A support crew race report
Or ‘Why you should crew an ultra race’
Or ‘How on earth does a runner cover 65 miles?’
Back in July (I’ve been really slow and lazy about writing this) we went out to middle of nowhere eastern North Carolina to be support crew for a friend who was doing an ultra marathon. Or more specifically the Mattamuskeet Death March (or the greatest named race on earth in my opinion).
The race took place in Hyde County and was a 100k (actually a little over at 65 miles) around Lake Mattamuskeet which after a bit of research has a really cool interesting history (if you are bit geeky). Here is a zoomed out picture of Google maps to give you the whole state of NC.
The red circle is surrounding Lake Mattamuskeet and if you can’t tell based on how zoomed out the map is, that’s a pretty big freaking lake. So on the Friday night, we loaded up the car with some running clothes and a big cooler with ice and lots of food and drink and and left Raleigh to drive three hours and seemingly go back in time. It was definitely a different world out there. We’ve driven through some back country areas of North Carolina, but this was definitely the most back country of them all.
The race organizers were using a motel (where we would be staying) as the HQ for the race so we got there on Friday night and had the dinner they had prepared. A nice large portion of lasagna, salad, and iced tea and meeting up with our racer and the other member of the crew. We also got a sneak peek of what was in store for the runners. One of the features of the race, apart from having to run 65 miles in ridiculous heat and humidity was the competitors had to carry an empty ammo box the whole way. The ammo box wasn’t particularly heavy, weighing in at about 5 pounds, but it had hard corners and was a very awkward shape.
After dinner, picking up the ammo box, and meeting some of the other crazy people that would be running the race we headed to the cabin we were staying in. Thankfully, because we had a larger crew than most the motel provided cabins as well. It was a pretty decent sized cabin with the second story a big open space with four double beds, so we all had our own bed. Sweet. After getting everything prepped for the next day and some instructions from our runner on how to make him eat and drink enough throughout the day we headed to bed.
Morning of the race we woke up at a fairly decent time considering it was a race day. Around 6:00-6:30 am to head over to the main motel and get some breakfast. When there are only 13 people competing in the race I guess you can afford to be a little lax with things. We made sure to load up the car with enough water, food, and Gatorade to last a normal person a lifetime. When we were ready to go, we headed to the start line. Going with the theme of having the best named race they, in my opinion, had the best start line as well. Here is Scott, our runner, at the start line.
Also, along with the minimalism that was the whole race, how they marked the start line. Bonus shot of a guy emerging from using the trees as a bathroom.
After the national anthem (played on a phone) the race started on, no joke, the lighting of one contestant’s cigarette. As I have been informed the legend himself, Lazarus Lake, was the one that started the race smoking while walking down the road across the lake. The course went across the lake, went around one side, went across the lake again, went around the other side of the lake, and then cross the lake for a third time. The runners had to run the same road across the lake 3 times. A nice mental challenge added to the race.
We came up with a plan of having whoever was in the car drive 3 miles down the road. Scott would run those three miles and then at the car refresh his water bottle, get some food, and perform any necessary first aid or maintenance (mainly cutting out holes in his shoes) After the first couple legs we had to change the intervals to every two miles as it was a very punishing day between the heat, humidity and roughly eleventy billion mosquitoes.
I had some miles I needed to get in for my training, so I ran the first couple legs with Scott and then after that between the three of us crewing him we ended up alternating running with Scott for the majority of the race. All three of the crew ran somewhere between 18 and 22 miles before the end of the race.
Here are some pictures of the race, starting with the crazy race director, Brandon, who was doing it with his ammo box HANDCUFFED to his wrist.
Some young Marines who shot off at the start running what seemed to be an insanely quick pace for 65 miles considering the conditions. They dropped out before the end.
The second lead group who eventually took over the lead. Three of these guys are some other Marines who would eventually cross the finish line together to share the win.
A picture of the lake that was constantly to our side the whole day.
One of Scott looking strong going around the first half of the lake.
We also found the inspiration for Mater from Cars.
In the motel where HQ was, where we ate, and where the eventual finish line was had this inside.
After approximately 17 and half hours, around 2:30 am, Scott finished the race. Again with the minimalist yet awesome theme of the race here is the finish line with a chair and change of shoes ready for Scott.
And here is one of our awesome racer and his whole crew (Scott the runner in the chair, and then from the left Scott number 2, Lex, and myself).
And then this is the awesome crew shirt we all got.
Why (good freaking question)
So overall the main takeaway from this is that Ultra runners are a crazy breed all their own. Even though the course was flat, it was brutal. The blazing heat with no shade, the humidity, and the unbelievable number of mosquitoes really took its toll on all of us. As described by the race director Brandon, “I am she, the man slayer you seek”. The constant pounding on flat roads for 17 hours seemed a cruel torture, but the runners seemed to enjoy it. I can’t speak highly enough of Brandon and all the other guys at RacENC for the organization of the race. They were constantly driving round the whole course checking on people, handing out popsicles and giving out encouragement. Not to mention they organized with the motel accommodations for all the runners and crew and several meals.
Even though the race, the location and the conditions were torturous, they never hid the fact that that was the point and everyone just went with it. So it was a nice mix of happiness and joint suffering. Hats off to them for putting on a great event. All the runners, winners, and those who didn’t finish were gracious and happy for each other which makes it that much better an event. It felt more like everyone acknowledged they were competing against the race more than they were competing against each other.
Finally, Scott was freaking AWESOME. I was destroyed just crewing for him. To overcome the conditions and the constant pounding of 65 miles of flat asphalt was amazing. He had a great race plan and he stuck to it. When we spoke to the other runners when waiting for Scott to come into the finish everyone was talking complimentary on sticking so well to a race plan. While what he accomplished was inspirational, but I can’t say I’m currently running to sign up for an Ultra…. Maybe next year.
Congrats to all the runners who participated. You guys walked like Gods amongst men around Mattamuskeet.