“Cute. That’s a little baby!”

As I’ve mentioned before, there’s nowhere quite like at ultramarathons to find humans being human. It’s occurring everywhere, constantly, and in huge doses at these races. People volunteering entire weekends just because they want to be there to experience and participate in the accomplishments of runners. Race directors who put these races on knowing they’re never going to make a penny. Crew doing just about anything to help their runners reach the finish line.

I’ve experienced this at every ultramarathon I have participated in. I’ve had people offer to help me out, to crew me, to keep my company every single time. And nothing has stood out as more shocking than the help offered by an individual named Jamie Woyton at Ancient Oaks.

Jamie offered lots of help as one of the aid station volunteers at Ancient Oaks. For nearly 30 hours, Jamie was smiling and joking at the aid station offering some levity to a really tough day.

But nothing offered a more poignant moment of a human being human than what happened about 80 miles into my race. A mile before coming into the aid station, I had a sharp pain in my right pinky toe. It was clear I had developed a new blister (one of many), and one that was going to impact my ability to run more than previous blisters. I limped into the aid station, the person running with me at that point said something to Jamie about my complaining about the pain. Jamie sent me to my car and asked me to wait for him.

I sat on the tailgate of my car for a few moments when Jamie arrived. He asked what the problem was, then ripped my shoe and sock off to take a look. Feet seem nasty enough during any ordinary day. But this was 80 miles and 20+ hours into an ultramarathon. My feet weren’t just nasty. They were caked in sand and dirt and sweat, covered in bruises and blisters, toe nails ready to fall off, stinky to the high heavens. My feet were the epitome of every bad foot joke ever created.

But Jamie dove in with aplomb. He immediately went to work, found the culprit blister, looked up at me and said, “Cute. That’s a little baby!” (I’d understand at the end of the race what he meant) and pierced and drained the sucker. He, quite tactically I imagine, didn’t tell me about how the bottom of me feet looked and instead made jokes while he worked. Then he pushed me off the tailgate of my car and on the way to run some more.

I can’t imagine doing this. I can’t imagine handling someone’s nasty, trashed feet. I can’t imagine lancing someone’s blisters and squeezing all the puss out. I can’t imagine doing it while joking and making light of the situation. I can’t imagine.

But once again, this is the just the way people are at ultramarathons. I’ve seen others performing the same task at other races. These races just seem to strip us of all the junk we carry with us, of the need for hygiene and concern for self. People helping people. Each for our own reasons, but the impact is the same regardless of motivation.

If you find yourself discouraged by bad news, by people doing terrible things, by ugliness; come volunteer at an ultramarathon. You’ll be blown away. You’ll leave a different person. You’ll be improved. It happens, every time.

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