Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Pacing for Western States

I was asked to pace a friend at the 2009 Western States. Wow.
A couple things for those of you that don't know the back story on this one. The reason this blog is named "Rookie Ultrarunner" is because, well, I'm a rookie. Relatively unproven but for a couple of 50K's. No string of belt buckles. Heck, I don't even have a good collection of race t-shirts yet. I don't know what it's like to spend several hours above ten thousand feet. I have not had the pleasure of hallucinating due to fatigue. In fact, anything beyond 40 miles or so is something I have only read about...for now.
For those reasons, I was a bit puzzled and very excited for this opportunity. My friend is an accomplished ultra guy. Veteran of the lonely trek. Knows his PR's. He's had some good pacers and some not so great. Plus, the 2008 Western States was smoked out, so he's been chomping at the bit for going on two years. This is a big deal race for him. It's a big deal for me.
To see the oldest 100 in the US up close and personal, even just as a pacer is huge for me. The history of the thing demands respect. Filling every recent year almost exclusively by lottery. Squaw Valley. Robinson Flat after 30 miles of, well, whatever the weather decided the first part of the course would look like. The river crossing at Rucky Chucky. Hell, anything with a cougar in its official literature is freakin' AWESOME!
And my training of late shows my excitement. Last Friday I beat up Lake Perry for around five hours. Went back Sunday for another 4 hours. Lifted weights on Monday as if I'd been popping steroids like aspirin. Hill repeats today until I was completely gassed. Might even skip the New Years Eve hoopla.
As big as this is for me to consume, there is something deeper here. It is an invitation to take a glance at the ultra community outside my own limited experiences. A chance for a greater understanding of the 100. An initiation, a veteran baby-stepping a rookie deeper inside the sport of going long. I like the idea that the ability to run, walk, or crawl great distances depends in part on mentors, friends, family, and peers guiding the journey. I'm grateful for those around me that have taken the time over the past year to "pace" me. If you're reading this, you've probably been an inspiration whether you knew it or not.
And we are gonna kill that Western States course!

Thursday, December 4, 2008


I am in Missouri.

More to the point, it is my first 50K. It's August. Hot. I'm dying.

For several months now, I have been "training" for this run. Training is surrounded by quote marks because I have very little idea of how to go about preparing myself for 31 miles. Looking back on it, I should have started every long run by hitting myself on the legs and feet with a hammer, covered my toes in honey and stuck them in a bee hive, and possibly do an hour long cool down inside a blast furnace.

I did none of this. I just ran. Some days more, some days less. I entered this race with a bit of confidence that only going long brings, and some great gear/advice from Great Plains Running Company (more on that in another post, I am in love with that place). So, back to Breckenridge...

Actually, the story starts in Topeka. I had worked the Friday night before the race, and after enjoying three hours of bed I was sitting at the table eating breakfast. It was storming out. Lightning, thunder, and rain to beat hell. On the drive to Breckenridge I was guzzling coffee (electrolytes, shmelectrolytes), blasting music, and trying to see past the hood of my car. The rain was so hard in parts that most of the cars had pulled to one side...SWEET, now I don't have to pick a lane! Two hours later I am in the smallest town in the world. The population sign for Breckenridge claimed 400 or so...I spent nine hours in this town, and I only saw a dozen people, two of whom were associated with the run. It had that "this used to be a charming place until we started eating each other" feel. To the run, then. There are, counting me, four people running this thing. I love low-key, so this was neat. Plus, it looked like my first ultra might be an age group win. I started pretending to stretch, while plotting a way to ensure a podium finish: if the battle for third came down to me and the fat guy in the last few miles, I would wait for a lonely stretch of course and then break his legs. Not really, but those thoughts did amuse me, anything to take my mind off the weather. We gathered at the start, and the guy working the aid station said "GO!". This is one thing I was really enjoying about running: not alot of drama involved. No one cares that you might get struck by lightning, or dehydrate to the point of collapse, or be killed by a mountain lion...just "GO!"
We ran for an hour. Then the rain stopped. The sun came out. There is not a bit of shade on the course. It is 86 degrees.
On the third loop, somewhere around 15 miles, I began making a small move to catch a lady with about a mile on me. Little by little, reeling her in. I was proud of my pacing during this chase, upping the tempo ever so slightly and taking my time chewing up the distance between us. I caught up with her about mile 19. The heat was really beating me at this point, so we jogged together for awhile. And then, it was story time. She proceeded to tell me every detail of how sick to her stomach she had been during her last marathon. NOTHING was spared in the telling. Every physical anomaly you can imagine was replayed in vivid, colorful, horrifying imagery. It wasn't long before I felt quite ill myself. Too weak to pull ahead, I dropped back with images in my head that only a medical professional would be able to stomach.

Walking for awhile to put some distance between us gave me an excuse to exercise some positive imagery. I began by thinking of the obvious "small wins" I had experienced since I started running. I had lost 50 pounds. My life was full, I had more energy for the little things that always seem to crop up, work was more productive...and so on. Thought about Willie at GPRC, all the support I had recieved from him the last few months. Thought about Psycho Wyco and the people I saw there who were such an inspiration to me. The ill feeling quickly left as I thought about the "Mud Babes", a group of female trail runners who will probably take over the world someday. I wonder if the dude wearing the skirt at that race was an honorary Mud Babe. At any rate, thinking about all this helped erase the worst running story ever told and I was able to finish my first 50K strong. I learned a bit about running in the heat. I learned more about my growing infatuation with the local running community and my potential as a part of it.
And yes, I did beat the fat guy, fair and square.