Sunday, July 31, 2011

Burning River 100 Mile Crew/Pacer 2011 Report

If for some reason you haven't read it already, you can find Bob's race report HERE.

This was, by far, one of the best experiences I have ever had in my running life. I wish these upcoming words could adequately describe the feelings of awe and inspiration I had over the course of a mere 27 hours, but I have a feeling that they will fall short no matter how hard I try. I watched a friend push himself to the edge and keep going even when going any further seemed impossible. Tigg and I were welcomed into Bob's home and treated like family over the course of our visit. I cannot thank him, his wife, and his girls enough for their incredible hospitality and generosity. Thank you, Bob, for letting me come along on this journey. To run with you and to get to experience this was more than I ever thought it could be.

The Gang/Crew:
Bob - What's a crew without their runner? Bob is an inspiration through and through. One of the most genuine people I have had the pleasure of being friends with. He is compassionate, humble, and kind. Watching him interact with his family was just a joy. His girls are already wonderful, but I know they will grow up to be amazing and strong women with such a father. As Joanne said, the world needs more men like him.

Eddie - Just awesome. Eddie brings sunshine into a room. You can't help but to love him instantly. He is loyal, gregarious, and would help anyone in need. And yes ladies, he's even more dreamy in person.

Tigg - A friend who has been there for me through thick and thin since the day we met. He has encouraged me, pushed me, and believed in me even when I didn't believe in myself. Most of all, he puts up with me, which is quite a feat in itself. I knew he would do the same for Bob and more.

Jenny - My shoe sister! What is there to say about Jenny that hasn't already been said a thousand times over? She radiates warmth. I can see why she continues to beat that cancer -- how could anything so horrible survive on someone so positive, so full of life?

Myself - A novice ultra runner, but eager and excited to learn.

With us in spirit was Badgerfan93, who I know Bob wanted to be there, but unfortunately could not make it.

Mrs. Eddie, Mrs. Bob, Bob, Me, Jenny and Tigg the evening before.

Eddie's Samurai Jeep; our transporation for the day.

Crewing the Race:
I wrote out our entire morning, describing exactly how the crew operated through the day, but it was far too long. The gist was that we followed Bob from aid station to aid station, doing our best to get him whatever he needed in a timely fashion. Mostly we filled his pack, helped him change clothes and shoes, duct taped his feet, constantly put food in his hands, and above all else tried to cool him down during the heat of the day. He battled nausea, heat and humidity, and foot issues through the beginning of the day. One interesting crew highlight involved Bridget and I standing in a Walgreens debating whether panty hose would work to hold ice in lieu of a bandanna, which were nowhere to be found. Needless to say, we didn't buy the panty hose but instead ended up ripping up a beach towel to craft Bob a bandanna, which he would use for a good majority of the race.

Station Road Bridge Aid Station: Mile 33.3

The Crew at Station Road Bridge.

The crew in action at Station Road Bridge.

Eddie and Tigg rip up the towel after we realize that we need some sort of bandanna for Bob.

Eddie shows Jenny how a gentleman should act.

I run with Bob into Ottawa Point Aid Station (Mile 39.6)

The boys ice down Bob at Ottawa Point.

Shower curtain change at mile 49.1

Flash forward to mile 53.5, Boston Store aid station, where Bob would pick me up as his first pacer. The crew had been operating since about 9am that morning; it was about 4:30pm at this point I had to check into the aid station as a pacer and sign my life away on a waiver. As a pacer, you need to take care of yourself first so that you can be there for your runner. A dehydrated, bonking pacer isn't going to do a runner much good. I decided to carry my handheld and a gel with me. I'd also get to eat from the aid stations. I was scheduled for somewhere around 17 miles with Bob.

Bob came into this aid station looking beat down. His feet were bad and he couldn't cool off. Bridget was clearly worried about him. The men of the crew took action and broke out the duct tape again, this time for his toes. He was nauseous and I held him up from behind as his feet were getting worked on. Bob kept telling Bridget that he was okay, but she didn't believe him. I promised her that we would walk for a while and I'd make him eat as we were walking. This was a low point for everyone; Bridget was worried, Bob was feeling down, it was oppressively hot, but I was ready. Fortunately we were told that the rest of the course was shaded. I prayed that this was true, because Bob couldn't be out in the full sun for much longer. He had already ran for almost 12 hours at this point and his body was rebelling.


