Thursday, July 4, 2019

Crewing and Pacing Western States 100

Western States...we all know this as one of the most prestigious ultramarathons in the USA and the grandfather of trail ultras in the world. Each year, thousands of people try to get in through the lottery, some by obtaining a golden ticket which they win by placing in the top 2 positions at a select number of difficult races. However, every year only 369 people are lucky enough to run in this race. But that doesn’t mean it’s small or that it is any less competitive than say, a race that has thousands of runners running. Actually, some would argue that it is even more competitive because of those that run in this race range from the super fast elite to the seasoned ultrarunners with thousands of miles on their feet. Both are forces to be reckoned with! My point is, people who get in generally know what the hell they are doing and don’t take the race lightly!

Like last year, I knew I was going back to this race to crew. I originally thought that I would just help out with the CTS athletes. I had so much fun last year and enjoyed helping so much that I knew I wanted to do it again. So when a running friend I knew from Finland asked me if I would be his crew chief, I, of course, said yes. He was number 13 on the waitlist and based off of previous years, we knew that meant he was going to get in. It was only 3 weeks prior to the race that he knew for sure though when his name was pulled from the waitlist and he was a confirmed runner in Western States. It was a little after this when Jukka was contacted by another guy who is originally from Finland but has been residing in San Francisco since attending university many years ago (sorry Risto, I assumed it was many). Risto saw that a guy from Finland got off the waitlist and he wanted to help his fellow countryman out so asked to be part of our crew. It was a perfect and much-needed addition to the team and would allow me to not only crew but also pace. There were so many things that happened around this trip that was serendipitous - the first was that at the same time I was messaging Jukka to see if I could pace as well as crew, Jukka’s other pacer who was originally going to pace the entire 2nd Half of the race was emailing Jukka saying he would only be able to pace until Rucky Chucky. So it worked out perfectly...Will Cooper would pace from Foresthill to Rucky Chucky and I would pace from Rucky Chucky to the finish. Since I was bringing Addie along with me I hired a babysitter. Ellery is an 18-year-old about to head off for university and agreed to come along and help me for the trip during the times that I would be preoccupied. The plan was for Risto and the kids head to Auburn after leaving Foresthill. Will would pace Jukka and I would take Will’s car to Rucky Chucky so he would have it when he finished his pacing duties. This was all ironed out a couple days before the race.
Me after winning the
Altra Uphill Challenge

Two days before the Western States race, Jukka mentioned to me that there was a race for anyone who wanted to join on Friday morning at 10am and that I should run it. He said that was an uphill race called the Altra Uphill Challenge and that it was only 6km. I was not aware of this event until they mentioned it so I wasn’t sure if I would want to run it last minute but the morning of the race, which was the day before Western States I messaged my coach and asked if I could do it...his response was “yes, win it”. So a couple hours later I toed the line and what do you know, I did! It was so much fun and I won $100 gift certificate at Altra and a Suunto 9 GPS watch...I believe this to be the second stroke of serendipity as this was not even on my radar but ended rather well for me!

Sunset the night before the
race at Robinson Flat

Addie and I snuggling
in the tent
After the race and a quick meeting with Team Jukka crew, Addie, Ellery and I met up with Jason and Liz Koop as well as a guy from our area named Josh in Foresthill and we all carpooled to the first aid station where we would meet and crew for the runners - Robinson Flat. After last years crazy adventure down the road to Deliverance, I thought it would be best to follow people who really knew how to get there. We got to Robinson Flat a couple hours before dark, met up with John Fitzgerald, who is also a CTS coach as well as Stephanie Howe. We all ate our dinner and fell asleep in our tents or in Stephanie’s case, a kickass van so that we could rise early for Western States race-day. It was a super cold night especially for late June but I was lucky because I had Addie to snuggle with and she’s always so warm! 

