What are the Odds?

White River 50
Hanging with ultra-legend David Horton before the start of the White River 50 race

I know we’ve titled a few blog stories just like this one, but there is no other title that fits the bill for the events that ensued this weekend while crewing for Matt in the White River 50 mile race.

It’s been two months since our last European Marathon in Ireland, and I’m still injured. I’ve had nagging pain in my right shin and ankle area since then, and haven’t been able to run consistently, much less be in shape for an intense 50 miles trail race that’s tough even with the best training. That explains why this weekend, my status of injured runner made me perfectly eligible as a crew member for Matt in his 50 mile trail race.

As you may know, Matt is running the Leadville 100 mile trail race in just three short weeks, and it’s always been in the plans for me to be crew, so this was indeed good practice. I would say looking back at this weekend, everything that could have gone wrong or right, did, and it all still turned out fine, with a few “what are the odds?” moments woven into the weekend.

Our race started off with the packet pickup on Friday night on Crystal Mountain, just a few miles away from the race course. Matt and I were in line, getting our numbers, when we heard two guys behind the table talking about the Appalachian Trail. Our ears perked up with the mention of the trail, and Matt asked the guys, “Are you guys talking about the AT? We just did that last summer!”

“What’s your trail name?” one guy asked Matt.

“Optimist!” Matt said excitedly.

“Optimist! I’m reading about an Optimist right now!” he said, surprising all of us.

We paused a moment; neither Matt nor I knew what to say.

“Yeah, there’s a Cop of some sort, and an Animal; they’re all characters in the book,” he went on to describe the book he was reading.

“Are you reading my book?” I asked him as my mouth dropped in shock.

He was in fact reading my book; he’d bought the Kindle version off Amazon. Even more interesting, he was David Horton, a former speed record holder of both the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail, the two long-distance trails that we’ve hiked. There’s even a movie about his record run on the PCT, called The Runner.

It was an unbelievable meeting, which of course turned into a long, excited conversation about long-distance trails and running. Later on that evening, we were still shocked by the serendipity of the moment as we laid awake in our tent, talking about the race plans.

The race went about as smoothly as it could have, with only a few bumps in the road. I saw Matt at four different aid stations along the way, at miles 3.4, 17, 27, and 44. I carried just one bag of all the race necessities, and made it to each aid station with plenty of time to sit around, talk to other crew members, and get a snapshot of Matt running into the aid station before asking him what he needed. Each time, he needed something different, like more energy bars, a different pair of shoes, a layer of Vaseline on his chaffage-prone armpits, and ibuprofen.

As for the bumps in the road, I did forget to give him sunglasses right before a particularly exposed, dusty section, and he forgot to shed his visor, which he was tired of wearing. That’s not too bad for crew mistakes. The other bump in the road was a bit more major, and we’re still in need of a solution, even right now.

After I saw Matt run through at 27 miles, which was also the start and finish area on the figure-eight course, I went to the car to head to the 44 mile aid station. I put the keys in the ignition, turned them, and…nothing. No ignition, no sound, no nothing. Completely dead. Our battery had died in the time between aid stations.

As a crew member, my first concern was how to get to the next aid station and back to the finish, and then I’d worry about the dead car. One other crew member I’d been hanging with all day gave me a ride to both spots, so a temporary solution was easily found to the sudden lack of a vehicle.

I saw Matt come through at 44 miles, looking tired but still happy and energetic, and I watched him finish the race in 8 hours, 15 minutes. It was an exciting moment to see him finish, but not extremely epic, mainly because this was a tune-up race for Leadville. That is where the real test of his will and strength will occur. We celebrated his finish, talked with other racers and people involved in the race, and sat down in the shade while he recovered. I didn’t tell him about the car until his finisher’s high wore off. While he was upset, he was just as useless as me in coming up with a solution, and we decided to wait longer to find one.

Later that evening, after everyone had eaten the spread of food offered by the race, they handed out awards to age groupers and overall finishers. In the mix of awards was a copy of my book; I had donated five copies to the race to give out as general prizes.

I made sure to sign each copy that was given away, and as I was signing one to an age group award winner, another woman standing right next to her said, “I’ve heard about your book, and it’s on my list to read!”

I don’t even remember what I said, I was so floored that people had heard of my book, and was so excited to hear it first-hand. It was just crazy, especially given what happened the night before.

Then, to top it off, another man that received my book had me sign it with the message, “What are the odds?”

I asked him about the interesting message I was writing, and he said, “My girlfriend was just talking about this book the other day, saying she’d like to read it!”

There I was, giving him a signed copy, which was probably the last thing he expected to take home from a 50 mile race, to a girlfriend that was just mentioning the book. Crazy, ridiculous, can’t-make-this-stuff-up odds.

After all is said and done, it was a fabulous race. It would have been more fabulous had I been able to run it, but considering how depressed I was with going to the race injured, I could not have asked for a more fabulous, serendipitous event.

White River 50 has to be one of the toughest courses out there, but has some of the best race directors, volunteers and overall race atmosphere. The later the day wore on, the more fun the event became. A crowd of people stayed all the way until the end, after all the food had been eaten and all the prizes had been given out, and I felt proud to be part of such a unique community of ultrarunners.

As for the car, we borrowed jumper cables from the Search and Rescue crew, got a jump from another runner, and made it home just fine. The battery is still completely dead, so tomorrow will probably mean a trip to Honda.

For us, it’s all in a day’s work, where the odds are often stacked in our favor.

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