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.
Click in for details

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. 

3 comments:

  1. Wow - what a great report. You have a lot to think about as a pacer! That's some wicked gain/loss (says the person who hates hills).

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  2. So proud of Jennifer and so happy you were there to escort her. Nice write up Libby!

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  3. Thank you Libby for allowing me to live this through your eyes and writing :)
    What an amazing experience

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