Intro: Kelly is a Perfect Stranger. In fact, she and I were the founding members. I have run so many miles with this girl. I have cried a lot of tears. And laughed a lot of laughs. And she was an amazing cheerleader. Read her description of how the DWD 50K went from a cheerleader perspective.
I grew up a cheerleader. It’s in my blood. I have this passion for rooting on athletes in action. It’s my wheelhouse. And you know what? The cheering is a high for me…I know my words are going to the depths of these athletes’ souls when they need it most.
You know how I know this is true? I’m a runner. And when I run by a crowd cheering me on it gives me the extra push that I so desperately need to make it another step, another block, another mile, across the finish.
I believe all runners should be spectators/cheerleaders at least once in their lives. We know what we want to hear. So go out there and do it. Your friends will thank you. Heck, perfect strangers (pun intended) will thank you.
A few of my Perfect Stranger girls (Meggie, Meghan & Christi) ran the Dances With Dirt Ultra Marathon last weekend in Brown County State Park. I knew months ago that I just had to be there. To witness an Ultra, to witness my girls become Ultras, and to do what I do best: cheer the girls on!!!
The PS cheer team consisted of myself, Jake & Josh and by the end of the race people knew us. Let me start at the beginning. You’ve already read Meggie’s side of DWD (the grueling side), now I’ll let you in on the other side of DWD (the less grueling fun side).
We all woke bright and early Saturday morning: Jake to walk the dog, Christi & Meghan to shower (say what?!) and eat their bananas in peace, and me to get pumped up for a fun day. I was excited it was a big race day and I had no nerves, which is another great thing about being a cheerleader. As we were getting ready to leave the house the girls noted that they hadn’t seen any twitter or FB updates from the social media queen herself, Meggie. So they text her. No response. We knew something was strange about that. Few minutes later as we were in the car she called. She had overslept…and I’m sure you have already read Meggie’s recap and what ensued. The girls couldn’t wait for her arrival and start late, so we had to get pumped up and know that Meggie would get here soon and join them along the way. We had a plan. Now it was time to start this race.
As soon as the girls started their 50k trek through the forest, Jake and I headed back to the truck and popped open our first beers of the day. Christi’s friend John was there for the start but couldn’t handle the hair of the dog so early in the morning. Jake and I? We knew it was going to be a long day so we needed to carb up. Jake opened up the tailgate and the next hour passed quickly: we discussed John’s 36 hole golf tournament, Jake’s bear hunting stories, Jake attempted to teach a gal how to drive her friend’s manual transmission car (it took her 45 minutes to get out of first gear, no joke), and Jake told the first story of A.C. Slater’s silver lab heritage (I’m pretty sure he had to explain over 67 times what kind of dog he is).
We studied the course map and laid out all the places we could see the girls (don’t you even think for a second I hadn’t pre-planned our route and even emailed the race director a few times for best spots on the course!). Soon we decided it was time to go meet Meggie & Josh in town to escort them to Meghan & Christi’s first aid station to join in on the run.
We entered the state park and raced to what we thought was mile 6. After we got out and our giddy excitement was bursting, the gal that (finally) got her car out of first gear told us that we were at mile 12. Back in the car. Back on the road. We found mile 6. Meggie and I were using the facilities when we heard Jake’s booming voice yell, “Freeman!” I said, “Oh no, they’re here!” Meggie’s reply, “Naw, he does that…he’s just practicing.” Um, really? Jake yelled again and it was legit: the girls were here! We ran out of there to greet the girls and see all three of them off into the woods.
The cheer squad (aka myself, Jake & Josh) then meandered back to the cars where both boys opened up their tailgates to display their loot for the day: coolers full of beer, water, orange juice, vodka…I could go on…and donuts, chips, crackers and candy. Let’s just say we were set for the day. So we all made ourselves a drink and snapped a photo so we could be on record at DWD.
