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2013/07/20: Crewing Grant and other Badwater Reflections

It’s funny how life turns out sometimes……

After crewing my friend Karla during the Badwater 135-mile footrace last year, I knew I wanted to go back and crew in the future.  It’s an incredible experience seeing people push their bodies beyond what most people would think is even possible.  The race, for anyone unfamiliar, takes place in mid-July in Death Valley.  It goes from Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the U.S. at 282 feet below sea level, to the Mount Whitney Portal at over 8,000 feet above sea level.  There are no aid stations; each runner has a crew that shadows them for the duration of the race.

This year, when the selected participants were notified, I turned down three opportunities to crew as I was unable to commit at the time and did not want to say I’d help and then back out later.  As the race got closer, I was confident the stars had aligned and that I could help someone out.  A month before the race, I was so happy I found a stranger who needed a crewmember (who had gotten my name from Karla).  That excitement was short-lived, however.  I was not able to take leave for the days I needed, in spite of the fact I had been told previously I would be able to do so.

Having to drop from someone’s crew just a few days before the race was devastating to me.  I would miss seeing friends, the experience of being out there again, and most importantly, I was letting someone down who counted on me.  I tried finding someone to replace me on the crew, but I was unsuccessful in doing this.  I will say I was picky, though; I told the runner that I would rather provide her with no crewmember than one who would be a liability to the team (i.e. limited running experience, no heat training, etc.).

Even though I was not able to find the runner an extra crewmember, while trying to track someone down, there was a handful of runners who went out of their way to help me.  Some of these people I knew, but others I didn’t.  One such person was a guy named Harvey who saw my request on the Badwater Facebook board and went above and beyond contacting people he knew and putting me in direct contact with a few of them.  Harvey, as it turns out, was a Badwater runner, had done the race before, had gotten 4th place last year, and actually was on the U.S. men’s 24-hour national team—wow!  Yet what was he doing in the days leading up to the race?  Trying to help me (a stranger) find a crewmember for a runner who he also didn’t know.  This sort of willingness to help is why I love runners.

Although I was unable to crew at Badwater, since I live in Las Vegas, where many non-local people fly into, I decided to offer my help where I could during the weekend prior to the race.  I had to work Monday through Wednesday during the race, but I was totally available over the weekend.  One guy named Juan who said he needed a ride from the airport in Las Vegas to Furnace Creek.  I told him that was no problem.  At that time, I had no idea Juan was one of Oswaldo Lopez’s crewmembers; Oswaldo was the 2011 Badwater champion.  (Wow!)  My friend Tammy mentioned that I could stay in her room in Furnace Creek that night (Saturday) if I didn’t want to drive back late; she also asked me if I could do some last-minute shopping, which I didn’t mind.  Tammy had gotten team shirts made that had the names of lots of her friends who had somehow influenced her on them.  I was honored to have my name on the shirt and that Tammy gave me one of the shirts.

Shirt front:
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Shirt back:
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After shopping Saturday afternoon, I picked Juan up at the airport.  I’d never met him before, but I felt like I’d known him for years.  On the way to Furnace Creek, we realized we had a lot of friends in common.  We also both loved how close-knit the ultrarunning community is and how approachable everyone is, including the elites.  The two-hour car ride flew by.

Prior to talking to Juan, I was aware of Oswaldo’s accomplishments, but I’d never met Oswaldo, nor did I know much about him as a person.  As we pulled up to the lodging building (where coincidentally Tammy and Oswaldo were both staying), I did something uncharacteristic of my introverted self.  I asked Juan if Oswaldo was still awake, and he said he was; I then asked if I could go meet him, and again he said yes.  I wasn’t really sure what I would say to him, which is why I typically don’t put myself in these kinds of situations, but this turned out to be a non-issue.  Oswaldo’s hotel door was open and we walked in; after a brief exchange between Juan and Oswaldo, Oswaldo shook my hand and said, “Thank you for bringing my friend.”  I was touched by how sincere he was.  Juan, Oswaldo, a few other people, and I all hung out for a while before Juan said he was hungry.

Juan and I walked to the restaurant (the only one in Furnace Creek) and Oswaldo came along too.  Along the way, we managed to “pick up” a guy named Ray.  Ray and I are Facebook friends but I don’t recall ever meeting him before.  He does tons of 100-milers and recommended a few to me (enabler!).  I also happened to run into my friend Andrea who I met at Nanny Goat a couple months ago; she was crewing for an Italian runner.  It caught me off guard to hear my name across a road in the middle of the night, but it was neat seeing Andrea again.

Dinner was sort of surreal for me, sitting across the table from Oswaldo.  He was an incredibly humble and friendly person.  At one point, three out of the four of us at the table were on our smartphones.  I added Oswaldo as a friend on Facebook and he immediately accepted the request.  I thanked him, to which he reached across and shook my hand and said, “Thank you for your friendship.  I don’t tell you on here.  I tell you in person because I mean it.”  How sweet.  As we all conversed, Juan mentioned to Oswaldo that I knew Eric Clifton.  (Eric Clifton has a long running résumé, including winning Badwater once.  He has become a friend, but he’s also a mentor to me; he gives me guidance, challenges me, and gives me viewpoints I don’t always consider myself.)  Oswaldo’s eyes lit up and he said how much he respects Eric and how strong of a runner he is.  Seeing this kind of respect from one elite runner for another one made me smile.

Oswaldo sitting across the table from me at dinner:
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After dinner, we went back to Oswaldo’s room.  He hung out inside while most of his crew (plus me) hung out in the hallway for a few more hours.  They were all very nice.  Another exchange I had with Oswaldo was about the upcoming race.  He said he was going to run it hard and make the best of all of the training he had put in but noted that you never know what will happen during a race that long.  I thought it was admirable that his aim was to run the best race he could and to be motivated by that instead of concentrating on everyone around him.

Here’s a photo of Oswaldo and me right outside his room:
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Sunday morning, I hung out with Tammy and got to chat with a few other runners I’d met last year at Badwater or elsewhere.  I offered to volunteer at runner check-in but I was told they didn’t need any help.  I figured there was no use in me staying around.  However, there was one person I really wanted to see named Chris, as he made the biggest impression on me last year and he’s not online much, so I opted to stay until after the runner group photo in the hope that I would see him.  Another perk of staying for the photo was that I was able to run into some more friends.

As I left the building to go to the group photo location, I looked up and saw Juan coming out of a doorway followed by a few more people, then Oswaldo.  When he saw me, Oswaldo “yelled” at me by name.  I hadn’t thought I’d run into him again, but I’m glad I did.  The night prior, after dinner, I’d sent Eric a message saying I’d crossed paths with Oswaldo and Eric had some kind things to say about him.  I told Oswaldo that Eric said he hoped he would have an amazing race.  He seemed so appreciative that Eric had taken the time to say anything about him.  I got another hug from Oswaldo as well as another photo with him and also one with Juan.  Oswaldo is so kind, and he was genuinely thankful for so many seemingly small things.  It was neat to see.

Oswaldo and me:
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Juan and me:
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I was grateful I got to see Chris, who I really wanted to see.  Chris is one of the most genuinely beautiful people I’ve met and he exudes warmth.  It made me happy that he not only recognized me but greeted me by name when I walked toward him.  Chris is a double amputee after losing a leg and part of his arm as a result of being blown up while clearing land mines as charity work.  Last year, he took the time to give us, Karla’s entirely rookie crew, crewing advice; I also got to chat with him after the race.  He was trying out a new prosthetic leg that had some new technology.  It was pretty fascinating.  I got to chat with Chris for about 10-15 minutes before the pre-race brief started.  There was no reason to stay for the brief so I left.

Chris and me:
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Leaving Furnace Creek was bittersweet.  I was happy because I’d gotten the chance to be in the Badwater atmosphere for a little while and see friends, some who I hadn’t seen since last year.  I also got to meet some new friends.  But I hated that I was leaving Furnace Creek before the race even started.

During the race, I was rooting for Oswaldo to win, and I hoped Harvey would finish in the top few too.  Why?  Because I like when good people do well.  This isn’t to say that the other top competitors weren’t good (as I would discover…); I just simply didn’t know them (yet).  However, in a race like Badwater, I hope ALL runners do well.  I posted constant updates online.  When one friend asked who my friends were so she could cheer for them, I told her the people I was following but told her to please cheer for ALL of the runners because they all deserved it and conditions were brutal.  Since there were only six checkpoints plus the finish, there were long periods of times where updates were sparse.  I could only imagine what was going on out there as the leaders, especially the men, swapped around every single checkpoint.

In the end, Portugese Carlos Sa finished first, Aussie Grant Maughan finished second, Oswaldo finished third, and Harvey finished fourth as the first American.  On the women’s side, Cath Todd finished first, Pam Reed was second, and Meredith Dolhare was third.  The men’s race was especially close, with the men’s race still undecided when they got to the base of Whitney with 13 miles left.

