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My Take On Pacing at Western States Endurance Run (6/24-25/06) (Read 986 times)


You'll ruin your knees!

    Here is a write-up I did following my experience pacing a successful runner at Western States, the grandfather of 100 mile trail runs...it's long, but enjoy if you like this kind of stuff... Where? Michigan Bluff Aid Station on the Western States 100 Course Why? My runner was reported to have made it through Devil's Thumb, actually making up time after Robinson Flat. I thought since he was behind schedule, I could begin pacing him there (after 8 pm) rather than wait till Foresthill. Reality? Devil's Thumb, for my runner, turned out to be Hotel California as in check in anytime you like, but you can never leave… As I was wondering out loud...can I pick up a runner here or should I return to Foresthill...I heard a voice say..."do you want to pace my runner? I don't think I'm prepared to run with him." CHA-CHING! "Can I do that?" I ask, not knowing if the rules of the trail would allow me to change runners (I had the pacer race number for my friend, who was under a space blanket at Devil's Thumb) with such a short notice. Race officials assured me it was OK, that I could pick up the correct pacer number at Foresthill. My new runner's "handler" explained that his runner was Karsten Solheim, of Glendale AZ. Karsten, as it turned out, was attempting his 12th completion of WS100, 10th SINCE HE TURNED 60!!! I do a quick check and realize there are only a few minutes until cutoff and that IF Karsten arrived and successfully got out on time, we would probably cover a few miles only to be pulled from the race at a later checkpoint. Directly, a lanky runner in red pants lumbered into Michigan Bluff with a few minutes to spare against the 9:30 pm cutoff, was attend to by his crew and introduced to me, his new pacer. I had been warned he didn't have much of a sense of humor, he didn't like to talk about much while running, and before I knew it, we were moving out of the aid station and into the night. My focus was to "read" my new runner to determine where he was mentally, physically and spiritually. I tried to read every signal, looking for signs of fatigue versus just someone who liked it to be quiet during his run. Early out of Michigan Bluff, a sharp downhill revealed that I had a downhill running genius as my runner. I could discern no change of pace as Karsten barreled down the mountain, reeling in tired runners in the 17th hour of his run. He moved gracefully over the roots and the rocks and I realized...this just might be more than a few miles until we missed a cutoff! As we moved through the night, Karsten and I grew more comfortable with each other and I realized what a jewel of a man I had been paired up with. We quickly moved through the shallow conversation and I began to see into the soul of a man who was deeply spiritual, passionate about his family and running, and much more. Karsten basically put on a Western States seminar with me being the only participant and he the master teacher. Because of his experience on the trail, he had an intimate relationship with every dip, turn, climb and maybe even some of the wildlife! Coming out of Dardanelles, we hit a climb and he would say..."so-and-so hated this climb until I pointed out it was only 8 minutes" …I checked my watch and sure enough, eight minutes on the nose! It seemed that every climb was familiar; he could state unequivocally this climb is 20 minutes, or that climb is 12 minutes… The Hwy 49 climb, by the way, is 18 minutes! This was repeated no less than 4-5 times during the balance of our little "night run"…always dead on target. We had met up with Elizabeth and Bill (friends from the RW Trail Running Forum) at Dardanelles, and ran off and on with them until Rucky Chucky. It seemed that as the night wore on, Karsten got stronger! By Rucky Chucky, I could tell he was comfortable he would make the 30 hour time limit (made it by 3 minutes in 2005), and began to get serious about a sub-29 hour finish! My word...HE PICKED UP THE PACE out of Green Gate and even had a couple of splits that he claimed were his all time best (Auburn Lake Trails to Brown's Bar and Brown's Bar to Hwy 49). Moving into Brown’s Bar, we passed Drew M and his pacer Matt C (friends from trail running club) and exchanged greetings, visiting some in the aid station; it appeared Drew was gaining strength for the coming sunrise! It was good to see some of the TX runners still in the hunt. Sunrise hit us just after Auburn Lake Trails and the temps started climbing again, but Karsten didn't slow down. I heaped praise on him as he would smoothly transition between "walk with purpose" and run the flats and downs (and even a few of the ups!). He seemed to gain strength with every step. After sunrise, we were running down along the river just before the climb up to 49 and Karsten vocalized a prayer..."Lord, thank you for giving me the ability to run. I would be a fool to think I could do this alone..." I caught myself echoing "amen" as he offered up praise to his maker. Incredible moment... We crossed into Hwy 49 and I was greeted by Catra (another RW forumite), cheerfully helping tired runners (and in my case, one whipped pacer!). I was cramping, probably because I had begun to neglect myself and focus on Karsten AND the killer climb to 49. We left quickly for No Hands and Karsten went nuclear on me! I was working out my cramps, slamming Gu and E-lytes on the short climb out of 49 and fell about 1/4 mile behind him...I encouraged him to keep moving, and I would catch up. Well I did catch up, using almost every ounce of reserve I had...by the time we got to No Hands, he was moving so fast that I went anaerobic to keep up …ON THE DOWNHILLS! I passed the baton to his handler at No Hands and went to Robie Point to cheer them on, then to the track to see him finish (read: I got dropped by a 69 year old ultrarunner, and I’m danged proud of it)! His finishing time was 29:18, and he was the oldest runner to finish the 2006 WS100 (for the second year in a row)! I never really knew for sure where I stood with Karsten, but was grateful for the opportunity to run with him. After being invited to dinner with his family/crew, I learned he was planning on running in the Vermont 100 in three weeks. Jokingly, I suggested that I may need to come out and “put a foot in his rear” to make sure he got through that one. Without hesitation, Karsten gave me the biggest compliment…”no, I think I’ve got that one covered…but would you consider meeting me in Leadville in August?” I slept very well on the red-eye flight back to Dallas! Lynn B

