Laurel Highlands ultra 2011 crewing race report.
To put the day in a nutshell I failed from a crew perspective. I did what I could but my runners, they are a father and son duo, did not make to the finish line. You can read Spencer’s race report here http://thevibramexperience.blogspot.com/, and see his struggles. Knowing the struggles that he had I tried to offer my support to increase the chances of a successful race for both of them.
The prerace dinner
The start and accompanying buzz
more of the start
Spencer labeling baggies for me
On Friday afternoon I picked up Spencer’s dad, David, in Columbus and we drove to Johnstown, Pa to meet up with Spencer and start the prerace ritual of organizing gear and sorting out what they wanted where and how to best get them to the finish line. After a brief stop at the cracker barrel for lunch (their Texas brisket is not bad) we continued to Johnstown with the occasional downpour to slow our progress. Upon arrival at our destination we met Spencer at the hotel and proceeded to unload all our gear to sort. The ridiculous part is that I had as much gear as the two of them and was not even running the race. But more on that later.
As the afternoon wore on we turned on an ultrarunning movie about the MMT 100. Watched about 20 minutes of it and had to get on road to the prerace meeting and meal. Ironically enough in the movie there is a character, and I mean that in the most endearing and amusing way, by the name of Gary Kniping. It just made us chuckle that we were watching him on our laptops a few minutes before. This being the first time I was participating in an ultra outside the capacity of a volunteer (There were a couple of years when I lived in Utah that I helped with the Wasatch 100) I went to the pre-race dinner with my racers. The pre-race dinner was just what I expected, a tight community coming together to talk and catch up on their exploits over the last year and talk shop. I was definitely out of place at this meeting. There should have been a sign on the door that stated “No jiggle zone,” I was by FAR the largest person (at 270#) there and the least likely to be mistaken for a runner, but I am working on that. The dinner was good as well as the conversation. I met a gentleman who had a quadruple bypass heart surgery and was running the laurel for the second time since. As a nurse who takes care of open heart surgery patients this is amazing, I wanted him to come by and talk to my patients to show them what is possible after their surgery.
The guy who talked about the course on a section by section basis was interesting because the first thing out of most racers mouths at the first aid station was about all the downed trees and how sloppy the trail was. Then we went back to the hotel and finished sorting gear and crashed for the night. Let’s just say 2:30 is early. We originally were going to get up at 3:30 but that was changed to an earlier in fear that we had never driven there and we didn’t want to be late. We left the hotel and drove to the park in Ohiopyle. As we drove you could have cut the tension and nerves in our car with a knife. I really do not remember the conversation except that it did not stop. And when cruising through the back hills of Pennsylvania David kept reaching up to grab the handle above the door. Well we ended up being the first ones at the park beside the lighting guy. Shortly after our arrival we were joined by the race director and the steady flood of runners that followed. The normal pre-race buzz was going on, more people catching up and people trying to warm-up in the early morning chill. Aside from my racers disappearing every 15-20 minutes for answering the call of nature the morning was uneventful. Then at 5:30 the whistle blows and the runners are off. The next 12 hours are a blur.
Aid station 1:
After getting lost trying to use the written directions (lack of street signs I promise) I used the GPS coordinates and drove right to it. The aid station was buzzing with activity and after setting up shop I started taking pictures of the trail and of other runners to help the time pass. Spencer was the first one to come through shortly after 8am. Not looking to bad and seemed well. Refilled his bottles and gave him a granola bar after not having a bagel for him (mistake #1). I had a large backpack filled with a homemade first aid kit, food of runners choice and change of clothes that we had set up for each aid station or checkpoint. Off Spencer was in just about 4 minutes. Then David comes in and is looking amazing. I did not know what to expect from him based on his reported performance from the previous year. But he was doing well and he was only a few minutes behind Spencer. He was a quick turnaround and he was off after eating a little and drinking a lot.
Aid Station 2/ Checkpoint 1.