I thought a lot about Badwater during the actual race.  When I was in Furnace Creek over the weekend, I was asked multiple times if I wanted to run Badwater myself someday.  I had a canned response to this, something to the effect of, “No, I have no desire to run it, however, I love the atmosphere and really enjoy crewing and pacing.  I’d love to stay involved in the race in future years, but I don’t want to run it myself.”  I’ve adamantly held this stance since last year.  However, after saying it over and over so many times in conversation, I realized I didn’t really believe what I was saying.  I tried re-wording it, but it still sounded dishonest.  I knew that deep down, I did want to run it myself.

When I saw Tammy late on Wednesday when she came back through Las Vegas after the race, I told her I’d had an epiphany.  She said something to the effect of, “You want to run Badwater” immediately.  Then, on the spot, she gave me a lot of the stuff she’d used during her race, including a couple coolers.  She said she did not want to run it again but wanted to stay involved in other capacities.  I was so grateful for her generosity.

Tammy and me right after she gave me her stuff:
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On Friday after the race, I was in Phoenix for my husband’s cousin’s retirement from the Air Force.  I happened to see a posting in a Facebook group I belong to requesting crew for a person wanting to do a Badwater Double.  The person had already run the race, went up to the Mount Whitney summit and come back down to the Portal (a 22-mile round trip), and wanted to run the 135-mile race course in reverse.  Crewing this sounded like it would be exciting; the catch was that the person was going to start within the next 24 hours and I wasn’t even going to be back in Vegas until the following afternoon.  I expressed my disappointment about not being able to crew but said I’d be available Sunday afternoon and evening if the runner found additional crew and was still running then.  The runner, by the way, was Grant, who’d gotten second place in the race.

Eric F (not to be confused with the Eric referenced above or the other one mentioned further down), who had posted the request and served on Grant’s crew during the race, asked me if I knew of anyone else who might be able to help.  I told him I didn’t since most of the local people I knew who were runners had either just run or crewed at Badwater a couple days earlier.  I did not expect anyone to respond, but I figured it wouldn’t do any harm to re-post the request on my own wall.  Surprisingly, within minutes, an online runner friend of mine named Neil who I’d never met in person, and who I didn’t even know lived anywhere in this part of the country responded and said he’s do it.  What?!  He was in a car on his way to Lone Pine before he even had all of the info he needed.

Neil had never crewed before, and now he was somehow going to crew a Badwater runner for many miles (most of the time by himself).  I was originally not going to be able to help until Sunday afternoon as I had a race scheduled Saturday evening and wanted to sleep a few hours after that before driving to Death Valley.  But when it became clear it would be easier on everyone if Grant started Friday night instead of Saturday morning, I realized I’d need to get there earlier if I wanted to help.  It didn’t take much deliberation to drop the race and drive to Death Valley as soon as I got back into town from Phoenix.

Neil was sending updates for the first 40+ miles with some commentary on how Grant was doing, temperature, etc., but he got out of cell range early Saturday morning.  People online were antsy to get updates, while I tried to impress upon them I would post them when I had them (since my friend was texting me and I was posting them), but that no one should assume lack of updates meant anything bad.

I got home a little after 3pm on Saturday and was back on the road with some ice and other supplies by 4pm.  I hadn’t heard from Neil at all in almost 10 hours, but I figured he and Grant would be somewhere between Panamint Springs and Stovepipe Wells, miles 63 and 93 on the return trip back to Badwater Basin.  I decided I would drive to Furnace Creek, drive the course backward, and find them.  Sounded easy enough.

Sure enough, I found them right on the other side of Stovepipe Wells at around mile 90.  I greeted my friend Neil with a hug and commended him on taking care of Grant solo for the previous 20 hours.  I then walked back to Grant when I saw him approaching, gave him a quick hug, and introduced myself.  My first impression was that he seemed nice.  He mentioned that he was going to make a brief stop at Stovepipe Wells because he needed more calories.

This was the first photo I took of Grant, at the very first stop when I got there:
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Running at sunset:
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Gorgeous desert sunset:
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Sitting in front of the general store in Stovepipe Wells:
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I was surprised that all of the calories Grant was taking in were liquid.  He wanted something with protein; the only thing that was available was plain milk, so we picked up two of those and a Coca Cola.  I asked if he wanted me to grab more for the rest of his run and he said to get three (I got five).  He sat down on a rocking chair in front of the general store and commented that was the first time he’d ever sat down in a race (luckily it wasn’t actually a race).  I chatted with him a bit before a guy named Pat came over.  Pat was crewing another runner, Danny, who was also doing the Double.  It wasn’t until later that I realized that “Pat” was Patrick Sweeney, who has his own ridiculously long running résumé.  He was very nice.

When I walked across the street to my car, dressed in running clothes, I saw a guy with a Badwater shirt.  Immediately after looking at what I was wearing, the first words out of his mouth were, “You must be crewing for Grant,” to which I responded, “You must be Danny.”  We were both right.  Danny had initially planned on running a Quad (the Double twice), but he was having shin issues.

As it turns out, Danny and Grant were running their Doubles to honor Lisa Smith-Batchen.  She had intended to do the Quad herself to raise money for water wells for AIDS orphans in India and Ethiopia.  However, she got injured and had to DNF Badwater.  Danny and Grant decided to pick up the charge and each do “their part” (as if running Badwater once wasn’t enough).  By the way, the charity web site if anyone is interested in donating money is http://www.badwater4goodwater.com.  Lisa was incredibly touched by their decisions.  I had a handful of interactions with Lisa, which was also surreal (as I mostly know her from her role in the Running on the Sun documentary).  Runners are awesome and this is proof they’ll go out of their way to help each other out.

In Stovepipe Wells, Neil made room in his truck so that I could sit in it too.  Using one vehicle was more efficient, and the plan was for him to drop me back off at my car after Grant was finished since he was on his way back through Lone Pine.

Grant is a solitary runner and didn’t want company, which made it somewhat easier on us.  However, I realized one of the advantages to pacing is that it’s easier to get an idea of how the runner is doing mostly just through observations.  When instead we used the support vehicle, we had to pay more attention to the short period of time in his vicinity and it required more questions.  Grant was very easy to take care of, though.  His needs consisted mainly of ensuring he always had a water bottle with ice in it, two salt tabs twice every hour, and about 300 calories an hour.  After each encounter with Grant, we’d pull up a half mile or mile, depending on what he wanted.  There were also quite a few times when he’d run by and say he didn’t need anything.  We tried to get an idea of what he’d need at the next stop to be prepared so he wasn’t having to wait on us.

Shortly after Stovepipe Wells, it got windy and dusty!  There was a huge sandstorm that was difficult to even see through.  Watching the sand flow across the road was surreal.  The sandstorm slowed Grant down a bit, but he kept moving forward.  This was quite incredible to watch.  I would have loved a photo during this period, but I knew the fine sand would have destroyed my phone, so I used discretion.  During this section, there was also a bit of rain.  Yes, sand and rain, and it was still 110 degrees outside.

Here are a few photos from the middle of the night, but not during the sandstorm:
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There were large gaps in photos, and updates sent to Grant’s friends, throughout the run for a couple reasons.  Updates were sporadic at times because of lack of cell reception.  A much larger reason for gaps in photos and especially updates was due to my priority out there—of course I knew people were excited, anxious, and wanted constant info, however, my role out there was to crew Grant.  Providing updates was very low on the priority list compared to taking care of Grant and ensuring he had everything he needed.  I acknowledge I might have been “frustrating” to deal with at times because whenever I had cell receptions, it seemed people wanted more info than I was providing.  While it might not have been apparent to any one person, I had requests to post detailed info on Grant’s wall, tag a particular person in every post, send the same wall post to someone else via private message, others requesting updates via text, and a barrage of other messages asking questions.  With my limited resources, I did what I could, while keeping my focus on Grant’s well-being.  I hope the affected people understand that.

In the truck, it was fun getting to talk to Neil.  We’d known each other online for a few years even though this was our first time meeting in person.  He’s a person I wanted to meet sometime, but I never thought it would be in those circumstances.  We’ve actually both been running five and a half years and we’re both in the Air Force, just at totally different points.  I’m separating from the Air Force, and after many years of being enlisted, he just for commissioned as an officer a few months ago.  I enjoyed talking to him and sharing stories.

After being awake way too long, I finally convinced Neil to take a nap.  This was shortly after the sandstorm.  It also happened to coincide with a low point for Grant.  He was moving much slower and was not stable on his feet.  He was also not as cognitively alert as he had been earlier.  He was very sleepy too and noted he was “seeing things.”  I gave him some caffeine in the form of a Starbucks shot, but it did little to improve his situation.  I was concerned about him.  If Neil had not just gone to sleep, I would have made the decision for one of us to stay with him for a while.  But since I knew Neil needed sleep, I did the next best thing I could think of.  Regardless of distance, I never pulled up farther than I could see Grant’s red blinky lights.  It was dark and I wanted to be able to visually confirm he was still moving forward.

