Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Pacing at Headlands Hundred

So where was I. Right, I got off that plane from Vegas, headed straight home, packed my bag, rented another car (I don't own one) and off to the race I went. I was very excited. Steve Ansell and Olga Varlamova arrived shortly to get ready for their own pacing assignments. I know Olga had already spent the day crewing for Larry, I think Steve was also out on the course earlier in the day. Ran into Kelly Ridgway who was just heading in the direction of the bathrooms and showers. We talked briefly, I didn't know at the time that she had won the women's race for the 50-mile event.

Olga and I at the start/finish waiting for our runners.

I got dressed, ate some of the finish line aid station fare, hung out with the volunteers and other pacers and had conversations with some of the 50-mile finishers. After 11-hours still no Lem, my runner. Well I hoped he was just going especially slow, saving himself for the night section. 11.5-hours still no Lem and I start to get worried. Finally Marisa Walker who was working timing with Wendell points out Lem at the top of the hill. The finish for this race, much like the Miwok 100k and the Headlands 50k, is sweet in that you see the runners coming down the last hill, switchbacking most of the way down. The runner she pointed out was walking slowly despite the downhill. We both had the same look - something was wrong. Sure enough, Lem pulls in and promptly drops out. He had tripped on a root or a rock and did something to his calf. He was getting sharp pains, muscle spasms and his IT band was getting sore. Not something you can really run through. He was done. Very unfortunate, he had trained hard for this event.

DSCN0105.JPGLem's brother, Kermit Cuff who won the 100-mile event last year and Lem.

After hanging around a bit, talking with Lem and others, Karen Hanke suggested that I just pick up another runner to pace. Catra had just come in and suggested that I run the next 12 miles with her. She had pacers at mile 62 at the Tennessee Valley aid station and I could conceivably pick up another runner there to pace or just run back to the finish. I agreed. I've never run with Catra before but she's a pleasant friendly runner, in fact she was the one who entertained me with lots of stories, and I didn't want to miss out on some night running.

DSCN0108.JPGDSCN0109.JPGCatra, 50+ miles into the race with great views of San Francisco in the distance. Just a wee bit of road between trails.

Just outside of the Tennessee Valley aid station at mile 62 we run into Donald who was on his way back to the start finish and he didn't have a pacer. I offered my services and off we went. This was about mile 71 for him. We spent the next few miles talking about his goals for the race and I offered my opinion as to how he could best achieve it. He looked very good at 71 and when he started his last and final loop at mile 75 he looked just as excellent and in great shape. We ran hard. I suggested he start pushing it now, in the areas of the course where he is strongest and most comfortable and not to wait until the final turnaround at Muir Beach at mile 91.

On the way to Muir Beach, around mile 89, my knee starts to throb and I get very tired. I remember thinking, "What am I doing here? I'm not fully recovered from my last race and Donald is much faster than Lem". Keeping up with him was tiring me out! However at Muir Beach I get my wind back and a couple of Ibuprofens help the knee. Curiously I didn't need any caffeine to stay up, helps not to have run all day:) Donald was feeling it at this point and I did my best to keep him motivated but he's easy to motivate. You only have to tell Donald there are lights in the distance chasing and he'll move faster:) There was a runner that was right behind us who we just couldn't shake. We'd pull away then he'd reel us back in then we pull away again and he'd reel us back in. With about 6 miles to go he passes us because we had to make a bathroom stop but I noticed how tired he was and communicated that to Donald; "He's exhausted, I got a close look and you can take him. When you do put some distance on him for good. Don't let him use us as a psychological tool to pull him forward". Donald doesn't say much but he goes at it. We pass this runner and put some distance on him for good. He was still back there but his lights were no longer visible. We do a very quick and fast stop at the last aid station at Tennessee Valley and march up the last hill feeling optimistic about our chances of coming in under 23-hours. One more hill to go and the finish. I suggested to Donald that he leave everything on this last section. He laughs and groans but wouldn't you know it he complies. Never at one point was he grumpy, angry or sulky, a hard worker with a good disposition even when exhausted. At this point I had taken the lead to pick up the pace. He was wearing down and could use the motivation. I walk run the sections just ahead of him and he followed as best he could. We made very, very good time. The last mile and a half is pretty much downhill on an asphalt surface and we go harder and faster. We meet up with one of his friends, Richard, who was waiting to cheer him in. We also pass runners Brian Recore and Dannielle Coffman who were just finishing their 2nd lap. Both would gut it out and finish as well. Way to go guys!

