In the lead up to running Elkhorn Crest, I was asked by a friend to be part of his crew for the Vermont 100 this past weekend. It was great to focus obsess over something that wasn’t my own race for a bit, while also giving back to my little running community that I’ve come to love dearly. I’ve written an Aid Station-by-Aid Station recap of our sleep-deprived experience of crewing Brian to a 23:44:59 finish on a 100 degree day. Enjoy!
Start: Carly and I awake to a 2:50AM alarm at the Ascutney campground, having only gotten a few hours of sleep. We put real pants on, grab our blankets, and stumble to the car to head to Silver Hill. We had arranged a meeting spot with Brian the previous day at the mandatory pre-race meeting, and we weave through the gathering crowd to make our way to the back corner. The anxious vibe inside the tent is palpable. The weather advisory says “excessive heat warning”, and we all know we are in for a very hard day. At 3:30AM it’s around 76 degrees, but with high humidity already.
Brian shows up 15 minutes late to meet us with heaps of bouncy, nervous energy, excitement, and sweating already?
We take some photos, watch the 360 runners for the 100M start, then head to Brian’s tent with our blankets in hopes of catching another hour or so of sleep. The people next door are breaking camp so loudly, making all the tarp-crinkling noises imaginable. Our second alarm goes off and the sun is mostly up as we pull our shoes back on and head to the car. The game is on and we pull out the MapQuest-style printed directions (goodbye, Cell Service!) and head to the first Aid Station.
Pretty House: We scarf down an Everything bagel, plain, and start chugging cold brew. As we walk down to the AS, we realize why it’s called “Pretty House”. The house is situated on top of a hill overlooking neighboring mountains and green, open fields. The Green State is aptly named.
We set up Brian’s nutrition options and some miscellaneous gear on a towel having no clue what we are doing. Next to us is a pair of middle-aged women who have definitely been to the rodeo before. They have a wheeled cart with plastic stackable drawers organized by category. We are total rookies with our plastic bags and towel. Brian comes in somewhere in the top ten looking great, spirits high. We panic, but he’s feeling good and doesn’t really need much other than more gels and bottles topped off. He’s off within a minute or two, as we realize we need to tighten up our act. Gathering everything up in the towel, we head to the nearest general store to grab ice before heading over to AS2.
Stage Road: Parking here was…interesting. We got yelled at to move our car closer to the one next to us. So much closer that poor Carly could barely get out of the car. We shrug it off, and gather our supplies for mile 21. By some great fortune, we set up next to String Bean’s crew and take copious mental notes as he comes in and we see the efficiency and grace of well-rehearsed crewing. We try to pull it off when Brian comes in but he’s suffering in the heat. The section he just ran was exposed and the heat is really starting to ratchet up a few notches. He’s feeling it, but doing what we ask. We start soaking t-shirts, buffs, and a towel in the cooler to have a fresh cold set ready for him to try to keep his body temperature down. He eats some peanut butter and chugs straight from a gallon of water which we subsequently label “BB” so no one else takes water from the PB backwash. I hand him two soft bottles, one with water and one with Tailwind (This one is water, this one is Tailwind. BB: grabs both, puts them in his belt “I’ll be surprised”) and he heads out to tackle the river crossing. Once he’s off again we head to the campsite to pick up Jon and Rachel who will be pacing Brian for the last 30 miles.
Ascutney: We roll in and need a refill on every gallon jug we can find. Ben feeds us breakfast wraps with campfire scrambled eggs, homefries, and roasted veggies which were amazing. We repack the car so we can fit Rachel and Jon in there, and head to the Start/Finish to grab the pacer bib. Rachel slams her reservoir mouthpiece in the car door and it shatters, leaking water everywhere. She is insistent it will be fine, but time will tell.
Camp 10 Bear #1: We lend chairs out left and right to crews who didn’t think them necessary at mile 50 in 100 degree heat and 80% humidity. Brian rolls in to the announcer shouting his name and his recent accomplishments at TARC and BURCS races. He’s flashing that grin and soaking it all up.
