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Crewing and Pacing Carrie at Western States 100

Posted Jul 06 2009 6:48pm
The person that started isn't the same person that finishes - paraphrase of something I read when I first started running ultras.

01 Photo Report(with captions and everything)
02 Videos
03 Carrie's Finish(thank you Scott for your camera and posting it to Picasa.)

2 miles out of the Rucky Chucky river crossing, around mile 76:
Rick: Someone is waking up
Carrie: No I'm not!
Rick: Yeah you are
Carrie: No I'm not!
Rick: (Pokes Carrie in side of the face with his finger)
Carrie: (Screams) Aaawww! Don't hit me!
Rick: I'm not hitting you (pokes her face again)
Carrie: (Screams louder) Stop hitting me! You are really asking for it!!!
Rick: (Laughs) See you are waking up
Carrie: No I'm not! Stop saying that!
Rick: (Smiles to himself)

This is the start to a very long report.

Imagine a nosedive, that's where Carrie's race went to 3/4 of the way into the Western States 100-miler: bad nausea, falling asleep on her feet, tummy troubles, shot quads (she hurt on easy downhills) and the injured knee was starting to throb. I was genuinely concerned that there was a chance we were not going to finish. That little exchange above was when we started pulling out of that dive. Five minutes before that I had forced her to take a caffeinated gel. I suspected that the caffeinated energy gel was what made her nauseous in the first place, making her want to throw up every time she ate anything but we were out of options. Not eating left her in a bonk and falling asleep on her feet. She went from wanting to finish no matter what to wanting to drop at the next aid station. She started shutting down, mumbling about napping and some nonsense about not regretting her decision to drop. That was her lowest, hardest point in the race. As it turned out it the caffeinated gel worked just fine and it would be a race saver.

Olga and Bob who were crewing for Dave James convinced me to go up with them a day early, on Friday. Since Carrie had Mike Solteaz to crew for her I originally saw no reason to be there before my pacing shift was to start Saturday Afternoon at Foresthill High School, mile 62 of the race. I'm so glad I got talked into going. Experiencing the race as a spectator, crew and pacer was just as fulfilling as running it and I was thankful to have experienced it from registration to finish.

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Jon Kroll at registration.

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Brian Wyatt, Jasper Halekas, Nathan Yanko, Scott Dunlap, Sarah Spelt, Mark Gilligan and a runner whose name I never caught, at a Squaw Valley establishment after the opening ceremonies Friday afternoon.

I rode up with Carrie and started going crazy with the camera, you guys who have been following my blog for awhile know how I get with pictures and video. Squaw Valley was packed with ultra-marathon folk by Friday afternoon, so many friends running so many other friends who were also spectating, crewing and pacing. It was one big trail running party in Tahoe. We parted ways after the Friday afternoon ceremonies and met up again early Saturday morning. Early, early Saturday morning, 4AM early. I spent the night in one tiny motel room with three other other friends, tossing and turning all night before we headed out at 3:30AM. I was so excited for these guys. Carrie herself had only two hours of sleep.

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Runner 362, getting her profile pic taken.

After they took off at 5AM I headed over to Carrie's hotel driving her truck. Mighty nice of her and I was able to take advantage of the free breakfast, a shower and even a short half an hour nap before heading back out. This race has many aid stations that are inaccessible to crew. The first time I saw her was at 30-miles. She was looking quite good but I was surprised to see many who weren't. I was even more surprised that there were already a few drops at this point. You just knew it was going to be a tough day.

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Carrie minutes before the start.

Mike Solteaz, her one crew person, is a grizzled veteran of these ultra races. He in fact has gone under 24 hours for this event, something I can't claim, not yet anyway. He was scheduled to meet her at Michigan Bluff, mile 55 and the top of the last canyon. There are two in Western States and if you think it's hot at the top wait till you get to the bottom of one of these; steep downhill, steep uphill and hot. I was positioned at Foresthill, 7 miles down the course, the first point in the race where runners are allowed pacers. We were in our stations by 3PM. I spent the time catching up with friends and cheering on friends who were running. Man, I gotta tell you, some of them looked bad. The heat, hills and the canyons really did a number on them.

