Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Pit Crewing at Headlands Hundred

This past weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of crewing for my friend’s sister, Kate, in her first 100-mile trail run at theHeadlands Hundred in the Marin Headlands outside of San Francisco. Many of you will know her by her online name of Katemd. Karen (my buddy), Kate, her husband Rodney, and I took off Friday morning and arrived about mid-afternoon in Mill Valley, where we eventually hooked up with Kate’s pacer, Russ McGarry. Russ came into our lives in March when he came upon me struggling and helped me through the last few miles of my first 50k at Forest Park in Portland, Oregon. A Trail Angel with hidden wings, he has come to be a friend to all of us.

Once we were all together, we drove to the start/finish area at Rodeo Beach, then did a recon of all the aid stations so Karen and I would know where we’d be going the next day. The farthest drive between stations was 20 minutes, with the average being 15. But then again, that was with 5 people in the car and one getting nauseous from the curvy roads. The next day I would turn into Maria Andretti (Mario-Maria, Mario-Maria. Get it??) and fairly fly through those curves trying to get to stations with plenty of time to set up and be ready for our runner.

We eventually returned to the hotel, sought out a filling dinner of . . . you guessed it - pasta, then we headed back to the hotel where it was my job to tape up the problem areas of feet that would be running the next day. Come to find out, I’m not too bad at it, but I need to work on my benzoin spraying technique. I have a tendency to get that stuff everywhere. While I was taping up Russ’ feet, he commented that in March, if he’d taken the trail to the right instead of the left, we wouldn’t all be sitting there together that night. I just smiled and commented how destiny is a wonderful thing.

The next morning dawned bright and early, and Kate, Karen, and I arrived at Rodeo Beach around 6:00 a.m., plenty of time for last minute bathroom breaks and for butterflies to do their thing, as well. It wasn’t long, however, before RD Wendell had his bullhorn out giving last minute instructions, everyone made their way to the road, the signal sounded, and they were off. The first stretch sent them down the road, across the beach, and then up to the trails they would be traversing for the next, well, hours upon hours. Under pressure to be ready for Kate, Karen and I made our way to the first aid station - a mere 2.2 miles away at Rodeo Valley. The runners, however, would be winding their way through 8.1 miles of trails - the longest stretch between aid stations. Kate came in to the station upbeat and chipper, we replaced her empty bottles with full ones, filled her baggy with foods, and sent her on her merry way, a process we would repeat many times over the next hours.

Since this is a crewing report and not a running report, there aren’t a whole of lot gory details to provide. Karen and I had a blast hootin’ and hollerin’ for other runners at the aid stations, blowing bubbles - much to the runners’ delight, and generally enjoying ourselves. During our second stance at the Pantoll Aid Station, I broke out the large pink felt with orange polka dotted hats and ties for us to wear, which made us quite the hit with runners, crewers, and watchers alike.

There was a 50-mile and a 100-mile race, and it was interesting to watch the progression as the day wore on, seeing the affects - or seemingly no affects - on runners. Some were struggling well before Mile 50, others were breezing through as if this was just another jaunt through the woods. Although the entire course is tough (read LOTS of climbing), the section between Pantoll, Bolinas, and back was especially rough as the runners were mostly in the direct sun, and it was fairly warm at the higher elevation.

In the early evening, Karen and I met back up with Rodney and Russ at Rodeo Beach where the runners would reach the end or midway point of their respective runs. The guys hadn’t seen our new attire yet, and we made sure we slathered on the pink lipstick and gloss really good so as to provide the full beautifying affect. Karen was getting antsy and excited as she would be pacing Kate for 10 miles to Tennessee Valley, where Russ would take over and pace for the final 40. Once Kate and Karen took off, Rodney, Russ, and I made the long 2.2 mile drive to Rodeo Valley, set up camp, and waited for the gals’ return. This was the beginning of the night stretch, so we knew it would take them a little while longer. The three of us sat around and chatted, made grilled cheese sandwiches for the gals, and waited, and waited some more. At one point Russ decided it was time to use El Body Glide on strategic body parts, and danged if he didn’t walk into the shadows to do so! I was like, “Come on, dude! Give a gal a break! It’s 11:30 at night!” But it was a no go. Oh well, can’t blame a girl for trying!

