So this past weekend marked the 6th annual running of the Oil Creek Trail runs in Titusville, Pennsylvania. In 2011, I ran a 50k. In 2012, the 100k. Last year, I volunteered and paced, and this year I did the same. But instead of pacing for 14 miles, I paced my friend Roger for 38 miles.
I also volunteered. I started out on Friday by heading down to Titusville to meet the captains of Aid Station 1 and help them set up. I also took the dog, because I knew she would be alone all day Saturday and part of Sunday, so I wanted to make sure she had a fun time Friday. So we got down early, set up a couple of canopies (one was a bit more technical, but we finally figured it out), decorated, and got as much ready as we could. Zoe hung out, ran around, chased things, and stayed out of trouble.
When we had as much set up as we could, I left to go set up markers for the Drake well loop, a mile of the race that circles around the museum and goes along the creek before heading back to the Middle School. I dragged my friend Tambra with me to keep me company. I used cones and flags, and tied Zoe's leash to my waist and we marked. I had also stolen some of Eli's sidewalk chalk, and I drew arrows and wrote some basic directions and smiley faces on the ground for runners. It was nice to chat with Tambra for a while. It's like walking with a local celebrity. She gets stopped by everyone, but she's one of the nicest people I know, so I see why everyone wants to say hi and talk to her.
Once we had finished that loop, we marked part of a bike path that leads to the trailhead. That didn't take too long, and by that time, Zoe was running out of juice. I put her in the car to take her home, then went over with Tambra to mark a few more chalk arrows, and on the way, we saw our friend, Roger, the friend who I would be pacing the next evening for 38 miles to get him through his 100 mile race. I greeted his wife, Kris, and a few of their friends, that I had met and ran with in the summer, then I needed to run and get Zoe home so I could make it back for the pre-race festivities.
The trip home and back took about an hour, and I had a quick dinner at the Blue Canoe with Roger, Kris and Dave then we headed over to the school.
I have to say, one of the best things about this weekend, Oil Creek weekend, are the people. I was stopped several times as I was heading into the school to greet people with hugs and well wishes for the race the next day. I greeted old and new friends, and chatted with people, and sat with my friends Alisha(running the 100k) and Kim(running the 50k). It got to be around 7:15, and I knew I needed to sneak out to get to bed at a reasonable hour to be up at 3:00am to get ready and show up to help with Aid Station 1.
So I woke up on time, packed up the car with some running/sleeping gear, and was off. I helped set up the supplies for the Aid Station, laying out first aid supplies, making signs and arrows to point the way to the porta-potties and back to the trail for the runners to continue on the race. The next few hours, from about 6-930 were pretty hectic. Being the first Aid Station, the runners are very close together, so big groups come in, need their bottles filled, need snacks, cheering on. I changed a battery in a head-lamp, gave a bunch of hugs to my runner friends coming through, filled bottles, and surprisingly, administered no first aid this year.
I floated over to Aid Station 3, just across the creek, and helped out there for a while longer, and again, got to see more friends come through. The next few hours were a blur of running back and forth from Aid Station to school, then back to Aid Station, back to school.
I tried to talk a few runners out of dropping, but sometimes listening to the body and accepting it is better to heal an injury rather than push it, I relented. I drove one runner back to the middle school at one point. It was so good to help so many people, doing this crazy thing that we all love.
Cheering and Woo-hooing through the woods and hearing it echo, or better yet, hearing the Wooing returned by other runners or Aid Station workers. So many people are having the best day, or the worst day. To hand someone a cup of soup, or fill their water pack or bottle, or hand them a cup of Dr. Pepper... it's so rewarding. And working alongside my friends and trail running family, joking, goofing around, making rude jokes, makes this the best thing I do all year, I think.
I also got to enjoy nature, even before I paced. The weather was cool and beautiful; clear with blue skies. I walked up one road beyond Aid Station 3, and just felt the breeze and listened to the trees, and enjoyed the colorful foliage. I'm such a sap for nature and good friends together.
So - I dropped a runner off at the Middle School, and knew my friend Kim would be finishing soon. So I walked out, and also got to see my friend Rob and his wife, Tina, who was just wrapping up her first 50k. She was almost in tears when I gave her a giant hug, and rooted for them. Kim was right behind them, and I ran her in to the school. She has become an amazing runner in such a short time, going from barely able to run 2 miles, to running two 50ks less than a month apart!
I drove my friend Rich down to meet his wife at Petroleum center, just missing Roger leave the Aid Station. Alisha came in, and she and Rich took off for the last 18 miles to the finish. I drove back to Aid Station 3, just in time to see more runner friends come through.
