So, here goes........Nick had just cruised into Michigan Bluff in second place, a mere 4 minutes after Kilian had arrived, although, Kilian was taking a lot of time in the aid-station here and was still present as Nick arrived. Both Nick and Kilian still looked really good through the
As soon as the bus pulled into Foresthill, I shot out of the door and felt like I was running sub-6 pace up the gentle grade to Bath Rd. Just before Bath Rd, I passed Kilian, followed only a few meters behind by Jez Bragg heading in the opposite direction. I looked at my watch to see at what time and at what landmark I passed them so that I could relay accurate information to Nick on the whereabouts of his competitors. Not ten seconds after I make the ~1/2 mile "sprint" and reach Bath Rd., Nick comes rolling through and greets me with a smile and fist-pound. He mentions that he's feeling strong on the climbs, but the downs have been a little so-so at this point. I give indication that Kilian and Jez are about 3:30-4min ahead from here and ask what he'll need at the Foresthill aid-station. Two bottles of ice water, as much ice as you can fill in each. After Nick gave command, I took off at low 5-min pace and met Nick P. to relay the info. If you've ever stood at the Foresthill aid-station when the leaders come through, it's like a zoo. It's the biggest aid-station of the course and one of the most spectator-friendly spots. My adrenaline was rushing, competitive spirits burning on all cylinders as we tried to be as efficiently as possible. Keep in mind, I've never crewed nor paced anyone before, so there were definitely a few jumbles on my part *cough* Michigan Bluff *cough* (sorry Nick), but I was confident in my ability to learn very quickly and adapt accordingly.
After Nick C. got what he needed, he and Nick P. headed out down the road toward Cal St. to hunt down Jez and Kilian. I, on the other hand, ran over to my truck in order to get a good jump to head over to Sliger Mine Rd for my pacing duties from Green gate (mile 80) to the finish. Another rookie mistake came about, however. I forgot to grab Nick C's bag which contained our headlamps (just in case), some EFS Liquidshots, and his bottle of Ultragen (for post-race recovery). After about 10 minutes driving down Foresthill, I realized my blunder and turned around, flooring it back to Foresthill. Luckily I found a parking spot and ran up and down the school looking for Nick's bag. I was so caught up in the moment when Nick came through that retrieving his bag eluded me. After asking around and seeing friends and familiar faces (sorry guys if I looked distracted, truth is I was!), I gave up hope and prayed that sooner or later the bag would turn up (which it did at the lost-and-found at the finish line, whew, off the hook... ha ha).
As I was waiting down by the river (Ruck-a-Chucky far), I got word from the volunteers that Kilian and "your guy" were there together. Holy crap I thought. Nick must've thrown down a stout clip on Cal St. And kudos to Nick P. for getting the job done on semi-tired legs as he was only a week removed from a second-place showing at the Bighorn 100. Sure enough, what was once a casual Kilian easing through Michigan Bluff, was now a Kilian who looked like the last thing he wanted to do was be anywhere near the clutches of Nick Clark. After Kilian tip-toed up the ~2 mile climb up to Green Gate, Nick C. was hot on his tails, plugging away as Nick P. and I ran alongside him.
|Approaching Green Gate. Photo: irunfar.com|
Coming into Green Gate, the volunteers gave word that Kilian was only 2 minutes ahead and after Nick P. did a superb job pacing Nick to the river, now I would take over pacing duties and help aid Nick in getting to the finish and see where the chips fell. Nick seemed to be definitely more fatigued than when I saw him last at Foresthill, but remained laser-focused on getting the job done. Despite hurting a bit more, Nick still rolled strongly as we made a 5.4 mile hop to the next aid-station at Auburn Lake Trails (ALT, mile 85). In fact, on some of the more flatter sections, I clocked Nick hitting 8:30-8:45 pace which was huge at this stage in the race. The balancing focus for me was to continue to positively reinforce, be quiet at times, nudge if I felt it was needed, relay any knowledge of the course that I thought would be helpful, and remind Nick to keep drinking and eating.
About 2.5 miles out from ALT, suddenly we heard voices echoing through the canyon. The last person I had seen through Foreshill in pursuit of Nick was Hal Koerner and I thought no way at the pace we were moving at was that Hal. Not that Hal couldn't throw down if need be, but the last time I saw him, it didn't look like he was doing that well. Little did we know at the time, but it was Mike Wolfe and his pacer who were on a rampage and covering ground quickly. As we were approaching ALT, I looked down and saw Kilian and his pacer leaving the aid-station and informed Nick that Kilian was down there and was probably a minute and a half or so up on us. As we came in to ALT and Nick was being weighed, a man with a microphone along with a camera crew got right up on us and began asking us questions I can't even remember (I definitely paid no attention to them). This provoked the man with the mic to ask me, "What's wrong, a little camera shy?" As much as I wanted to offer some drastically different wording, I replied, "I'm just focused man, trying to take care of Nick." Then, without a moments notice, Mike Wolfe and his pacer cruised into ALT.
"Nick, Mike Wolfe just rolled in." Nick looked over and I could read the look on his face. "Let's get going." I said. We set out from ALT and would be focused on reaching our next destination 4.7 miles away at Brown's Bar (mile 90). Nick was giving it everything he had to keep a steady flow of momentum going. Again, he was focused like I have never seen in any other human being before. Being Nick's pacer and watching him from behind, I could sense that he had a fortress around his mind that was impenetrable. Meaning, at least to me, it seemed Nick's mind was only in a place that Nick could reach and there were no outside intruders welcome. Therefore, as his pacer, I tried my best to catapult any words of encouragement, motivation, or truth over his protective mental walls, hoping that something would land where it needed to and provide the support he needed.
