I had the distinct pleasure of being invited to help pace & crew Mr. David Crerar, a highly capable and experienced ultra runner, at the 2011 Western States 100-miler. What an honor! Here's a little bit about the journey before and during the event. I had very little experience running with David (just a BRIEF stretch during the 2009 North Shore Enduro), but felt I knew him well enough through mutual Club Fat Ass friends. Goal: help David get sub-24 on this legendary mountain course! Trick was that David was battling a WICKED head cold. We're not talking the sniffles, either. Gross stuff was coming out of his nose and throat, but I suppose I've already gone too far on that. This was going to be TOUGH.
The truth was, David was taking a chance on me since he knew little about me. Except, perhaps, for what Ean "Action" Jackson told him. Who knows what any conversations in THAT regard went like. Ok, in all seriousness, I really appreciate the fact that David was willing to allow me to come along since he already had Ferg Hawke on his crew. We all know Ferg is a highly successful and experienced endurance athlete and wasn't going to "fail" David. No PRESSURE!
The plan was that Ferg and I would meet in San Francisco on Thursday night just a couple of days before the race. We would rent a car and drive to Squaw Valley to meet David. David was showing up much earlier in the day. In the spirit of getting ready and rested Ferg and I would sneak in to the Squaw Valley Lodge and attempt not to disturb the guy. Except for some slight delays on my part (or the airline's part, as it were) it went well and according to plan. We met David fast asleep Thursday night/Friday morning after a nice 3 hour drive in, catching up and chatting the time away in our excitement for the big show that was about to go down.
Slide show of the complete set of my photos from the event:
Friday: Let's get acquainted
David really needed to chill and attend the race briefing held Friday afternoon. Ferg and I tried to stick around for that but the climb to Emigrants Pass up the course was just too close and inviting. We couldn't help ourselves any longer so we left David to resting and his education and headed out from the official start line of the WS100 run to tackle the climb and run back down! We got a good feel for the conditions runners would experience at the top and beyond. The much talked about snow turned out to be not so bad (in my opinion). However, we were up there in the afternoon when the snow was softer. No doubt, the racers would deal with icier, more slippery conditions. After about a 4.5 mile out we made our way fairly expeditiously back down. Ferg suggested I pushed him a little hard up the climb, but I think he's just being generous. He was chatty the whole time, so I'm not really buying it. Not to mention he "returned the favor" in Volcano Canyon the following day!
Me at the top of Emigrant Pass...
Another great thing about Friday was running in to some friends from all over the country and Canada. I saw friends from St. Louis Ultrarunners Group, Club Fat Ass and even Florida! Here are a few photos of a small sample of folks I was very happy to see again...
Ferg and I collect our Crerar #155 Crew Shirts - Awesome!
Chad Hyson at Forest Hill - looking fresh as a daisy!
A John Machray Sighting at the finish area!
Saturday: GO TIME
The start would come early (5am west coast time). David was up on time. He seemed strong and ready. There was little or nothing we could do about the cold so we really didn't try. Ferg and I had considered that running with what appeared to be an infection probably wasn't wise, but if David had his mind made up then the very last thing we wanted to do was put big doubts in his head. Running 100 miles with 18,000ft of climb & 23,000ft of descent is hard enough. Besides, I'm not a doctor and I don't even play one on TV.
It was pretty cool to hear the famous gun fire and watch the pack charge out of Squaw Valley. We even captured a nice video and lucked out getting David in the mix as they head out from the start line:
The next several hours would require Ferg and I to keep ourselves occupied while David tackled the 62 miles to Foresthill aid-station. That would be our first opportunity to pace him. We agreed that Ferg would pace the 18 miles stretch from Forrest Hill to Rucky Chucky. I would connect with them there, we'd share the mile or so up to Green Gate, then David and I would move on to cover the last 20 miles from Green Gate to the finish together. The cool thing was: we knew that the last check point, Robie Point, was only 1.5 miles from the finish and would enable Ferg to reunite with us and we'd cover that last bit as a team. Great plan!
Early in the day Ferg and I hit Tahoe City. I had never seen Lake Tahoe and was keen to check it out. We also wanted breakfast and Tahoe City would offer good coffee shop/cafe options. Sure enough, we enjoyed a good coffee and breakfast bagel sandwich near the lake, watching athletes prepare for a local X-Terra Triathlon, while David reeled off the miles. Great morning.
Ferg and me at Lake Tahoe, Tahoe City, CA
We didn't want to goof off too long. Acquainting ourselves with the set up at Foresthill (to make a smooth exchange) became the priority. By car it wasn't all that far, so we headed that way with our eye on running a bit of the trail between Foresthill and Michigan Bluff. Ferg, knowing I had seen nothing of the WS100 course except for our previous day's run, was a great guide and wanted to get back out. AWESOME! Having read so much about WS100 it was pretty surreal to be there and experience the place for myself.
