I showed up to the Indiana Trail 100 at Chain O’ Lakes State Park near Albion, Ind., hoping to run a lap as a pacer.
I left realizing I was barely qualified to cook ramen noodles for those headlamp-wearing, heroic souls who endured the dark, flooded, muddy trails.
“You’ve got to break the noodles up first,” said the aid station leader I’d been assigned to assist after Chad — the runner who amiably but foolishly accepted my pacing offer — dropped out earlier in the day. “Otherwise the noodles will be too long and the runners won’t be able to deal with them.”
I felt terrible for Chad, who’d said in his message that the “mud and water were ridiculous.” Who could’ve expected we’d get 4 inches of rain less than two days before the race? But I couldn’t help wincing when I thought of what might’ve happened if he’d made it to the 50-mile point and then been stuck with me.
The pacers who accompanied the racers to our aid station looked like they could’ve gone the whole distance themselves — and probably many of them did have at least one 100-miler under their belt, said another aid station worker, who turned out to be race director Mike Pfefferkorn.
“A lot of times people return the favor for one another,” Pfefferkorn said. “I did it one time without knowing the person ahead of time, and it’s harder, because then you don’t know what they’re capable of.”
Initially I’d hoped to get matched up with another runner, but I quickly realized I’d be doing them a disservice. Not only did I lack the stamina to pull more than one 16-mile loop (if that), but I was a bit fuzzy on the course layout. When one woman approached the station in tears, confused and in a panic that she wasn’t going to make the 15-hour, 50-mile cut-off, I wasn’t sure which direction to point her in, as runners left us along different routes, depending on which race they were entered in.
Just keeping the food table stocked was a feat in itself, especially once it got dark and the temperature dropped below freezing. Suddenly it wasn‘t just a matter of cutting up doughnuts and bananas, making the occasional peanut butter sandwich and restocking snack bowls. (Among the most popular items: chunks of cold boiled potatoes dipped in salt). It seemed like every runner wanted a cup of hot ramen noodles and coffee or hot chocolate, which in my case meant figuring out how to use a propane camp stove and making sure we had enough hot water going at all times.
I left just before 10 p.m., when our station was due to get a shipment of pizza for runners and volunteers alike. I figured I didn’t need any more fuel for the day, and I didn’t want to be tempted.
As I drove off through the dark park, watching out for bobbing headlamps, I wondered what it would be like to run all through the night and into the next day. (The official cut-off, after Saturday’s 6 a.m. start, was 6 p.m. Sunday evening.)
I’m not sure I’ll ever know. But it was cool to vicariously experience this event featuring extreme endurance athletes from all over the country, and I hope they do it again next year. If so, I’ll be back — and much more experienced at cooking ramen over a camp stove.