This past weekend I did NOT run the American River 50 mile race although deep down, I truly missed being out there for the full race like I have in years past. However, I was honored and lucky enough to be able to pace my friend Stonegate during her first American River 50 mile race. Pacing someone truly gives you a whole different perspective.
The day started when I woke up at 4 am and threw on sweats and hopped in the car to pick up Stonegate and Burning Girl. I was excited. I had energy and I couldn’t hold it in. I love this race and I especially love being able to support friends who are doing such amazing feats like running 50 miles for the very first time.
Burning Girl and I didn’t have to do much to calm Stonegate down. She seemed at ease although I got the sense as go-time neared that she was starting to feel the excitement with perhaps a side of nerves. We gave her hugs as we walked her to the starting line.
We wished her well and told her we’d see her at mile 25 ready to crew!
They counted down and off they went. I actually got a little choked up at the start because it is just so exciting and the energy at these things is palpable.
Then, Burning Girl and I went home and I went back to bed! 🙂 I didn’t sleep long. My mind was going a mile a minute thinking about all that I had to gather together. Burning Girl was going to pick me up and we were going to head to Beal’s Point, the half way mark of the race where I was going to join Stonegate as her pacer and run with her the last 25 miles or so. To be honest, I have never started running so late in the day and on such a HOT day at that! It was definitely interesting to say the least trying to figure out what to eat and how to get ready to start running at 11:00 am vs 6:00 am when we normally go for our long runs.
Stonegate texted me her location and I knew she was right on pace. I texted Burning Girl that I was antsy and wanted to head to Beal’s Point. She picked me up and drove over and set up camp. Stonegate texted at various points continuing to stay on pace.
She came into Beal’s and was immediately welcomed by the group that she coaches. That got me a little choked up (again). How sweet! I knew it helped boost Stonegate’s mood too.
She came in and we got her squared away. The temperature was really starting to rise at this point. I tried cooling her down by putting ice in her bandana and ending up slightly choking her! 🙂 Hey, that’s what pacers do right? Haha
Then we took off ready for the best part of the race, the trails! While we ran out of Beal’s I checked in with her. What has she been eating, drinking? Is she going to the bathroom? Has she started taking salt tabs? I know I was peppering her with a lot of questions but sometimes you have to ask a runner as they don’t always volunteer information. 🙂
To start, I ran alongside of her. When we hit the single track sections, I ran behind her. You can see a lot when you pace a runner and start running behind them. I could see her highs and her lows at times. At one point, I could she her running off kilter just a bit and she was quiet (she normally is not a quiet person). I saw a sandwich sticking out of her pack from behind and I suggested that perhaps she have some of that as well as a salt-tab. Then I marked the time mentally as to when she took that salt so I could keep track. Once she ate that piece of sandwich her form returned as did her energy. She was still quieter than she normally is but hey, this girl just ran 35 miles, farther than she ever has before.
She did fantastic. I noticed that she started tripping more often over the rocks and branches that were on the trail. She’s tired (obviously) so I offered to run in front of her where I started pointing out every rock, branch or step down. I wanted her to not have to think too much and just react. That really seemed to work well. She’d listen to my cues and moved accordingly. I also like to think that I was “pulling” her just a bit by picking up the pace ever so slightly.
Occasionally I would encourage her to run this downhill or that downhill and we’d hike the ups when she asked. I wasn’t a slave driver but I was noticing she was losing the pace that she had worked so hard for earlier in the race but to be fair, she was also battling a pain in her foot too so I was trying to be cautious of that as well.
Her darkest hour was the time between Granite Bay and Horseshoe Bar aid stations. That stretch is brutal and almost 9 miles long. Truly the hardest stretch in the race and she did fabulous. After that, she was a good girl taking her salt and eating when she should. Her energy picked up when she found out that her family would be a Rattlesnake aid-station. So that was my drive for her to get there, “Just keep pushing girl! Your family is waiting!” And she did.
The last 10 miles of the race is an awesome section with rollers and some amazing views. I know she loves this section and I tried to capitalize on that by pointing out the views here and there. When we finally dumped out onto the gravel at the bottom of Damn Hill I knew I had my work cut out for me. She looked so sad and I hated to tell her that she had 3 more miles to go and that it was entirely uphill.
She turned to me and said, “Girl, I can’t run.” And I replied, “That’s fine. I wasn’t going to have you run this gravely section anyway but we will run when we get to the pavement.” And she just shot me a side glance like, “Are you kidding me?” haha!
Sure enough we got to the pavement section and I said, “Okay, do you think you can run to that pole up ahead? We can stop there and assess.” She kind of groaned and looked at me and said, “It hurts to run!” to which I replied, “Of course it hurts. It’s going to hurt you just ran 40 something miles!” haha So, she ran. I pointed out that once you actually get moving and get past that “oh my gosh this hurts” feeling, it actually feels even BETTER to run than walk. So from that point on, it was “to that sign” or “to that rock” and we’d run and walk. Pigeon came down the hill and met us and helped motivate Stonegate up the hill too.
I told her that they play a super cruel joke by putting this really steep little hill at the very tippy top. I advised her to drop her pack and just go and I reminded her that her daughter and son were waiting just on the other side to bring her into the finish.
She listened. She dropped her pack and pushed. Hard. Pigeon grabbed the pack while I ran into the parking lot screaming my bloody head off as she ran the perimeter of the parking lot to the finish line with her kids alongside of her. I was so dang proud.
My friend worked her butt off for this race and it paid off. I couldn’t be more excited and happy for her. I remember exactly how I felt after finishing my first American River 50 mile race. Heck, I remember how I felt after my other two finishes. The excitement, the energy, the pride you have knowing you ran farther than most people drive?! It just never gets old.
Congrats Stonegate! You did great girl! Thank you for allowing me to join you on that journey.
After my pacing duties were over, I took advantage of the icy canal, the massage tent and then inhaled a huge salad from Whole Foods.
Some final thoughts: Pacing really takes the attention away from you and puts it on someone else (duh! that’s really the definition of pacing). I drank and hydrated well. I kept up on my salt intake too. I ate but I ate differently throughout. I ate the same amount of food and the same food, just in different orders which was a bit weird to me. I wanted to eat the easier faster foods first so that I could focus more on her. It all worked out in the end, I had enough energy and felt completely fine after the race. This was good practice to throw me out of my usual routine and see how balancing and readjusting works when and if I should ever need to during a race. Overall, it was an amazing day.