Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Pacing Western States

The words I heard most while pacing, "this sucks." Of course they only came from Tony (aka Joseph D'alessio) once, maybe twice, but I frequently heard them from other runners we were close by. Before I even began pacing, I thought just the walks to the bathroom were painful in the heat and knowing that people were out there running was crazy or better said, insane. The heat makes me want to just crawl up and go to sleep. Then again, I always want to crawl up and sleep. I was so pumped up even before Tony came into Foresthill. In fact after the race started, I couldn't fall back asleep. I had my pacer bib pinned on and shoes laced well before it was necessary. I was more nervous and excited then when I am racing.

The journey of pacing the last 38 miles at Western States is something everyone even slightly interested in the race should do. It is not easy seeing what the runners go through over the last stretch. Part of it scares me from ever doing a race that far and of course a piece of me also craves to have the experience first hand. When I was at the finish and Tony's sister informed me he had gained 12 pounds and that he was getting hooked up to an IV, I seriously thought, ultrarunners are a bit fucked up (and I would include myself in that generalization). Anyone else who just happened to walk up to the finish and see the medical tent full of folks, seeing others hobble in to the finish, etc, would simply be like how the hell is this called fun? It is a little weird. I mean, people admire what their bodies do, but then push them until their bodies basically give out on them. One thing is for sure, if I ever do a 100 mile race, I am making sure I have health insurance.

I really enjoyed pacing. I laughed every time volunteers and other runners encouraged me. In fact coming into the mile 85 aide station, one of the volunteers said, "wow you look amazing." I said, "I am pacing." He replied, "oh, well, you look better than most the pacers." Not quite sure what he meant by that, but he wasn't alone. At least a handful of people thought I was racing. Pacing is a lot like being a doula although I've yet to be confused for the woman in labor. In fact, if I could pace for a living I would. Unfortunately I didn't have a baby to distract Tony with when he finished. In the end, whether someone is having a baby or running a race, it is clear that you can't plan everything and that ultimately you have to be open to whatever unfolds. Easier said than done, I know, but life is unpredictable.

So the best part of pacing at Western States in no particular order:
- Being out on the trails
- Hearing the crickets and water once the sunset
- Being positive and supportive (at least I think I was)
- Running and walking past 9 pm (I am usually in bed by 11 pm, at the very latest)
- Wearing my headlamp longer than I ever have
- Getting to know someone by pacing them for 38 miles
- The river crossing
- Cold water with ice
- Sponge baths
- Seeing beer and almost having some (next time, I'm having it)
- Smiling
- The dirt, dust, and rocks
- The moon
- Being grateful that I hadn't done the 62 miles before
- The orange feet and conversation over the last mile
- Getting a little lost (good thing you have a good sense of direction Tony otherwise we'd be heading back to the start)
- Seeing Tony get to the finish and learning from his experience
- Realizing that I am still not sure if I'll ever do this race and that is ok
- Knowing if I do run this race or another 100 miler, I'll ask Tony and his crew to support me (they are all really great and amazing people)


jhalekas said...


Great job getting your runner to the finish. Ultrarunners are a little bit f'ed up, aren't they! But somehow it is all rewarding enough that we keep coming back for more. It's a great experience to see what that last 38 is like. I'm sure you'll be there one day, and you'll have no shortage of people willing to crew and pace for you (sign me up!).


Dave - Atlanta Trails said...

thank you for sharing your experience. Pacing at States definitely seems to be an important pre-req for actually participating.

And, yes, we may be f'ed up, but we are ALIVE!

Buzz said...

Really enjoyed reading your perspective, and of course, it's very familiar and I concur. I'll be pacing next weekend in Silverton, and am very happy about that (as I always am with free food).

More seriously, I've always believed a closer look at inner motivation, health, and balance in this great sport would be time well spent.

Laurie said...

Thanks so much for pacing! I was so glad that you were out there with Tony, especially over that last stretch. But are you sure he only said "this sucks" once or twice?

It was fun hanging out and we'd be happy to crew any time!

Carolyn said...

Caitlin you rock. This is a beautiful reflection of your experience and I'm so glad you were out there for the last 38 with Tony. I knew you'll run with WS100 at some point and we would gladly crew you anytime!

Suz said...

Glad you had fun, but I know what you mean. It was pretty f-ing scary out there. Definitely took the edge off my 100-mile lust.

By the way, I think I made the right call, not trading runners with you. I mean, I'm glad we talked about it, and considered our options, but I think it worked out for the better in the end ;-)

Rick Gaston said...

A mutual friend, I won't tell you who, pointed in your direction and said "she's as excited and nervous as she is before the start of her races, awesome". I agree, when I finally caught up to you guys at Foresthill you were an engine on idle.

- Getting to know someone by pacing them for 38 miles.

Carrie was a friend I only communicated with over email, phone, Facebook and the occasional run-ins at races. We've never run or grabbed a meal together. Well we got to do all that this weekend. Although if she had her way she would have stopped eating all together:) She admitted later she wanted to throw the gels back in my face, hahaha.

Devon said...

I have been joking this spring that I should set up a pacing business, www.pacerforhire.com. Sounds catchy eh? I completely agree with everything you wrote. It is an amazing and insightful experience to pace for someone. It is (or should I say should be) a completely selfless act where all attention is focused on getting the runner to their goal. It is quite intense and fun (and nerve racking at times).

Good work! And when/if you do decide to run a 100, you know I am more than willing to pace.

sc said...

Hey Caitlin (one of my favorite names),

I'm pacing at the VT100 in a couple of weeks. Thanks for sharing your experience; I'm growing more excited about it by the moment!

Scott Dunlap said...

I bet you were an ideal pacer, Caitlin. I look forward to the day you want to toe the line - add me to the list of available crew/pacing!

I can't say enough how helpful it is to have a positive face in those last 30+ miles.


David Ray said...

Cool. Thanks for sharing this one. Lots of good thoughts here.

And I love that last pic of you at the aid station. Very nice.

GZ said...


Pleasure meeting you tonight! See you this weekend at BTMR.