For the first time ever, I was a crew member for a runner running a race. I've crewed myself many times over the past few years and have even had a few people crew me during races. But I've never had the desire to help crew. As I've spent the past few years running, I've developed some great friendships, real and online, with other runners and athletes. So it was only a matter of time before I found the perfect running partner. Actually, I've found several over the years but some have moved or moved on. Amanda is somewhere in Turkey or Greece and Catherine is, well, somewhere out of my running circle.
Which brings us to Tabitha, one of many people that I run with but right now, she's the best fit for me. She's faster than me which forces me to push myself. But she's not too fast that I can't keep up with her if I need to. She pushes me when I feel crappy, she talks my ear off about crazy shit, and she listen to my crazy-ass stories. Best of all, she can also run in silence.
Which brings us to the race, the 2012 12 Hour ATR. I've read a few race reports over the years and ran the 8 Hour version (where Tab crewed for me) so I knew the organization would be great. But I've never been to Prince William Forest Park (PWFP) and I had no idea what the course was like. So I was pretty nervous going into this thing blind on many levels and had a few restless nights worrying about getting Tab to her goal of 6 loops (39 miles).
The course was much easier than expected. Maybe it was because I was walking the hills or maybe it was because the pace was slow. But damn, things felt so easy and runnable. Nothing at all as difficult as the HAT 50k and, despite being pancake flat, easier than the DRHT 50k. The course is partly single track and partly fire road. There are a few technical sections but generally it's pretty simple and mindless running where you just run and enjoy the scenery. Each loop is 6.5 miles and you run as many loops as you can. There is an aid station at the Start/Finish and a water cooler around mile 2 or so on the loop. Just water though, nothing else. The park was open to the public so you did have non-runners and a few bikers on the trail, but they generally just stepped aside and watched in awe as people just kept running.
The Nitty Gritty Details:
I arrived just in time to pull into the main parking lot to see it full. I saw Tab's car, ditched my stuff there, then headed back to the other parking lot. As I turned around, a guy said he was the "shuttle" and would wait for me up there. I followed him back to the other lot, parked, and hitched a ride with another runner in the back of his truck.
The race was scheduled to start at 0615 and as I strolled into the mass of runners waiting, I only had 5 minutes or so before go time. I found Tab and Nora (and Nora's husband Ivan). The runner's made their way to the start line, got the pre-race brief, we met the virgin ultra runners, and the youngest (12 year old female) and oldest (62 year old male).
And without any fanfare, the race started at 0627. Ivan was crewing and pacing Nora so we hung back, watched them leave, and then proceeded to wonder what the hell we were going to do. So we sat down, talked, and were generally bored out of our skulls. This would be a recurring theme for us. We'd help our runners in and out of the aid station in a flurry of activity and then sit down and do nothing.
The Hard Data:
The data is going to be broken down by loop. As I said earlier, Tab's goal was 6 loops or 39 miles. This would be a time and distance PR. Each loop is 6.5 miles. You'll see in a second that she ended up going further with 7 loops (45.5 miles). But I'll get to the end in a bit. Oh, and this is what I saw. Many loops ended with her going through the aid station without me being there while I was getting her stuff ready. So this isn't a complete list.
1 - water in a handheld bottle and EFS in a small handheld
2 - water in a handheld bottle and EFS in a small handheld
3 - water in a hydration pack and EFS in a small handheld, flat Pepsi
4 - water in a hydration pack and EFS in a small handheld
5 - water in a hydration pack and EFS in a small handheld
6 - water in a hydration pack and EFS in a small handheld, flat Pepsi
7 - water in a hydration pack and EFS in a small handheld
1 - Honey Stinger waffle
2 - Honey Stinger chews
3 - 1/2 a PDJ, Magnesium Phosphate
4 - Magnesium Phosphate
5 - pierogi, ramen noodles
6 - ramen noodles, pretzels
7 - ramen noodles, bagel
1 - headlamp
2 - changed hair
3 - dropped handheld and picked up Nathan hydration pack, fixed shoes, got a visor, fixed hair, changed top
4 - changed shoes
5 - no change
6 - no change
7 - no change
1 - tried to pop back
2 - Formula B on left hamstring and IT band
3 - none but asked for KT tape the next loop
4 - shoes hurt, bathroom
5 - tried to use KT tape on leg but peeled it off, castor oil
6 - Imodium, had blister pain
7 - castor oil, bathroom, blister pain
1 - temps about 60F, low humidity, no sun until about 0700 (30 minutes into the race)
2 - 60F, low humidity, sun, light breeze
3 - 65F, low humidity, sun, light breeze
4 - 70F, moderate humidity, sun, light breeze
5 - 75F, moderate humidity, sun, light breeze
6 - 75F, moderate humidity, sun, light breeze, partly cloudy
7 - 75F to 80F, moderate humidity, sun, light breeze, partly cloudy
Splits are by my watch, nothing official. I'd hit the split when she crossed into or out of the parking lot. So the time spent in the "aid station" was from the end of the trail, through the parking lot, across the timing mat, through the real aid station, back through the unofficial "aid station," and then back to the trail.
