By Lauren Steinheimer
I’m sitting here, guiltily sipping chamomile tea from a beautiful ceramic mug that I paid for, yet did not earn.
It’s an SOB 50M finisher’s mug. The award given out to the supremely rugged savages who spent a perfectly good Saturday hauling ass through 50 miles of Southern Oregon’s mountainous trails.
The Siskiyou Outback 50 mile trail run was supposed to be my first ever 50-mile race.
But, I didn’t run it. Not this year.
A little over a month before the race date, I got a call from my doctor’s office with results from a biopsy the week before. The nurse said that I would need to come back to have the precancerous tissue removed.
My calendar is pretty much booked up until late December (and who really wants to deal with something like that at Christmastime?!?), so I snagged an appointment two weeks before the big race.
Clinging to some imaginary shred of hope that I would recover instantaneously and all would be peachy keen, I asked my doctor if I would be able to run a 50 mile race in two weeks.
“Is it strenuous?” she asked.
I opened my mouth slightly and stared at her for several seconds, literally speechless.
But my boyfriend was there to back me up. He explained that it was a foot race, on a mountain, and, yes, it would be extremely strenuous.
So, of course, I got a big fat “ABSOLUTELY NOT!”
Oh, well. I had prepared myself for this very likely response (i.e.- I had already cried about it in the privacy of my own bedroom).
So, this race, this thing that had been dominating my time, energy, and complete existence for the past few months just wasn’t going to happen (for me) anymore. That’s okay. My health is more important than my hobbies.
But I was suuuuuuper bummed.
I’d invested so much in this race. I gave it my heart and soul. Shed blood and tears. I felt cheated!
As I lay on the exam table, I squeezed my boyfriend’s hand, turned toward him and said, “It’s okay.. I can still volunteer.”
I couldn’t imagine not being a part of the SOB. So, I reached out to the race directors, introduced myself, and lined up the sweetest gig a girl could ask for. I was the cheerleader at the finish line, shouting praises to the finishers and slinging medals around their sweaty necks!
It was my first time volunteering at a race, and I was beyond thrilled with the results.
The race directors: John, Rob, Susan and Erin were all friendly, hilarious people who were awesome to work with.
At first, I was a little intimidated by my job. As an introverted, awkward writer, I need to override my gut instincts in order to approach a person, much less get up in their sweaty, panting faces and shower them with praise.
After about two or three tries, I was on fire.
The first runners to cross the finish were from the 15K. I was surprised to see a lot of really young guys who looked like they might still be the stars of their high school track teams.
These super fast runners brought a whole new level of competition to the races. My jaw is still on the floor from the first 50 mile finisher, a beast of a man named Benjamin Stern who nailed it in 6:30 and change.
The age range of finishers across the three races really impressed me. I cheerfully bemedaled an eight year old, followed by an 81 year old.
Many ran to the finish with a small posse of loved ones, some even picked up their toddlers to carry across the line.
A few people sprinted through looking strong enough to do it all over again, and others literally fell into my arms.
Most looked raggedly blissed out, while a few others just cried.
But my absolute favorite finishers were a mother and son duo who ran the 50K. They finished with their arms around one another, smiles beaming. The kid, who was only 16, proudly exclaimed, “This is my mom!” and, likewise, the woman shouted, “This is my son!” as they supported one another’s exhausted bodies in a big, sweaty hug. My heart melts every time I think of it.
There’s definitely something magical about being on the other side of a race. It’s not easy to maintain enthusiasm for ten hours straight, but hey, we’re all endurance athletes, right? Race volunteering is a whole different kind of thrill, and I can’t wait to do it again!
Huge thanks to the SOB race directors, sponsors and volunteers for putting on a damn good time!