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With Sexy Legs at Foresthill waiting for our runners. Suzanne's gonna kill me if I keep calling her that I think, until then however. Pacers have to wear the number of their runners but ours is yellow while theirs is white. Hmm...I wonder who Suzanne was pacing, who was runner 163?

Friends from the triathlon club were volunteering at this station as well, two of them at the timing booth and they were able to give me the latest updates on Carrie - what time she left the last aid station and what time she was scheduled to reach the next. Times didn't tell me how she was doing however. Is she delirious and glassy eyed or coherent and alert? Is she struggling and looking spent or relaxed and in high spirits? I got some news from people who had actually seen her on the course. A mutual friend, Brian Wyatt, who dropped at Foresthill because of a bad knee and throbbing kidneys told me that she looked just fine when he saw her at Michigan Bluff. Not long after that Mike came through having just attended to her at Michigan Bluff saying the same thing. An hour later she came running into Foresthill looking as good as people said she was, with the most difficult part of the course and the hottest part of the day behind her. Big sigh of relief on my part.


Carrie coming through Foresthill

We breezed through the Forest Hill aid station and stopped at Mike's truck where he worked on Carrie's blisters. Crews are not allowed in the aid station to keep the traffic flowing but crews are allowed to attend to their runners once they are out of the station. Carrie was popping blisters and Mike was taping them. I was um...helping by shining the flashlight, it was starting to get dark at this point. Haha, yeah I stayed out of that. I'll lance my own blisters but I can't stand watching other people fixing their feet, too painful. Guys I'll be over here, my state of the art flashlight can throw a beam from 200 feet out. Soon we were trucking along and we were making great time. She was moving well. Then around mile 70 she complained of feeling tired all of a sudden and wanting to slow to a walk for awhile. I gave her a caffeinated gel at the next aid station with her food and shortly after that her stomach went south. Nausea and no desire to eat anything. The next to go was her quads, shot from too many downhills and then her problem knee started acting up. She stopped eating altogether and she only had water in her bottles, it was all going downhill quick. Eventually she ran out of calories, got sleepy and went from wanting to finish no matter what to wanting to drop at Rucky Chucky, mile 78. She even started begging for a 10 minute nap. She started shutting down and it became priority number one to restart her mental engine. We passed a picnic table and I directed her towards it. We sat on that table with our lights off and I told her to just enjoy the night sky for a minute. I took her out of the race briefly, something I did myself when I ran the race back in 06. Things were going badly then too and the time in the dark with my pacer, the calm in the middle of the storm, allowed me to reassess my situation and explore my options more clearly. When we turned our lights back on I explained the direness of the situation to her and gave her another caffeinated gel. I took a risk making matters worse with her stomach but I didn't feel like I had a choice. I truly thought that if I brought her into Rucky Chucky asleep on her feet and running on fumes she would have never left the aid station. Shortly after this we had that exchange which you read at the start of this report. By the time we got to Rucky Chucky she was feisty and argumentative, all good signs:) They had a massage table there and we had her quads worked on for a bit. I remember saying something and she just shot me this dirty look which made me crack up. Carrie was never rude or mean, she was also never snappy or yelled. It was also the only dirty look that I got the whole night, primarily because she had me leading in front.

