Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Making Dad Hike the Oil Creek 50k; How to Get Disinherited

Way back in 2015 I did this little thing where I finished the 100 mile race at Oil Creek. Dale Hrach, my dad, paced me the last seven miles, and really got me to the finish, since my race-addled, sleep deprived brain only focused on getting back to the school so that he could pace me that last seven miles.

Ever since then, I've been nagging him a little that he should do the 50k with me.  He lives in Florida, so though he comes up to visit plenty and hang out with his awesome daughter and grandson, a busy golfing and retirement schedule kept him from the 50k.  Until this year!  

He's seen the race plenty, and cheered me on a few years, but this year, he said, "Go ahead and sign me up."  Though my step-mom called him crazy(like she didn't know that already), I signed him up, and he would report in on me when we would talk on the phone how much he was biking, golfing, hiking, to prepare.

This was going to be a 50k hike, not a run, mostly because I do kind of like my dad, and didn't want to see him injured or deciding that he never wanted to see me again.  So he came up a few days before, and the night before the race, we drove down to pick up our numbers and swag, and to mark the Drake Well loop of the course.

Picked up our swag - Purple shirts for 2019!

So we had a good time with Eli, marking the course, seeing some of our Oil Creek friends while helping set up for the race, but as I had been battling a head cold for a few days, we opted out of the pre-race dinner for pizza and an early bed time.

We woke up bright and early, geared up for a cool and sprinkly forecast, and got on our way!  Race Day is the best Day!


Race Morning, Ready to go!

We got down to the middle school and once again, got to have a reunion with some friends that I don't see very much.  We had drank our coffee and tea, and there were mini bagels and bananas, so I ate a little, since I hadn't eaten at home.  We got our head-lamps on, and Dad decided on his jacket, since it was sprinkling just slightly.  We headed out to the start, and were on our way!

Thanks Brian N. for the picture at the start.

It was starting to get light out, but we still needed our headlamps for the first 3 or 4 miles.  We jogged the bike trail to start, but once we reached the trail, we settled into a good paced hike.  Dad's long legged stride had him keeping up with me easily, even when I was jogging to his hiking.  It was drizzling enough for him to be thankful of his jacket, and for me to be thankful of my Oil Creek hat keeping the rain off my glasses, but it stayed to only an on and off sprinkle that was hardly troublesome under the trees.

The trail was in great shape!

The Fall foliage was really starting to pop.

Almost to Aid Station 1!  WOOOOO!

Dad took a small tumble in section 1, which had him being a little more careful with picking up his feet.  I stayed in the lead most of the day, just so I could let him know where rockier or rootier sections of the trail were.  I also led us on a few easy jogs in the spots I knew were smoother.  He didn't get hurt on the fall, luckily, but we went a bit more slowly after that.

We got to Aid Station one, and someone knew Dad!  The famous Don Harch!  I mean, Dale Hrach.  We got some Gatorade, some fruit, and some mini candy bars (Dad was impressed with the food variety), and then we got going again.

I was huffing and puffing my way up the Wolfkiel switchbacks.  I always huff and puff on these suckers, but with a sinus cold, breathing was much more difficult.  I hadn't trained much this year for this, and my head-cold only added to my frustration at my lack of wind on the uphills.  Dad didn't mind, though, and we were holding to a steady three miles per hour hike pretty easily.

The big rocks on Section 2 - I told Dad I always make noise in this area, so not to startle bears.

Ok, so I mostly always make noise anyway because I'm talking to people or my dog.

Thanks Michael Henderson for this photo!

Almost to the end of section 2.  I think Dad kept wondering where the next Aid Station was.

Some friendly faces at Aid Station 2!  Great to see you, Roger and Kris!

We came down into Aid Station 2 feeling pretty good.  I hooted and hollared - I think Dad was starting to feel the effects of 15 miles of trail.  We ate some grilled cheese, drank some coffee.  I had a hard boiled egg, and a couple of mini candy bars.  We talked to some of my good Oil Creek buddies and filled our bottles. Brian Newcomer gave dad a bag of Swedish fish for the trail, and after a quick bathroom break, we were ready to be on our way. 

The Oil Derrick tableau.  The leaves are really starting to change!

Dad didn't really want to stop for pictures, he wanted to keep moving!

Thank's David Schmude for this great photo!

Thank goodness!  Almost to Aid Station 3!

That Michael Henderson is everywhere!


Yay, Aid Station 3!  Finally!


Fellow Ultra-runner's don't mind sweaty, stinky hugs!  Thanks Melanie!


Section 3, the longest section, can be demoralizing.  Dad had warned me off of calling out mileage for him - He said he wanted to be surprised.  I think he was surprised, alright, especially when we hit the Boy Scout camp and it wasn't Aid Station 3.  We chatted about Golf, house stuff, Eli, and all kinds of things.  Dad made bad dad jokes, but I guess that's what I signed up for when being dragged around by him.

We finally came to the last downhill before Aid Station 3, and I started exclaiming about all the little painted rocks.  We came up with some alternate sayings that aligned more with how we were feeling.  I made him take a yellow Oil Creek rock, and I took an orange 50k rock. 