We ended up running from Bath Road to Michigan Bluff and back. That's roughly 10 miles round trip. This gave me chance to get a taste for the climbing that WS100 is famous for. Although it represented one of the smaller canyons on the course, I was excited to run Volcano Canyon between our self-selected start/finish areas of Bath Rd->Michigan Bluff->Bath Rd.
Ferg at Western States Trial Access at Bath Rd
The climb in to Michigan Bluff paid off BIG TIME. Not only did Ferg meet some fans, but we discovered some AWESOME treats amongst the Michigan Bluff extravaganza: namely, a "Ferger-Burger" shop and a Lemonade Stand! The girls at the lemonade stand couldn't resist Ferg's charm and were excited to get their photo with him, so we obliged. It was all good fun, and the lemonade we purchased from the girls was just the ticket to fill our water bottles and get us back to Bath Rd. in the heat of the day. We were about an hour or two ahead of the lead runners coming down the trail back to Foresthill. So we chilled out, chatting with fellow spectators & fans as we waited for David to roll in to Forresthill. Great run that day.
Me "running" through Volcano Canyon en route to Michigan Bluff from Bath Rd.
Ferg makes friends with the lemonade stand operators at Michigan Bluff
"Ferger-Burgers" available HERE!
We expected David through Foresthill (mile 62) in about 13 hours, which would be 6:00pm and before the sun was down. With head cold and all, nearly like CLOCKWORK, David rolled through at 6:11! Way to go David! We got David a good shoe change and clothes swap, then Ferg and David headed on out in to the evening. I would spend the next 4 hours or so sorting out where I needed to be to meet these guys down the trail, getting dinner, and generally resting up for my duties through the weeee hours of the morning on the last 20 miles of David's run. SUPER encouraging that David was on track for <24hrs - amazing.
A quick exchange and a pacer pick up at Foresthill - David was ROCKING the pace!
I hate to admit this (and I still feel a bit bad about it) but I was a little late finding my way to Rucky Chucky to meet my fellow crew & runner. I didn't dilly-dally, but it was hard to find. What's more: I didn't realize there was a 3.5 mile hike down to the river from where I was able to park. Darn it! Fortunately, I was very close to on-time and just met Ferg & David en-route from the river crossing up to the Green Gate "pass off" as we had established in our plan. Crisis averted! David was in great spirits and climbing like a goat! Ferg warned me that David was CRUSHING the down hills, which turned out to be true for the rest of the race. David explained that his "climbers" were busted, but that he had every intention of running the flats and downhill sections as much as possible. HE DELIVERED! I definitely nagged Mr. Crerar more than he deserved - this guy BATTLED HARD and I can't explain how much I was impressed by this monumental effort
All systems go for my duties to run with David out of Green Gate to the finish...
I'll spare you the details of the puking pacer we saw dropped by their runner along the way (no, it wasn't me!) and get to the good stuff. David seemed to bank a minute or two extra against the sub-24 hour goal with each checkpoint we passed. He completely BOMBED the downhill section heading in to No-Hands Bridge. That place was lit up like CHRISTMAS and we were glad to know there were less than 3.5 miles to the finish! Not that the climbing was completely over, but there was only one more climb of "substance" up to Robie Point where we would meet Ferg and press on to the finish.
MOTLEY CREW coming out of Robie Point, only 1.5 miles to go!
OF COURSE it's supposed to feel like this at 98.5 miles...
HE's the MAN!!!
WELL, it was ALL David to the finish. Ferg and I giggled like a couple of kids watching him suffer through the last mile, all in amazement as David continued to push himself through the neighborhood to the track in Auburn. The reality was clear: while David was glad to have the company, he was SELF-motivated and insisted on doing his best with what cards he was dealt. He pushed on through to the finish in a most impressive 23:32:45 - time to spare against his lofty goal! If I'm not mistaken, this was a substantial improvement over his previous attempt, which was something like a solid 27:50-ish. So, sure, David had a buckle, but not a SILVER buckle like now!
It was a real pleasure to be a part of the experience, and I can't thank David enough for the opportunity to be included. Thanks, also, to Ferg for sharing the journey and encouraging me to stay involved in the running community. Both David & Ferg are a HUGE inspiration to me, and I'm glad to have friends I can look up to in the sport.
I jokingly titled this post "Band of Thieves", but the truth is: David didn't cheat or short-cut for a silver buckle. He EARNED his buckle the hard way in some of the toughest of circumstances. Congratulations, David - you deserve that buckle like nobody's business!