What It's Like to Watch a Hundred Mile Race

Laurel has another school holiday so both kids are home today and I'm trying my best not to jump in when they start to argue. It does seem to work itself out in a matter of 3 or 4 minutes, which feels like eternity and would definitely drive most people bonkers. But I have saintly levels of patience, developed during my years as a special ed teacher. This has turned out to be a handy attribute, both in stay-at-home-parenting, and in being married to someone who turned into an ultra-marathoner.

This past weekend we went to Oil Creek State Park so M could run in a hundred mile race. Yes, 100. Miles. I don't want to make it sound like it was easy for him, because dang, that's a really crazy thing to take on, you know? But the whole weekend was really fun. I don't normally go to his races, because of the kids, but this weekend my parents offered to watch them. It will be like a babymoon, I joked.

Girls in the woods! We are not
running a hundred miles today
because we are pregnant. Yes,
that's it. Also, we are not crazy.
Watching a hundred mile race involves a lot of waiting. I'm sure there are scenarios in which this would be terrible, but it's peak leaf season up in Oil Creek right now and the weather was quite pleasant. Plus several of our friends showed up to help me "crew" so I had lots of company. Many thanks to Sarah, Greg and Ruthie, and Caveman of Ohio for keeping me company all day. The course had 3 big loops of approximately 30 miles and one little loop to make up the difference. Two aid stations were accessible to family and crew, which meant for every 3 or so hours of running, we saw M for about 5 or 10 minutes. Bring a lawn chair. The sun started to set around the time M finished his second loop, and that's when his running buddies showed up to run with him as pacers. I had never met Jeff or Paul before, but they all run together in Frick Park before work every week or so, and share an equal passion for running on trails.

The other part of watching a hundred mile race is acting as "crew." This was a really well supported race, with lots of snacks and water available at the aid stations. You could definitely run it on your own. We brought some extra food - soba noodles, tofu, rice pudding, bacon and nutella. The other thing you have to do as crew is be prepared to prop your runner up if they get dejected over their admittedly crazy decision to take on such a challenge. To be honest, M looked pretty rough to me when he got to the aid station. He had run 62 miles, further than he had ever gone before, and had been up since about 4am. His gait didn't have the usual bounce to it. The sun was setting and he was facing almost another 40 miles, in the dark. For the first time I could remember, he looked a little bit tired of running. "This is kind of hard," he said to me, while I was shoving a cup of noodles and a peanut butter and bacon sandwich into his hands. Jeff and Paul immediately lightened the mood. "You look great!" they told him, and started talking about his pace and shoes and other technicalities that runners can go on for hours about.

Jeff and Paul, dishing post-race. I need
to point out that these guys just ran 40
miles collectively alongside M. In the
dark. And they don't even look tired.
Paul took off with M with a plan for Jeff to meet them at the next aid station. Paul kept sending the most hilarious text messages with updates on their progress. ("He's singing Taylor Swift!") I realized they were seasoned enough runners to remember to make him put on a dry shirt and a warmer layer at the next stop. I felt satisfied he was in good hands, and crawled back into the truck to sleep for a few hours. When I woke up, they were about to head out on the final, much shorter loop, and there was a real celebratory feel at the aid station as finishers were starting to trickle in. I dragged my sleeping bag out to the finish line and camped out with a couple of other families who were waiting until we saw those headlamps bobbing in. And finally M cruised in looking like he usually does at the end of a run...a little bounce in his step, a smile on his face, beard streaming behind him.

He finished way faster than his goal, in 20 hours and 19 minutes, placing 6th. Well, his goal was to finish. Period. He blew that out of the water. The cutoff time was around 33 hours so while he was done by about 1:30am, there were tons of people out on that course until well into the next day. I have a lot of respect for people who can keep going through two sunrises.

Well, if you run fast enough you get a
"golden" belt buckle. So shiny.
The final thing about watching a hundred mile race is that some people just won't get it. They won't understand why someone would want to do such a thing, and they definitely won't understand hanging around and watching them do it. Or maybe they think it comes easily to some people (I assure you, it does not. Finishing one of these things is pretty much pure stubbornness and grit.) There is an element of privilege in being able to run for sport, but there's no greater purpose to it, not even any prize money usually. You get a belt buckle and a t-shirt. Personal satisfaction. The urge to keep running. It doesn't seem like many people run one and then are like, oh that was great, I think I've achieved all I want to in distance trail running and I'm going to retire. They may eventually give up races, and just go out with their friends. But they do not stop running.

One of my "rules" about M's running is that it can't interfere with family life and responsibilities too much. So, if he runs a marathon, he's got to save enough energy to mow the lawn when he gets home. But this time we just pretty much lounged when we got home. I think we both needed that, and the race gave us a good reason to. Now we're just hunkering down for winter and getting ready for this new baby.

If you want to know more about the Oil Creek 100, check out the website here, or the Facebook group here.

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