Friday, June 6, 2014

Pacing the Peak Race 200 Miler!

Did I just pace my friend, Mark Leuner, for 70 miles in 38 hours with 26,838 elevation change? I almost climbed Everest!

I have never done anything like that! What an amazing experience! My longest ultra was a 50K in 2012 but since then I had done very long weekends via the Death Race.

So, how did I get roped into pacing Mark? It was easy!

Meet Mark!
He is a structural engineer from NJ and we talked
about tunnels! Dude is smart. ;)

A year ago, as the Peak Race 500 mile race was happening, I ventured to Pittsfield to do a bit of Death Race training on Joe's Mountain and checked in on the brave folks tackling the race. I did a loop and stopped at the Pony Barn, the base camp for racers. Here, I met amazing folks, my friend Mike Pavlisak, Mark Leuner and reconnected with Bob Kenefick, Michelle Roy's fiance. Mark was pacing Nick Bautista and was waiting for him to get back with food prepared, etc. It was an informal meeting and I was off again.

Shortly after the 500 mile race, Mark posted something about needing pacers and I jumped at the chance! That was a year ago, then a few months ago, Mark gathered a hearty bunch of dudes to join in for the pacing adventure; 3 more pacers and a base camp "manager". Mark had a team, organized several emails every couple of weeks, a conference call, sent us pictures of gear, etc. It was massively organized which is TOTALLY MY THING! I thought, "this is going to be awesome".

All of a sudden, a year later, here we are, ready to go! Mark's race started on a Thursday and I was due to arrive on Friday to help Andy volunteer at the aid station. Someone needed to be there 24 hours a day to check on racers, make sure they were checking in, assessing their health. It was well organized. I arrived in Pittsfield at 9:30am on Friday ready to help. I checked the sign in board and Mark was at 100 miles! Damn! He was doing great. I was looking forward to seeing him. The plan was to have our team camp at the top of Tweed River Drive, so I drove up and met Dima, the base camp guy. He is awesome! We met and I set up my tent, etc, and got my stuff together, got an update on how Mark was doing, and then BOOM Mark comes out of the woods and we exchange hugs! He was ready for pacing but I was committed to the aid station until 3pm. We informed Mark, also, that life stuff happened and the other three pacers were not able to make it. So, it would be me who would be out there with him the entire weekend. Mark's biggest concern was the night time miles, in which his body and mind would want to shut down. I told him the night was my strength! Give me darkness and give me sleep deprivation! I was confident I could get him through those times.

Course map
(photo: NJShore Run)

Course elevation
(photo: NJShore Run)

After spending the day helping out, I was ready to get on the trail with Mark. I was really antsy and he was ready for someone to be out there with him. So, I think it was at around 5:30pm Friday I started pacing. There was a little rain here and there but for the most part, weather was fine. What I loved about my first BIG pacing experience is that Mark and I were perfectly paired up. Mark and I BARELY know each other and here we are out on this brutal course together, a very intimate situation of getting this person to their goal, watching them ebb and flow through highs and lows, fatigue, hunger, tears....perseverance. But, Mark and I think very similarly...we are organized, goal oriented, and can clearly communicate what is needed. I was FASCINATED by the fact that Mark new exactly what he needed even though he was in the lows of fatigue and sleep deprivation. He was made for this race. And, I was made to be out there with him because it worked perfectly. Back at the base camp, Dima was a damn rock star. He knew the exact questions to ask when Mark came in, how to get his pack resupplied, words of encouragement, alternate options/plans for sleep and clothes. The three of us were going to get this race done. There was not a doubt in our minds.

The first night was amazing for me. I was rested, I had fresh legs for speed hiking, I could lead when needed. Mark had explained that he sometimes would just need to lie down on the ground and sleep for a few minutes to reboot, so at one point, I found a shelf for him on the side of the trail and let him crash. I turned off my head lamp and sat in the middle of the trail and waited for him. It was only a couple minutes but Mark's mind thought it was longer, so we got up and started out again. We made it through 30 miles that night!

Second night for Mark, first night for me.
30 miles done!
500 mile race sign in board in the background!

Sun coming up at the Pony Barn.
Mark, Jeff Seymour, I.
Jeff paced Nick over 200 miles this year.
He is a wonderful, genuine person.

