About two weeks ago I got an email from Gnar Runners announcing a few newly released spots in the Never Summer 100K. I was tempted. Very tempted. I may have sent an elaborate these-are-all-the-reasons-I-should-register texts to a very optimistic #runabler in my life. Thankfully I got smart and redacted all of that crazy before he had a chance to reply. I was NOT running the race…but that didn’t mean I wasn’t available to pace…
And that’s exactly what I did. When a friend requested a pacer via FB I was all over it! I’ve never paced before but she wasn’t gunning for time, just a finish so I knew I could talk her way through the night. Yup, through the night! That’s how you know it’s a hardcore mountain race when the RD gives you 24 hours to cover 65 miles! The Never Summer 100K was a seriously legit mountain trail race!
The plan was to pick up my runner at the Clear Lake aid station, when she was 39 miles into her day. I headed up from the parking lot around 4:30pm, backtracking up the course to ensure I caught her if she had a rocking day and was ahead of schedule. Jeremy was also headed out to pick up a random runner so I had chatty company on my 7.5 mile trek up to the aid station…chatty company that ran uphill to “loosen up his legs”. Silly people.
I arrived at the aid station just as my runner, Kristin, was leaving the for a 4 mile out/back. She saw me, yelled hello and headed on her way. I had given away all of my water to runners we met on our hike up so I took a few minutes in the Clear Lake AS to refill my pack and grab a few snacks. Jeremy found another runner to pace from mile 43 on [the runner had already done the 4 mile out/back] so I introduced myself to a solo runner and headed up the mountain side with her. We chatted and hiked and snacked as we stepped aside for many happy runners headed back down the trail – the climb was brutal and technical but the views were apparently quite beautiful!
About a quarter mile before the turn around I met Kristin on her way down and officially took on pacing duties. The first thing she said was “I’m so glad to see you! You have your work cut out for you!”. Uh oh, was I ready for this?! But a few steps later I realized she was still moving fast and ready to share stories from the first 14 hours of her day. She was fighting a mental battle with a sore body…that’s manageable, for a runner and pacer. We just needed to keep moving until a finish line gave us permission to stop!
We came back through the Clear Lake AS/mile 43 just as the sun sunk below the horizon. Headlamps came out, packs were refilled with water, layers were piled on and we headed out as a trio – myself, Kristin and Gabe [a girl Kristin had befriended earlier in the race]. We spent the next few hours following green glow sticks through the forest.
*As Jeremy and I hiked up to the Clear Lake AS we met a woman as she started to hang glow sticks. As I headed down with my runner we noticed glow-less glow sticks. I stopped and cracked the first few before we started seeing them glowing. Turns out Jeremy and his runner had cracked all the other ones – the volunteer setting them forgot to crack them all! That’s the beauty of being a pacer – cracking glow sticks!*
Our next stop was the Canadian Yurt AS/mile 50 where we stopped to refuel again. Kristin sat down for a bit as she pulled on another layer and inhaled some ramen + broth. Sitting may not have been the best idea because we got cold fast but she needed some time off her feet and being cold is a great excuse to move faster for warmth once you’re back on the trail! By this time Kristin was done being chatty so I took over with one random story after another. She had told me before the race that she liked listening while she ran/hiked – which I’m very good at!
As we continued through the night I did my part to keep Kristin distracted while reminding her to eat, drink and be merry…or something like that. When we arrived at the Bockman AS we had a solid game plan. Kristin was worried about making cut offs [even though I assured her she was fine!] so I ran ahead to snag her some hot broth as she came scooting by. I hung around the AS for a bit to refill handhelds and stash salt potatoes + bacon in my pack. I was there maybe 5 minutes longer than Kristin? But it took me over a mile to catch back up with here…and I ran half that distance!
She might have been hurting and she might have been struggling but she was definitely rocking it! Her hiking pace was hovering right around 4mph/15mpm, which is incredible after so many hours on her feet. We trucked on, through the night. By now we’d become more quiet. She was moving well and didn’t need my stories to break her focus. She kept apologizing for being grumpy but I swear she is the nicest, most polite grumpy runner ever! Each time I asked her to eat/drink she would either oblige or apologize.
Ultimately, she did amazing! For being under trained [her words, not mine] she did a fantastic job of pushing forward and staying focused. My job as a pacer was easy – I just hung with her, kept us on the right trail and told her to eat/drink! I think she may have ruined my expectations for every future runner I volunteer to pace! Heck, I know I was about three times crankier and more challenging to deal with than she was! If anyone would like to challenge my pacer patience, let me know!
She rolled into the finish line at 4:20am, a 23:20 finish time for one of the toughest courses I’ve ever been on. The last two miles were a struggle, even though they were technically the easiest trails, because she knew the finish was close and that she’d get there before cutoff, no matter her pace…but she ran across that finish line! That was the only thing I made her promise me – that she’d run into the finish chute!
As soon as she finished we all piled into the big cabin where a roaring fire was waiting for us. The night had gotten cold, especially when we dropped down near the lake so the fire was more than welcome…as were the bowls of soup we all inhaled. Gotta love ultras that feed the crews and pacers just as well as they feed their runners! We met up with Kristin’s family + sister [who had finished in the top 20 hours earlier] and swapped stories of the brutal trails and beautiful views.
The runner Jeremy had picked up was on pace to finish hours ahead of us so I wasn’t sure where I’d find him…until I realized the barefoot guy lugging wood in to pile onto the fire had a familiar gait. Leave it to Jeremy to run his legs off as a pacer then hang out as a volunteer! We commandeered a ride back to our car [30 minutes away as the trailhead near the Canadian Yurt AS] and promptly tugged off our stinkiest layers and crawled into the back of the Forester for a power nap. Thanks to bright sunshine that nap lasted about 2 hours, until 8am, when I finally gave up on sleep and offered to drive home while Jeremy continued his sleeping. Yea, I’m that nice. The morning Mountain Dew helped a little too…