Monday, June 10, 2013

Pacing Marc Laveson at the San Diego 100

This past Saturday-Sunday I had the pleasure to pace Marc Laveson in the San Diego 100 mile race.  The San Diego course is a beautiful collection of trails that include sections of the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT) in the high desert area east of the city.  The trails are characterized by beautiful sweeping views, rocky trails, plenty of desert shrubberies, and not very many trees.  Whatever the weather is, you are going to feel it.  The course runs at about 5000 to 6000 ft of elevation.

Marc was gunning for a podium spot but there was plenty of competition that were going to try to keep him out.  Among the contenders were Dave Mackey-pretty much an ultra legend, Jeff Browning-the returning course record holder, Rod Bien, Brett Rivers, Nickademus Hollon, Jonathan Gunderson, and probably some others I am forgetting about.  The race had some serious runners in it.

Marc was being crewed by his wonderful wife Libby and a bunch of friends, and I was to pace him from Sunrise aid station at mile 51 to the finish.  The factor that everyone was fearing come race day was the high temperatures.  We were warned that it was going to be the hottest day of the year and that people would have to give extra respect to managing the heat of the day during the race.

The pretty couple right before the start of the race.

Bunch of crazies getting ready for an insane adventure.
I saw Marc a couple of times before he descended into the Pine Creek hell that went from miles 22 to 44.  He looked relaxed and was cruising in about sixth place.

Marc on the PCT at about 22 miles in.
 When he arrived at the Pioneer Mail aid station at mile 44 he was looking weary.  The crews really had no idea what the runner just went through, but basically they ran through a desert with temperatures reported around 100 degrees, no breeze, no coverage, with white rocky trails that radiated the heat right back at you.  Rod Bien, who had been crushing the race going into the Pine Creek hell, came out a shell of his former self.  Marc passed him on the climb back up to mile 44.  He hobbled into the aid station shortly after Marc got there and was done.  DNF.  When Marc got there we took care of him Nascar style.  Two people with ice and cold water were cooling off his head and upper body.  Libby and I were changing his socks and shoes.  Others were filling his bottles and feeding him.  He just sat there in a daze.  It was quite the spectacle.  We got him back on his feet and sent him off.  And then I had to start thinking about what was going to happen when I join in on the fun...

The views from the PCT.
 At the Sunrise aid station at mile 51 I got prepared to join Marc with the first goal, to get him safely to the finish line, and secondly, to help him achieve his race goals.  The crew took care of him Nascar style again, and then we were off!

Views on the climb up to Stonewall Peak.
 It is sometimes awkward when you first hook up with your runner for pacing duties.  Do I lead, or let him dictate the pace?  How is he feeling?  What strategy is he using right now?  Run/walk?  What is he doing with the hills.  Sometimes you just have to get through the awkward stage and then settle into something that is optimal.  For the initial miles Marc lead and dictated the pace because he was doing everything he could to keep going at the time, and that turned out to be a pretty choppy, non-uniform speed.  I really wanted to enjoy the scenery.  And it really was beautiful.  But it is sad when it is 90-something degrees, and you can't think about anything except when you might see a tree that you can hide under.

We were cruising when we came upon a fork in the trail.  Generally these forks are very well marked as to which way you should go.  The issue with this fork was that you go out one direction, but come back from the other direction, meaning that there were trail flags on either side of the intersection.  Very confusing.  Marc knew the course because he had traveled there several weeks back and checked it all out himself with a series of training runs.  He said we should go right, so thats what we did.

We reached the Stonewall Mine aid station at mile 60-ish and Scott Mills, the race director, was there waiting to pounce on Marc.  He asked about the ambiguous intersection, and Marc confirmed that it was indeed not very well marked.  It turns out that Dave Mackey, who was leading the race by a comfortable margin at the time, had taken the wrong fork.  Scott was considering allowing Mackey to run the loop clockwise(as opposed to all of the other runners who had to run it counter-clockwise).  In the end it was decided to disqualify Mackey.  So he was out.

We left Stonewall and started the climb up to Stonewall Peak.  It was a pretty tough climb with the heat and miles piled up and we hiked most of it.  As we were getting ready to head down the other side of the the peak Marc started to complain about back spasms.  He never had these pains before, and the rest of his body was in relatively ok order, but the spasms were wreaking havoc.  Several times on the way down he had to stop and try to stretch out, or catch his breath, or whatever because he was having a tough time breathing.  The pace was pretty slow too because of the steepness and added pressure on his back every time you hop down the trail.

We rolled into the Paso Picacho aid station at mile 66-ish, and explained the situation to the med person there.  There was some useless advice given, we were serviced, and then we were off.

