Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Brian

I'd like to share what I learned in this past year. A friend took his own life one year ago tomorrow. I had seen him just 3 days before when he paced one of the races I direct. I originally met Brian through him volunteering at my first ever race on my own back on 1/1/11.

This anniversary of his death is really hard to talk about, but I feel the discussion is beneficial to put out to the world. This post formed over about 2 weeks of turning it in my head.

In the sudden shock of his death, there were a lot of tears and heartbreak, but ultimately big changes came out of it for me, many of which I feel were positive:


  • Let others know where they are valued in my life. In the aftermath of his death, I had not realized that I was in his top tier of friends. Frankly, he would have never communicated that. In hindsight, his love was in his actions and comments but never direct. Not knowing this, I had put him in my midtier of friendships (very very few being in the top tier). After his death, several of his friends along with myself waited for that echelon of best friends to emerge - when they didn't, we found out we were that to him. I learned that for me, I didn't want people in the position I was in of finding out your value in the worst possible circumstances. I want to make sure the important people in my life know where they stand at all times. In the last year, I'm more giving of my "I love you"'s and declaring to people that they are important in my life (Note: even if I feel my actions and communications already say that).

  • I want more validation of my value in friendships. I dislike this fallout. But I'm sensitive. I went from having a friend, a standard decent loved-our-routine-communication friend, to spreading his ashes. I want to know if I'm an acquaintance, a friend, a good friend, or a best friend. Not being sure where I stand is difficult. I don't want to force friends to state where our relationship is at. But occasionally in this past year it creates an additional level of stress out of my need for validation. I was thankful in the two weeks after his death when a good friend just got it on her own and sent me "I want you to know you are important in my life."

  • Family is important. There was a stress in being the only one of his runner friends who had met his widow and child (and had only done that once). And they are both wonderful. I found myself in the wake of Brian's death wanting to be more familiar with the family of my friends. One of my best friends had me meeting the spouse within a couple weeks of Brian's death and I planned a Christmas party where everyone had a chance to spend time with each others' spouses. When all your friends are runners and you see them on the run, at a race, or going on race trips, it's surprisingly easy to be good friends with someone and not know their family.

  • A cry for help gets immediate attention. The moment Brian posted his goodbye on Facebook before committing suicide, I was headed to the doctor for an appointment. I thought he was making a really bad joke at first. Then I couldn't find the punchline. Then I was leaving a message on his voicemail. Then I was asking for someone to go check on him. And then it's a blur. A really bad blur. I've had the occasional vaguebook of an acquaintance or friend on Facebook that raises my hackles. And I will check on you. I'm sensitive now.

  • Every person can have a wide influence. But you didn't know him. Half the time I feel like I didn't know him. And definitely we didn't know he was having the feelings of suicide. But for those who really didn't know him, grieve and recognize that people have battles you aren't aware of, but don't push it all too hard. It's awkward. If you want to know someone's true wishes, talk to the people who were close to him. And then respect what they tell you. Responses toward his death made me uncomfortable in not wanting to speak for him but knowing how he would have felt about some things people wanted to do in his honor, I had to speak up.

  • He lives on through us. My first attempt at 100 miles was an odd thing without him there. He had pushed me to flip the switch on trying a 100 miler, and I never committed while he was alive. Another year of the Fairview Half Marathon happened in April, but I won't forget how happy he was at his performance that day in 2013. And now I prepare to put on my first 100 miler for the North Texas community. I think often how he would have been one of my first registrations. He liked pushing the boundaries of being comfortable. He would have been proud.


There are ripples coming off all our actions. Never forget that.

Monday, September 8, 2014

2014 Tommyknocker Ultras 50K - All This To Win a Bottle of Whiskey

I wanted to win the bottle of whiskey. That's what I decided 30 seconds into this race. More on that in a second.
A happy day in the mountains!
Photo credit: Human Potential Running Series (From Their Facebook Page)

I had chosen Tommyknocker Ultras 50K in Woodland Park, Colorado as a fun end-of-summer race with some challenge to it. I then trained very little (relatively) in August for this level of challenge.
Race shirt

Tommyknocker Ultras 50K and 100K was an inaugural race up in the Colorado Rocky Mountains sorta near Pike's Peak. It was rolling hills, nothing too big, but totaling up to 5100 ft of gain and loss in about 34 miles (a "long 50K"). The race starts at about 7700 feet, quickly rises to about 9000 ft and then stays around there the whole race. The course was fairly nontechnical - ATV dirt roads through and around Pike National Forest.