Miles 53.3 - 58.3 (heading to Pine Lane AS): Bob and I took off for Pine Lane walking down an asphalt bike bath. I kept telling him that it was okay now, that I was with him and he wouldn't be alone anymore. He was hot. His legs were doing great, but he was hot and couldn't eat enough. He was eating pretzels as we were walking. We agreed to run once the pretzels were gone and the bike path was ended. He was quiet as we were making our way. I chatted a bit, but I felt like I was forcing conversation on him, so we didn't do a lot of talking on the segment. We hit the trail and Bob started powering hiking up this switchback filled hill. He had a damn good pace for already having run for over 50 miles. I complimented him on his running and told him he was doing great anytime we ran over some roots or anything technical. I knew he wasn't feeling well and I was trying to keep him encouraged. Later on this segment he fell as we were hiking up a hill; the trail was missing a big chunk out of side and you couldn't see it because it was covered by leaves and plants. I felt horrible that he had fallen with me, but I helped him up and we came into the (non crew accessible) AS not much later.

I'm willing to bet this was one of his longest stops. I tried to get him to eat, but nothing sounded good. He ate a piece of watermelon as I got his pack filled, but I told him that wasn't enough. He went to the bathroom and when he came out, he was feeling even worse. He had a little bit of dry heaving here, but nothing came up. Despite not wanting to sit down during the race at all, we grabbed a chair in the shade and I let him plop down. A volunteer got me some ice and sponges and I tried desperately to cool him off as he sat there. I don't know how many minutes he sat there as I iced him down and told him to relax and that it would be okay. As he was sitting, he was drinking glasses of ginger ale. He also had some iced coffee and finally when I asked him again what he wanted to eat, he replied with bread. Bread! Good! I'm going to go get you some bread, Bob. Thankfully the aid station had plain bread, but I was ready to scrape off peanut butter and jelly to get him some plain bread if I had to. He ate the bread and drank more soda. After he got some calories in him, I asked him if he could stand and he did. Bob was up. We got the pack back on him and walked out of the aid station.

Miles 58.3 - 63.8 (heading to Happy Days AS): Not long after we walked out of the aid station, Bob told me that he was having some chaffing from his shirt seams. We decided to lube him up - he was carrying vasoline in his pack. I smeared a hefty layer on his back under his arms and he put his shirt back on. Unfortunately this was only a small preview of what was to come. We made our way down the trail and heard screams only a short bit ahead of us. We stopped. Another runner appeared and explained that there were hornets ahead and folks were getting stung. I think Bob and I exchanged a look of horror here; neither of us were too pleased with this information. We decided to cut around the bees and make our own trail in order not to get stung. It worked and we thankfully escaped unscathed. It was not too long after this incident that Bob started to perk up. It was getting later in the day and the woods were completely shaded. His core temperate was very slowly dropping. That along with the calories that he consumed at the aid station gave me a new Bob. He was starting to talk again and soon we were laughing and chatting away. We had to hike up a long climb in order to get to few miles of road, but he was doing great. As soon as we hit the road, he had more spring in his step than I had seen since much earlier today. We ran. We ran a lot. We were on a flat bike path and he was moving well. I'd look down at my Garmin and see a 10:XX pace. We had some great conversation through here and I was so proud to see him come out of that very low point. Best of all, he was eating. He ate some crackers and chocolate voluntarily. Success! We happily made our way to Happy Days, where we would get to see the crew for the first time in a while.

As we came into Happy Days, I could see his girls in the distance with signs. It was so great to see the crew after over 10 miles without them. Bob also had a coworker volunteering at this aid station who took good care of us. She filled his pack and Bridget got him to drink some smoothie. I'm not sure what else he ate at this aid station; I was relying on the crew to get him to eat as I was getting rocks of my shoes and trying to eat a little myself. We got about 20 feet out of the aid station before I had to turn back for our forgotten lights. Night was coming quickly and the woods were even darker.

Bob and I come into Happy Days Aid Station.

Miles 63.8 - 70.6 (heading to Pine Hollow 1 AS): We were told to get to this section by dark and we did...just barely. We had about 20 minutes of beautiful scenery that I could see in the dusk as we made our way through The Ledges. Bob told me this section was really cool and indeed it was. There were huge boulders to our right and the trail was rocky and technical. It reminded me a lot of a trail back home that I loved. We stopped briefly at a scenic overlook and took in the sunset. But we needed to keep moving. Always keep moving forward. Bob was great at his relentless forward motion. Despite his lows, he kept moving forward. Never did I hear a negative thought come from him. He thanked the volunteers. He was gracious and treated everyone well, despite how horrible he was feeling at certain times. It was wonderful to witness his ubiquitous positive attitude.