Then we came to the road and down to the Aid Station.  We took a little longer here.  We both had a cup of rice with broth, which really hit the spot. I ate a bunch of pickles.  Dad accidentally drank some pickle juice, thinking it was Gatorade, which was pretty funny.  They had wraps, more candy, and a ton of great food, so we spent a good handful of minutes eating, hydrating and visiting before hitting the trail again.


The trees in section 4 were really golden in the slowly setting sun.

Dad was ready to be done, I think.

There was a lot less talking in, and more scenery appreciation in section 4.

Section 4 was really a slog for Dad.  I did not reveal my 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 trail mileage hints to him, because he REALLY seemed to not want to know how much further he had left to go.  So I told him anecdotes about my other races, about roots I had tripped on, places I had fallen, places I had gone to the bathroom, exciting stuff.  And we plodded along, keeping our pace pretty good.  Dad nibbled on Swedish fish, drank water, and appreciated we WERE at least almost done with the trail part.

Look, Dad, I can see Titusville.  No, really it's not THAT far now.

Woo hoo!  Made it off of the trail!

Still smiling, and almost done!

The last turn onto the bike trail, the same turn we made together 4 years ago!  You can do it, Dad!

We finally came down out of the woods, and were onto the last couple of flat miles.  I knew Dad was hurting a bit, but we were still laughing and enjoying the journey.  As we were going up the bike trail, I ran into my friend Sally, who was doing the 100k.  We chatted a bit, and when I caught back up to Dad (he didn't slow down for my chatting), he said he couldn't imagine going back out again, and that we're crazy.  

We made it the last mile, and shuffled through the finish!  He did it!  My sixty-nine year old dad did a 50k, on some pretty gnarly trails!  

We made it!  Thank you Tom Jennings and all the volunteers for putting on this amazing race!

I was feeling pretty good, but I'm glad I was done too at a 50k.  We wrastled up some soup and gathered up our drop bags, and headed home!  Another great year at Oil Creek, and dragging my family into it.  Will Dad do the 100k next year?  Probably not... but I know he enjoyed himself and will have a great story to tell his friends for a good long time... and if anything, maybe I can get him to pace me again one of these years...

The Famous Don Harch world famous Ultra-runner!!  (I mean, Dale Hrach)!

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

I really don't think I can say Good bye...

It had been a while since I saw her.  And she's gone now.  I'm sad, but not as sad as I think I should be.  If I had kept in touch.  This keeps being a story with me.  I think I do this to myself, because I'm bad with grief.  And now, I have to grieve in a way that I can.

So I will miss the person who helped in raising me.  She wasn't my mom, or my grandma.  But she baby-sat me for many summers before I was able to take care of myself.  She taught me about sun and sky and trees and salamanders. She sang me songs, teased me, played games, and loved me.

I think part of my independence, and strength, and self-sufficiency I learned from her.  As well as still tasting a bit of brown sugar at the end of the spoon when I cook or bake with it.  I remember her as I knew her then, and, in some ways, I think that's okay, because in the end, she isn't mine.  The part of her that is mine is still with me, and will always be, and in that, she will always live on.


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

How did I get a bruise there? Finishing the Oil Creek 100k for the third time.

I didn't train much this summer. I wanted to.  I tried to.  I'd set my alarm for 5am, and lay out my work out clothes, and then, when that alarm played it's pretty music, I'd thump snooze about 14 times, and then have to get up and actually get ready for work instead of going for that pre-dawn run or do that workout on the treadmill.

I was hired at a full time job this summer, which while great for the amount of running gear and shoes I can buy, is not so good on the time flexibility for working out, at least in my mind.  I've been tired, mentally and physically after learning a new routine, and though I got some running in, it was not enough.

So as the day of the Oil Creek 100k crept closer, I thought about pulling the plug.  I'd done a few long runs, a couple of races, some bike rides, but I didn't feel 100k strong.  But then my running mentor / ultra-buddy Roger (who took a bad spill during last year's race) signed up to run with me, and I thought, if I could run with him, get some of his trail confidence back, it would be worth some pain.

So I lined up a pacer, threw my stuff together, and was ready to go!

Saturday morning, as ready as I was going to get!

Saturday morning I woke up easy at 3 am, taped / lubed up, and drove the 35 minutes to the school.  I saw some of the 100 milers off, hugged folks, high-fived folks and had a very low-key race start. 

The 100k, for me, is a lot less stressful than the 100 miler, but more to bite off than the 50k.  I knew, even out of shape, I could finish it in slow fashion.  I knew the weather forecast, calling for high temps and rain, was not favorable for a fast finish, but I was hoping for under 24 hours, since in 2017 I had finished in 25 hours.  I knew I hadn't put in the training, but I was hoping I had enough of a base, and enough stubbornness to keep going and finish.

Rog and I at the start of the 100k!

