Pulling an all-nighter: Inside a Run Rabbit Run aid station
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It’s a tad unsettling. It’s midnight during the full moon on Friday the 13th, and we’re directing a bunch of zombies on their last legs to a trail named Blair Witch. What could possibly go wrong?
“Pay no attention to the name,” I call out to a delirious runner. “There’s no witches.”
We’re here at the top of Emerald Mountain manning an all-night aid station for the Run Rabbit Run ultra-marathon. Stopping by at mile 54 and 58 of the 100-mile sufferfest, some racers are indeed the Walking Dead, ashen-faced, stumbling and moaning. Others are faring better, but still tormented souls — or soles?
The organizers donate money to nonprofits that run the aid stations — there were nine total, said director Brady Wortster — so I’m at the top of the Morning Gloria and Quarry Mountain trails with Friends of the Yampa board members Pete Van De Carr, Charlie Preston-Townsend and Greg Hamilton and volunteer Sallie Holmes.
It was Pete’s great idea to spice up our station with a few accouterments — namely his tow-behind camper, metal pan for a roaring campfire, generator, amps and the coup de grace … two electric guitars. Might as well pick some blues while they’re picking blisters, he reasoned.
So, we loaded up the back of his truck Beverly Hillbillies-style — complete with water jugs, camp chairs and bicycles topping the heap — keyed in the combo for the Blackmer gate and backfired our way up Emerald and its notorious Lane of Pain to our station location.
Like the race course, my involvement was a bit convoluted: I had to bike back down at sunset to support a youth hockey fundraiser at Howelsen, then borrow an E-bike (E for Eugene) from Hala Gear to head back up in the dark. In 25 years of living here, I’ve never once had a gravity assist getting up Emerald, and tonight, I scored two.
I passed a smattering of head-lamped runners while E-ing up the road, encouraging them along while feeling guilty about my own locomotion. But, hey, they’re the ones who signed up for it.
When I arrived at Aid Station Awesome, runners were already trickling in — and so were their noses and sweat glands. Our role: giving them water and sustenance, turning the camp into a full moon, feeding fiesta.
Our food table was a smorgasbord of snacks, including fig bars, Stinger waffles, M&Ms, nuts, PBJs, pretzels, potato chips, Goldfish, hard-boiled eggs, pickles, orange wedges, grapes and more. Like short-order cooks, we re-filled bowls and energy drink coolers, quartered PBJs and oranges and shuffled snacks as waves of bouncing lights fireflied toward us down the path.
Everyone approached the table differently, some chowing everything in sight and others mulling over what they might be able to metabolize — Tums, kept on the table’s far end with the first-aid supplies, were a hot item.
Coca Cola and “hot broth” were top requests, neither of which we had, but we did cook bacon and hash browns. One guy asked for a shot of pickle juice, and another slammed a beer, asked for whiskey and chased it with bacon.
Not that we were competing with anyone, but we servers — who each put on about 5 pounds from the affair — schlepped our snacks with pride. Other stations served things like homemade pirogues, brownies and cookies and a few had hot food, including soup from Freshies that owner Scott Fox said “was a little thicker than usual.”
Except for the truly suffering, everyone was jovial and relatively good-natured — way more than I would be after 54 miles and the same number of blisters. It takes a different kind of person to endure that kind of punishment, pushing your body to the literal limit — some people hurled and kept right on huffing up the trail.
It was as if they were part of some masochistic cult, celebrating all things cardio, shin splints and Dr. Scholl’s. They’d already run farther than I had all year, and we’d simply give them a quick snack, pat on the back and send them on their way.
Which was another reason for us being there: to point them in the right direction. Despite well-marked signs and flagging, many wanted route reassurance. “Which way?” they’d ask. “Are you sure?” I can’t blame them for not wanting to get lost and tack on even more miles to their misery.
Our narration could have been a recording: “See you back in 4.1 miles,” we’d enthuse. “It’s only 6.1 down to the next station at the bottom of Howelsen.” “Nope, not that way … this way.” “Try some bacon?”
Many runners had pace-setters to help them (I’d need a pacemaker) — wingmen and women with them every step of the way, giving them food, filling their hydration bags and cushioning their blisters. One guy even traded socks with his runner. Like lionesses licking their cubs, it was the animal kingdom at its finest, a display of humanity that you don’t often see in today’s digital world.
When we weren’t blaring tunes from the camper’s speakers, we played them, regaling the runners with riffs as they jogged on by. Some songs were more uplifting than others, like Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” and Van Halen’s “Running with the Devil.” Others, like Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty” and Tom Petty’s “Climb That Hill,” were maybe not so encouraging.
“A lot of people were just standing there with a kind of ‘looking for meaning in life’ contemplative look,” summed up Pete. “Others made fun of themselves and how pathetic they looked, and others seemed embarrassed by their predicament. It was quite a look into the soul of the extreme athlete.”
“The veneer of civilization had been stripped away,” added Greg about their foray to the food table. “They were more like a pack of tired predators pawing over their prey, too tired from the chase to know where to start gnawing.”
The final, lone participant — a delirious elderly lady proclaiming “This is my last one ever … it’s my retirement party” — limped in at a bone-chilling 5:30 a.m., pecking at some food before sailor-walking down the dark trail. Shortly later, the sweep crew showed up, ensuring there were no stragglers.
So, were we the best aid station ever? The GOAT? Probably not. But like the racers billy-goating around the hills, we put our best foot forward.
And like the racers’ times, there’s always room for improvement. Next year, we’ll bring more coffee, Coca Cola and hot broth. And I might polish up the song list, playing “Bad Moon a Risin’” instead of The Hollies’ “It’s a long, long rooooad…”
To reach Eugene Buchanan, call 970-871-4276 or email ebuchanan@SteamboatPilot.com.
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