Support crew: the unsung heroes of Ultramarathons

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014


Claudette Montes-cabahug
Contributor

THE ultramarathon scene in Cebu has certainly gotten tougher each year. Back in 2011 when my husband, Rodney, debuted in this sport, running a 65-kilometer footrace seemed preposterous. Nowadays, it is nothing but a run-of-the-mill training distance on any given day for the extremely hard-core ones.

Whereas much has been written about the incredible races and the strong men and women running them, not much is told about the people behind the so-called warriors, finishers, champions.

While running long-distance races without a support crew may be slowly gaining popularity in the country, the first 280K ultramarathon in Southeast Asia, South to North 280 (SN 280), from Santander to Daanbantayan, held last weekend wherein all but one official finisher had their own support crew, proved a point: It’s not bad to have a crew and it makes a lot of difference to have one.

I take it that by virtue of marriage, husbands and wives are default race crew of their better halves. But more than a legal obligation, it is a duty borne out of love.

No loving and caring spouse could sleep well at night thinking about their partner trudging the moonlit and canine-infested roads of Pinamungahan and Aloguinsan alone.

While I may have crewed alone for my husband in some of his races, as I did in Bataan for his first BDM 102 wherein he placed 10th, SN 280 was certainly not like any other.

I have never seen a man so dedicated to his training as he was. The only time the rain could stop him was when he was heat-training. So I figured that he must have an equally great crew that could match his needs as an ultramarathoner.

Here goes our all-star cast during the historic SN 280:

First, we had a master tactician. Joerick, Team Laspag’s Ironman. He taught us that running a very long distance involves strategic planning.

He said his methods may be unconventional, but they work amazingly. Rodney would not have finished second if it were not for his “sleeping” secrets.

Second, we had a selfless man who served cheerfully. Manong was never grumpy, sleep-deprived or not. As long as he was awake, he was the first person to go to the trunk of the pickup and get the supplies ready for the approach of our champ. I know for sure that we will be crewing together in many more ultras.

Third, we had Boying behind the wheel during the second half of the race. It was refreshing to have a cool person around during those long stressful hours. His judicious advice, especially when it came to the race rules, put things in perspective.

Our fourth man is one of the most dependable persons in Danao’s Team Laspag—Froilan. A long-time ultramarathoner himself, he brings to the race many years of experience.

More like our elder brother (“father” would be too painful for the guy), no one says no to him. If he tells you to eat something, you eat it because it is for your own good. Some runners, like my husband, can be stubborn during the race, so his unique diplomatic skills sure came in handy.

The rest of our crew consisted of my husband’s parents Gines and Zor, his brother Jeckoy, his cousin Rey, and our son, Aaron—all of whom managed to meet us at some point of the route to reinforce our supplies and energy.

The race started with a lot of hope. My husband and our friend Joel Cuyos, champion of SN 250, had agreed early on that they would stick together as they did in the previous year’s race.

Aside from being officemates at CSAM/Smartware, they have been like brothers all these years, racing and sometimes training together. Thus, I know what an emotional moment it was when they hugged each other in Balamban, because they could not finish the race together, and again at the finish line in Daanbantayan, because they were not able to finish the race together. These two would be running many more races together.

Although clearly a competition, the race also offered us many opportunities to get to know new friends. Some non-Cebuano participants did not have their own race crew, so some of us became their instant crew as well.

Originally set at 54 hours, the cutoff time for SN 280 was extended to 56 hours, to ensure that many participants could reach the finish line.

For the crew, this meant several hours of driving till knees and back hurt. We had to fight sleep (catnaps of five minutes or so were priceless), endure extended hours of discomfort like bathroom breaks on the side of the road, staying cramped in a car full of people who have not bathed or brushed their teeth, or knocking on every sari-sari store praying they have ice.

All the difficulties aside, I look at crewing as a privilege. It gives you first-hand access to a race that tests the human character. It is where you see the best and worst in people, yet you accept them and offer them what you have. The camaraderie in this sport warms my heart every time, as competitors see each other more as brothers than as enemies.

In these finest hours, I get to see big winners even though they only placed second or third or even if they never made it within cutoff time, because I know they took every step without breaking the rules. Similarly, I get to witness sore losers who betray their character with their excuses.

Then after all the celebration is done at the finish line, the way home will surprise even more—the human spirit still trudging on, on bare feet, never yet overcome by the heat or the rain, smiling though finishing last.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on July 16, 2014.

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