From the beginning, Roger and I ran with another runner that I had run with a bit with last year, Kasia (rhymes with Tasha - I had trouble pronouncing her poor name all day, so sorry Kasia).  The three of us set an easy pace through the pre-dawn darkness.  I was leading our group, and we had made it about 4 miles in and were on the trail, when I stopped.  There was a black and white kitty laying right there in the middle of the trail.  I was a little worried that she was sick or rabid, but she rubbed against our legs and purred and mewed at us.  We kept going, but she ran along with us.  She would run in front of us, and flop down on the trail.  She stayed with us for a couple of miles at least. (I later heard someone carried her to the Aid Station, and that she found a great home!)

 Trail kitty setting the pace.

It was super humid and already warm.  Daylight broke before we got to the first aid station, and my glasses were fogging up on the uphills or when we paused for a rest.  I was eating gels about every 45 minutes, drinking plenty.  We went slow on the wooden bridges and boardwalks; they were all super slick from the humidity and rain over the last few weeks.  We were running nice and easy, and being really careful on the slick downhills.

The trail was beautiful.  This was right after the 50k leaders blew by us like we were standing still.  Oh, I think we were standing still.

We came to aid station one, and we filled up our bottles, used the conveniently located porta potties, and I ate a few strawberries, had a cup of Dr. pepper, and grabbed a cup full of Swedish fish for the trip up the switchbacks.  

I was huffing and puffing all the way up those steep switchbacks.  I hate how terrible I am at uphills.  I stubborned my way up, and I am determined to improve that bit about myself in the future.  The lack of training was showing. 

The time on the trail went fast.  We were chatting and having a great time.  I flew down some of my favorite down hills, and my legs and feet felt great. As we were crossing the final bridge to the Petroleum Center aid station, I heard a familiar "Woo!"  My dad and step-mom had brought Eli down to cheer us on. I gave him a hug (he said I was gross), and he ran into the Aid Station with us.  It was great to see my family down there, and we chatted with them while I changed shoes and we got some food.  I ate a couple of grilled cheese quarters, ate some pickles, filled my bottles, and we were out of there pretty quickly.  My 68-year old dad insisted I call him if I needed any help or a pacer(not in the rainstorms, dad), and we were on our way. 

Kasia in section 3.

Kasia was having some knee issues, and our pace was slowing slightly, but we were seeing friends, chatting subjects from siblings to driving tickets, favorite vacation spots, droughts and floods.  Aid station three captains and volunteers had painted all these beautiful little rocks with inspirational sayings or artwork on the, and they kept us exclaiming and hunting for our own special rock to take as a souvenir of our adventure.  

Aid Station three was great.  I had been mostly eating gels and drinking water or Gatorade all day, but aid station three had these rice/chicken/ bean/cheese quesadilla things that were awesome and hit the spot.  We were taking our time in the aid stations - hugging friends, chatting, gathering what we needed, fixing problems, eating from the smorgasbord of options.  Having run both the 100 miler and the 100k the last couple of years, not having to worry as much about meeting cutoffs for the 100k makes the experience much less stressful for a slower runner like myself.

Woo!

We started into section 4, and Rog and I were still running a little, but Kasia had slowed even more because of her knees.  She was urging us to go ahead, but we were having a great time hanging and chatting with her, so we went ahead slightly, but walked a bit slower and she would catch up on the flats and uphills.  

Nothing quite like autumn in the woods.

We caught up with other friends, and about a mile from the end of the trail, we came across a rather young porcupine in the trail.  He or she meandered off quite quickly though.

Porky-pine-butt.

The three of us made it back to the school by 4:30 - a little later than we had hoped, but still pretty much on schedule (if we had a schedule).  I took the time to change clothes and shoes.  I was getting the the point where I wasn't wanting to eat at all.  I had a few pickles, and a bite of a cheese quesadilla, some coke, and took a package of Swedish fish for the trail.  I filled up my gels, grabbed my headlamp, and then checked to see if Rog and Kasia were ready to go.

Someone had given Kasia their trekking poles, so she was game to go back out on the trail.  Rog gave her his bear-bell and she was ok with setting out on her own, knowing she was slowing down.

Rog and I headed out onto the trail.  We were pretty much just hiking, but we were feeling good.  The only part of me that was hurting at that point were my little toes.  I had tried to wrap them, but that made them feel not only like they were going to fall off, but to explode, then fall off.  So I set them free, and hoped for the best. In hindsight, I should have done a little more for my feet, but little did I know...

As we made our way down the bike trail, the skies were filling with big puffy thunderheads.  We kept hearing rumbles.  I could see that the storm was sort of forming right over us, so I knew our best bet was to just keep moving.  As we neared the hiking trail start, we could smell a bear, and it was super super stinky.  I was expecting the thing to run out in front of us, but we never saw him or her, but man, did we smell it.

The rumbling of the storm followed us, and right as we got to the trail split for the 5 mile / going home loop, the skies opened up.  I had not brought my visor, so my glasses were soon spotted with water, and I just kept my head down, and was glad we were still in day-light.  The rain was very refreshing, because we had been so hot all day - but my feet were soon soaked, we were squelching through mud and puddles and roaring streams.  The little streams that earlier in the day had been trickling, were roaring.  Miller run looked like a fountain of chocolate milk (we were thirsty and calorie deprived, ok?)