By this time, it was dusk, and I was beat. I had been up since 3am, and knew I needed some energy for pacing. I crawled into my car, asked the other volunteers to wake me up when Roger came through, so I could make sure he was doing ok, and then get back down to the school to meet him. I curled up on an air mattress in my car, and pulled a blanket over my head. I swear, three minutes passed, and there was a knock on the window. "Roger's here!"
So I drove back to the school, put all my running stuff on, changed my mind and put warmer running stuff on, then thought I could catch a few winks in a quiet part of the school. Kim was still around, waiting for Alisha to finish. I was really bummed that I most likely wouldn't get to see Alisha finish, but happy that someone was there for her. We both tried to zonk for a little bit, but after about 10 minutes, we gave up, and went and visited with Kris, Mick, and then Dave as he came in before heading out for his last full loop of his 100 miler.
Roger came in not long after Dave went out. He changed into warmer clothes (with a little "persuading"), and ate some food, and we set off. I was hoping to see Alisha and Rich while we were heading down the bike trail, where outgoing runners pass incoming runners, but though we saw a few people, not them. I gave a few loud woos as we started up into the woods, and heard Alisha and Rich woo back. That made me happy. And Rog and I headed into the woods.
Pacing is not exactly easy. Roger had run 62 miles already, and was tired. I had gotten a second wind, and drank a lot of coffee, so I talked. I told stories about being a kid, I talked about trail running, I talked about a lot of stuff. I told him where we were on the trail, I kept track of mileage as close as I could. When we came into aid stations, I got him coffee, made sure his bottles were full, and then we were off. We never really lingered at any aid stations for much longer than it took for us to get something warm to eat or drink, use the bathrooms (I had a lot of coffee), then get moving.
It was cold. It was in the high 20s or low 30s. Fog was laying in the valley, and I kept puffing out my breath just for the entertainment factor. The hills were actually a blessing, they kept us warmer. We were mostly power hiking, and a few times I tucked my arms in to keep them warm. My fingers weren't working really well, but we kept moving, staying warm, and eating, drinking, having salt-tabs, pain pills when needed.
By section 3, we were both sluggish. We had left the Aid station around 3am, and though the moon was full and bright, we were both dragging. We were both a little more quiet, and it took me longer to think of stories to tell or things to talk about. I narrated the trail, I called out where rocks and roots were so Rog didn't have to think so much about where to put his feet. It seemed to take ages, but finally we reached the road to Aid Station 3.
Through the night, our pace was mostly hiking. I would sometimes break into a slow jog, and Roger would power hike a bit faster to keep up. Our pace was very steady, and even through the night, we made good time. Rog was in a fog, but once we started into section 4, something clicked, and the sky started to get light, and Rog was back. We ran with a small group, and chatted to keep each other going, agreeing we had plenty of time to finish.
The sun rising really was amazing. Roger was like a new person, and the frost on the open areas and around the Drake Well loop was gorgeous. We got back to the school, had more coffee(boing), and after Roger changed shoes, we headed out for that last 7 miles.
The last 7 miles flew by. We saw more friends finishing up their 100 milers, and we hugged them and cheered them on. Rog was running more, due to the change of shoes, and we were chatting the entire loop. We made it to The Hill of Truth, the last climb of the 100 mile race, and hiked it.
Near the top, we saw a runner who was bent at a very painful looking angle, pulling himself from tree to tree to get up the trail. We had seen him as we were heading back into the school, and he was struggling to finish. Roger first offered for us to stay with him, and I offered to stay with him, knowing Rog was in fine form to get back to the school. Finally the guy asked for one of Roger's hiking poles, and Roger loaned him both. We continued on.
I was a teensy bit worried that Rog would stumble without the poles, after using them all night, but after another 2 miles on the trail, we broke out of the woods and back onto the bike trail. We played the game where we would run to a certain landmark, then walk a little. Run a little, walk a little, until we came to the last turn, and we ran it in.
Running with Roger this summer was a ton of fun, and rewarding. Running the YUTC 50k was great, going nice and steady the entire day, and helping him through a few bad patches there. Watching him finish 100 was spectacular. He is one of the strongest people I've met, and certainly the most generous guy I know. I backed off as he crossed the finish line, gave him a hug and some congratulations, then sat down to watch people congratulate him.
I don't have words to say how rewarding volunteering then pacing was. I tried to explain it to Roger on the trail... but it really makes me happy. I really didn't want anything except to help, to make sure I was doing a good job and getting him to the finish, back to Kris, back to all the people waiting and cheering him in.
My running this year has gotten stronger, simply by running with all kinds of different people, and hiking with different people, at different speeds, and in different places. But it's not the running I care about. It's the people. I've never had a better summer of training, because of who I got to spend that time with.
So get out there and run those trails, and run those races. But take someone with you, and take care of each other.