Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Pacer's Report: 2014 Western States 100 (by David Leeke)

David and me at our first ultra, the 2012 Bizz Johnson 50k
With another run at States on the horizon, I have been pondering last years run. Apparently, so has my pacer David Leeke, as he has submitted his pacer's report from 2014. Its timely perspective has reminded me how rich the experience was, and I am grateful that he has provided these words and insight as I train once again for this iconic race.

David has come into his own as a MUT runner, notching a podium finish at Ann Trason's inaugural Overlook 100k (his 100k debut) and a win at the 2014 American Canyon 15k. His 2015 schedule includes the American River 50 Mile, Ruth Anderson 50k, Miwok 100k, Ohlone 50k, Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Mile and the Waldo 100k.

Here is Davids take on those last twenty miles of the 2014 Western States 100, with minor editing on my part.

 2014 Western States 100: A Pacer's Report

Would I ever pace again? Definitely. Pace and crew? Maybe.

The idea of fun becomes surreal in the arms of sleep deprivation. Déjà vu becomes common-place. The order of events and time get jumbled. Perception turns dreamlike.

“It seems we were just here yesterday,” I say as we leave the finish line.

“We were. Remember seeing Howe finish?” Mackenzie responds sleepily.

That doesn’t seem possible. How could I have just watched Ken finish, after myself running a marathon alongside him, after beginning the day in Squaw Valley? Clearly, four hours of sleep in two and a half days was catching up to me. Sleep would put my pieces back together again.

Let’s back up. To Green Gate aid station.

“Where are the shoes?” Mackenzie asks as we finish the hike down to the AS. They’re behind the driver’s seat on the floor. Right where I put them yesterday.

“Damn it.” I say, absentmindedly patting myself down for the shoes. I contemplate explaining the missing shoes to Ken. The last time I saw him was yesterday (it feels weird to talk about a race in terms of ‘yesterday’, as opposed to hours and minutes) just after sunset.

“I had Jon Vonhof look at my feet in Michigan Bluff, spent over 20 minutes there,” he had said as we jogged into Foresthill.

“How are they?” I asked.

“Some blistering and the start of maceration. Not bad… It’s my stomach. My Tailwind theory didn’t work out. Ann said I need to eat.”

“You want to try a ginger chew?” I asked.

“Too fucking tired to chew,” he said. Then he and Torrey dropped into Cal Street, and I had not seen them since.

I knew his feet were in bad shape. Twenty miles from Green Gate to the finish in wet shoes was not an option. A DNF would be more likely. The thought flashed through my head and back up the hill I ran, tacking on a 10k as a warm up for 20 miles of pacing I was about to do. I met Ken and his first pacer Torrey just as they were leaving the aid station. Ken changed shoes and off we went.

Ken had this look that said ‘I don’t give a fuck how bad I feel, I’m going to finish this race.’ That was good. He also had the look of a guy who had been on a bender for a few days. That was expected and somewhat true. He and Torrey were soggy from the river crossing. Torrey looked pained. He was ready to be done.  Poor guy was so tired before pacing Ken he’d passed out in the poison oak behind the Foresthill porta-potties and it might as well have been a bed at the Hilton.

Over several hours of power walking and jogging, Ken’s hallucinations came and went. At one point, he remarked about a guy lounging in a hammock amongst the trees.

Near Brown’s Bar AS we were on a downhill at a fine clip. I was actually jogging. Sixty miles of stomach issues were catching up with Ken. Chewing on ice seemed to tame his gut to some degree. I poured ginger ale back and forth between cups to kill the carbonation. We were entering the 26th hour of the race, and I was feeling the concerned looks of the volunteers. At Brown’s Bar one put a hand on my shoulder and asked if I was okay as I sloshed ginger ale between cups. I was too tired to explain, but Ken was on it.

“It’s for me, removes carbonation,” he said, throwing the soda down the hatch.

I grabbed some grub and turned to see Ken jogging. No. RUNNING down the hill. I squeezed a gel, spilling half on my shirt, threw down a Mountain Dew and began to take chase. A hand reached out to shake mine at the edge of the aid station. A Hal-ucination? I took the hand, looking into a bright smiling face and smiled back. It took me halfway down the hill to place the face of Mr. Koerner. He really does have a great smile. Ken and I both felt a little bit faster. He was moving; 80 miles into the race and he was running.

There were a few moments of exercise-induced asthma that were worrisome, but being the last bit of 100 miles some problems were to be expected. I did force some slow downs when symptoms elevated.

Crossing at Highway 49 was a landmark moment at Western States, literally and psychologically. This was a surprise for me in that Ken's father (Junior) was there waiting. Seeing the breadth of Juniors smile really helped drive home the pride and love a father can have for their son in a way I was just starting to learn about. That smile represented a feeling that many of us could only hope our fathers had.  We'd be fortunate to ever have anyone smile so profoundly at us during our lives.

“Pick up your feet” became the mantra. Listening and watching for the smallest dragging of the toe… I tried to sound encouraging but demanding. At least, that’s the tone I hoped for. I’ve run with him enough to know his form, and I tried to see it through the miles he had on him. His shuffle wasn’t too bad. I’ve heard of folks falling this late in a race and DNFing, so I just wanted to get him done and finish.

Seeing my friend cross the finish line was definitely one of the great moments of my life. It is amazing that something so hard and painful, full of suffering, can be so rewarding. Clearly sleep deprivation plays a big role in our perception of fun.

Finally, after years of training, the Western States magic glides to a conclusion with 300 yards around the track, proving that helping others achieve their goals can be just as powerful, if not more so, of an experience.

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