The river crossing was such a blessing. That cold water felt so good on the muscles. Unfortunately I killed my camera here. When you are short, not paying attention and crossing a river where a wrong step can send you up to your neck in water, well you get the picture. The other side of the river was manned by the Tamalpa Runners, Carrie and Mike's running club. Seeing more friends helped her mood and there she got her blisters looked at by a medic, got fresh socks and shoes and we pumped her up with more liquids and food. We also gave her a bunch of Tums which helped settled her stomach. We left that station with her in a revived and optimistic mood. She had improved to a "I can probably finish this" mode of thinking. It was a 2-mile climb to the Green Gate aid station and by the time we got there Carrie was back in the funk. Tummy troubles kept bringing her down. More Tums and we got her feeling a little better. We wouldn't see Mike again until mile 93. He was concerned and so was I for Carrie's condition before we parted ways but before he takes off he mistakenly gives tell the wrong cut-off time for the next aid station - an earlier more aggressive time line. I tell Carrie and she freaks a little, "I can't do all this and suffer the added stress of making a time cut-off" she wails. "Carrie, we will keep on fighting until they time us out but we will make it" I replied. We hauled, we were walking but we were walking fast, 14-15 minute miles over rolling terrain. We were flowing so smoothly over the trails. I'd look back and she was right on my heels. One thing that really impressed me about Carrie is that she is sure footed. I never heard her nail a rock or a root. I helped out when I could by calling out obstacles and kicking rocks out of the way. My fear was that a stumble would make her injured knee worse. Stumbling over something puts so much pressure on tired legs especially the knees, not to mention that her quads were already fried. Carrie was a freakin mountain goat even in the middle of the night. There's a line I could try with another female trail runner - "darlin you are quite the mountain goat". Yup it's a winner, I can tell. Anyway we made the time-cut off only to find that we were never in any danger to miss it. Did Mike do that on purpose to light a fire under us? Who knows, you never know with these wily veterans. We were also able to do it because I took a stronger approach to her eating. She never bonked again or ran out of caffeine. Every 30 minutes I gave her an energy gel. I would warn her beforehand so she could steel herself. Even with a happy stomach ingesting energy gels for a long period of time can make someone gag and hurl. She was a trooper for continuing to down them. If she ate food at the aid stations then I would defer the gel for another 30 minutes. She was taking in approximately 200 calories per hour and I would alternate caffeinated gels with the regular ones.

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My camera's last photo, Carrie crossing the Rucky Chucky river at mile 78.

The closer we got to the finish the more Carrie complained about all her aches and pains and the more concerned I was for her health. Pushing a person is great, pushing them to injury, not so great. As far as I could tell she was okay; her weight was never down at the weigh-ins, she hydrated well, she was back on top of her nutrition and she was peeing regularly which was good. She wasn't delirious and alert enough to complain when we were getting passed. Alert enough to give me a hard time too that stinker but like I said she was never mean and all of it was expected. Experienced pacers know that they will have their hands full.

Carrie: I'm going to end up sweeping this course. (last one on the course)
Rick: No you're not
Carrie: Yes I am!
Rick: Believe me, there are many more runners back there. See their lights, look.

I had some concerns on the injured knee however. I just had no way of knowing how bad it was. She said "real bad" and that "I had no idea what kind of pain she's going through" but on the other hand we were still moving at a good pace. Whatever was going on down there it wasn't affecting her fast walking capabilities. When she worried that she might be doing permanent damage to her knee that was when I backed off and told her that the ball was on her court for that one. That was the one out I gave her. Only she knew how bad it was and if she said the knee could no longer take the punishment I would have let her drop. She went silent but continued forward so onwards we went.

When we saw Mike again at Highway 49, at mile 93, he had a look of relief and joy in his face. He was like a coach on the sidelines, we heard him before we saw him. It was daylight now and Carrie had revived a little bit with the new sun. From that point on I could feel the gravity of the finish line pulling us in. Not before more whining though, I swear every mile closer brought on new and fresh complaints from Carrie. I started laughing at her, "are you crazy, you should be happy not complaining", which brought on...ahem, more complaints. This time however I think she was doing it on purpose to keep me on my toes. I thought I saw a smile in one of her deliveries. I had started feeling tired myself. I had given her most of my caffeinated gels and had to scrounge for some at the aid station. Those last 6 miles I had to distract her a little more, she was starting to anticipate the next aid station, the next landmark. She kept looking at her watch trying to gauge the miles we have traveled and I had to do my best to put a stop to that. I told to her stop thinking about it and just keep moving. When you start anticipating, every moment you are not in the place you want to be only adds stress and anger - at least that's the way it is with me. You start saying things like, "Where the hell is that aid station? I should be there by now" or "I could've sworn we already traveled a couple of miles". Finally we make it to the last big landmark and the last official aid station of the race - No Hands Bridge. When you walk across this bridge, even though there are still 3 miles to go, you get the sense that the adventure is finally coming to a close. The next two miles was uphill on the trail and the last mile was on the streets then on to the high school track and the last 300 meters to the finish. Mike and I thought it best if she traveled the last 300 meters alone. She fired up her legs to a run one last time and ran to the finish line. Must have hurt but she did it. I cut across while she was making her way around the track and was pleasantly surprised to find my triathlon club mates still at the finish. They had camped at the field after they finished their volunteer duties the night before. I hastily borrowed Scott's camera and was able to take the video of Carrie coming in. Everything after that was a blur; lots of talking, congratulating other runners, hanging out with friends, getting pictures taken, etc. The high school had cold showers which we availed ourselves to prior to the closing ceremonies at 12:30PM. My friend Bob caught a ride back with us to San Francisco and it was he who became the designated driver. He had the most rest between the three of us because unfortunately the runner he was crewing for had dropped at mile 55 the day before. A shame but it gave us a well rested driver and the trip home was a joyful and restful one for Carrie and I. Part of the time was spent sharing stories from the weekend.

