Pacing & Crewing at the Western States 100
Running a 100-mile race has never been on my bucket list. The thought of running through the night and missing all three meals in a day is not something I consider pleasant or fun. So, when I had the opportunity to be on the crew team and a pacer for Kaytlyn Gerbin, the 2nd place female at the 2018 Western States 100 (WS100), I was honored and stoked to get to share in the experience without all the pain.
This was my first experience pacing and not one that I will soon forget. The amount of organization and preparedness that was executed by Kaytlyn and her crew chief and husband, Ely, was next level. I was so impressed by the attention to detail from well documented spreadsheets from past WS100 experiences to having all bags and pack pockets labeled to reduce the amount of thinking necessary during stressful aid stops.
Crewing is not easy, and in a lot of ways it is harder than getting ready for your own race. You’re on someone else’s timetable. There is a lot more pressure as it is not your own fate that you are determining, but someone who has sacrificed so much time, sweat and – no doubt – blood and tears to be able to run from Squaw Valley to Auburn with some of America’s most talented trail runners.
My pacing duties began at mile 62 at the Forest Hill Aid Station and descended almost 4,000 feet to Green Gate, just past the river crossing. WS100 is infamous for the sweltering heat that is the defeat of most runners. In an unlikely turn of events, this year Auburn experienced record lows so heat was less of a threat and made the course much faster. I was happy for the cooler temperatures as I did not do extensive heat training.
When Kaytlyn met us at Forest Hill, she was greeted with cheers from her crew, family and spectators. She was feeling good and in classic Katy G fashion, was steadily moving up the field. After a quick hydration pack exchange, we were sent off with high fives from fans before turning off Bath Road in 5th place to the subdued downhill single-track. The downhill was 4,000 feet of descent during this section which made the climbs that were sprinkled in feel extra punchy.
Once the fanfare and paparazzi from Bath Road died down, there was no distraction from the pain that is being at mile 65 of 100. It was fascinating to see Kaytlyn in so much discomfort yet continue to push on the uphill and fly down technical descent. I couldn’t believe how well she was navigated rocks and roots with 60+ miles on her legs! She said she felt good listening to music so after chatting lightly for about 50 minutes, she put in earphones. I continued to tell her how amazing she was and how inspired I was by her grit and tenacity, which was not an overstatement whatsoever.
I was 100% committed to Kaytlyn. I would run those 18 miles come hell or high water – whatever it took to get her to Green Gate. I got too close on two occasions and barely clipped her heels, which I personally hate and must kill anyone who does this to me. I felt so bad and hope she doesn’t hold it against me. I am still waiting on my pacing evaluation critique.
My most memorable moment was the Rucky Chucky River crossing. When I glanced over my shoulder as we descended to the river, there was a female runner hot on our heels. Kaytlyn decided that she wanted to bypass all the aid and the voluntary water dunk; we jumped straight into our life vests and onto the boat. As we were rowed across there was a bucket of cold water sitting between us that I sponged on top of her head and shoulders. We met Ely on the other side and began the tough ascent up to Green Gate before Pacer #2, Bryan, took over.
The whole crew met Kaytlyn at Robie Point to run in the last mile with her to the finish. Kaytlyn was running with pure grit and guts at this point. We were in disbelief when we realized that there was a headlamp closing in on us. It was the next female runner, Camelia Mayfield. Despite our encouragement and desperate pleads to keep going, Camelia passed Kaytlyn just as they entered the track. But Kaytlyn continued to fight – an all-out track sprint ensued. My heart (and dinner) was pounding out of my chest. Kaytlyn ended up losing to Camelia by two hundredths of a second to finish in 6th place with a final time of 18:13:33. Immediately after finishing, Kaytlyn plopped down in a chair, completely exhausted having given it everything right up until the very end.
After this experience, I can’t say that I am any more motivated to run a 100-mile race, but I am undeniably inspired. The WS100 is the truest essence of ultra running from the long-standing history, to the mind-blowing number of volunteers, to each and every runner who showcased incredible courage, strength and heart.