Two weekends ago I got to experience a race from the other side as I cheered on my mom, my sister, and my brother-in-law at the Grayson Highlands Half Marathon and 50k. To give the short version, since you know I won’t afford you such luxury for the rest of this post: THEY ROCKED IT. My mom and Tiffany wanted to finish the half within 4 hours and they ended up running it in 2:57. Jeremy, having never run more than 14 miles before race day, finished the 50k in the top 20% of finishers with a great time of 5:22. Things were tough but they had a smile on their face each and every time I saw them and I could not be more proud of their positive attitudes and accomplishments.
My family has always been somewhat active and outdoorsy but they have never liked running for the sake of running. My mom ran in her teens but has consistently said that running hurts too much since having kids. Tiffany and Jeremy have done a few small races but it always came back to a question of “Why would anybody do that for fun?!” Last year at this time they started training to pace me for the Pinhoti 100. I was a little worried about how it was going to be to run with my (then) non-trail-runner family but they were committed to it and eventually got to the point where running wasn’t so horrible anymore. Once during training, Tiffany and Jeremy ran through the woods shouting, “Trail running is so much fun!”
After pacing me for 10 miles at Pinhoti, Jeremy asked my mom if we would all crew him like that for his first 50k and that’s when I knew he was hooked. As for my mom, she tends to round numbers in hilarious and extreme ways so after working her way up to 4 miles she resolved that she would have to run a marathon. And then Tiffany, who also paced me for 10 miles, decided that if Mom could run a marathon then so could she. Tiffany was the one who found this race and decided that she would spend her birthday weekend running through the mountains with the wild ponies of Grayson Highlands.
To celebrate properly, my parents rented an adorable little house an hour from the park in which we cozily fit seven adults, four children and one dog. The morning of the race we headed to the park in three vehicles: the runner car (Tiff, Jer, Mom), the crew car (me, my brother, and my two kids) and the cheer car (my Dad, younger sis, her two kids and the dog). The runner car left early enough but due to some nonsensical GPS directions and limited cell service, Jeremy got there with barely enough time to grab his bib number and run to the race start. I took a wrong turn but pulled up just in time, promptly ditched my brother Daniel with my sleeping kids and ran to see Jeremy out the chute. And then just like that, the 50k had started! As the runners shrank into the distance, I tried my best to take it all in. I was excited, worried, and proud all at the same time. My family used to hate running, now Jeremy was out running his first ultra and Tiffany and my Mom would soon be lining up for their own trail race!
With one hour before the half marathon start, they got to fully experience the pre-race jitters as they got checked in and then debated layer options for the cooler-than-expected mountain mist. Ten minutes left until go time, Mom and Tiffany headed to the race start and decided to hit the bathrooms one last time. The line didn’t seem that long but they were still in line when the race director gave the two minute warning and they had to decide whether they should wait it out or go without. Mom and Tiff reluctantly gave up and quickly joined the swath of runners at the start as they hurriedly adjusted their running packs. We exchanged last minute well wishes and then they were off! Again I felt the wash of excitement, pride and worry all over again.
As the designated crew, my brother Daniel and I sat in the car going through race instructions, looking at the park map and piecing together what we knew about the course to calculate when and where we needed to be to see our runners next. We were allowed to provide aid at Massie’s Gap but with no course map we had no clue what mile that was in the race. We read that we could also walk, but not drive, a mile down a park road to the camp store. We stopped at Massie’s Gap to gather some intel and I interrogated the volunteer manning the gate to see what he knew. With new-found information, we guessed that our runners should be through soon. My kids had just woken up and were a little groggy so my brother and I each held a child as we waited. A passing runner complimented Daniel on being a good dad. Ugggh. This mortifying inference happens often enough that whenever we are within three feet of each other, I use the word “bro” with the frequency of a frat guy. I don’t really remember what I said in response but I can guarantee it was something awkward.
Soon enough we could see our runners coming up the hill and they looked great! It was still early in the race but at least things were going smoothly. Next they would go through the gate of Massie’s gap and see the wild ponies! We had to get down the mile road to the aid station so I grabbed all the things our runners might need and we headed out. With two kids in tow, things were not happening in our timeline. “Mommy, I’m hungry.” Thought of that Linden, here ya go. “Mommy, I’m thirsty.” Brought you a water Liam, have a drink. “Mommy, I have to poooop.” You can hold it, Linden, I believe in you. He told me that he couldn’t hold it but the cold pit toilet was scary enough to change my poor kid’s mind. Still, we weren’t going to make it down to the aid station in time at this rate so I sent Daniel ahead while I did my best to urge my children to walk faster. Both kids were cold and and wanted to be held so all I could do was take turns holding each kid as we slowly shuffled down the road. At some point the trail came into view and we got lucky enough to see my Mom and Tiffany, though from a distance. I cheered them on and my Mom jokingly yelled, “Stalker!” They still had a sense of humor so things were going well. They turned back into the woods and I knew at this pace they were going to beat us there. Thankfully, the park manager took pity on us as he drove by on patrol and asked if we needed a ride! YES PLEASE. Daniel was still running down the road as my kids and I drove past in our gracious taxi.
