Solo, No Crew


By Jean Coulter

I am a 45-year-old, married woman. I have two sons, ages five and soon-to-be eight. We have a nice life, but I have anxiety. I wonder what I am going to do when I grow up. I wonder how I could be a better parent. I wonder how I could better support homeless people. I wonder how I could get more traction in my life. I wonder…

What is that creature up ahead? It’s off to the right and looks like a Tolkien magical stag with a rich red coat, velvet antlers, and wings. It has been dark for seven hours and my vision is sleepy. Earlier I moved through my actual sleep-running phase, missing a trail contour and running down a ravine. The swishing of tall, scratchy grass let my skin know we were cross-country; the real crack of some branches underfoot was also in my dream, and then my eyes opened. Whoops…giggle…it’s all good. There is also no mythical deer; as I approach it’s a large, gnarled tree trunk, twisted, brittle dry, and bare.

My LED headlamp casts a good cone of blue light in front of me. Outside this selective patch of illumination, the old growth forest is dense and very dark. I run through a clear cut and turn my lamp off to check in with the stars. It’s pitch black. This my favorite time of day – the cobalt night of 3 a.m. It’s an awesome darkness that I enjoy because I know that the balance of the evening is tipped towards the morning. I keep running, ignoring the ever-present hallucination that all the roots on the trail are snakes. I roll in to the backcountry aid station at mile 73 laughing and joking about all the snakes.

The logistics of life are such that I was not up for getting a crew and a pacer organized for a race located 1,000 miles away. I was actually excited for this, because I am self-conscious about asking people to give up their entire weekend to support me. I wonder if they are having a good time; I wonder if they need anything; I want to be a good host. My ever-suffering husband thinks all trail marathons start at 1 a.m. in the remote backcountry.

On Friday, I pack my carry-on and take the bus to the airport alone. I feel good, I feel open to the opportunity of what lays ahead. I make a friend on the plane as he shows me Mount Rainier and I can see the route through the Cascades that we will be racing tomorrow. I stay on a horse farm near the start; I meet kind people doing interesting things. The forest fire that caused a re-route of the course also makes for a sunrise of deep red and orange. The morning is crisp with hazy air. The light is soft compared to Colorado’s high-desert glare. I feel tuned in to good vibrations.

“3-2-1… Have Fun!” And we’re off. A gangly organism with 320 feet, bright-colored fishing vests abound, click click click of hiking poles. I notice the little totems and talismans that some have brought; my beaded leather patch of the Wolverine claw is on my shoulder strap. Without a crew or a pacer ahead, I am able to just run along. There was a spreadsheet, but I don’t need it now – I’m not going to be late for anyone.

Because I’m alone, I make friends on the course. I reach out within. I have my iPod, but my fellow runners are my new tribe and the earbuds stay tucked away for the day. Without crew, I had put notes to my Future Self in my drop bags – words of encouragement from the Other Me, and to do lists: take two Advil, eat something, make a friend. Husband sent a love note, Quinn and Shea sent shrinky dink totems for mile 51; I open a note from Quinn’s K–2 classroom for mile 80: YOU GOT THIS!

As day turns to afternoon and into night, and into dawn, and now to the next day, I realize that by not having a crew or pacer, I am able to be a part of this migration without any barriers. I’m not a closed unit, I’m wide open. I connect with the aid station volunteers – who know our kind better than anyone. I welcome their good cheer and stoke. I make more friends on the course. I find my Tribe. On this weekend, I don’t wonder – I do.

Thanks to everyone who makes Cascade Crest 100 what it is.




  1. Wow! What a great read, inspiring and motivating to open up to whole race experience! You are brave and successful, congratulations!!

  2. Shaun Coulter on

    You’re awesome but you know that. You’re my sister and I’m so proud of you!

  3. Love this – it’s how I currently do all my trail races and will probably be how I do my first 50K, 50, 100…….

  4. thanks Jean for the insight. I am planning my first 100 miler and thought i’d do it solo, but i keep reading about crews. i have the same thoughts you expressed, in terms of being a good “host”. I was already leaning towards doing this myself, with good planning, etc. and your post reinforces this notion. Congrats on your run!

  5. John Hampson on

    This was a great read. I’ve been slowly building my way up the ultra distances and am starting to get anxious about not having people crewing. It’s great to hear that other people are running significantly further and more difficult races solo and not only managing it, but also enjoying it.