Monday, May 4, 2009

Pacing: Version 1.0

Miwok 100K: Pacing....?
(20 miles)

Prologue: In which the circumstances of my presence at Miwok are revealed

To tell this whole story, I must rewind a bit and give you some back story. Many moons ago, Mike asked if I could pace him at Miwok. I was simultaneously honored and terrified (What if I didn't run fast enough? What if Mike thought I was annoying? What if I fell and broke something again?) but I said yes. I met Mike on the grueling climb up to Rose Peak at the blisteringly hot Ohlone 50K last year, and this kind of suffering tends to create bonds between people.

Not so many moons ago, Mike started having trouble with his calf (later revealed as an Achilles issue) and he spent the last couple of months cross-training and trying to avoid serious injury. Not so many moons ago, my knee started hurting at AR50 and I was really worried about being a pacer who got injured and slowed their runner. However, by Monday I was feeling good and ready to run.

Also running was Suzanne (a.k.a Fellow Trail Tart), and about 400 other runners I knew. (Slight exaggeration-- but this was definitely a "Who's Who" of Bay Area trail runners, with some big non-Bay Area names as well.) It was going to be a big party on the trails.

Scene 1: In which I figure out how to get to Bolinas Ridge

Got up Saturday morning pretty early. Mike didn't think he'd be at Bolinas Ridge (pacer pick-up) until 2pm, but I didn't want to leave my car there. Parking is limited, but beyond that, finding someone to drive me the 30-40 minutes into the hills of Marin AFTER finishing a 100K was going to be difficult. Steve was in the same boat as me, and we decided to carpool to Pantoll and then see if we could get a ride from Pantoll.

Here is where I learned my first pacer lesson. I had planned to take as little clothing as possible with me to pace, because I wouldn't have my car to stash stuff in. I wore my running attire (no leopard this time) and a light shell-- what I would typically wear if I were running in the rain. However, what I neglected to calculate was how long I would be waiting for my runner. We got to Pantoll around 9:30 in the morning, and it was definitely raining. Within 10 minutes of getting out of the car, I was wet and cold.

It was lots of fun to be at Pantoll though. Pantoll is at mile 22 of the race, at the end of a long and grueling climb. Some people came through with big smiles, laughing about the rain and mud, others were definitely not in their happy place.

I was pleasantly surprised to see adventure-racing Galen out, representing for baarbd. He came through Pantoll looking
pretty happy-- wet, but smiling.

More people came in, grabbed dry clothes, a sandwich, etc., and then headed out again. Just as I was starting to wonder where Mike was, he appeared at the aid station. He was hungry-- very hungry, and tired of running uphill. However, he had no pain, so this was a good sign. I got this very flattering picture of him refueling, and then he was off.

Moments later, Suzanne appeared. When I asked her how she was doing, she said "crappy," but she still had a big smile on her face, as you can see here. She introduced me to another runner's fiancé/dad crew (thanks, Leigh, for loaning your support team out!) who would be going on to Bolinas after Pantoll, fueled up and ran off.

By this time, I was cold. Rather soaked and cold. Thinking about spending the next 4 hours trying to stay dry was not making me happy. Fortunately. Leigh's crew were nice enough to not only give Steve and me a ride to Bolinas, but they let me hang out in their car at Bolinas as they waited for Leigh to come in, thereby preventing me from getting hypothermia, I'm sure.

Scene 3: Bolinas Ridge

So let me tell you about Bolinas Ridge. No, better yet, let me show you a picture. THIS is the Bolinas Ridge aid station. You can't see it because the rain was coming down in sheets, which then made rivers in the mud running down the path. Runners had to come through here twice, increasing the mud rivers running through everything. Doesn't this look like fun? Again, fortune smiled upon me, and I ran into another couple of friends. Gary was pacing Adam Blum, but his wife Holly was hanging out in the car. Once again, I was saved from hypothermia and had a great time hanging out with Holly for a while, watching people go by as they ran back toward Pantoll.

At about 1:30, I decided to get out and wait for Mike, who thought he would be going through Bolinas Ridge around 2:00, but I really didn't want him to show up and have me not there, so I got out and joined the "pacer tent." Again, don't these people look like they're having a great time?

2:00 came and went, and no sign of Mike. At this point, I was dying to run-- it was cold and wet and I could feel my legs getting tighter and colder. I was worried I would have to steal a space blanket from one of the people who were dropping from the race like flies. Seriously, it was a tough day and people were having lots of trouble staying warm. Several cases of the beginning stages of hypothermia were making lots of non-happy runners.

Suddenly I looked up and Suzanne was already at the Bolinas Ridge station-- but where was Mike? Suzanne said she had passed him between Pantoll and Bolinas Ridge, but she hadn't seen him on the out-and-back section at all. I hadn't even bothered checking my phone, as there was no reception, so I couldn't tell if he had called me. We asked the aid station people, and they radioed in to find out that Mike had dropped at Bolinas Ridge the first time through! I didn't know because I was in the car trying not to get hypothermia. Later Mike said that he had run up against the fun combo of being undertrained due to injury and being really, really chilled, and decided that being miserable for another 34 miles wasn't worth it and dropped at Bolinas Ridge.

Scene 4: Pacing!