Addie and Liz being cute
Team Jukka at Robinson Flat
A quick pic with Mr. Bill
(Previous RF Aid Station Captian)
The next morning we set up our support area right after the Robinson Flat aid station tent and waited for our runners to come through. This aid station is fun because the front runners come flying in...very exciting to spectate. I find it inspiring to watch the front runners putting themselves out there and really giving this race all they've got. I find it even more inspiring to see the mid and back of the packers doing the same, giving it all they've got. Since everyone in our little group had their own runners they were supporting things started to thin out as the morning went on. Since we were Jukka’s crew, we had to wait for him to come through Robinson Flat which happened to be around 12:30pm. 

Team Jukka at Foresthill
Once Jukka left Robinson Flat, Ellery, Addie and I got in our car and headed to Foresthill. Risto and Jon also drove in their car and met us for “linner” (lunch and dinner) at Maker’s, which was a restaurant with bar food options...nice and greasy, just what we needed after a long morning of standing out in the sun. Shortly after getting to the restaurant, Will joined us. The whole crew was finally all together. After we ate, we found a spot on the ground and watched runner after runner pass through. It was fun to cheer everyone on and see how the different athletes were looking. 
We had gotten word that the lead woman, Courtney had dropped, Clare had moved up and CTS athlete Kaci had jumped to third place. We also saw Amanda and her man Zach walking in the opposite direction of the course on their way to drop from the race. So much was happening in the woman's race at this point and it was very exciting! At around 10:30pm Jukka came through Foresthill aid station. When he came into the aid station he was feeling really low, so low he fell to the ground and was a little out of it when asked a couple questions by the medical staff. Will had just picked him up as his pacer right before Foresthill and by the sounds of how Jukka looked and felt we all kind of thought, his race might have been over. But Will did what a good pacer does and he told Jukka to EAT and before we knew it, Jukka was back and ready to go! 

After Jukka and Will left Foresthill we all left for our next stations...Risto, Ellery, Jon (Jukka’s 16-year-old son) and Addie headed to Placer High School while I went to Rucky Chucky. The plan was that I would go there and catch some sleep in the back of Will’s car and that I should be ready to pace 30 mins before the 30hr cutoff since Jukka was getting closer and closer to the 30 hr cutoff....actually when they left Foresthill they were only 15 mins ahead of it. At Rucky Chucky I set my alarm for 3am the fell asleep somewhere around 11:30pm however with the excitement of the race, I woke up on my own at 2:30am. I immediately grabbed my phone to see the last checkpoint they had passed through and it showed Cal 2, this meant they had one more aid station, Cal 3 to pass through before Rucky Chucky. I kept refreshing the timing website but it kept showing Cal 2 as their last aid station. A number of things went through my head such as, maybe they are moving really slowly (since he was looking so bad at Foresthill), or maybe they dropped, or maybe the website didn’t pick up their last aid station passing. At 3am I decided just to head down to the pickup point which is near the river crossing. I saw that there was a bus that ran every 15mins so I got out of the warm car and headed to wait at the cold “bus stop”. 
For whatever reason this bus did not come within 15 mins of the last bus - it was more like 20+ mins. But since I was expecting to have to wait for them, it didn’t really bother me that I had to wait a little longer for the bus. When it stopped, I jumped on and took the ride to the river. When I got off, I thought about using the toilet since I had to pee but for whatever reason, the third serendipitous thing happened. I kept walking to the aid station, passing the bathrooms and when I did, I saw Will! He was going through his bag which was on a table and I yelled: “Will, what are you doing here already?!” He said, “hey, tell Gordy you are here!” I then said “ok, here are your keys” holding them up to Will’s face. He didn’t grab them at first because he looked over at Gordy, yes THE Gordy Ainsleigh and said: “hey, she’s here!”...I said “Will, the Keys!” shaking them so he would take them. As he grabbed the keys from me he said: “tell Gordy you are here and will pace Jukka”. As I was about to head down the stairs, I saw Jukka at the bottom getting a life vest on and Gordy was at the top about to head down. I patted Gordy on the shoulder and I said: “I’m here”. I didn’t realize until we were in the boat, crossing the river that Gordy was going to pace Jukka! I apologized and tried to explain what had happened. Jukka said he was just glad it worked out. I then apologized for showing up because how cool of a story would that have been to have Gordy Ainsleigh pace you to a Western States finish?!?! Jukka agreed but was happy I showed up just in the nick of time!