Because the 100K started at 2 am (we started at 8 am), it was nice to know that even on my slowest day I was going to make the 12 hour cutoff. Race week I learned how small the event would be - ultimately 35 starters in the 50K and another 6 in the 100K.

Friday night was the race eve dinner (included in the entry fee) and trail briefing by the race director, Sherpa John. I just happened to be standing next to someone in a Bandera shirt, I struck up a conversation, and I had found another Texan - Michael from Houston!

In the race briefing, we were warned that the grade of the road would be rough - too steep to run comfortably but not steep enough that walking would seem incredibly slow. We also learned about the DFL awards and the special orange rock on course.
The "Dead F*cking Last" award was a little plaque if you were the last to finish in your distance, and it came with a comp entry for any of their races in the next year. Also, there was a bottle of 100% corn moonshine whiskey at the last aid station 3.5 miles out for everyone to enjoy if they wanted out there. The very last overall finisher would not only earn the DFL award but would get to take home whatever remained of the whiskey. 
What a fun idea and an awesome souvenir. I started to think maybe that was worth aspiring too (especially as these small races tend to come with a pretty fast field of competitors).
The bottle of whiskey in question.
Photo credit: Human Potential Running Series (From Their Facebook Page)

The special orange rock was a rock spray painted orange that would be placed on the course. If you carried the rock with you to the finish line, you received a check for $250. Later we would find out the rock was about 3.5 miles from the finish and weighed about 25 pounds!! Someone had taken it to earn the money by the time I got there so I was able to see it at the finish. Another fun idea!
The Special Orange Money Rock -
Photo credit: Human Potential Running Series (From Their Facebook Page)

35 minute drive back to my hotel in Manitou Springs where I was sure it must be beautiful but all I had seen so far was clouds covering the mountains and rain!

Race Start - Miles 0 to 3.5


An 8 AM start with a small casual race meant that I felt like I had a TON of time in the morning. I parked in the tiny parking lot and stood around in my jacket in mid-40s temps chatting with other runners and volunteers. It was a beautiful clear sky but there were strong chances for thunderstorms midday. The problem with a race at altitude with clear skies when it's in the 40s and you'll wear a jacket until right before the start? I was braindead and forgot to put on any sunscreen!! Last minute someone had a bottle of it to pass around and I put a little on my face quickly.

We start the race with Sherpa John hitting a rock with a pickaxe. Pretty fun way to do a "gun start".
Photo credit: Human Potential Running Series (From Their Facebook Page)
Photo credit: Human Potential Running Series (From Their Facebook Page)

Within 30 seconds I found myself firmly in last place. Yes! The DFL award WOULD. BE. MINE! I knew I was undertrained, I knew the course would climb about 1300 ft in the first 3 miles. So let everyone else go out too fast; I was here to enjoy the whole day!

The first 0.78 miles was on the main dirt road before turning into a campground to move to ATV trail road. A race vehicle trailed behind me since I was the last runner, but I was actually getting really annoyed as I felt they were sticking way too close. Back of the packers know more than others what it feels like to have a sweeper or pace vehicle breathing down their neck! I was happy when we hit the campground, and the vehicle ceased its chase.

The woman in front of me (later learning her name was Nicholette) was always just about to cross over the next ridge every time I caught a glimpse of her in her bright orange shirt. Her shirt matched the buff I wore around my wrist. We had been warned that we needed to wear something bright, preferably blaze orange, because of the bow hunters that would be in the woods. We were also warned about gunshots we would hear, and I did hear them all day long, but they weren't hunters, they were people doing target shooting.
Nicholette at the top of one of a bazillion hills on this course

We shared the trail with the occasional vehicle heading to or from a camping area, infrequent race vehicles, and lots of ATVers and dirt bikers. Everyone was super courteous.
Lots of cambered road the whole way

I passed a cute little grove of aspen trees amid all the pine ones and snapped a picture.

3 miles in I finally came to a clearing high enough where I had a 360 degree view of the beautiful day.
Climbing up to the clearing

I took a picture of the mountain to the south, not even realizing at that point that it was Pike's Peak.

