Monday, July 20, 2009

Pacing at the Tahoe Rim Trail 100-Miler

On Saturday, I had the pleasure of pacing (safety-running) my friend Sean Lang for the last 24 miles of the Tahoe Rim Trail 100-miler, which was this year's national trail 100-mile championship race.

My kids and some of their friends were busy with their own endurance event--they were trying to stay up for three straight days and nights (a Tahoe Triple of sorts)! More on that in an upcoming post...

Heidi and Dog Gordy Wait Patiently at the Aid Station

Sean's wife, Heidi, was crewing and kept me updated during the day. Sean ran the first half really well and made it to Tahoe Meadows (mile 26) in exactly five hours and back to Spooner (mile 50) in ten.

I stopped by the start and finish area around three o'clock, but Sean had just left. I also just missed Turi, who ran a great first 50 miler, but I did get to see Gretchen, who finished in second in the 50-miler, Mark Gilligan, who cruised to a 50-mile race victory, Jon Olsen, and quite a few other running friends who were either out pacing, volunteering, or running.

Erik Skaden at Mile 76

I arrived at the Tahoe Meadows aid station (mile 76) just before eight o'clock. Eventual 100 mile winner Eric Skaden came in and left in first position with his pacer Mark Lantz. Soon after Erik left the aid station, Rob Evans, paced by two-time TRT100 winner Jasper Halekas, came rolling in. Rob looked strong and went on to finish in second place.

Rob and Kate Evans at Mount Rose (Team Ultra Signup)

While I was waiting for Sean, I also had the privilege of meeting Rogue Valley Running's Hal Koerner in person. Hal was pacing Ian Torrence, who had paced Hal to his recent Western States 100-mile victory.

WS100 Champ Hal Koerner at the Tahoe Meadows Aid Station

Not surprisingly, the mid-day heat and the accumulated miles slowed Sean down a little bit on his second loop, but he did not lose that much time and came in around 9:40. I turned on my lights and we were off.

Despite having already run 75 tough mountain miles, Sean ran very well and we made good time on the first 9-mile section down to Tunnel Creek, walking some of the steeper uphill sections and running all the downhills. Sean's Rho-Quick teammate, Pierre Yves, flew by us on this section, running very strong, and this put us in 6th place overall.

Ian Torrence Regroups at the Mount Rose Aid Station

We blew through the Tunnel Creek aid station and continued to Hobart, power-walking the steep switchbacks. Sean managed his energy very well; every 30 or 40 minutes he would take a gel. Knowing the course pretty well, I was able to give Sean some estimates and information about remaining mileage and so on--the mental fuel runners need to stay motivated and keep moving.

Pacing requires you to tune into the pacee's physical and mental state, carefully rationing their remaining energy, and not push too hard because you're feeling fresh yourself. Too much red-lining on the runner's part can be dangerous and result in being forced to walk the remaining miles. I like to listen to the breathing and look at their running form. Pushing a tough, yet sustainable pace will keep the runner breathing hard and let out the occasional, deep "phew, this is hard" sigh. Having this constant push is where a pacer can make a difference. It can be the difference between power-walking at 18 minutes per mile versus 22 minutes per mile. Spread out over many miles that can add up.

View from the Pacer's Perspective

Running this section of the Tahoe Rim Trail again brought back many memories from last year's through-run. My friend Troy paced me on the section we were running and he really kept the pressure on. I remember barely being able to talk and feeling like I was constantly at the edge of my ability. I would have gone a lot slower without that extra pacing push. It was great to be on the other side for a change and to help Sean accomplish his goals .

It was a beautiful, warm evening and we ran quietly for many miles. Just before the aid stations we would briefly discuss splits and what we were going to do when we would get there to minimize our downtime.

Close to the highest point of the course--Snow Valley Peak--Sean suffered a short bout of altitude induced nausea and he slowed down a little bit. Immediately, we were passed by two runners but fortunately Sean recovered quickly and on the downhill from Snow Valley we pushed really hard to maintain our 8th place position. Sub-24 was now in the bag but sub-23 would be tough. We kept pushing forward until, at last, the finish line was in sight and Sean crossed the line in 23:15--an awesome time and a textbook race on Sean's part. Congratulations Sean and good luck at your upcoming Cascade Crest 100!

Watch Out! A Fake Snake Greets the Runners at the Scale at the Finish

Next Up: The Hotter Than Hell 6 or 12 Hour Race.


Sean Lang said...

Peter, I can't thank you enough for your support as a "safety runner" from mile 75-100!

One complaint though. I didn't notice that rattle snake near the scale, and that could have made finishing really difficult:)

Thanks again!

Mark Gilligan said...

Great job you guys! It was great seeing both of you and was glad to see you made it under 24.

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