let me start by saying that pacing for someone is the coolest thing ever and even after this debacle, i look forward to pacing more in the future. last year i signed up for the mountain lakes 100 for a first attempt at 100 miles and ended up dropping at mile 55. of all possible causes for the drop i think it was mostly mental. i was cold but i could have warmed up. i was tired but i could have rested. i was hungry but i could have eaten. i think the biggest reason i dropped was that i was that i felt alone and it got stuck in my craw that if i had a pacer i could have finished. anyway that’s the reason i decided to offer to pace for my good friend at bigfoot 100k this year, in fact it was going to be my main goal for the year to get her to the finish. it’s a way of healing for me. if i lack something and can’t get it, offer it to someone else.
race day i was expecting my runner anytime between 4 and 6pm at the 37 mile point of a very rugged 110K course so we expected to run through the night. this would also be good training for me if i ever try for 100M again. i arrived very early and did my best to help out at the aid station and also find someone who could drive my car back to the start. this was actually my chief concern was getting my car back somehow as i was very confident in my friend’s ability to finish. everything was turning out great as an injured runner was ready to take my car back just as my runner was arriving around 5pm.
when i saw her she looked great. all smiles and good form. she ate a burger and i got stuff ready and we got going and had a nice easy paced first climb.
the course leaves the aid station on a main road for a mile or two and i became apprehensive about the course marking…or the intelligence of those providing the markings, when after about a half mile the road split. right before the road split there was a sign indicating “100k runners follow the road”…with no arrow or indications as to WHICH ROAD!…?! anyway thanks gaia app, and my runner’s memory from last year. anyway we were talking about goals and pacing etc. and i was paying attention to her water and nutrition. a couple hours in near the top of the first climb we got into some foggy areas and were slowed down by backtracking and route finding using the app (without it we would have got lost for sure) and also met another faster runner who took some wrong turns and was having a hard time keeping on track so he slowed and ran with us. the markers were hard to spot on the open ground and it was easy to lose the trail in the open areas in the fog. coming down it was dusk and we started seeing lightning up in the clouds and every time lightning would happen my runner would speed up. i thought this was great and we were banking a lot of time. ya northwest lightning = up in the clouds and not on the ground like in the southwest….NOT! BAM! the first bolts of lightning started hitting the ground in the distance in front of us just after dark and gradually it started to rain and we were all a little late in getting out jackets on because we were working hard to get to lower ground.
when the three of us got into the blast zone (the area of the main impact of the eruption of mt st helens) we were in the middle of a shit-storm. it was pouring rain and lightning was striking around us in all directions, very close. like so close you dont know where it hit and so loud you cant hear each other and so frequent you got interrupted if you tried to speak. suddenly very scared and soaked and cold we were out in the open and every time lightning would strike all i could see was open ground ahead of us so my runner crouched under a bush and we all huddled under there trying to keep each other warm. i really felt like i needed to keep my runner warm but i wasn’t doing too great myself but when we huddled i felt she was quite cold. i kept watching around. i could see some other runner’s lights behind us approaching but i could see they were also stopping and taking cover. i could see some lights bouncing around a lot. it turns out they were diving to ground throwing their poles every time lightning struck. i think we were there for 20 or 30 minutes and when the other group of runners got to us we joined them. i knew lightning-wise this was a bad idea but it turned out we needed all those eyes to find the route. there were little flash floods and the markers were sparse and hard to find as it was.
i was getting worried, not only about the lightning (which i kind of gave up to god’s will at that point) but with all the route-finding we had to do we couldn’t move fast enough to stay warm. in fact i didn’t really warm up at all until we reached a jeep road out-and-back to the aid station (aid was 18.2 miles from where i met my runner). when we got there at about 11pm there were already a lot of runners in the tent huddled around a propane fire wondering if they should go out again…including one runner from the 200M race who dropped early AND the sweeper for that race. both of whom had gotten lost in the fog!
so there were about 20 runners in the tent, all shivering from the cold anywhere from borderline to hypothermic. all soaked. i had a waterproof ultimate direction jacket but was still soaked and my long shorts would not dry. the aid station captain was doing his best to keep everyone laughing and it was kind of fun to be in such misery-loving company, everyone sharing stories around our little propane fire. the lightning abated but the rain kept up for a long long time. some people went back out to finish out the last…challenging 14 or so miles but my runner indicated she was done. i was in a pickle but opted for safety. i care infinitely more about her as a friend than my goal of getting her to the finish. plus i was miserable too. my gut was acting up badly. i was bloated and crampy and kept going outside to fart and everytime i did i came back in shivering because i never dried out. people kept arriving in worse and worse shape. some of whom were adamant to drop. one lady said “there is no fucking way i am going back out there. i’ll die! i’ve got kids at home!” and no one tried to argue with her because we all really felt the same.
i was looking at people’s faces and trying to see how they felt. i think i understand certain people better and i was watching the guy who had been running with us. i felt close to him because when we picked him up he was lost and getting scared and he went through that frightening storm right with us so i felt responsible for him also as a pacer. i was watching his face in the light of the propane fire. he was going through some stuff…emotions but i could also see a great determination and when he decided to go back out i felt very proud like he had overcome his fear and made sure he would stay with his new partner. i am anxiously waiting for results to makke sure he made it on time!
the aid station captain kept us informed of his ham-radion communications with the rd’s but they were unprepared for extracting such a large group. finally at about 3:30 am a king-cab truck arrived to extract as many as possible. we crammed 9 people like sardines in for the 2.5 hour drive back to the start with a driver who was so tired he kept slapping his own face to stay awake. still feeling like a pacer i took it upon myself to keep him talking. bless you Tim. thanks for getting us back alive!
in summary this barkley-esque navigation is for the birds when you need to keep moving to keep from getting hypothermia. but i am so glad to be alive and so glad to have a good friend to survive with me through this adventure. i am tired and still shaking and my brain is broken but i think i got what i needed. i had to be flexible and opt for keeping you safe but so glad i did…so my goal changed at the last minute. it’s a problem when you are so stubborn you cannot adjust your goals…ironically this makes me wonder how the 200 milers got through last night. they are the most stubborn of all! but they had better gear and tents to sleep in at the aid stations…but they ALL had poles. …! ?