Monday, June 07, 2010

The Berryman Incident

On May 15, our family greeted a rainy dawn on the Berryman Trail near Potosi, Missouri. In a steady downpour, Rick headed off for his fifth running of the Berryman 50 Mile. Adrian passed out in her car seat on the way to the first crew-accessible aid station, and stayed that way through Rick's first 25 miles. This made me feel like a seriously organized and upbeat crew person, since I could focus my attention on Rick. Plus, for the first loop he really looked like he had the cruise-control switched on, running with the front-runners and not needing much other than a few Gu packets.

It was when he rolled into the start/finish area at 25 miles that things started to go wrong.

I had Adrian parked in her child-sized lawn chair. I had an adult-sized chair set up next to her, under the shelter of an information kiosk, with a towel laid on the ground and a pair of shoes—with laces amply loosened—waiting for Rick's feet, plus a pair of socks turned inside out—just the way he likes it. I had the Gu he needed. Everything ready to go.

But as he approached my mini aid station, Rick tugged at the sternum strap on his hydration pack, and the cylindrical clip that connects the strap to piping on the pack itself came loose. This is not supposed to happen.

Rick and I looked at the broken strap for a half second before he pushed it into my hands and I dropped to my knees, trying to shove the stupid clip back onto the piping of the hydration pack. Adrian tried to help. Rick and I started to squabble. Adrian said she was hungry. Rick and I snapped at Adrian. Adrian whined a retort.

Rick grabbed his spare handhelds out of my bag and went to fill them up. Fourth (formerly fifth) place jogged through the start/finish and off on his second loop. I gave up on an immediate fix for the pack and hastily transferred as much Gu, salt, and other supplies as possible into the handhelds. Rick snatched them from me and left at something less than a dejected jog.

That would have been the time to stop and collect myself, but instead, I went to co-race director Victoria to ask if she had a screwdriver or some sort of wedge-like implement. She kindly lent me a multi-tool. Adrian watched with interest as I tried to wedge a pair of needle-nose pliers into the cylindrical clasp on the strap while attempting to maneuver it onto the piping. Just as I heard my daddy's voice say, "You should never point sharp objects toward yourself," the pliers slipped and jabbed into the fleshy part of my left hand between the thumb and index finger. Finally, somehow, I got the damn pack fixed, loaded it up with as many running supplies as I could find in the bag and Jeep, and Adrian and I rushed to the next aid station.

I delivered the pack to Rick about 8 miles from the start/finish area, which he happily accepted and then quickly disappeared into the woods. It would be about another 8 miles before I saw him again at the Brazil Creek aid station. Feeling like my job was done, Adrian and I headed to the Brazil Creek campground. I couldn't think of anything else he would need, and Adrian needed to get out and play, so we put on our rain gear and went to the water crossing. Adrian proceeded to play in the creek and get herself thoroughly soaked.

My spirits were pretty good when Rick crossed the creek, though I was disappointed to see that another person had passed him and when Rick came across the creek, his spirits were not very good. Then he asked for ibuprofen. Apparently, this is the ibuprofen that he had asked me for about 20 miles before. The ibuprofen was in the locked car, about 300 yards away. He jogged away from me and Adrian—who was still collecting rocks in the creek—without taking the keys. Kicking into hyper-active crew-person mode with an overwhelming sense of urgency, I tried to pull Adrian quickly away from the creek and sprint to the car at the same time.

This operation is not possible.

Child wants to play in creek. Mother/crew person wants to sprint. Child will win or will be dragged kicking and screaming in the other direction.

I tried to pick her up and carry her a short distance, but she went limp and slid out of my grasp. "Hurry," I tried to encourage her. "We need to help Daddy. You want to help Daddy, right?" She nodded and started to follow me. Thinking she'd stay on my heels, I moved faster. Then I turned and saw her standing in someone's campground, 50 yards away, talking to a strange dog. I yelled. She froze. I doubled back, pulled her along a little farther, and looked back to see Rick pulling at the locked door yelling something in my direction. Finally I made it back to the Jeep—without Adrian, who was standing frozen in the middle of the drive engaged in a staring contest with a grandmotherly marathoner who had kindly decided to try to help by keeping an eye on my child.

