Monday, December 10, 2012

The view from the other side of the table

Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to work an aid station at the Cajun Coyote trail run for the third year in a row - every year that it has been in existence.  This race is growing every year as word spreads about how much fun it is, and how beautiful the trails at Chicot State Park are.  The runners get to see things like this:

and this:
We received rave reviews all day about how beautiful the park is. It is nice to hear, since we can sometimes take it for granted.  I have said this many times, but I really do believe that Chicot has all of the best parts of Louisiana within its grounds.

So, we drive in Friday evening, and get there in time for the pre-race meal at the Pavilion in the park.  This is a great way for runners to get to visit with each other and laugh about what they are taking on the next day.  In this case, it would be either 1 loop - 20ish miles, 3 loops (100k) - 62ish miles, or 5 loops - 100ish miles.  The number of 100 milers doubled from last year because of the high percentage of runners in 2011 who finished in sub-24.  That is a big goal of 100 mile runners - "100 miles in 1 day".  
Chris Scott, RD and head nut, giving a quick pep talk

Christina the night before her first ultra marathon!
It is a surreal feeling sitting there trying to
wrap your brain around what you are trying to do.
Then, it was off to set up our trusty tent again.  This time, both Josh and Shelby were with me.  I love bringing them to events like this, and I knew they would enjoy themselves.  Trail runners are among some of the funniest, most laid-back folks on the planet and my kids have great time every time they are around them.

We turned in early knowing we would have a long 30 hours or so ahead of us.  The 100 milers and 100k'ers started their races on Saturday morning at 6:25, and had 30 hours to finish.  We would have to be at the aid station for most of that time, taking turns grabbing a quick nap in our cars.  Even for the volunteers this is an endurance event.

Race morning, we began setting up the aid station about 5:45.  Ours was at the mile 4 mark on the trail, and it would be the first one the runners came to, so I wanted to be ready.  Early on, we kept the food choices simple with cookies, chips, pb&j sandwiches, candy and fruit.  For drinks we had Coke, Mt Dew, Heed (Electrolyte drink), water and ginger ale.  (The ginger ale would become very popular late in the race when the runner's stomachs started to go sour - as were the ginger snaps.)

Shelby, Karin and Chris.  Karin was one of my all-day and all-nighters.
We were both a little punchy by the end.
When the first batch of 100 milers and 100k'ers came through it was a little hectic.  It was still early in the race and they were still bunched up.  After a while though, things settled down some. The excitement was too much for Shelby.
Josh was up to the task, though. 

Once the initial rush is over, a pattern forms: 10 - 30 minutes of sitting around visiting followed by a few minutes of action when a runner comes through, followed by 10 - 30 get the point.  The 20 milers started their race at 9:00, so we got a little rush of visitors when they made it to our aid station, but we only got to see them once that day.  After they went through, the field was pretty spread out for the rest of the race.  

Throughout the day, there was the added excitement of the race within the race that was going on.  While most runners out there were going for 20, 62, or 100 miles, one man was going for 200 miles!!  Yep, you read that right - 200 miles.  AD Marshall left Friday morning (on foot) from Baton Rouge, and RAN to Chicot State Park arriving at 4:15 a.m.  Just enough time to eat, shower, dress and line up at the start.
Here he is as he arrived at the park.  1/2 way to his 200 mile goal.
AD's sister, Sarah, was there crewing for him, so every time he was approaching our aid station, Sarah would drive up and start getting things ready for him.  What an amazing friendship they have for her to be so dedicated to helping him achieve this crazy goal!

It was great to see him come through our spot.  At first he was looking pretty stiff and bringing up the rear of the pack.  100 miles on the road will take its toll on you.
But, even when he was hurting he was moving forward as quickly as possible.  Many of the runners that came through would ask about his progress.  It was inspiring to everyone to know that he was out there.

I already told you how awesome trail runners are, and Mosi Smith epitomizes this awesomeness.  Mosi is a member of the Marine Corps ultra running team.  He ran the 100 miler here last year, and finished in 2nd place with a time of 18:49.  This year, Mosi finished in 18:34 with a first place finish AND a new course record!!  
Every time Mosi would come through the aid station, he was positive, smiling, and incredibly polite.  What a great example.  THIS is what I want my kids to see.  There are no cheats in ultra running.  You may have the most expensive shoes and gear, but in the end it is your drive and determination that get you to the finish line. And at Coyote events, this is what you find at that finish line:
I have no explanation for this.  It just is.
So, as night began to fall, the aid station fare changed a bit, adding ramen noodle soup and potato soup.  It was warmer than we would have liked during the day, and the salty items were welcomed by the runners.  For anyone who has run the Chicot trail in the daylight, you can understand the challenges it presents in the night time.  Roots, critters, etc.

