A Month in the Life of a Trail Runner…Part 2-The Crew..The Other Side of the Story
Part 2 of my last month, or shall I say 6 weeks by now is about reversing my role as an ultrarunner to be part of one of my best friend’s (Ellie Greewnwood) crew for her debut in the Western States 100 miler, which was also her debut at the 100 mile distance. Someone once said to me, as I was training for my first and only 100 miler to date…”you’re only as good as your crew…so choose them well.” My crew last year was AMAZING and I can’t thank them enough but it has been awhile since I have personally been on the other end and crewing for someone else. Since what I really enjoy about ultrarunning is the comradrie we have with other runners, no matter how fast or how slow, I feel that crewing for someone else is definitely an experience that every ultrarunner should have to be able to appreciate what your crew goes through in the run of the day while all you have to do is get through your race.
I will not go through the full account of Ellie’s race….as most of you who are reading this probably know, she won with the biggest come back in Western States history and there are many accounts of this….however, I will go through a bit of the excitement she put her crew through as she was slowly creeping in for the win!
After spending a few days in Squaw Valley, chilling out and going through much race day preparations as to what Ellie would need at each aid station, the splits we needed to write down, what she needed from us in terms of attitude…”DO NOT BABY ME, NO HUGGING…TOUGH LOVE ONLY”… so my good friend Ana and I headed out as part of crew #1 (there were 2 crews). I will tell you …that I expected this to be a relaxed day, with Ellie cruising through this 100 miler slowly but surely catching the leaders, whilst smiling the entire day.
So…Ana and I arrived extremely early after much distress with signage issues (saying no WS crews allowed) to Michigan Bluff the 50 mile mark of the race where we met some friends and chilled out for what felt like hours. Eventually Sean Meisner, who happened to be tagging along in a media car came along. “So Sean, how’s she doing have you seen her”….”Ummm….yes…ummm….it’s not good, she’s crying, her hamstrings are sore, she feels like crap…she’s struggling”….”WHAT??” As Ana can tell you, I immediately turned into a complete demon. Changing the plan constantly, and asking Ana to get people out of the way of the spot we needed to crew…poor Ana! Finally, Ellie comes in….36 minutes behind the leader and crying….”Jackie, I’m not doing so well, my stomach, it’s distended”….”Ellie your fine, your going to be just fine”….as a med guy approaches and asks her weight and when she last pee’d. She told me she had recently taken 2 electrolyte tabs at once, and I thought….it’s not that hot, why would she do that? We lather the sun screen on, throw on her pack and just as we are about to send her off, she throws up everywhere! OOPS! ….so….we gave her a cloth to wipe her face, put her pack back on and said…”let’s go” like any good friend would do right? So, I ran down the road with my good friend crying and telling me to “get to Ryne and tell him not to push me”….I said, “concentrate on drinking water, take in some calories, cause you just threw up everything, start with a gel or something easy….and go from there, and take no more electrolytes for a bit….you get Ryne at the next aid station, your going to be fine”. Meanwhile, poor Ana is dealing with the 4 medical professionals who’ve come over to assess the situation and she’s telling them “Ellie’s fine, she’s gone, she’ll be fine….really!” So we left the aid station, thinking, we either just killed our friend….or she’s going to come back and when this race!
Ana and I quickly made it to the Forrest Hill aid station to inform the others of her status. We had a bit of an adventure of a day from here, none with as much drama Michigan Bluff as Ellie looked better each time we saw her and was making up more time. We had some fun running down 3 miles to the Rucky Chuck River Crossing in scorching heat with Ellie’s pack on our front and our own food and water on our backs… and when she ran by us in first place with at No Hands Bridge (5k to go) looking like a demon, having been 9 minutes behind 5km before that and having dropped Ryne, we had no idea what to think….but we hurried to the finish where no one believed that she had moved into first place! It was a hell of a day, but the feeling we had running her to the finish and watching her cross the finish line was absolutely incredible!! And although she won, I think it would have been that way whether she was 1st or 110th….
The point of my story is not so much about crewing for Ellie, but more about crewing in general and if you are going to tackle a big race as your goal and you have your friends or family as part of your crew….take the time to return the favor, from this experience and the other crewing/pacing experiences I’ve had I think it feels more stressful worrying about someone else all day than it is just running your race! And you can appreciate all the waiting around crews do to see you for about 30 seconds, looking completely disheveled and falling apart…yet they are there for you to, give you tough, love, encouragement and put you all back together and make sure your day goes as smoothly as it can because at the end of the day….the goal is for your runner to cross the finish line!
If you are new to ultrarunning or don’t know much about it, I hope this is an eye opener to the “behind the scenes” of ultramarathons.
Congrats to Ellie, thanks for letting Ryne, Kristin, Ken, Ana and myself, share in such an exciting day!
AND I just wanted to end with saying a HUGE THANK YOU to anyone who has ever been a part of my crew….you all know who you are and you’re all amazing!