Five Things I Learned From Crewing a 100-Mile Race

Heidi actually flipping did it. She ran and completed the Run Rabbit Run 100 mile race!

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Obviously, I will leave the race description and details to her. I mean, I didn’t run the thing! However, this was my first introduction to the world of ultras, and I have to say that I learned a lot. I knew the ultra/trail scene was different from the world of road running, but this weekend really underscored those differences. And you know what? It was so fun!

1. You Will Make a Ton of Friends

I’ve been to my share of trail races, but this was the first time I’ve hung out at aid stations with the same people for 36 hours! No one knows precisely when their runner will arrive, but we all agree that missing them would be the absolutely worst. So, to combat this, you get to the aid station early and WAIT!

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Dry Lake Aid Station

Naturally, with like-minded people waiting around in the freezing cold at 2am or sleeping in the backs of their cars, conversations are bound to happen. We met Liz, an energetic grad student at the School of Mines who was crewing for her boyfriend, Greg. We only spent an hour with her but we became invested enough to check out his final results: he finished the race in just over 24 hours!

My point is this: the vibe at these races is awesome and the people are wicked friendly. I’m sure the Elite runners have their own brand of competitiveness, but everyone else was simply trying to complete the 100 miles. I dare you to crew one race and NOT walk away with a new friend!

2. Walking > Running

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Waiting for dawn…and Heidi!

Ok, so I wasn’t totally ignorant of this fact but I will admit that it took me a second to adjust. When you’re running 13 or 26 miles, it is feasible to run the entire distance. 50 miles? 100 miles? Not so much! Walking is a critical component to these ultra-long distances and there is absolutely no shame in that game. In fact, the smart runners have a walking system that helps them sustain for the long haul. After all, why run the uphills at a hiking pace and exert five times the energy?

3. Your Crew Is Important

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Will, Sara, and me- Heidi’s crew! Paula is in the back– she finished 70 MILES of the race!!

I understood the notion behind a crew prior to the race, but I didn’t quite realize how critical they could be {and I’m not just trying to talk myself up here!} I could visibly see the relief on Heidi’s face when she showed up at aid stations to find us waiting for her. We’d sit her down, feed her, sunscreen her, warm her up, and give her some much-needed massages. She would come into the aid stations looking exhausted but would always leave refreshed and ready to tackle her next leg. I’m sure the food and gear helped, but I also think it was nice to have some smiling faces to take care of your every need. Running 100 miles is ridiculously hard and those aid stations provided her with 30-minute windows of relative pampering.

I ran with Heidi during a 4-mile segment that took place just after the sunset. In addition to offering much-needed company and chit-chat after 41 miles of solo running, I think it was also helpful to have a nighttime companion. After our leg, I handed her off to Jeremy, a beast-mode ultra runner who paced her for the next 50 miles. He started running with her at 10:15pm and—save for a three-hour break—continued through the night, into the following morning, and finished with her on Saturday evening.

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Heidi and her pacers

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This is how you feel after spending 50 miles with someone…

Why does this anecdote matter? Because I truly think he was crucial to her success! We saw dozens of runners stumble into the Dry Lake Aid Station around 3am, exhausted, cold and absolutely miserable. Many were crying, most wear swearing, and a large portion of them never returned to the course. However, Heidi was under Jeremy’s wing and he managed to keep her going. No one will ever know what they talked about while on the course, but I do know that he even managed to help her accelerate through the second half. In fact, we had banked on her arriving at an aid station between 5:45am and 7:30am. Will and I were snoozing in the car and almost missed her EARLY arrival at 5:30!

4. Mental Grit Reigns Supreme

I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir here and I realize many of you likely read that and said, “Duh.” However, I had no concept of how tough these 100-milers are until I witnessed it for myself. I looked at Heidi’s achilles tendon after the race and was horrified by the size of it; the darn thing was at least four times as big as it usually is! And her ankles? They were so swollen that surplus skin was bulging out in the gap between the tops of her shoes and the bottom of her capris.

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Surveying the damage

Obviously, 100 miles destroys your body in ways that most of us cannot begin to comprehend. However, to overcome that and push through sheer pain takes a special kind of mental fortitude. Heidi told me that she never once wanted to quit, and I think that is a testament to her insane willpower.