    ""...the truth that someday, you will go for your last run. But not today—today you got to run." - Matt Crownover (after Western States)

    vicentefrijole


      Awesome story, Lynn! I love reading about these 100M adventures. I learn a lot each time (and it makes me very interested in the world of "ultras")! Big grin Some questions: Does every ultra-runner always have a pacer or is it optional? What qualifications do you need to have to serve as a pacer? This seems like a great way to learn more about ultrarunnning, but perhaps runner's prefer to have more experienced atheltes pacing them? How long (in miles) does each pacer generally go with a runner? What other support is needed for an ultra-runner?
        Great story, jlynnbob! Yea, verily, thou almost persuadeth me to give an ultra a go. But, not quite yet. Good questions from vincentefrijole. Would love to hear the answers. And--what kind of support team do you need to have?
        My Masters (>50) Race PR's: 5K - 20:17 10K - 42:36 HM - 1:31:22 Marathon - 3:20:48
          Thank you for sharing! I loved your story!

          Roads were made for journeys...

          Mile Collector


          Abs of Flabs

            Lynn, It's always a pleasure to read your race reports as they're filled with running anecdotes mixed with a healthy dose of insanity. You still haven't convinced me to go beyond a marathon yet. How do you manage to remember all these details? By the time I finish the marathon, everything that happened in between the starting and finish lines was a haze. What were the conditions like? Did you get a chance to meet someone named Olga? She ran WS as well, and said many people were suffering due to the weather.


            Needs more cowbell!

              I'm chuckling at the name Karsten. I went to school with a kid named Karsten Lundquist. Everyone joked that we should get married (Karsten and Kirsten...der). Crazy Swedes.... That race sounds insane (I'm still having a hard time wrapping my brain around marathons, much less a marathon x ~4). My DH's uncle did it a few years back--he didn't tell his mother or MIL beforehand, 'cause he worried they would throw a fit and beg him not to do something so "dangerous," LOL. But what an awesome experience! Big grin k

              I shoot pretty things! ~

              '14 Goals:

              • 2 olympic distance duathlons -- 6 days apart -- PR at least 1

              • 130#s (and stay there, gotdammit!)