It was about an hour before Grant said he needed to lie down.  He said he wanted to lie on the dirt.  I quickly tried to think of a better alternative, but he said he didn’t want to be comfortable.  Luckily, I convinced him to at least let me put a towel down for him.  I knew it wouldn’t aid in comfort too much but that it would keep him directly off of the dirt so he wasn’t breathing in as much sand (I figured he’d already had enough in the storm) and that there was no point in him getting even dirtier.  Grant chose to use his Amphipod water bottle as a pillow.  I think he was out before he even touched the ground.  He just sort of fell into a heap on the ground, his blinky lights still flashing.  I thought about turning them off, but I didn’t want to bother him.  In retrospect, I don’t think anything would have woken him up.

Grant’s nap:
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By this point, we were only about a mile from Furnace Creek.  I could only imagine what would have gone through someone’s head if they passed a truck in the middle of the night with a person lying outside in a very awkward looking position.  I chose to stand outside the truck to perhaps make it less suspicious looking(?).  As it turned out, no cars drove by during the time Grant slept.  After my concern for him over the last hour or so, the time he slept was peaceful because I knew he was okay.  His breathing was audible, so I figured he was good as long as he was still breathing.  He asked to be woken up in an hour.  He woke up suddenly on his own after 45 minutes and was quite disoriented for a moment.

Unfortunately, Grant seemed to be in worse condition after his nap.  As he sat there on the ground, I said (rather rhetorically), “Are you going to get up and keep moving forward?”  He responded, “I don’t have a choice, do I?”  Watching him stand up and continue to move forward was inspiring.  But I was more concerned about him and kept a constant eye on him.  I wanted so much to help him somehow, but I didn’t know what to do, so I just monitored him.

After a two and a half hour nap, Neil woke up.  He seemed just as disoriented as Grant had been when he woke up.  He asked where we were, oblivious to what had transpired with Grant.  Grant still had 20 miles to go.  When Neil discovered we weren’t even to the Badwater Road turn-off, my friend realized the journey was far from over.  When he saw Grant at the next stop, it affirmed this.  However, in spite of how he was feeling, Grant kept moving forward.  He also didn’t complain.  If we prompted him, he’d give feedback, but other than that, he was silent.

Not long after turning onto Badwater Road, I witnessed something freaky.  There was a random guy wearing little clothing carrying no water running back toward Furnace Creek.  It happened so quickly, and after seeing no other people for so long, it surprised me.  Clearly I was not alone as Neil immediately turned to me and asked in an excited tone, “Did you just see that guy?”  He seemed reassured by the fact he was not alone in his sighting.  We concluded the chance of us having the same hallucination was rather low, but we vowed to ask Grant about it at the next stop.  It turned out we didn’t need to do this, as the first words out of Grant’s mouth when we saw him again were, “Did you guys see that guy?  He scared the s**t out of me!”  We all laughed.

Something incredible happened with about 16 miles to go.  Grant started to speed up.  He was running again.  A quick look at him told me he was still not feeling good by any stretch of the imagination, but he had somehow transcended the physical pain and was in some sort of weird zone.  I couldn’t comprehend the mental fortitude he possessed.  Constantly, I would say in amazement to Neil, “Look at him; he’s already catching up to us again.  And he’s running!  Look at the way he’s moving.”  It was so inspiring to me.  Neil even commented that he’d been looking for some inspiration recently and that he’d found it out there in the desert.

Just as it was barely beginning to get light, I took this photo.  The little white light is Grant:
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The sunrise out there was beautiful.  Here are a few photos from that time:
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This is the magnetic sign on the side of the vehicle.  I didn’t realize it until I was looking at it later, but I caught the reflection of the sunrise over the ridge:
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Grant’s little mascot drove for a while:
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Throughout the whole journey, one way Neil would gauge Grant’s well-being was when he drove by him on the way to the next stop, he’d say “woo hoo” and take note of Grant’s response.  Most of the time, he responded with the same; other times he acknowledged it otherwise, while some of the time, he did not respond.  While I don’t know how Grant is outside of running, or how he was during the race or even earlier in the same 135-mile run, my impression of him was that he was quiet and very introspective.  I tried hard to respect this while also getting info on his well-being I needed to ensure we crewed him appropriately and made sure he had what he needed.

Grant shortly after sunrise:
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I was so impressed by Grant, but I struggled with how to express this verbally in the moment.  I did my best, but it seemed he was pretty self-motivated.  A few interactions I had with him made me giggle.  One such occasion was when I said, “Regardless of how you feel, you look great!”  I sincerely meant that, but then he looked directly at me and said in his Australian accent, “I look great?  I feel f***ing filthy!”  I’d been awake for 24 hours at this point, so maybe that was part of it, but this really cracked me up.  Another reason I found this amusing was that I was reminded of something my friend Brady told me when I was pacing him during the final few miles of a 100-miler a couple months ago.  After being with me a couple hours, Brady suddenly looked at me in horror and said, “Wow, you are filthy!” which I acknowledged; he then expounded upon the original statement by saying, “No, I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone that dirty!”  Haha.

The long journey took its toll on Grant, even during the “short” (13+ hours) I was there.  This was not long after sunrise around mile 128:
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You can see how tired he was, but the sun brings new energy:
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Looking at photos a few days after the race, Grant looked at this particular photo and said he looked “grimy.”  I told him he looked “bad@$$.” Seriously, this is one of my favorite photos, taken about 130 miles into his final 135-mile run:
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Grant was running well toward the end, so I took this opportunity to take some more photos:
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The scenery out toward the salt flats was beautiful:
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I like this photo because Grant looks so tiny next to the huge rock wall.  Yet the size of the rocks pales in comparison to the massive distance he just covered.  It’s really incredible to realize what people are capable of doing when they set high expectations for themselves:
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A couple more photos near the end of Grant’s journey:
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The last mile or so leading to Badwater Basin was in the shade, which was a nice little perk.  Grant finished his Badwater Double on the same section of road where he had begun the Badwater race almost 6 days prior.  (Note that is wasn’t a continuous effort, so it took significantly less time on his feet to cover the 292 miles.)  His final 135 miles took him a total elapsed time of 33:22:54.  For reference, when he ran the Badwater race, he covered the first 135 miles in 24:53:57.

Finishing the final 135 miles:
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Finally done:
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We all hugged each other after Grant was done and then just stood around for a few minutes.

I took this photo of Neil and Grant:
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He was tired but had a good attitude:
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We then went over to the famous Badwater sign.  Grant headed down there first.  I am grateful I was able to take a photo of him by himself looking out across the salt flats.  It’s one of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken, not because of its artistic merits but because of what it represents.

Grant in a photo he titled “Reflections on going backward to go forward”:
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Grant at the Badwater sign (serious and then when I asked him to smile):
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Neil and Grant:
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Grant and me:
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Neil, Grant, and me (love this photo):
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Next, Grant wanted to take off his shoes.  I was interested in seeing what his feet looked like.  Neil said he didn’t want to look, but in the end, he couldn’t stop himself from looking.  Considering he never changed his socks and that his feet had been hurting him for over 50 miles, his feet didn’t look terrible.  This doesn’t mean they looked great either.  I put some ice and water in a small ice chest and helped him ice his feet for a few minutes.  I also helped him his sandals on after that.

Icing his feet:
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Grant’s feet:
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Before heading back to Stovepipe Wells, Neil decided to check an item off of his bucket list: Run a mile in Death Valley.  This is a prime example of the necessity to be careful what you wish for.  Recently, he realized he wanted to run a mile in Death Valley sometime.  Shortly after that, he saw my request for someone looking for a person to crew him in Death Valley.  Grant and I cheered Neil on as he started his run and we drove the first mile of the Badwater course to meet him at the end of his run.  It was about 9am and already 103 degrees.  He said that the single mile felt like he’d raced a 5k.

Neil finishing his bucket list mile:
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On the drive back to Stovepipe Wells, Grant slept.  Initially, he slept sitting up, but he quickly sort of “fell over” and slept on a cardboard box next to him.  It was definitely well-earned rest, so I smiled when I saw how well he was sleeping in such an uncomfortable looking position.

Grant sleeping in the truck:
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When we arrived back in Stovepipe Wells about 40 miles later, Grant was still sleeping.  I moved all of my stuff to my car and then made the tough decision to wake Grant up.  I considered letting him sleep, but I wanted to tell him bye and give him a hug.  He was so out of it.  In an effort to not freak him out, I gently rubbed his back to wake him up.  Well, he woke up, but I did freak him out (or at least surprised him as he was yet again confused where he was and what was going on).  While the reasons I woke him up were admittedly selfish, I think it turned out for the best because he needed calories and I was able to get him some more milk at the general store for his journey back to Lone Pine.

Driving back to Las Vegas on Sunday, I felt so grateful for the experience I’d gotten over the previous 15 hours.  I was SO proud of Neil who had stepped up to crew someone over 135 miles even though he had no previous crew experience.  This was incredibly selfless and I’d learned so much more about him, not just about his life but about him as a person, than I had in years of chatting online.  I have so much respect for him.

