With school starting, I've been really busy and a little behind on catching up. Recently, there were two interesting events that occurred.
Without getting into too much detail, last Saturday I found myself waking up at a crisp 4 am at a motel in Punxsutawney, PA getting ready to run crew for what turned out to be several runners in the Baker Trail UltraChallenge, a three-part series of 50-mile ultramarathons held on the Baker Trail in central Pennsylvania (each year one of the 3 parts is run). It was an exciting, albeit long day.
When you run crew, you sit at the aid stations, or some point on the trail, and scan the horizon patiently, waiting ... and waiting ... and then there's a flurry of activity when the runner comes in. "Did you want something to eat?" "Need fresh socks?" "Want some Endurolytes?" "How's your body feeling?" Then, with map in hand, you hop in your car and it's a quick dash to a point 4-5 miles down the trail -- and you repeat the process over and over again, as long as is necessary until your runner gets to the finish line. Biding your time, reading a bit, strumming the guitar, chatting with the aid station volunteers about where they're from and how they ended up doing the same thing you're doing, sipping that now ice-cold coffee you picked up at Sheetz hours ago. And you worry too because you so desperately want to see all your friends succeed, to finish, really.
One of the things I like the most about going to running races is that you meet so many kind, motivated people. That turned out to be the case here as well and without further ado here are some notables. I bumped into Eric Ripper, on and off, for the first several aid stations but he's an ultra veteran so he hardly needed anything but words of encouragement from me. He finished the race in fine shape. Steve Wendell, a really nice guy, finished the race and it turns out this gave him the trifecta; that is, he has successfully completed all three ultras in the challenge. As with Eric, Steve looked good the entire race, commenting only that he was concentrating on taking care of his body when I saw him at the aid stations. I had the privilege of cheering for Tom Parenti and his partner. Then there was the case of Lou Rocco. Lou is a personal trainer, has completed an Ironman, and was looking for a new conquest, so he signed up to do this ultra. In the early part of the race, he was battling a knee problem (a topic all too familiar to me!). Nevertheless, he "manned up" and fought his way to the finish line -- impressive! He had really good crew support with his wife, his friend Stephanie, and his other friend, the affable Aimee Jim, who I had the pleasure of chatting with at many aid stations.
However, I saved the best for last. I predominantly ran crew for my friend Dannielle Ripper, Eric's wife. I could write a tome here about this but I'm not going to because Dannielle has done me the favor of recounting her experience in a local running club's newsletter. Running an ultramarathon can sometimes take you on this emotional roller coaster, particularly if you are a spirited, passionate individual. I know I have yo-yoed between joy and pain, unbridled ecstasy and crushing defeat, laughter and tears. There have been times where I have really felt not much at all. There have been times where "The Dragon" has come into my mind somewhere around mile 42 to wreak havoc on my psyche and to magnify every insecurity I have about myself and my running, trying as hard as it can to get me to stop. And all I can do, hunkered down in the deep, dark cave of my desperate mind, is stare upwards at The Dragon with my pocket knife willing myself to battle. I have felt anger at myself, clapping spectators, old college professors, and ex-girlfriends. There are also times where a switch is thrown and I feel utterly invincible and that absolutely nothing can stop me ... nothing. I could be entirely wrong, but if I had to fathom a guess, and given our similar dispositions, I'd say Dannielle fought The Dragon this race, and I am very proud to say Dannielle finished and "won" ...
Last Sunday, on a hot, beautiful evening in Pittsburgh down at Washington's Landing, at about 6 pm, for the first time since the Capon 50K (May 8), I broke out into a full run and ran my first mile in about 3.5 months, 2.5 months since the ACL reconstruction. Over the past few weeks, there have been moments where I wondered what it would be like, and what I would feel. Would there be tears of joy? Would I crumple to the ground in pain? Well, I'm here to say there was no drama. There were no trumpets playing. There was no pain nor swelling in the knee. Conrad Quesen, a hell of a guy who is training for the Tussey Mountainback Ultramarathon, trotted alongside me, engaging me in pleasant, diversionary conversation. Behind us were Conrad's wife, Sarah, and their 11-year-old son, Anthony. Sarah ... the friend who did my grocery shopping and checked my mail at the post office when I could barely make it up my apartment stairs ... the friend who texted me every night to make sure I was alright ... the friend who ate dinner with me to keep me company ... the friend who led while others disappeared. All was right with the world on my one-mile run ... my goosebumps and a smile from ear to ear ... the sun going down past the river ... the feel and the crunch of gravel underneath my feet ... Conrad and me, Sarah and me, Anthony and me.