Ultimate Direction ambassador Camelia Mayfield, a two time top-10 finisher at Western States 100, shares what it’s like to sacrifice your own goals for the benefit of others. It’s about trading the racer’s mindset for the pacer’s: how to motivate, when to push, and what it’s like to cross the line with a friend whose own goals become yours. Of note, Camelia is helping us test the new Signature Series 5.0 Adventure Vesta prototype (official release is spring 2020).
This isn’t a blog about the pain of the last twenty miles of a hundred mile race. This is the story of vulnerability, grit, and determination that builds to cross the finish line of a hundred miler.
Last weekend, I had the experience of pacing my first hundred mile race, the Pine-to-Palm 100. Months ago, my friend and training partner, Jessie Harrower, disclosed her plans to train and complete in her fist hundred- at the age of 21. When she told me, I knew she was committed to this big goal, but she also told me that she didn’t want to spread the word quite yet. She hadn’t even completed any distance over 50 miles at that point, and I’m sure she had doubts about how she would get through the long months and miles of training ahead of her. She also asked me, “if you decide you don’t want to race the same race, will you pace me?”
Of course, I said yes, but I was also I was hesitant, mainly because of my own selfish desire to race the same race, or possibly jump in another ultra around the same time. As the summer unfolded, I realized it was more valuable to me to be able to contribute to her race goal. I had never paced or crewed a 100 mile race, despite racing the distance twice (Western States 2018, 2019). I wanted pay it forward a little bit and have more of an idea what I truly ask my pacers and crew to do for me when I run these all-day events.
Even with working long hours through the summer as a server at a local restaurant, Jessie continued to meet her major milestones in training: those long 25-30 mile days, a 100k race 6 weeks before the 100, and sometimes the hardest part of consistent training: getting out the door for fatigued recovery runs.
In the week leading into race day, Jessie came down with a bad cold virus that caused severe head and chest congestion. She had to reevaluate what her goals were, and ultimately decided that her original goal of finishing sub 24 hours might be out of reach, but that she would still give it her all to finish the race. Our original plan was still in place. I would work my night shift on Friday night at the hospital, get some rest Saturday, and drive down to Ashland to meet her crew on course that night. I would pace her from mile 80 to the finish, bringing her home, quite literally, to our hometown of Ashland.
As the race began and I was still at home in Bend, I nervously refreshed the UltraLive.net page, looking for any signs of slowing to the point of defeat. As I had hoped, she maintained a steady and conservative pace early on, running with another competitor from Bend, OR, where we all now live. I texted Jessie’s boyfriend and crew lead throughout the evening, asking for any other updates not reflected in the checkpoint data: How are her spirits? Is she feeling okay? Is she eating enough? I was eager for any insight to how pacing the last 20 miles might go. I made the drive from Bend, about four hours to Mount Ashland, listening to true crime podcasts and stopping for gas station coffee, arriving to Grouse Gap Aid Station at 10pm. I was plenty early to cheer on other friends and nap in my car before pacing around 3AM.
When Jesse rolled in around 3:30am, she was loopy but calm. She was maintaining a good pace but complaining of congestion and knee pain. After a quick massage and re-up on butter crackers (her trail food of choice), Jessie was ready to start off for the home stretch. We had ten miles to the final aid station at mile 90, and 2,000’ of climbing before a steady 4,000’ descent in the last 11 or so miles.
Miles 80-90 were dark. Literally, we were running and hiking in the coldest and darkest part of the race, before the dawn of a new day. We were still in alpine-type terrain, with exposed trail and cool air. Jessie’s knees continued to ache. The trail, although beautiful, was also rugged. At times it required us to use our hands to navigate steep, technical rock sections. Jessie begged me to stop so she could rest.
This was my true test as a pacer: if I let her stop, would she get back up? Is it worth it to potentially lose time in stopping, versus continuing on forward at a hiking pace? I don’t want her to cool down too much and risk getting too cold. She complained about fatigue, having difficulty seeing straight. I knew that if we just made it to sunrise, things would feel more optimistic, but I also knew that if we didn’t take breaks as needed, there could be negative or maybe even dangerous consequences. Ultimately, we took a couple breaks in those ten miles.
We made it to sunrise at the final climb to Wagner Butte, watching an orange strip of sun illuminate the valley below. Then we continued on. Even though the sun was rising, Jessie continued to struggle with steep downhill switchback sections. Both of us forgot to pack ibuprofen in our packs and Jessie was doing everything she could to relieve the pain in her head, chest, throat, and knees. Finally, when another runner caught up with us, he had some spare ibuprofen to offer, and possibly having a placebo effect, Jessie started feeling a bit better.
When Jessie and I got to mile 90 aid station, her spirits significantly improved. From that point, she had a fire lit inside her and we both knew she would finish. We kept setting small goals to get through a couple miles at a time. I fed her pumpkin cookies, and we kept a steady pace. When we turned the corner into Lithia Park, I had tears in my eyes knowing that the twenty miles I ran with her was only a small piece of the determination and steadfastness toward her goals.
This was the culmination of several months of preparation and a goal she had her sights set on long before that time. On top of that, she problem-solved along the way, never giving up when things continued to get hard, only searching for different solutions. Thinking back on that moment, it’s one of my most meaningful memories in this sport. I feel indebted Jessie to allow me to be able to witness her journey to achieve her huge goal, one that seemed insurmountable and even impossible at times. She finished in 27:25, 4th female, and youngest finisher this year.
My pacing gear: although I love the Halo vest for most of my runs, I knew that for pacing I would be between aid stations for several hours and moving much slower than normal, so I would want enough space to hold extra layers and food. I wore a prototype of the forthcoming Adventure Vesta 5.0 with a halfway filled reservoir (about 30 oz) of water, and a 500 ML soft flask with GU Roctane electrolyte drink in the front.
This pack was large enough to hold an extra windbreaker, gloves, extra headlamp, and my long pants when they got too warm to wear. I didn’t feel any bouncing and the pack expanded enough to hold everything easily, while also having enough pockets to keep my items organized, such as having my phone easily accessible for pictures.