Monday, August 23, 2010

She Speaks to Llamas - A tale of pacing the Leadville 100

Here is my long account of pacing 50 miles of Pb. Leila surely has a slightly different take, but essentially we got it done.

The day did not start out wonderfully for pacing duties, with the heat and dust of the disastrous aid station that is Winfield (too much to say about that, but for another post) and Leila was going through as she would call a "low point" which makes sense after coming over Hope then having to fight cars and dust on a crappy dirt road for 3 miles. Prior to the day, I had received a spreadsheet detailing everything we'd need to take from every aid station and the basic plan for each stop along with projected splits. Here at Winfield, we were about 30-40 minutes behind the split for a big buckle. After a bit of fumbling through and not being sure of what to bring for the grunt of Hope Vol. 2 we hit the road back out where I had my first job as a pacer keeping my runner safe by slapping the hood of a truck so as to not be run over.

Side note: I like the term "my runner" as a pacer because it gives you some sort of ownership of the run, weird yes, but important to the mindset of being a good pacer, something that was sort of trial and error as the day went on but I feel as if we got better and better. More to come on this, including my mistakes and triumphs as a pacer.

Coming out Leila had a bottle of Perpeteum drink (her preferred liquid calorie) and I carried 2 bottles of water in addition to my own hydration pack with supplies. Down the road about a mile, Leila needed a pit stop which I took as a good sign, my running was getting adequate fluid. My goals as a pacer were to (1) keep her safe (2) get her to the finish line (3) hopefully come away with a big ass belt buckle. Hydration was a key to goal 1. Back at it again and making the start up Hope we got into a strong power hike. Leila is actually a far superior hiker than I, and she was rocking the climb to start though we hadn't spoken much to this point and her audible interactions had been less than reassuring to me.

The climb back over hope was just crappy to be honest, it was congested with people coming down and going up, we kept leapfrogging people in a continuous grunt up the seemingly never ending pass. Near 11.5K' Leila asked me to take the lead and we chatted a bit shortly about her race so far. Here I really started to notice that the tone in her voice and inflection had changed drastically (this I jokingly related to her a long time later) as I assume her energy levels had taken a huge hit and effort was near max. Near 12K she called out to me, which I took as a sign of warning, though she related that she was "happy". That was all, though I assumed she meant either that running 100 miles was cool, or that we were near the top of Hope. Again, her voice sounded sort of loopy, but we reached the top and I was stoked to be headed down to Hopeless aid station, but this took some time with the technical and loose aspect of the trail. Refilling bottles at the aid station and another pit stop, Leila started speaking to the Llamas (of which we spoke of earlier on the way up), things like, "hello llama, how are you?" This meant one thing to me, we need to get the eff down this mountain and back to more manageable terrain/altitude.

The way down Hope back to twin was slow but steady going, Leila making apologies for not going fast enough and me trying to assure her that everything was fine, and we're just trying to find a pace to hold steady. Once near the base of the climb, we got going much better and talking more, though it was mostly me rambling about the year and trying to keep her engaged. Soon, the Leila I know came back, and the cheery voice replaced the confused sort of quiet and harder to understand voice from up on Hope that was speaking to animals.

Across the stream and the slew of other water crossings, we made our way through the marsh trail (not really a trail, but just matted long grass and swamp) to Twin Lakes inbound (10m for me, 60m for her). I was carrying a radio and had given instruction to her crew (Hubs/Bro/Parents) for all matter of things to be set up. There was some confusion (note: my first big mistake) and I ran up the road to help get stuff ready for her, but she was not expecting that and I didn't clearly articulate that I was going to, combine that with the Zoo that was Twin Lakes, and she was confused coming through, not sure where we were until I ran back to lead her in. She was a bit upset (and quite understandably so) that I had left her, but we were soon at the chair changing her socks and getting her food bottles set up. This stop was all chaos, the sock change took what to me seemed forever and we spilled water all over her extra clothes (she didn't really notice that which was huge). Finally, after gathering sleeves and everything else we started back through the tent, then engaging the climb out of Twin.

Coming up the trail we got into a strong hike/run and were greeted to a "lookin' good" from Chris McDougall of Born to Run fame which was a bit odd, but interesting none the less. Whether that was the fuel or the fact that we were starting to catch and pass people in groups now we were moving, moving really well. The trail coming into Halfmoon was rolling uphill then slightly downhill and we were really rolling despite Leila's feeling we were still moving too slow. In reality, this is where we started to earn that buckle.

Halfmoon was my favorite aid station, there were no crews and it was efficient and friendly. Leila used the bathroom and I was treated like gold, they filled my 3 bottles in split second and had the drop bag ready (radio man set that up about 50 yards prior to the aid station) so I could make another bottle of Perpetuem grab some Powerade for myself and be ready when Leila was done, and we were gone. This is where I started to really get a good feeling and sense of grasp of my duties as a pacer. Now that it was dark and headlamps were burning, I had thought going in that I would get sleepy and tired, however, from this point forward I became hyper-focused.

