Western States set up a pretty useful system this year for hooking up runners with perspective pacers. I put my name in the hat as a pacer that was looking to pace someone to a sub-24 hour finish. Patrick Krott, from Pennsylvania, contacted me to ask for my help in reaching his goals for States. These are the tales of two runners and a crewing girl-friend, going through the night, to get to the finish line.
A little background on my history with Western States: Last year I volunteered at the aid station and then paced Marc Laveson. This was the first time I had ever paced someone in a hundred mile race. That was also the first time I had witnessed a hundred mile race. It was all new to me and I was totally green on many things. Since then I have paced several times and feel that I am now a "veteran". Still learning every-time I do it, but at least I know the basics...
Pat was not new to the distance. Which was good. He ran 27:30 at the Oil Creek 100 his first time out. He knew what it would take to prepare for States and I think he was ready for it. He had an A goal of going sub-24, but he definitely wanted to finish the race no matter what. I met his girlfriend, Allison, who had traveled out west with him and was crewing for him at the race. She was waiting for him at Foresthill, mile 62, which is the first point in the race that runners can hook up with their pacers. The first time I saw Pat was when I read his bib number before Foresthill and realized that this was the guy I would be running through the night with. He was moving good, which was in contrast to the other runners that had come in before him. Honestly, I was a little bit worried because he was behind pace and the other runners were moving really slow. Allison had confided with me that he was like 5 minutes ahead of 30 hour pace at Robinson Flat. 30 hours is what you need to even be counted as a finisher of the race.
I didn't really know what Pat's strategy for the race was, but after starting down Cal-street with him, I realized that he still had a lot of running left in his legs. After covering the bases with him about how the race was going for him so far I realized that he on purpose had been very conservative in the early part of the race with the expectation to be able to do a lot of running from Foresthill to the finish. Smart. The heat of the day had already taken it's toll on most of the runners. Several elite runners had already dropped out the race by then, and it was clear that the finishing times and finishing rates were going to be way down this year.
It was a pure blast to pass runner after runner. Last year Marc had managed his race similarly, but was far enough up in the standings that the passing was rare, but fairly constant. With Pat, we were passing people every few minutes. It seemed like we passed about 30 to 40 runners from Foresthill to the river.
We passed a lot of people I recognized. I said hi to Nattu, who was being paced by Karen Bonnett (who I had paced to the finish of the Quicksilver 50 miler with a trail sign in my hand after finishing course sweeping). I tried to encourage Keith Blom as we passed him going up a hill. I was surprised to catch Scott and Claire before Auburn Lake Trails (they got us back after we slowed down). Pat was on fire!
We saw the sun set shortly after leaving Foresthill and then watched the sun rise right before No Hands Bridge. Doing pretty much all of our work through the night. It was a magical experience. Each of the aid stations were expending tremendous amounts of energy blasting huge music through the forrest, lining their trails with christmas lights, and generally providing wonderful refuges from the loneliness of the night. One particularly memorable moment was the river crossing. There were lights everywhere, lighting up the steps down to the river. At the river there was a cable that went across with probably 10 volunteers in wet suits holding the line taught. In the water were glow sticks to light up the tricky footing points in the river. The river came up above our waists. It felt awesome! As we picked our way across the river, each volunteer gave us tips on where to place our feet and what rocks to step over to ensure you don't go floating down the river.
After the river crossing it seemed like Pat was reinvigorated. We had been doing the math in our heads and realized that we were way behind 24 hour pace, but he was moving so good and so much faster than everyone else that we wondered: If he could keep up his hot streak, could he possibly squeak it through? Most people at this point in the race hike the whole trail up to Green Gate from the river. Not us, we ran most of it, and ran it hard. We passed about 5 people going up this trail, each of the runners (and pacers) said: "Wow". This was really turning exciting. We flew through Green Gate and were just cruising. We ran exactly what we needed to run from the river to Auburn Lake Trails to put us in contention for sub-24. But then the wheels fell off. In retrospect we probably pushed too hard during that section and that led to a slow finish for Pat. But it didn't matter. What mattered was that we gave his A goal a shot and then fell short. We could have gone easy and had a consistent and relatively painless finish to the race if we were ok with passing on the goal, but then would Pat look back at this race years down the line and wonder: What if he gave it his all to try to get 24? This way he has no regrets. He ran a smart race and put himself in the best position he could.
We cruised the rest of the night and early morning, and then he had a glorious run through the streets of Auburn, passing another at least three runners in route to entering the Placer High track and finishing the 2013 Western States 100 in 25:30. A fantastic performance!