At mile 3.5, I came in to the whoops and hollers from the volunteers and added my own, "DFL, baby!" I saw the bottle of whiskey I hoped to take home, grabbed a stack of 8 Pringles, and was immediately out of the aid station. With carrying a full pack of water, I was able to only have to fill it TWICE in 34 miles - at miles 13 and 21.

Miles 3.5 to 8


You could tell we had a lot of rain the last week because there were huge puddles in the road.

I was surrounded by lots of pine trees and aspens, along with a whiff of honeysuckle I think I caught once. Everything was green, and the sky was so blue. I passed a couple creeks and could hear water often in the early miles.

I ran things that were downhill or slight uphill, and I walked everything with a discernible uphill grade. I knew this constant up and down was going to wear down my glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves over the day, so I stayed conservative. My goal wasn't to run fast and hurt a ton; my goal was to enjoy the experience. Especially after two 100 mile attempts this year, I'm still needing some happy trail time to offset those hours invested.

The climb into the next aid station was a doozy. Play spot-the-aid-station in the pictures (hint: red canopy tent).



The area all around this aid station had been the location of a big wildfire about 15 years ago.


Miles 8 to 13


At mile 8 (Haymans), I saw my friend Steve who was volunteering at the aid station. In my goal for DFL and ultimately the final finisher to take home the whiskey, I asked how many 100Kers remained. I felt like an elite: "*huff huff* how many ahead of me? How far behind am I?" Except the COMPLETE OPPOSITE. Steve told me another had just dropped and 3 were out there. The way the course worked they were doing 2 extra loops from his aid station before completing the last 24 miles with the 50Kers, so my goal was to be passed by 3 100Kers now.

Pre-race Sherpa John had told us two runners in the 100K had turned wrong and added a bunch of miles, resulting in one upset runner heading home and the other who called it quits but was starting the 50K with us that morning!

Steve told me at the aid station that now I could finally see Pike's Peak with the clear day. I said, "But I don't know which one it is!!" The locals laughed. He pointed out the big mountain to the south. The view from his aid station was one of the best of the day.

I wanted to stay on top of calories so I pulled out a snack size ziploc from my pack, and we filled it with potato chips. I posed with a picture with Steve, who by the way I hadn't seen since we ran Gorge Waterfalls in March 2012, and headed out.

An uneventful next 5 miles of more curvy rolling dirt road to bring me into the Phantom Creek aid station at mile 13.
I think someone said this was called Signal Butte. Our trail went to the left. Not up it, thankfully.


I caught Nicholette here and informed her she needed to hurry up because I wanted the DFL award. A man who was just out in the park came up and asked if there was "like a 10K race or something going on?" Nicholette and I burst out laughing as the volunteers explained the mileage of the races that day. The next stretch to come would be the longest of the day at 8.7 miles so I pulled out another Ziploc from my pack and stashed two Snackwells devils food cookies (delicious when I snacked on them later!)

Miles 13 to 22


From here, Nicholette and I began to leapfrog a lot this next segment. She was always ahead, and then I'd catch up, and she'd head off again. We chatted a little, but I explained it wasn't easy to chat on uphills for me if I expected to breathe at all! A mile out from the next aid station, and we were run/walking together at this point, pretty even. It was her first 50K. Actually her first race over a half marathon distance!

A guy named Ricky I had met that morning suddenly comes up on us. He tells us that 6 of the 50Kers had gotten lost and gone an extra 8 or so miles. 4 of them had dropped out. Well, that was alarming and would take Nicholette and me into a state of hyper vigilance for searching for markers.

We had a big steep descent followed by a big steep ascent in the middle of this section. My plans to equalize the total average time with a faster downhill were completely squashed when it was all loose gravel going down. And then we had our first creek crossing, where I mostly avoided wet feet, before ascending. The second of the lost 50Kers who continued passed us here along with a guy who was just being a safety runner out checking on everyone on course. We'd see him again later at the last aid station.
Bottom of the valley
Tromped through a little grass to the left and mostly avoided wet feet.

