IF ANYONE ever tells you running is a solo sport, my hunch would be they are the exception and not the norm. Oh sure, it is completely useless to log some else's miles or ride piggyback during speed work; but the sport as a whole works better when there are "the others."
Fifty-one people signed up to run the 3rd annual Cremator 50 Mile Endurance Run on July 20 just over the bridge in Port Royal, S.C. This Lowcountry Ultra event is known for its sweltering heat and no shade course. Entrants for this race are required to have at least one crew member to tend to the runner for obvious safety reasons.
I was crewed by my beloved. Although Mark and I can claim conquering 14 years of marriage, 4 children, 5 household moves, and 1 military deployment, we have never done this before. While I could not imagine having anyone else there with me, the obvious challenges to the arrangement were not lost on me.
Would I be comfortable telling him when I hurt for fear that he would worry? What about when I started to slow down, would I be afraid he would be disappointed? What if it took me forever to finish, would he get frustrated? When I started to look like hell and stink up the joint, would he crinkle his nose?
My fears would be quickly set aside as the 10 hours it took me to complete the course unfolded and he became an unwavering beacon of aid, support, and encouragement.
"I was unequivocally impressed," says Mark when I ask him about his overall impression.
And it occurred to me that we were not the only couple out on that course. And it is really no surprise. Running is a lifestyle hobby. The time required and the community involved typically generates participation within families and friendships.
"I consider myself so fortunate to be able to share a hobby I love with someone I love," says Tiana. An accomplished trail and ultra runner herself, her main squeeze Andy showed off by finishing an impressive third place.
While Tiana was certain the runner/crew relationship would work, Andy was worried what effect the stress of the course on his mood. "She, luckily, has extreme patience and knows when I get tired and grumpy that I don't mean what I say unless it's 'I love you'."
Not all loved ones are hard to crew. Annie, who was blessing for myself as well as her fiancé on the course, said Ted's mood seemed good over the course of the day. "For most of the stops it was like a happy reunion and I was so excited to see him. It was so inspiring and exciting to be a part of this race he's been talking about forever."
Ted had a few folks on his crew and was thankful for each of them. But Annie was different. "It's a much deeper level when it's somebody you're in a relationship with, she knows me and knows how I get when I'm tired or hurting," he explained.
And the hurt can be a tough situation to deal with. Andy took a nasty spill towards the end of the race.
"Not only am I his crew lady, but that's my beau dripping blood! I went into instant 'girl' mode and freaked out," Tiana recalls. Andy adds, "She is a caregiver by nature, and I am a grown-up toddler, so the pairing works out perfectly."
These aches and pains had Verity wondering if she was the right person to crew her boyfriend, Bren. An ultra runner herself, she knew well the different stages of mental distress a person can go through.
"Watching someone you care about going through so much pain and not being able to help them is tough. I don't know that I could have him crew me if the roles were reversed."
But Bren wouldn't have had it any other way. "Having her crew me gave me something to look forward to besides water and food. It meant someone was there that believed in me and that helped a lot!"
Mark and I aren't the only example of miles making the marital heart grow fonder. Brandi wasn't even sure she liked this whole running business. But when her husband Jason caught the ultra bug, she jumped in with both feet; volunteering at races, working aid stations, and even logging some miles.
"It is quite overwhelming and a lot to take in for the first time, but the ultra community has a family feeling. Other wives/crew members are just as supportive of each other's spouses as they are their own."
Jason echoes her sentiments: "Lucky is the feeling I get knowing I have such an awesome wife who not only supports me and my running endeavors, but supports our friends and other runners too."
Of course, Brandi summed the whole thing up. "You realize that even after 11 years of marriage they can still do things that put that butterfly feeling in your stomach."