If you ever want to know who your real friends are, tell them you are running One Hundred Miles. The ones that do not roll their eyes are a good start. Then ask them to be your pit crew.
One day, after I had hip surgery, I accidentally ran up some stairs and declared myself Fit for Anything. Within minutes, I had decided to, registered for, and bragged about running the Leadville 100 – a legendary century at high elevations in the Colorado Rockies. Because if I can make it up the back steps without breaking myself, then 100 miles ought to be fine, too. I’ll just need more pancakes. And a pit crew.
The optimal crew is designed to be emotionally responsive to the spectrum of crazy that one travels during a 30-hour run. One end says things like, “I can run forever.” The other end barks, “I can’t believe you jerks let me do this.” The latter appears around mile 60. From mile 70, I’m expecting only a sobbing, hungry, hobbling mess. Which is why my future husband may be banned from the course for a bit. He’d just direct me straight toward a bathtub and a massage. He has finish-line duty (or postfailure emotional support duty).
There’s a clear pattern in the friends that have volunteered for the epic task of seeing me through this. There are those who are so excited and supportive, they are often found out on Saturdays slogging out awful miles with me in the snow-rain-slush-ice that is this winter’s personality. There are those who confirm and celebrate my crazy on a weekly basis, who drop off vitamins or anti-inflammatory witch sauce or cookies. There are those who massage out the knots and pains and remind me that bodies are resilient. There are those who tell me to slow down, rest, recover.
All of them are as committed to me and my success as I am committed to not dying at mile 80, even if I want to. Because dead people are at least not running anymore. It is precisely these humans who will show up in Colorado and sleep-deprive themselves for a weekend so they can shuffle me through aid stations. In a mad dash, they will check in with my health, refill my food, remind me to eat more salt, pull layers off my body and throw dry layers back on, cheer, and smack my rear end as they rush me right back out on the trail with words of encouragement. They won’t even give me a chance to ask for a nap.
Each of them brings something else to the crew, some unique but key element to surviving this ridiculous idea of an adventure. The unfailing optimist who has to be held back from trying to run along the whole time and thinks your crazy is fun. The empathetic long-distance runner who knows the depths of suffering and kindly reminds you that it will pass.
There is the medical crew that checks in on non-negotiable physiological elements (Hint: It is whichever friend always asks you if you’re sleeping or drinking enough). The mother hen who always shows up with food. And of course, the human who picks up the broken pieces of you and says something obscenely unbelievable when you are dripping snot down your dust-covered thigh because you are crying while running. “You look beautiful,” they yell as you limp by. Marry that one.
These are friends for life. They do the same thing every time I fail at parenting, curl up in a ball of trauma-train submission and tears, break myself, break up, fall in love, have success, fail. They ask what I need, they remind me that I can do this, and then many of them put on their running shoes and fall in step right next to me. They know I’m in my own race, but they also know I couldn’t do it without them.
Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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