The altitude really didn't bother or affect me, except on the climbs. I would just get winded a little too easily, and the steeper ones I would get the slightest bit of a headache. I took that as a good sign that the 4 weeks in the altitude tent sleeping at 10,000 feet had worked well!
Pike's Peak again

About a mile or two out from the aid station, a volunteer came out on his mountain bike to greet us and chat as we made our way in. I remembered John from pre-race when we were all standing around chatting. We had laughed as he had worked to figure out how to use his Jetboil to make coffee. Super nice guy.
My bike escort
Photo credit: Human Potential Running Series (From Their Facebook Page)
First a little rain, then suddenly one of the loudest thunder claps I've ever heard. We all jumped! Then the hail started, and I was happy I had my shell rain jacket tied around my waist and my hat on. I put on the shell - regardless of any other actions that day, a big goal was to keep my core warm as the rain would chill me and the temperature would drop.
Dark clouds rolling in

The hail wasn't too painful unless it came at an angle and hit my legs. It only lasted about 20-30 minutes and was fairly small pieces. It finished just as we pulled into the Magnum aid station at mile 21.7. I happened to recognize a guy I knew through Twitter, Jerry, here. That was a fun out-of-the-blue introduction. Nicholette seemed to be spending a little longer at this aid station so I headed out alone. While the previous section had been the longest, this next section wouldn't be short at 8.25 miles (which I swear was actually almost 9 miles).
Photo credit: Human Potential Running Series (From Their Facebook Page)

Photo credit: Human Potential Running Series (From Their Facebook Page)

Miles 22 to 30


It continued to rain on and off for the entire rest of the race. Just a short bit after the aid station, the race moved to a more isolated section of trail. No ATVs or other vehicles seemed to be allowed here and there weren't camping spots so it became very quiet. I was descending into a valley on twisty narrower dirt road. I stopped for a quick potty break which is definitely the opposite of quick when you're a girl ... With compression shorts on.... And am soaking wet from rain.
Sky cleared up for a few minutes

The flagging started to get more infrequent, and I started seeing yellow CAUTION tape rather than the orange flagging tape we were supposed to be watching for. Was this for something else? Isn't Caution a warning to maybe not go that way? These were the out loud conversations going on. Then I spotted another orange flag and let out a strong descriptive phrase of relief.... And then back to yellow Caution tape! Maybe this was last minute reflagging from moose eating flagging or vandals! I was desperate for something definitive and knew I had about 5 miles in the right direction before the aid station would provide it.

It was here, between my potty stop and slowed pace in determining what route to take at each intersection that Nicholette came around a corner and see me ahead in the valley and yelled to me. I waited back a bit. I did a water crossing that soaked my feet (with 10 miles left in the race). I then yelled back to tell her about a hard to see single yellow ribbon at the next intersection. I then made another water crossing. Nicholette yells up to me "We were only supposed to have two water crossings TOTAL. That was our third. Are we on the right path?" She echoed the negative thoughts in my head. My anxiety level was high. I really wasn't in the mood for bonus miles.

I waited back, and she caught up. We went on together playing "spot the orange (or probably yellow, and we hope they're for us) flags" as we went. Oh look, a yellow flag in the middle of an intersection. Left or right? Ugh? At the top of the ridge we see both paths came back together. Wasting time for no reason deciphering flags, but how could we know that? We discussed staying together because two sets of eyes were better than one.

Nicholette pulled out her phone to see if it had enough signal for a compass reading. We were going due north. I knew the map and general route and knew we were supposed to be heading north and would eventually intersect the course again.

A mile since our last orange ribbon, and we pass a camping site. Nicholette yells hello to the people sitting outside. One guy yells back, "you're on the right path." He said several had come through as lost and concerned as we were. He yelled something about in a mile but we couldn't catch what he said.

A mile later of playing "spot the infrequent yellow flags", we reached another dirt road intersection with a spray-painted orange arrow. THIS is what we were looking for. Something definitive to say we were in the right place.

A mile from the aid station, we started the panic again. Around every turn, no aid station. But it was supposed to be 8.2 miles, maybe even less by GPS on the Gamin! Finally at 8.7 we came upon the last aid station, Manchester Creek.

We chatted with the two guys. We talked about who was left out on the course still. Supposedly the two 100Kers were still behind us. Especially now that I knew I would not be taking the whiskey home, Nicholette and I both decided to do a swig of it.

According to the aid station, we had 3.7 miles to the finish. Funny how tenths of a mile become important when you're tired. I insisted as we moved forward that it could only be 3.25 miles by GPS because this was an out-and-back in the race, and I measured it at the start to that aid station.

Miles 30 to 33

Mostly downhill on this out-and-back section of the course. Nicholette didn't remember any of it from when we came through at the beginning of the race.

My friend Steve drove out and happened to meet us 0.25 miles to the finish. After the last aid station, Nicholette and I had decided neither of us would make a final sprint for it and would stick together at this point and cross holding hands. Two DFLs.

