Motley Mountain Crew

It’s not every day that you know with 100% certainly that you’re on the brink of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.  Thanks to my wonderful partner Lloyd, I have such an infrequent opportunity.

Massanutten Mountain Shenandoah Valley

Poster of Massanutten Mountain

We’re in final preparations to travel to Virginia’s gorgeous Shenandoah Valley, where this weekend Lloyd will be one of 180 runners participating in the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile Run.

Lloyd is a smart, tough, talented, and fairly experienced distance runner who has successfully completed one previous 100 mile event. Still, he has the challenge of his running career looming before him like, well, a mountain. He knows it, too. A normally sound sleeper, he has been thrashing and restless most of the week despite being as meticulously prepared as if he is poised to deploy on a solo, unsupported operation.

He isn’t. Not by a long shot.

With barely two years of my own occasional, solely amateur participation on courses and sidelines of a handful of ultramarathons, I don’t pretend to be an expert on this inspiring sport. But I  have observed that many ultrarunners really do, as The Beatles harmonized, get by with a little help from their friends. The people around the runners, from race volunteers to loved ones to the random stranger who helps a disoriented and exhausted runner change her socks at mile 87, often keep participants upright and moving forward — and thereby have the honor of sharing a small part of their achievements.

So Lloyd has two great pacers, friends Courtney and Brandon, who will drive from Ohio to join him on the trail after 6 p.m.  He hopes to be about 60 miles along the course by then.

My job is crew chief. As Lloyd travels from aid station to aid station on the course, I will navigate to his next check-point and nap (I mean, wait earnestly!) until he comes through. When he does I will trade empty for full bottles of liquid fuel, provide food or clothing in exchange for discarded items, and administer limitless encouragement. I will watch out that he doesn’t dawdle and lose time in the aid stations. It’s sort of  like a smaller-scale, more eco-friendly version of a NASCAR pit worker.

MassanuttenMtnThe joke in the ultrarunning community is that “CREW” abbreviates “cranky runner, endless waiting.”  In my fledgling crew career I’ve had the pleasure of assisting cheerful and gracious, although sometimes groggy and pained, runners. While waiting, there’s nothing like a short hike or making a new friend as you trade stories with a fellow crew person. Ultras have small fields of diverse participants, and it is easy to quickly become emotionally attached to the athletes and their quests after seeing them pass just a few check-points. This makes the long hours exciting enough and, when each runner finishes, thrilling.

We’ll be traveling 100 miles around the mountain for the better part of 30 hours beginning at 5 a.m. Saturday. Follow the journey online for live reports, or if I’m among your Facebook friends check my status for as many updates as I’m able to post.


1 Response to “Motley Mountain Crew”

  1. 1 sneakersister May 18, 2009 at 7:01 am

    Andrea, I’ll bet you make an amazing crew chief! You make ultra support sound just as exciting as running the ultra itself.

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