Nick was still moving fairly well over the flat and rolling sections and I kept looking back to see if Mike Wolfe was across any of the ravines or around any corners. About 2 miles out from Brown's Bar, I hear those familiar echoes again and look back only to see Mike Wolfe and his pacer no more than fifty meters behind. "Nick, Mike's coming." I bellowed. I could sense Nick turn up the pace ever so slightly, but Mike continued to close the gap as I kept looking back. Suddenly Mike and his pacer pulled up right behind us. "Hey Nick how's it going?" said Mike. "Good, you?" replied Nick. "Good. Hey, you mind if I get by?" said Mike. We both pulled to the side of the trail as Nick left Mike with the departing words of "Go get Kilian." As I watched Mike pull away, I couldn't believe how fresh and light on his feet he looked after almost 90 miles of racing (well, ~92 if you add the detour early on).
At this point, Nick was now in third place and holding onto a podium position became the new focus it seemed. Again, Nick was doing all that he could. I mean, what more could you ask of a guy who had been racing at the front all day, pushing his body, and testing his limits? You know, Nick had blisters on his feet, was just passed, and was pretty much in survival mode, yet not once complained or was mentally shaken I thought. Again, the keen focus of Nick Clark remained in spite of unfortunate circumstances and I believe is a testimony to the kind of man he is.
As we came into Brown's Bar, and Nick refueled, re-salted, and tended to his body, we got word that Mike was only 2 minutes up and that Kilian was in the vicinity of 4 minutes ahead. Next up would be an eight-tenth of a mile downhill section, followed by some rollers along the river, and then the arduous climb up to Hwy 49 (mile 93.5). Due to the blisters, Nick had to be uber-careful on some of the rockier sections and protect his feet the best he could. After we popped out along the American River, we continued to roll along with some brief chatter and what I thought was a beautiful stretch of scenery at ~7:15pm. As we neared the left-hand turn up to 49, I spotted Mike's pacer up ahead. A brief moment of elation, but was then followed by the reality that Mike was not present. Mike must've been running so darn well that he dropped his pacer who was walking ahead of us. After passing Mike's pacer, we hung a left and began to run/power-hike this rocky/technical section of trail.
|Just about to cross hwy 49 and enter the aid-station Photo: irunfar.com|
I kept trying to probe Nick to run the more gentle grades, but then soon realized that if Nick wanted to run, he would run. After reaching some mellow terrain, we started to run again and kept a steady flow all the way into Hwy 49. Nick P. met us there, tossed me a flashlight as I barked orders to the aid-station workers what Nick needed. "Coke and ice in that one!" "Fill that one 3/4 ice, 1/4 water!" At this point, I felt I had gotten a bit better and efficient on the crewing side of things and with the help of Nick P., we rolled out of Hwy 49 not having really taken up much time. There were definitely more spectators here and it seemed we caught a little wind in our sails when the spectators began to encourage Nick to "go get 'em!" The climb up from 49 is pretty gentle at first, but then gets a bit more rocky and technical. This rockier section took a little wind out of Nick's sails, but he kept plugging away. After getting on some more mellow terrain, we passed through the meadow which would then lead us into the ~2 mile descent into No-Hands bridge. I told Nick, "If your quads can take any more of a beating, now's the time." Given the circumstances, Nick descended pretty well, I thought.
After pointing out K2 to him on our left, we dropped down into No-Hands bridge (mile 96.8) and blew right through the aid-station. The WS paparazzi were in full-force along the bridge as we passed camera crew after camera crew. I think we both chuckled at the circus of media which was on display here. Next up for Nick would be a ~2+ mile climb up from No-Hands to Robie Point (mile 99). It seemed at this point 3rd place was locked up for Nick, but as we encountered just outside of Brown's Bar, at WS, no place is safe at anytime, especially from Hwy 49 to the finish (Just ask Jim King!). Therefore, we kept plugging along and about 8 minutes out from Robie, heard cheers from up ahead. Must be Mike passing through I thought.
As we made the grunt up to Robie and entered the last aid-station for the day, Nick thew down a few cups of pop and we were off for the final push for home. The last mile was really enjoyable, more so for Nick as the realization that 3rd place, a sub-16 showing, and the finish line were surely within grasp. I would look back from time-to-time, but didn't see anyone in sight. I mentioned to Nick that it had been a pleasure running with him (which it was) and I definitely was taking mental notes watching him gut-out the remaining 22 miles. After we crossed the white bridge and made a left, I felt now I could officially congratulate Nick on a stellar 3rd place finish. Connor and Austin met us shortly before the track in their sweet patriotic, yet manly attire: The famous gladiator running shorts with the American flag draped over their backs. They jogged with us for a bit and Nick and I then entered the track with cheers to welcome him. Upon rounding the final corner, I began to give motion to the crowd to increase their cheering for Nick as he came into the finish. The crowd responded and gave Nick Clark the loudest of cheers I had heard all evening and high-pitched hollers that he more than deserved for such a heroic and gutsy race. 15:50 for
|Coming into the finish (sorry for the blurriness). photo: Karen May|