There aren’t enough words to tell you how much I love race volunteers and crews. There is nothing that compares to a smiling face, a helping hand, a hug, an encouraging word, or a cold beer at the ready while your body is trying to figure out what in the world you are going to do to try and wreck it next.
They look like angels with boiled potatoes and salt tabs.
One of the most transforming days in my running life came as a volunteer.
I these two truths compel me to find opportunities (and time!) to forgo running a race and volunteer or crew instead. Kinda like the runner version of “Pay it Forward.”
I thought I had found this opportunity with the inaugural Little Tybee Conquest.
This race kinda freaked me out a bit. It is roughly 10-11ish miles (depending on the coast line) on the beach with four channel crossings. The race was limited to a small (15) number of runners due to the nature of the location. Little Tybee is an uninhabited island off the coast of Tybee Island, Georgia. To reduce the environmental impact of this beautiful little sanctuary, the decision was made to keep the race small.
I wasn’t sure about it to begin with. I can run. I am strong. I can swim. But, I can’t really swim swim. The whole idea made me nervous. Awesome time to volunteer.
Race Director extraordinaire Dan Hernandez took me up on my offer and asked me to be the volunteer coordinator. I agreed and it was the easiest job on the planet. It was a small race and Dan is so on top of everything, there was really nothing for me to do.
We met early Saturday morning and loaded up the boat. We got over to the island and set up the start. Easy peezy.
The weather had been rough so there were some runners that had called Dan the day before to let him know they weren’t going to make it.
DNS runners = orphan bibs
Orphan bib+cool people+awesome course = April wants to run
That’s the math for ya.
Me ~ I think I am going claim one of those bibs.
Dan ~ That’s an awesome idea. You should absolutely do that.
Yeah, not quite the response I was expecting.
But there was aid station food. And I am a minimalist runner; I could just do it barefoot. And, to seal the deal, Dan had a bandanna.
I feel like I should be doing a better job than just “and this happened, and then, this, and then that.” But I guess sometimes, you just have to tell the story.
So I grabbed Emily’s bib enjoying the idea that I had her number. Emily is an amazingly gracious, talented, generous, FAST runner. She is also my friend. The idea to run was feeling more right.
Interesting thing I did not know ~ We opted to write our numbers on ourselves rather than pin bibs due to the water portions of the race. There is a current in all the channels so the bibs probably wouldn’t hold up. If you ever get the opportunity to do that – do it! I completely underestimated the total badassed feeling it can produce.
So, I ran.
I ended up running most of the race with Gregg and Brian. Turned out to be a pretty good thing too.
At the third channel crossing we are told that the kayaks, life rings, and life jackets didn’t make it to the fourth channel crossing. There was a boat drop mix up and the turn around had been moved forward, ahead of the crossing. This makes my heart sing. That last channel crossing is a beast and I was not looking forward to attempting it.
When we get to the new turn around, there is confusion. The lead runners are still going. Bren had helped plot the course and knew exactly where he was supposed to be going. Luke was right there with him. We Three Amigos shrugged and followed the leaders. “Leader determines the course,” I said, figuring there was no way we could turn around at this point if the leaders hadn’t started back yet.
Dumbass move, Groves.
We get to the last channel crossing and pause. We have been told that this channel is different than the others. There is always a current and there is no wading as the drop offs are quick and substantial. There are no volunteers, no kayaks, no life vests, nada. “That is further than it looks,” I tell the fellas. Brian, who is the best swimmer I have ever seen in real life, says, “Oh it’s fine,” and starts fishing his self across. Gregg agrees. What’s a girl to do?
Let’s get real honest. That’s not really the question I was asking myself. The question I was asking myself was, “What’s a girl in FIRST to do?” What I might should have been thinking was “pride comes before the fall” but who ever thinks THAT when they need to?
I was in first place. Lara, who is far more talented and swift than I, had opted not to do the last channel under the current conditions.
This was it. You’re damned straight I jumped in that water.
About a fourth of the way across the channel I realize that the swim is exactly what I expected – further than it looked.
And few more minutes (I guess, I have no idea how long it took) I was beginning to question my choice. The shore behind me was getting further away. The shore ahead was getting no closer. This is no bueno.