We crossed the finish line as we planned right about at 11 hours. Nicholette had completed her first ultramarathon. Once Sherpa John confirmed we were the last 50Kers, he agreed to make another DFL award. As the non-local, I took the one that already existed home. Nicholette would get delivered the new one. And he was cool with letting us each have 50% off a race next year, versus one comp entry. Very very cool.
The finisher item at top is glass and a magnet.
And then the DFL Award Plaque (view from around Mile 8 on the course).

Final Stats?

  • 100K – 5 Starters and 3 Finishers (60% Finishers Rate)
  • 50K – 37 Starters and 26 Finishers (70% Finishers Rate)
  • Finish Time: 11:04:00


And the whiskey? Ultimately, there were two 100K finishers after us. So no whiskey bottle souvenir for this adventure. But it was a fun distraction on what I set out to make a fun race.

My legs were so completely tired from the up and downhill, my feet felt pulverized by the hard surface, and my toes and toenails ached from my feet moving around in my shoes on all the hills. And I had the sunburn too. But I had so much fun, enjoyed the full day, and spent the day in some of the prettiest scenery I could choose for that weekend!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

August 2014 Running Review: Choosing to Be Undertrained

Ack, even the title makes me squirm, but I'm owning it. My mileage for August was one of my lowest in the last three years. I had a bit of a start when I saw that and then I slowly made peace with it. Well, 80% of my mind has made peace with it. The other 20% is always wanting to DO ALL THE THINGS and is upset and disappointed in myself when I don't.

Where Did the Time Go?!

I chose to put my energy in August into things that weren't lots of miles. And it really was an awesome month. So what have I been up to?

* One week of vacation to tour the state of Maine for the first time with the family meant lots of early toddler hotel room wake ups, lots of finding great little breakfast restaurants, evenings of fun dinners out, and absolutely no running. I don't miss running when I'm gone for a week when my life is full with other things! But talk about a hit to the month's mileage!!

* I've been feeling burnt out on training for things and tired of the heat. It wasn't fun anymore. Motivation was low this month even if I had all the time in the world with nothing competing for my attention.

* I had a 5 day run trip planned for late in the month, so I spent extra time with the family knowing it would even out some of the time away. Weeknights I was around more for dinnertimes and bathtimes. I spent weekends having breakfast with hubby and kids or spending time with hubby's family, which is very important to him, and working weekend miles in here and there or dropping some weekday miles altogether.
Brunch time - cousins!

* I launched a brand new race heading into August - the Big Cedar Endurance Run, scheduled for November 21-22. It's a big undertaking with any inaugural event, but as my first ultra event to produce and first trail race, it's a very different event to put together than my road races. To say it's time consuming would be putting it mildly.

* I spent 5 days in Montana crewing and pacing a friend's 100 miler (Ghosts of Yellowstone 100). Yes, he was supposed to be running 38 hours, and I was supposed to be getting a technical fatigued 25 miles of pacing (a nice long run), but the race day didn't go as planned. No regrets as we had fun in the really cold wet rain that weekend hanging out, sightseeing when we could avoid the rain, and eating out. My first trip to Montana AND an enjoyable time with a good friend who isn't local so I don't get to just say "hey, let's meet up for a run" or "wanna grab dinner?" any time I feel like it.


* I came back from Montana with signs in the universe that felt like extra emphasis needed to be on my family. Rekindling an idea to take my oldest daughter on a trip, just her and me, after happening to find a book about exactly that ("We'll Always Have Paris" by Jennifer Coburn).  (I LOVE travel writing.) A  friend's blog post about the heart-wrenching moment where her 6 year old asked her right before a race to stop leaving.


* I produce 3 races in the space of only 80 days starting with The Showdown Half Marathon and 5K on October 11th. And often my running falls apart completely. I want to continue to get better at balancing it. I've spent a lot of August getting ahead, or at least not falling behind, on all the details I like to infuse that personalize my races so that I hope to run some throughout the fall.
Friends have helped me feel on top of things. Rodica gave me this dolly, which she asked Aubrey to stencil my company logo on. They gave it to me the day they graciously gave up an hour to help me move things around my storage units!

Where Does This Leave Me?

