I’ve worked aid stations for that company for quite some time now and met what are now thousands of runners. John in the following story is a VERY rare exception to the claim that trail runners are the most friendly, genuine and chill people I’ve ever met. There were only three cases a runner acted like a total jerk towards me, and John here is the most extreme one.
(Also, know that during long-distances, the mental state of runners can change. One minute they’re having the time of their lives and the net one, even breathing can make them feel like shit. But there’s a difference between runners being in a bad mood because they have a lot of miles in their legs and in their mind, and runners being jerks.)
Dear John. Please, think twice before you decide to be a sexist piece of trash. You’ll save yourself a lot of pain and embarrassment.
I was working an aid station at an ultramarathon race. An ultramarathon is any race longer than a marathon, which is 26.2 miles. They usually start at the 50K distance, which is 31 miles, and go all the way up to 50, 100, 200, or even 3,000 miles.
On the race day, we woke up into an already hot morning, and the temperatures only grew from there. I set up my aid station and by the time the leader came through, the temperature was just passing the 100-degree mark.
From my aid station, runners were going out on a dry and exposed 7-mile loop before coming back to me. I know that loop and I dread it every time I’m planning to run it. Being halfway through an ultra, it’s one of the worse conditions you could get at that point in a race.
It was just past midday when a runner whom we shall name John came to my aid station. He was about to embark on the hilly and hellish loop, and was already looking pretty beat up and I could see he was cramping. The most common reason for his condition at that distance and in that heat was salt deficiency.
I knew just from the look of him that he needed a salty snack, a salt tablet or two, and his water bottles filled to the brim in order to make it back to us in somewhat not completely awful condition.
My role at an aid station is to help runners with everything they might need: roll out their legs, put band-aids on blisters and bloody nipples (yes, that’s a thing), offer them food, ice and hugs and refill their bottles. Basically, I’m a 23-year-old mom taking care of anywhere between 50 and 200 people of all ages – most of whose do, in fact, turn into kids anywhere between mile 20 and 75.
I did the same I’d do for anyone else for John.
“Hey there! Looking good!” (He looks like if he’s about to die.)
John ignores me and spits a piece of jerky he apparently doesn’t like on the ground.
“Can I refill your water bottles for you?” I continue cheerfully. John just grunts and holds onto his almost empty water bottles even more tightly than before.
“Fuck. My legs are cramping,” he says more for himself than me.
“Can I get you a salt tablet or two? That will help with the cramping a little,” I suggest. He finally looks at me, from head to toe, and scoffs.
“I don’t need no help from a girl.” It was clear at that very moment that even if he was dying right then and there, he would NOT take any water, nor salt tablets from me for one very simple reason: I was a female offering him help.
He left the aid station, 7 miles of heat and sun and no water ahead of him, very clearly low on salt.
‘He ain’t having a good time,’ I thought as I was refilling water and offering salt tablets to another runner who, however, appreciated my help, as opposite to John who refused any.
The waiting game begun.
It took John at least twice as long as other runners to finish the loop and get back to my aid station. The heat of the day started to subdue by that point, and the air became more breathable.
When he appeared on the trail, I recognized him immediately. He looked like hell.
He made it to the aid station.
“I gotta sit,” he basically spat at me. I pointed him to the ice chest and he slumped down on it.
“Water,” he croaked as I was helping other runners. I brought him a cup of water mixed with electrolytes. I was NOT having him die out there. He spat it out.
“I said water!” This drew the attention of other runners who started to give him quizzical eyebrows. I don’t think he noticed. I shook my head in slight disbelief and handed him a cup with water. That was a mistake. The moment his throat wasn’t dryer than Death Valley in the middle of summer, he started his tirade.
“This fucking race is awful. Who puts this on? This is horrible. The worst race I’ve ever run…”
I ignored him as I was helping others who actually appreciated my help, and let him enjoy his private pity party.
“… and they have girls here. First they let them run, then they let them give advice to me…”
I kept giving out salt tablets, PB&J sandwiches, electrolyte drink, band aids and support for other runners while John was going through what seemed like the worst day of his life. I felt a little mischievous nudge to remind him that he came here voluntarily and even paid for the race entry, but I valued my life so I just kept ignoring him.
Then he started to talk to my runners.
“You! Isn’t this just the worst race you’ve ever run?! It’s fucking awful, isn’t it?”
Don’t get me wrong. I love that ‘job’ more than anything. But John there wasn’t making it easy for me. Considered I am a volunteer, the phrase “I don’t get paid enough for this shit” was a very true statement.
I could get over his being a sexist piece of trash. But I sure as hell wasn’t having him destroy the experience for others. I turned to him with a smile, handing him his refilled water bottles.
“Here’s your water. Now, unfortunately, we do have a time limit for our aid stations, so you’ll have to get up and start running.”
For a second, I thought he dislocated his jaw as he just stared at me in disbelief. Then he started to yell his head off at me.
“Fucking bitch! You’re gonna tell me what to do?!”
Alright, dear John. Let me rephrase that for you… I smiled at him but my teeth were a little clenched. I think he noticed that change in my voice which was still very polite but no longer friendly.
“You get out of here right now or I’m dropping you out from the race.”
I smiled after him as he left the aid station, calling me a bitch a couple more times and hollering that my “boss” would hear about it.
John eventually made it to the finish, dehydrated, cramping, hurting, but not yelling at anyone anymore. Guess he either didn’t have the strength to complain, or the balls to do it in front of the male volunteers and race director.
Later that day, the race director and “my boss” did hear about it all anyway. He dropped John from the race after another runner told him what happened at my aid station.
Lesson learned? Don’t be a sexist. You’ll save yourself a lot of pain and embarrassment.