Hawk 26.2/50/100 Volunteering/Pacing

Wow!!  What a turn of events this race was for me!  This race was being co-race directed by my friends Coleen Voeks & Danny Miller so I wanted to make it a part of my plan.  Plus it was on the Clinton Lake North Shore Trails which is by far my favorite place to run trails.  So, back in late May when I decided I wanted to run the Rocky Raccoon 100 in February I settled on the Hawk 50 as a stepping stone.  I was very excited for it.  Well, if you've been following this blog you already know that plan didn't go as I had hoped.  Granted, my training was going well and I was getting stronger with each and every run.  BUT... I just wasn't having any fun with the training.  Ultra training is too much work if you are already not having fun just a little over a month into what would be about 9 months of regimented training.  I decided I needed to change direction and cancel my plan to run RR100 and decided I'd do the the Hawk 26.2 instead.  Well, after a few disastrous runs right after that decision I told Coleen I thought it would be best if I just volunteered.  That way I could be part of the event and work on getting back my joy of running with my next long race not taking place until the Kansas City Marathon on October 20. She was disappointed I wasn't going to be doing my first 50, but she understood and was very supportive.

As the race got closer I was feeling the excitement even though I wasn't going to be running.  It was in the air, couldn't be avoided!  I had so many friends that were in the final stages of training hard for the race including Donnie, Darin, Sherrie, Gregg, Indika, Beck, Rikki, Erica, Rick, Larry, Wael, Chris, Alex, Luke, Bill, Deb, Cassie, Mel and probably some more I'm forgetting (sorry if I forgot you).  Some of them running the Marathon, some running the 50 mile, some running the 100 mile and some acting as pacers for fellow runners.  I've been in awe watching some of them as they trained.  Sherrie, for instance, was working on her second 100 miler and was convinced that she couldn't repeat a sub-24 hr finish like she had at RR100 in February.  After seeing how she trained I knew she'd be under 24 hours for sure.  My good friend Donnie was making his 5th attempt at a 100 miler, but he was having his best training since I met him.  Good, strong long runs one after another.  He was piling up miles and gaining confidence.  Indi was working on her first 50 mile and training hard despite plenty of distractions with work & life, but always going strong.  It was awesome seeing the excitement, nerves & confidence as they came close to race day.

Head Trail Hawk & Land's End Aid Station Cpt Gary Henry
I had offered to volunteer overnight since Coleen was having a hard time getting people willing to be up all night to support runners.  It's been a long time since I stayed up all night, but I wanted to help where I was needed most.  Coleen assigned me to the Land's End aid station headed up by Gary Henry from 6pm Saturday night until 7am Sunday morning.  I absolutely love working aid stations; it's very rewarding to help as runners complete the goals they've worked so hard on.  Friday evening there was a pre-race briefing and cook out which Kristy & I attended.  When we got there we quickly ran into Donnie.  He looked great & was excited and positive about his upcoming race.  We got to talking about pacers and he seemed to have a bit of uncertainty there.  He had talked to Matty Mullins & Ashley Austin about pacing him but he made it sound as if that was not really set.  I told him that if they couldn't pace him and the aid station was staffed well enough for me to leave I'd be happy to join him for his last loop of the 25 mile course or any section of it he needed me to cover. When I got there Saturday I talked with Matty, Ashley & Coleen and it was settled that I'd be joining Donnie for the last quarter of his quest for his first buckle.

The race was put on by the Trail Hawks & directed by
fellow Hawks Danny & Co
I wanted to sleep in Saturday knowing I would be up all night, but as usual the pets wouldn't allow that.  The dogs woke me up at about 8:30 am, which is later than I normally sleep, but not enough.  I spent most of the day just sitting around trying to nap but I've never been good at sleeping with the Sun up.  I packed up some stuff to take with me including some snacks, running clothes for pacing, some 5 Hour Energy to keep me awake and a cooler with some Ensure to have for Donnie at the Land's End aid station.  I got to the start line of the race around 5:30 pm and started helping while I waited for a ride out to the aid station.  After a bit I got a ride down there from Caroline & Colinda.  I met up with Gary & the other volunteers and almost immediately had runners start coming to to take care of.  Some were running strong, others struggling.  We offered assistance and helped get runners back on the trail having everything they needed.  Darin was doing very well despite struggling with cramps, and Sherrie was doing great as well.  She was her normal self when she came through; efficient, friendly, confident, and ready to keep at the task at hand.  It was fun seeing my friends as they came through.  I got to See Donnie a couple times as he was coming through on his 3rd loop.  He was going strong and had his crew (Greg, Adam & Nick) meeting him and taking care of him.  He came through in the early morning with 6.5 miles left to finish his 3rd loop before I would be joining him.  Greg met him at our station and paced him back to the start and Nick, Adam & I drove there to meet him and get ready for me to take over pacing duties.