So with 6 weeks since my last marathon, and undertrained as a result of my own choices, I head into my next ultra in a week. After months of doing an awful job of following training plans by my coach, this week I had no assignments. I actually ended up with my most consistent running week in a long time, motivated only by myself. Except the mileage is much lower than the goal always is each week of assigned plans. However, I still choose to celebrate

  • I ran 6 of the last 7 days,
  • I didn't fret about other things in my life while I ran, 
  • all my running was during the workday where I managed all week that rare thing of being able to mentally step away during the day to run, and 
  • I was there for my family by managing to run all week during the workday.

So Saturday I have Tommyknocker Ultras 50K, a 34 mile trail "50K" in the mountains of Colorado. Altitude + climbing + potentially warm with exposed trail. But I picked it for the scenery, and I don't have many concerns about finishing in the time limit. Beautiful locations while moving through the environment makes my heart really happy. Therefore, I will pack my gear, head off on another adventure, and continue to grow and embrace that in the balance of life sometimes race day is just not what you set out for it to be, but it can still be amazing anyway! And no excuses - I made these choices!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Pacing the Last 20 Miles - 2014 Western States Pacer Report

At 3 am Sunday morning, I had hiked in 1.5 miles on a rocky dirt road to Green Gate, mile 79.8 of the Western States Endurance Run 100 Mile course. I was anxiously awaiting my athlete, Jennifer Kimble, to arrive. I used this time to prep some of my own gear. I was going packless (having slept wrong and tweaked a muscle in my neck early in the week plus wanting to be light on my feet) so I had my 20 oz Amphipod bottle and was cramming S-caps, pills, wipes, and gels into my pockets and Spibelt. I sat in the camp chair I had hiked in along with our gear and shivered a little. It was probably mid-50s but with fatigue and only 1.5 hours of sleep, it felt cooler. I drank a couple cups of coke from the aid station to get some caffeine and snacked on a couple Oreos.

Spoiler alert: She finishes the race!!

At about 4:30 am, Jennifer and Laura (who had paced the previous 24 miles) came into the aid station. She had just crossed the American River at Rucky Chucky two miles before and was soaking wet with a long extended climb into this aid station. She looked worn out but golly, she was also 80 miles into a hard mountain race. We changed socks and shoes and her top. She wanted her long sleeve, which was in her pack, but it had gotten wet in the river crossing. She put on a dry pullover from her drop bag instead.

In the past, miles 80-90 are HARD for Jenn, and she's had a tendency to sleepwalk and drag. Laura had done a great job of keeping calories in her, so that when she arrived, she was awake enough to be pushed. It was a great team effort!

At 4:44 am, 1 minute before their 30 hour finish time cutoff, we headed out. Now the 30 hour finish time was not set on an overall pace. It predicted you would be faster on the downhills and slower on the uphills and tried to tell you based on that when you would need to get through the aid station and still make it with the elevation change still to come. But after fighting cutoff times all day, we were still in that spot, walking out of the aid station 1 minute to that cutoff. And I know fighting cutoffs was really hard on Jennifer. It creates such a high level of stress. I am very accustomed to being aware of time cutoffs and having to fight them - it's no fun at all. We were going to fight them all the rest of this race too!

Below the red line is where I paced and we had to make up time!

Green Gate to Auburn Lake Trails (Miles 79.8 to 85.2)


We spent the first 5.7 miles to the aid station getting comfortable with where she was at and learning to work together as a team. Laura had given me the 20 second version of how their 24 miles together had gone. Now Jenn and I needed to come to an agreement about what pacing was going to look like here. Plus we spent the first hour in the dark most of the way to this aid station. She ran when she could and walked when she had to and I didn't push it much. She ate her gel and since she was running in front of me I couldn't see what she was doing. I asked, "Did you actually eat that gel?" She was like, "Uh, yeah." And I told her the story of a pacer who ran behind their runner for a bunch of miles and then gets into the aid station and finds all the gels and S-caps and water are still on their runner. The runner had been FAKING eating and drinking the whole way. People do weird things 80 miles into a race. So every once in a while, I would double check verbally that the movement I saw was indeed her taking an S-Cap or eating a gel!

Coming into ALT (Auburn Lake Trails) aid station, I told her we were going to be super fast here and then after this aid station I was going to start pushing her hard. She was hungry and wanting real food. We were coming in 1 minute before the 30 hr timeframe. A volunteer was 50 feet from the station and I asked him to name off hot foods. She perked up about chicken and rice soup, so we go whizzing into the station, I get my water refilled, her bladder still had enough in her pack, we get the soup, she grabs a quick snack, and then I grab a handful of saltine crackers for us to snack on and we walk out, soup cup in hand. It worked really well.

