Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Crewing and pacing at Leadville Trail 100 mile run

The Leadville 100 mile trail race is one that I was always intrigued with. So when Liza mentioned she would like to have me as a pacer, I was excited and did what I could to go and support her. Friday August 20, I arrived in Leadville, Co. just as the race briefing began at the downtown gym. I spotted Liza, Jerry, and Amanda (Liza’s coach and two time Leadville woman’s Champ). I squeezed in to sit with them in the packed house. After the briefing Liza drove me around to scout out the aid stations. The race is an out to 50 miles, and back. The Mayqueen aid station would be where we would see her first, 13.5 mile mark. This aid station is on the edge of Turquoise Lake. A beautiful place surrounded by mountains and tall pine trees. This is also where I would start pacing Liza on the way back in to the finish. Next was pipeline, the 27 mile mark. Then we drove to Winfield, the half way point at 50 miles. To get here the runners have to cross Hope pass, 12,500 ft. above sea level. Approaching hope pass the runners climb 3,000 feet in 5 miles. Then a steep descent (2,500 ft. in 2 miles) into Winfield. On the return the runners must climb back up and over Hope Pass. We Then drove the 30 miles to Buena Vista,Co where we would be staying. Liza gave us a briefing on the clothing and nutritional needs she would require during the race. Also, we were handed index cards with our responsibilities as pacers. Amanda commented on how much detail Liza puts into preparing her race strategy.
The next morning Liza and I awoke at 2 AM gathered some of her running gear and drove to Leadville for the 4 AM start. The rest of the crew would follow later. We arrived with plenty of time to spare and hung around the starting line where we saw Steven Moore from Austin. Liza was bundled up in a jacket and long pants to stay warm in the crisp 40 degree mountain air. She shed her warm clothing except for a windbreaker 3 minutes before the start.
4 AM and the runners were off. I drove to Mayqueen and waited. First runner in to the aid station was Anton Krupicka, who did not stop! He was handed a water bottle and never missed a step. Liza was the first woman into Mayqueen. She quickly took off her light jacket, put on a visor, took two water bottles, sunglasses, and was out.
Next we drove to pipeline, 27 mile mark, where I met up with Amanda and Laurel, another crew member and Liza’s nutritionist. Liza again was first woman in. We were hearing reports that she was about 10 minutes ahead of Lynette C. Last year’s female winner. Liza looked good and left after a brief stop to again take another two full bottles.
Meredith and I then drove to Winfield to wait. Meredith would be pacing Liza from the half way point for about 23 miles. As we waited some of Meredith’s friends came over to talk and said Lynette had passed Liza approaching Hope Pass. They said there were about 12 men ahead of her. Meredith and I were not expecting Liza when all of a sudden she appears! She was FIRST AGAIN! We jumped, ran to our positions and gave Liza what she needed. She didn’t see Meredith right away and yelled “WHERE’S MEREDITH?” Soon they were off. I hopped in the car and drove down the bumpy 7 mile dirt road headed to the highway and my next assigned aid station, Mayqueen. As I drove down the road I passed Liza and yelled encouragement. Then I saw Lynette. She was walking towards Winfield and looking down. Dejected? Probably. Who is this Liza? She must have wondered. Later we were to learn Lynette had dropped. DNF.
On my way to Mayqueen I decided to drive to the Safeway and picked up some bagels and humus to eat before I tried to take a nap while waiting for Liza to reach the Mayqueen aid station. Reaching Mayqueen about 3 PM, I found a premier spot to park. I ate and tried to nap. It didn’t happen. At about 6 PM all the buzz was about Anton. His pacer was ready. A young kid about 19, with long hair and shirtless. A younger version of Anton. An hour and a half passed, no Anton. The crowd grew concerned. Then There’s Anton, Riding in an ATV. He dropped and was looking spent as he gently rose and climbed out of the ATV. Soon after, Laurel and Meredith arrived. As night approached the temperature began to drop. I put my running clothes on. I couldn’t decide what to wear. It was cold, but I’d be running. Or, would there be much running? Fast paced hiking more likely, so I wore a compression tech shirt a long sleeve tech shirt and a light jacket. As I waited for Liza, I met Dave Brown from Boerne. He was pacing Sean Lewis. What’s cool about these trail races is folks talk to each other about their runners and help whenever they can. Runners ask for and get others help. A runner came by and threw his jacket at me asking if I’d place it in his drop bag (it had his number on it). As we spoke to folks around us asking about our runners Dave asked if I was pacing Liza and if I knew Chris Russell. YES! I said Chris is part of our running group. Are you Tony from the running bear blog? That’s me. “I met Chris at Rocky Raccoon,” he said. “He told me about your group.” “ We talked for 8 hours!” Yes I said, And he probably would have been good for another 8.
We spoke awhile and then Liza came into sight with Amanda pacing her. Walking and looking tired. I found out later she was moving fast coming down sugarloaf into Mayqueen. Liza sat a little bit, I was ready with all her bottles and nutrition in my pack and we were off in less than 2 minutes. Just out of Mayqueen, Chris and Mike , Liza’s friends from Colorado Springs, were there to see us off. My job at this point was to keep Liza motivated, get her to the finish while making sure she hydrates and takes in nutrition. I had two bottles of her nutritional mix, gels, jelly beans (her favorite) and crackers. She would have nothing to do with her Drink mix. “You may as well pitch them,” she said after I had tried to make her drink them. Crackers are what she preferred. Reminding her to drink often we moved down the lakeside trail on this moonlit night. Liza was to comment on how pretty the night was. An almost full moon illuminated the night and it's reflection gleamed off the soft ripples of the water. The trail straddled the lake, which was to our right and a steep hill thick with pine trees to our left. The trail had slight inclines and descents and sometimes was very narrow. Stationary rocks littered the trail and it crossed a little stream. She wanted me in front of her, but I was constantly turning to see that she was OK. Tired as she was I worried she may slip off the narrow trail. Maybe I worried too much. Liza thanked me for being there and I said I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now. The pace was slower than what I am used to seeing her run, but then she was 90 miles into the run. Campers and night mountain bikers were there cheering us on and showing us the way to the trails as it crossed access points to the lake. Some campers gave us water when we needed it. Pausing occasionally I remembered what Amanda told me, “Make sure she takes deep breaths when she walks.” I reminded Liza of this often. At times there was silence, but as well as I know Liza, being out there together I felt we were always engaged and connected. And there are emotions that are expressed and conversation that will forever remain between Runner and pacer. I asked her to drink often. When the crackers ran out she took in a gel. On the final climb to the road leading to the finish, Liza said “Lets get this thing over with” and she began a very fast paced hike. I had difficulty keeping up! Although the running had ceased, she was moving! Reaching the road, with one mile to go, Amanda and Chris were there to join us in. We laughed with her, encouraging her and overjoyed that Liza was at this point. And very happy to be part of it with her.
Liza began to run, we faded back as she reached the Finish line at 21:19:45. She won! First Female in.
Crewing and pacing is so rewarding. Thanks Liza and congratulations.