5. Um. They Look Fun!

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Having a PT friend work on her at an aide station

Heidi warned me that this would happen and dammit, if she isn’t right! She paced Run Rabbit Run last year which was the single event that led her down the ultra-running rabbit hole. She was adamant that I would feel the same after crewing for her, and to a certain extent, she is right! Will I ever run 100 miles? Hell no! I don’t even think I have a 50 miler in this body. However, she does have me inspired to tackle some longer races, and I’m now considering a 50k.

Is this set in stone? Not yet, but I’m talking with a friend about possibly registering for one this winter. Time will tell, I suppose. Is this what happens when you have friends who pull off insane accomplishments?!

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Are you a runner? If so, what’s the most extreme running challenge you’d consider pulling off?

35 Comments

  • Reply Carla at

    ahh Ive learned in LIFE my CREW is important too.

    • Reply heather at

      Ha touche! 🙂

  • Reply Kara at

    50K is a gateway drug 🙂

    • Reply heather at

      That’s what Heidi says too but I don’t know….50 miles just sounds brutal!

  • Reply Heidi @BananaBuzzbomb at

    So awesome that you were able to be there for Heidi. No doubt it was an experience to behold. I’ve found that each running sport (triathlons, road, trail, ultra) community has it’s own vibe. Each is special in their own but I really love the trail/ultra people. They’re so cool and down to earth and most often they just run….mind you they are amazingly great at it, but they do really enjoy it.

    • Reply heather at

      Agreed. And they are so mellow! I’ve noticed a lot of “fitness” people tend to be more Type A but the ultra crowd seems wicked chilled out….aside from that whole running- 100 miles thing 🙂

  • Reply Hayley@healthyregardshayley at

    I have said that once I start to loose my road speed I will switch to trail ultra’s, I definitely want to do Leadville and hopefully with my mom!

    • Reply heather at

      See, I’m just a snail to begin with so I’ve already got that whole “walking” thing down! 😉 Your mama is going for Leadville? Holy cow!

  • Reply misszippy at

    This was really fun to read. I loved that Jeremy was with her for the final 50 miles, give or take. That had to have been a huge morale booster. And you are a good friend for being there for her!

    I definitely have my sights set on some ultras. I am just waiting to feel 100% confident that my body can handle the mileage buildup.

    • Reply heather at

      Oooh, are there any in particular that you’re looking at? For me, it’s purely a time issue. I’m not willing to give up CrossFit, so I’d have to find a blend in my training, but I’m also not willing to give up my personal life/time with friends and Will. So, I’m looking at some this winter which definitely isn’t ideal for training….but I’m not working so the training wouldn’t interfere with real life! We’ll see 🙂

  • Reply Justin Fricke at

    Great article. You even managed to answer some questions that I had about the race from a runners perspective, like it’s cool to walk.

    I used to hate running, but now I’m totally into the sport/lifestyle. Running a 100 mile ultra’s definitely on my list after my half-marathon and marathon. I had a blast running the 200 mile Hood to Coast Relay in August and I think it’d be epic to do it again, minus the relay aspect, all by myself. I guess we’ll have to see if that ever happens!

    • Reply heather at

      Haha oh yeah! I even saw plenty of runners walk right over the finish line! They put the last 10 feet up a set of stairs…how brutal is that?!

  • Reply Sarah @ Sweet Miles at

    Wow. Very cool!! I would love to help out at a major event like this sometime! LOVE that you mentioned walking > running and that there is NO shame in having to walk! Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply heather at

      Thanks! The walking definitely gave me hope….I’m a pro at power hiking 😉

  • Reply Heidi Nicole at

    “Um, They Look Fun” == mission accomplished!

    Thanks for being out there, you were a huge help — a solid crew truly makes all the difference in the world at a race! Not once was I worried about whether I’d be cared for in an AS, so thanks for that! 🙂

    • Reply heather at

      Glad I could help! SO, when is the next one?! 😉

  • Reply eric eagan at

    I have been on both ends – the giving and the getting from crews – I can say 1. People who crew for someone can make or break them – Kudos on being there and 2. When I crew I am never more motivated to run than right during and after. I want to literally get on the course and go.