The dirt road from Halfmoon to Treeline was fast and we were rocking making solid time and looking forward to keeping it on track. This was the point where I realized we still had a great shot at making it in under 25 hours. We basically needed to go 30 miles in 8 hours, easy with no miles in your legs, but never a lock with 70 miles already gone (and 20 more than ever before). Treeline meant we had crew access and that was great, Leila wanted her capri tights and we got fresh water/perpetuem and a long sleeve for her and were gone when she was finished changing. The crew stops were now getting faster and more efficient as we kept going. I think this had to do with being able to radio in exactly what she wanted and Kevin and Mike being ready and quick.

Treeline leads to the road section, easily a crappy section in a "trail race" because it's not dirt. However, roads are faster and we continued to run strong here. This was also the only time I stopped to pee (I did a far better job making sure L was stocked and nourished than I was keeping myself going, in fact, I myself ran out of water 3 separate times including the last 14 miles, but this is not important as I was fine without it). Once we got to the low point on the road, the wind picked up and we had a strong and cold headwind, so we went Tour de France style and Leila lined up right behind me so I could block the wind, then off my shoulder as the road turned up to Fish Hatchery. We ran all the way up to Fish Hatchery and were rock solid again with time. Leila ran up to the turn around aid, grabbed some powerade and headed back down to the cars. I had made sure we had her requested item (mix of redbull, emergen-c, and water), but also made sure we had a bottle of perpetuem because it was the one thing she seemingly could get down and would get down, along with another bottle of water.

We walked out of Fish looking forward to Powerline and being off the road, but I forgot potatoes so I had to run back quick and grab those and get back to Leila so she could eat and get ready for the climb up Powerline. Once down off the road, I led the climb and really tried to push her, I knew we'd still be close to time and wanted to make sure we didn't lose time dallying on the climb. This was about the only way I forced her to go faster than she was ready to, but she always responded and though the pace was quick, we got through the steep stuff and she seemed to be doing much better, running pieces and passing people.

After we finally topped out on Powerline (the climb is so frustrating because of all the false summits) Leila had another rough stretch, I believe this was due to calorie lull, basically a short period of not taking in enough calories caused a section of time of low energy which in turn does not promote optimism. She had not realized we came away from Fish with perpetuem and was glad to hear we had some which helped a bit and she was able to take that in slowly. Someone passed us here, and she was pretty upset, not wanting to be passed (this was awesome to me, just a fighter instinct at its core, 80 miles in, feeling rough and the one thing on her mind is not getting passed) I tried to remind her that she could only control what was going on with her and that the best thing to do was to focus on taking in calories. This to me was super important, she was having a tough time running the downhill on the rough road leading off Powerline in the dark. When we did this 2 weeks earlier, she was at the front of the group nailing this section, but with fresh legs you don't realize the difficulty of seemingly "fast" sections that tired legs will give you.

We made it off that section and onto the better grated dirt road, then again onto the singletrack above Mayqueen. This section is deceiving in a number of ways. First, it's technical in they daytime, making moving through at night 80+ miles in really dangerous, and the noise from Mayqueen aid bouncing off the lake made it seem way closer than it was. I convinced her that we needed to take it easy, and make sure to hike quickly so as to not end our day on that trail. This was the keep her safe part, a broken ankle and we would have been toast, obviously. However, she was able to keep up with me (me moving in a fast walk, averaging about 16:00/m walking, we had a purpose and I was going to make sure we had a shot at that big buckle). We radioed in for gatorade and that was it, then ran strong down the road into Mayqueen. One of the best things I did was get her through the tent and out as fast as possible, we didn't stop for anything. She didn't notice, but that place was a deathtrap, it was warm and there were runners all over the floor and in cots. I knew we needed to keep moving and get back out, so we got through, she used a bathroom and I got a bottle of gatorade, dropped a bottle with Kevin and Mike and we were back on the go. Basically, we did not stop for anything but a bathroom here.

I convinced Leila that we could powerhike the entire section to to Tabor Boat Ramp because it was more technical and we could make up time on the other side of the lake, I did the math in my head and knew for the first time that we were going to get that big buckle as long as we kept moving. I had Mike and Kevin set up 2 Gatorade bottles because that's all she wanted now and I knew we could make it from then on in with her only taking in fluid calories. The stop at Tabor was all about the crew efficiency at it's finest. We had now done this enough to know that we had exactly what we wanted and were gone, Leila did not stop at all going through here and all I did was pick up bottles make a few comments to Mike and Kevin and get back up the trail to Leila.

