Monday, September 15, 2014

Tahoe 200 - Crewing and Pacing - Interesting Experience

I will publish this after John publishes his...

I don't remember how I volunteered to crew and pace John, but it was on some run at some point this past year.  We were probably running along and he said he was going to sign up and I said I would love to crew him and help pace a section or two.  He has been so incredibly helpful in getting me into this sport and keeping me going.  Why not!  A few days at Tahoe crewing, then pace him in for a bit, what could go wrong...

Excited to use my new whiteboard markers
After John finished his excellent run at the Hardrock 100 (his race report), we started talking about this in earnest.  Not really knowing what a crew chief, yes I had been promoted by this point, was to do.  I started looking at the maps and the runners manual.  Candice picked CalTopo for the maps, and she broke it up into aid stations and segments between all color coded.  Here is the map, it really helps visualize the course as a whole.  I was able to work with the creator of the site to get a larger 18x24 inch size that I had printed at Kinko's that we could use white board markers on.  It was fun to mark up at breakfast a few weeks before the race and decide when and where pacers were going to meet up and how we would coordinate some items.

Since we had a few pacers lined up at different times, I thought the best way to get folks to where they needed to be was to leap frog a bit.  They would park their car where they would finish pacing and I would meet them and drive them to the start of where they were pacing (on paper that looks good :) ).  After a bit of coordinating schedules and some other people to act as possible back up folks, we had our plan of attack.  John had also created a pacer chart so we had some idea of when he was going to be going through our pacing aid stations.  His times to hit the aid stations were labeled as Great, Good, and Oh Well.

John and I also went out to scout the course a bit.  We went to Lyons Creek Trail near Kyburz.  We ran up past Wrights Lake and then tested out John's handheld GPS.  The GPS worked out great, so good I actually bought one - a refurbished Garmin from Cabelas - the eTrex 20, I am sure glad I had it!  The course was pretty rugged!  A lot of places where even good marking might get you a bit turned around especially those coming through at night.  I heard the markings were great and I don't know how many people got off course but I think remarkably few for such a huge undertaking!

Cowboy down
Fast forward a bit I wanted to come up Thursday so I could attend the course overview meeting and then the mandatory briefing.

A picture of him taking a selfie
The course meeting was interesting, finding out John was going to be going 15 to 18 miles at a time without an aid station and sometimes no streams to pull water out of.  It was going to be rough.  I don't know if John was as concerned about this as I was (he is the one nodding off in the briefing) :)

We got to sleep on time and slept in a bit since the start time wasn't going to be till 10am.  John had already dropped off his drop bags, I still have a hard time thinking about how he put those together.  He uses Victory drop bags - awesome set of bags he had an inventory list on the front of each bag that he referred to each time I saw him using it.  I need to pick up a few of these for my next ultra I think I am still partial to my pink barbie backpack because it sure is easy to find.  That would be my only suggestion for the Victory drop bags - different colors possibly.

Starting was pretty standard at an ultra - not the crowds of thousands but a great high energy and everyone ready to get started.  Since the start was up a ski slope (Homewood Resort), great place and very kind to host this event!  Everyone was laughing about running up the hill at the start of a 202 mile event.  Well there was at least one person  that did run up that first hill.  You will have to read through John's report on what happened to him.

Afterward Sean (he was pacing another runner) and I hiked the hill - it was no joke even at a good hiking pace :)  Pretty view of the lake and seeing the enormity of the task John was undertaking was inspiring.  Here is a quick video I made from the shore at Tahoe City.

I knew I wouldn't see him until 60 miles in so I went back to Tahoe City to try to get some rest and coordinate with the pacers (Peter Rabover, Karl Schnaitter, and Jeremy Johnson).  I was going to start detailing out my experience coordinating all of this "leap frogging", but suffice to say I think I drove about 9 to 10 hours trying to get people in the right spots then tried to get some sleep so I could get pick him up to start pacing early Sunday morning.  I wish I would have been able to grab more shut eye, it just didn't work out that way.