It only rained hard on us for probably a mile or so, and we only had one flash of lightning that made us jump out of our skin a little, but the trail was now a slop-fest.  It hadn't exactly been dry all day, but now it was just it's own little body of water.

Muddy trail as the rain was sprinkling at sunset.

Steamy and damp trail runners.  We're still smiling though!

Everything was still pretty good to aid station 1.  They had potato soup and lasagna!  I was actually hungry enough to eat both - and they had another pack of Swedish fish (I had devoured the first one before the rain hit).  We visited with Heather Nelson and the folks down below Wolfkiel, and Rog fixed a foot issue, and then we were off.

By now it was full dark, but we were still in good spirits.  I decided I would change my socks again at Petroleum center.  My feet were squishing with every step, but there wasn't much I could do about the amount of water.  It was a slow plod, but we made good time.  We saw some salamanders, got passed by quite a few hundred milers (some of whom we knew).  Kudos to those guys, in the conditions we were having.  The only saving grace was the temperature.  It was still warm, even in the dark.

I think it was around 10:30 when we rolled in to Petroleum Center.  Kathy(my pacer) was super ready to pace! She was practically bouncy.  We had slowed down, and I think, if I hadn't knew Kathy was ready and raring to pace, I may have dropped out there.  But I changed my socks, ate a couple of pickles, grabbed gels and was ready.  I swapped headlights, Rog changed batteries, and we were off (slowly).

Kathy filled us in on all the happenings of the day, entertaining us with stories of barfing runners, nasty feet issues, helpful boy scouts, impressed by our craziness, bear sightings, Sasquatch stories, and more.  She was bubbly and energetic, and she led us on.

We saw a ton of spotted salamanders, mice, frogs, toads.  Heard deer and maybe.. sasquatch, but we were getting slower, and more quiet.  Heard a ton of peeper frogs.  Saw bouncy mice.  Heard coyotes once.  My feet were killing me, Rog was going into continuous yawn mode, and Rog had also gone into the black-hole of time math and wanting to be off of the trail.

Rog was pretty sure he was going to drop at aid station 3.  I told him we had tons of time, but he was pretty much done.  He was also having vision issues relating to his fall from the year before, probably not helped by the exhaustion and fog and moisture.  By the time we hit the road, he was ready to be done, and I couldn't blame him.

On the road leading down to aid station 3, Rog handed Kathy his trekking poles, telling her she would need them with all the slop mud.  And it WAS slop mud. I had never seen the trails so muddy and torn up.  Too much moisture and too many people.  Kathy flourished the poles like a sasquatch fighting sword master, making Rog jump, and set us all laughing that last bit down the hill.

It was hard to think about going on without Rog.  I wanted to drop so much, that I made myself not think about it at all, so that I couldn't do it. I stood there at aid station 3, and I tried to eat bacon. I had two cups of coffee.  I picked up a gel, since I was almost out of my own, and the idea of most real food sounded awful.

I was super tired, and as I used the port-potty again before we left aid station 3, I briefly wonder what would happen if I fell asleep in it, and being wet and muddy and slick, it probably would be easy to fall in.  I made sure I didn't.  Ew.

I gave Rog a quick hug, and Kathy and I were off.  I was much less talkative at this point.  It was just the pain in my feet and the walking through the mud.  The very slow walking.  I'm not sure what time we left the station, but it had to be 3 am. 

I had wanted to drop, and now I couldn't.  Because I had kept going.  I had not thought about dropping until I was past a point where I could.  I wouldn't have let myself turn around at that point anyway, and neither would Kathy.  I wanted my dad to see I did it, and Eli, and my work folks, who think I'm crazy, and all my wild running friends who do this crazy thing too.  My feet were blistered, and I was tired, but everything else felt ok.  I pushed forward.

I love section 4, which was a blessing.  I know it very very well, and so even though I was going super slow, the plodding forward in the dark actually didn't seem too bad.  One hill, then another.  Down a hill, hear crashing in the bushes that you hope isn't a bear or a sasquatch and go a little faster...

The squishy mud and wet places were actually better for my feet then the solid roots or rocky parts of the trail, which set my feet screaming and burning with each step. So I squelched and squished as much as I could. 

I asked Kathy to talk, to keep me awake, and she told stories and complained and stopped for my having to pee every other mile (I was well hydrated, at least).  We had made it to the bench, about 3 miles before the end of the trail, and I was falling asleep while I was hiking.  I was weaving and I felt like I was going to fall down. I was leading, because it made me feel more awake, but I found a rock, and told Kathy I had to stop.  I just needed to close my eyes for a minute.  I sat down, closed my eyes for maybe 2 minutes (maybe it was 2 hours and Kathy was too nice to say so), but man, did that 2 minutes help. Just that brief rest, and I stood up, and we kept going.  The skies again opened up and drenched us for a good 10 minutes, but the sky was getting lighter, and dawn was breaking as we finally came off of the trail. 

