Monday, July 1, 2013

Western States 2013: Adventures with DiscoStu! (June 29-30, 2013)

JUNE 29-30, 2013


December 2012, the Western States Lottery came and went and many did not get in.  Then, someone said I should check out the "Running Stupid" facebook page as there looked to be another chance to get into Western States.  Ken Micah, of Running Stupid, had started a friendly competition to earn one spot into Western States.  The competition involved various silly things from calling a number and leaving a voice mail as to why you should get the entry, going to certain blogs to leave comments, liking various facebook pages and leaving comments.  Lots of silly tasks but rather fun.  Fun to see the other runners trying to earn the spot too.  

In the end, Stuart Blofeld from England won the spot.  I congratulated him and somewhat jokingly, somewhat seriously told him if he needed a pacer, I do live near the WS trails and would be willing to pace him.  

A little while later, Stuart asked me to be his pacer.  And, a friendship through Facebook and Strava developed between us. We obviously bonded over running and the Western States run.  It was fun for me to see the excitement of someone getting himself ready to fulfill a dream and interesting to watch his training progress, especially since he lives in England, which is much cooler and flatter than the Western States canyons.  And, I hope I was able to provide him with good information as to what to expect out here.  

And, in not too long, it was June. . . .the "big dance" was about to happen.   I talked to Stuart more and offered to help crew him too since he was not going to have anyone out here with him. 

The Race

Squaw Valley

Tweet:  heading to squaw with Clint.  going to the WSER start!

In the wee hours of the morning, Clint and I drive up to Squaw Valley in Tahoe.  We get to the start and hang out keeping our eye out for Stuart.  This would be our first time meeting Stuart in person.  While waiting, we spot a few elite runners hanging out like everyone else.  And, I see many friend.  Some are getting ready to race.  Others are getting ready to run safety patrol.  And, a few others just out spectating, supporting and/or crewing.  
We then spot Stuart.  He had a blue mohawk so easy to spot through the crowds.  Stuart is full of excitement for the big race ahead.  

As 5 a.m. approaches, we all head out to the start line.  Stuart is ready to go.  He tells us he really wants to finish under 24 hours and to make sure we do what we can to make sure that happens.  Then, off he goes to the start line.  I run along the side lines to hopefully catch a glimpse of the elite runners.  I can hear the countdown. . .3-2-1-GO!!!  

I watch all the runners take off towards the mountains.  What an adventure ahead of them!! 

Tweet:  just watched the runners leave squaw valley!  so exciting!

Robinson Flat (Mile 30ish)

Tweet:  Client and I are out at Robinson Flat!

Clint and I drive up to Robinson Flat next.  I nap a little bit on the drive there.  We get there early enough to find a nice spot to set up, which happens to be right next to Nick Clark's crew.  We track the progress of the front runners and some of our friends.  And, we wait. . . .

In not too long, the front runners come through.  The first ten or so are really close together.  Very exciting to see these runners that I have heard and/or read about.  The elite women come through and a close race among the women too.  It will be an interesting day ahead to see how things shake out as the day progresses.  

Tweet:  just watched the front runners come through Robinson. . .Cameron, Tim, Hal and Nick!  So awesome to see the elites!

Tweet:  watched a few more elites come through.  they are all pretty close up front! :) 

Tweet:  First female Joelle Vaught just came through!  

As more runners come through, I see that the heat is affecting them.  I see some runners pouring water over their heads.  It is expected to be a VERY hot day today.  More runners come through and I start seeing a few of my friends come through.  

Tweet:  Paulo just came through!  Looking good!

Then, Stuart comes through with a big smile and all fired up with energy!  He does not seem bothered by the heat and in really good spirits.  He eats a little and is very happy saying "Cheers!" to everyone.  After refueling a bit, he heads out of Robinson Flat.  

Tweet: Stuart came through Robinson looking great!  

Foresthill (Mile 62ish)

Clint and I head down to Foresthill to hang out for awhile.  Many of our friends come here to hang out and/or work at the "Where's my runner?" tent.  It's like a big runner party/camp in Foresthill.  The streets start filling up with cars and runners are hanging out all over the place awaiting the racers to come through.  It's fun to hang out with friends tracking the elite runners as well as our friends in the race.  