Loop 1 - 1:24:32
Aid Station 1 - 5:08
Loop 2 - 1:27:48
Aid Station 2 - 4:27
Loop 3 - 1:33:34
Aid Station 3 - 7:53
Loop 4 - 1:33:03
Aid Station 4 - 9:13
Loop 5 - 1:31:13
Aid Station 5 - 11:45
Loop 6 - 1:38:17
Aid Station 6 - 15:30
Loop 7 - 1:40:41
Finish - 11:43:10
- bring food and drink for the crew
- bring a deck of cards or a book for the crew
- bring dry and wet towels for the runner
- bring bags for the runner's dirty clothes and shoes
- bring extra bottles to speed up the aid station time
- bring chairs for the runner and crew
- take photos (I sadly took three, none of my runner)
Tab had a pacer for her last three loops. On loop 5, another runner Mike and myself went out with her. Overall, I could tell she was tired and wanted the pain to end but Mike did a great job talking to her and keeping her busy. I didn't. I completely sucked at keeping her occupied but I think that's because I felt like a third wheel out there. Nothing against Mike, he seems like a great guy, but I didn't feel like I could measure up to him socially (if that makes sense). So I felt like I had no say in how things went. I interjected here and there but it didn't feel like I did much beyond run with them and add a few comments here and there. Although, I did open up about the hot girl running the relay. Might not have been a good idea to share that much information but hey, what happens on the trail stays on the trail, right?
For loop 6, she had Mike again (for a mile or two at least before he dropped). She also had her husband Jason out there. I expected this loop to suck the most but she pushed through the pain and did great. I was ready to go back out there with her but she came through and told me to sit tight, rest up, and be ready for another loop. So it was hard to run a loop, wait a loop, then run another loop. Not so much physically hard as much as more anxious than the other loops. I was ready to go but had to wait.
For loop 7, the last loop, it was Jason again and myself. And while I felt like a third wheel sometimes (I'd think that's a bit obvious when you run with a husband and wife), I managed to take charge and tell Tab what she needed to do and to not panic. And she wanted to a few times. She'd continually check her watch worrying about her time since we had about a 20 minute cushion to finish this loop. In reality, we had more time than that but that's what I was telling myself and her to push us both at the right pace. I could tell the pace was slower this loop than loop 5 but still tolerable. It was close to a death march shuffle but she still gutted it out and even found the energy somehow to push the pace a bit on the steeper downhills. She stumbled a bit on the technical sections but did better than expected.
As we rolled into the final miles of the last loop, I could tell she smelled the barn and picked up the pace a bit. We passed people and got passed. It was all about finishing. I knew we had it in the bag with about a mile to go but still tried to push her a bit. Turns out, no pushing was needed; she pushed herself. We came into the parking lot, she crossed the timing mat, and the race was done.
The Second Finish:
But I didn't finish there. You see, Nora was still out there trying to finish her loop 8 with her husband pacing her. So I ran back out and followed them in the last quarter mile or so. She clicked along at a solid pace, pulling away from me as she walked up the hills. While she may have considered me her adopted crew, I just did my best to help her as much as I could. From what I could see, she didn't need much help. Neither did Tab. They both crushed it out there. All I did was cheer them on, refill their water, then cheer them some more.
I'd like to thank Ashland Dave for his advice on how to crew a runner. I didn't follow all of his advice and it shows. There's a lot that I'd do differently but I'm still pretty happy that I was able to help as much as I could. I'd also like to thank Tab for letting me crew for her. She put in the training and did all the hard work but was still willing to let me help her. If anyone is ever considering running an ultra or crewing for one, I'd highly recommend doing both. You get to see so many different things from both sides of the fence.