Kathy got me off the trail!!!  Yay!

After that - we were giddy and goofy, and though the miles were slow, they were happy because we knew I would make it. I tried to run a couple of times, but my feet felt like shards of glass, so I shambled on.
Getting goofy on the Drake Well Loop.

I did run the last 15 feet to the finish line, then walked over the mat.  I gave Tom Jennings a hug, and told him I had never seen the trail so bad, and it was probably harder to keep going in that mud and rain than it had been when I finished the 100 miler, because at least the weather had been better.

Tom handed me my buckle, and Kathy and I found my drop bag and boxes, and we wandered inside.  I peeled off my shoes and socks, and Kathy was very very kind to move my car closer and help me get my stuff together.
Subtract an hour from this - one hour slower than last year, but I'll take it.  25:55:27.

Not eight minutes after I finished, the skies opened and it poured buckets again.  The look on Kathy's face as she came in with my stuff, soaked, set me laughing again.  

What a race, what a day and night of craziness and all the awesome experiences that I wanted.  I showered and went home.

My feet are bad, but not as bad as they felt out there.  I found an odd number of bruises on my hands, legs, feet, that I don't remember getting during the night.  I'm not terribly sore, but do have some tremors from lack of enough of my calcium meds for the amount of exercise I did.  My voice is still gone from all the wooing and cheering and talking.

Rog got home safe.  Kasia dropped about 42 miles in, her knees too bad to go on.  Other friends were forced to drop because of the terrible conditions, or exhaustion, or injury.  I'm amazed by the folks that pressed on to finish the 100 miler in the rain and terrible trail conditions.

I have run trails for about seven years now.  I've run with fast folk, and slower folk.  With folks who I might not agree with across the dinner table, but would fight a bear to defend in the woods.  With folks who make me laugh until I cry, and some who are not on this earth to run with any longer.  Maybe I only get to see these folks on the trail once a year, for a handful of miles, or even for a brief hand grasp, hug, or high five, but this is my family and my tribe, and I will be on these trails until there is not enough life in me to make it there anymore. 

My feet are a little better today, the third day after.  I'm not very sore, and the bruises are fading.  Maybe I'll just volunteer or pace next year.  Maybe I'll drag my dad out and get him to hike 50k with me so he can see all this craziness that I have fallen in love with.  Maybe I'll get the itch to conquer a different distance again.  I just know I'll be back every year, because more than anything in my life, Oil Creek is family and home.

Monday, August 20, 2018

I'm your only friend, I'm not you're only friend, but really I'm not actually your friend but I am.

When I was a freshman in college, I visited a pet store, and having owned several lovebirds, I saw this lovely baby gray and white cockatiel.  I bought him, and brought him home with me.  I taught him to whistle, and my dad taught him to not whistle, and he was mostly grumpy and his favorite thing was to sit on the windowsill and yell at blue jays.

I woke up this morning to find my little 20 year old friend still and cold.  I buried him in the back yard under a tussock of earth and grass.  

I'm sad today.  Caliban was not neglected, but with a child and dogs and a job, he just sat in his cage and sang to his mirror and watched the birds through the bars of his cage and through his window.  But at that, he was neglected.

I'm sorry Caliban, that you didn't get another chance to perch on the windowsill and yell at those blue-jays, or that you didn't get to wander around the bottom of your cage placed in the grass. I'm sorry I didn't buy you the millet that I wanted you to enjoy.

I'm glad that I took you out and cleaned you and talked to you last week, even though you hissed and yelled at me for doing it.  I'm sorry that being a better person for me, made me be a less better person for you.

Fly free on un-clipped wings, my poor boy.  I hope in your next life, someone loves you with the amount of joy you deserve, but thank you for being a steady and unfailing song in the background for such a long period of my life.  The quiet of no background chirps will be a unbearable for a little while


Sunday, August 5, 2018

The girl who fell to earth

It's difficult to explain to my circle of friends and family and co workers what it's like to go off on one of these weekends of doing an ultra race, or crewing or pacing, and then coming home after.  Especially when you come home to just your loyal dogs, and no people to really talk to about your adventure. It almost feels imaginary.  Or I was off on a different planet, consorting with different beings.

"You were going to run how many miles?"  "How long have you known this girl you were going to run 50 miles with?"  "You only ran with her twice before this?"  "You're driving how far?"

So when Rose asked me a week and a half ago if I would pace her for her first 100 mile attempt, I said yes!  Eli was going to be away, and I had been hoping to get away myself for part of the week, so I wasn't making myself crazy with missing him.  Rose herself thought I was crazy, when we were talking about the race an making plans, she kept thanking me.  I told her people have done me some very good turns in the ultra-running community, and I feel like it's just my part to pay some of it forward.

So I had my dog sitter, and I headed two and a half hours north to Lockport to pace a friend in the infamous Beast of Burden, summer version.  The drive was fine (I bought Swedish fish, of course).  I had all my stuff (I hoped).  My phone flatly (but cheerfully) told me when I was approaching my destination, and Rose met me in her car and escorted me through the campground to her cozy home away from home.

