“Ashley, WAKE UP, I need Advil and duct tape!!!”
I shook the groggy haze that covered my napping body as my eyes focused on the shirtless runner’s body standing at the foot of my bed. Aaron was frantic and I couldn’t figure out why. What was going on? Why didn’t Aaron have a shirt on?
Without pausing to breath Aaron said in one, long, run-on sentence, “Ashley-I-need-you-to-get-duct-tape-and-advil-from-the-trunk-of-the-car-it’s-in-the-white-medical-tupperware-bin-I-can’t-go-because-I-don’t-have-shoes-or-a-shirt-on!!!
“Okay, okay, okay. Uh, I got it.” I mused. I didn’t get it; I was still confused. But just as quickly as Aaron appeared, he was gone from my room.
I scooted off the end of the bed and made my way to his room, just to make sure I got the instructions correct; they seemed very important. “Okay, so duct tape and Advil. Where exactly are they again?” I asked in a haze. From the chair he was sitting in, he looked up at me, saw my confusion and popped up, “Forget it, I’ll just go get them!” I heard as he flew past me just as quickly as before.
It was Friday evening at 6:22pm and I had already started failing to meet Aaron’s crewing expectations. At this rate, this was going to be a long trip; he hadn’t even started running yet. Just 90 minutes to the start of Aaron’s self-dubbed 100-mile run and it was time to hop to it.
Location: Sturgeon Bay, Door County, Wisconsin
Event: The Fall 50-mile race turned self-dubbed 100-mile ultra run
Runner: Aaron Schneider
Crew: Ashley Kumlien, Judy Schneider, Tom Schneider
Tom, Judy, myself, and Aaron headed to the Fall 50 finish line just before Aaron’s starting time of 8pm. The plan for the event was to have me crew Aaron straight through the night on no sleep (I insisted that I stay up as my own personal endurance no-sleep event) as he ran the 50 miles from the Fall 50 finish line, north, to the start. If all went to plan, Aaron and I would be at the start, safe and sound by 7am or sooner. From there, Judy and Tom would take over in two crew vehicles and allow me to run the 50-miles with Aaron during the Fall 50 event.
After our small, modest start Aaron was off on his running adventure while I jumped in the SUV. For me, in the beginning, it was a matter of finding Aaron’s rhythm as quickly as possible. I wanted to stay close to him to protect him, but I knew better then anyone that there is little the crew can do from the car other then bother the runner or park too far away; both of which are equally annoying. It wasn’t long before him and I settled into our comfort zone; him happily running, and my anxiousness easing.
I’m sure many of you wonder why anyone would want to run through the night for 50 miles to the start of a 50-mile race. That’s a good question, really, and not one I can answer, yet. Personally, I received many questions as to why I would want to stay up all night, insist on not sleeping, to crew said crazy person running through the night, before running my own 50-mile event. That question I can answer; it’s about the experience. I knew this event was going to be an adventure, but as I stood outside the SUV at our first aid stop in the chilly evening air, head tilted back gazing up at the black, cloudless sky sparkling with millions of stars, I had my happiness. In these moments I am exactly where I am supposed to be in this universe.
Aside from one emotional low 30-miles in, the run through the night was uneventful in the best way possible. As Aaron’s running buddy I do know some of his shortcomings as an ultra runner; which are just as, or more, important to understand then the runner’s strengths. Aaron has a sensitive stomach, especially in the heat. It was my job through the night to not only be his safety vehicle, but to also piece together the nutritional components of his run that would keep him upright through the entire 100 miles. I had to think hours ahead; what did Aaron need to ingest right now that would affect him, positively or negatively, later on?
What Aaron lacks in nutritional fortitude, I worked diligently to make up for (and lucky for him I do it as a profession too!). Each stop I made sure to have a buffet of food options, along with his chair, set up so he could get off his feet for a minute or two and grab a bite. In his captains chair I would show him his choices and make sure he ate at least one thing before heading out on the road again.