Tweet:  hanging out at foresthill now.  my runner stuart is running right on schedule for sub-24!

After a bit, I see Tim Olson come through Foresthill.  I had been tracking the elites before Foreshill.  I saw that Hal and Tim were in the lead after Robinson Flat.  Hal had the lead but Timmy had taken the lead climbing up Devil's Thumb.  And now, Tim is running through Foresthill looking amazingly strong.  

Tweet:  just watched tim olson come running through foresthill, looking strong!

After he passes, we all look up the road to see how far back is Hal.  We wait and about 15 minutes later, Hal comes running through.  He's looking strong but not quite as smiley as Timmy was.  He looks focused.  And, right on his tail is Rob Krar and Mike Morton.  Both looked ready to chase down the next guy.  

We continue hanging out seeing more runners come through.  More elite men and then the elite women.  I check on Stuart's progress.  He seems to have slowed down a little but understandable as there are some tough climbs out there and the temperature is rising!  

Clint heads up to Michigan Bluff to see Stuart there.  After, he returns to Foresthill indicating that Stuart seems a little worn down.  I get myself ready to start pacing soon.  I am excited to see how Stuart has been doing and looking forward to taking him to Auburn.  

Tweet: my runner stuart passed through michigan bluff and in route to foresthill.  my pacing duties are to start soon-ish.

While waiting, I see my friend Paulo come through.  Many of our friends swarm around him and cheer him on as he heads out.  He's making great time.  

I then wait and wait and wait for Stuart.  I get impatient so I start walking up the street towards Bath Road.  While walking out there, I see a couple friends I know go running by.  

As I turn onto Bath Road, I finally spot Stuart.  He seems in decent spirits and is running along okay but he says his feet are killing him and wants me to text Karen for his other shoes he left in her car.   I am thinking to myself why didn't he give me the extra pair of shoes like i told him to before the race.  But, I just send a text to Karen telling to her find Stuart's other shoes. 
We then run together to the Foresthill aid station.  After he does his weigh in and grabs some gels at the aid station, we head over to Clint, Karen, and Ken who are ready to help Stuart with whatever.  Karen is unable to find Stuart's other shoes.  Stuart tries to explain where he put them but Ken says to forget about the shoes.  He helps him change his socks.  

We then head out Foresthill.  As we head out of town, we pass many of my friends.  They cheer Stuart on (and me too).  It's nice my running family can extend their love and support to my runner, who has hardly any of his people (friends, family, loved ones, etc. . .) out here. 

Foresthill to Peachstone (Mile 70ish)

Tweet: Stuart is at foresthill! Starting pacing duties!!

Stuart and I run out of Foresthill and get back on the trails.  It is mostly downhill from Foresthill to the river.  We move along at a fairly decent pace.  We chit chat about the day.  Stuart tells me about how his day has been.  Mostly things have been going well for him.  He's had no nutrition issues.  The heat did not bother him too badly.  His legs feel good.  It's just his feet really heart.  The tough terrain really trashed them badly he tells me.  Despite that, he seems to be moving along well enough for being 60-something miles into a race.  

As we run along, I give him updates as to the front runners.  I tell him who I had seen earlier.  I tell him how Cameron Clayton (who was first to Robinson Flat) had dropped already.  I joke that technically, he has already beaten Cameron Clayton, an elite runner, so he should feel accomplished with that.  He chuckles at that.  

Stuart starts to complain more about his feet pain.  Feels like needles with each step.  I see his pace is slowing down a little too.  I tell him to not think about his feet and tell me more about himself, his family, his work, etc. . .  So, he tells me about his wife and his two kids.  He talks to me about his work and how he got into running.  He shares his past 100 mile experiences with me.  I ask him about how it compares to Western States.  He says the terrain here is much grander.

