“That was harder than Wasatch.” – a 100 miler at the finish, to the race director.
I will do this race someday. The 100 mile race, I mean. But volunteering was a perfect place to start.
Emily and I arrived at our communal townhouse at Caribou Highlands around 9:00. We scoped out where we needed to go in the morning, and then attempted to get to sleep before our 2:45 am wake-up call. I am pretty sure I slept maybe an hour and a half, non-consecutively. Ah well, I was going to greet runners who hadn’t even had that. (Well, except for one, who took a 3 hour nap somewhere along the way before continuing.)
We missed the first place runner for the 100 mile race as we were helping up at the lodge with the 50 mile racers. Jake Hegge finished in 19:31, destroying the course record by an hour and a half. We returned to the finish line just a little while after Jake came in, but were too late to cheer him on. There’s little fanfare for the winners of the 100 miler, since it happens so early in the morning. We didn’t have much to do for awhile, as the next runner didn’t come in until 21:03. We waited around in the cold for him to come in, cheered him on, took a picture at the finish since his girlfriend’s phone died just then, and then went back to the townhome to warm up and relax until it was time to help load up the marathoners. I wish I’d been able to sleep for a little bit, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to wake back up again. Instead, I wrote a tiny bit of this recap!
I was hooked on the atmosphere of the race, even in the early morning when few people were out. I missed the 3rd place runner’s finish (I was getting stuff out of the trailer to bring to the finish area at the time), and by the time I got back he was sitting at a picnic table drinking a beer. It was like 7 or 8 in the morning. I don’t think you see that at road marathons too often! It was COLD at the beginning and I was wearing tights under pants, a tshirt, a sweatshirt, a jacket, a bandana, a ball cap, and was wrapped in a blanket. I never really warmed up fully, so I was in the sweatshirt and both pairs of pants (mostly because I didn’t want to bother with removing my pants) while children were swimming in the pool.
My job for most of the day was to hand out finisher’s medals and belt buckles (for the 100 milers only) as people crossed the finish line. Sometimes there were very long lulls, although once the marathoners started to come in, it picked up a bit. I answered people’s questions (“Did so and so finish?” “What was my time?” “What was my place?” “Is there a lost and found?”) as best as I could. I talked to crew members and learned about their runners, so I was a fan before by the time the runner came in. I fetched lemonade and water for a few people whose crews weren’t readily available. Mostly I just clapped and cheered and talked with people. And I ate a small bowl of chili, which to me seems like such an odd food for a post-race meal. Oh, you just ran for 100 miles? Here’s some chili, that’ll sit well in your stomach!
I ate my chili while talking to one of the early finishers. I really hope I wasn’t bothering him, but he seemed interested in talking, or at least very good at faking it. He was from BC so maybe he was just being polite? I asked him a few short questions about the race, which he seemed to really like, and he loved the location. I tried to avoid looking at his toes. Or anyone’s feet, as there were a lot of feet on display that looked like they had been run over by an ATV while barefoot. Is there a way to avoid this or is it just something I’ll have to accept when I finally cross the finish line of my future 100s?
So many interesting people came through the finish line, some with their pacers, some with their family, one 100 mile finisher came through with his kids, carrying one of them. How is that even humanly possible? The power of love, I guess. I tried to hang back and let people have their moments with family and friends before handing off the swag, but that sometimes resulted in me chasing them down. 100 miles does something funny to the brain, understandably. The women’s masters winner and I were talking, and she said something like “It’s really bright out, and kind of bothering my eyes.” I told her to put on her sunglasses, which were on her head. It genuinely had not occurred to her, and she thanked me for reminding her, and we both laughed. Everyone was so happy and friendly! Only one person crossed the finish line looking genuinely upset (he seemed annoyed with his time), and even that didn’t last.
I enjoyed this race so much. I am hooked. I WILL be back, both as a volunteer and as a runner. John, the race director, was such a cool, genuine, down to earth guy. He was at the finish line greeting runners as they crossed (when he was available, I handed over the medals and buckles to him) and so many people complimented him on a great race, thanking him for the 103 miles of torture (or 50 or 26.2) they just endured. Some people even hugged me! I watched John and how he talked to people as they finished, and I thought man, I want him to shake my hand at the end of a 100 mile race someday. When a volunteer or a multi-finisher came through, he made a huge deal of it and made sure everyone knew.
Oh! NO ONE puked on me! Or even in my vicinity! So that was great. It is my understanding that most puking occurs at the aid stations or somewhere along the trail, but it was still a concern of mine.
I don’t know why this race isn’t ridiculously popular. It started in 1991, so it’s one of the older ones out there, and the course is beautiful and challenging. There might even be wolves. There were a lot of out of state people running (including the entire city of Thunder Bay, ONT) and I hope they go back home to their running communities and sing the praises of this race. Although maybe it could wait to get too ridiculously popular until after I’ve had a chance to race it? They already have a lottery in place… I suppose I need to hurry up and get stronger.