The Beast


We have a guest author this month! Julie Hurlbert is my best friend; as many of our life’s adventures together have started with a “challenge,” the story behind this blog post is no different. As Julie pursues her career in Sustainable Business Practices and I pursue offering more resources via the P3|Running website, we challenged each other to write a blog – hers on a topic relevant to sustainability and mine on, well, running. But a funny thing happened on the way to her sustainability blog… and she ended up writing this! And with the Napa Marathon just around the corner, I thought it a perfect time to share.

I have known my BFF for over 20 years. I was there for her 3rd marathon when she said she would never run a race that long again, and I was there when she said she had just signed up for another marathon. Of course I took that opportunity to remind her of her previous declaration, after all that is what BFF’s are for, right? So from the 4th marathon began a new journey from tech writer to personal trainer to endurance runner and running coach. As her
bestie, I supported loudly from the couch with my wine and charcuterie. Distance between us was not the only distance that grew, she added miles while I added pounds.

Then, in early 2015, I received an email from her announcing the Miwok 100K race in my neck of the woods the first weekend of May. Would I come see her and spend a weekend in a beachfront cabin in Marin, was her question. Does a bear poop in the woods; of course I was there! In fact, I said I would crew for her. I really had no idea what that meant but I thought it seemed like the right thing to say.

Just a few short months later, there we were in Marin stocking up on pre-race essentials, gallons of water, pasta, sauce, bananas, and peanut butter cups (yes, peanut butter cups). This was my 1st lesson in endurance athlete nutrition. They consume a lot of crappy, sugary food and drinks during races. And that was the 1st time endurance running appealed to me, I mean salt is more my thing, but I would not turn down a peanut butter cup, or a chocolate chip cookie, or/and a chocolate milkshake. Maybe she was on to something.

The night before the race was consumed with measuring and portioning all sorts of little powders, gels, gummies, and potions. There was a diagram created to ensure specific items made it into the designated pockets at the start of the race and at every aid station after. And, there were recipes for properly mixing the correct amount of powder to water at every refill. There were worries about socks, shoes, gloves, shells, hats, and bells. Yes, bells, you see the spectators and crews ring cow bells as the runners come into the aid stations. Not sure why cow bells as there is not a runner one with any extra fat, and I saw none chewing their cud, however the next day I did see a few lay down, seemingly content to stop and stay awhile. As I lay my head down that evening, I ran through all my diagrams, pockets, and recipes, suddenly the idea of crewing did not seem so fun.

I was up at 4:30am to drop the runners off at the start and begin my 15 hour chase. I must admit I went back home to sleep a few hours after the drop off, but I was at mile 13 on time and with all the necessary supplies, and again at 26. In fact, I was even able to make it to mile 30 for a robust round of cowbells and cheering. And that is when I saw the beast. She was on fire, smiling, nostrils flaring, sweat dropping, and spit flying. I knew right there is she was in
her element and nothing, not even gummies in a wrong pocket or powder to water ratio incorrect would stop her from finishing. And as I yelled, cheered and called her a beast she picked up her pace and was out of sight.

Nineteen miles and many hours later the beast emerged running down a hill in full flight. I soon learned the pace had more to do with her bladder than her legs, but she looked good doing it. Once again, I busily mixed water to powder, chided her for not drinking enough, demanded she eat more sugary things, and helped her ease back onto the trail with her pacer. And off the beast ran into the forest not to reemerge until long after sunset.     

Dinner came and went for the crew; I finished a book, took a hike, and walked down to the finish. The winner had completed the run hours earlier, but he was 25 and had grown up running these hills, so was it really a challenge for him I asked myself silently. The minutes ticked by and runners appeared in the darkness, 1st as a little bobbing light peeking from the thicket of trees, then disappearing around a bend until finally emerging onto the street and through the race corral. Pacers split left, runners to the right. Many raised their hands in victory; some simply smiled, too tired to offer much more. I anxiously watched the race clock tick by knowing the time the beast had desired to finish. Seconds became minutes, and the goal moved closer and closer. Oh where in the woods was she? Others heard of loved ones stuck, stopping unable to continue, and friends raced up into the trees with headlamps hoping to coax them down to the finish. But somehow, I knew she would not need that support (good thing since my big butt was certainly not capable of finding her), I had seen the beast within, and as suspected, she came barreling out of the forest and down into the corral mere seconds after expected.

And now, with several 50ks, 50 milers, a 100k, and even a 100 miler behind her, we will once again meet as beast and crew. Our practice run (yes, our run, as she has inspired me to find my inner beast and I have taken up running again) will happen at the Napa Marathon on March 6th, 2016. She will run the Marathon and I will test my inner beast with a more modest 5K. I do not have much in way of crew responsibilities at a road marathon except being at the finish to cheer. However, come November, her next 100 miler; I will be there ready to follow diagrams, recipes, and ring a few cowbells and maybe, just maybe, I will be the pacer following the beast back out onto the trail.