Next was a little climb and then a nice rolling downhill section where I jumped in front and we pumped up the pace a little as the sun was going down and the temps were getting more manageable.  Marc seemed to loosen up during this stretch, or at least get into enough of a groove that he was able to deal with the back pain.
Some fun trails!
We got to the Meadows aid station at mile 72 and ran into some worried faces.  The crew was anxious to see how Marc was doing with his back.  There was a collective sigh of relief when Marc said he was doing a lot better.  We got filled up, handed our lights and jackets, and headed up the grinding eight mile climb back to sunrise at mile 80 as the sun was going down.  When it started to get dark Marc turned on his headlamp and within a minute the light died out.  He exclaimed that he just put new batteries in it.  Oh well, at least the sections were not too technical, so we just decided to cruise it in the dark for as long as practical.  We ran up a fire-road in the dark until we reached an intersection where I decided I better turn on my light to double-check the flags.  Good thing too, because I would have led us the wrong direction!  We decided to keep the light on and figured out a system by which we could share the light and still keep a decent pace up the hill.  If the trail curved to the right I would carry the light in my right hand and shine it to the side so that it could get around Marc(who was directly in front of me...).  When the trail curved to the left, I would switch hands.  In the strictest sense this might be considered "muling".  Muling is when pacers carry things for their runner and is generally always forbidden in these races.  A pacer is there to keep their runner safe.  I think in this case that this was well within the idea of keeping the runner safe.  It would probably not be very safe to make a runner find their way in the dark.

Sunrise aid station was a party.  Lights everywhere, music blaring, people going in all directions...  As we were heading back to finish the race, there were still runners just reaching the aid station for the first time as their mile 51.  Being mile 80 for us, Marc was doing pretty good.  We got filled up, Marc dropped one of his bottles and picked up a working flashlight and we headed back onto the PCT.  The early going was pretty slow.  At this point in the race a runner is pretty lucky if they can eat anything and have it do some good for them.  Marc was able to take in some calories at sunrise, but it wasn't riding too well and he was pretty nauseous.  We kept plugging along and little bit by little bit he started going faster and faster.  At some point we were cruising the climbs pretty good.  It was about 10 pm and Marc went berserk.  He was just flying...  Someone at Sunrise had told him that 4th place was only 25 minutes behind him.  We also knew that Brett Rivers was a little over half an hour ahead.  Whatever the motivation, he let it loose.  I was just hanging on.

We had a quick stop at Pioneer Mail and kept cruising along the PCT.  Shortly after the aid station though, Marc's flashlight went out.  What are the chances?  Two lights in one race?  That is why you always have backups for backups...  And in this case I was the backup again.  We settled into our old one-light groove, but it wasn't exactly optimal for Marc, especially considering the slightly more technical nature of the PCT.  It was all I could do to concentrate on keeping the light in a position that would keep Marc on his feet, all the while trying to keep pace with crazy man.  When we rolled into Penny Pines at mile 91 I was toast.  I handed Marc my flashlight and told him I would just hold him back at this point.  He should just go out and keep doing what he was doing.  He asked if I was sure, and then he was off into the night.  He ended up running the whole next climb, a task that I know I was not up for.

I headed back to the finish line with the crew, got a quick shower, and then waited as the finishers were coming in.  Jeff Browning won for the second year in a row, finishing in 16:59, about half an hour slower than his course record, but amazing considering this years conditions.  Brett Rivers held on to second place, running an incredible race and finishing in 17:23.  Marc came through at 18:06, almost two hours ahead of the 4th place finisher.  Scott Mills had quoted the stat that since he took over as race director for the San Diego 100, the finishing rate had continued to climb to where last year it was in the mid 70% of the field finishing the race.  This years conditions proved to be rather challenging to the runners and less than 50% of the starters finished the race.  Pretty brutal.

I would say that Marc ran a tactically sound race.  He endured the heat of the day and still had enough in him to hammer it when the temperatures got better.  He definitely proved that he is tough with the performance at the San Diego 100.


  1. I liked all the detail! These 100 milers are quite the experience, and Marc did great. Loved the crew packet they put together-- not just a pretty couple, they're stellar organizers too!

  2. great write up Jeremy. I agree what are the chances that both lights go out? I've never had one go out on me.


  3. "There was some useless advice given, we were serviced, and then we were off." Pretty much the story of my life as well. LOL. Great write up!

  4. Sorry you got dropped... again! But seriously, that shows how much effort you put into pacing him and his interest came before yours. It's a selfless act of kindness that most people don't even know it happened. Glad you made it back to the finish before he did!

  5. Sounds like you accomplished everything you set out to do! Too bad you got dropped, but isn't he supposed to have a backup pacer? =)

  6. Getting dropped by your runner is not so bad. In every case I got dropped because my runner was killing it. As far as I am concerned, job accomplished...

  7. Jeremy - You are the master at pacing. I cannot thank you enough for hanging out with me for the weekend and getting me through some very rough points of the race. There is no way without you that I would have had the same race. As for as the last 9 miles, they were pretty magical alone. And, pretty easy to see that you had put all of the energy you had to get me to that point. We'll need to grab beers soon to reminisce. Thanks for being a part of the journey!