Well, with this piece of news, I figured I might as well run with Suzanne-- I was freezing and had no other clothes at the finish line (more pacer lessons) so I didn't really want to get a ride and then wait for hours for Suzanne, and I wanted to get a long run in, so I took off with Suzanne.

Now, there are ultra jokes about runners dropping their pacers, and I had worried about that a little beforehand, but I was assured by several very experienced people that it would not be a problem pacing someone that was faster than me. Well, it almost was a problem with Suzanne. I was deeply thankful there was uphill on this 20 miles, because Suzanne is an incredibly strong downhill runner, and we were literally flying down the hills.

The great thing about being a pacer is that, being fresh, you can actually enjoy the scenery. Even though it was rather miserable for the first few miles (it was so windy and rainy, I almost lost my hat), when the rain stopped and we hit the Miwok trail, it was beautiful. This is one of my favorite pictures from the day-- verdant, lush surroundings. Notice Suzanne still smiling.

Another thing that's supposed to happen when you pace someone? They're supposed to get really tired and cranky and I was hoping to use some of the motivational, handling-bitter-people techniques that I perfected in 7 years of teaching middle school. Suzanne did not require these skills at all. While I think she was perhaps done noticing the beauty of the trails, the ONLY time she got cranky was right after we crossed Highway 1, with maybe 6-7 miles to go. However, Suzanne's version of "cranky?" Saying she didn't want to go uphill anymore, and then apologizing for being "a whiny pants." I highly recommend pacing Suzanne. But only if you can sprint downhills.

Coming into Tennessee Valley, however, Suzanne started to get "post 50-mile brain." I noticed it coming on as she said "we" had already run over 50 miles. When I pointed out that no, I had in fact, only run 16.5 miles, and SHE was the one who had run over 50 miles, not "we," she told me, "Don't make me choose a pronoun," because it was too much effort. Then she started channeling her online yoga instructor and told me that "This pose can be very therapeutic for the knee if it is done with awareness." When I ended up doubled over in laughter at this bit of wisdom, she told me not to make her laugh, because she was too tired, which of course inspired even more hilarity.

I am SO pacing Suzanne for her 1st 100. I can't wait to see who or what possesses her brain after 75 miles.

Anyway, after Tennessee Valley, it was a rather brutal (this late in the race) climb up over the ridge, and then back down to Rodeo Beach, where Suzanne was greeted with much fanfare. I got to hang out and see lots of people come in, hear how Rick's race went, and realized that while I have a couple of lessons for next time, I LOVED pacing and I'm totally excited about pacing some more.


For the future (and anyone else that might decide to become a pacer)-- here is the wisdom gained during the day:

1) Just because I was not running 60 miles did not mean I wasn't running. I completely neglected to figure out a dry change of clothes for the finish line. Fortunately, Suzanne packed her entire wardrobe in her car and had an extra shirt and jacket.

2) If I'm going to be waiting for a long time, I need to bring clothes. I didn't want to deal with leaving clothes in Steve's car, but if I had not been fortunate enough to meet people who let me hang out in their car, I would have probably gotten too cold to run.

3) Figure out a better system with my runner in case of dropping, as happened here. It worked out fine, but if they had not kept a master list of who was dropping, I would have been completely unsure of whether I should have left Bolinas Ridge or stayed.

Really though-- what a great way to spend the day! Anyone need a pacer?


René said...

Nice one! All I can think of is the blister factor of running in wet socks and how lovely that is. Running in these conditions must take an extra effort!

Phil said...

I totally agree - pacing is a blast! I'm pacing at Western States for the 2nd time this year. I get to experience the trails and the people, but don't have to go through all of that training and pain. (Plus the pacers get to run the downhill section at night and not the hills during the heat of the day) If you go to the web site, there are usually runners looking for pacers.

John said...

Miwok sounds like it was epic!! thanks for your comments. No racing in June, except for the 6th when I am pacing my wife in a 5K. next race is SF Half in July. I want to build up my volume.

I really liked the photos too! Are you doing Diablo? I might try to squeeze in some voluntering.

209Mike said...

You were a trooper on Saturday. I owe you one for hanging. I can't wait to get back there again and get my revenge.

Suz said...

Thank you so much for being SUCH a great pacer and for posting this lovely account of the day. We aren't *quite* talking about 100 miles yet, but I'll admit it no longer sounds utterly insane. Which is, insane. You are the best, V!

Jo Lynn said...

I think it worked out just the way it was supposed to, for everyone involved. I'm super happy everyone made it out of there safely and I got to see you. ;)

dolface said...

Nice report and it was great to see you out there too!

Rick Gaston said...

Haha, that look on Mike's face says so much, well I guess so does Suzanne's. She was having so much fun out there. I don't have a picture of her not smiling. It was a lot more fun being in "it" than watching from the side right. Ah the fun we all had and I'm glad you were able to take part in it. At Headlands Hundred last year I lost my runner too and luckily I found other friends to pace. Pacing is a lot of fun but there are runners out there that are not fun to pace. You were so lucky with Suzanne.

wcaitlin said...

So I'd love to borrow your dog, but if I fall in love with her, you might not get her back. Sounds like it was an adventure pacing... got to love that!