Saturday, August 27, 2011

Waldo 100K - Pacer Report

The following is a report of pacing Rob Hendrickson at Waldo 100K, 8/21/11.

Rob & Crew Chief Chris review the split sheet

Woke up early to watch the start, then went back to bed.  Got up again, had some tea and breakfast...then went back to bed again!  Slept pretty decently; a nice, relaxing morning, reading and resting in the tent.

My initial thought was to pace Rob only from Twins #2 to the finish - a mere 18 miles or so.  My knee was a bit irritable this week and I this distance was likely going to push it.  However, as the morning progressed it occurred to me that:

A.) He's going to need my help the most in that segment BEFORE Twins #2 (7.5mi of uphill wooded running), and
B.) Better to pick him up there, then sit around and have to hike into Twins and wait amongst the skeeters...

So I packed up and drove to Charlton at 10ish, suited up and ready to go.

Hung out at the AS, watching the front-runners (5th place, on) roll through.  Aliza L. didn't break a stride through the AS; the fastest pacer pick-up I'd ever seen.

I got a report from The Queen that Rob was struggling a bit out of Twins.  Bummer.  I thought two things: mechanics, or nutrition.  So when he rolled in a shade before 11AM, I made sure he filled up his hydration pack and got some fluid.  I asked him the last time he peed: "Not since this morning" (pre-race).  Uh-oh.  We're now 6 hours in. 

This is my 2nd time as a pacer - my first, post-100M racing, and first since being a true ultra runner.  So I took the lessons learned from the past year -- what I want/need -- and tried to apply them to Rob's race.

We took off toward 4290, with heavy emphasis on mechanics - using his gluts instead of "quad pushing".  We also talked about keeping the feet moving by trying to run "X number of steps" until walking, rather than walking right away.   Both strategies worked well on this relatively flat section - keeping a run going for nearly all of it.  As such, we made 4290 in just a shade over 50min for the 5+.  Not bad. 

Rob was getting some gut rot.  He also mentioned that he'd taken "a salt tab after 1hr, then twice an hour" prior to Charlton.  That's a lot.  And definitely not enough water.  So the plan going into 4290 was WATER.  "Your goal is to PEE in the next hour!". 

His dutiful crew was at 4290 waiting for him, but we mostly utilized the AS for water and a pack fill, then we were off. 

This next section - the 7.5 to the Twins #2 - was as tough as we thought.  Probably tougher.  We started off running OK, but then Rob's gut rotted more; and he began to feel dizzy.  Not good.  I wasn't hip to making him push and flame-out with so much race left; yet at the same time I wasn't about to let his race turn into a walk-fest.  So while we slowed up, I turned my focus toward hydration.

He was barely drinking.  He had a hydration pack which, while convenient and comfortable, is harder to drink from than a bottle.  You have to grab the house, put it to mouth, and suck with some force.  This may seem ridiculously easy, but not 40M into a race.  "Two drinks!"  "Three drinks!" became the most prevalent mantra -- getting some fluid into his body at all costs.

Tons of walk/jog through here - sometimes only 30-40 steps on the "irritating grade".  Before long, the new decry was, "Every time you walk, you DRINK!". 

Despite that, more gut rot, more dizziness.  F.  We began to yo-yo with the early-start shufflers.  Not good.  "This could be a long day", I thought. 

No Rob, you weren't hallucinating. A guitarist serenades runners between 4290 at Twins 2.

Just before Lost Lake, Rob stopped to deuce.  That helped alleviate some gut rot, but I continued to push the water and the brief run spurts.  Finally, we approached the hiking section up to Twins, then the runnable downs and into the Twins AS.
It was fluid-time.  I didn't have a problem being "a dick" about his nutritional needs; and at this point, it was more about him surviving and finishing; if he kept up these 15+min miles and poor hydration -- less than half his hydration pack was emptied on that 7.5M -- his ability to finish would be in jeopardy.  Another pacer decry: "Two waters and a coke! Drink!".  He didn't like it, but he took it.  That, plus some iced pops and we were walking.  His crew was there again with terrific encouragement, which helped the spirits. 

We walked maybe 100 meters before shuffling down the merciful downgrade along the PCT.  The shuffle became a nice run gear - our first in a couple hours.  Awesome.  I said nothing; as if to not jinx the pitcher in a no-hitter.  Just keep it going!  We ultimately hit some uphill, on a ridge that ascended to the Maiden AS.  More forced-hydration before the long, steep climb up Maiden.

A rejuvenated Rob, no longer "All Shook Up", poses with Elvis, leaving Twins AS.

I've been up Maiden Peak four times in my life, and twice this summer in the snow.  I'm not sure if the snow -- measuring 4-6-foot depths at the end of July -- "smoothed out" the hills, or what, but wow, was that steep!  We ran a few bits on the "shelf" that makes up the initial mile of the ascent, but once the trail began to climb, it was a challenge just to power hike!  I was surprised and impressed that Rob kept up a continuous hike without stopping on this seemingly 20+% grade. 