The campground was very pretty, but packed.  We drove the requisite five miles per hour past horse-shoe pits, pretty little lakes with ducks, children clad only in diapers or bathing suits, people moseying with dogs; the quintessential family campground.  I remember camping in places like this when I was very young, making ephemeral childhood friends that disappeared into memory like car tail lights in fog.  It was a nice campground, but I guess I've gotten used to the solitude of tent camping in the middle of the woods.  It's not that this was bad at all. Just different.

Parked at the camper, I settled my stuff, and we made a plan for the next day.  Then we curled up on our separate pop out beds, and I thought the campground would be noisy and I wouldn't sleep. The sun had just set, and there were some sounds of voices, and some scampering children once, and a soft crackling of a campfire nearby, and crickets and cicadas, but that was all.  And I slept, pretty well, and when I did wake, it was being too warm or cool that woke me, not noises.

I wanted to give Rose space to get in the zone in the morning, and also, I wanted coffee, so once we woke, I gathered myself and went off in search of coffee and the race start.

The start of the Beast of Burden race in Lockport, at the Widewaters Marina.

The race didn't start until 10am, so the sun was already high and hot!

I found coffee, and it was a very pretty morning, misty and cool, but I knew the temps would rise.  I had told Rose to drink and eat and get some electrolytes in.  I knew I also needed to make sure I ate and kept hydrated.  I was guessing that I wouldn't be pacing Rose until at least 10 or 11 in the evening, so I knew I had to make sure I took care of me, as well as her.

The start line was quiet, and Rose got there right after I did.  Her friend David (who was pacing another friend of Rose's named Rhonda who was running the 50 mile distance)was there as well, and he had brought a canopy tent, which we set up, and we took advantage of the shade.  The sun was already hot.  We got our own little Aid Station area set up with all of our stuff, and the parking lot was very conveniently located, so I backed my forester up to the path where the runners would be coming by, and I had my own portable Aid Station.

Rose -  nervous, but ready to go!

Sunblind and raring to go!
We got her checked in, and she did her final checks and got her bib in place.  I had suggested Leukotape for her feet, to prevent any hotspots and blisters, so we got her feet ready, and we went to the start for the pre-race meeting.  I got to see my friends Rog and Clyde (who were running the 50 miler), and also my friend Shawn, who was crewing and pacing for another runner.  The day was already sizzling, and the runners were off!

Rose starting out with a mix of run and walking - it worked great for her!

So the Beast of Burden is a very flat and exposed race along the Erie Canal.  They run a race in the smoldering heat of August summer, and the bitter chill of New York February winter.  They have 25, 50, and 100 mile distances.  The "loop" is an out and back of 25 miles, so there is 12.5 miles between each of the crew accessible aid stations.  There is also a middle aid station that no crew is allowed to access, but there is also another canal trail access before the aid station that we were using just to check in on our runners through the day.
The map of the course.

As a trail runner, the course has two things that work against me.  It's flat, and it's totally exposed.  Not a lick of shade.  I have heard nightmare stories of this course from friends about chafing, about freezing, about sun burn, about dehydration.  Which is why I have avoided running it like the plague.  But crewing and pacing... that's a different story.  Right?

So Rose and the other runners were off!  I figured I had at least 2.5-3ish hours before Rose arrived at the Middleport aid station 12.5 miles east down the trail.  David said he was going to head to Orangeport (though I would call it Orangeburg for the majority of the day) which was the sneaky-crew-access-point before the No-no zone of Gasport.  Shawn gave me GPS directions, but I wanted to get the lay of the land and maybe find something to eat before I had to meet Rose.

Middleport

This lock bridge raised up via hydraulics.  It went up to let boats pass under it once, and I felt bad for the runners that had to walk up the stairs to cross.

The clouds moved in and provided a tiny bit of relief, occasionally, from the heat.

It was hot.  The sun was relentless.  I doused myself with sunblock early, and reapplied several times.  I offered sunblock to Rose in the morning, but she worried it would effect her ability to sweat.

I made it to Middleport.  Traveling between the two accessible Aid stations and the sneaky pants Orange(burg)port aid stations was easy.  I noted a Tim Hortons, an Tops Grocery store, and several gas stations on my way to Middleport, in case anything was needed.

I found a little Cafe/Deli on the corner, and thought, "Perfect!"  So I checked the time - 10:48.  Plenty of time to eat. I had at least an hour or more before Rose would arrive. They were just setting up the Aid station in a building along the main street (complete with indoor restrooms and a kitchen/running water/ tables with drop bags).  I ordered a chicken wrap and fries and ice water.

I drank 3 waters and sat there an hour before my food was ready.  I try not to be an impatient person.  And if it's only me, I could probably wait forever and not stand up for myself for fear of hurting someone's feelings, but I was really worried my runner would show up and I would be shoving french fries in my face.  I asked for a to-go box, handed her the amount of money to cover the bill, and scootched back outside to stuff my face along the trail and watch for the runners.