Auburn Lake Trails to Brown's Bar (Miles 85.2 to 89.9)


I told her that for these 20 miles, every aid station split would get shorter and shorter, so I would remind her every time that she wouldn't have to do a split that long ever again (that day). 5.7 miles, 4.6 miles, 3.6 miles, 3.3 miles, 2.1 miles, 1.3 miles. Boom.

I pushed her hard but she did most of the pushing herself. I would just keep the pace strong behind her so she had to go or get run over. Ha! But we would powerhike up a hill, and then at the top she would immediately start her run 2 seconds before I would be about to say "Let's go." A couple times we were in sync as I would start to say "Deep breath and push" and she'd have just started running in the middle of that anyway. She did such a great job. I think she knew she'd get an earful if she didn't go. She only had a couple times were I suggested a run but she needed just a little more recovery. Otherwise I never even had to employ timed run-walk intervals. If it was downhill or flat in that last 20 miles, we basically ran it and not a light jog either. We both knew we were racing the clock.

I would give her reminders each half mile from the aid station. "3.5 miles to the aid station..... 3 miles left...." Approaching the mile 90 aid station, Jenn lost it as we could hear the music 0.7 miles out but there was a chasm on that side where the music was coming from. So you have to pass the music and then do a switchback on the other side of the canyon. She is freaking out after we pass the music that now we are going away from it and finally 0.3 mi away just stops in the trail and yells "Where is the aid station?!" I point into the middle of the thick trees and totally deadpan, "There. I see it through the trees. Right there! Let's go!" I didn't see shit. And she said, "oh ok" and started running. Phew. Crisis averted.

We get into the mile 90 aid station, Brown's Bar. We are 7 minutes up now on the 30 hour cutoff time of 6:30 am. That's wonderful news but there are so many aid stations in the last 20 miles that it's easy to lose any lead you have. I am frantically getting water refilled while Jenn grabs a cup of coffee and some food, and I can hear a volunteer who is directly in front of her looking her straight in the eye saying "You are going to finish this." I turn and realize Hal Koerner is standing right there giving Jennifer a pep talk. Oh! 4 time Western States winner Hal. I say, "Yes, she is" and I hustle her out of the aid station.

Brown's Bar to Highway 49 (Miles 89.9 to 93.5)


We get a minute down the path and she says weakly "Was that Hal Koerner?" And I respond, "Yes. He really wanted your autograph but was too embarrassed to ask." And she gave a weak laugh. Good, that's a good sign. Any positive reaction means she is getting calories and still with me.

I spend a half mile emphasizing that we have single digits left now. We are encountering other runners in this section which breaks up time as well. We have 3.6 miles to Hwy 49 Crossing where I keep reminding her that lovely Laura will be waiting for us! It's wide jeep road here for parts and my original stance is to be just to her side and back in the edge of her periphery but she says I can walk beside her. We know one of the two big climbs is coming up just before the aid station, so we keep pressing. At one point she wants to walk for a minute but I push her that I need her to run right now. I don't want her to have to rush the climb too bad. I keep emphasizing that we are building time so she doesn't kill herself pushing the two significant climbs.

The climb is all loose rocks - not fun. And I know her feet are hurting but she just puts her head down and climbs. Then a nice descent into the spectators and volunteers cheering us into the aid station. We're now 14 minutes ahead but know this aid station will take a little more time than the last two (it takes 5 minutes). It's starting to get warm so ice into the water bottles and they dunk my buff in ice water to put around my neck. Jenn gets rid of the pack. We have a 10K to go and lots of aid stations so just the handheld from here. She tries to eat what she can from the good assortment of foods there. I down two fruit smoothie cups they have. I'm not a big fruit person but those were really really good. A little emotion as Jenn is HURTING and a big crew hug of the 3 of us together, and Laura and I push her out of the station.

Highway 49 to No Hands Bridge (Miles 93.5 to 96.8)


There's a climb out of there, a big one, and we get a few tenths in and Jennifer says she wishes she had taken Aleve back there. I said, "I can go back." She says, "Are you sure?" I say, yes, you keep walking. I RACE back down the steep hill and come into the aid station yelling to Laura like a maniac. I'm so happy she's still packing up. She gives me the Aleve, and I race back out of the aid station and push up the hill, completely exhausting myself. I finally catch Jenn, hand over the meds, and huff out, "NOW if you don't finish, I will whip you with an Aleve bottle for getting me to do that!"

