Last year, Bill decided it would be a fabulous idea to run a 100 mile race near Buffalo, NY in January. He’s signed up to run it again this weekend. It is aptly called the “Beast of Burden“. The weather last year while he was running ranged from a high of 22 degrees Fahrenheit to a low of 18, with light, often blowing, snow and wind gusts reaching as high as 35 MPH in the later hours of his run. It was so windy just before Bill finished that the race staff had to dismantle the aid station / finish line because everything was blowing away and they were sure their canopy would tear apart.
This is a picture of Bill before the start with the hat he received as an entrant.
Pretty much worth the trip just to get that hat!
I love how the look on his face is like, “I really did sign up to go outside in this weather and run for the next 24 hours didn’t I?? Great!”
And then, off and running…
As you can see, Bill isn’t the only one who signs up for these things! Men and women from about 18 – 75 do ultras. Simply amazing.
Yes this runner was wearing shorts:
Every one of these races challenges my ideas of what is humanly possible and how much we literally and figuratively get lulled/wooed/entrapped by our comfort zones.
I stepped out of mine by voluntarily going out in this weather, which I never had before. It’s a start! Here I am with about four layers on enjoying the crisp cool air…
People we know often ask what I do during the races. When I “crew,” that means I have to time it so that I’m at aid stations when Bill gets there, and I bring extra clothing, first aid, nutrition (e.g. gels, electrolytes in various forms), and supplies like batteries, head lamps, iPods, gum, various forms of water carriers (handhelds, belts and back packs a.k.a. hydration belts and hydration packs), etc. We have a race kit that holds most of the supplies and a duffle bag for the clothing.
I’ve also started keeping log books for his races. One of his running group friends made a log book when Bill ran Badwater and it was such a big help that I’ve started using them for all the races. I write down each aid station, what mile of the race it was, what time Bill got there, what he ate or took or said, how he looked, and what the weather was like. These notes help Bill to learn how foods, drinks, medicines or clothing affect him during a race. It’s amazing what you forget along the way. I also write down as much information as I can think of for myself for future reference in case we return to that race: anything to note about finding each aid station, how the cell phone coverage is, facilities that might be around them (so often these races take place in mountains or very rural areas and I forget or don’t know which parts of the world don’t have Starbucks or 24 hour grocery stores or even gas stations anywhere remotely nearby), etc. Finally, I keep travel, hotel, and restaurant information in the log books. They usually turn out to be a little entertaining, with various things Bill says or I see at various times. They’re fun to look back on.
The aid stations at most of these races are very well-stocked as well with food and drinks. I typically help Bill get whatever food and water refills he needs at that stop while he is attending to something else, such as changing clothes or popping blisters. Most of the time, Bill’s aid station stops are quick. He doesn’t linger and often doesn’t sit down. He might not take anything other than more water or a quick drink of coffee or Mt. Dew. Other times – typically later in the races when he needs serious calorie refueling – he’ll sit down and have some soup or a handful of pancake, some bacon, a quesadilla, or some potato chips. He might need to take a bunch of different supplies with him because he’s heading into the night or it’s now daylight and going to get warmer so he needs to take off some layers. Sometimes he takes a few pieces of candy.
The distance between aid stations varies greatly from race to race and even during a race. They could be seven miles apart or 25. And depending on the terrain, weather, and point in the race, Bill will travel that distance faster or slower. I could see him 3-4 times a day or once a day. It could be in the middle of a sunny day or the middle of the night in the snow or sleet. Sometimes aid stations are inside but most of the time they’re outside with no covering.
Math has always been a challenge for me, so figuring out the following word problem takes me about as much time as it does for him to run to the next place that I’m supposed to be:
- what Bill’s pace has been,
- what he projects it to be,
- how he’s feeling,
- all those variables such as terrain, weather, time of day, etc.,
- what time he actually left the aid station vs. what time I’ve said my good-byes to the people I’ve been keeping company with during that leg, put everything away, written everything in the log book while it’s fresh in my mind and looked up the information about where I need to go next,
- how long it should take me to drive to the next aid station – usually I am not driving on the same course that the runners are on. They’re on trails in mountains, the sand of a beach, or a running path. Sometimes my route is 20 miles of mostly dirt, rocky, utterly secluded roads that look like they’re only meant for horses or walking, around the seven that the runners are going on,
- extra time in case I get lost,
- a good amount of cushion time in case he speeds up,
- anything else I might need to do before that time, such as purchase any supplies or nutrition for Bill or myself, get gas, find a restroom – or relatively secluded tree, bush, or sand dune…, sleep (it might not be safe for me to drive because I’ve been awake for 20 hours and I’m falling asleep), or change clothes,
- finding parking and how that impacts the whole situation (I could be parked right by the aid station and watch for Bill from the car in cases of inclement weather or need to sleep; or if I can’t get near it I need to figure out when to get the race kit out into the elements until he gets there. I recently learned from other crews at a race that they give their runners a GPS tracking device so they know exactly where s/he is for these reasons. I am so looking into one of those!)
There should be an app for this!!
I’ve never gotten to an aid station after Bill, thankfully. Sometimes there’s a lot of waiting and as I said above, no 21st Century trappings to be found. I usually have to keep an eye out for him approaching because it’s so hard to predict with those distances when he’ll get there that I can’t get too engrossed in a book or anything. I do a little bit of reading, try to update his family and friends on the occasions when I can get cell coverage, and chat with other crew members, volunteers or runners. There are typically many photo ops during the race – between the runners, scenery, and wildlife – and I try to stop and take everything in periodically. I’ve also volunteered a couple of times at aid stations. Again, one of those GPS devices would be a tremendous help.
But back to Beast of Burden! This race is on the Erie Canal towpath. The runners go 12.5 miles from the start/finish line to the aid station at the turnaround point, come back, and repeat that four times. There’s also an aid station in the middle but crews cannot go there. So I take turns going from the aid station at the start/finish line to the aid station at the turnaround point. The aid station at the turnaround point is indoors, thankfully. Because of the weather, I go back to a hotel in between aid station stops. And this year I’m very excited because I’ll be getting a visit from a friend who’s coming from Toronto!
And now back to the reason we’re doing all this in the first place: Bill the runner. People also often ask how he trains for races. Other than running a lot (somewhere around 90 – 100 miles a week for a race this length), eating very nutritiously (he follows a Paleo diet for the most part), and working out in the weight room 3 days a week, he gets ready for the specific weather and terrain of each race in some interesting ways.
Fortunately or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, Bill was able to train for this cold weather race just by running outside in our Pennsylvania winter weather as he would be doing anyway. The flat towpath course is the only real adjustment for him. It’s unusual for him to run a flat 100 mile race, and he actually prefers and does well on hills and mountains. He enjoys running on the roads and trails in our hilly area, but for this race he went out on 20+ and 30 mile runs on a rails-to-trails path.
Here are some pictures of what the weather was like and how he dressed for two of those training runs:.
And a frost-covered beard after a run:
The last time Bill ran on the rails-to-trails path it was very icy. One of his running buddies told him that he could put screws into the bottoms of his shoes for traction. So out he went to purchase some screws and try that out:
Then he went for a four mile run out on the trail and said the screws helped.