I drove to Easton, Washington, up in the Cascade Mountains, a couple of weekends ago for the Cascade Crest 100-mile trail run. The Board of Directors gave a remembrance of John’s life in the ultrarunning community before the runners made their last minute trek to the port-a-pots and the food caches and the water coolers, and gave their last minute requests to their crews and their pacers, and then found their favorite location among the starters.
I’d forgotten how frenetic those minutes before the start can seem; how exciting and engaging and inspired and hopeful each runner is. I miss those moments when preparation is over and just before the run begins. For thirty-five years, John and I were a part of all that. Sometimes he’d run, and I’d crew; sometimes I’d run, and he’d crew. Sometimes we ran the same race separately and sometimes the same race together. Some races were magic, the day beautiful and the run effortless. Others were a struggle, full of wind or rain or mental fatigue or a worn-out body. A few didn’t get finished, ending in the miles and hours before the finish line, a disappointing DNF, a time of reflection and adjustment for next time. All were pure joy though, including the times we didn’t run, maybe especially the times we didn’t run, the times we checked in runners or passed out race packets or worked the finish line or at an aid station or crewing or pacing.
The ultrarunning community is an amazing group of people. Everyone is going to be out there for a long day and, maybe, night as well, and no one can run these trails on race day without help. Not even those who pretend to be self-supporting. There are ribbons and glow sticks and persons stationed at confusing trail intersections; there are walkie-talkie people in touch with medical personnel; there are cots for resting and voices of encouragement. There have been hours and hours spent by selfless persons getting ready for an ultra long before the gun goes off at the start. In our chaotic world, this kind of planning and care and concern for one another seems rare to me. And always touches my life in enriching moments, often long after a race is over.
Six times John and I showed up at the Cascade Crest 100: twice to run, three times to volunteer at aid stations, and once to cheer on friends. We liked that this particular run maintained a local community spirit, yet always keeping to its competent acumen while remaining low-keyed and personal. No runner was put up in a fancy hotel, no sponsor’s name went over the run logo, no extravagant hoopla heralded the start, just ordinary/extraordinary people creating a time of wonder in the mountains for those who run. And, this year, they took time to remember John, now running those ethereal trails above the sun. Thanks, especially, to Kent Holder.