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Finishing at last, photo courtesy of Dave Ewart.


SUMMARY
I thought Carrie did everything right in this race. She started slow and paced herself appropriately. When it got hot she fell behind her targeted splits but she didn't worry about it and ran the pace her body would let her. At mile 30 she was truckin along nicely we agreed not to worry about making up time while the biggest climbs and the hottest part of the day was still before her. When she got into Foresthill at mile 62 she was getting tired but she looked great. Eventually however, and this is just my opinion, her lack of training finally caught up to her. She had been injured for most of this year and it really hurt her preparations for this race. It all caught up to her at mile 70 and it was all survival from that point forward. Lucky for her she had Mike Solteaz as a crew person who knew what he was doing. He was a coach figure out there, laying down the tough love along with the bandaging tape. She was also lucky to have me and not because I'm also a veteran of 100-mile races. She was lucky to have me because I myself have walked it in from mile 70 at this event. In my case I was well trained but my feet didn't hold up to the punishment and I lacked the experience to properly take care of them. Don't think blisters can ruin your race? Try 16 along with toenails bashed in from nailing rocks and roots. Subconsciously I wasn't picking my feet much because it hurt to put it down, haha. Oh man, why am I laughing right now, that was not a fun time?! Then last year at the Tahoe Rim Trail 100-miler, another tough race, I had a knee problem which forced me to walk the last 22 miles. I walked from 11PM to 7AM the next morning and I came through the finish line dejected and angry. So when Carrie exclaimed that we would never make it to the finish line by walking alone I said, "fortunately for you I have first hand experience that we can". We both laughed at that, not so funny now but it was at 2:30 in the morning. Despite all her protestations of continuing and wanting to quit, deep down she kept on fighting. Sure Mike and I helped but it started with her. If she really wanted to stop there would have been nothing Mike and I and a zillion caffeinated energy gels could have done about it. You can't roll a brick no matter how hard you try. She could whine with the best but a fighter deep down and that's why I've been calling her "whineytiger" since the race. You should have seen her the last three miles when she chased down a couple of runners.

The first time I used a pacer was at the Miwok 100k in 2006, same year I participated in Western States. My pacer Stephen pushed me till i was ragged and my finishing time there still stands as my best. After the finish he tells me that our short journey was more satisfying than many of the races he has done. I didn't understand at that time and I wouldn't understand until I started pacing other runners a couple of years later. Pacing Carrie was one of the most exhilarating, satisfying race finishes I've ever experienced. It was her first 100-miler, two years in the making because of the fire that forced the cancellation last year, she chose Western States of all places/races, and there was a very real chance she wouldn't have finished. I couldn't have imagined a better story. I am blessed to have been a part of it. My cup overflows.

Before this race I communicated with Carrie primarily via the phone, email, Facebook and the occasional run-ins at races. You could spend a lot of time getting to know a person or you can do a long race together. I am glad to say that after all of this I'm still willing to keep her as a friend. You should see me when I'm sleep deprived, exhausted and hurting all over:)

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Carrie I think the buckle looks better on me, certainly shinier than my old one. C'mon the girls are going to dig it.

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