Sunday morning sunrise
before ALT aid station
As the morning hours ticked by I really had to remind Jukka to eat and drink. I had to be a little tough at times and told him if he wanted to make the cutoff and get that belt buckle he needed to get in enough nutrition. So I paid attention to the time and reminded him every 30 mins. I also had to make him run when I knew he was hurting - I felt a little bad at times but we were so close to the 30hr cutoff that we didn’t have a lot of time to play with. Everyone says it’s all runnable after Foresthill, those people are crazy! Sure, there are lost of rolling sections, flat and descents but there was also some good sized hills that we had to climb! Jukka couldn’t run the hills, I remember I ran a little tiny climb and he said, “I thought you said we weren’t going to run the hills”. I had to remember he was coming at these little climbs with 80+miles already and I was fresh! We had fun though, I tried to talk a little about other things to keep his mind occupied.

Dean being awesome and taking
a quick pic with Jukka

Right before daybreak, we ran by some runners and in a small group. One guy was in the middle of the trail bent over stretching his legs. As I went to go around him, I looked up at the voice who was politely asking us to go around the guy cramping up, and I noticed that voice was Dean Karnazes. So I yelled out “Dean!” I then said hey “this is my runner, Jukka, he’s a big fan, do you think I could get your photo?!” Dean said “of course” and then he thanked me. He said, “hey, that was super cool of you” and then something along the lines of some people not liking him as much.  That’s when I said “well, I don’t know about that, you are the reason MOST of us are here!” That’s when I had to remind Jukka that we had a cutoff to chase and we took off. 

Later in the morning it really started to heat up. I kept reminding Jukka to drink and eat and encouraged him to run every chance we got. He never really complained. He just did what I asked. After we crossed No Hands Bridge I could tell it was really hard for him. At one point he said he felt nauseous so I told him to puke - sometimes as a runner, you feel you need to try and hold it in but what I’ve come to realize is once you get it out you feel so much better! Plus, I knew that if he puked whatever it was making him feel so bad, we only had less than 2 miles to go so it would not have been the end of the world. After he said he wasn’t able to vomit, I told him to just keep going time to waste! As we crossed a little stream I told him to get wet, wet his hat and splash water on him as best he could. I could tell he couldn’t really bend over well so I helped him out. As a pacer, it’s your job to get the runner to the finish line in whatever goal they have set. We were meeting his goal of finishing but we weren’t quite there yet. As I started to pick up the pace on a flat-ish section he said I think we can just walk to the finish but that’s when I had to remind him of the time and how close we were to the 30-hour cutoff. We passed through the last little aid station and I remember telling him, this is it, just one more little hill but what I didn’t know is that little hill just kept on wasn’t anything crazy but at mile 99 of your run, a little hill can seem like a 14er! It wasn’t long before we could see the track and Jukka was running to his Western States finish in the Golden Hour. 

It was such a special and fun experience - I loved pacing...I think I will continue to pace until I get in the race myself. The course seems like it would really suit me well and oh my gosh, coming into the neighborhood and stepping on the track was sooooo much fun! I freakin’ loved it! Western States is definitely something special! Congratulations to all the runners who gave it a shot, whether or not you proud you were able to get there. And to all those amazing runners who keep kicking butt year after are something special!

Thank you to team Jukka for all that you did to help get him to the finish. As Jukka and I joked on course...Finnish guys/gals Finish!


Steve said...

Wow, Dreama! I’m inspired by your report to pace someone next year.

Trail Plodder said...

Thank you for everything Dreama! Couldn't have done this without you. The best Crew Chief and Pacer ever!

Dreama Jean said...

Thank you Steve and Jukka! Steve, I definitely recommend pacing/ is so much fun!