My Story, But Not My Race

10.22.2018 | 3:03 pm

A couple weeks ago, The Hammer and Melisa did a local endurance run/race together: The Corner Canyon Ultra Trail Run.

They did the 50K together, and had an awesome time. Although there was a photobomber who managed to get into the frame of one of the official photos:

Lame.

Anyway, even after doing this incredibly tough run, they were both happy and strong and feeling great.

This post is not about that race. Because what would I even say beyond what I just said?

This post is about another run, one which I also witnessed only as a spectator.

But for this race, wow. I’ve got a story. And some photos.

And I’m pretty sure you’re going to cry at the end of it.

The Setup

Immediately after the 2017 Leadville 100 (like, while we were still in the finish line area), Melisa told us she wanted to race the Leadwoman in 2018. We weren’t really surprised; it had been on The Hammer’s bucket list for a long time, too.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Leadwoman / Leadman, it’s not a single race. It’s a series of races. You have to complete the Leadville Trail Marathon (in June), the Silver Rush run and/or mountain bike race (July), the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race (2nd Saturday of August), the Leadville 10K (day after the Leadville 100 MTB), and the Leadville Trail 100 run (1 week after the LT100 MTB race).

And through the summer, Melisa had done all of them, right up to the Leadville Trail 100 run. In fact, on the starting line of the Leadville 100 trail run, she was the second-place woman in the series and set up to be the youngest woman to ever complete the Leadwoman.

The Hammer and I came up to Leadville (even though we had just left it a few days earlier) to crew for her and cheer her on.

Melisa had started strong, building up a nice buffer in the first forty miles of the race, going into the Twin Lakes aid station. She was happy and excited for the next twenty miles, which played to her strengths: speed-hiking and climbing.

After she left the aid station, we went back to town, went on a fun mountain bike ride together, got a pizza, and everyone else went back to Twin Lakes while I went back to the hotel room to do some work stuff I was behind on, and to text updates to everyone of Melisa’s progress according to the inReach Mini she was carrying (you could get and send text messages from the aid station, but that was about as connected as the place got).

At first, things seemed fine. I got lots of Powerpointing done and texted occasional updates to Lisa, Blake, and Jeff (Melisa’s boyfriend).

Then it seemed like her dot slowed down. A lot. And it took a long time for her to get to the turnaround timing mat.

I stopped getting any work done and just sat there at the computer, texting Lisa and constantly refreshing the GPS page (not that this did any good, because the tracker sends a ping only once every ten minutes or so).

But Melisa did it. She came back into the Twin Lakes aid station with about 20 minutes to spare before the time cut would sweep her off the course. It had been a harder segment than she’d expected, which seemed natural. This was the first time she’d done more than fifty miles, so how could she have known what to expect?

She took off with her pacer, determined to finish the final forty miles of this race.

The Hammer came back to our hotel and we went to bed, not bothering to set an alarm; we weren’t slated to be on duty again ’til the final five miles of the race, when Lisa would be pacing her.

And that’s where my story begins.

Wake Up

At three in the morning, more or less on the nose, Lisa suddenly woke up, her mommy spidey-sense on full alert. She looked at her phone. Nothing.

One second later, she got a text. She read it and said, “Wake up.”

“I’m already awake,” I said. “What does the text say?”

“It’s from Blake,” Lisa said. “Melisa wants me to crew for her at the last aid station and pace her for the last 13 miles.”

“I wonder what changed,” I said, but didn’t really wonder. Melisa was suffering and wanted her mom. The single most natural thing in the world, really.

The Hammer was up, putting together a camelbak and running clothes.

“I don’t know what to give her at the aid station,” I said. “We weren’t planning on this.” Frankly, I was dismayed at how unprepared I suddenly felt. I’m used to being crewed for, not for doing the crewing. And I don’t know anything about crewing for runners. And we hadn’t been given any instructions on what Melisa wanted or expected from her crew.

So we threw together everything we had with us, foodwise (a fair amount; Lisa had brought along quite a bit of just-in-case gels and chews and drinks and stuff) and headed out to the Mayqueen aid station, 87 miles into the race.

Yellow Pants

You know how there are certain moments in your life that feel like they’re going to stick in your head forever? I had one of those at Mayqueen. We had to park far away from the aid station itself, due to the long line of cars along the road, where other crews had parked their cars. It was 5:30 in the morning and The Hammer and I were worried we weren’t going to get to the aid station before Melisa did. So we ran, each of us carrying one handle of the plastic bin we had thrown together with food and clothes we’d put together for Melisa.

It was very dark. And cold. And foggy. And there was a tense urgency we were both feeling, up against the scrambled-brain background that too little sleep brings.