DSCN0112.JPGDSCN0113.JPGDonald and I at the finish. Look at that relief on his face. Ok I'm makin fun, he's happy too. Brian Wyatt and pacer Kevin Swisher coming in under 24-hours. Awesome Brian! Way to hang tough despite the stomach issues.

Donald crosses the line at 22:55:06 for 5th place overall. He looked relieved more than happy but I'm sure he was ecstatic about his performance. I hangout for a couple of hours talking to friends and other runners. Amazingly still going strong without caffeine. At 8AM I take a nap in the car before driving home, ending yet another successful day at the Headlands Hundred. Through Donald I was able to live the finish I had wanted for myself at last year's event. Maybe one day I run this thing again and do as well as he did. Great job Donald!

For the complete photoset, click here.


  1. I can't even imagine Donald been grumpy! Boys, you did wonderful, what a team work! And that "pass the guy and don't leave him hope" trick is the best ever:) BTW, I think your report was longer than mine! And - thanks for the keys, honey. Got the charger back too!

  2. Fantastic recap. I just posted mine, too. I'm still having nightmares about that guy chasing us - every now and then I feel like looking over my shoulder for a headlamp.

    Thanks again for dragging my tired butt up and over those final hills. It made a huge difference to me, and I hope wasn't too mopey in my weakened state for you to tolerate.

    Also, you can totally smash my time on this course - I have no doubt of that. You da man, Rick.

  3. Rick,

    Great report...incredible job at getting the very best out of your runner without beating him down. Sounds like Donald is a great competitor. (We know his pacer is a competitor!)


  4. Rick, you are so generous with your time and energy. I am impressed with your willingness to help others. Way to go! That was a great recap. Thanks for sharing and continuing to inspire!

  5. You rock!!! Way to help so many runners!

  6. So awesome Rick!! I am so jealous that you got to run with Catra (she is blog famous)! That is so cool that you were able to help so many! I sure hope you are around to pace me on one of my ultras someday!

  7. Too bad for your runner, but yay for Donald! Awesome job pacing. Sounds like a good weekend for you and all the runners you helped out. : )

  8. Olga: Yeah Donals is pretty even keeled. Kept it together pretty well.

    Donald: It was a pleasure pushing you through your last 29 miles, especially the last 10 miles of your run. I could tell it hurt but you never lost that competitive spirit and you kept pushing. Your fantastic time is well deserved.

    Dave: Donals is fast runner and very competitive, it wasn't hard to tap into that to keep him going. He did an outstanding job managing his race up to the point that I met him. He hurt and suffered in the end because we pushed to get him across that line before 23-hours. He left a lot on the trail if not all, which I feel is how you should race. Give it everything you got!

    Jean: A lot of the things I do for other runners and events was passed down to me by other like minded runners and volunteers. Just passing on what I was and continued to be given.

    Danni: It was fun! I had fun out there as well. It was great seeing all of you out there. Again way to hang on to that finish!

    J~Mom: I'd pace you lady. You're doing so good in your running I don't doubt you'd try an ultra one day. There's a 50k run on the Havelina course.

    Sarah: It was a great day. Reminded me of all the photos and stories that you had on your blog about volunteering.

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  10. It sounds like you were a huge help to Donald out there. You need to get back up here to the Northwest for some 100's. I know Hundred in the Hood is on your schedule in 09. How about a CC100, Plain 100 and Hundred in the Hood Triple next year? Doesn't that sound like fun?