Some notable events before I started pacing;

Missing Peter by minutes at Armstrong before I had to meet John for his best case time which he nailed at Sierra at Tahoe.  He came in looking strong and Peter was able to get a ride down to Big Meadow to pace him from 80 to 90, so that worked out fine.  Peter did miss out on seeing a bear cub though.

Getting a call from John before he hit Tunnel Creek aid station saying he was lost and Jeremy I think trying to tell him that they were still on course.  I then had to call Amy and tell her.  I went to Tunnel Creek to see if I could catch him but they had just left 5 min before, so I decided to just go to Martis Peak aid station and try to sleep in the car.

Once they arrived John wanted to get an hour of sleep and then we would move out and I would pace him for the last 50 or so "Candice Miles" as we came to discuss our mileage between aid stations.  I know she measured it out with some extra sensitive GPS equipment, but whew it just seemed like we were a tad longer between stations.

I will break these thoughts up a bit between aid stations;

Martis Peak to Tahoe City - about 20 miles
This was a good section - we moved pretty well jogging the flats and downhills I think for the most part, we ran into some people that got a good picture of John running I hope but then they let us know that Ewan (the eventual winner) was moving great and had just checked in and out of Martis.  So we picked up the pace.  Markings were great we were moving in daylight, it was everything I had hoped pacing would be...  I was double checking my GPS but we saw a course marker when it made sense to see one.  We ran out of water and nutrition on this section though not long before we eventually came into Tahoe City and Jeremy was there to help out, I ran into the store there and got us a couple of water bottles because it was warm and we knew the next section could be awhile.  So it would be nice to have something other than our two bottles up front. I also looked to get a ping from some crew about when Ewan would enter and leave the aid station.

Tahoe City to Rideout - about 19 miles 
This section was a bit of everything - I used a crosswalk for the first time in an ultra.  We ran down a bike path, and then eventually came on the TRT again.  This section is kind of a blur, we knew Ewan was behind us, but we had kept moving good.  We were finally able to grab a cell signal so I sat down and looked at the times.  Sure enough we found out that Ewan was still hot on our tail.  We started up this long extended climb and got to the top, John said he saw Ewan and his pacer below and then all of a sudden they caught up and were blowing by us.  I felt destroyed that we couldn't keep them off our tail, but I felt like I was pushing John as hard as I could.  We eventually made it into Rideout and the promised last leg of this adventure.  

Rideout to Finish - about 16 miles
Rideout aid station was fun because Animal Athletics sponsored it, it was great to meet Yassine Diboun and his crew there.  This section was rough!!!  We got in about 6 miles of fairly flat terrain then it just started going up and it was these silly jeep trails that would go up then flatten and up and flatten again.  Unfortunately we weren't moving too fast, John's feet were hurting a bit and you can read his description of this part of the run but it was brutal for him.  This is when Victor Ballesteros passed us, he was moving great and I was very regretful that we didn't put John's poles in his pack.  Victor was super gracious in passing but it was still tough.  The last I knew though Sammy was just 15 minutes behind Victor at Tahoe City, so I was extremely worried that he might be off the podium soon.  We crested this peak finally and had to walk along the top the wind was blowing very hard and having the "mandatory kit" was good.  John used a few items and wrapped the mylar space blanket around his waist (he says kimono style, I should have gotten a picture because he was wearing a dress now :) ).  We got into a slight argument on our way down he thought I was cutting the course I kept pointing to the GPS saying we are on track and we eventually came across a flag.  I sure am glad we had the GPS, because while it was well marked you could easily space out at night.  John was also trying to convince me that he would feel better after laying down for a few minutes.  I was still worried about Sammy catching us - and I wasn't sure how he would do if he stopped and then we still had 4 miles left to go...  I think that might be a rough go of it getting moving again.  

We eventually made it down and could see the finish and of course, the course has a few switchbacks, he made it.  I broke off and ran down so I could get a picture or two of him finishing. 

To sum all of this up - I had initially told my wife, that after seeing John go through this I would never want to do this.  I think time has passed and now I am really excited to toss my name in the hat maybe not next year but soon!  John was great, it was an extremely hard race but he raced it.  I think he might do a few things differently next time.  I am excited to see him try this again.

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