I couldn't find the ibuprofen. Rick snapped at me. I snapped back. I found the ibuprofen and slapped a few pills into his hand. We exchanged a few unpleasantries. My mind registered the dismayed "I'm not getting in the middle of this" look from one of the volunteers.

"Go run," I said to Rick.

He related something to me about hating where he was at and not wanting to do this any more.

"Get out of here. It's not going to be any more comfortable in Leadville!" I shouted as he wandered up the path away from the campground.

I felt sick to my stomach as soon as I said it. I think I muttered, "Sorry." and "Thanks." to the volunteer. I turned back to the car, looking for Adrian, and didn't see her. Panic washed over me. "Dammit, where did she go?" I dashed around the car and found her on the opposite side. I gathered her up and set about changing her out of her wet clothes. We were running out of options—at this point just about everything I had brought was wet and/or muddy. I found some dry clothes for her and set her back in her car seat, consoling her—even though she was remarkably calm—and beating up myself on the inside.

As I settled back into the driver's seat, I tried to collect myself. It was at this inopportune time that my mom called to check on Rick's progress. Hearing her voice sent me over the edge. I completely lost it. I sobbed and blathered and snotted all over the place. Adrian started to cry. I finally hung up and turned again to Adrian.

"Why are you sad, Mommy?" she asked.

"Because I can't be everywhere at once, but I feel like I should," I said. "I love you and your daddy very much."

We drove on to the next aid station, about 4 miles as the Rick runs. By the time we got there, Adrian and I had collected ourselves. The ibuprofen had kicked in, so Rick looked much better when we met him a little way down the trail. Adrian ran him into the aid station and then saw him out. She gave him a big hug. He told me, "I might still get under eight hours."

I like goals. "Yes, you will! Go get it."

And he ran off into the woods.

When the race clock clicked over to 7:59, I looked at the clearing in the woods near the finish line and saw my husband bursting triumphantly from the vegetation. Adrian did her trademark run to the finish line with her dad. Rick got his traditional beer and a buckle. He got his sub-8-hour finish, just a hair off of his personal best on this course, and 6th place over all.

Like pain, the chaos of crewing is quickly forgotten. I always beat myself up when I think I have fallen short of helping Rick in an efficient manner. The fact that he told me he needed ibuprofen and I completely missed it still bothers me. The fact that I was standing at the water crossing playing with Adrian instead of at the car where the race supplies were also bothers me. It makes me insane that I ran away from Adrian and chanced her getting hurt. I hate how we bickered, especially in front of the ever-helpful and dutiful volunteers, who were spending the entire day in the rain and really didn't need any more cloudy attitudes to pull them down.

But the experience also made me reflect on the wonder of the ultrarunning community and how graciously fantastic its members can be. This was the first time in crewing many races that I felt short-handed. Almost always there is a friend to step in to help, no questions asked: someone to hand my child to while crossing a barbed wire fence at Rockin' K (Tony Clark); to play in the rocks with Adrian while waiting for her dad at Michigan Bluff (Stacy King); to walk down a long, steep, dark and spooky road to meet Rick at Green Gate while I took Adrian back to the hotel for a much-needed nap (Angel Clark); to rush from aid station to aid station through the Arkansas hills to keep track of my husband as well as her own when I couldn't even get to the race (Tiffanie Bevan); to chase my daughter across the prairie as a form of entertainment (Laurie Euler)...

I have been extremely lucky to be surrounded by good people who very easily could have looked the other way when I struggled to attend simultaneously to the two people I intensely love.

Thank you.


laurie said...

*sniff sniff* Great report! I know how tempers can flair during ultras, and I don't even have a little one to look after. The races where we have our friends around are always the best. Good job crewing mom!

Darin said...

Great report, I have never snipped at my wife while crewing for me! Ha Ha But reading your report will make me much kinder the next time.