Me in the background, RD Coleen (blue hair), 2nd overall
100 mile finisher Sherrie (white hat) & 1st overall Darin
As we waited at the main aid station for Donnie to come through we go to see Darin come in as the overall race winner and the Jedi Master Sherrie second overall & first female!!  It was so awesome to see all the emotion Sherrie had as she finished!  As I said earlier, she did not believe she was going to finish in under 24 hours, but she managed to finish in just under 22 hours!  She cried, hugged everyone and got tons of congratulations from everyone.  I was so proud of her.  She's work so hard over the the second hottest summer in recorded Kansas history.  It was great to see it pay off for her.  She always provides such inspiration for me.

Donnie earlier in the race
Eventually Donnie came through.  Apparently he had struggled a bit in the 6.5 miles since we'd seen him at Land's End.  I tried to remind him that we needed to not sit for too long; just get the food and drink you need and get back on the trail.  Coleen made him a cheese quesadilla and he sat at a bench.  The longer we stayed there the more tense I got.  I was worried that his muscles would tighten up and he'd start to get thoughts about staying there in his head if he waited too long.  I just couldn't get through that I wanted us to leave and get going.  Finally I got some RD backup.  Danny (experienced ultrarunner and friend of Donnie's & mine) came over and very abruptly and sternly told Donnie, "you need to leave...NOW."  Donnie looked at him for a second then said, "okay, you're right" and got up and we started heading toward the trail.  Greg had told us that he struggled in the 6.5 miles between Land's End & the main aid station, but you could have fooled me.  As we headed onto the trail in the dark (it was about 4:30 am) on our way out to Sander's Mound Donnie was moving strong.  We were fast hiking as Donnie finished off some Ensure, then he said he wanted to run a little.  After hearing how he struggled before I pick up with him, I ran slowly so I wouldn't burn him out but he caught up to me quickly and started pushing me to go a little faster.  We sped up some, but I tried to keep the pace reasonable since we had almost a full marathon left to go, he was already 75 miles in and it was plenty dark out.

It was about 4.5 miles from from the main aid station to the Land's End station which we covered in about an hour and 20 min.  Donnie had been going strong and staying talkative and positive that entire time.  I was a little surprised when we got there and he reported to Greg (his designated blister guy) that he was having some bad blisters.  He sat down to let Greg work on it and I reminded them that we didn't want him to sit in a comfy chair for too long.  We were there for about 20 minutes while Greg helped work on his blisters and I could see the entire time Donnie's face changing.  I kept trying to get us out of there because it looked in this face like his thoughts were turning too negative.  In several of his previous 100 mile attempts he had to drop out around the 75 mile mark with bad blisters, now we were sitting at the 80 mile mark working on.... blisters.  He just couldn't afford to sit there thinking about that, but that's what was happening and what I was trying so hard to prevent.  Finally we got up to get back on our way and Greg headed off to the next station, we'd been there for about 30 minutes at this point.

The section of trail after the aid station is very rocky and starts with a steep, rocky downhill.  The pressure of that downhill on his blistered feet along what I'm sure were some mental demons from sitting for so long caught up with him.  He stopped dead in his tracks and started saying he couldn't do it.  I told him I knew he was hurting, but the fact that he couldn't do it was all in his head.  I tried to convince him to just get moving.  I knew that once he got bock on the trail and loosened back up his mental demons would go away and he'd start moving strong again.  He really felt like he couldn't.  I got him to go a little further, but I couldn't get him out of earshot of the aid station.  I tried to find him a good walking stick just to get him enough confidence to start moving then he'd be able to ditch it but he didn't take more than a handful of steps with it.  Gary & Sherrie (not the Sherrie that ran, another aid station worker) heard us down there and came to see if we needed help.  At this point Donnie was falling apart a little bit.  I did my best to keep talking to him about how well he was doing and telling him that if he'd get back on the trail he'd be fine but he just couldn't believe me.  He said he wanted to quit.  I told him no way, but Gary told him that if he really had to then he really had to.  I told him he'd better be 150% sure he absolutely could not go on if he wanted to quit.  I told him to at least go to the next aid station and see how he was at that point.  Nope.  He went back up to the chair and sat back down, calling Greg and having him return to pick him up.  I felt like I had failed.  I continued to talk to him and try to convince him that he was doing great and it was all in his head.  He just kept saying he couldn't do it.  I had hopes that Greg & I together could convince him to get going again.