And Grant… What an incredibly humble and kind yet totally bad@$$ person.  He shattered his goal time for the Badwater race and earned second place, then chose to go 11 miles up to the summit of Mount Whitney and back down to the Portal, then he ran the race course in reverse and honored his friend/coach Lisa in doing so.  Interacting with Grant, even during his run, it was hard to fully comprehend the huge feat he was undertaking.  He seemed so modest and reserved.  But he was so incredibly tough mentally and physically.

I think everything in life happens for a reason.  I am so glad Neil volunteered to help a stranger in his journey because it would not have been possible without him.  I am also very honored I had the opportunity to play a small role in Grant’s journey.  Grant was very self-sufficient, and there were times my duties out there were minimal.  But looking back, I know my time out there was worthwhile.  The single statement Grant posted (in response to one of the photos of him lying on the ground sleeping) that reaffirmed this to me was this: “I was coming apart mentally by then and wanted to lie down beside the road. I was also having balance and cognitive problems. Have never been so far over the edge before. Thank you for caring about me and making sure I was ok. I certainly couldn’t do it for myself by then…”  This made it all worth it to me because it showed me I served a purpose while I was out there.

After Grant’s Badwater Double, I was chatting with one of Grant’s Badwater (race) crewmembers, Eric S, and I realized something pretty neat.  It was evidence of how things come full circle… When my friend Tammy ran Badwater, due to a weird situation, she was crew-less for a period of time.  Other crews gave her water, including Grant’s crew.  When I saw Tammy after the race and she realized I wanted to run Badwater someday, she gave me a bunch of her stuff, including coolers. Over the weekend, I used those same coolers to carry ice and supplies out to Death Valley…to aid Grant as I crewed for him at the end of his Badwater Double. Neat, right?

Some people have expressed surprise that I drove to Death Valley to crew for Grant,  No, I didn’t know Grant.  I didn’t know his friend, Eric F, who had posted the “urgent” request for someone to help out either.  But that didn’t matter.  Ultrarunners are like my family, even ones I haven’t met (yet), and if I see one who needs assistance that I can provide, I can’t justify not helping.  I have benefited so much from the kindness of others in the ultra community who had nothing to gain by aiding me that I try to give back whenever I can.  Of course, even in trying to give back, I benefit, so I have a feeling I’ll never even break even (but I’ll still keep trying).

I love the ultra community.  As I’ve noted before, it is the first (and only) group I’ve ever felt welcomed into and feel fully accepted within (and this has held true since before I even ran my first ultra when I was just curious about them).  Every ultra experience I have, whether I’m running or crewing/pacing, I am reminded why I keep coming back to ultras.  I truly love the people I meet, and I make meaningful connections with people in a way that just doesn’t happen in “everyday” life.  I’m introverted, I don’t make friends easily, I hate small talk and obligatory superficial social interactions, I’m socially awkward, and I prefer to do most things alone.  People tire me out, so I tend to save my energy for situations I feel are worthwhile.  In ultra settings, I thrive, which is why people who know me in that setting don’t likely understand what I said in the last sentence… but that’s okay. ❤

Katrina

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12-year-old Colby’s first 100-miler

I got to witness something incredible yesterday: I saw a 12-year old complete a 100-mile trail race. I know that sounds surreal. It’s one of those things that might have been hard for me to comprehend if I had not seen in with my own eyes…

I’ve followed Colby’s progress from afar since I first saw him at Badwater last year. He was helping out to crew Ed the Jester, who actually hooked me up with my now-friend Karla who I crewed at that same race. Colby has a blog where he posts race reports that I have enjoyed reading. He completed his first marathon late last year, followed by a 24-hour race at the beginning of the year (where he ran over 50 miles), his first 100k in March, and another 50 miles just a week after that. Colby is not your average 12-year-old.

I met Colby and his parents (who are also ultrarunners) at the Beyond Limits Ultra in mid-March and got to see him run. He was fun to watch; most kids are indeed fun to watch run because they don’t take themselves too seriously–they just run. But Colby shows a dedication that I don’t think many kids have, although I rarely see kids at ultra events, so I don’t have many comparisons to make.

This past weekend, the Ride the Wind 100-miler took place near where I live in Las Vegas. There were other options as well, ranging from 10k to 100k. I saw an ad for this race a few months ago, but after looking at the elevation profile and the description that included terms like “rocky” and “technical,” I didn’t consider it. Unlike most ultrarunners, I don’t prefer racing on trails. I enjoy being in nature and running some trails, but not for time. On Thursday, Colby’s mom Shawna asked if I was going to be there. I told her I wasn’t and that I had a 100-miler a week later I was focusing on. When I inquired if her whole family would be there, she confirmed that was the case.  She would be there along with her husband Brady, daughter Mimi, and of course Colby. She also mentioned that it would be Colby’s first 100-miler. I told her to wish Colby well for me and that I might be able to come to the finish, but it was a big question mark. I live 45 minutes from the race site and a few hours Sunday morning would be the only few hours I would have to spend with my husband for over a week; I also had no idea *when* Colby would be finishing.

I smiled when I woke up yesterday to a status update Shawna posted several hours earlier that read: “While you are sleeping, my 12 year old is at mile 70 of his first 100 miler. On a trail.” I sent Shawna a message, not knowing if she even had cell service, asking for a status update. He was over 80 miles by that point. At this point, I still wasn’t sure of the feasibility of going to the finish line as my husband wasn’t even awake yet. I thought maybe we could both go to the finish line. As some more time went on, I found out that Colby had gotten lost in the middle of the night and added at least six extra miles to his race. This meant he was that many miles behind where he thought he was; this was mentally hard for him. Even as an adult who has done three 100-milers, I can say it would be hard for me. Shawna put out a plea for anyone in the Las Vegas area who could come to consider accompanying Colby on his last ~7-mile loop.

As soon as my husband woke up, I explained the situation and without even hesitating, he told me I should go support Colby. I love my husband so much. (And as it turned out, he had schoolwork he needed to do anyway). I told Shawna I would be there. I also saw that two friends, Rob and Deb, who I had met at the Beyond Limits Ultra and saw again last month at my Labor of Love race were also heading out there; they had both done races on the same course the day prior. I knew my friend Ryan was out there somewhere too as I’d seen a message from him earlier saying he was heading there.

When I got to the race site, I was happy to be among friends. Rob and Deb were there, Shawna was there of course, and Ed the Jester’s wife Martha was there too. I got to meet the race directors as well as another lady names June. I absolutely love the running community. It wasn’t too long before Colby came in with Brady, Ed, and Ryan. He sat down for a brief moment and then a group of us headed out with him. The group consisted of Brady, Ed, Martha, Rob, June, one of the RDs (Carmella), and me.

I was surprised how well Colby was moving at that point in time, particularly considering he was really close to 100 miles by that point with the “bonus miles” he had done. In addition to walking pretty consistently at a 20-22 minute pace, he was still jogging little segments of the course. The course was anything but flat, and there were rocks everywhere; it was very easy to lose footing.  He was moving way better and was in better spirits than I was at that point in my first 100-miler; there were times I was moving at a 30 minute pace. He seemed surprised when I told him that. It was evident that he had somehow developed a mental toughness that some adults can’t grasp. One clear piece of evidence lies in the fact that this race had 10 starters, all adults besides him, and 7 of them had dropped out; even for a 100-miler, that’s a ridiculous attrition race. The race was hard with the terrain and Vegas heat. Yet somehow, a 12-year-old was able to endure in those conditions.

When Colby mentioned that he broke down the race into milestones, this didn’t surprise me, as I think all, or at least many, people do this in longer races. But how he broke it down caught me off guard. When I asked him, he said that he broke it down into 5-mile increments, but when he went through low points, he broke it down into 1-mile increments. I was surprised by this because the last 40 miles of my first 100-miler, at no point could I comprehend 5 miles or even a single mile, even during my not-so-low times. I had resorted to focusing on literally the next step because anything greater than that seemed too large. When I told him this, I think he was amused, but perhaps it boosted his confidence a bit.

Even though Colby had been awake for well over a day, he was still very mentally alert. He told me how he would do math to figure out certain things, like the number of feet he had left based on the number of miles he had to go and the number of feet in a mile. When I asked him if he’d figured out how many steps he’d taken, he said he had, and he explained to me how he’d come up with that number. As a number-lover myself, I thought this was incredible, but even I don’t do that much math when I run, and surely not that late into a race. My mind doesn’t work like that with so little sleep. I know this because I’ve tried.

I brought my phone along, so I tried to take as many photos as I could. I wanted to help document his race, at least the final loop, for him and his family. I love taking photos, so this was fun for me. I only fell once, and it was when I was goofing around running off the trail trying to catch up after I lagged behind to take some photos. I scraped up both hands and my right shin, and I banged my left knee on a rock; I was initially concerned about my left knee, but I think my joint is actually fine and that I just have a big sensitive-to-touch ugly bruise. No big deal; if I *didn’t* fall on a trail, that would be abnormal.