We got to the aid station at 5:55am. Lisa checked and found Melisa hadn’t come through yet. So that was a good thing.

Except of course it wasn’t. She only had five minutes ’til the cutoff, which meant she was cutting it very close.

No, wait. We’d gotten our numbers wrong. The cutoff time for this aid station was 6:30am. Melisa still had more than half an hour until the cutoff.

We unpacked what we brought close to the tent, figuring Melisa would want to go in and warm up for a minute, then stood waiting, staring up the road, willing Melisa to come running toward us. Unable to know how close she actually was, since the inReach tracker battery had evidently died during the night.

After a few minutes, I couldn’t bear to just stand there anymore. “I’m going to walk up the road a little,” I told Lisa. “That way when Melisa gets close I can flag her down and guide her over to where you are so she won’t have to pick you out of the crowd.”

I walked toward the start of the aid station lane, peering forward, hoping the next person I’d see would be Melisa. Noticing that every single person standing on both sides of the road was also staring toward the intersection in the road, also willing their runner would be next.

I got to the turn, where the course turned left off the road and into the aid station lane. I looked at my watch. 6:15.

For the next little eternity, there would not be a single minute that would go by without me looking down at my watch. To be more accurate, there would not be a half minute that would go by without me looking down.

6:24. There are now markedly fewer people in the aid station lane than when I got here. No longer a crowd. Just worried crews.

6:25. I’m starting to prepare my “87 miles is incredible” speech. It’s a short speech (in fact, that’s the whole speech), because I know I wouldn’t want to hear a long speech if the circumstances were reversed.

6:26. I’m really going to have to give that speech, aren’t I? I don’t want to give that speech. I’m just not going to say anything. She doesn’t need to hear me say anything.

6:27. A woman in yellow rain pants comes up and tells the few of us staring up the road, “I’m going to start walking toward the timing mat. I’m going to walk very slowly, but your racers have to get across the mat before I do to continue racing.

And she starts walking. Very slowly. Backwards. Stopping sometimes for seconds at a time. I can tell that she doesn’t want to get there before anyone.

6:28. I hear them before I see them, but only by a second or two. There’s Melisa and her pacer. Her pacer is yelling encouragement, is being amazing.

And Melisa is sobbing. Crying out loud. Her arms are swinging like she’s running, her legs are moving like she’s walking on glass.

I join them, stealing frequent looks at my watch. “See the woman in yellow pants? She’s the course marshal. you need to get across the timing mat before she does. Then we’ll take care of you and you can finish this race.”

6:29. We’re catching up to the slow-walking woman in yellow pants, but it is going to be close.

Not the End

With fifty feet to go, Melisa passes the woman in yellow pants. I will remember this moment forever. Melisa has no recollection of this instant.

Melisa crosses the timing mat. I am staring at my watch as she does so. It’s 6:31, technically past the time cutoff. But nobody steps over to tell Melisa she’s done, so we busy ourselves in feeding her, warming her, asking her if she wants different shoes, different socks, anything. And it’s not just Lisa and me doing this; a crowd (OK, two more people) of Melisa’s friends and Melisa’s pacer are joining in.

A few minutes later, Lisa and her daughter head out. They have just under 3.5 hours to run just over thirteen miles. Ordinarily, that would be enough time for Melisa to run twice that distance.

But “ordinarily” is far, far behind her.

And that’s where I’ll pick up in the next (and I expect last) installment of this story.

5 Comments »

  1. Comment by MattC | 10.22.2018 | 9:20 pm

    Oh my GOSH! You’re doing it AGAIN! Love this story, and I’m on the edge of my seat rooting for Melissa, even though whatever happened is already WAY in the history books! You are a cruel man Fatty! The one little guy on my shoulder wants to do some internet search and find the answers….but the other little guy on my shoulder won’t let him! Now I must wait….evil man…evil man…evil man!

  2. Comment by Corrine | 10.22.2018 | 10:50 pm

    I know what happens but this story is still incredible. I can’t imagine how it felt waiting and checking your watch to see if Melissa would make the cut off! Please don’t make us wait a month to hear the rest of the story.

  3. Comment by Tominalbany | 10.23.2018 | 7:44 am

    What Corrine said!

    I’ve missed you, Fatty. I’m glad life has been good and you’re loving your job and PodCasting. That said, I love your stories because they’re a nice, five-minute break from my drudgery! (Maybe I need to get out of the drudgery business?)

  4. Comment by Boston Carlos | 10.23.2018 | 10:16 am

    Melisa is an ANIMAL. love this story.

  5. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 10.23.2018 | 2:34 pm

    #imwithcorrine

    I’ve been wondering since August as well, but unwilling to look for the answer.

    Imagine my surprise to find TWO posts in one week. Now let’s move fotward

 

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