Graveyard 100 crewing report
I have another race this weekend so I would like to finish writing this before that, don’t want to get too behind. It’s been so much fun this year to have POSITIVE stuff to write about, and often. Last weekend I didn’t run a race myself. I had the honor of crewing for an ultrarunning legend at the Graveyard 100 in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Valmir Nunes is a former world record holder (6:18 for 100k), the current course record holder at the Badwater Ultramarathon, has run the 5th fastest time ever (3rd fastest person) at the Spartathlon, and the third fastest time at the Strolling Jim 40 among his many major ultra accomplishments. So, like I said, he’s a living legend. Brandon Wilson, the RD of Graveyard, contacted me a few weeks ago asking if I would be available and willing to crew for Valmir at this year’s race. I jumped at the chance. How often in life do you get to be around the best in the world at the thing you love to do? It’s kinda like getting the chance to throw BP to Derek Jeter or run lines with Bryan Cranston. That’s part of what I love about ultrarunning. I CAN do something like this, CAN get this close to someone who would certainly be in anyone’s Ultrarunning Hall of Fame.
Anyway, Friday we ended up having a “snow day” although I guess it would more accurately be called a “freezingish rain so kids don’t come to school but it’s still a teacher work day.” I headed to the Outer Banks in the early afternoon, driving through rain and high winds and generally miserable weather. The forecast said Saturday would be really nice but it was hard to believe given what I was dealing with on the drive out. I got to Kitty Hawk well after everyone else had packed up and headed north to Corolla for the night. Had a delicious burger and some beers at the Outer Banks Brewing Station and then headed to the Inn at Corolla Light for the night. It was a really nice inn and I wished I had gotten there sooner to enjoy the surroundings but I didn’t so I settled in to bed and got a few hours sleep.
3:15 am came quickly. I stirred, packed all the things I had brought in from the car, dressed, and headed down to grab some breakfast. On my way down I saw Jack Cabral outside the door to his and Valmir’s room so I introduced myself and went inside. There I briefly met Jack (who would be the other guy crewing for Valmir — as well as the English-Portuguese translator) and Valmir. We exchanged hellos and briefly went over some logistics and then I made my way to my car, loaded it up, grabbed some hard boiled eggs for breakfast and headed over to the start which was about a mile away.
The energy there was electric and made me sorta wish I were running myself. Almost. Valmir showed up and checked in and then started to jog around to warm up I guess. I talked some with Jack, figuring out logistics of what the day would entail and also of getting my car to the second aid station/beach house where I would be staying Saturday night. Right around 5 am the race started and Valmir was off. The race itself promised to be a good one, with many top caliber ultrarunners toeing the line. Aside from Valmir, Joe Fejes, Jonathan Savage, Olivier Leblond, and Connie Gardner were all running. I was going to get a front row seat to the action! Jack and I drove to the ~10 mile mark of the course and parked. It would be about 77 minutes before Valmir came through. After that, he wanted us to meet him every 3 miles along the route. Graveyard is unique in that it is basically just running south along one road from the northern end of the Outer Banks in Corolla to the end of Hatteras Island, probably a little more than 100 mile away. Jack and I chatted in the truck, getting to know each other — he’s an marine and a generally awesome bad ass, a humble one at that — while staying warm and waiting for Valmir. He taught me some basic Portuguese that would be relevant for the day, like ‘what do you want?’ and ‘you good?’ (te bon?). Valmir came by in first without anyone else in sight. We handed him what he wanted — Coca! Agua! (Coca Cola and water) and he was quickly on his way.
We drove three miles up the road, parked, and waited. I could stop it here and that would pretty accurately depict how my day went. Stop, wait for Valmir, hand him some Coca Cola and some water, get back in the car/truck, head down the road, park, wait, repeat. It was chilly early on but the sun was out and it promised to warm up some. So it went for quite a while. Valmir was like a machine, clicking off miles pretty consistently in the low 8s, high 7s. Meeting us, grabbing his Coke and water and continuing on. I’m pretty sure the only times he wasn’t running were the brief pit stops at the truck. It felt a lot like a NASCAR race, getting Valmir in and out as fast as possible. As we neared Kitty Hawk, Olivier and Joe had begun to catch up to him and the three of them were well clear of the rest of the field.
For the next dozen or so miles, the three men would trade positions but basically run pretty close to one another. At some point in the 30-40 mile range I saw Joe hunched over dry heaving, and Valmir needed to change his clothes because I think he was getting a little overheated too. It seemed like the three of them were pushing a little harder than the increasingly hot conditions were really allowing for and they were paying for it in varying degrees (purely conjecture on my part). At some point around here Valmir took something more than Coke and water — some Fanta and some kind of mix that was primarily just a ton of sodium in his water bottle with some flavoring. The stretch through Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head, etc is just mile after mile of beach house, breakfast restaurant, surf shop, etc. It was boring enough to drive past it all, I cannot imagine running it, being able to see so far ahead without really feeling like you’re making any progress. Oh, but the worst was yet to come!