Spirits are back up, he’s looking good and still eating and drinking what we give him. He’s glad to see Rachel and Jon too. He refuses to change his shoes or socks despite the silty river crossing. An Aid Station volunteer hands him a freezey pop (what flavor do you want? Brian: Dude, IDGAF), we shove ice in his hat, neck bandana, and arm sleeves, and then he’s off to tackle the hardest section of the day.
Margaritaville: Jon stays behind to take photos. Rachel, Carly and I stop in at a general store to grab some food and more ice (always more ice). We meet up with Mo’s crew (two spoons, one pint) who are now our friends. She’s currently in second and looking great. We get out the Margaritaville and scarf down PB&J’s on a(nother) bagel and crack open our first ciders for the day.
We get yelled at three times by Aid Station volunteers about being in the road (where are we supposed to walk?) before setting up shop next to all the black flies and mosquitos. Top 3 women come in looking STRONG AF. At this point (mile 60), their race is starting to turn up. We give Mo’s crew some anti-chafe ointment because she is nearly drawing blood.
Brian comes in looking ROUGH and slightly frustrated. He needs food. He eats an entire cheeseburger, some more watermelon, and despite his facial protestations he eats half of a banana (his legs were cramping) and some pickles. He also downs a glass of coke and is starting to be over Tailwind. There’s some chafe happening on his sides and he asks to be lubed, but all he has is the one nut butter he’s been dipping into and I have to just take a deep breath and dive in to try to keep him comfortable. He’s got another tough section, and he’s feeling lonely at this point – he repeatedly asks when/where he will see us next. All of Trail Tribe will be back at Camp 10 Bear #2 to greet him, so he needs to sack up and get this next section done. As he heads out, our collective heart breaks. We trudge back to the car and Carly has misplaced the car keys. I laugh and she melts. Rachel is unsure what to do or say to us. The keys were on the hood the whole time so off we go LOLLLLLL.
Camp 10 Bear #2: Rachel unearths a giant bag of jolly rancher candy and we get sugar high in the car. I joke about having to open my candy with one hand and my mouth because I now have a Ball Hand courtesy of the double-dipped nut butter. Carly and I are losing it slightly, our brains turning into scrambled eggs. We arrive and get set up while reuniting with TT. Thank goodness for them. We drink another beer, worried about Brian but trying not to let on. We are there as the Aid Station is shut down for those coming in the first time, the cutoff is at 6PM. We relocate due to the closure and rerouting of runners, and wait as he falls further back. TT goes bananas when we see him rolling in, and he looks so so happy to see everyone.
The crew team takes a Taco Party photo, and he cracks up when he realizes what we’ve done. We cool him down for the last time during the race and get him some salted watermelon (he licks the salt off like a madman before eating) and grilled cheese. He picks up Rachel for the next 18 miles and we all breathe a sigh of relief that he now has a pacer.
Spirit of ’76: Carly, Jon and I head out the top of another heinous hill. Runners coming in from both 100K and 100M look like shells of their former selves here. People are puking, and are looking through their crews like they are ghosts. The guys next to us forgot a chair for their runner, so we offer one of ours. Jon has stomach issues and tries to solve it by eating more crap while Carly flirts with the Aid Station volunteers at the grill and comes back with a cheese quesadilla. Brian comes in and wants ginger ale and food, but none of the stuff he brought. He’s done with Tailwind, but I give him a caffeinated one anyways. Rachel needs to top off her reservoir with ice and water, but we didn’t bring the “clean ice” cooler down from the car, so I offer her some from The Other Cooler. I drop a few cubes in and then we all realize that she shouldn’t be drinking anything from The Other Cooler used primarily to soak Brian’s sweaty shirts and buffs. She screams, gags, and runs the Aid Station to dump it all out and start over. Brian takes a brownie and his headlamp and heads back out with Rachel.