    It’s the best community I have ever been around. I am hitting the trails this weekend to aid station and crew at the Virgil Crest Ultras… an amazingly difficult course – You should come out and do the 50k next year – check out some of what NY has to offer to the trail world….

    • Reply heather at

      Just checked out the elevation chart– that’s some serious climbing!

      • Reply eric eagan at

        What??? You mountain people should be able to handle it #eastcoasttrails!!! Not to mention, its mud, roots, rocks, creeks etc…. there is a 650 foot climb in a 1/2 mile out of the mile 84 aid station – – kinda mean.

        • Reply heather at

          I mean, I’m not saying the altitude (or lack thereof) wouldn’t be a huge advantage 🙂 It’s constant up-and-downs though which is tough regardless of where you run! Do you see the elevation chart for the RRR100 that Heidi ran?! BANANAS!

          • eric eagan at

            I would actually love for you guys to come on out – Every mountain runner I have ever met has come out to run in the ADK or Whites or Ithaca gorges goes home banged up, your lungs feel great but the legs wanna fall off- For us coming there its the altitude that destroys us, for those folks coming here – the trails are violent – Heidi was a monster run rabbit is a beast!!!

  • Reply Coco at

    I love learning about the different “feel” of ultras. You are a good friend for being on her crew!

    • Reply heather at

      I already volunteered to do it again– so much fun!

  • Reply Daily News, Thurs, Sep 18 at

    […] Five things she learned from crewing RunRabbitRun. […]

  • Reply Ericka @ The Sweet Life at

    That’s awesome — I’d like to crew for something like this sometime. I’m so in awe of these 100-mile heroes! 🙂

    • Reply heather at

      They were pretty amazing. The mental grit was off the charts!

  • Reply Paige @ Your Trainer Paige at

    Heidi is a BEAST!
    And you’re pretty awesome, too. I’m sure it takes some endurance crewing for such a long period of time, too. I’m utterly impressed by everyone involved.

    • Reply heather at

      Haha you’re sweet 🙂 I definitely got a couple hours of sleep on Friday. Heidi, on the other hand, ran through the entire flipping night!

  • Reply Laura at

    I’m so excited for Heidi and so am totally pumped to read your recap of crewing! I wish I could have been part of the crew this year, but I am really out of running shape and need to train myself before I can in good conscience help someone else.

    However, will add that even reading your recap of crewing makes me kind of want to come be a part of these…. I guess they are contagious!

    • Reply heather at

      I suspect she won’t be done with these ultras 🙂 I bet you’ll have another chance!

  • Reply Jill at

    Ahhh, good for you! I am sure she appreciated you to the core.
    I paced at Leadville 100 this year the last 15 miles of the race. I can tell you with 100% certainty (ok, 99.9) that I will never do a 100. I enjoyed the 50 I did last year but hell no to the 100 – not a fan of destroying my body…and my 50 year old body would be toast. Forever. Ha.

    • Reply heather at

      Hahah I felt the same 🙂 Of course, never say never and all that….but I don’t know, man. 100 miles did NOT look appealing! A 50k sounds like a GREAT challenge for me! Plus, truthfully, I’m just not willing to give up all my other activities in favor of ONLY running.

  • Reply My First 100 Mile Ultra [#RRR100 - Run, Rabbit, Run 100] at

    […] Also, if you’re looking to find out what it was like to crew for me take a look at Heather’s post about the 5 things she learned crewing #RRR100! […]

  • Reply Gear Friday: Gore Running & Nike - Just a Colorado GalJust a Colorado Gal at

    […] of like when I wore them to the Run Rabbit Run 100 miler to pace Heidi on my four mile section. I received some smirks from experienced ultrarunners who questioned my brand of footwear…I […]

  • Reply My First 100 Mile Ultra [Run, Rabbit, Run 100] // Heidi Kumm at

    […] Also, if you’re looking to find out what it was like to crew for me take a look at Heather’s post about the 5 things she learned crewing #RRR100! […]

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