The next stretch was just sand dunes and road. The only break was a 4 mile long bridge right around the halfway mark. We continued to supply Valmir with enough Coke to give most children diabetes every three miles and somewhere in here it became every two miles instead. At this point Olivier had jumped out to a decent but not insurmountable lead and Joe had fallen back a bit, which was sad because 1- Joe is awesome and 2- Kelly, his crew, is also awesome and was fun to see her at the same stops we were making and chat some before heading on down the road.
As we neared the next aid station, Valmir began to show signs that he was having a tough day, primarily by telling us it was kind of a tough day for him. Still, he was solidly in second and only a mile or two back of first, We continued with our every two miles stops. You’d think driving and crewing for someone for 100 miles would get boring and tedious but the fact that Valmir ran so consistently all day made for very little down time and a lot of excitement. I give all the runners credit for getting through this section with their sanity (mostly) in tact; it was just long stretches of open road and sand dunes on either side and nothing else to let you know you’ve made any progress.
Valmir tunred off of Rte 12 to go out and back to the Cape Hatteras light house, the last aid station, and saw Olivier going the opposite direction. Valmir was running a bit stronger, despite being nearly 3 miles back and that seemed to perk him up. We kept on him, pushing him, and getting him going without much stopping. At some point he had also eaten a power bar which was pretty much the only solid food he had all day. I was mostly just a cheerleader and cup hander at this point; he’d come in, take a sip, and be on his way. It was kind of amazing to watch really. He was clearly pretty tired and yet he seemed to find some extra inner strength and picked it up in an attempt to catch the leader over the final half marathon of the course. All we could do was hand off Cokes and waters and cheer every 1.8 miles now.
Leaving the lighthouse area, we encountered more barren, desolate, lonely road, but the end was fast approaching. At this point, after we handed off to Valmir, we sped up ahead to get an approximation of how far back he was before heading back to the next rendezvous point. The lead was shrinking, first from 3 miles to a little over 2, and finally to about 1.3 miles at its smallest. Alas, at the point there was only about 3 miles to go for Valmir, and about 1.5 for Olivier. Valmir was going to finish in second but it was still going to be a helluva time. He hit another rough patch with a few miles to go but toughed it out. We were waiting at the finish as he came in, running as he had the whole race. 15 hours, 1 minute after the start he crossed the finish line in second place. I high-fived Jack on a job well done. It wasn’t his best day, but despite feeling kinda rough at time, Valmir still managed to run a pretty quick 100 miles and finish in second by about 13 minutes. Overall, I’d deem that a successful day.
I stuck around to congratulate my runner and thanked Brandon for all he did to put the race on. Valmir’s daughter and her husband took him with them and Jack and I drove back to Nag’s Head where the beach house was located. I said goodbye to Jack and went inside to watch the end of UNC-Duke, go for my own brief run, and crash out on the couch. I only ran 5 miles that day but I was quite exhausted.
I have crewed for people before, most notably/exhaustingly when I crewed Dave at Hellgate. THAT was quite an experience, one that still sticks out in my mind as fun, difficult, and awesome. This was not quite as physically challenging but there was some stress to not screw anything up for a guy who was clearly a contender for the win. It was fun and interesting to be on this side of things. Even though I’ve done similar, this seemed different. I have more appreciation for my mom and my brother who drove around Long Island on Christmas Eve 2011 while I ran 46 miles from Jones Beach to Oyster Bay and then back to my house in Wantagh, stopping every few miles to give me something to drink and/or eat. I also am amazed by Mr, Nunes, like I said, I’m pretty sure the only time he stopped running was when he briefly stopped at the truck to quickly down a Coke and water and whatever else he needed (usually nothing). Impressive does not begin to describe it. Olivier and Joe also ran incredible races for 1st and 3rd respectively. I don’t know if I will ever do the Graveyard 100 myself, there is A LOT of sad, lonely running for the front runners, but I can recognize an extremely well-run race when I see it. Brandon, the Wilson family, and all involved put on a top notch race.
Thank you to Brandon for giving me this opportunity. I look forward to running more of your races in the future (hopefully at 100% so I can actually be competitive in them for a change). Thank you to Jack for being a great crew teammate and entertaining companion for the 15+ hours we shared on the road. Obrigado to Valmir for allowing me to help him, for being an amazing runner with no quit in him and pushing through when things got difficult. What a wonderful experience, truly. I feel very fortunate to have played a small part in the race up front and look forward to seeing Valmir again in the fall at Croatan 24.
Now to get ready for tomorrow. Ray K’s South Carolina 24 hour race (I’ll be running 50k and helping out after. Some big numbers are definitely going to be put up thought!). Mark, out.
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