Greg showed up and Donnie told him he was quitting and there was no need to work on his blisters since he was quitting.  So Greg took off Donnie's shoe and started working on the blister.  He refused to listen to Donnie's desire to quit as did I.  He just kept working.  Eventually Kristy showed up for her shift at the station and the Sun had come up.  Eventually he was able to get up without terrible pain thanks to Greg's work, but he still said he needed to quit.  Greg told him, "it's going to hurt like hell no matter what you do at this point, so do you want it to hurt like hell AND quit, or do you want it to hurt like hell as they hand you a belt buckle?"  Exactly!!  Donnie still said he couldn't do it, but finally we got him to agree to get back on the trail.  The next aid station was about 6 miles, but about half way there was an access path to the beach and Greg said he'd meet us there and see how Donnie was doing.  Donnie finally agreed and we started down the trail again.  At this point it had been about  an hour and a half since we had first gotten to Land's End.  We'd have some time to make up if we were going to make cut-off, but right now I just wanted to keep Donnie moving so I would worry about that later.

He winced with each uneven step down the loose rocks from the aid station to the Red Trail section since the unsure footing was rubbing his blister, but he kept going this time.  He told me that he didn't want all of Greg's work, Adam & Nick's weekend and my time on the trail with him to be a waste so he was going to try to keep going.  I told him that if he did that he'd feel better soon, he just needed to shake the demons from his mind.  The Red Trail is a very tough rocky section where you really have to focus on your footing.  I think that much mental work got Donnie's mind off his doubt and he gradually started moving faster.  I had let him get in front of me so I could keep an eye on him and he seemed to do better in the lead.  About a half mile after we left the aid station a light switch flipped in Donnie and his pace suddenly increased.  He was power hiking again rather than slow walking!!  I grinned with excitement.  Then, as we got of the red trail and back onto the blue trail he started running!!  I was ecstatic!!  He looked down at his watch for a few seconds then called back to me, "you know, if we can pick up some the between now and the next aid station we could still average a 20 minute mile and make the cut-off!"  Sweet, now his head's back in the game!

As we ran toward the path where Greg was going to meet us I could see a little surprise and pride in Greg's face.  Donnie ran right past him and said, "I can't afford to stop if I want to make cut off, tell Adam & Nick we aren't stopping at any more stations."  As I got to Greg I smiled and shrugged my shoulders as if to say "I don't know where this came from, but I like it."  The rest of the way to the West Park Road aid station Donnie power hiked and ran.  Every so often he would say he really felt like if we could keep it up we'd beat cut-off.  I told him we were getting back on pace, but not to burn himself out now, there was still around 15 miles to go.  I kept reminding him to eat, drink his water and telling him how well he was doing.  I just wanted him to stay on top of the easily forgotten details of nutrition and hydration along with keeping the positive frame of mind he'd finally gotten back.

We talked about what to do at the aid station.  Donnie wanted to not stop and I agreed, at this point it could do nothing but hurt.  The plan was to stop just long enough to hand off our packs to Nick & Adam so they could refill them and Donnie would grab an Ensure to drink on the next stretch of trail.  This section is about a 2-3 mile stretch of mostly grassy hills out in the open and at the end we'd be back at this station.  By the time we got back they could have both our packs refilled and we could grab some food.  We did just that and moved through the station extremely quickly.  Donnie was struggling, but going strong.  Adam had taken my pack and told me it wasn't down much water.  I guess I was paying so much attention to Donnie's hydration that I wasn't drinking enough myself.  I'd have to keep that in mind once I got my pack back.  We headed off for the short grassy loop of Bunker Hill.  At this point things went a little south for me.  I don't know exactly what caused it, but as we were walking along a short stretch of pavement to the loop my left ankle suddenly sent shock waves up my body.  It honestly felt like I'd twisted it badly, but I hadn't.  Oh well, this run wasn't about me so I did my best to put it out of my head.  The rest of the time would be a struggle for me.  Fighting my own pain yet encouraging and uplifting Donnie.