A few scenic spots, we stop to take it in.  I know for him, he doesn't get to see this as often as I do.  And, he does truly relish being on the Western States trail.  He may complain about the pain he feels in one moment but in another moment, he talks about how he is running Western States.  He is fulfilling a dream of his (and of many others).  It inspires me as to how much he relishes his experience to be here.  

Peachstone to Rucky Chucky (Mile 78ish)

We head out of Peachstone (Cal 2) aid station.  Stuart had been concerned about his time.  We are still on pace for sub-24 but have been slowing down.  The sun is also starting to set and it is getting dimmer and dimmer out.  

I run ahead of him for a bit.  I start to see him falling farther and farther behind me.  I slow down a little. And, he slows down more.  He looks to be in a lot of pain as he runs down the hill.  He says the downhills are just awful on his feet.  He says he cannot run and we begin walking instead.  

He knows he cannot finish under 24 hours now.  I try to give him hope that it is still possible but he said it's not going to happen.  I can see how the 24-hour goal slipping away from him is really bringing down his spirits.  I remind him that he told me his main goal is to just finish and he's still well ahead of cutoffs.  

He foresees himself walking the rest of the way and the thought is daunting to him.  I saw he can still walk it in it and finish in time.  But, I see his spirit dropping.  I try to motivate him.  He does occasionally say that at least he's at Western States.  I am moved that he still remembers that he is here, in this iconic race, fulfilling a dream.  I try to talk about other things to get his mind off his feet.  And, we seem to do okay for a moment but then he complains about his foot pain.  

At the next aid station, we try to do what we can to tend to his feet.  The volunteers are great in scrambling to get a first aid kit and do what they can to provide some temporary relief for Stuart.  They say there's a foot person down at the river.  So, we just need to get there.  

While hanging out at this aid station,  there is a group of really drunk people cheering runners on.  I mean really drunk and they're hooting and hollering.  

We continue along down to the river crossing.  We are in the death march mode, walking along.  Stuart finds it hard to wrap his head around walking 20 miles.  I said he can do it and let's keep going.  I tell Stuart that if he finishes, he'll qualify to enter in the Western States lottery (hoping that will give him extra motivation).  He says there is no next year.  This is his only chance to do Western States.  He has a family with two young children.  The training is a lot of time.  And, to travel halfway around the world to run this isn't exactly easily to do, not to mention the cost of it.  For Stuart, and I guess for many people who come to do Western States, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  This makes me want to make sure that I get him to that finish line.  He must finish.  Let's keep going.  One foot in front of the other.

The night grows darker and we continue in our death march.  I am not too concerned with time as we are well ahead of cutoff but I am concerned about Stuart's spirit.  He is in pain and dreading having to walk the rest of the way.

Tweet: Stuart is struggling a bit with feet issues but we are still moving...nearing the river!

After a bit, we encounter another runner and pacer.  The four of us stick together for a bit and chit chat about things.  One runner is struggling badly and bends over as if to throw up.  The pacer tells me she's been dry heaving for a bit now.  

We eventually leave them behind as they stop on the side of the trail.  We continue hiking along in the darkness.  I just hope we get to the river soon.  I hope Stuart soaking his feet in the river will help him.  I hope there is a someone to help tape up his feet.  Hoping that there is something that can make this better for Stuart.  Clint should be at the river crossing so hopefully that will be some nice renewed energy.  I am dismayed that I cannot help Stuart more.

We finally make it to the river crossing.  After a bit at the aid station, we begin to cross the river.  They have a cable that goes across and volunteers all along the way to tell us where to put our feet.  The crossing is nerve-racking as I cannot see to the bottom of the river.  The volunteers tell me where to place my feet but to not see where my feet go makes it scary.  Stuart seems to cross okay ahead of me.  I manage to make my way across.

We get into the aid station and go to the feet people to have them work on Stuart.  I talk to Clint about how it's gotten really rough for Stuart.  I am worried about him but we have to keep him going.  I can tell Clint really wants to pace and just chomping at the bit.  I had been thinking about letting Clint pace Stuart as it might be helpful to have renewed energy but I know I can get Stuart to that finish line.  I want to get him to that finish line.  I want to continue being his pacer.  But, this is hard.  It is hard for Stuart now.  I do not know what is best for him.  Clint says I am going to be really tired and I get a bit annoyed with Clint as I feel peer pressured and it isn't helping.  But, I think what is best for Stuart.  I remember a friend said once that "a pacer's job is to be selfless. . . .to always do what is best for the runner."  It isn't about me.  It is about him.

