Wednesday, July 15, 2009

crossing the finish line for someone else in 31 hrs 12 min

This all started when I applied for "the toughest foot race on earth" Bad Water Ultra marathon.
Thousands of people apply each year and with only 80 people being accepted, I unfortunately did not get in. I could of cried all year but that would of not get me anywhere.  So when Mary Betts said let's get on the internet and offer our crew services to racers that have been accepted, it was a great opportunity to be part of the race and make someone else's dream of finishing this race come true.

Mary, Barb Sweeney and myself were able to confirm support for Sharon Gayter, a running machine from the UK.  What a funny feeling to get to the race and have never met who we were going to support. Can't imagine how she felt! The first meeting went well, she showed us what she wanted and we took it over from there. Her husband was going to support as well so he would be the one telling us how she felt since we had no idea of her moods and  what she needed when she was tired.

The night before the race I couldn't believe I was actually here! People on the internet and people that have done the race talked about the heat but it is not until you are in it that you realize how hot it is. Here's a few things that happen that made me realize I was in 116 temperature in the middle of nowhere!

- I was sweating doing nothing
- the pack of gum in my bag was melting
- I was talking to one of the racer and someone just passed out on the ground from heat exhaustion and it was like it was the regular thing that had been happening all day.
- I couldn't walk bare-feet on the road or in the sand...
- the cheese melted (twice) because we didn't learn the first time
just to name a few.

the way the race works: it is 135 miles run, all on road from death Valley California all the way to Mtn Whitney. It starts at 280 below see level and climbs up to 8360 feet above sea level.

Each racer has a support crew of max 6 people and has to cross the finish line within the 60 hour time limit.

Our job, to make sure she stayed cool, hydrated, awake and motivated to push through the pain to complete this race.

We agreed that every mile and 1/2 we would set up our 2 cars by the side of the road as a little station. Each time she came in we made sure

- we exchanged her drink
- gave her little bit of food is she needed it
- put ice in her hat
- gave her wet sponges
- sprayed her for about 1 minute to make sure all of her pieces of clothing were wet.
- made sure she kept moving and tried to make her smile a little.

We repeated this routine 89 more times in the 31 hours it took her to do the race. We wanted her to keep moving when she saw us since it can get pretty comfortable to be around your support. Like you can see from the first picture, we all had a job to do. It worked out really good and she was able to communicate really well what she wanted. Once she was through, it was back in the car and drive 1.5 miles.

A 135miles run is not the hardest thing to do but it is the fact that racers are out there in extreme heat condition. No shade, windy, hot then it gets hotter, blisters that can cover the entire bottom of your foot.

As you can see here by her face expression, it is getting harder and harder to take her shoes off because of the blister that is covering the bottom of her foot. 

Each year, some crew members end up in the hospital because they forget to take care of themselves. We had to make sure we didn't!! Mary injured herself in a bad fall 2 days before but we took care of it when we had a few seconds.

A fun part of the race was to adopt racers that were going by. You see the same racers over and over again and it becomes fun for them and something they can look forward to.

So here we were, at the bottom of the last climb to mtn Whitney. A few hours to go and it was all over! we were able to walk down a little bit and be beside her as she crossed the finish line. 31 hours and 12 minutes. She finished 4 th female, 14th overall and is now the fastest UK person to ever finish Bad Water. The finish line was the best! No big crowds, just the race director, his staff, the support crew and a few others that just happened to be there. It was not for fame that this racers put their bodies through such pain, it was for their own victory. 

After talking to some of the racers, they said it was not the most beautiful run they've ever done and by far not the most fun but it was the hardest. The course is there to punish you. It is something they needed to cross off their list. One of them said "It is a race that starts below the sea, goes to hell and slowly makes you go to heaven as you cross the finish line, I will never do this again but ask me again tomorrow, you never know!" 

This was an amazing experience that I found very hard to explain since we did the same thing over and over again for 31 hours. There was just a crazy vibe on the course. It is one of those things that you can say " you had to be there to understand" 

At the end of the day, it is not always about ourselves crossing the finish line. It feels just as good to be a part of someone's success of crossing that finish line. I truly hope everyone gets to experience being support for someone in a race one day. It is a great way to be part of a race when you are, for some reason, not able to be the racer. Thank you for a great opportunity Sharon. I learned a lot and hope to see you again one day! You have inspired me in many different ways.

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