Sometimes the race isn’t about you, but in those times it can be the most rewarding.
A year ago I spent the third weekend in May working the finish line of the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100-mile run. I spent it with friends I had made in the pervious six months, watching runners complete a hard and difficult race.
That Sunday, I can clearly remember standing in the field by the finish, staring at the mountains, listening to the crowd cheering runners to the end, and crossing a mental finish line of my own.
It was the moment I knew I was alright with my marriage ending.
This year, I returned to crew and pace a good friend who badly needed a win of his own.
Geoff has had a run of bad luck in his three previous 100-mile attempts — all at the Grindstone 100 in Swope Virginia. In 2013, the event was cancelled outright; the following year he strained his calf at 20 miles, forcing him to drop; and last year other commitments kept him out when the race date changed at the last minute.
So when Geoff asked me to crew him during the race and to pace him through 24 miles, I was honored.
Crewing and pacing are our way of balancing the world.
So many people have helped me cross the finish line. Friends, volunteers, and random strangers have helped push me through to finish when all I wanted to do was sit the fuck down. Supporting someone to help them achieve their goal is paying it back to the community.
Crewing also is a lesson in putting someone else first — during an event only the runners matter.
You overlook being tired. You ignore your sore feet. You don’t dwell on how you haven’t eaten a real meal all day.
Only the runner matters.
That is why — just after dark on Saturday — when we discovered Geoff did not have his headlamp, I handed him mine.
For the next couple hours I did my best for follow his footsteps. When he jumped, I jumped. When he said, “dip,” I said, “what … SHIT.” It was about making the race easier for him. And it gave me a chance to be in an uncomfortable situation on trail. And believe me, traveling a rock-covered, wet, muddy, trail in the dark is uncomfortable.For an idea of the trail conditions, look below. While blurry, you can still tell Geoff is ankle deep in water and mud.
In all, I spent eight hours pacing Geoff 24 miles on trail and then crewing him until he finished his race. We told stories, laughed at dirty jokes, met other people, and covered some things that will always stay on the trail.
We were good friends before, and better friends after.
When Geoff was done, I stuck around at the finish line and watched more than a dozen other friends finish the MMT 100. A little over a year and a half ago, I didn’t know most of them. Now I was more than honored to shake their hand, give them a fist bump, or a hug at the finish line.
I encourage everyone to work a race. It gives you a chance to see what others go through and learn from how they handle those situations. You get to see all of the emotions they ride through the course. And at the end you get to see what it looks like to accomplish a huge personal goal when they cross the finish line.
Also, be prepared for anything when you are pacing. Over the weekend, I encountered ankle deep mud and deeper water. On top of the ridge the temperature was in the mid-30’s and the wind was so loud we couldn’t hear each other speak. Pack extra layers, extra socks, extra food, and an extra light. Pack anything you think may help you help your runner reach the finish line safely.
I am one month out from the Bighorn 100. Seeing the exhausted MMT100 runners makes me nervous and anxious about taking on a challenging 100-mile run, let alone the the Bigfoot 200 just a few short months after Bighorn.
Training-wise, this past week was a rest week. Pacing Geoff lead me to a few more miles than I would have normally planned, ending the week with 44.4 miles and 5,951 feet of climbing. The next two weeks will be pretty high mileage with a few key runs planned.
Working the MMT 100 has reinvigorated my want to accomplish a new challenge. We start these challenges because we may fail. Watching the amazing MMT runners confront dark moments and overcome unexpected challenges has me more than ready to encounter the ones that are ahead of me.