You know when you randomly meet someone and feel like you connect with them instantly? Maybe it isn’t so random, eh?
I met M* a few years ago at a neighborhood shindig. I learned she was an avid outdoorsy type who had summited some of the highest peaks, mountain biked gnarly trails, competed in tough cycling races, and had developed herself into a competitive athlete all past the age of 40. Groovy. Then I learned of her volunteer work, her career history, and current line of work… and she was even more groovy.
I didn’t see her much after our first meeting. We both have schedules that are not ordinary. And because I have spent more time running in the past 2-3 years than cycling, our workout schedules and "details" didn’t align.
This summer, M moved from the other side of the neighborhood to “our side”. I live in a mountain community, which is not huge, but the houses are spread out nicely (thank you to trees… and the natural filter of not-everyone-can handle-living-in-the-mountains-as-glorious-as-it-sounds). One day in August as I was doing an outdoor run, M stopped to chat for a few minutes as she was driving by. I learned she was racing the Leadville MTB 100 in less than two weeks. I naturally asked if she had a good crew lined up.
[If you aren’t familiar with 100 mile mountain bike or trail running races, know that having a crew typically makes for a better race. They carry your supplies for you, meet you at aid stations, check on your well-being, provide encouragement or butt kicking, and can be really magical.]
M had a couple crew people lined up but hadn’t heard a confirmation yet. I quickly volunteered to help, if needed. M appreciated my offer and said she’d let me know soon.
I love Leadville, I love crewing for athletes who work hard, I love supporting friends. And mountain bikers are pretty bad ass people (for the most part), especially those that race in Leadville. Plus, as a crew member, I offer a special layer of support to athletes in that I can work in my nutrition skills.
With less than one week to the race, M let me know that her crew had fallen through and asked if I’d still be up for the challenge of supporting her for the 100 mile MTB race. In less than 4 milliseconds, I responded with an excited YES.
We met a few days later to discuss logistics, which is also when I discovered M didn’t have much of a nutrition plan. I can still tease her a bit to this day about that… of course I am biased with the type of work I do, but I will forever be perplexed by ultra athletes who don’t have a nutrition plan going into an important race. Nonetheless, as we spent some time cramming on race logistics, I did my best to devise a nutrition plan for her.
Mountain bike racing in Leadville comes with some challenges as the race is at high elevation (over 10K feet), the start is super cold (I believe it was in the 30s at 6am), there are areas with high winds, and other parts of the course can get pretty warm. Just like with running, you don’t want to carry a lot of weight on the bike. It’s also not always practical or easy to take in calories. If you are competitive, you want to stop as infrequently as possible and when you do stop, you want to make these stops as short as you can.
M and I finalized race plans the night before the race (egads). I was super excited to be her support, even though I was slightly nervous about being her only support. We made Plan A, Plan B, Plan C. In these short hours we had together, I realized the beauty of a solid friendship developing. We talked bike parts and endurance racing, food and sports nutrition topics, brain health and neurotransmitter function, meditation and self-growth… and on and on. You’d never know this gal was about to kick butt the next day in a grueling MTB race. She exuded pure calmness and a sense of gratitude no matter what the day would bring. Oh yeah, she also told me she really had only trained for 2-3 months for this 100-mile race due to an injury she had earlier in the year. Say what?
Long story short, her race went well and the solo crew member (me) had a blast navigating to our predetermined meeting points along the course for exchange of nutrition and other supplies. I always observe other athlete’s nutrition choices and it’s fairly clear when things are going awry for an athlete. Luckily, M did pretty well with the Plan A / Plan B nutrition plans, and she showed her mental and physical toughness by finishing in the top 15% of all women (and beating over 65% of all the men’s field). At the race finish, she maintained her uber level of grooviness as she congratulated a number of other cyclists she knew, all without boasting any of her accomplishment. She was extremely grateful for the race support.
This experience may not sound like anything special or unique to you, but it was incredibly memorable for me. In a year where my personal athletic endeavors were put on hold, I reaped the benefits of supporting a friend and neighbor to her finish line… sort of like channeling my athlete self through her, although that sounds corny. And now I am fortunate to have this friend to share in future journeys, no matter whether these are life challenges and accomplishments or our own racing finish lines.
To all of my friends, new and old. You fill voids in my heart and you are a part of my Everything.
*name changed to protect privacy