After Stuart has his feet tended to, we trudge our way to green gate.  We ask Stuart what he wants to do.  Stuart suggests we switch wanting me to get my rest.  I tell him it's about what he wants.  He says it is up to us to decide.  Finally, I let Clint take over as pacer.  I tell Stuart I hope that it will be a nice change to hopefully give him new, fresh energy.

Then, I watch the two take off from Green Gate.

Green Gate to Highway 49 Crossing

From Green Gate, I trudge my way up to Clint's truck.  I feel dismayed.  I feel like I was shoved aside.  I feel like I should have done more for Stuart.  I feel bad that he's suffering but know he can do it.  As I drag my way up feeling down, I see Charito.  I tell her how I feel and that it was hard out there.  It was hard to see my runner go to the dark place.  Hard that I just could not do enough to get him out of that dark place.  Charito gives me a very comforting hug.

I then make my way to Clint's truck and drive out to Cool.  In Cool, I nap off and on in the truck.  It is too hard to really sleep.  As I sit there, I check updates on my phone of other runners.  And, I watch a video of my friend Paulo crossing the finish line of Western States.  It's a wonderful video of his finish another friend had posted.  I watch as he runs on the track to the finish and makes a jump for joy at the finish line.  This warms my heart and brings tears to my eyes.  I am so utterly proud of my friend Paulo.

Tweet:  is tired and a little cranky but just watched Paulo's finish video and so proud of my friend for finishing WS!

I get some food and my pack and think I am going to take back over being pacer at the next aid station.  I make my way onto the shuttle and head to the highway 49 crossing.  I get there and hang out for awhile. I check on updates on other friends while I wait.

As I wait, I see Charito come running through with her runner.  I get up to greet her.  She scurries by me and asks I take her jacket.  I crumple it up and stuff it into my pack.  I see a couple other friends go by with their runners they are pacing.

I wait.  I get some updates from Clint that they are getting close.  I wait as the sky starts to lighten.  I do hope that the sun rising will give Stuart renewed energy.  I remember when I ran with Cathleen in her hundred miler that when the sun rose, it helped both us get energized again.

Knowing how helpful it is to me to have friends send supportive messages to me when I am doing crazy events, I post to Stuart's facebook page giving his friends and family an update.  I also ask that they send good thoughts to help him to the finish line.

"Friends of Stuart's been a long night for Stu...he's struggling but still going. Almost to Hwy 49 crossing at mile 93. Send him some well wishes to help him get to the finish!!"

I am hoping that his friends and family will make comments that I can share with Stuart when he gets here.  I believe it is hard to be so far away from his family.

Then, Stuart and Clint come running into the Highway 49 aid station with big smiles on their face.  I guess Stuart got a second wind and was able to rock it for a few miles.  I am glad to see him in better spirits.

Highway 49 to No Hands Bridge

Tweet: Stuart came to highway 49! I'm taking him up to auburn now!

After Stuart eats a little, I take over as pacer and we head out towards Cool.  We hike our way up to Cool.  When we hit the fields of Cool and start running/shuffling through, Stuart comments on how this reminds him of England.  The terrain earlier was very different from England but here in Cool, he feels like he's in England again.
As we shuffle along towards No Hands Bridge, I read to him the comments I see in response to my post:

Me: "Stephen Blofeld. . ."
Stu: "that's my brother.
Me: "Thanks.  Woop you can get there!"
Stu: "Aw"
Me: "Roger Blofeld. . ."
Stu: "that's my father. . ."
Me: ". . .Thanks for update.  Feeling every step for him.. . . Kath Dodd"
Stu: "that's [another relative]"
Me: "Almost there Stu, with you every step!!!"
Stu: "Aww"
Me: "Egomanieac Idai. . . .Go stuart - you prepared well for this event and you can finish.  Stay strong big boy, I know you can do 7 more miles even when it's this tough...."
Me: "Kristina Komondi-Blofeld"
Stu: "aw...that's my wife. . ."  (I can tell Stuart is happy to hear from his wife)
Me: "Almost there Stu!! Sending you hugs and kisses from home xxx . . . "