                How do you like this one: http://www.badwater.com/ 135 miles, from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney (net gain over 8,000 ft)... in JULY. Might not be too late to sign up... Race isn't until Jul 24-26... I think I'll stay home for this one... Wink

                Roads were made for journeys...

                Mile Collector


                Abs of Flabs

                  How do you like this one: http://www.badwater.com/ 135 miles, from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney (net gain over 8,000 ft)... in JULY. Might not be too late to sign up... Race isn't until Jul 24-26... I think I'll stay home for this one... Wink
                  I heard it's so hot during the race that the asphalt on the road melts, and everyone's forced to run on the white stripe on the side of the road.


                  You'll ruin your knees!

                    Sorry for the delay in answering some questions...work and life have been crazy busy! Does every ultra-runner always have a pacer or is it optional? - entirely optional, but more common in races over 50 miles. Logistics are tough to pull off, particularly for remote races (where travel is required for runner and crew), so some successfully compete without crew or pacers. Many races are really well done and a runner can complete the challenge with only the support of the race volunteers. What qualifications do you need to have to serve as a pacer? - None other than the ability to go the distance without being a drag on the runner. That is a huge point, the pacer is there for the benefit of the runner and should not do anything to take away from the runner's experience. Everyone is different, some like a chatty kathy for a companion, others just like to have someone they trust, still others like to have a cheerleader. During the course of an overnight run, the runner may need all three! This seems like a great way to learn more about ultrarunnning, but perhaps runner's prefer to have more experienced atheltes pacing them? - Pacing or being part of a crew for a runner in a 100 mile race is the very BEST way to learn more about ultrarunning. Also, volunteering to work at an aid station for a local ultra (trail 50K,50 miler, etc) is a great way to learn as well. The volunteer really gets the spirit of the event and can easily see the difference between trail ultras and road races. Some runners like to have a more experienced "pacer", I think this really helps. The more experienced runner, however, may not need the same thing and may prefer to have someone he/she enjoys running with along for a little nite run! Roll eyes How long (in miles) does each pacer generally go with a runner? - this can vary significantly, depending on the race, pacer, runner, conditions, etc. Generally, in a 100 mile race, pacing is allowed sometime after the 50 mile point, at a checkpoint designated as a crew access point. Some runners have multiple pacers, to break up the task and to provide variety. I paced a guy once from mile 48 to mile 88 and another friend took him in from 88 to 100. The friend had never paced and really wanted to help, so we decided that I would get him most of the way through the night and the other friend (also not capable of covering the entire distance) could pick it up an hour or so before sunrise. Worked out pretty good. I know another runner at Hardrock (starting today) that may have three different pacers, as the terrain of Hardrock is some of the most difficult of any ultra. What other support is needed for an ultra-runner? - As I already said, many runners can complete an ultra with only the support provided by the race volunteers. Aid is usually offered every 5-10 miles (includes hydration and nutrition needs). The use of crew/pacers is optional, but definitely adds an element of teamwork not found in lots of other "individual" sports. what kind of support team do you need to have? - primarily an understanding spouse (if married). Most people don't understand runners, much less ultra-runners (can't tell you how many times DW has asked me "why can't you just run 6 miles a day?" when discussing how I can schedule my long runs into our routine). It is good to have someone on the team that is experienced at ultra-running, as they probably best understand what the runner is going through (physically, mentally, spiritually) and know what to look for/how to address problems. For example, if a runner develops a negative attitude or is lacking in focus, there is probably a physical cause...lack of nutrition/hydration. An experienced ultra runner can diagnose this and knows to shove half a hamburger down his/her runner and things will get better in about 15 minutes. Runners need different things at different times. An experienced crew knows when to kick a runner's butt out of an aid station and when to sit them down and force food/liquid. Not sure I can really explain this one... How do you manage to remember all these details? - Don't really know. Sometimes I develop themes for my reports during the actual run. It really helps pass the time and takes my mind off the physical pain. I probably start four or five "themes" per race! Kindof like dreaming, though...don't remember them all! When writing up a report, I often go back to the race website to get aid station names/splits, etc. What were the conditions like? Did you get a chance to meet someone named Olga? Didn't meet Olga... As for conditions, I didn't experience what the runners did in "the canyons". They ran through the hottest part of the day at altitude without shade probably at 105+ degrees in sections. I do know that the shade wasn't too bad, particularly in areas where there was still some snow cover, but the full sun was brutal. Just sapped energy standing around waiting for the runners! Trails were very challenging in the first 55 miles. First 4 miles climbed from 6,200 ft to over 9,000 ft! Downhills were brutal on tired legs, sore knees and blistered feet! Hope that helps! Comments on Badwater in a post to follow later! Lynn B