Since we were the last people on the course, Carmella was taking down the markings. A couple of us were helping her. At one point because I dropped one and Colby, who was a few steps behind me stopped and picked it up and gave it to me. Anyone who has ever done an ultra knows how difficult it is to bend down late in a race. I thanked him but told him not to pick up anything else any of us dropped and that one of the rest of us would get it. All he needed to do was keep moving forward. His response, was, “Oh. Okay.” I smiled, though, as the fact that helping out like that was evidently so second-nature to him that he didn’t consider it would be in his best interest not to do it.

Colby went through a couple low points during the last loop, but it was nothing major. I think it was beneficial there were so many of us out there to talk to him and encourage him. I will admit, though, that there were points when Brady and Ed looked like they were more worn out than Colby; this amused me. Even when Colby was going through some lows, it made me smile that whenever anyone said anything positive to him, he *always* thanked them. He also thanked anyone who told him to watch his step or anything else cautionary.

When I noticed we were a bit less than a mile from the finish line, I told Colby and he perked up. He said he was glad he had done the race when he’s so young because he would be the youngest (known) trail 100-mile finisher ever. He’s also wise beyond his years, based on some of the other things he said in that final mile. He matter-of-factly told me he had gone through lows but that he knew they would pass so he just kept going. This is something that seems logical in theory, but in the midst of a low, it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel because you have no idea if it will last 5 minutes or 10 hours. But somehow, he had come to terms with this and was okay with it. I remember telling him that those lows are one of the things that bring ultrarunners together because every single person who runs an ultra, particularly a long one, will experience them and that few other people will ever understand what it’s like or why it’s worth it to push through to the other side.

Toward the end of the race, when I told Colby that he should enjoy the journey and the moments leading up to getting to the finish line, he smiled. Then he said that he knew he would only have the chance to finish his first 100-miler one time and wanted to enjoy it. The fact he “got it” was fascinating to me. Not only is he 12 years old, but he had been awake over 32 hours at that point, and he was still capable of intelligible thought and speech.

All of us besides Brady and Carmella, who was still removing course markings, ran ahead to the finish area so we could cheer Colby in. About a quarter mile from the finish line, I was sort of surprised to see my friend Giovanni taking photos. I wasn’t totally surprised because Giovanni carries his camera everywhere. But I was surprised because Giovanni had finished the 100-miler just a couple hours earlier but chose to stick around to see Colby. The day prior, I guess there was a point where Giovanni thought of dropping, but he said that if Colby was still going, he would keep going too; Giovanni was one of the other two finishers; the other one was a guy named Rodney who I don’t know. Side story: Giovanni gave all of us a scare earlier in the day. He evidently didn’t sign in at a couple aid stations, so no one knew where he was. When people were sent out to find him, they somehow just missed him. When we started out on the final loop with Colby, we had no idea where Giovanni was (although there were measures underway to find him).

Ed came up with the idea to stand in two lines facing one another on either side of the finishing chute with our arms up (fingertips touching the person across) to create an arch for Colby to run through. However, I knew Colby would be running at the end, and I wanted to capture this on video. When he mentioned earlier in the loop that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to run at the end, we assured him he would have the energy. Sure enough, Brady and Colby came running in, not shuffling either–actually running. I took video as he ran a straight-away section, and then I ran over just in time to make up my part of the arch. This meant I didn’t get video of his entire finish, but I did get about 15 seconds of him running. I wanted to do this because someone took video at the end of my first 100-miler and I really treasure this. I wanted to give Colby and his family something to look back on later. As Colby mentioned, you only complete your first 100-miler one time.

I don’t know Colby’s final time, but I think it was between 32:15 and 32:30; the cut-off was 33 hours. There were lots of hugs at the finish line and then Jimmy, the other race director, presented Colby with his 100-mile finisher buckle. This was very neat to see. Then Brady carried Colby away to an RV out of the sun. There was even a cake to celebrate his finish.

I am grateful for the opportunity to share Colby’s final loop with him, and I absolutely love his family. They’re all incredible, including little Mimi who did her first 10k on that course on Saturday. Very neat. I also got to see a handful of other friends and be reminded yet again how much I love the running community, particularly the ultra community.

I know there are likely people reading this who don’t think children should be running such distances. I don’t really care to debate it, but I will say I don’t think there’s anything wrong with what I saw yesterday, and I will address a few points.

Some individuals might argue that running long distances can hinder growth or cause other physical problems, but many of these claims seem to be based off of people’s perceptions of what they think should happen, not necessarily reality. There are young kids who have run marathons and suffered no long-term effects. Of course I’m sure if people dig hard enough, they can find instances to dispute this, but this is true for everything in life–everything is bad for you–got it. As for long ultras, there really isn’t much of a precedent.

For someone who doesn’t know this family, I think it might be easy to jump to the conclusion that Colby is pressured into doing these events. First of all, anyone who’s done an ultra knows how difficult it is to complete an ultra when their heart is fully committed to it; I don’t think it’s really feasible to “make” another person (adult or child) run 100 miles against their will. Colby loves running, excels at it, and has the mental capacity to handle it. I don’t think all kids have this, or adults for that matter, so I don’t advocate everyone running 100 miles. But this shouldn’t keep the ones who are willing and able to do it from doing it. Colby is a child and his parents are ultimately responsible for what he does and his well-being. From what I’ve seen, not only are they not pushing him, but they’re the ones who have to hold him back at some points or keep him from doing too much. At his 24-hour race at the beginning of the year, they pulled him from the course when they deemed it was in his best interest, even though he wanted to keep going. Through their own running, Shawna and Brady are setting an excellent example for both of their children to follow if they choose to do so. I think this is awesome.

Running doesn’t totally monopolize Colby’s time, as he has other interests too, including playing soccer. Just a couple days before this race, actually, his soccer team won a championship game.

In my humble opinion, many of the naysayers are basing their viewpoints solely on societal norms. In other words, if it doesn’t fit it with what’s “normal” or “common,” there must be something wrong with it. Sometimes people do things that many view as impossible merely because they don’t know the goals they have are supposed to not be possible to reach. People do incredible things when they aren’t burdened with the notion that they’re trying to do impossible feats. I can only speculate, but considering Colby’s parents both runs ultras and he has been to many races and knows lots of adults who run ultras, it likely doesn’t seem that abnormal to him. Based on this, running 100 miles was only an eventuality, never a question about whether or not it was possible. I feel like there’s a lesson in here somewhere. I also think it’s evidence that people are capable of way more than they think they are.

I love instances like this where someone goes out and does something incredible that others can’t help but take notice of. I enjoy that it might make people uncomfortable in the respect that it’ll make them question their own (perceived) limitations. Maybe it won’t motivate someone else to sign up for a 100-miler (or it might…), but perhaps it will inspire others to set their goals a little higher or venture outside of their comfort zone to do something others have deemed “impossible.” I mean, if a 12-year-old can run a trail 100-mile race and be one of only three finishers (out of ten starters) in tough conditions, what else can the rest of us do in our own lives?

Following are the photos I took from the final loop of Colby’s race. I also put a link to the finish video at the end (that I’m not sure how to embed). If anyone is interested in reusing any of these photos, please contact me directly for permission. I also have versions that are higher resolution and totally untouched (not manipulated with Instagram). 🙂

 

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Link to video of Colby running with his dad at the end: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=752218625933&l=6206520881410082103

Katrina

Walk for Liz (aka Running and walking with Drew)

In addition to the text below, at the bottom are 60 photos I took from Drew’s journey through the Las Vegas area. I understand if you don’t want to read the “longer version,” but please consider reading the “shorter version” below and then scrolling through the photos, which I feel tell a lot of the story. 🙂

Shorter version: I discovered there was a 23-year-old named Drew walking across the U.S. to raise money for a total stranger, Liz, who is fighting MS (after already beating leukemia). He chose to do this as a random act of kindness. I didn’t know Drew, but when I saw he was headed through Las Vegas, I offered to do some walking with him and let him stay at our house. He stayed with us three nights, I accompanied him for 32.25 miles one day, and brought him supplies (namely food) on a couple more occasions. I/We helped Drew with some tangible things, but I got way more from the experience than I gave. For more info on Drew’s journey (including his route and how to donate money for Liz), check out www.walkforliz.com and/or go to and “like” the Walk for Liz Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/walkforliz

Longer version:
For me, this story really started a couple weeks ago… the rest of the story starts earlier. I “like” quite a few positive Facebook pages and appreciate the quotes and stories I find. In one particular group (“Stories That Help Us Remember People Are Good and Kind”), I saw a link to another page titled “Walk For Liz.” The simple name made me curious, so of course I clicked on the link, which had some info but ultimately led me to http://www.walkforliz.com.

Here’s the background of Walk for Liz: 21-year-old Liz Estes beat leukemia a while back but was recently diagnosed with severe multiple sclerosis. Her health has drastically deteriorated to the point she has difficulty even playing with her 20-month-old daughter; she is also pregnant now. 23-year-old Drew Blondeaux had the desire to do a random act of kindness for a stranger, and he found out about Liz through his uncle who is a pastor. He chose her as the recipient, and as his random act of kindness, he chose to walk across the United States to raise money for Liz and her family.