9 hours and 45 minutes after Aaron began running in Sturgeon Bay we found ourselves at the starting line of the Fall 50 in Gills Rock. Aaron bobbed and weaved through the line of Pensky trucks that lined the road as the workers erected the event’s true starting line. Their day was just beginning at 5:45am as ours was well underway. With a quick 30-minute nap in the SUV, Aaron and I were up again getting our gear on for the 50-mile race. As I rushed to throw on my hydration pack, we tossed the keys to Tom, and ran to the starting line just in time to beat the countdown.
With our first steps under the starting arch, Aaron and I were off to cover the final 50 miles of his hundred together. For the remaining part of his run I would act as pacer, running buddy, and active crew, continuing to tend to his needs along with the help of his parents.
Our efforts early on with Aaron’s nutrition paid off beautifully throughout the day, but that’s not to say he wasn’t feeling the pain, stress, & exhaustion of the miles he had already pounded. With his parents in tow, Aaron sat down every 5-mile increment, in which I would massage his leg muscles with an ice pack and give him something caloric to drink.
The wall we knew was likely coming hit Aaron 87 miles into his event. At this point Aaron had been on his feet running, barring the 30-minute nap, for 18 hours straight, and the other runners in the solo or relay events had caught and passed us. We trudged down the road, both exhausted, feeling deflated about the pace we were moving, knowing that everyone else in the event was 13 miles ahead at the finish line enjoying the pizza and beer we both desperately wanted. As the goals of finishing the event in the 11-hour cut-off time slipped through our fingers, we grasped on to smaller, more obtainable goals.
“Can you run at that green mail box?” I would ask.
“Yeah,” Aaron would sigh, “Green mail box to where?”
“Green mail box to…the electrical box on the telephone pole?” I said, picking a distance of 200 yards.
“Too far” or the shuffle of his feet were his only replies. We had run out of things to talk about and we had reduced a half marathon to 100-300 yard goals set in between short walking breaks.
With 13 miles left, single digit miles were all he wanted. When we reached the single digits, the smaller digits were all he wanted. If 13 miles was too far, 9 miles wasn’t close enough when we reached it. Five miles felt like an eternity as we both had internal visions of the finish line party clearing out before we would ever reach the end.
A miracle in the form of love came to us with 4 miles remaining. Aaron’s best friend, Phil, and his wife, Meghan, had left the finish line party to find Aaron running down his last miles. Phil got out of the vehicle and ran toward Aaron as he shuffled down the pavement. Immediately Aaron’s mood lifted and he started chatting and running more then he had since we hit the wall 9 miles earlier.
With news of the finish line still stacked with runners enjoying the event, the visions we had of Aaron completing this 100-mile event alone were completely erased. Meghan called in to friends and family at the finish line to let them know Aaron was still running, and the radio station that had been updating sent out another message On-air that Aaron was nearly finished. All the sudden Aaron was back, he was through the wall, and now he just had to run down the final 4 miles of his 100-mile dream.
With a mile remaining a pacing vehicle with flashing lights came to meet our small group to tail Aaron as he ran the final stretch. At the finish line, the race director announced that Aaron was coming into the park and the massive event tent that was filled with giddy runners emptied as hundreds of people lined the chute to watch his final steps.
Friends, family, and admirers cheered & took photos as Aaron crossed the finish line and completed his personal 100-mile race at 22 hours and 23 minutes of running. Aaron and I squeezed in a big hug before he was swept away by others wanting pictures, hugs, and interviews. I caught up with some friends and smiled quietly to myself as I watched my best friend get all the love and attention he deserved for such a massive solo effort.
Though Aaron and I still have yet to fully digest the event, I know for him as much as myself that it was an amazing experience that is difficult to put into words. For the small percentage of the population that do ultra distance running, the experience and the opportunity to push your physical and mental being to the limits, only to find that you have none, is what draws us back to the long miles each and every time.
As Aaron was quoted at the finish, "Ultra-running, it's not like climbing," he said. "It's not like if you climb Mt. Everest and there's nothing higher. There's always something. After you finish one race it's 'what's next?' You gotta find something harder."---Run on! ~ Ash