After loading up the car (Slater rode shotgun, obv) we made our way to mile 9. As we waited we started seeing other runners for the first time (when we dropped Meggie off at mile 5 there weren’t any others around). We cheered them on, some stopped to take pics of Slater (one man kept making his buddy take his pic with Slater and then a little 4 year old girl kept snapping pics of him as well – AC became a local celeb, no lie), and we made friends with other spectators. Josh also took note of how much fun all the runners looked like they were having. He said this is so different from a road marathon, where everyone is so consumed by their time. Here they were stopping to eat, refill their fuel belts, laughing and carrying on conversations with us. He was right; this definitely had a different feel than most races. So relaxed. Soon the girls came through the forest smiling. Yay! They GU’d up, we snapped some pics and off their cute little tooshes went back into the woods. Spirits were high.
Next stop was mile 12 and this was the most beautiful stop along the course as it overlooked the entire park. We made more friends here (as did Slater), I got to know more about what Josh did for a living, we made yet more friends, and everyone got to play lookout for me while I peed in the woods (“Cover your cooch!” TMI? Whatevs.) I told Josh, “No one ever said I was classy!” And his response, “No one ever said you weren’t.” Love. Him. Already. We cheerleaders got to know each other better at this stop.
Soon the girls came out of the woods and they were ravenous. Christi couldn’t get enough of the blueberry glazed donut holes (“Who invented these things? They’re amazing! I need the recipe!”). We took lots of pictures with the beautiful back drop and off the girls went once again. I’m sure more happened at this stop but my memory is a tad hazy (beer + sun = haze).
Onto the next. Mile 18 is where we set up camp next. We figured it’d take the girls about an hour and a half to get here from our last stop so we had some time to kill. We started seeing a lot of familiar faces from previous stops and we cheered every single one of them on. But the time kept ticking. No girls. I get a text from Christi saying she left the girls, felt badly, but really wanted to PR. Change of plans. Christi arrived out of the woods again with a smile on her face. She fueled up, hugged, and was back on her way. Shortly after, Meggie and Meghan came out of the trails drenched in sweat. Both girls doubled over. In between breaths they were saying how tight their sh*t was. Meggie admitted that she was just exhausted. I escorted them to the buffet of an aid station and they downed lots of fuel. Meghan grabbed a handful of M&Ms and was strategically planning out her bites (“It’s a game and a snack!”) and I couldn’t stop snapping pictures of how intimate this stop was for the girls. Both of their men were taking care of them, talking them through it, tending their needs. Was so sweet. But they still had a ways to go. I laughed because Meggie got back on the trail and said, “Guess I should actually run since people are watching!” And they were gone.
We studied the map and realized we could super-stealth-like surprise the girls at mile 20. Jake pulled off onto the side of the street, pumped up the jam and had a little tailgate party. Within a minute of us arriving, Christi popped up and out of the woods. She said the last 2 mile stretch was straight uphill and treacherous. And if Christi says it’s tough, then it’s going to be a doozy! She did a quick change of socks and went on her way. Jake wanted to pump the girls up, so he had me turn the music up louder so they could hear it in the woods (I’m sure other people in the park just loved us). Before we knew it a man that we say at the 19 mile stop came up out of the woods and told us he was done. Asked us to take him back. He couldn’t finish. Not on my watch, buddy. I filled his water, gave him cookies, talked him through his pain, and asked about his training. Told him he could and would do this. He sat there while our gals came out of the woods dancing and giving us curious glances about the man in the neon top and old school glasses. I asked the girls to keep an eye on him out on the trails after he walked back onto the course. The next thing I knew there was a dance party and Meggie & Meghan were dropping it like it was hot. They still had spunk in them and I couldn’t stop smiling. So darn proud of them at that moment, that they were still having fun. Those are my girls.
Next stop: mile 21. Slater made more friends, we all did more cheering, same story, different mile marker. Christi arrived and quickly ate more food. Pretty sure she didn’t stop very long before she got back to it. She was focused and kept telling me every stop how many people she passed. That’s her game: she focuses on someone and then passes them. It’s how she makes herself keep going. She’s a strong one, Christi.