It was just a couple weeks between when Drew made his decision to help Liz and when he set out from Oceanside, California enroute to New York. When I found the web site, he’d been walking for a week. Without thinking, I immediately found the “contact” link and sent Drew a message saying that he could stay with us if he came through Vegas and that I’d be interested in keeping him company for a day. The next day, Drew responded with a very kind message saying he’d like to take me up on the offer and should let me know when he got closer. Cool. I then texted my husband, Asa, to tell him to remind me to tell him about the person who’d probably be staying with us. Thankfully, Asa was fine with an idea.

I’ve gotten a bit of criticism from people who think it was a really bad idea to invite a total stranger into our home. As I explained it to someone else, yes, worst case scenario is that Asa and I could have been killed or our house could have been burglarized. However, I figured the chances that I’d just happen to invite someone to stay with us who was a murderer or burglar were pretty low. Also, keep in mind that he never asked to stay anywhere; I had been the one to contact him. And best case scenario? Pretty much how it turned out. Asa and I had a great experience, my life was impacted for the better, and I made an awesome new friend.

I think it’s important to take risks in life. I could live in fear and paranoia, and I’d still die someday. I can try to avoid every dangerous situation and die in my house or walking to the mailbox. But I want to LIVE life. Additionally, I’m a huge proponent of “paying it forward.” Just two weeks prior to sending Drew the invite to our home, Asa and I stayed in another stranger’s home in conjunction with a race. True, I knew who HE was (seeing as he’s an ultrarunning legend), but at the time he invited us to his home, we’d exchanged maybe 200 words and he knew nothing about us except that I’d run a 100-miler and was signed up for another one. And I did ask him later on why he had so quickly opened his home to strangers. Simple–He said many strangers had let him stay with them in conjunction with races over the years and that he had a lot of paying it forward to do before he even broke even.

Since Drew was walking through the Mojave desert enroute to Vegas, there were a few days where he had zero cell phone reception, so it was a mystery as to when he would even arrive, but we had an idea that it would be Friday evening or Saturday morning. And the plan from there? No idea. That sort of drove me crazy because I’m a huge planner.

Drew texted me Saturday morning saying he and his friend (who had accompanied him from Twenty-Nine Palms to Vegas) had just arrived in the area and that they would hang out a bit and that he’d contact me a bit later. I smiled at his texts because every one of them seemed so appreciative. He even noted that he didn’t expect us to come pick him up immediately and that he’d be willing to wait hours if necessary so it fit our schedule. We were able to get him pretty quickly, though, when he texted us a few hours after he’d made it to the area.

Drew had a jogging stroller that carried all of his gear. I had wondered how he’d been traveling. He had water, clothes, a bit of food, and some sleeping stuff. Evidently, when he was traveling through the middle of nowhere, he would just retreat to an out-of-sight location at the end of the day to sleep near the road. It didn’t sound very enjoyable, but that kind of thing wasn’t totally foreign to him. He spent five years in the military, most of which was with the Marines, and he had two deployments to Afghanistan and one elsewhere—he just got out last year. In other words, he was used to accommodations that weren’t exactly luxurious (understatement, haha).

We took Drew back to our house so he could shower and we could do his laundry. We then went to Walmart and out to dinner at our favorite local Greek restaurant where we all got to know each other better. It continuously struck me as surprising (in a good way but still surprising) how little Drew expected from us. We were really willing to help him however we could, but he was hesitant to request anything. And he was thanking us non-stop, many times for things that really weren’t a big deal, like us driving him to Walmart or me insisting he sit in the front seat (since there’s more room and he’s taller).

Drew decided to take Saturday and Sunday off from traveling and relax a little bit. In talking to Drew about his journey so far, logistics, strategies, etc., there were quite a few things I identified that I would do differently if I were him. He didn’t seem to want to heed any of them, and initially, this annoyed me. It also initially annoyed me that I’d wanted to walk over the weekend and that wasn’t what he was doing. But then I realized the totally obvious fact that it was entirely HIS journey and he could do whatever he wanted. And the timing of his walking not lining up with when I wanted to do it? So what, it totally wasn’t about me at ALL. I’d agreed to help him as needed, not tell him what to do. I also had to reevaluate some of what I was telling him as I was saying things with the best of intentions based on my own experiences, but hello?!… I’ve never done anything like walking across the country. This was humbling for me, but I’m glad I got this reality check early.

Another thing about Drew is that he would rather make his own mistakes than be told what to do. However, early on, he acknowledged that he did appreciate recommendations, even if he didn’t immediately follow them. He said he commits them to memory, and if his own way of doing things doesn’t work that he’ll consider them. Fair enough!

When I’d first told Drew I was interested in accompanying him during one of his walks, I mentioned I was an ultrarunner just so he would know I could walk the whole day. I laughed when he said I was crazy for running ultras. I didn’t think it was any crazier than walking across the country, but I figured it was a matter of perspective. 😉 One of the first things he said she we met was, “So you can do the long stuff, like 100-milers?” And for the first time in response to that question, I was able to confirm that.

I also played a podcast for Drew that I’d randomly listened to the day before he arrived. It was an interview with Marshall Ulrich that touched on his other accomplishments but focused on his cross-country run. (Marshall Ulrich holds the 3rd fastest record of crossing the U.S. on foot, among many other accomplishments. He also had his toenails surgically removed, which it seems is what a lot of people easily remember about him.) I could tell this fascinated Drew and he prompted him to consider it might not take him as long to cross the country as he’d originally thought.

The topic of my friend Jenny and the orange bracelets came up in conversation the first night Drew was here, and I told Jenny’s story and he asked me if I had extras because he wanted to wear one. I gave him a “Running for Jenny” bracelet and the first thing he said after he put it on was, “So I guess I should do some running.” Drew DID decide he wanted to start running a bit instead of just walking like he had done up to Vegas.

On a whim, I sent Marshall Ulrich an email giving him a brief overview of Drew, what he’s doing, and asked if he had any tips for him. I’d been in contact with Marshall within the last several months regarding different topics: wearing an orange bracelet and also my path in 100-milers (yes, he too brought up the fact I’m not near my potential yet, haha). Marshall not only responded to my email the next day, but he went and checked out the walkforliz.com web site and signed the guestbook, and then he gave me multiple tips to pass on to Drew. He was so kind. He also requested that I keep him updated on Drew’s progress. I was so happy to be able to pass on Marshall’s advice to Drew, and I knew it meant a lot to Drew—not just the advice but the fact that someone so accomplished cared enough to help him in any way. (And Marshall has proactively contacted me multiple times to check on Drew’s progress and to see how he is feeling—truly a class act.)

Monday was the day I was going to spend with Drew on the roads. We drove down near the Stratosphere where he’d left off when he got into Vegas. Immediately as we started walking, it started raining. And it was cool and windy—definitely not very Vegas-like. It was an interesting start to the day. Drew decided he wanted to run 10 minutes every hour to see how that felt. It sounded very doable to me. At the completion of our first 10-minute running segment, I told him our average pace had been 8:40. He asked, “Oh, that’s okay, right?” I couldn’t find a way to tell him that he needed to slow down since that was close to my 5k PR pace, so I just decided to suck it up. And yes, I was humbled! 😉

Drew had been covering marathon-plus distances each day pretty consistently (which he hadn’t trained for at all), which I thought for some reason would mean the running would be slow… but I overlooked two very key bits of info: First, he’s 23, and secondly, he just left his job with the Marines last year—he’s a beast. I was humbled, but quiet. Luckily his running paces gradually slowed to about a 10:00 pace in the last few running segments. What is funny is that I brought up the initial 8:40 pace at the end of the day when I was with Drew and Asa, and Drew commented that because I never answered his question about whether or not his running pace was good, he hadn’t known the entire day and thought it might have been too slow. This cracked me up, especially since I had assumed his question was rhetorical.

While I acknowledged the journey was his to make, there were two things I “highly encouraged” him to change. He was taking 30-minute breaks every three hours throughout the day, but he wasn’t eating anything between them and he was only drinking water every couple hours too. Drinking water was inconvenient since he had to stop and take out one of his one-gallon jugs to get water. I brought some extra food for the day we spent together and Asa lent him his favorite water bottle (that had a strap) for him to try out. And I told him that if he didn’t feel like eating a bunch that he could drink some of his calories, which he seemed to accept. As it turned out, the water bottle did its job and he was easily able to drink and walk at the same time. (Asa ended up letting him keep the water bottle; I love how generous my husband is.) In addition to the calories he was taking in, most of the time when I ate something, I’d offer it to him too (and he’d eat it).

Drew and I made our way north on Las Vegas Boulevard past the Stratosphere, Fremont Street, the pawn shop where Pawn Stars is filmed, some very questionable areas of town, and finally past Nellis Air Force Base and the Las Vegas Speedway. We were beyond civilization at that point but continued on Las Vegas Boulevard until we got to US-93, at which point we headed north. Since there were “Walk For Liz. Com” signs on is back and on the front of the cart, a few people stopped us to ask questions, which was neat.

