Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Thank you, Courtney!

The weekend of August 2nd and 3rd was a big one around here in Boulder. It was the inaugural Ironman Boulder.. sort of a big deal.

While the Boulder community was submerged in this madness, my better half and I drove down to Ouray. Despite the Ironman excitement and a teeny tiny desire of checking out the finish line, we had a bigger mission down south: Our crazy friend Courtney was running the Ouray 100 and Chuck and I were two of her 3 pacers.

I'd never paced for anyone before and I was slightly scared of not being able to keep up with her but she assured me time and again that I'd be fine. Anyway... we took it easy on Friday and went to bed early. Alarms went off at 3:00am and at 3:30am we were out the door. Courtney decided to walk the 15mins to the start line while Chuck and I drove. The start was at 4am sharp and off they all went in the dark...

Athletes lined up at the start... 29 athletes to be exact! (First year race). 
We went straight back to bed since we couldn't really access the athletes for the first 32 miles. Courtney estimated 6ish hours for the first 32 miles... and she was right on the money. She came back to the start/finish area (mile 32) right around 10. She was first female and roughly 7th overall. She was in great spirits and quickly continued on. Kev (her fiance) and I met her at mile 41 where there was a "self-service" water station. She had moved on to 5th overall. She mentioned those last few miles were tough, but we knew she had a nice 9 mile dowhnill that wasn't too steep either.

We drove off to Ridgeway where Chuck would meet with her to start pacing... this was mile 50. She arrived in Ridgeway in 4th place! Beast mode: ON. Had a full change of clothes and continued on. As Kev and I started driving towards the pass we found her in 3rd place and moving along nicely, but the heat was getting to her. The guys in front of her were also moving slow and steady but were also struggling with the heat. After 18 grueling miles of hot uphill, they hit the top of the pass, where Courtney arrived in 2nd place!

Court and Chuck at the top of the pass taking a break. Courtney still in great spirits at mile 68.
Kev took over from here and they were just gonna run the same 18 miles, but downhill... and in the dark (way cooler). Chuck and I drove back to Ridgeway where I attempted to take a nap. I think I slept between 11:15pm and 12:30am when Kev texted to let me know they were a mile away. Oh snap! It was my turn to run. Courtney showed up in 2nd place again to the aid station in Ridgeway at mile 86. She was still in great spirits.

We started with an easy jog, but 3/4 of a mile into it, she wanted to walk. The same 9 miles she had run down after that 41-mile water station were the ones we were running up. While Chuck went home to sleep for a while (smart man), Kev decided to drive up the road and stop every two miles.

I bet that was nice for Courtney to break down the run in 2-mile segments, but for me it was AMAZING. It's no secret that I'm insanely freaked out of running in the woods in the dark and having that car with lights on every 2 miles was amazing. The first few miles were still good cause Courtney was still chatty and we were on a dirt road... but as we kept going up, the road narrowed, it became more "woods-like", and Courtney wanted to talk less and less.

We finally made it up to the water station at mile 95... that was the last we'd see of Kevin. It was 4am on the dot and Courtney was falling apart. I wasn't sure if I was being a good pacer or not, but I tried to do everything she asked. It was impressive to see her so "broken" so to speak. She was doing great, yet she didn't seem to acknowledge that and just kept saying how tired she was and how she couldn't really eat anything. Once we left Kev, he had to turn around and we hit an even narrower trail which kept going up. I thought that'd be the end of the "up". But no. Just kept going. She was hiking at a nice steady pace and didn't really want to talk. I was FREAKING OUT. I kept looking up for bears and mountain lions who I SWORE were out to get us.

Every once in a while she'd stop and ask where the flags were. I honestly DID NOT KNOW! The flags were pretty spaced out and at times I had NO IDEA if we were on the right track, but I always assured her we were. I'd keep my eyes open for the next flag/LED light and I'd point it out to her. While she'd only nod and say: "ok", I was SO RELIEVED every time I saw it. Can you imagine how crappy it'd feel to get us both lost at that point!?! Geesh.

As we got to the highest point, the sun was wanting to rise. You could see a lighter sky (although not bright yet) and I said: "look, you can see the sun wants to come out soon!" Courtney looked up and said: "Ahh, the meadow! This is what I was talking about, now we go down." While the sun was the biggest relief in my eyes, cause then I get to see better (and see those bears ready to attack from far away), Courtney was relieved to see the downhill. We jogged, for the first time in a while. It was a slow cautious jog in a very over-grown, tight and technical single track.

The sun eventually made a real appearance and it was time to take off the headlamps. I had a smile on my face again... BUT I had NO IDEA how far we were from the finish. I texted Kevin a few times to say: "We're 1 mile away from the trail head", no wait, "1 more mile... for real this time". "Ok, maybe another mile? Not sure anymore." He just replied: "All I know is that it's 2.3 from the trailhead to the finish".

Yikes... we were past mile 100 at that point!

We soon saw Kevin and Chuck on these steep rocky downhill switchbacks. I knew FOR SURE we were close (they were both wearing flip-flops). She didn't say much to either one and continued on. We hit the road that was slightly uphill, but not steep.. very runnable. She took off in a 9:09 min/mile pace (that 9:09 on my garmin is an image I can't get out of my head). I had a hard time keeping up. She ACTUALLY ran 9:09 the last 2.3 miles (she thought it'd be one mile ALL ALONG!).

When we were 1/2 a mile from the finish, I started to cry... I couldn't help it. I tried to express how inspired I was by her. I truly was. And that finish, was the strongest finish I'd seen from a person that had been so broken only hours before. She is truly a rockstar. She finished 2nd overall in just under 27 hours even though the course added up to 104 miles.

All done! Courtney with her pacing and support crew. 2nd overall, 1st female. 
So now, on to the title of this post: Thanks Courtney, for being such an inspiration. Your hard work and your amazing ability to dig deep has taught me SO much. Thank you for letting me be part of this amazing race of yours. Thank you for making me step out of my comfort zone and run at night... with no one to talk to. Thank you for showing me what it means to finish strong. And thank you for being such a good friend and training partner. CONGRATULATIONS!! You're the best runner I know.

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