Ascutney Take 2: We fly back to Ascutney to get some more water and food. Ben, Karina and Tracy are all up by the embers (there were no flames so I won’t say fire). We ask for food, and Ben leaps out of his chair into action. We do NOT want bagels, so he starts cutting up cucumber and tomato for hummus wraps. It’s the best thing I’ve eaten all day. I try to find a headlamp, and my camp chair is broken. I pout briefly. We get back in the car and head to Bill’s.
Bill’s: We wait here for what feels like an eternity. He’s getting passed now by lots of folks in the 100M who played it conservatively for the first 70 miles and are now turning it on. Runners only look one of two ways as they come in: either strong or hobbling. Chafing has been a huge issue for folks at this race, and people are resorting to outrageous means to try to manage it (removing their underwear, which would actually make things worse, turns out). Phrases like “power puking” and “thighceps” get dropped, and we are having fun people watching until Brian and Rachel walk it in and he’s in the darkest spot of the day. He knows from all the people passing him his race is over, he just needs to keep moving and get in under 24 hours. He throws a temper tantrum when we don’t have cold brew coffee (we wouldn’t have given him any even if we had had it), and throws all the food and bottles on the ground (insert Lonely Island song here) except the one piece of grilled cheese he ate and asks me to take the crust. And his orange rinds. OK. He’s still chafing, so I grab the Body Glide that has magically appeared on the towel and lube him up. Jon whimpers that that was his as he realizes he’s not getting it back (don’t leave personal items on the team towel). Jon and Brian limp out of Bill’s and we try to pack up our stuff and our emotions as we head to the last Aid Station.
Polly’s: The annoying crew that has been beside us all day asks to follow us to the next Aid Station. We tell them we are certain to get lost on the way there, but they say whatever and follow us anyways. We do get lost, twice. We pass one aid station (not Polly’s) and Carly rolls down her window and slows to nearly a stop to maybe ask for directions but as she goes to speak, rolls her window back up (Nevermind) and we continue driving and find ourselves back at Silver Hill. We reorient and discover the directional mishap (Hi, I have fried eggs for brains) and eventually find Polly’s. We arrive and are told the 6 parking spots are taken (no shit) and we will have to park 1/4 mile down the Road to Hell and walk up. Cool. We park at a horse arena that looks to be straight out of a Stephen King novel and power walk up to the Aid Station to avoid any hiding axe murderers who may be lurking. The three of us share some ramen noodles and waffles, and Rachel and I try to nap in the camp chairs as Carly paces back and forth for an hour. We think one girl is a horse because #nighthallucinations. All three of us said separately “That can’t be them, they’re running. Brian’s legs don’t work.” but Jon and Brian RUN IT IN and we are so shocked to see them we don’t have much prepared. Good thing Brian has no intention of stopping. We try to tell him his headlamp is blinking and needs a new battery, but he yells back “I don’t need it” and is gone before we know it. STILL RUNNING. We hightail it out of there to get back to the finish in time.
Finish: We pull in and find Mae. Phoebe is in the medical tent sitting on a cot. We rally the troops and head to the finish line. Brian sprints it in so fast I can’t even get a photo, his headlamp flying off of his head.
Brian officially finishes in 23:44:59 and we lose our collective shit. Success! Jon is winded, which means they actually ran hard the last 3.2 miles from Polly’s. Just wow. We become human crutches and get Brian to the medical tent to try to get some food in him and also put on dry clothes. His feet are surprisingly not trashed despite never changing out his socks or shoes. Calf sleeves are hilarious to try to put on someone else, especially when that person is soaked. We eventually load everybody up and head back to Ascutney State Park.
Ascutney, one last time: We walk Brian backwards down the hill to his tent (his quads are hilariously shot) and let him fall face first onto his mattress. (Please change into dry shorts) We get him a gatorade, a liter of water, and hope to he doesnt pee in his bed or tent.
Crewing Brian for this race was an incredible experience and so much fun spending the day with my tribe. Especially since this feels like the beginning of many an ultramarathon weekend where we come out in droves to support and cheer, giving back to the community that builds us up.