At the aid station I found out that we had missed Jeremy who had come through twenty minutes earlier than expected! He ran 15-17 miles in 2.5 hours which averages out to a ridiculously fast trail pace no matter how you look at it, especially when you consider that the first major hill climbed over 1,100 feet and he ran up it. I was impressed that he was doing so well but I felt horrible that we had missed him. To make matters worse, I found out later that the vehicle carrying the supplies for the mile 10 aid station couldn’t make it up the mountain so this was his first actual aid station. He didn’t have any water until he decided to fill up his collapsible bottle in a stream around mile 12, then still had to wait 30 minutes for his water purifying tablet to kick in (I think he took a few sips out of desperation anyway). The fact that he did so well despite the circumstances only shows that he was made for this kind of thing!
Within just a few minutes we saw mom and Tiff heading down the hill, still looking g
reat! They didn’t need anything from us so we were really there just to cheer them on. Linden gave his “G” a hug and told her that he really loved her a lot. I have to say that he’s a pretty great crew kid. They took off with only had 5 miles to go! The volunteers at the aid station told us that there was plenty of parking for us to bring the car down if we wanted. I told my kids that I would run and get the car if they stayed with “unkie” but they vetoed the idea because they know that I never go for a “quick run”. Daniel probably ended up running a 5k just crewing for our runners, this crewing business is no joke!
We knew Mom and Tiffany would be close, because by the time we met up with the cheering crew at the finish line we were already recognizing runners from the last aid station. Mine and Hannah’s kids unfortunately did not have the patience for the continuous anticipation at the finish line. After so many times of us asking, “Is that them?”
the kids decided to go play on a nearby rock. Then suddenly, “That’s them!!! Everybody cheer!!” WooOO-HOOOO! Somehow at that exact moment, the first place 50k runner sprinted through and everybody cheered, it was pretty perfect.
It was such an exciting moment and we were all grinning ear to ear. Well, everybody except my nephew Caleb who was less than happy that their finish wasn’t all about him (see pic below).
I wanted to stay and listen to their tales of valor but I also wanted to see Jeremy at least once on the course so I grabbed Liam and drove down to the aid station at mile 25. Somehow he hadn’t been through yet. Sweet, momentary relief! I set out a few things I thought he might want and chatted with the aid station volunteers and a fellow spectator. And then the worry set in. Why isn’t he here yet? I hope nothing is wrong. Surely he should be here by now. Luckily I only had a short time to uselessly worry before he arrived looking fresh as a daisy. I was so proud and so happy for him that I couldn’t contain the cheering, “WOOOOT-WOOOOT!” I quickly caught up with how he was doing as he downed the nasty chia water he requested and got the things he needed. Basically, lots of things went wrong and he just kept running. As I bragged to the volunteers that this was his first ultra and that he had never run more than 14 miles, one of the guys he had befriended on the trail came in and said with a tired smile, “Yeah, I hate him.” He nodded to Jeremy and said something along the lines of, “Let’s finish this thing, yeah?” And off they went!
I quickly packed up our things and headed to the finish line, where I finally got to hear Mom and Tiffany talk about how their race went! It wasn’t long before we saw Jeremy pass by which meant that he had only 1.5 miles left to go. We quickly regrouped the family and eagerly awaited his finish. He was coming in so fast we, we didn’t need to ask, “Is that him?” Jeremy rounded the corner in a full sprint and announced his final leg with a primal victory roar, “AAAARRRGHHHHHH!!!!” He shared sweaty hugs all around and and then promptly collapsed to the ground with one final shout of triumph and exhaustion. It was a fitting end to an epic journey.
What an interesting perspective it was to see many of the same runners in little snapshots of the journey – the excited early miles, the tired middle miles, and finally the triumphant finish. Crewing my family was surprisingly challenging, rewarding, and SO MUCH FUN. Trying to find out where to be and calculating when to be there turned out to pretty difficult, especially with two kids in tow as my family does for me all the time. I completely missed Jeremy when he needed it most and when I finally met up with him at mile 25, he had to dig through his bag to find what he needed. Even though I did a pretty horrible job, crewing my family turned out to be very rewarding. To be so wholeheartedly invested in the goals of another person, let alone three people, and to see them succeed is a wonderful experience. I was beaming with pride the entire day and have been bragging on them ever since.
I can’t wait to see what’s next in store for Jeremy. I mean, he even joked about the possibility of a future hundred miler which no one in their right mind does after their first 50k. As for my Mom and Tiffany, I can’t wait to report back on their first marathon coming up on May 21! I almost wish I was crewing them again but can’t wait to actually run a marathon with them, checking off Missouri for my 15th state at the Berryman Trail Marathon. Look for my next family brag post in the near future!