The other side of ultramarathoning: volunteering

I haven’t done much personal blogging this year. I haven’t had the heart or inspiration for it.

I greatly appreciate everyone’s support and understanding.

I have been maintaining my professional blog on the website of the journal Endocrine Today. I just haven’t had any inspiration or enthusiasm to write about anything personal. I just felt that there is only so much one can write about sadness, loss and grief that others would want to read.

For months this spring,  I didn’t have it in my heart to accomplish much other than the routine expectations of my job and spending time with my family.

More recently, I had to begin working 15 plus hour days at work. It’s not something I want to do long term. Frankly it sucks.

 Working hard and catching up on all the professional endeavors that until recently I didn’t have as much passion for as I normally would, however,  has become one form of escape for me. Getting up in the morning, going to work, coming home, eating dinner, going right to bed- then repeating it all again the next day- doesn’t give one much time to think or feel sad.

I am finally realizing that despite how sad I have been this past year….  my life will go on… I don’t have any other choice. I finally have been able to experience moments of joy without feeling guilty for feeling them.

I suppose I am healing, even despite still feeling a hole in my heart.

Last year, as I was running Lean Horse, I made a promise to myself: I would volunteer in some way or another at the race in the future, either volunteering at an aid station or crewing or pacing another runner. I promised myself that if I actually ran the entire 100 miles that year, then I would find a way to give back to this sport which has given me so much.

With the loss of Chris last November, I lost my passion and enthusiasm for many things. I just didn’t have it in my heart to commit to training for such an arduous endeavor as running an ultramarathon- not even a 50-k or even a 26.2m.

Now, if Chris were able, he would be kicking my butt right now for not running the way I used to.  He’d want me to get back doing all the things we used to do… and more.

I know because he told me that this is what he would want for us to do if anything ever happened to him. Well, making a promise to a friend when they are alive standing right next to you is easy compared to following through with it after the unimaginable happens.

I needed some time to heal this year. I’m sure he would understand.

Future ultrarunner?

 There is nothing like running 100 miles. Nothing at all.

I cannot explain it to someone who has not yet done it. Even after years of running 50 mile and 100-k races- still that first 100 mile finish was an accomplishment unlike anything else I’d ever done before. For years before I had run 100 miles, Chris had paced, crewed, encouraged and believed in me… yes I really could run 100 miles… even when I began to doubt the possibility of it myself.

I decided that for me too my goal will be helping others find success in achieving their dreams, whether it be running ultramarathons or something else.

Without our dreams, what are we? We are nothing.

I had made that promise of volunteering at ultras to myself in the early morning hours of Lean Horse last year. Now,with Chris gone, I feel an even stronger need to follow through with it.

Giving back can be an important part of the healing process.

Earlier this year, Jeanne and I volunteered at the inagaural Black Hills 100- also know as the “evil step sister” to Lean Horse. Photos from the Black Hills 100 are scattered in this post.

Unlike Lean Horse which is known as being friendly for first time and those seeking a PB- the Black Hills 100 was run on the rocky single track trails of the Centennial Trail in the northern Black Hills. The Centennial Trail is one of my favorite places to run. I might be slow as mud- but gosh I do love those rocks.

We volunteered at the Pilot Knob aid station mile 43/57 with Mark and Lesley Warren and some other folks.

It was an odd feeling at first being on the other side of an aid station table. When running a race, we try to spend the minimal time required at an station necessary. Five minutes here and ten minutes there can add up to an hour or more wasted in an all day-all night 100 mile race. It could be the difference between finishing and missing a cut off.

Almost instinctively, I felt an urgency to fill my water bottles, eat, move on and not waste so much time talking to the aid station volunteers- until I finally settled in as a volunteer and not a runner.

And you know, volunteering was actually kind of fun. We got to enjoy participating in an ultramarathon without the pain and suffering part. I also enjoyed sampling some craft brews (and making the runners jealous for not having any for them).

When the thunder and hail storm hit late that night, I felt very relieved to have not been out in it. I wish Chris had been there. I know he would have enjoyed working that aid station as much we did.

Tomorrow will be the Lean Horse Hundred 2011.  

I cannot believe it has been a year since I finished my own first 100 mile race. One year isn’t that long of a period of time and yet it seems like a lifetime ago. So much has happened. I have many friends running this year. It will be good to see them but extremely sad that Chris will not be among them.

Chris never ran Lean horse- he always said it was “my race.” He wanted me to finish it first before he ran it. I alway told him it is “our” race- not mine nor anyone elses. I am sure that he would have been running Lean Horse this year or next. Now he will not get his chance.

Lean Horse will be a new course this year. I will not be running tomorrow as a runner. I admit that part of me regrets not training this summer so I could have run in it as a runner and joined in all the fun. Oh well, there will be next year and all the years after that.

Instead, Jeanne, Nathan and I will be working the aid station at Pringle on Saturday morning. 

Anyone who is running tomorrow who reads this, please tell us “howdy!”

On Saturday afternoon  I will break away from the aid station and crew for a friend, Alan Rickel. Starting at mile 50 I will begin pacing him to his first 100 mile finish. To be honest, even as slowly as we both are, I am unsure of how well I will be able to keep up with him through the night.

 No matter- as a pacer my total and complete committment will be to get him to the finish line as safely and quickly as possible.

 If Alan is having such a great day that he outruns me,  I’ll just  jump in the car and begin crewing him instead. The race is about the runner and not about the pacer.

The only better thing for an ultrarunner to be able to say than, “I just ran 100 miles,” is to be able to say “I just ran 100 miles… and I also outran my pacer!”

I know Alan has the ability to do 100 miles. I have no doubt of it.  It will give us great joy to share in it when he does.

Take care everyone.  

Run well. Be safe.  Eat and drink- but not too much. 

And don’t give up… no matter what….

Don’t ever give up and keep on moving forward.

I mean this in ultramarathons… and also  in life.

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4 responses

  1. So good to see this post. You have had a tough year, and I know that things are not yet done being difficult and painful. You have, however, done some very positive things that have made huge differences in people’s lives. You are showing yourself through your grief exactly why Chris was proud to call you a friend.

    August 26, 2011 at 2:20 pm

  2. Mike L.

    Tom,
    It really does my heart good to read these words. You are a special person that I (and I know many, many others) hold very dear to my heart. Even though I haven’t seen you in forever I always enjoy reading your posts and keeping tabs on you and your family. I’m glad you are starting the lifelong process of healing from the loss of Chris. You said something on the order of “our dreams are what makes us human”. I’d add that our feeling of loss, and how that changes us is also a big part of what makes us human. Know that the Limbs think of you guys often.

    August 26, 2011 at 7:22 pm

  3. Way to get back into the flow! Giving is a good way to heal.

    Dusty

    August 27, 2011 at 8:02 am

  4. Todd

    Very nice talking to you in Hill City tonight. I was volunteering at the aid station. Just like your post said, it is weird being on the other side of the table, as this was my first time working an aid station. It was a blast! Hope you were able to find some healing on this run on such a beautiful evening. Greatly enjoy reading your blog. It really speaks to me. Take care and hope to see you out on the trails.

    TG

    August 27, 2011 at 10:24 pm

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