An hour and a half or so later, Karen came in a few seconds ahead of Kate indicating, okay YELLING, that the chili Kate had eaten at Rodeo Beach wasn’t sitting well, but the complaints from Kate were minimal - which would be her demeanor the entire race - we switched out her bottles, stuffed her baggy with food she thought she could digest more easily, got her out of there in short order, packed up the car, and headed out to Tennessee Valley where Russ would take over as pacer.

When Kate and Karen arrived at Tennessee, we had to do some quick foot checking and taping, and with Rodney holding the flashlight, me hunkered down barking orders for tape, light, etc., and Karen handing me the materials, one aid station worker commented that we looked like a regular pit crew. After Kate and Russ left, Karen and I drove like bats out of hell to get Rodney back to the hotel for the night and ourselves back to Tennessee with enough time to get prepared again for their return.

This stretch of waiting, I have to say, was probably the most enjoyable, as well as the most educational, for me. It was “early 30" hours in the morning, and Karen, tired from the combination of crewing all day and her 10-mile jaunt, was bundled up in the car taking a cat nap. I poured myself a cup of coffee and Baileys (mmmm!), put on my heavy coat, and stood in the shadows of the aid station watching the runners come and go for the miles between 61.8 and 71.3. It was very interesting. Some came through looking tired but like they could go on forever. Others, it was evident they were struggling mentally and physically, and a few dropped at this point. One gentleman, I’d say in his late 40s-early 50s, was having a hard time concentrating, and I greatly admired the way Aid Station Manager Stan gently took care of him, trying to help him decide whether he wanted to drop or continue at that point. Stan commented prior to this runner arriving that he didn’t know what to do for these folks. Well, I think he was doing great. If they seemed to be hanging around too long, he quietly remind them of the next cutoff and the miles they had to cover before then, and helped them get on their way.

Once Kate and Russ came through, we headed back to Rodeo Valley. It was around 5:00 a.m., and since I was beginning to talk like I was drunk, I thought the more prudent thing would be to try and nap. So I did . . . for an hour and a half. Man, did that feel great! I woke up feeling fairly refreshed about 10 minutes before our runners came flying in in high spirits. Kate had taken a fall and gave herself a nice skinned leg, but other than that, the two of them were having the time of their lives, joking and laughing with us and the aid station workers. I was amazed by Kate. She had just completed 75.3 miles and still had another 25.2 to go, and she was looking for all the world like she only just begun a short time earlier.

We had one more round of pit crewing at Tennessee Valley as the runners would be hitting this spot two more times. In between Kate’s and Russ’ appearance, Karen and I once again drove like bats outta hell back to the hotel to pick up Rodney. We waited at Tennessee for what seemed like an interminable amount of time, but soon we spotted our duo high up on the trail. They came blazing into the station indicating they were trying to beat 28 hours, and headed out in less than 2 minutes with Kate leading the way. We loaded up our crewing supplies for the last time, and headed back to Rodeo Beach for the finale.

From our vantage point at Rodeo Beach, you could see the runners approaching from way up on the trail and follow their progress through the final stages. As soon as we saw Kate and Russ, we started yelling for them. They fairly flew down the last stretches at a pace I would not have thought possible for someone who had just completed 100 miles. With legs pumping, grins plasters to their faces, and hands held high in victory, they crossed the finish line in 28:40:04!!

For my first crewing adventure, I could not have been blessed with a better experience. Kate was a champ through and through, never once complaining, but literally getting stronger and stronger as the miles wore on. She probably had the best pacer she could’ve asked for in Russ, and Karen and I, having spent a solid 28 hours together, one on one, came out with our friendship still intact!

If you ever have a chance to participate in one of these events, either as an aid station worker or a crew person, I highly recommend it. It will be one of the more rewarding experiences of your life.

For pics of the event, check out my my slide show.


Sarah said...

What a great report! It was great fun to have all of you there last weekend - and what a successful weekend you all had!

Thanks again for coming out, and hope to see you again one of these days.

Sarah (PCTR)

Meredith said...

Awesome report, i love the pictures. Kate looks fantastic. I love the pink hats and ties! wheeeeee.

Kate said...

Leslie, I count myself lucky to have had such a great crew working on my behalf. You guys were the greatest and I hope you'll be willing to help out again in the future! Couldn't have done it without you.