The cutoff was 11:15am and this checkpoint (CP) is at about 19 miles. I was there early and had a healthy ¼ mile hike to the aid station. Not bad with a backpack but not fun with a folding chair and backpack. I took many pictures and started getting asked if I was the course photographer and then as I saw Spencer and David one of my two fears came to light as one person crewing for two people. They both arrived at the same time. Luckily one of the crews let us borrow a chair and both of them could sit down. David was looking about as good as he could after 19 miles of uphill and the high humidity that was starting to set in. The heat was not too bad but the humidity was ridiculous. Just standing around I was sweating. Spencer on the other hand was looking rather rough. He had put a second shirt on at the start and had never taken it off. Mistake #2. I forgot about it and never took it off of him at the 1st aid station. Now he took his shirts off and I gave him 2 salt tabs and a ginger chew for his stomach. I did not want him to sit long for fear of him not being able to get up and get moving. I had him drink and sent him off with extra salt tabs and ginger chews with an order to take the tabs in one hour and use the chews as needed. He also had his socks changed. Then I kicked him out to catch his dad.
Aid station 3
The hardest part about this aid station is that it really wasn’t an aid station. Upon arrival I found that the real aid station was about 2 miles down the trail. This was frustrating. To me this is a waste of time for the runners and crew. I did not allow me to see how my runners ate and drank at the aid station, and it also made them stop a second time. This also only gives you 4 trail miles to make it to the next aid station which is the second checkpoint. You gotta move it between stations. But they finally showed up and I tried to get them through here very quick as they only had 4 miles to the next stop. And they did. Again thank you to the other crews for allowing us to use chairs. At this point they both started complaining of knee and or calf pain. Time to bust out the Bio-freeze. This is a bengay type rub that works very well. More salt and ginger chews and they are off.
Aid station 4/ Checkpoint 2.
David came in first and was in and out. He did not want to change his socks because he was afraid his feet were swollen and he would not let me change his socks. He ate well and hydrated well. He was executing his plan.
Spencer came in shortly after and seemed very down. After talking to him it appears the finish of the 50k that they had just passed may have sucked the life out of him. But he was looking rough again so I changed his socks and he drank some Pepsi and had some more salt tabs. He took some for the road and he was off.
Aid station 5
There were no directions to the next aid station as it was just added to the course this year to make it easier to navigate the detour. So I was not there and Spencer and David knew this as I told them.
Aid station 6
The thing they did not tell us was the next aid station was moved. It was about 2 miles away from the previous spot that was described in the directions. I spent about 3 hours looking for this aid station. More on how I found it later.
Aid station 7/ checkpoint 3
I drove to this aid station and found my way here. I saw only a few runners come through this aid station. But what scared me most about this aid station is that if my runners made it this far we would not have had contact for about 24 miles. That is almost 1/3 of the race. This scared me and is probably what prompted me to look for so long for the other aid station.
After about 30 minutes at this aid station I overheard one of the volunteers on his phone saying” well I don’t know who Jason Anderson is.” I at that point I knew I was on pick-up duty. I was given the phone number to one of the volunteers at mile 46 aid station and off I went with some rough directions. The aid station was not far from where I had been looking but I had not gone far enough down a road to get there. Depressing to know I was that close. After getting lost one last time I called the aid station and got directions that were correct and I found David looking really pretty good. Spencer on the other hand looked liked hammered poop. He was pale as a ghost and his eyes were sunken in. But after a few minutes he perked up and was looking better.
I made it to them at about 6:30 and off to the hotel we went to shower and get some real food.
Thoughts and funny things
-Having everything or a suitable substitute is needed at all aid stations.
-Taking a few more minutes at each aid station to make sure I think through everything and to review portions of the upcoming course and what to expect.
-I had a couple of people ask me to come and crew for them at later races and I didn’t know them from Adam.
-I also had someone ask if they could hire me to crew for them next year. I guess I had a good set up going.
- At one aid station I heard a crew tell the runner to put something down their shorts and SQEEZE!! I didn’t investigate anymore. I was scared.
- Sometimes things just do not go in your favor.
- I would do this for Spencer and David any time and I am excited about Spencer coming out to run with me in September for my race.
- Last if anyone from the race reads this and would like pictures I can see what I have. I have a few hundred pictures and I have most of the runners at some point.
Till next time I hope you have enjoyed.