Since Drew told me he learned best when he made his own mistakes, I tried to stand back and let this happen, as much as I wanted to save him the effort of making them. One of the funniest instances during our time together was when we had just approached a relatively steep but short hill and Drew’s watch said it was time for us to run, so we ran… for a couple minutes, just long enough for Drew to start huffing and puffing and start to fall behind my pace. Then I told him to walk. I then pointed out to him that there’s no reason he should be running UP hills, and that he could easily shift his running segment just a few minutes to coincide with one of the downhill or flat sections. He asked why I hadn’t told him that before he tried to run uphill. I asked him if he would have listened to me, and he admitted he would not have. But I figured he had experienced it enough to learn his lesson. 😉

As we walked and ran, Drew and I chatted about lots of things on a wide variety of topics. On the surface, Drew and I are very different people. He’s very much a free spirit, loves to travel and do things spontaneously without a plan, and is very extroverted; I am almost the opposite on all of these spectrums. However, after spending many hours with him, it was clear we hold some of the same values and beliefs about people, including the notion that it is imperative that people be kind to one another and help others how they can. While we were not doing an ultra race, my time with Drew reminded me very much of my ultra experiences, where people making up different cross-sections of society interact and almost effortlessly build bonds with one another. I didn’t expect this to happen, but I wasn’t too surprised.

At the end of our 32.25 miles together, Asa drove an hour and a half from his work to pick us up, bring me back to my car, and then drive home. It might have made sense to bid Drew farewell at that point, but instead, I decided we should take him back to our house so he could have one more hot meal, night in a bed, the ability to shower, and to do his laundry again. This seemed like a better option to me; Asa even lent him a pair of his clothes so we were able to get ALL of Drew’s clothes washed. When I mentioned to Drew that it might not make a difference in the grand scheme of things, at least he’d have a roof over his head one more night, he corrected me. He told me it DID matter in the grand scheme of things. He said that when he’s out there on his own, the small gestures of kindness people have shown him and the words of encouragement from people are the only thing he has to hold onto.

Tuesday, we woke up early so I could drive Drew out to where we’d left off at the prior day before going to work. I told him I would walk with him a mile; after a bit more than a mile passed, I told him I needed to leave. We exchanged a few words, I gave him a hug, then I turned around and walked away. I felt terrible doing this. While I have no desire to cross the country on foot, I would have been content to keep Drew company for a few weeks. Within an hour of leaving Drew, I got a text from him, the contents of which were exactly what I could have texted to him: “You motivate me. I am very blessed to have met you. I will keep in touch. Miss you already.” This made me smile, but I still wasn’t happy with the manner in which I’d left him

After work on Tuesday, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to find him, particularly since he retreats off into the desert at the end of the day’s mileage out of sight, but I figured it was worth a shot. On the way, I stopped at a truck stop and got a Starbucks drink, a personal pizza, and a Subway cookie. And I found him. He was happy to see me. He’d been battling a 35 MPH headwind all day and seemed to appreciate just being able to sit in my car and eat out of the wind. In spite of the crazy wind, he seemed to be in good spirits. I felt better leaving him in this condition.

On Wednesday, I got a text from Drew saying “not to freak out” but he thought he ruptured his Achilles tendon. The road he was on (which is the same one I’d been on with him for a handful of miles) was dangerous due to the one lane of traffic each way, 75 MPH speed limit, and very small shoulder. One of his close calls was when a semi ran him off the road, and when he got out of the way, he heard his Achilles pop. I did some research and every single thing I read online said doing anything with any kind of injured Achilles (even just a strain) was a terrible idea. I voiced my concern to Drew. He was stubborn and refused to quit. I did not agree with his decision, but again, I knew it wasn’t my job to tell him what to do… not that he would have listened anyway. 😉

I recalled in Marshall Ulrich’s book Running on Empty that he mentioned all of his injuries in the appendix in the back. I noted that he had Achilles issues that began day 2… of 38. This was hopeful as it told me it was at least possible to cross the country with an Achilles problem. I once again emailed Marshall and he gave me explicit advice for what Drew could do to ease the pressure on his tendon. Of course I knew this didn’t mean Drew was wise for continuing or that he still wasn’t at risk of doing permanent damage, but I was glad to pass on some info that would make his journey a bit less painful.

I really struggled with how to handle Drew’s decision to keep going with an Achilles injury. I knew there might be things I would be able to do to ease his pain and discomfort, but I didn’t want him to view this as me thinking his decision was a wise one. I thought about this quite a bit before deciding that I would do what I could to ease his burden a little bit, even if I disagreed with his decision to push through it—and I had made my viewpoint quite clear to him.

The following Saturday, I realized it was my last chance to bring him anything if I planned to do that. I had a good idea where he would be; I laughed when I put it into my GPS and discovered it was exactly 100.0 miles from our house—the exact distance I would be RUNNING the following weekend. Yet I had been thinking it might be too far away to drive, haha. I decided to bring him another pair of shoes (a duplicate of the ones he had), a reusable ice bag (that he could fill with ice but that took up almost no room when it was empty), some topical pain gel, a wind and water resistant jacket (which he traded for the one I’d gotten him a few days earlier was just wind resistant, seeing as I knew the water resistant one would come in handy), and some food of his choice.

Driving to see him that day was interesting. Turning onto US-95 north, where I had just walked with him five days prior, was strange because I knew I still had over an hour of driving at 75 MPH to get to where he was… and he had covered that entire distance on foot. When you drive a distance you know for a fact someone else has just walked/ran, it gives you a different perspective. And honestly, it made my upcoming 100-miler seem not so daunting.

I brought Drew a cold bottle of Gatorade, a couple breakfast sandwiches, and an ice cream sandwich (okay, I wanted the ice cream sandwich but couldn’t justify eating the whole thing, so I took a few bites and let him have the rest). We chatted some more while he ate in my car. Afterward, I wanted to check out his Achilles injury myself. His ankle area was a bit swollen and he felt tenderness from his heel up most of his calf. I could feel a lump in his calf and gave him a quick massage. He said it hurt, but I knew it would help him. I also rubbed some of the pain gel on his heel, Achilles, and calf. When he stood up after I was done, he commented how much looser and better he felt. I told him not to push it (famous last words).

Once again, I was not happy to say bye to Drew, but I knew this would be the final time I would see him on his trip, barring an emergency. (Asa and I had told him that any point between Las Vegas and Cedar City, where he had family, we could find a way to come get him if he was in trouble.) I felt okay leaving him this time. He was injured but in good spirits, and he still looked strong. 🙂 Plus, I knew this was his journey, and in order to reach his goal, he needed to keep moving forward, far beyond the area I could help him out.

During the week of interactions with Drew while he was in the area (and our near-daily contact now via mostly text message), I can honestly say I gained a good friend. He is generous, never expected anything, and was incredibly appreciative of every small gesture of kindness we extended to him. But as I told him multiple times, I got a lot out of the experience too. He reminded me of the importance of reaching outside of my comfort zones and helping others—and actually doing things, not just thinking or talking about them. He also reminded me that even small actions make a huge difference.

One of the big things I think can be taken away from his journey as he continues east to New York is that if he can do that for someone he didn’t even know, what can the rest of us do for strangers but also the people close to us? No one needs to cross the country on foot, but there are so many ways to positively impact other people that take virtually no money, time, or even effort. Can you take a moment to hold a door open for someone? Can you let in the car that’s trying to turn into traffic? Can you smile or ask how someone is doing when it looks like they’re having a bad day? Can you do a chore you normally don’t do around your house to help out your significant other?

Along those same lines, if anyone is interested in showing Drew and Liz (and her family) some support in a super simple way, please consider liking the Walk For Liz Facebook page (www.facebook.com/walkforliz). I know it seems trivial and perhaps pointless, but know that it does matter. Drew is doing this journey solo, and with the exception of some texts and phone calls with friends and family, one of the only indicators he has that there are people out there who support him and what he’s doing is that the number of “likes” on the page is increasing. When people give me any positive feedback about what he’s doing, I pass it on to him so he knows, but for the most part, the page is very quiet. Of course if you’re interested in supporting him a bit more, consider saying hi or sharing a few miles with him if he’s coming through your area (tentative route is on the web site at http://www.walkforliz.com). I know he’d appreciate it. Or visit the web site and find out how you can make a financial donation.

I am so grateful that I was able to be a small part of Drew’s journey. I am also excited not only that he ran little parts of our 32.25 miles together (about 10 miles that day), but that he has chosen to implement running a lot more regularly since then. I am so proud of him for being so selfless and for making such incredible progress. As I’ve told him, I sometimes question his judgment, but I NEVER question his dedication and compassion. Drew inspires me to want to be a better person.

Drew is planning on doing an official ultra sometime after he finishes his cross-country voyage for Liz. I’ve already told him I will be there to support him, if it is at all possible.

And in case someone is wondering, as of about an hour ago, Drew is currently on US-40 in Utah heading east, about 10 miles from Colorado; he will stay on US-40 for a few more days until he gets to Denver.