Saturday morning: I decided I needed a rest and foods, so we loaded up Mark and he headed back out solo. Dima got me some breakfast from the Pittsfield General Store while I took my sneakers off, checked my feet and laid down in my tent. We had decided that I would head back out with Mark after he got back from that lap, around noon or 1pm. Dima brought me a large coffee and a delish breakfast sandwich which I ate in two seconds. I then took a drive down to the start and talked with people and waited to see Mark to see what he thought he was going to need when he finished that lap and met us back up at Tweed. He came in and said he was really going to need me out there with him on this next lap and that he wanted a FUN LAP. So, I drove back up to Tweed while he got back on the trail and hiked to where we were. Dima was ready for him, I had put new socks and sneakers on, had my pack ready with drinks and food and was ready for the loop. Mark grabbed his two video cameras and we made videos of the trail, summit, of us running, it passed the time of that loop for Mark. I was kind of was sunny and warm. I definitely prefer the night hiking. That was a longer loop for us but the time making the videos was what Mark needed mentally. We then got to the starting line and there was a BBQ happening! Yay! There were other ultras happening that day; 100 miles, 50, 30 and 15. So, it was about the time when many were finishing the 50, 30 and 15 and the food was timely! Mark got a little teary, just emotions overwhelming him as a result of fatigue and hunger. I gave big hugs as needed. Mark chowed a burger and hot dog and I ate a bunch of watermelon before we headed back up the trail back to Dima.  The plan now was to have me rest while he goes back out on a lap and then we he got back, he would rest for 1.5 hours and then we would blast out the final 20 miles and be done by 7:amish on Sunday. I was psyched to get some solid rest (5 hours) and then head back out for the night feeling rested. It is truly amazing what even 1 or 2 hours of rest can do for you in these long events.

Sitting in my tent, enjoying the breakfast sandwich and coffee...
Pacer Feet! I got zero blisters and had no hot spots.
Yay Brooks Cascadia Sneaks and Nexacare Tape!

50 miles done for me.
Why am I so happy?!!?
And, my caption for this is:
"Damn, that small woman swears alot!"

So, I ate, got in my tent and fell asleep for a bit. I got up after a couple hours, ate s'mores with some folks who were sitting near our fire (thank you!) and then laid back down. All my stuff was ready to go when Mark got back. All of a sudden, I heard Mark! He smoked that loop! He was back earlier than we expected! So, he laid down for 1.5 hours, Dima woke us up around 11pm, and we headed out to blast out the final 20 miles! Holy shit, Mark was almost done. I was so excited for him. We decided to both listen to music on these loops so we could zone out. It was a perfect starry night. Mark had renewed energy from the rest so he was not needing to stop and sleep on the trail. We got down to the river and I was just starting to head back up the steep part and Mark said, "Wait, come here!" And, we shut off our headlamps and looked up and the sky. Zillions of stars. The river sounded beautiful. Then out of nowhere, A SHOOTING STAR. Damn!! How awesome was that moment!? I will never forget that, Mark! So thankful you had us stop to take in that peaceful moment.

We got back to the start and Mark signed in...190 miles done. Oh my god, one more lap! We pushed hard to get back to Dima. Dima was ready for us and the fire was warm and we did what was needed as we had done a billion times before to get ready for a lap. We decided to take a quick half hour nap before the last lap. Dima woke us up, gave each other hugs and were back on the trail at around 4:30am. We had told Dima we would be back at the finish line at 7am and to bring the video cameras and that we would all do 20 push ups together after finishing. :)

Mark and I headed out one last time to the summit. He had been up that trail 20 TIMES since Thursday morning. It was now Sunday. He had maybe 5 hours of sleep since Thursday. We got to the summit and the sun was just coming up. There was fog in the valley. The morning birds were singing like crazy. Mark was at 194 miles out of 200. After taking in the beauty and taking a deep breath, we headed down.

Summit #20 on Sunday morning for Mark!!
Sun just coming up behind him.
194 miles done. Time to head to the finish line!

Summit Selfie!

Instead of speed hiking, we decided to run when we could. The end was near! We came to our final stop at the river before heading back up the trail for the last couple I was getting so excited for Mark. Those last hills felt like nothing. And, Mark is one strong hill climber! No matter what mileage his was at, he could power up those hills like he was totally fresh. We finally got to the woods road that would take us to the end...I got kind of teary (big surprise, I know) and Mark showed up to the finish line and Andy gave huge congrats as well as everyone who was there. It was around 7:30am, Dima was there and we did our 20 push ups after Mark signed in for his final lap! Andy marked Mark 3rd place for on the board for the 200 mile race. Amazing!!

Mark looks a little sleepy ;)
Team Zombie!
73.5 hours, 78,000+  feet of elevation gain.
200 miles.
 Mark did it!
My own personal zombie.
Love it! Thanks, Mark!

I am so incredibly fortunate to have been on this journey with him. It all happened so randomly, how we met a year earlier, then me saying "sure, I will help!" And, really getting to know each other for the first time during the race. And you know what, true to every other event I have done that is long and tiring and life changing, you bond with folks and you know damn well you will do anything for each other for the rest of your lives. This is what I love most about endurance events. You gain family.

Congrats, again, Mark! xoxoxoxo

And, big congrats to the two folks who finished the 500 miler this year, Kale Poland and Nick Bautista, and to my friend, Michelle Roy, who completed 400 miles. AMAZING. Nick's pacers, Jeff Seymour and Steve (NJShore Run), the "ragtag crew of bad asses" (Kale's it) who jumped in to help him those 9 days, as well as Michelle's pacers, Margaret Schlachter and Julia O'Mara, kept them all focused and fed and loved. We all left Pittsfield changed folks.


Until next year!! Peak 100 miler for me!!  :)