This weekend I had the privilege and opportunity to pace and crew my friends Jeff and Steven at the Bear 100 miler in Utah. This was such a fantastic experience…and a great way for me to lose (some of) the nerves for StumpJump on Saturday. Watching all of these amazing athletes tackle incredibly tough conditions for more than an entire day definitely helped motivate and inspire me.
The weekend technically started on Wednesday. I flew out to Salt Lake City and got picked up by the rest of the gang–in a sweet ass minivan nonetheless. Jeff, Steven, Daniel, Jonathan, and I drove into Logan, UT straight from the airport (the guys had been in SLC since Monday). We were lucky enough to have a friend of a friend let us stay with them just a mile and a half from the start line of the race. Shannon and Erik were the greatest hosts of all time. Facebook Miracle! Not many people would open their home up to 5 complete strangers., but they did…and then some. Besides a great breakfast spread, the Bear course was practically in their backyard, and they were able to give superb insight into the logistics of crewing and racing.
On Thursday, Daniel and I went out for a run/tour of Logan. The views were just breathtaking. After the run, we all loaded up to scope out some of the aid stations where Jonathan, Daniel, and I would be meeting Jeff and Steven. I think this was good to calm everyone’s nerves. We drove back into Logan to grab a bite to eat before going to the pre-race briefing and packet pickup. While we were there, I got to see three ultra “celebrities” including my girl crush. Being in the presence of Anna Frost, Karl Meltzer, and Bryon Powell was just so flippin’ cool. Following the meeting, we went back to Shannon and Erik’s for some pizza and brews before calling it a night (following a little adventure to the neighbor’s house . . . ). We needed an early night as Friday was game day.
We all got up and out of the house by 5:20 am on Friday morning. All 7 of us carpooled to the start line in our cool minivan. Erik, Steven, and Jeff checked in and pretty soon they were on their way.
Shannon, Daniel, Jonathan, and I headed back to the house. We had to pack up all of our luggage and the guys’ race gear. We weren’t scheduled to go to the 1st aid station until around 12pm-1pm, but we wanted to try and get there when some of the uber fasties came through. Before we hit the canyons and got out of cell phone service and Facebook for the next 30 some odd hours (Seriously, how did we survive this? Screw running 100 miles, this was the real struggle of the weekend), we stopped at Spudnuts for coffee.
After a brief stop at Wal-Mart (spoiler alert: Utah Wal-Marts look identical to Tennessee Wal-Marts), we were finally on our way through the canyons. We got to the mile 30 aid station around 11 am or so– just in time to see the lovely Frosty come through.
I even got to cheer for her. Whoop. Pretty soon, Erik came in. After that, Jonathan and I went up the trail a little bit to wait for Jeff and to run him into the aid station. Our first crewing duties! We got him some snacks and filled up his water bottles. Soon, he was on his way. Steven came in, and we did the whole thing again. Despite the increasing heat, he looked great!
Our new friend Chris from Chattanooga suffered an injury and had to drop at 30 so we loaded him up in our van as the newest member of our crew. His buddy Brian was running as well so we became a de facto crew for him too. After we got Steven all set, we packed up and moved on to the next aid station at mile 45.
We got to that aid station just as Erik was rolling in. We hung out at cheering on other runners and getting Jeff, Steven, and Brian anything they needed and getting them on their way as quickly (?) as possible. It was pretty hot at the beginning of our stay at mile 45, but soon a cold front started coming in. This would provide lots of fun for the latter parts of the race. As we were waiting for our runners to come through, Chris began chatting with an old friend of his. Little did Jonathan and I know that we were in the midst of a legend. Errol “The Rocket” Jones is mainstay at many of the ultras out west and has been racing them since before I was born. The Rocket really made my day when we were talking about Anna Frost and he asked if I were her (I wish…). He also told us how he had gotten Frosty off of the waitlist, as well as Anton Krupicka. When Anton didn’t show after The Rocket had worked hard to get him into the race, The Rocket said he was going to write Anton a letter. This might be my favorite statement from the week. After we finished our crew duties at 45, we packed up again and headed to our next rendezvous point.