We got back to the aid station fairly quickly.  The closer we got to the end the more excited Donnie got and the faster he moved.  He was dealing with pain from him blisters by constantly re figuring what pace we needed to make cut-off.  He'd look at it, see how well we were doing and speed up a little.  Eventually he'd slow back down a little again and repeat the process.  It was working well.  We got to the aid station and picked up our packs.  We both got some food and talked very briefly with his crew and the station workers.  Greg, Adam & Nick checked on me as well as Donnie.  They are an awesome crew and Donnie is lucky to have them at most of his ultras.  After this very brief stop we were back on the trail.  I told reminded Donnie this was the last time he'd see this station & once we got to Land's End it would be just 6.5 miles until Coleen would be handing him his buckle.  The stretch to Land's End had it's ups and downs for sure, but Donnie was keeping a strong hiking pace and a strong running pace whenever he could.  We were both keeping up on food and water and it really felt like this was one of the best stretches we had the whole time I was with him.

On that section of trail my Garmin battery died at 6 hours & 23 minutes since we had left the main aid station for this loop.  That was okay though, there are mile markers the whole way back that would count down the miles for us.  When we got to Land's End Donnie was all business.  Some quick water, some quick food & a little encouragement from his crew, Kristy, Gary and the other station workers.  Adam was refilling my water, I grabbed Kristy's watch just so I could have a judge of our time & pace without my Garmin and (since I was tired and not thinking straight) double checked with Gary on my estimate of the pace we'd need to beat cut-off.  I had figured at this point we'd need about 25 min miles for the last 6.5 but we'd shoot for 20 min just in case.  Gary confirmed.  As Adam handed me my pack Kristy was in my ear telling me Donnie was leaving.  We'd just been there for a few seconds, how can he be leaving??  As I grabbed my pack and put it back on I turned to see, sure enough, Donnie was running strong down the trail!!  Awesome, at this point there was no choice for him but to finish!  No more aid stations to think about dropping out.

I took off to catch up with him and joked with him that taking off without me like that was making me look like a terrible pacer.  He chuckled a little, but during this last 6.5 miles I didn't hear many words from him.  Every now & then he'd grunt when his foot hit a rock or he'd chuckle quietly if something was funny, but really he was just keeping focused with going mile marker to mile marker.  Eventually Alex (who'd worked at the aid station with me during the night) and the guy he was pacing caught up with his and we would go the rest of the way together.  We were the back of the pack, but it didn't matter, this thing was getting done!   The four of us talked and joked as we power hiked to the end.  All of us were hurting in one way or another and none of us had slept on over 30 hours.  As we got close to the end of the trail there was Gary!  He'd come to the finish line from the aid station along with the rest of the crew so they could see us come in.  He kept a ways ahead of us and would yell, "just a quarter mile until the end of the trail!"; "just a quarter mile and you'll be done!"; etc.  He's a great runner and an awesome encouragement.

Donnie (green shirt) & me (red shirt) as we came around the
playground toward the finish
Finally, we actually did get to the end of the trail.  As we came out of the trees, there is a short stretch around a playground, then you hit the finish line.  Donnie was running and smiling at this point and I headed out in front of him a little to help him keep his pace up to run strong to the finish.  Once we got close to the finish line both Alex & I dropped off so that the two final 100 mile finishers could have their finish line moment to themselves.  I was overjoyed to see Donnie hitting the line just past 30 hours and 30 minutes, about 30 minutes ahead of the cut-off.  Finally, after several years and 5 attempts, Donnie had his 100 mile finish!!  I was so proud of him.  He had fought through so much pain and so many mental demons, but he kept going and he completed his task.  It was an inspiring sight!  Afterwords, we all sat around talking and celebrating.  It was an awesome weekend to be a part of.  So many huge accomplishments and such a great event.  All of the runners (successful or not), all of the volunteers, the pacers, the crews, etc, and the Co-RDs should all be VERY proud of everything they accomplished and an amazing event.

Donnie finishing his first 100 mile trail run!!
Ultrarunning is a team sport...
Left to right: Back row; Adam Nutting, Nick Wesselmann
Front row; Greg Vaughn, Donnie Dempewolf, me (Bryan West)
 

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