Route finding was tough as always on the Turquoise Lake trail because there is no real defined trail and at night it's even tougher to see. I realized my light was going dim but just as that occurred we hit Matchless boat ramp, caught a bunch of folks and Leila used the bathroom while I swapped batteries on my headlamp. She got out kept rolling as I finished, and then I was back in business, my light was rocking the trail like it was noon again! We were super careful on the short powerline trail coming down off the lake because it's nasty and steep, but from there we ran strong, me blocking another strong cold headwind and then we were along the railroad, then to the bottom of the boulevard. This is the last steep climb and we set a rocking hiking pace up that thing, probably as fast as the night run 2 weeks ago.

By this time, the cheery Leila was back in action and we were basically in celebration mode knowing we had done the hard work and we were coming home with plenty of time to spare for sub 25. We chatted with a guy going after the Grand Slam but along with a group of about 7 others, we left them behind because Leila's pace was too hot. To the football field with a mile left we picked up Mike who came down to run it in with Leila. From here, she picked up the pace, and picked off everyone in sight and held off a late charge by another guy. I was super proud of her for going sub 25, even more so for being behind on splits, having a rough time even through 60 miles, but then smashing her projected splits thereon in to make up all of the lost time.

The finish line was awesome, she ran through and got a few quick pictures, but the race staff grabbed her and ushered her to the final med check where she was basically within a pound of starting weight which was awesome, but I think her core temp had dropped a lot. She ended up in the med tent under blankets for a while to warm up before we hobbled back to the cars to grab some sleep at her cabin.

Again, huge congrats to Leila for rocking the crap out of the LT100. Full results here. Leila was F6 and 80th overall!

This is what I learned most about being a pacer: make sure your runner is tough as nails. Never once was there any hint or speak of not finishing, EVER. While there was a short period where we thought we might not make sub 25, it was short lived. Congrats to all who toed the line at 6th and Harrison, truly a brave and heroic act in itself.


ChrisB said...

Awesome report, Patrick. Nice job taking care of Leila and getting the big buckle. Great to read about the race from a pacer's perspective. I have a whole new level of appreciation for good pacers after this weekend!

Scott said...


Brandon Fuller said...

Congrats on the finish for you and your runner. I feel like I knew her when...

Just bitter that I don't recall seeing you guys out there. You must have been speeding by me so fast!

leila degrave said...

Wow. I wish there were better words than "thank you"...

I am still working on putting together my photos/video and my own account of the day, but in the meantime I loved reading the report from your perspective.

After a day or two to recover a bit physically & mentally, I really have a better grasp of how incredible the experience was. More than anything else, I am filled with gratitude. Gratitude for my crew, for my own strengths, for the chance to do this, but mainly for the singular focus of my incredible pacer.

Patrick, you put so much energy and dedication into the goal - it wouldn't have happened without you! Like I said, the buckle is as much yours as it is mine. Having such a caring and selfless friend by my side made the victory that much more sweet. I will treasure it always!

Here's to many more Adventures...

PatrickGarcia said...

Thanks guys, I ultimately had very little to do, direction and motivation was provided!

L- Like I said, there was nothing better than being there, running in the mountains all day/night, it just doesn't get any better. You need to post up a picture of you wearing that buckle though!

Brandon- We didn't see you out there but were looking for you. Get those feet healed up!

Chris- Your video is awesome, and I agree with GZ, needs to be mandatory viewing. I learned a ton being out there with all you crazies.

Scott- Miss you dude, thanks for updating your blog (or thanks to nicole). Loved those pictures of you guys on the mountain. That's what it's about!

Woody said...

Patrick & Leila...what a great story and a HUGE congrats to you both. Now Leila, I don't hear you refuting the "hello llama, how are you" part of Patrick's account. Haha! That's simply awesome and I definitely want to hear what was going on there from your perspective!

brownie said...

Great job, and thanks for not letting her crush the second half so fast as to pass me!

Jim P. said...

Sounds like an incredible experience. Thanks for sharing the pacers' view.

KevinDM84 said...

Fantastic work, on both pacing, and capturing that last 50 miles in words, Patrick. Great job.

I noted early on that you seemed to be alert and aware of everything around you, even before I saw you in action while crewing. Though I have little experience in the world of ultrarunning, I knew it would pay huge dividends for Leila to have a pacer such as yourself, and your performance (as hers) was incredible and inspiring.

I have photos posted on my Facebook account. We must stay in touch, as I greatly enjoyed the experience of the Leadville 100.

Nader said...

This event was a phenomenon. I've been living through multiple generations, including my past and now my grandchildren. Never before have I observed such a resilience bound with firm determination to reach an ultimate goal!! I have a great appreciation for the runner and her pacer.

Patrick, it was a pleasure to meet you. Your performance in support of Leila was awesome.

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