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June 30, 2011

Western States 100 Pacer Report

Part of the appeal of pacing at Western States is being able to taste some of the excitement and drama of the event without actually, you know ... having to run 100 miles. If you’re also a little bit self-serving, the appeal of pacing somebody a few weeks before your own 100-miler is that is gives you an opportunity to practice things like moving through aid stations and running through the night all while getting in a nice long training run.

Of course, there’s an intangible benefit to pacing as well, which I’ll explain towards the end of the post. In the meantime, I figured I’d share some of my own observations from Gretchen's night while she’s dragging her feet to write an official race report. (**UPDATED! Gretchen's report is up now.)



At Western States, your role as a pacer begins at Foresthill, the mile 62 aid station which is also the primary access point for crew and spectators throughout the entire course. I got there early enough to sit and watch the front runners come through before grabbing a quick nap in the grass later in the afternoon.


It was while sitting on the side of the road next to my bib number and hydration pack that I had one of the most memorable conversations of the day, courtesy of a girl in a Montrail Running Team shirt who was staring at my RunAmoc Dashes:

Montrail girl: You’re not going to pace somebody in those shoes, are you?


Me: Actually … yeah. I am.


(long pause)


Montrail girl: No, seriously.


Me: Seriously.


Montrail girl: So what are those, anyway?

I started my little spiel about Soft Star and the whole minimalist thing, but I’m pretty sure she lost interest about 30 seconds in. I guess I’ll just consider that to be planting the seed, and let someone else cultivate it later on.


Pacers have the option of running 1.6 miles up the course to the Bath Road aid station to meet their runners a little bit ahead of Foresthill. For some reason the road to Bath left me a little more tired than I had anticipated, but I figured I probably shouldn’t complain about that to Gretchen when I saw her, seeing as how she had just run 60 miles through the mountains to get here.


After she emerged from the trail, Gretchen gave me a quick status report (the short version: she felt great) on our way to Foresthill, where she made a quick aid station stop, and we set off down the beautiful, gently sloping single track on our long descent towards the American River crossing at mile 78.


Gretchen had run the course fast enough that nearly all of our journey to the river was done without headlamps. We saw the river almost the whole way down, and enjoyed an evening chorus of frogs, ducks, and crickets alongside the sound of the flowing water. It was just another night to them, and their symphony represented life going on all around us, regardless of what happened in this crazy race. That seemed comforting – and it may have been my favorite part of the night.


One thing that really impressed me about Gretchen was that she almost never stopped moving. She was in and out of aid stations in a flash, and whenever I took a few extra seconds for pictures or to make gear adjustments, she was gone. This photo just before the river crossing was the only time she willingly stopped – and even then, as I was checking the photo and loading my camera back into my pack, I soon heard an aid station volunteer shout, Hey, dude – your runner’s already left! I scrambled down the riverbank to catch up, and was barely able to jump in the raft before Gretchen pushed us away from shore. She claims she wouldn’t have left without me. I’m not so sure.


Brown’s Bar aid station at mile 90 is a cross between a cool Halloween party and a cozy New Year’s Eve bash. When we pulled into the aid station, I commented to Mr. Raggedy Ann that I was working fairly hard to keep up with my runner. He started to tell me about a race where he paced a runner who eventually dropped him; unfortunately, I never got to hear the end of it, because by the time he was ten seconds into his story, I looked over my shoulder and noticed that Gretchen had vanished.


This was a cool touch: in the neighborhood surrounding the Placer High School finish line were a couple groups of intrepid fans who thought pulling an all-nighter to cheer the runners home was a perfectly reasonable idea. The level of enthusiasm that people – both participants and spectators – have for this race is truly admirable.


That’s part of the intangible benefit I took from this experience as well: admiration for all the runners who competed, and inspiration for when I take on a similar challenge in a few weeks.  I enjoyed spending a fun night with a good friend, and I'm hoping that some of her success rubs off on me when it's my turn to tackle 100 miles.  It was a privilege for me to be a part of Western States – especially since Gretchen didn’t need me any more than I needed a pair of Montrails – and it turned out to be a perfect boost of encouragement and motivation at just the right time.




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11 comments:

olga 7/1/11, 3:57 AM  

Gretchen totally rocked this one...well, as she did every other one! How on Earth does she always seem to ahve awesome races? And yay for moving through AS's!

Al D. 7/1/11, 4:57 AM  

Great post Donald.
Love your site. Loved the book. Keep up the fabulous work. Run long and strong

estorms 7/1/11, 7:41 AM  

Don,
Great post! I was up there too, in fact we were probably right next to each other. We were at Foresthill from around 2pm to about 9pm. I paced from Green Gate to HWY 49 crossing. Totally agree with you that pacing is a great way for those not able to do the whole distance to be a part of the event as well as help enable someone to complete their goals. It was an unforgettable weekend!

Cherylrunner 7/1/11, 9:53 AM  

Donald! Awesome report on pacing and I love the pictures! Gretchen is indeed a truly great ultramarathoner. 13th place and a time that would have won it not too long ago. I will likely see you at the 50 mile aid station at TRT where I’ll be waiting to pick up my runner. I’ll look for you, but Good luck and have a great run if I don’t get a chance to say so then! Loved the Montrail conversation / exchange - hee hee. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

Richard Averett 7/1/11, 11:26 AM  

I've long since had the bug, but reading your post about the spectators, pacers, volunteers and racers has me fully infected. Some day I'll be there (either WS or another 100).

Carrie 7/1/11, 11:31 AM  

You both look great for the wear...with a little more credit to Gretchen.

frankie,  7/1/11, 1:19 PM  

can you share with me what you do pre and post run, in terms of fueling and warm ups, warm downs?

do you do ice baths?

Gretchen 7/1/11, 4:33 PM  

I needed you WAY more than you could ever need a pair of Montrails, or shoes at all for that matter. You know that don't you?

Nice (but not surprising) to see we shared a same favorite part of the night.

Thanks so much for being there for me, Kid. You really did everything right - you kept me positive when I was getting bummed, and kept me focused on the important things. I know you would have "brought out the whip" as you said, if I'd been capable of pushing for that sub-22, and that would have been a blast. Hopefully next time. Although, yeah, you do need to work on getting through those aid stations faster. ;) I did warn you about that "no stopping, no napping" plan though, I believe.

I really did drag my heels on the RR. Maybe one day my writing will keep pace with my running. (It would be nice!)I was just intimidated about trying to put words to such an epic experience. Not so sure I did it justice. I need some of your writing skills.

I'm really looking forward to getting to play the support role for you next time, and in one of my favorite settings. It's going to be awesome!!! I hope you're getting stoked!

Brandon Mulnix 7/1/11, 8:09 PM  

Donald, I wish we could have met, I paced from Forest Hills to Auburn as well and was amazed at how many people freaked out at my Five Fingers. Its like they had never seen them before. Now that I know you ran the distance in RunAmoc's I won't hesitate at all to run in them this weekend. My pair came in the mail today. Till next time... Maybe you can pace me when I run the entire 100 in RunAmoc's!

Chad 7/2/11, 12:28 PM  

Loved the race report and congratulations to Gretchen!

Michael Shane Helton 7/2/11, 3:19 PM  

It was good to finally meet you in person at the the finish in Auburn. I could tell Gretchen was moving fast because you have a lot less pictures than normal! ;-)

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