We caught a few folks on this climb, which helped break up the strain, before it leveled out to the upper shelf.  There might've been runnable spots here but they were short or rugged with volcanic scree.  The tree canopy opened to the true base of the summit; waiting at the trail junction was Kelly Woodke, who encouraged Rob up the last half-mile to the peak.  We passed one more "runner" to the top, where Jeff Riley was waiting!  Incredible views.  I snapped some pics and encouraged Rob to take calories and fluid for what would be a technical and challenging descent.  We negotiated the loose scree, passed Kelly again, and descended upon "the Leap of Faith". 

Rob atop Maiden Peak, with Waldo Lake in the background

This was all new trail to me now; steep technical descent of two miles to the final AS.  Rob did a great job of negotiating the terrain, given he was now 51+ miles into the day.  We ran nearly the entire descent and finally made Maiden Lake AS.  There, for the last time, I again forced fluids on Rob - the magical "Two waters and a Coke".  He was having trouble with the volume, but I knew he was still behind, and I didn't want to him to blow up just a few miles from the finish.  The exchange:

Me: "Drink this whole glass!"
Rob: "I don't want to."
Me: "Welp, I don't wanna run this last seven-and-a-half miles, but we're going to!"
He begrudingly drank more, but tossed the last few ounces over his head.  I forced my last gulp of Coke on him, we thanked the AS crew (3 mile hike, uphill, to bring aid!), and we were off.

What a terrific stretch of trail -- mostly downhill, but the occassional (and enjoyable) ups.  Maiden Lake looked incredible through the trees, though I wondered how you'd get down there from our singletrack perch.  Rob made good time through there, and he began to get competitive: we'd passed another runner he'd competed against times before, "who always passes me at the end", so he pushed it as much as he could, walking only the steepest, longest segments. 

I let him run in front here -- actually, I let him lead for most of the last 30M.  Again, this was an imposition of my own wants; however, I feel there are so many reasons that it is advantageous to have your pacer behind:

1. It's tough for the pacer to maintain a "perfect pull" without gapping the runner and demoralizing their effort.
2. You can't see what they're doing; e.g. mechanically, or the frequency of fueling.

For the latter, I might seriously consider wearing a cycling rearview mirror on my sunglasses in the future. 

Rob ran in front for most of it, while I continued to give him pace and mechanical cueing.  After this series of terrific rolling singletrack, signage indicated the PCT was ahead.  The trail junction was manned by John Ticer and his dog, who directed us on to the "almost-home stretch", as I called it.

More incredible single-track!  So smooth and level!  If you could make a singletrack..."track", this section of PCT would be it.  Very fast and fun.  A couple switchbacks dumped us deep into the "Spooky Forest"; my name for anything with thick conifer trees that squelch most of the sunlight.  We again made good time; however, Rob began to complain of foot pain.  My response:  "Oh well! It's gonna hurt worse to stop and walk than it is to run!", which was absolute truth. He did walk a couple times, but never more than 5 seconds before running again.

We began to pass the Rosary Lakes -- they sat beside a substantial rocky uplifting, which made for a picturesque backdrop, much more impressive than I imagined they'd be.  We passed our final competitor - Gary Wang - at the middle lake, just after the stream crossing, then pushed it to try to make it a strong gap. 

The last couple miles, as Meghan alluded to, were long.  Again, great trail, but the scenery was monotonous; I kept waiting and anticipating our trail work area -- the big root hole we filled back in July, which was a marker for us that we were about a mile away.  I waited and waited as we scooted down the trail.  "I'm out of water", Rob said.  Perfect timing. 

We finally passed the trail work - first the huge boulder we freed but couldn't slide, then the freeway-width resurfacing of the root hole.  We both flew across it jubilantly, knowing how close we were to the end.  More downhill, then finally the trail split that took us to the Pass. 

Rob runs over the newly-filled root hole, a mile from the finish.

My last words to Rob, as we ran down the rocky double track road to the Ski Area, finish in sight, were, "You've got about a quarter mile to make your stride look bad-ass for the finish".  I then pulled off and let him roll through.

Approaching the finish.

Fun day.  Really glad I did the entire last half, as I seemed to be the most useful there.  Moreover, it was a great experience to put to use all I've learned in the past year.  Also, I'm quite proud of Rob for pushing himself to a new level; he was able to learn things and fix problems -- lessons that will pay off big time down the road!

Rob surrounded by his crew, getting post-race work by Mike Blackmore.
Post-race: soaked in the terrific atmosphere (and wonderfully warm weather conditions) at the Pass, including a great grill-out food, some tap beers from inside, and great company.  Chatted with Dave Mackey, "The Gentle Giant" who broke the CR, as well as with Ken Sinclair and Denise Bourassa, who I felt had the performance of the day, taking 2nd in an impressive 10:59 and punching her ticket to WS. 

A truly awesome event that I hope to run all of, soon.

Post-race refreshments!  Thanks, Ken!

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