I have paced Kara's husband, Jeremy, at two different races, once at Miwok 100 in the Muir Headlands and the other time, last year at the San Diego 100, but he doesn't need much motivation, being a Marine, a cancer survivor, and all-around bad ass, he just needed someone to be on the trail with him, someone that would break the monotony of miles, and I fit the bill. I had never run with Kara before, but I offered to help and Jeremy asked if I would pace the last 20 and try to get his wife to the finish in under 24 hours for the silver buckle. I love running at night, but I have never run through the night before so I jumped at the chance.
At night, the headlamp halo illuminates the trails and jumps off the rocks and over the bushes as I try to locate the source of the scamper, freezing a field mouse in the beam. I didn't want to look too hard into the dark and see the reflection of my light, bouncing off the glow of two hunting and hungry eyes because this is mountain lion country and cats love the night.
The first section was difficult, all the sections were difficult, but that first one was a 7 mile stretch of some rocky, technical portions of the Pacific Crest Trail, the trail that stretches from Mexico to Canada. Climbing the hill, I asked Kara about her kids, and she talked about swimming, school, and living in Yuma where 100 is a cool summer day, and hopefully not thinking about the climb or spotting the headlamps above us, seemingly in the sky, a pair of stars where we were headed. We didn't see many other runners on this stretch and would go for long sections of trail without seeing the orange ribbon that marked the course. I would scan the branches, searching for that neon orange guide and reflective strip that would let me know that I was leading Kara down the right path, praying that I didn't take a wrong turn and would have to give her the bad news that we needed to retrace some hard-won miles, but the orange and reflective strips would eventually shine, hanging from a tree branch and I was able to breathe again.
I haven't seen dawn in years, and I have never stayed up all night to see dawn, never had that experience that should be fueled with drink and dancing and ending up on a beach with some curves maybe on some island in Greece with sand in my toes as the sun rises over the Aegean. This experience wasn't like that, but it was just as beautiful as the sun rose over the Laguna Mountains and the stars faded into the blue orange, the darkness faded into light, and we were able to turn off our dimming, battery-drained headlamps and the light-less abyss became a lush valley of pine trees and blooming white flowers.
We would pull into the aid stations and Jeremy would be ready with the precision taught by years of military service, taking care of his wife, feeding her, filling her bottles and offering encouraging words of support. He would then come over to me and whisper "push her as hard as she can go" with a little threat in his voice and I pictured finishing at 24:01:00 and being forced to walk the ten miles back to my car as penance. I started to push a little harder the last five miles, telling her to imagine Jeremy at the finish, imagine her oldest daughter running a 5K, stretching out her legs and gritting her teeth the way kids run before they know about pace and conserving energy, I told her to imagine the look in her daughter's eyes as she crosses the finish line, only a mile or two away and the pride in the eyes of her husband. She ran most of the last four miles, finding a place deep down in an empty tank, crying a little as we ran through a meadow on a narrow trail, past the campers and through the campground and towards the yelling voice of her husband, echoing off the trees, and towards her daughter who ran to meet us, crossing the line with her mom as the red digits of the finish line clock read 23:44:21.
Kara was the 4th woman to cross the finish line and was 23rd overall. 149 people started the race and 90 people finished before the 31 hour cutoff.
Kara and Jeremy leaving the aid station
Headlamps in the night
Sunrise on the trail
Running single-track through the meadow
At the finish
Kara at about mile 93 - I had just told her that we can't go much higher