Robert Goyen, Race Director for Trail Racing Over Texas, announced over the loudspeakers “…cheering in the American Record for the 50 miler, great job Caroline”.
This epic adventure began three-weeks prior at the Wild Hare 50 which was to be my last big training run prior to Brazos Bend 100mi. While Wild Hare 50 was only to be a training run, the target was actually a top 5 finish. 31 miles into the race I began noticing some significant discomfort in my achilles and made the decision to end the race with a 50k PR rather than to risk injury that could potentially take me out of my BB100 race. As expected, I kicked myself the entire way home knowing that I would have gotten a 4th place finish at Wild Hare and a new PR for both the 50k and 50mi (all while on a training run).
On November 29th I visited the doctor to check my achilles (at the direction of my coach) and there was significant concern by the doctor that I have a potential tear in my achilles that would block me from making it even half way through BB100 without serious injury. So I left the doctor with an MRI appointment for December 16th and chalking up a future DNS at BB100. The previous year of training was leading up to this single race and in an instant, it was taken away. The announcement of me dropping from the race put a plan in motion that was going to introduce a silver lining that I could have never possibly imagined and looking back I am so thrilled that everything played out the way that it did. On November 30th I was asked to crew Caroline Boller on her 50mi American record attempt!
Now for those that know me, I am probably borderline OCD when it comes to planning, data analysis, and tracking “stuff”. I began working with Caroline right away to make sure that she had absolutely everything she needed to make her record attempt a success. Together we worked through her nutrition plan, race goals, likes, dislikes, what has worked and what hasn’t, and every little bit of detail I could possible learn about her in just 9-days! (Did I mention I am borderline OCD when it comes to planning?) I even had a lengthy discussion with my coach Karen Kantor just to make sure there was nothing that I may be missing and to hear her thoughts and perspective on things!
So over the years I have crewed a lot of different runners and I have learned so much about crewing from watching Meredith Terranova crewing her husband Paul (and vice-versa). They are so in-sync when it comes to crewing because they KNOW one another. They know how to pull each-other through the lows, how to keep one another focused, and how to get one another through a race seamlessly. In my eyes, this was the standard when it comes to crewing and I had to do the same! (OCD again…)
For the next 9-days leading up to the race I monitored the weather models and provided continues updates to Caroline on the condition of the trails, weather, and any and all course changes. Once we were confident on the weather and course, Caroline put together her final race plan. It is at this point that the OCD REALLY kicked in! I began detailing out the race and the aid station transitions down to the minute to include determining the time that I had to transition between aid stations with the 10-20mph speed limits that are enforced within the park. Once my planning and analysis was completed I printed out numerous “race cards” to put in the drop bags and in the vehicle (which my wonderful wife Elizabeth even laminated), so there was always a point of reference along the way.
These details are what made me realized that with Caroline’s planned pace I would not be able to make it between two aid stations (which was the start/finish) before her and the start/finish aid station was a major transition point. My son, who was going to originally be pacing me at BB100, offered to assist! In order to do this, it means that at 3 points during the race I had to run from one aid station to the next carrying her drop bags and get everything ready for her arrival before she made it there!
The last few days leading up to the race I mentally rehearsed the entire plan to make sure everything was accounted for. If myself (or my son) were off in the slightest, it could have resulted in minutes being taken away from Caroline’s finish time and people that know me, know that wasn’t going to happen! With 11 aid stations even just 5 seconds per aid station was going to be an extra minute! My goal was 0 seconds per aid station (yes ZERO!). Like I said, one of my goals was to exceed the standard!
Friday we made arrangements to meet at the packet pickup to do one final walkthrough of the race and make sure we both had everything we needed, hand-over drop bags, and make final coordination for race day. This is when yet another silver-lining presented itself! While I was at the registration table, Caroline told me to pick up a pacer’s bib to pace her on her final loop. Really!? Without a single sliver of hesitation, I gladly signed the waiver and picked up my bib. Really, I was going to pace Caroline as she set an American Record!! My plan was to only go out with her if things were looking bad and she NEEDED a pacer. I knew how my achilles felt and I knew what distance I could cover at a sub-7 pace before pissing it off really bad. I knew exactly what was on the line for Caroline and what her goals were going into this race. I had determined at what point I was going to push that threshold and pace her. My job was to get her across the line and set an American record and that is what I wanted to do! While she never needed me to pace her and was WELL ahead of the goal, I do regret not taking her up on the opportunity to pace her on the historical event. That’s ok though! Next time I WILL pace her! J
The 50mi race was going to begin at 7am but I had plans to be at the start line at 6am to see off the 100 mile runners. As I had done the year prior (and will do for every year hereafter) was to come to the race as The Grinch and lead the runners across the start line! Every race that I volunteer at for Trail Racing Over Texas, I come in a costume! For me it is a way to motivate the runners and make everyone smile!
Shortly before 7am Caroline arrived at the start line ready to go! We synced up briefly just to make sure there were no changes in the plan and to see how she was feeling and if there was anything I needed to know about. She was rock solid and ready to go! The only thing left to do was hammer down the trail! At 7am, like I had done with the 100mi runners, I took off down the trail with some amazing runners in tow; it was officially time to put the plan into motion!
Caroline was going to be running three 16.67 mile loops and the plan was to meet her at 3 aid stations per/loop (in addition to the start line). Do that math; that meant that in order to make it around Brazos Bend State Park (with the 10-20 mph speed limit) and her planned pace, we were going to be moving!
At each aid station I was ready with her planned replacement bottle and everything extra (in-hand) that she may need along the way. Luckily all of the aid stations where positioned in such a way that we had about a 50-100′ warning before she arrived. As planned, each aid station transition went off flawlessly! Caroline was able to move through each aid station and grab her replacement bottle and update on her time without breaking pace once. With each passing aid station, the gap between her current time and goal time grew. 2 minutes ahead, 4 minutes ahead, 7 minutes ahead, and by the final few aid stations she was 11 minutes ahead of her goal time.
After my last aid station transition I “ran” back to the start line with Caroline’s drop bag and warm clothes to prepare everyone at the start for her arrival; based on her pace I had estimated her arrival at the finish around 12:47. As the last few minutes ticked down Robert announced that Caroline was on her way in and would be, in a few minutes, breaking a 20-year American record. Everyone with a camera began crowding around the finish line to include the camera crew from Sierra films to capture this historic event. Luckily Anthony arrived just a few minutes before Caroline finished so he was also able to witness and take part in her crossing the line and take pictures too!
I grabbed Caroline’s finisher medal and Robert Goyen and I stood in the middle of the trail waiting as Caroline made the turn towards the finish line. Caroline crossed the finish line at 12:48 and set a new American women’s 50-mile trail record with a time of 5:47:01 and also set a new course record beating Ford Smith’s 2014 time by only 9 seconds!
It was an absolute honor to be asked to crew Caroline and the raw emotion that existed as she crossed the finish line setting the new American record is something that words simply cannot explain.
Caroline, thank you again for allowing me to take part in this wild adventure with you! You can call me anytime to crew you and next time, without a doubt, I am going to take you up on that offer to pace you! One of these years when the lottery likes me at Western States we can switch places (although there won’t be any record setting for me! haha)