By the time we made it to the mile 61 aid station, night, and cold, had set in. Luckily, each aid station had a pretty sweet campfire setup. We hung out by the fire until Jeff came through. Woohoo — My pacing duties were on. We set off in the direction of the glow sticks. Jeff made the comment that I was running in the footsteps of Ann Frost. Le Sigh. We hit a pretty massive climb right from the get-go. We sure weren’t in Percy Warner anymore. After climbing, climbing, and more climbing, we finally made our descent into the aid station at mile 69-ish. Our crew wouldn’t be meeting us there, and Jeff was feeling pretty tired. By that time, he’d been running 18 hours. We got him some soup, grilled cheese, and fig newtons. Unfortunately, as would be the theme of the weekend, they didn’t have any coffee. We stayed at that AS for about 10 minutes or so; then it was back to the trails. As we were making our way up another climb, lightning started up a bit. This picked up our pace slightly. Some rain started coming in, and the trails got muddy quickly. After a couple of miles, we hit the paved road that would take us around the yurt at Beaver Lodge and into the AS at mile 75. Jonathan was there, as well as Steven’s BIL Dillon. We got Jeff changed into knickers, new shoes/socks, and shirt. We packed him some sandwiches and nuts, got him some potatoes and coffee (Whoop!), and he and Jonathan were on their way. I got Jeff’s box of gear loaded up and followed Dillon to the next AS at mile 85.
Thank god I was following Dillon. The next AS was down a super muddy, super rocky, super narrow road, and I was driving our minivan. Four miles took almost 25 minutes. Once there, Dillon headed back to 75 to wait for Steven. I hung out in the van until about 4:30am. I wanted to be sure I had plenty of time to get Jeff’s stuff together before the guys came through. I sat around the fire watching headlamps of runners come down and through the aid station. I saw a pair of lamps coming down around 5:50ish. I thought it was Jeff and Jonathan and was stoked to hear Jeff call out his bib number. No coffee, but we got Jeff a few goodies for the road. This would be the last time I saw him until after he finished. He looked really good here at mile 85. Not that there was ever any doubt that he’d finish, but in a 100 miles, there are a ton of variables that could thwart even the greatest of racers/plans. Seeing him leave, though, I knew he had it. This was amazing to witness.
After they were gone, I went back to the van to try and get some sleep. My attempts were futile as I was too amped and jacked up on sugar (mmmm, candy corn). I got dressed back into my running gear around 8:45 am and went to help at the aid station. After a while, Dillon woke up, and we helped some runners out. The rain was really coming down and holding steady. Dillon decided he wanted to walk a little bit up the trail. Lo’ and behold, as soon as he did, Steven and Daniel came into view. I quickly got Steven’s box of gear out. They rolled in, and Steven looked great! Seriously, he looked like he’d just run 5 miles, not 85.
Daniel and I made him a baggie of chicken noodle soup and got him some pancakes. I was slated to jump in with Steven at this point, but he and Daniel were on a roll so they continued onward to the finish. Just as with Jeff, it was clear that Steven had this in the bag. I was ecstatic for him as Dillon and I rolled out and on towards the finish line. By the time we crossed into Idaho at the finish, Jeff and Jonathan had already come in. This was also the first time that I had service since 10am the day before. My phone was blowing up with texts asking for updates– Steven and Jeff made me super popular!
Jeff got a house pretty close to the finish line so I took the van there. The guys greeted me at the door– I thought they were glad to see me because they had missed my company, but I think they were just anxious to get clean clothes and phones. Chris and Brian were at the house as well with Brian sprawled out on the biggest bean bag chair/thing I’ve ever seen. We got cleaned up and headed to the finish line to watch Steven. However, Steven was booking it and finished before we got there. Mission Accomplished!!! I can’t imagine how amazing it must have felt for Jeff and Steven to cross that finish line, but I can tell you that seeing them afterwards, knowing what they had accomplished, how hard they worked to accomplish something so great, was just freaking incredible.
After some dinner, brews, and a little Anthony Bourdain action, sleep was easy to come by.
This weekend was such an amazing experience. I’m so thankful that Jeff and Steven wanted me out there. Besides inspiring me for my own race, I made tons of new friends, got to witness sheer grit and determination, and gained a new found appreciation for the motivation provided by the Ying Yang Twins and a certain type of dance that’s only found on 6th Ward Dumaine.