From the Sidelines
I take a sip of whisky and hand the bottle over to my friend Scott. He is sunken deep into his camping chair, nestled in an oversized belay parka. We are both in Steamboat Springs, crewing for our friends at the Run Rabbit Run 100.
As is typical when crewing for a 100-mile race, we have hurried from the last aid station to this one and are now settled for a long wait until our runners come through to the Spring Creek Ponds aid station at mile 70.
We discuss the live feed, which is not really working, updating sporadic and confusing information about runners’ times. We still speculate at length on how the race is going, reading into the numbers. Aided by the whisky, I offer up convincing interpretations of the electronic glitches as if know exactly what is unfolding.
Scott looks warm, comfortable, and prepared for a long, cold night. Despite telling my runner Nico over and over how cold it would be, I somehow forgot my down jacket. I am wearing everything I can find in my truck–3 t-shirts and a hoodie, topped with a wool sweater. I am still having a hard time staying warm and wonder how the runners are coping out there.
Despite the low temperatures, it is a clear, beautiful night. The full moon allows us to hike the one mile from the trailhead parking lot to the aid station without a headlamp.
Mile 70 is generally a challenging point in any hundred, but particularly so at this race as it is the turnaround of a long out and back.
Expecting a decent amount of carnage, I am surprised at how good runners look overall this far into the race. I am particularly impressed with Alex Nichols who is running his first hundred and leading the hare race with a commanding lead. He stops for a couple of minutes to fill his bottles, and bolts out up the hill with a smooth and swift 12-thousand-dollar stride.
Good friend Nick Clark is the aid station captain and chief entertainer. Clarkie navigates the space under the gazebo with his typical class and wit, getting runners what they need, offering up the right words of encouragement, and debating over the consumption of the propane heaters compared to the remaining tanks for the night.
It is close to 3 a.m. I hover in the back corner next to the heater, happy that Nick feels that we have enough gas to last us until morning. I sip an extremely bitter mix of instant coffee and hot chocolate and offer some to Jesse Haynes who is feeling sleepy and looking a little rough after some 15 hours of running. I tell him that if this does not give him the jolt he needs, nothing will.
Nico has yet to come through, although the live feed now shows him in first place followed by Amanda Basham. Zach Miller is crewing for Amanda, so I give him my interpretation of the updates, sounding gradually less and less convincing as the night unfolds. I am hoping Nico is not curled up in a ball on the side of the trail with hypothermia.
Kirk Apt is readying himself to pace and greets me with a long, deliberate fist bump. Kirk is a tranquil force and the type of guy you want in your corner. Experienced, calm, solid, just the right kind of qualities you expect from a pacer. As he heads out with his runner I cannot help but observe how peculiar a sport ultrarunning is.
From an outsider looking in, I can understand why we would look like a bunch of lunatics. It is the middle of the night, freezing cold and save a few hares who are competing for some cash, there is seemingly no point to any of this.
Yet, standing on the sideline, watching this all unfold, I get it. I get the desire to push oneself, to explore our limits and the wonderful bonds that emerge between people in a raw and vulnerable state. It is in these moments that I realize that you do not even have to be running to feel that pulse, to experience those emotions. Just being there is enough.