.

My experience in Zion isn't necessarily a place I will wander my mind when things heat up in my life and I need to go to to that "happy place" for a bit, but I know it will be one of those occasions where I return when things get difficult in my running: when I think I can't take another step because it hurts way too much, or that my running sucks, or I'm not good enough to do it anymore.  Instead, I will return to Zion to remember Tim and the incredible people who fought so hard to overcome some pretty intense moments to reach their glory.  Despite how much that race zapped me upon my return, I'm glad I did it - and I would never throw that experience away.

Thanks, Cory, for the awesome rocks - my kids and I love them.  I placed them in a jar and set them on the perimeter of my bathtub along with other past race souvenirs of rocks, sand and seashells.  It was so cool to meet you and I hope our paths cross again soon!
Be still my heart
Thank you, Tim, for allowing me to be a big part of your incredible day in Zion, it was truly an honor to be your crew person.  I know you weren't overly thrilled with your performance out there...but I witnessed you overcome some pretty deep stuff, on many levels, and persevere.  This means more to me than I'll ever be able to truly articulate and I will carry those memories of success into my own little hell in Leadville - and I know now I can do it.  Crewing for a 100 mile race probably isn't the best gig for someone who's a habitual worrier like myself, but I wouldn't trade those memories on my 50th birthday for anything, thank you!

"Pushing your body past what you thought it was capable of is easy; the hard part is pushing yourself even further....past what your mind wants to let you.  That's what ultrarunning is all about; introducing you to a self you've never know."

Ah, The world of the sacred institution of ultrarunning....

....Bring on the Leadville Silver Rush 50!

35 comments:

Christy @ My Dirt Road Anthem: A Runner's Blog said...

wow what a great recap and an amazing experience. I have never witnessed anything longer than a marathon, this makes me want to so bad. I love that you have a magical place at your grandmas, sounds so much like mine complete with rolling hills and a big back yard. Meadowlarks in the morning almost always make me think of waking up at my grandmas house

Matthew Smith said...

I think it's cool that you got your crew on even though you didn't really know exactly what you were getting into. Plus, meeting Cory has got to be awesome! I'm sure he thought the same for you. :)

Shellyrm ~ just a country runner said...

I'm actually tearing up reading this. Reading your thoughts as pacer saddens me for your experience and my own, as my family won't be able to be there at my first 100. I won't have those thoughts chasing after me from that loving face at the aid stations. What a wonderful gift it is for families and runners to crew and pace for each other. I know I appreciate my own pacers work and training. Part of me knew that she was using our training runs for her own training so I always said and meant my thanks yous however after reading your recap, I will appreciate her so very much more!

A side note: You look amazing!! I only hope you are feeling as good on the inside as it is showing on the outside. One day we will run together my friend!

Big Daddy Diesel said...

Happy Belated Birthday!!

When I win the lottery, I want a vacation home in Utah, either in Zion or Moab

Johann said...

Lovely post Jill! Partly because I also know Tim and Cory via blogland. Some of my best running memories are from crewing friends in 100 milers. There is something very special about it and the people are all amazing. The Leadville 50 will also be amazing. You are one of those special people. Enjoy your training!

Colorado Gal said...

These photos are gorgeous!!

Tasha @Healthy Diva said...

Zion looks so beautiful. I have been drooling at everyone's Ragnar Zion pictures plotting a vacation there. What an amazing experience for you!

Teamarcia said...

What a beautiful yet scary picture you painted with your words. I almost wish I was there. You know, for navigation and comic relief and stuff. xoxo

Robin said...

First off, Happy Birthday! Great race report. I'm crewing/pacing a friend for her first 100 miler at the end of May and I'm terrified. It's a loop course, which makes it easier, but I've never run at night, in the dark, tried to keep someone motivate and nurished so hopefully I don't let her down. I'm only set for one loop (20K). Sounds like it will be a good experience, so thanks for sharing this!! Oh and 50 miles is pretty darn impressive too :)

Kathy said...

Wow! I really needed to read this. I'm crewing a friend for the Leadville 100 and I have no clue what will happen. Yikes.
And I'm still in for an 8 mile loop on Sunday if you need me.

Jamoosh said...

Kudos to you. If there is a chance of me getting lost - forget it!

The Green Girl said...

Loved this, girl. :: huge hugs :: Good luck with the rest of your training and we'll catch up when things calm down for both of us.

misszippy said...

Wow--what a day for you. It sounds to me like you went through all the highs and lows that the runners do over the course of 100 miles. I'm sure your physical and moral support meant the world to Tim.

Now onto your own epic adventure!

sllygrl said...

AW Jill - I didn't know it was your birthday - so happy belated birthday!

I paced/crewed for a friend at LT100 last year, my first time doing either and she DNFed at mile 85 I think it was, maybe 75 - and it is hard when your first experience is either watching a horrific struggle (isnt there always a part of that) or incomplete and I think I felt exactly the way you did 'what can I do, what could I have done differently, what can I say' just to get this person to put a pep in their step and turn the situation around - I don't know if there's an answer for that, but I'm still looking for one.

Either way you go into the next experience with, well, experience and a few things to take and use possibly to make it easier on the person.