It was shortly after dark when the chafing became a big problem. A very big problem. He told me that shirt was bothering him, but he didn't have any other shirts to change into. I told him that we'd find him one. Eddie or Tigg would have a nice loose fitting tech shirt that we could switch him to after we got to the aid station. However, it wasn't long after that conversation that he told me that he was just going to take his shirt off. No problem, I told him, that's a good idea. I knew the chaffing was really bad at this point because Bridget told us earlier that Bob never runs with his shirt off. So I helped him out of his shirt and we stuffed in into his pack. His arms and back were red and raw. I slathered a bunch of body glide on him, apologizing as I was doing so, worrying that I was hurting him, and gingerly helped him put his pack back on over the chafing, but the damage was done. He didn't complain, mind you, but I know that he was in a lot of pain. Not much further down the trail, he told me he was going to pull off and lube up some, errr, other areas. I sat down on a log and waited for him. He took off the compression shorts for good and had on regular shorts again. He was chafing badly there as well, but there was nothing left to do but to lube up and just keep moving. We took off again, still running unbelievably well, thanks to Bob's strong legs.

We had been leap frogging with another pair of runners during the section. They would catch up to us when we stopped to deal with the chafing, but we would pass them once we got going. This runner's pacer was tired and was going to quit at the upcoming aid station. He told us to him let him know if we found anyone that was willing to run with him. I immediately told him that I would take him for the next section. Tigg was picking up Bob and I wasn't tired, so I was happy to help him. His name was Todd and as we passed them, I told him I would find him at the upcoming aid station after I tended to Bob and got him in good hands with our crew.

We had to climb the famed "Sound of Music" hill to get to Pine Hollow. Honestly, I completely forgot that the hills that we were climbing were "those" hills. I just knew they were tough! Bob was gutting it out at this point. He needed to eat and was hitting another low point with the chafing and the lack of calories. I was worried about leaving him, but I knew that he was in more than capable hands with Tigg. We pulled up to the aid station and the crew was there immediately. Bridget and the girls were getting tired and gave Bob some final hugs and kisses and headed off to sleep, but our work had only just begun. We had "only" 30 miles left to get Bob through at this point, but it was not going to be easy.

Miles 70.6 - 73.9 (heading to Pine Hollow 2 AS; non-Bob pacing): This was another loop that the runners needed to complete. We'd be coming right back to the aid station that we left. After I helped the crew with Bob and watched him take off down the trail with Tigg, I found my new friend Todd. He was resting in a chair with his friend and father. I told him that I was ready to go when he was. He got up out of the chair after a few minutes and we took off down the trail after Bob and Tigg.

This was a fun little section with a lot of stairs and hills. Todd was a chatty guy, so I just listened to him talk for a while. He was living in California, but was originally from Cleveland. He was also a vegetarian and a snowboarder, so we had a lot in common and plenty to talk about. We were leap frogging with a group that Bob knew (Hope and Steve), so we talked a little bit about Bob with them. They told Todd that he could hang out with them after I was done pacing him.

Toward the end of this section, Todd decided that he was going to take off without any warning. And take off he did! All of sudden we were running. And I mean running! I looked down at my Garmin and we were easily clipping off a 9 minute mile. Where did this come from and how long is he going to be able to keep it up? Up and down the undulating hills we ran. I had already come over 20 miles and this was a fast pace for me. I hoped he couldn't do this for much longer or he would drop me for sure. I started to slow behind him on a hill and I think he sensed that I was dropping back and slowed as well. All of a sudden we were walking again. I asked him where that sprint had come from. He replied that he desperately needed to get to the aid station and lube up his _______. (Use your imagination.) Looks like Bob was not the only one with chafing issues. Todd and I eventually got to the aid station and he thanked me for pacing him for that section. I told him I was happy to help and good luck and that we'd hopefully run into each other later on the course. I went to go find Bob and company and it turns out they had come into the aid station just a few minutes before us. Bob's not a GU guy, but he had switched over to gels. As long as he was getting in calories, I didn't care what he was eating. Bob didn't stick around long here, but I could see that he was still struggling with his nausea and chaffing. He and Tigg took off shortly for the next aid station.

Back to Crewing:
Mile 80.5 and 85.2 (Covered Bridge 1&2): Eddie and I had a good bit of time to kill. We loaded up the Jeep and decided to find an all night gas station as it was close to 1am at this point. After a few botched attempts, we finally found one. I changed out of my sweaty running clothes while Eddie sought to find a cheap sweatshirt. It was COLD in the Jeep and even chilly standing around in the night air. No luck at the gas station, so we went to find a sweatshirt at Walmart. On the way there, we ended up in the Taco Bell drive thru. I had just ran 21.5 miles and was hungry and I don't think the crew had much for dinner either. I bought Eddie 4 tacos and we ate dinner in the Walmart parking lot. By far the most romantic ultra running date I have been on.

Covered Bridge was a large aid station that was mildly depressing. People were huddled up in blankets by a fire, runners were coming in looking like zombies. Many sat down in chairs while their crews did the best they could. I imagine there was a large number of drops here. Bob and Tigg came though not long after we arrived. Bob was drinking Coke with salt mixed in and had some rice and broth. They had ran their last section well, but the upcoming one was a toughie. We quickly sent them off into the darkness and settled in for a long wait. I did see Todd come through this aid station shortly after Bob and yelled into the quiet night, "Yeah, Todd buddy! Go get it done!" and he was happy to see me and thanked me again. (He eventually did finish, about a half hour after Bob.) It was at this point that I made a lot of updates to Runner's World.

