Over the past week our local running club, the Charlottesville Area Trail Runners (CATs), has been given the opportunity to run the 72-mile aid station at the Grindstone 100 Mile here in Virginia in October. In addition to the excitement of hosting a major aid station at a big-time 100-mile race, we are also eager to use this opportunity to expose many of our club members to what running a 100-mile race does to people because, in my experience, the 72-mile point of any 100 miler is a great place to see the human soul laid bare. This will be a fun human experiment.
Naturally, this opportunity has caused me to reflect on my 15-year career of running 100-mile races and the ‘lifesaving’ aid stations that are so much a part of that time in a race when you are far enough into it that the initial euphoria has worn off and not quite close enough to the finish to feel as though you are, well, close to the finish. And so, in this week’s column, I’m listing my top-five ‘lifesaving’ aid stations:
- Vermont 100 Mile — Spirit of 76 — At this gem of the East, runners arrive to mile 76 at the top of a long, dirt-road slog. Typically decorated in a patriotic theme, the volunteers at this aid station are an enthusiastic bunch. Additionally, this point in the race marks the transition from a long series of dirt roads interspersed with short sections of trail to long sections of trail and grassy sections with fewer and fewer roads. Thus, it requires a runner to switch gears physically and mentally, something not easy to do 76 miles into an ultra.
- Angeles Crest 100 Mile — Chantry Flat — The classic, point-to-point course of Angeles Crest allows the runners to spend most of the day above the Los Angeles fog/smog line. However, by mile 75 this is no longer the case and the bustling aid station at Chantry has been the scene of many a meltdown over the years. Always well staffed with volunteers and random spectators, Chantry, at times, feels like the beginning of the end as the two climbs between it and the finish are the two toughest of the day.
- Wasatch Front 100 Mile — Brighton Lodge — After spending several hours above 9,000 feet, Brighton Lodge at mile 75 and 8,300 feet altitude provides a welcome respite from the harshness of the Wasatch course. Unfortunately, however, it lies at the bottom of the 2,700 foot climb up Catherine’s Pass. What makes Brighton special is that it is an indoor aid station at the base of a ski hill and electricity and indoor plumbing have proven, over the years, to be quite enticing to the runners. In fact, sometimes too enticing. My advice for Brighton; enjoy it while you’re there and get out fast.
- Western States 100 — Cal 2 — Halfway between Foresthill and the Rucky Chucky River Crossing along the California Street section of the historic Western States Trail there is a place where the trail widens slightly, flattens out, and provides solace. Here, on race day, runners come upon the Cal 2 Aid Station. While unremarkable in its location, it has been the scene of countless implosions over the years as the impact of the day begins to wear down runners. Always staffed by enthusiastic volunteers, Cal 2 is one of those places that can be hard to leave. And some people don’t.
- Hardrock Hundred — Telluride (in the counterclockwise direction) — In this direction, runners make the heinous descent from Virginius into the town of Telluride. There, in the town park under a large pavilion, is the 72-mile aid station. It is almost a surreal scene as runners stumble into the park with the local townspeople barely noticing. Yet, for the runners, this mountain oasis between two massive climbs (after coming off Virginius they immediately begin another 4,000-foot climb up Oscar’s) is a respite like no other. Of all the aid stations on this list, I have to believe Telluride has ‘saved the most lives.’
AJW’s Beer of the Week
This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Jack’s Abby Brewing in Framingham, Massachusetts. Their fresh take on India Pale Lager is really good. I recently got my hands on a bottle of their Hoponius Union and was really impressed. I first started trying IPLs last summer and have really hit my stride with them over the past few months. If you can get your hands on one of these from Jack’s Abby, I highly recommend it.
Call for Comments
- What other aid stations out there (at mile 70-ish in a 100-mile race or elsewhere) have saved races?
- Have you volunteered at an aid station where you’ve seen people ‘come alive’ after a little rest and refreshment?