Ok, I decide, this was a bad idea. Probably a good time to go back. Except I am in the middle, I think maybe a little closer to where I am going than where I came from, but I can’t tell. Move forward, go back, either way my chances suck.
“I have just ruined Dan’s race,” I think to myself. I am fixing to drown, ruin any chances of this race happening again and my husband is going to be pissed. I am not even supposed to be here. I am supposed to be back at the start in my flip flops tending to that cooler of beer I brought waiting for the runners to come in. Instead I am in the middle of this water fixing to die.
I am an idiot.
I look over and Gregg is not too far ahead of me. “Gregg, I am not sure what to do. I am a little freaked out right this second. I am not really sure how to get across this channel.”
Gregg, in a ever so calm voice says, “Just keep swimming. You are going to be fine.”
Well, that really is the only option, isn’t it?
Gregg talks to me the duration of the channel and then he says, “You can stand up now.” I flip back over, super excited, and put my feet down. Gloriously the water is chin deep, I dig my toes in and run my ass outta there! On shore I say a super bad word, hug Gregg, swear he saved my life, breathe deep, and collect myself. Gregg and Brian laugh a bit and it is time to start running again.
The course is an out and back so there was still the task of going back across the channel. No problem according to the fellas. We will just start further up the beach so that current won’t wash us out. Gregg and Brian will be close at hand and, since I have demonstrated my ability to stay calm in the midst of my panic, it will be fine.
I get my nerves back about me, hit the turn around, lose them again, get them back together, and reach the channel crossing. It takes me just a minute or so to get back in that water. But I am more comfortable now. I know I can do it. I know it takes longer than I think it will. I know I will not get left behind.
We head back to the start and it is wonderful company. We get to the wooded area and it is totally transformed. It is low tide now and the roots of all these magnificent trees that have fallen over are exposed. Instead of having to run through the woods, we run through the roots. Under, over and around them, some are taller than me. I wish I could tell you what an experience it was. (Registration for the 2014 Little Tybee Conquest opens in a few days!)
The guys sprint to the finish to take 3rd and 4th place. It is fun to watch. I am spent at this point and am content to finish the race at the same pace I have run the duration. Bren has a beer at the ready and I am so thankful. And I get to take pictures with the most awesome trophy I have ever seen.
A couple of thoughts about winning this race…
First, crossing the channel is a decision conundrum, even in hindsight. It was unequivocally stupid. But, it was also empowering and worth it. I don’t really know what to do about that except to say that it goes directly into the category of choices nobody else can make for you. This is where getting comfortable in your own skin, listening to your own inner voice, and competing with no one but yourself proves itself important.
Second, that Pace Out thing is no joke. I was not the fastest person out there. Lara is. Hands down she is the better runner. I have appreciated her friendship, training advice, and spirit. She has the heart of a tiger and the tenacity to match. I don’t, I CAN’T, compete with her. But, I do compete with myself. I run my race and appreciate my body for giving me the best its got any given day (and a bit more when I need it). And this day, in this moment, it was good enough for top prize. I am honored.
Third, I seriously want to run barefoot more often. I can’t begin to tell you how fun that was.
Lastly, my runner family is the shit. When I think of the advances that I have made in my fitness level, appearance, health, and ability, NONE of it even begins to compare with the ties that bind us together. Being around these people, having them as a part of my life, is one of the most treasured gifts I have ever been given.
So, in honor of the win, we are giving stuff away!!! I have 3 amazing prizes for three lucky folks!
I can’t tell you what my time was on this race because I really don’t remember. My pace was not important. Not dying was important. Finishing was important. I also am still a bit irritated at the asshats. So we are giving away a super awesome, “What’s your Pace? DON’T CARE!” t-shirt. (As an aside, I would like to congratulate PaceOut and Georgia Game Changers for their new relationship. You can now buy PaceOut gear in that retail location!)
I typically wear my PaceOut gear when I run. It is the most comfortable, durable, run friendly tank I own. I wasn’t planning to run and my DFIT tank that I got for my birthday makes me feel like a warrior (and the husband really likes it too!) Good thing I was channeling a bit of warrior groove that day – it was helpful. So we are giving away one of those too!
And, you need some place to wear all this cool gear. You are in luck! DFIT training sessions are back in full swing! We are giving away a four pass pack. Yep, you can win the opportunity to get yourself beat not once but FOUR times.