Covered Bridge Aid Station during the middle of the night.

Eddie changed into his running clothes, as he would be pacing Bob for the last 15 miles after he and Tigg returned. We got antsy waiting for Bob, but it was interesting to see the other runners coming in. One woman came in, took a seat, and started brushing her teeth. Eddie and I thought this was a great idea and might give Bob a lift. We rummaged through the bags and found toothpaste, but no tooth brush so we decided not to mention that idea to Bob. Finally, after what seemed to be a very long time, Bob and Tigg came back from the loop. Bob was tired, sore, chaffing like crazy, and was running on empty. I could see the look in his eyes though and I knew he was going to get it done, no matter how bad it was. Underneath the pain was fierce determination.

Mile 93 (Merriman Road): While Eddie was pacing, he had no choice but to entrust the Samurai Jeep to me and Tigg. Tigg drove while I navigated and huddled by the heater trying to get warm. We had a long wait here at Merriman Road, as Eddie and Bob were running about 8 miles and would pass through a non crew accessible aid station on their way.

Eddie and Bob came through at dawn. The sun was rising. Knowing that Bob was a coffee guy, I made him some coffee at this aid station. I think he was happy to have the coffee after being forced to eat so many other things. I believe this was also the aid station where he downed a rum and coke. He wasn't talking much now. No more idle chit-chat. No more what do you want to eat, Bob. No more filling of the pack; he had switched to handhelds a while ago. He didn't linger long here. He was a man on a mission now.

Mile 96 (Memorial Parkway): The last aid station. Eddie and Bob made excellent time getting here. I believe Bob's pace for the section was 12:40, which is blazing fast at this point in the race. Tigg and I set up at this aid station. There was no coffee here, much to my dismay, but we got him another rum and coke ready along with gels and a ginger ale. When Eddie and Bob came running into the aid station, Eddie stopped to talk for a second, but Bob just kind of looked at us and kept going. We thought that maybe he was heading for the bathroom, but no, Bob wasn't stopping! Screw the AS! Bob was finishing this thing! We all looked at each other and kind of laughed. Eddie took off after him and we yelled that we'd see them at the finish. Tigg and I were cracking up as we frantically packed up all of our stuff and got back in the Jeep and blasted toward the finish.

Mile 100.8 (FINISH): We called Bridget and told her what happened and that Bob only had 4.8 miles left to go. We may or may not have ran a red light on our way there, but we made it without getting pulled over the police. We were on a high from Bob being so close to the finish and from being up all night and were screaming and yelling at the runners on their way to the finish as we drove by them. Most had enough energy for a first pump or wave. We found Bridget and the girls as well as some of Bob's siblings. Burning River lets as many people as the runner wants to run the last mile in with them. Bridget was going to wait at the finish for Bob while the rest of us ran in the last mile with him.

Bob's brother, Tigg and I went the full mile out while the rest of the gang waited a little closer. It seemed like forever that we were waiting for Bob and Eddie to appear on the horizon. We watched other runners come down the street and I just couldn't stop smiling. It was an amazing thing to watch these runners in their last mile. Some of them were walking, others were still jogging, but all of them knew that they were going to make it. Finally, finally, we saw Bob and Eddie show up in the distance. Bob was chafed beyond belief, sunburned, exhausted, his shorts were cut up and hung like a skirt, but it was a beautiful sight. He could barely muster the energy to greet us when we approached, but he lifted up his arm to give me a silent fist bump and I said, "I am so damn proud of you."

So we joined Bob and Eddie in silence. Bob couldn't speak. He clasped his hand on his brother's arm for a moment and then we walked. We walked down the street and I felt so much pride well up inside. Soon his other brother was there walking along side us. No one spoke a word. Then his sister and his girls joined us. The girls knew without being told that it was time for silence. The only thing you could hear was feet walking and sniffles coming from the entire group. Bob held his youngest daughter's hand as we made our way down the street. My eyes were welling up with tears and I heard Eddie beside me. We walked with our arms around each other for a moment, knowing exactly what the other was thinking. I wish I could convey the emotions felt on this walk, but it's too difficult. It was the most emotional mile of my life. Better than any mile of any race that I have completed. Better than the last mile of my ultra in which I was crying with joy. I will look back on this mile many times in the future. Tigg played camera man and got some really nice pictures of everyone together. As we could see the finish line down the street Bob looked around at everyone and spoke his first word, "Ready?" And so we ran. We ran in silence and in tears and the group slowly pulled away as we approached the line and let Bob cross over with his girls and into the arms of his wife.

100.8 amazing miles that I will never, ever forget.

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