David was there, and we sat together and chatted (with my mouth full).   He had gone to Orangeport and said Rose was looking good.  David was lean and mean and an athlete in his own right, but was perfectly happy to chill and talk about dogs and running.   Shawn had been through with his runner and I popped up and helped them out.  I saw Rog coming in not long after, and I hopped up and jogged with him to the aid station.  He was too hot, and pulled off his arm sleeves an asked for scissors and cut off his leg sleeves.  Shawn also helped.  I helped fill his bottle, got him some ice, and schoom, he was off like the flash that he is.  Never, ever believe Roger when he tells you he's out of shape.

Rose wasn't too far behind.  She drank a little, but said she wasn't hungry.  She ate a banana.  I told her she needed to eat and drink more.  She put on her arm sleeves because the sun was bothering her.  She didn't stay long, and was super cheerful.  She was back out to the course.  She said her feet felt great
Rose smiley and feeling good!
 I headed to Orangeport, and I saw a gas station on the way.  I stopped and got some ice and some other stuff (including caffeine for myself).  I got to the sneaky access point and saw Shawn was there (he was riding his bike up and down the canal to access the aid stations and to get a workout before pacing later.  He's a crazy ultra runner as well, remember.).  Just as we were catching up, we saw Rog coming through.  Shawn had some extra water, so gave it to Rog, and Rog was off like a streak again.  I set up my chair, and it was breezy in the shade just off the tow-path.  David showed up again soon, and we all hung out for a while.  There are worse ways to spend a day than catching up with friends and waiting for other friends and helping people.  Seriously was in my element.  And when you see another runner having it rough, you help them.  And you see other crew there, and they offer your runner things, or offer you a chair, or a beer...

Refreshing!

It was sprinkling slightly, which was lovely and cooled the runners down briefly  Shawn's runner came through, and he left soon after so he could beat him back to the start.  Rose was not far behind.  She had no pain, and was moving nice and steady at around 4 miles per hour.  She said she had eaten some salted potatoes, but was hot and thirsty.  I asked her if she liked frozen lemonade.  She said yes, and was off. 

I made a couple stops for Tim Horton's frozen lemonade and Ritz crackers and a few other things, iced tea, ginger ale, gum.  Back to the start, where I found the canopy tent upside down.  I muscled it back into place, then walked over to use the bathroom.  It was upside down again when I got back.  I realized that the sides of the canopy were acting like a kite, so I undid the sides - they flapped in the wind, but let the wind through, so that it didn't end up in the canal.  David was back shortly, and we rolled the sides up, and waited.

Rose on the far side of the canal - the runners could see the start/finish area from over there, but still had about 2 miles from that point

We saw Rose across the canal, which means we would see her in about 30 minutes.  We got stuff all ready for her.  When she arrived she was feeling ok - and sucked down the frozen lemonade.  She still wasn't eating much, and was drinking ok.  She was used to shorter distances and just not eating much during them.  She had a couple of potatoes and some pickles, and we doctored her feet and a few other issues.

Her feet with the Leukotape were still feeling great, but she wanted to add some to her heels and the balls of her feet, as wall as reinforce the tape on her toes.  I tried to tell her she needed to eat and drink more, that she was already behind and it would be worse later.  She rolled out of the aid station before 5 oclock, 25 miles down, 75 to go!  David stayed at the start/finish.  He'd be pacing his runner, Rhonda, once she came in from the first loop, and getting her through the next 25 miles.

Looking and feeling good!

Shawn's other half, Angelia was at the race, and it was good to catch up with her.  I hadn't seen the two of them since last summer, so getting to hang out for a bit of extended time was great.  I got ready to head back to Orangeport(I was still mistakenly calling it Orangeburg at times).  More waiting, more helping, more visiting.  Rose was still looking good, but was getting frustrated that nothing sounded good to eat.  I had picked up another frozen lemonade for her, and we got her in and out of our sneaky aid station, and I went to Middleport.  I had forgotten to give Rose her lights for the next leg, but Shawn and Angelia said they would bike and get it to her.  It wasn't dark yet, but I was worried she'd be caught in the dark if she slowed.

Sunset at Middleport

I got back to Middleport, just in time to meet Rog and help him fill up his water and give him a couple of different gels from my personal stash.  He was fired up, but was also cramping and wanted to be done.  He was on his way!  

I ended up chatting with a couple of other crewpeople for a while, before Rose came in.  She still looked great, and decided on a shoe change.  She was unsure if they would still feel good by the time she went 12.5 miles back to the start and her other shoes.  I had been planning on heading back to the start/finish to rest up a bit before my pacing duties, but I said I would take the shoes she had been wearing to the sneaky Orangeport locale, just in case.  

Rose had been wearing vibrams (the toe shoes) for the first 37.5 miles of the race, and her feet needed a bit of a break.  