I can tell this does exactly what I wanted it to do.  His spirited is uplifted.  I am sure it is nice to hear from different people cheering him on but I know there's nothing quite the like your own loved ones sending their love.  And, in this case, sending their love all the way from England.

Stuart is able to start running for a bit.  And, we run most of the way to the Confluence.  As we get very close to No Hands Bridge, we see the Foresthill Bridge.  We stop for a couple pictures.  I tell Stuart that he has made it to Auburn.  He's excited.

We then make our way down to No Hands Bridge.

Tweet: Running into no hands bridge!!

No Hands Bridge to Placer High School 

We hit No Hands Bridge and are greeted by Ken and Karen.  Karen has Stuart's other shoes.  But, no need to change them now.  After a short bit, we continue on our way up to Placer High School.

As we begin our climb to Robie Point, I see my friend Bill post that he's at the mile 99 sign.  My friend Bill lives in the Mile 99 neighborhood.  He and his neighbors like hanging out all night at the sign, drinking beers, and cheering runners as they come into Auburn.

As we hike our way up to Robie Point, Stuart really admires the views of the canyons and the river.  He knows he has it.  He talks about how he is at Western States and about to finish it.  I can see how much he cherishes being here.

We hear some rustling behind some trees and bushes.  He jokes that there's that creature again.  I comment that I think this is where Ellie Greenwood and the other runners encountered the bear at the Western States 2011.  He says "Great!  I make it this far, through the night, and a bear eats me. . . "  We laugh and continue onward.  I am happy to see that he is in good spirits now.

We make our way up to Robie Point and come off the trail and onto the road.  Clint is here to greet us.  The three of us continue our way up to Placer High School.

Tweet: Coming into Robie point! Mile 98! Almost there!

As we near the mile 99 sign, I see my friend Bill come bounding down the hill towards me.  He gives me a hug and is very cheery.  Seeing Bill lifts up my spirits.  Bill is loving Stuart's blue mohawk and gives Stuart some encouragement as we just have a mile to go.  At the mile 99 sign, many cheer Stuart as he comes in and some give him high 5's.

Tweet: Stuart Blofeld passed the mile 99 sign! We are in auburn! Placer High here Stu comes!

I find it crazy that this is the first time Stuart has come to Auburn and he came by running from Squaw Valley.  Amazing to think of.  We shuffle along through the neighborhoods.  A few people are out cheering and congratulate him.  As we cross the little white bridge, Tim Twietmeyer comes running in the opposite direction.  He gives Stuart a high five!  Stuart is beyond excited and exclaims how perfect is that, "Finishing Western States and Tim Twietmeyer gives me a high five!"
We then turn into the Placer High School track.  I let Stuart just take off running around the track.  I cut across the grass so I can get a picture of him as he runs into the finish line.  Stuart starts sprinting around the track.  And he comes into the finish line with his arms in the air and a big smile on his face for fulfilling his dream of running and finishing Western States 100!

Post Race

Post race, I hung out until 11 a.m. or so watching other friends come through the finish line.  I had renewed energy being at the finish line, feeling so much happiness for all those that finished.  Stuart rested for a bit and eventually wandered to get food. While over there, he introduced me to Ellie Greenwood (a two-time Western States winner and women's course record holder) so that was pretty neat!  

What a great experience to be part of!  It was interesting to see someone who's not from here go through the race.  For him, it was the first time he got to see and run on the trails.  And, he had truly valued every moment of it.  He made me really appreciate that I am a very lucky person to have such easy access to these wonderful trails that many just dream to run on.  

I am glad I got to be part of Western States for Stuart this year and I yearn for the day that I get to run Western States for me. . . .

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