We have 3.3 miles, and after that big hill leaving the aid station, mostly gradual downhill. We run through fields of tall dry grass, and the sun is really starting to worry me through the exposed sections. I don't do well in heat. I foresee problems for me here, but I'm glad Jennifer is unaffected. We run a lot of this segment trying to gain a little time on the clock before the big climb coming after this aid station. When we come into the No Hands Bridge aid station, we are now up 11 minutes on the 30 hour time. A big relief.

Jenn starts walking across No Hands Bridge, a cool bridge over the ravine there. I fill up the bottles with ice water and run to catch her. The sooner I can catch her, the sooner she stops walking and starts running again!

No Hands Bridge to Robie Point (Miles 96.8 to 98.9)


We have 3.2 miles left in the race, just over a 5K. Here is where I tell her that the big climb into Robie Point is coming up during this 2.2 mile segment. And that I've done the math and that, especially with how the 30 hr time cutoff takes slower climbs into account, even if we do 23 minute per mile the rest of the way, we will make it in time. But of course we agree we won't do that pace.

So we push that Robie Point climb. And I admit between pushing the climb, the fact I've raced this 20 miles at her dragging pace and close to my 50K PR pace on flat terrain, and now the searing heat of 10 am on a California day of exposure, I am starting to melt. My heat issues come out full throttle. Jenn gets a little ahead.

At the top, we have 1.2 miles of pavement left. And we're 14 minutes above the time cutoff for 30 hours. She pauses for 10 seconds to let me catch up. I am actually really suffering from the mid-80s exposed temperatures at this point, but I push down the dizziness and nausea, and we run.

Robie Point to the Finish (Miles 98.9 to 100.2)


We encounter a guy we had met earlier in the course who was spectating. He is running backwards on the course but when he sees us he runs with us for a quarter mile and tells us he had just seen Laura at the high school track waiting for us! He's super encouraging.

Then we see an acquaintance from Facebook named Jesus. I had met him very briefly before when he came to Dallas to run my New Years Double race this past year. He runs the last half mile with us. He happily gets some photos of us running together, we pause for a selfie, and he tells us there are only 4 turns left and then she's done.



Once you get to the Placer High School track in Auburn, you make a loop around 3/4 of the track surface into the finish. We hit the track, and I am ready for her to leave me. At Ozark Trail 100, Jeremy had this crazy fast sprint he pulled out in that last quarter mile and he left me in the dust, and I'm expecting similar. But no, we go at the pace we've been doing, and I'm relieved and happy I get to stay with her to the end. And we're both for this last half mile in complete shock that this is actually happening.

The last hundred feet, crew and pacers pull off to the side outside the fencing with a big "No Crew or Pacers" in the finish area. I'm a little superstitious anyway. I don't want to cross under that finish line arch until possibly someday that I would be strong enough and lucky enough to run the race.

Jenn crosses the finish line at 29 hours, 42 minutes. 18 minutes before the cutoff. 18 minutes from not getting a buckle. She's made it.
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Post-Race 


We're happy and completely exhausted. I take a while to get over my heat issues, having to rest in shade, Jesus gets me a cold Coke, and then going and sitting in the air conditioned car for a little bit. I've been through the heat stuff before. I just hate how susceptible I am. Jenn is still having a surreal moment but showers and gets cleaned up. Laura and Jesus look over us both.

Finally the buckle presentation ceremony happens an hour and a half later. It's so exciting to have my company, The Active Joe, called out in the list of sponsor greats that include Montrail and Mountain Hardwear. But then it's terribly awesome to see Jenn accept her bronze belt buckle and cross the stage in the ceremony tent.

So yes, I can honestly say, I'm not sure I've ever raced that hard in terms of that combo of terrain and elevation elements, for that distance, plus the psychological aspects of managing another person who has been through the wringer for 80 miles already. What an incredible experience. I'm so happy that Jennifer accepted being The Active Joe's sponsored athlete for the Western States Endurance Run, that she allowed me to crew and pace her during that journey, and that she ultimately earned her finisher buckle!

Stats: 

5 hours, 40 minutes. 
20.4 miles. 
4,000 feet gain. 4,200 feet of descent.