The Art of Giving Back – Ultra-Running Style
Although I am extremely grateful for the assistance I have received from my wife and friends over the last couple of years, it’s very easy to overlook how much time and effort is put into serving as “crew” or pacing a runner during an ultra-marathon distance event. So, with hopes of paying it forward, I volunteered to crew and pace for Team Run4Life at the 24 Hour Run for Cancer in Hampton, Virginia.
Team Run4Life is a group of 12 amazing runners from Virginia and North Carolina. It’s composed of various age groups and athletic abilities, but they all have one thing in common; a true passion for running. Prior to the 24-hour run, I had only met a couple of the runners. I had the pleasure of running the 2015 JFK 50 Miler with Brian, Andrea, and David, while Hank and Joshua provided crew support. It was great seeing familiar faces, and finally meeting Steve S., Ally, Genno, Jessica, Steve J., Shannon, Paul, and Steve D. was awesome as well. (I think we met the limit on Steve’s)
I’m no stranger to running, but crewing and pacing is pretty foreign to me. I felt like the guy giving his first public speech with no clue what to do with his hands. I really only had one goal; do whatever it takes to make life easier for the runners. Whether that was cooking, cleaning, filling bottles, or pacing, I was ready and willing. I kept thinking to myself “what would I want someone doing for me if I was running?”
I showed up nice and early with my own set of supplies so runners didn’t have to worry about bringing so much. I met up with Brian and we slowly assembled our “compound” made from a few pop-up canopies, some folding tables, half a dozen camp chairs, and various coolers and bins filled with anything and everything you could possibly need during a 24-hour run. I also brought a couple of cameras so I could take some photos; something I don’t get to do very often since I am usually running. The team listened closely to the pre-race brief, then settled into a spot in the starting field. Right around 7am, the field of 217 runners began moving. Some ran, some jogged, some power walked, and some strolled.
The course is a looped out-and-back (if there is such a thing) in Sandy Bottom Nature Park. The terrain is flat, and the running surface is mostly compacted dirt/gravel. With a distance of about 3.7 miles, the runner isn’t gone long enough to have to worry about carrying more than a single bottle, if anything at all. My intentions were to hang out at camp throughout the day, and help pace through the night when they would probably need me the most. However, like most plans, that really didn’t work out so well.
It wasn’t too long before the runners had returned from their first loop, and I wanted to see the course, so I joined the group for a couple miles. We had been threatened by rain all week, but it seemed to have stayed away. The temps were in the mid 50’s, which many runners would consider perfect. After my first loop, I stayed back at the camp for a bit to see if I could do anything to help. This was when I came the realization that seasoned runners don’t require much assistance! I felt like a nagging fly as I constantly asked “can I get you anything?” They were all very polite as they said turned down my assistance, but it still felt like I was trying too hard.
Although the weather was great for running, it wasn’t very great for standing around and doing nothing. So, about every hour or two, I would log a few miles with the team. Since this was a 24-hour run, almost everyone was keeping a conversational pace, which really helps pass the time. I would run a few miles to get warmed up, then stop and get cold again. This went on for most of the day and partially into the night.
As for helping the runners, I really didn’t do much. However, when someone did need something, I was glad I was there to help. To be honest, I think my companionship and poor attempt at comedy relief is all I really provided while the sun was still up. I continued to log a few laps every couple of hours, keeping runners company and keeping their minds off of the looming task ahead; running through the night. I did make some cup-o-soup at some point, and boiled water for instant coffee. I also heated up a crockpot of soup Andrea had made. It’s obvious these are not laborious tasks, but it’s the little things that help… or that is what I kept telling myself.
Again, my plan was to hang out during the day, and help do some pacing through the night. However, I had arrived at 5:30am after only a few hours of sleep, logged just under 40 miles during the daylight, and did my best to stay busy throughout the day. Once 1:00am rolled around, I was absolutely exhausted. I knew I wasn’t going to be any good to anyone unless I closed my eyes for a bit. I climbed into the back seat of my truck and took a nap.
While I slept, my friend and training partner, Joshua, had arrived and was pacing some of the runners still on the course. By this time (4am) a few of the runners on the team had met their goal mileage and either climbed into their cars for a little shut eye, or headed home. Brian, who had met his “conservative” mileage goal (R2R2R is next week), just happened to be climbing out of his car to check on the runners as well. Many of the Team Run4Life were still on the course, and were kicking ass like we knew they would. We decided to take this time to start breaking down the compound so the runners would have one less thing to worry about. I think this is probably when I felt the most helpful. I couldn’t imagine having to break down a camp after running for 24 hours straight.
As the sky began to brighten, Brian and I joined the runners to cheer them on through the last couple of miles. At 7am, the run was over. There was laughter, tears,… and doughnuts! Team Run4Life had logged an insane amount of miles, and I was very proud to be part of such an amazing group of runners. During my time as a pacer and crew member, I learned a couple things:
– People may not always need something, but they are happy to have you when they do
– Just a smile and a little motivation can go a long way
I had an amazing time, met some awesome people, and learned so much about 24-hour events. As I typed this, I was notified that Team Run4Life took 1st place with a combined mileage of 914 miles! A huge congrats to Brian, Andrea, Hank, David, Steve S., Ally, Shannon, Steve J., Jessica, Genno, Paul, and Steve D. for their amazing accomplishment!
To those runners who may be reading this post… be sure to do your part and pay it forward. Get out there and help others reach their goals!