She drank a bunch, but her appetite was zilch.  She ate a few potato chips.  I told her she should to get a gel down - I made her drink some gingerale, offered her crackers, candy, but she was worried other stuff would make her throw up.  I walked her down the trail a bit, snapped a photo of her, then she was was gone. 
37.5 miles down!

See you in Orangeburgport!

I had been not feeling hungry most of the day, but it was 8:30, the sun was going down, and I wanted something to eat.  Another runner's crew member had talked about an Arbys, but the idea of driving too far away from the course made me nervous.  I decided on Timmies again.

Timmies was still open, and it said it served breakfast all day.  That sounded good.  I went to order a breakfast sandwich, and the (very hard to hear) drive through lady said somethng that sounded like "pmmphfphbophfrsree"  Ohhhh.  Buy one get one free!  Sure!  I know some hungry people.  I also got myself a frozen lemonade.

Back at Orangeport, Shawn and Angelia were there, and Shawn gratefully accepted the extra breakfast sandwhich, and as the world got darker, we visited a while, then Angelia got going, since she needed to get home to their puppy and worked the next day.  Shawn realized he had left headlamps in the car, so I loaned them mine, since I knew Angelia could drop it back off at the start for me, and I would see Shawn next aid station

The other member of Shawn's runner's crew, Ian, showed up, and the three of us had a great time just chatting. Mike, Shawn's runner, came in, looking vague, and Rose was right behind him.  Her feet felt fine, but she still wasn't eating. We filled her water bottles, and she was off.  Back to the start.

The Subaru Forester makes a nice little portable aid station.

It was about 10:15 as I approached the start/finish area, and I saw some flashes.  Uh oh.  Thunderstorm?  That would make running in the night a bit more frightening.  Another flash - Reddish.  Then white, then blue... what?!    Oooohhh.. Fireworks!  Neat!  I pulled into the marina area just as the finale went off, and unbeknownst to me, Rog had just made a sub 12 hour 50 mile finish.  I just missed him.  

I was sleepy.  I got all my running stuff on.  I greased myself up against chafing.  I taped my feet.  I found the light Angelia left back at our area. I filled my water bottles, I sat in a chair and leaned back to doze.  

The wave of homesickness caught me like a hand around my throat all of a sudden. I missed my son, I missed my dogs, I missed my bed.  I take a deep breath, I try to shake it off.  At this point - it's dark. The Aid station is lit up like a holiday tree, but a little bit away from the aid station, people are nothing but moving lights, or shadows, or little bits of reflective tape on clothing, a flashing led.  I see a form come towards me, and I figure it's Shawn.  Ok.  Deep breath.  That closes off my panicky home-sickness attack.  Shawn says he saw Rose and her lights were out of battery, so he finds some batteries for us that he had, and I get ready for Rose.  

I set an alarm for 30 minutes, thinking I should have that long to doze.  I close my eyes again.  Homesickness and missing my son starts to close around me again, and the phone on my chest vibrates.. It's Rose!

She sounds like she's in tears.  She hurts, she has horrible stomach cramps and she wants to be done. The homesickness sizzles away like a drop of water on a burner.  

I try to calm her down over the phone.  The Heed/water mix is turning her stomach. She says she's almost back, she's just made the turn back towards us.  It's just midnight.  I grab some plain ice water and jog down the trail.  I drop my extra headlamp. I drop my keys. I fumble things, curse myself, and tighten, fasten, and take a breath, then run.

Rose is nearly doubled over,  she sips some water.  We just walk.  She's ready to drop.  I tell her, lets get back, sit for a bit, then she can decide.  I know that if she feels better in 10 minutes, she'll regret dropping.

We get back, we rest, but it's not getting better.  We go to the start.  

....

Confidentially, I've only paced and crewed a couple of times.  I did ok. I learned a lot. I've been running ultra's for 7 years now.  I still feel like a novice.  When it comes to heat and hydration, to stomach issues, cramps, I'm not sure what to do.  I'm not a hard-ass.  I can't force someone to eat or drink. I can't force someone to throw up to see if that helps.  I can't force someone to keep going, when I don't think I would keep going myself.  But I gave myself three times to try to convince her to keep going, and after that, I was on her side to quit.

Rose stopped running with 50 miles under her belt.  She was feeling amazing in her body, except for her stomach.  I think the lack of water just shut down her guts, and her body said no more.

I've stopped running for less concerning reasons.  Rose was right to stop.  She was tearful and regretful for my coming so far, and not getting to run.  

I said to her, "If I were there, in that seat, having to drop because I felt so terrible, and you had been crewing me all day, would you be upset, or disappointed?  Would you blame me?"  

We all have our good and bad days, and I loved nearly every minute of my crewing duties at the Beast of Burden.  And I would do it again.  And if my next runner drops, I will still do it again.  Ultra running isn't always about running.  We do it for the connection, for the outdoors.  And maybe a little for the food and beer.

So here I am.  Home.  Back to planet earth.  But book me a seat on that next ride to the Ultra-side.  I'm a bit of an outsider here in this place of a little less shoes, and a little less sweat and tears, and a little less sky.

I will get back there soon.  See you there.