                    ""...the truth that someday, you will go for your last run. But not today—today you got to run." - Matt Crownover (after Western States)

                    vicentefrijole


                      Thanks, Lynn, for addressing each of my questions so completely. Great info! I am really interested in ultra-running and I like your idea -- that volunteering would be a great way to learn more. I'll look into it. Thanks again for all the great info and stories. Big grin
                      Mile Collector


                      Abs of Flabs

                        Thanks Lynn for being ever so informative for us non-ultra folks!
                          Lynn - Just read your awesome report on last years WS run. Living in Auburn, the finish line, most of the trail has become familiar to me, some more so than others. Last summer was my first year trail running, and I attempted to run all sections of the 100 miles, not necesarily in order, and definitely not all at once! I managed to do about 65% of it. The sections I have left to do are the more inaccessible high-country parts (East of Michigan Bluff), with some long distances between driveable access points. I'll try to finish my quest this year, and then my husband wants to do it all again, in portions again, but this timein order, like the race is done. I was at the finish line on the track last year on Sunday morning, removing the racing chips from the runners ankles as they crossed the finish. It was BLAZING HOT out there, and I can't imagine what all the runners, including pacers, went through! Major KUDOS to you and everyone who attemped the run!!!! PS - maybe you recognize my current avatar - my sons watercolor of No Hands Bridge - a local favorite icon Best of luck trying to get into WS, if you try again. Maybe our paths will cross someday.
                          Next up: A 50k in ? Done: California-Oregon-Arizona-Nevada (x2)-Wisconsin-Wyoming-Utah-Michigan-Colorado


                          You'll ruin your knees!

                            Holy smokes, it IS No Hands Bridge! We must have been physcally close to meeting on Sunday, as I hung out near the "wading pool" for a few hours trying to cool down! There are a few Auburn area runners that hang out here -->http://forums.runnersworld.com/eve/forums/a/frm/f/698106477 They do a lot of training runs on the WS course... Lynn B

                            ""...the truth that someday, you will go for your last run. But not today—today you got to run." - Matt Crownover (after Western States)


                            I've got a fever...

                              Living in Auburn
                              Hey Landy, how's No-Cal treating you? I lived in Roseville/Rocklin for 12 yrs and played in the Auburn Symphony for about 10. Love your town. Cheers, Jeff

                              On your deathbed, you won't wish that you'd spent more time at the office.  But you will wish that you'd spent more time running.  Because if you had, you wouldn't be on your deathbed.

                                Hey Landy, how's No-Cal treating you?.... Love your town. Jeff
                                Jeff - I love our town too. We moved here from San Jose 8 years ago, and I never have regreted it. It's a great place to raise a family, and it is such a small town, in the classic sense of the word...people we know are in the local paper; you expect to see someone you know when you go out running, to the store, or dining; someone you know is related to someone else you know from some totally unrelated aspect of your life; you volunteer to work at the local events and end up alongside famous ultrarunners like Gordy Ansleigh (happpened to me last year), etc.. The trip down to Roseville (AKA: "Going Down the Hill") becomes a chore we try to do as infrequently as possible. It is great! And I can truly say I Love It! I'm sorry you had to move. Come back for a visit sometime.
                                Next up: A 50k in ? Done: California-Oregon-Arizona-Nevada (x2)-Wisconsin-Wyoming-Utah-Michigan-Colorado
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