By now we could tell the girls’ pace had slowed down quite a bit but were more excited than ever to see them. I camped out at the top of a hill with my camera perched waiting. As soon as I saw them I could see it in their eyes. They were tired. But I kept screaming anyway. They had to know just how proud of them I was. So naturally I had to scream from the top of my lungs, “Meggie & Megahn – YOU’RE DOING IT!!! Go on for it girls!” They made their way to the aid station and ate PB&Js and fig newtons and M&Ms and Gus. Meggie looked up and saw the massive watch tower and said she remembered that from being in the park before…then asked if we were going to climb it. Think she started become slap happy at this point. Meghan asked for a beer (as did many of the runners as they passed) and chased her GU with a cold lager. Why wouldn’t you? We saw a handful of horses that were awaiting a trial ride and Meggie asked if she could borrow one to get to the finish. We laughed. The horse people did not. Off they went.
The cheer squad headed on to our final cheer point and set up our now infamous tailgate. Runners were tired. Haggard. Run down. Out of gas. Heck, even Slater took a nap at this stop! Every one of the runners thought we were a bonafide aid station and asked for water. So then we just started handing it out, filling water bottles, passing out salty crackers, sweet cookies and even Aleve. Christi passes through and says it’s hard, she just climbed stairs from hell, but she’s going to keep powering through. Then we get a text that Meggie and Meghan are lost. Got off course. All they knew is that they were on a horse trail. We studied maps and looked for said trails to no avail. Meggie couldn’t get a signal to get onto her map app so we told her to use her compass. Based on the last checkpoint and the one we were standing at all we could tell her was to turn around and head southwest. Talk about scary. But Josh handled it so calmly and patiently I admired their communication in such a time of duress.
After getting the girls back on course I realized I couldn’t hang out at that station much longer, as I’d miss Christi cross the finish line. And let’s be serious here, no one should ever cross a finish line without a supporter there. So if you have a friend or family member in a race (of any distance or kind – bike, swim, run) make sure you are either on the course or at the finish. It means the world to know someone is there for you. Anyway, I got into Josh’s truck and raced to the finish line. I couldn’t miss her. Girl had just run 31 miles. I ran to the finish and realized I had a few minutes to spare. And then realized I was watching all of the runners finish that I’d been cheering on the entire day. It was an incredible finish to watch; very emotional for everyone. And then I saw her: all black with her blonde braid bouncing along. She made it. I yelled and yelled and yelled. Christi was semi smiling, semi choked up. I know the face well. I was beaming for my friend who just killed her second Ultra. What an inspiration.
We hugged, we cried, we recapped her last few miles (rivers and mud slides and bears oh my!). Got her all cleaned up and back to the finish line we went to await the rest of our Perfect Strangers to cross the finish. During this time a gal came up to me and thanked me for all my words of encouragement along the course…how much it meant to her that I kept telling her she could do it and that she was doing it. Now that? That’s why I cheer.
Soon we saw the two beauties in black & camo running towards us. They made it. And that’s when I couldn’t stop my tears. It’s hard to yell and cry at the same time, but I did. You know why? Because those girls just finished their very first Ultra marathon and were smiling. Again, these girls continue to inspire me.
I remember Meggie cracking a joke as she finished and was awarded her age group medal (read: bone)…something about her being a Kenyan. And wouldn’t you know it, she had everyone laughing. True to Meggie style, she found humor in her pain. It’s what she does best. She knows we all hurt as much as she does and yet she finds light in it. Makes us all laugh when we want to cry. Integral part of our group, that Meggie.
I cheered on Ultra marathoners for 10 hours on Saturday with two guys that were near-strangers to me. I can now call both Josh & Jake my friends. And I can call my three girls Ultra Marathoners. Now that’s something to cheer for!