I gave Drew a hard time about keeping very little documentation and taking very limited photos during his journey. But I told him I would do my best to ensure the “Las Vegas and vicinity” portion of his trip was covered. The following photos are from my time with him.

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Katrina

Running for Roz (fundraising)

I have decided to raise money for two related memorial funds in conjunction with my next 100-mile running race (on 16-17 March 2013).

Lt. Roslyn (Roz) Schulte was a friend of mine, and also one of my U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) classmates.  She was a beautiful, confident, talented woman.  In 2009, she was deployed to Afghanistan as an intelligence officer; she mentored the Afghan military in intelligence gathering and interpretation and assisted with humanitarian efforts. As a testament to the kind of person she was, after working 14-hour days, she devoted about 3 hours a day toward organizing a charity for Afghan refugees.

Roz schulte

On 20 May 2009, the vehicle Roz was traveling in drove over an improvised explosive device (IED), and she died as a result of her injuries–She was only 25.  She was the first female USAFA graduate to die in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.  She was also the first (but not the last) person I knew personally to be killed in combat.

Recently, I started thinking about Roz and remembered I wanted to run a race in her memory at some point, and my upcoming 100-miler seemed perfect.  I later learned it was even more perfect considering the race is 16-17 March, and 18 March marks Roz’s 29th birthday.  Since I’m running the race, I decided I might as well raise some money for two separate memorial funds set up in her name.

The first one is the John Burroughs School (JBS) Roz Schulte Spirit FundThe goal of the Schulte Fund is to recognize the spirit, camaraderie, teamwork and leadership qualities that Roz was known for wherever she went – at Burroughs, at the Air Force Academy, on the playing fields, in her friendships, and during her service to her country.   The Schulte Fund will support the activities of Blue & Gold Spirit Week at John Burroughs School. Each year, proceeds from the fund will be used by the school to support spirit week events, activities, and purchases. From pep rallies to bonfires, posters to t-shirts, pom-poms to face paint, the Schulte Fund will make it possible for all Burroughs students to participate in the fun and whimsy of Blue & Gold Spirit Week.

The second one is the USAFA Association of Graduates (AOG) Lt. Roz Schulte Character and Leadership FundThe purpose of this fund was to establish two annual awards.  The first, an annual award through the Center for Character and Leadership Development to recognize first class cadets exhibiting outstanding character and leadership skills to honor the spirit of service exemplified by Roslyn Schulte.  The second, an annual award for the cadet on the USAFA Women’s Lacrosse team exhibiting outstanding leadership skills and character. 

Please make all donations by 31 March 2013.
Both funds are tax-deductible, as long as donations are made directly to them.  Below are links leading to each one:

  • JBS Ros Schulte Spirit Fund: https://jbalum.jburroughs.org/podium/default.aspx?t=111788. NOTE: In the “In memory of” field at the link, you MUST put “Roz Schulte” in order to ensure funds get routed there.  Please also put “Katrina Mumaw 100-miler” in the “questions and comments” section at the bottom of the form to indicate the origin of the funds.
  • USAFA AOG Lt. Roz Schulte Character and Leadership Fund: https://giving.usafa.org/give/schulte. NOTE: This link is directly to a page set up for Roz, but at the bottom in the “notes/special instructions” section please put “Katrina Mumaw 100-miler.” 

I have run a handful of ultramarathons in the past 4 years, including 1 other 100-miler.  I have always approached them very conservatively.  I plan on taking a much needed break after this ultra, so I decided to approach it more aggressively than normal because I really want to see what I can do and did not really have anything to lose by doing so.  Initially, I was concerned that this outlook was incongruent with wanting to run the race for Roz, but then I realized it actually made perfect sense.  No, I do not intend to do the race recklessly, but one of the things I can learn from the life Roz lived is to savor experiences and make the most of them.  I don’t want to live without taking risks because those moments beyond my comfort zone are where I truly feel alive.  I can think of no greater way to honor and celebrate Roz’s life than to live mine to the fullest extent possible.

For anyone interested in race specifics, it’s called the Beyond Limits Ultra; there are multiple options, but I’m doing the 100-mile one.  It takes place near Riverside, CA, beginning on the morning of 16 March.  There should be live tracking throughout the race; more info on this should be available later.  Additional information about the race can be found on their web site at http://beyondlimitsrunning.com/BeyondLimits_Ultra_Race.html

If you have any questions, feel free to post them here or email me at katrina.mumaw@yahoo.com.

Thank you,
Katrina

2012/09/29: Red Rock HM and 5.4M Ascent (volunteer report)

As most of you know, I run quite a bit, and do quite a few races too.  I’m always appreciative of volunteers, and I kept planning to volunteer sometime, but it never seemed to work out.  Most races are on Saturdays, which are when I’m typically either race or (more likely) doing my long run.  ‘
I’d had my eye on the local Red Rock Twilight Half Marathon and 5.4-Mile Ascent for a few months, but seeing as North Coast 24 was just the week prior, I wasn’t sure about it.  As it turned out, I feel fine, but thought it’d be risky to race, so I decided this was finally my chance to volunteer.

I emailed the RD, Joyce, a couple days ago.  Joyce runs Calico Racing, which is the most awesome race org I’m aware of; she puts on races about every month or so here in the Las Vegas area, and they all have at least 2 distance options, sometimes with as many six (Labor of Love in April – 10k, HM, marathon, 50k, 50M, and 100M).  She sent me a detailed “agenda” for the race and put me down for 4.5 hours.  Cool…

I showed up at 8pm Saturday evening.  She immediately handed me a reflective vest, a blue light (like a light saber), and told me I’d be directing runners at the most critical point in the course.  On the first lap, all runners loop back toward the start line, but on the second lap, they’re directed out in a different direction.  The course is point-to-point with a small loop at the beginning.  It got a little complicated because the faster people were lapping the slower people, so it was difficult to tell which loop people were on.  While I waited for the race to start, I was really energetic, so I ran back and forth for about 20 minutes; Red Rock is beautiful, especially as the sun is going down.  And no, I wasn’t wearing running clothes, but I had running shoes and a sports bra, so that’s all that really matters (it was surprisingly easy to run in jeans).  After the last runner passed by, I ran the loop backward to ensure I didn’t miss anyone.

Then I helped Joyce load some stuff into a huge truck before going around picking up glow sticks and all of the course markers on the loop.

When I met Joyce at the finish line, I unloaded all of the course marker signs and reported for my next duty.  I initially was the chip clipper person.  I gained a whole new appreciation for that job.  And based on my experience, I will NEVER again pull the zip ties so tight on my chip as those are infinitely more difficult to cut than ones that are looser.

I only cut chips for a few minutes before Joyce said she needed something else.  I went over and helped arrange all of the drop bags on tarps in alphabetical order.

Then I unpacked all of the overall and age group awards for both races.  They were neat little stones with holes in the center, each with a little tea candle.  I absolutely love the unique awards Joyce comes up with for every one of her races.  Trying to read all of the wording on the fronts of the awards made me realize I should have brought a light (even though it was nearly a full moon and very bright outside as a result of that).  Luckily, someone lent me one.  I arranged the awards on the table just in time for Joyce to make the preliminary awards presentations; she called names and I gave out awards, which was fun for me.

Then, I went back over to the finish line and cut more chips off of shoes.  This is difficult to do, particularly at night.  I was surprised with the number of people who laced their chips to their shoes instead of using the ties–this ALMOST resulted in some clipped shoe laces.  It was enjoyable to be at the finish line seeming people so happy to finish.  The course is NOT easy; it’s uphill for the entire first half–I’m familiar with the course because it’s essentially half of the out-and-back Red Rock Marathon course which I ran in March.

With 45 minutes to go (3 hours and 15 minutes elapsed in the half marathon), the person handing out medals and the person manually recording times left as their time was up.  This meant I absorbed both of their jobs, which proved to be quite cumbersome.  Noting the time each person crosses the mat and their bib number, then clipping their chip off and handing them a medal takes some juggling (literally–clipboard, pen, clipper, light, and medals).  Luckily, there weren’t very many people coming in during this period.  Being right there when people finished a difficult race, particularly those who were doing their first half marathon, was very neat.  I was so happy for everyone and whoever was at the finish line made it a point to cheer for EVERY runner who came in.

At midnight, the end of my shift, Joyce thanked me and told me to please come back and volunteer at whatever races I don’t run.  She said she had been excited when she saw my email asking about volunteering because she said she remembered how even my splits at the end of my 12-hour race were a few weeks ago and if I was organized enough to do that, then she knew she could count on me as a volunteer.  I’m not really sure about that logic, but I’m glad she trusted me to be so involved in so many elements of the race.

Since the last bus taking people back to their cars would not depart for a while longer after my shift, I took three runners back to their cars.  We had some fun conversation for the 20-minute car ride.  I love runners, really.

In summary, I had an AWESOME experience, and I will definitely be volunteering at other races in the future.

And as an added perk, it turns out I earned $45 in credit to put toward a future Calico Race.  Way cool.

(Sorry there are no pics.  I wish I would have brought a camera, but at the same time, I don’t know when I would have had time to take any photos!)

Katrina