And from one 'in the corner all my life' person to another - yeah, the people aspect of it can be overwhelmingly positive and accepting - and if you walk away from this with anything its the views you saw of everything that occurred during the race and the people you met, rather than the plaster walls you typically face and that my friend is gold...

bangle44 said...

Thanks for the great post, Jill! I enjoyed hearing about the adventure. And Welcome to the fabulous 50's!

Mamarunsbarefoot said...

Happy, happy, belated birthday friend!!!!!!! That was such a wonderful post.. beautiful photos! Man i wish I could run an ultra!!!!!! ((HUGS))

Char said...

Such a great post Jill. It's such an honour to be able to help out at something like this even if you are just scratching to find your way. I'm sure Time was incredibly appreciative to have someone there to help out and to just give him mental support.

tahoegirl said...

That was one of the best recaps I have ever read. Thank you for sharing Tim's and your story on such a personal level. "I realized somewhere out there I have missed out on a lot of incredible stories and possible formed friendships by standing in the corner too much of my life." This statement hit me smack in the face as it speaks so true to who I am...

ajh said...

This sounds completely incredible. What a moving experience. The photos are gorgeous! You must have been a terrific crew person.

Mike said...

Great crewing report! I think that is the first one I've read, but having just finished reading Jurek's Eat and Run, your account adds to what Scott wrote about. Looks like a beautiful place to be if it wasn't so stressful.

Glad you were able to fulfill your crewing duties even though it was a bit stressful.

Happy belated birthday! I couldn't remember if your BD was the day you were crewing or on Leadville itself. My bad.

Jenny said...

Wonderful post, Jill! Beautiful photos too! :-)

Average Woman Runner said...

Those photos are stunning, reminding me of how awestruck I was the first time I laid eyes on Zion. I need to get back there.
Beautiful post, Jill. You spent your birthday in a most remarkable, unforgettable way. I hope Tim is recovering ok & that you continue to be inspired for your upcoming ultra!

Kenley said...

I have much respect for those that crew events such as this. If ever I am in the Philippines in March, I will do the same for the Bataan Death March Ultra. I would do that first before actually doing it I think. thanks for all of the wonderful photos. Grab your Coffee? I went through a whole pot. lol. You are amazing Jill! Best wishes!

CautiouslyAudacious said...

WOW! I've always wanted to go to Zion & other parks in that area!! One day!! Sounds like you have been doing a lot. I've been overwhelmed lately too but for other reasons. You are getting your miles and I know you will do awesome!

C2Iowa said...

First -- Holy Crap! I missed your birthday. HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!

Blue Knights, volunteering for a mega race, awesome pictures, and the positive under-notes within this post -- make this a favorite for the week. I bet that you were a top crew person; IMHO

Thanks for making my day with this post.

C2Iowa -- the guy that hopes that you will coach again; soon. In case you forgot who I am......

Black Knight said...

Late happy birthday Jill!
A great recap of a wonderful adventure!
There the Blue Knights, here the Black Knights!
The photo, as usual, are very beautiful.

Raina said...

There was a lot to read here. Took me a while, but i am glad I did.

Sounds like your own experience crewing was pretty profound. Having your hands tied, but wanting to help...The ultra is the ultimate test in a person's ability to conquer himself/herself. But it would be hard to do without a crew.
Ironically I just finished reading a book to the boys called "Tracker" (not really age appropriate). There are a lot of parallels I could draw to the ultra and even crewing for an ultra.

I knew it was your 50th- but didn't realize what you were doing for it :) Good choice.

Very excited to see what is in store for your own race :)

Raina said...

Also, so glad you got to meet Cory. He seems like a wonderful person :)

GZ said...

Crewing / pacing time is a graduate level course in that stuff. He keeps it interesting one way or the other for sure (ultimately in a good way, but it can get raw).

Terzah said...

Wow, what an experience! I've always wanted to crew for an ultrarunner (unlike you, though, I have no near-term aspirations to actually do an ultra-race myself--too lazy, I am). I've always focused on the fun side of crewing--the dark side you describe here never occurred to me.

Lucky Tim, that you were there for him. And lucky you to get this glimpse of that experience, and to celebrate your 50th in such a profound way. Your birthday *is* a big deal. Sounds to me like you celebrated just exactly as you were meant to!

This training has been so exciting to follow. I know things are nuts for you, but just want you to know what a fan I am (and I'm looking forward to those race reports when you can get some time for them!).

Suz and Allan said...

Your recaps are amazing. I always feel like I'm right there with you. This sounds like a phenomenal experience and one that you won't soon forget.

Questionably Texan said...

That's quite the recap! It's not lame to have someone snap a photo like that for your 50th birthday - it's awesome that you are doing sh*t like this on your 50th.

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Coy Martinez said...

Ok, now you've made me cry. There is so much to comment on. I'm so jealous that you got to meet Cory. He has happiness that seems sooo contagious. You're right, everyone knows Cory!

You kept apologizing for writing so much but honestly, I hung on every word and felt like I was right there with you waiting for Tim to top and hill. So much emotion and I'm sure something you'll carry with you for the rest of your life!

Kandi said...

What an honor your son gets to play with the Blue Knights! I'm sure you'll miss him though.
Crewing for a 100 mile race sounds like it would be a huge challenge. Thanks for sharing your experience.
I too have fond memories of reading Readers Digest at my grandma's house.