AD coming through our aid station
Before long, many of the 100k'ers were crossing the finish line - with our very own Christina Gravish finishing her first ever 100k in 12:08, for 3rd place female, and 4th overall finisher.  The temperature dropped a bit, and the gaps between the runners were longer as the runners slowed down a bit, so the aid station folks found ways to pass the time.

As the night drew on, the 100k'ers wrapped up their journey, and now only 100 milers were coming through our spot.  Your body clock can be your worst enemy at this point in a 100 miler.  Fatigue and desire for sleep outweighs the weight of your legs.  Sometimes it is just best to lay on the ground and take a short nap - which some folks did.  It is amazing how much 10 minutes of sleep can refresh you and renew your chances of finishing the race.  Once the sun comes out again, though, your body clock becomes your friend again and you get a little boost to keep running.

Its late in these races that you get to witness the drama of a 100 miler.  From folks who may have pushed their bodies too hard in the heat and who can no longer keep food down, leading to a DNF, to those who are hurting and you begin to doubt their ability to continue, just to see them spring out of the chair 10 minutes later and charge down the trail.  For those of you who enjoy studying human behavior, it doesn't get any better than this.

Once the sun rose again, the field had shrunk to just a few tough souls still out there pushing toward the finish line. By now, our aid station was in constant contact with all of the other aid stations keeping track of where each runner was at all times.  There are time cut offs in these races.  If you don't make it to a certain point by a set time, it is a good bet you will not make the overall cut off for the race.  This is when the RD exercises his power to pull you off of the course.  For your own good as well as for the volunteers who have been out there 24+ hours.

Finally, it came down to AD and two other girls out on the trail.  For most of the race AD had been DFL (dead &*%&^  last), but he was gaining ground on the girls, and from the report I got from the start/finish, I knew he started his last lap (180 miles into his run) like his shorts were on fire.  He was determined to make it to the finish under the cutoff and it was looking like he would!  

Next thing you know, here comes AD - he threw his empty water bottles to the side and grabbed the filled bottles his sister had waiting for him and took off down the trail - his pacer was even having a hard time keeping up!! 

Then, here come the two girls we were waiting on.  They were obviously hurting, but they were still moving forward at a decent pace, so there was hope they would make it to the end in time.  Now that all of the runners had come through our stop, we packed everything up and headed to the start/finish to watch the runners come through.  There was no way, regardless of how tired Shelby, Josh and I were, that we were going to miss watching AD finish his 200 mile journey.  That was some epic sh&t, and not something my kids may ever have a chance to witness again.  All day they followed AD's progress, and they were as excited as I was to see him finish!

The finish lines at these events are as drama filled as anything I have ever seen!  I got to witness two beautiful ladies finish their first 100 miler:

Lucia Alzaga

Rhae Loney

I know first hand that the amount of suffering during the run is directly related to the amount of elation/relief/feeling of accomplishment felt as you cross the finish line.  GREAT JOB LADIES!! There were many happy tears - many from me - for each of the runners that finished that morning.  Then, it was time to wait for AD.  But, we didn't have to wait long.  AD flew through that last 20 miles.  It was his fastest lap of the race!  Here he is coming in to the finish:

There are no words.  Truly amazing!
AD with Chris Scott, RD, after receiving his
buckle and propeller hat.  (Along with 2 celebratory

So, we wrapped things up and headed home.  Shelby and Josh were buzzing about AD's finish.  How amazing is it that they were able to witness such an awesome achievement on all of the runner's parts, and that they were able to be an integral part of their success by working the aid station. Even if they never choose to attempt something like this themselves, hopefully they will pull on these memories to remind them that anything is possible when you put in the work and set your mind on a goal.

Happy Running Y'all!



  1. Edie, WOW! So, I read this for the first time today. As if your support and encouragement along the way weren't enough, I'm truly honored that you would share those kind words about my sister, Sarah, and the task at foot. I apologize for not getting up to Lafayette last w/e for the party (St Patty took hold and wouldn't let me leave BR). I plan to head your way in the next wk or 2. Did I see a post about a Chicot run this Friday? May work out w/ my schedule.

  2. I think we are going to go to Lake Martin on Friday morning to stay local (Breaux Bridge). It is about a 5ish mile loop - supposed to be a beautiful trail - it will be my first time out there. WE will be heading to Chicot on Saturday when more folks can come. We would love to have you either day!!

    And you are very welcome - I was happy to be there to witness your achievement, and it was awesome seeing Sarah take on the role of support crew for you. It was great meeting her!