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Pacing & Crewing at the Hellbender 100

The past couple days I've been just outside of Asheville, North Carolina where the inaugural Hellbender 100 took place. It was a solid weekend of pacing / crewing with my buddy Sam for our friend Alan. It's always an incredible time when we can all meet up and this was no different. I'm pretty tired and have a lot of life stuff to do, so I don't have a ton of time to explain the race in detail (not to mention I only witnessed a small portion of it) but I was at least able to take and post some photos.

I flew to Asheville on Thursday morning, I started off the trip pretty exhausted as I pulled a few night shifts at work beforehand. Traveling was pretty easy altogether however.

Alan, Linnea, and Sam picked me up from the airport and we made a quick stop to REI for some last minute supplies. Afterward we headed to Vortex for donuts and to iron out some details regarding the race. We were still pretty hungry afterward so we stopped at Bean for an incredible dinner before packet pick-up at Camp Grier.

Once we had our packets we headed to the grocery for some supplies and then home to pack for the early morning ahead. Alan was noticeably quieter and was starting to focus as he packed his final drop bag. 

A 3AM alarm sounded followed by piling into the car headed to Camp Grier for a 5AM start. It was chilly, and we were all a little nervous.

It was hard not to get excited with so many enthusiastic (and terrified) runners buzzing about. It really solidified my already certain decision to run a hundred myself. The gun went off and the runners began to hike toward the first of many big climbs right out of the gate.

Once the gun went off and the runners cleared Sam and I found an empty bunk room at a cabin many of the runners stayed at the night before. We were able to sleep a few hours but once the sun was out I couldn't sleep much. The day was absolutely beautiful. 

A short while later we drove to the first aid station accessible to the crew (mile 24 I think?). Alan looked fresh and was well within our time predictions. 

With how limited access is between the runner and crew Sam and I found ourselves with loads of time which was nice as we hadn't really hung out much without having to run ragnar legs or something in between. We spent most of our time driving on roads that a Honda Insight should never be on and making fun of how much shit Sam brought (though admittedly it was pretty helpful in the long run). 

We were able to see Alan one more time before he set off on a pretty long and brutal stretch of the race on his own. He was still in high spirits and almost acting like he hadn't run at all and wasn't in the middle of a 100 miler. The predictions began to lag.. not into cutoff territory, but it was a surprise and concern none the less. 

With plenty of time on our hands we decided to head back into town to update friends and family and possibly find real food. While this was our plan, we ultimately got pretty fucking lost and wound up on the top of Mount Mitchell. It turned out to be a pretty big win though as they had wifi and the best view I've seen in a long while. Sam and I made dinner on the top and relaxed a bit as we knew the race was about to get pretty real as night was settling in and our pacing duties were to begin shortly.

Once the sun set, Sam drove us to the aid station where my pacing duties were to begin (around mile 53). I suited up in the warmest clothes I had and anxiously waited. Hours ticked by, and the predictions were thrown out of the window. Everybody who came through looked terrible and could not stop talking about how awful the past 20 or so miles had been due to their technicality. We weren't too worried, that is until around 11pm where cutoff territory was approaching. Still no Alan. I hopped back in the car to try to keep warm and sleep a bit while Sam waited at the aid station. Finally, at around midnight Alan appears out of the woods looking like hell. The past couple hours broke him pretty good (and many others as many of the DNFs did so at this aid station).

Dropping was on Alan's mind without a doubt.. but Sam and I were not about to give in that easy. We had around 9.5 hours to go 20 miles which with 50+ miles on the legs, 20+ hours already on the feet, icing trails and that fact it was in the middle of night made this a daunting set of restrictions. Sam fed him coffee as I got his gear ready and I told Alan the very real concern of not making the next cutoff.  With that he shot up and we started hiking down the road. Shortly after a small road section we began a pretty intense climb which Alan's legs did not much prefer. As the ascent fought Alan our pace dropped significantly and the chances of making the cutoff seemed pretty dismal. But, as there was nowhere to go really, we just kept pushing to see what we could do.

There were two small aid stations before the big one with the cutoff where Sam would ultimately swap pacing duties. I tried to get Alan focused on just getting to these stations one at a time instead of thinking about the 20 miles and ticking clock. This worked well, but it didn't look like it was working well enough as Alan had to continuously stop to stretch his legs and try to regain his vision. Luckily these stations had a fire where Alan enjoyed his provisions and tried to get feeling back in his limbs. At each fire, there were a number of individuals battling hypothermia and exhaustion. It was hard to talk to Alan over their dry heaving and crying. 

Alan was fairly coherent thankfully, and this made talking about the future of the race pretty easy. At every glance of the watch it kept confirming that making the cutoff was indeed possible but barely. Things needed to change pretty drastically if we were to make this. At the last aid station before the big exchange I poked Alan with his trekking pole to wake him up, threw a bunch of potato chips in his hands, and said that we gotta at least try to make it.. as logistically we have to get there anyway. 

Once there was a glimpse of sun the trail widened and started to descend. Everything seemed to line up all at once and Alan began to pick up his pace bringing it down to 18 minutes! I told him if we kept this up we would have plenty of time.. he responded well and we had a few hours of glorious running as we watched the transition from dawn to sunrise. This was by far the happiest I'd been running in a long time. 

After almost 9 hours of hiking in the dark and cold we reached the aid station where Sam met us with enthusiasm (luckily he was able to sleep almost the whole night). We were well within the cutoff and both of us were pretty surprised at this. Relieved and exhausted, I helped Sam and Alan get ready for the remaining 27ish miles. I was able to stop and see them 7 miles in and they both seemed positive and strong. Their paces dropped significantly as the worst climbs were behind them and trails widened up to roads in some sections.

Left without much to do but wait as crew access was not available anymore, I headed back to Camp Grier for a much needed shower and then went to the finish line down the road. I waited for hours anxiously checking the big clock. 2 hours short of the cutoff Alan and Sam come barreling down the final section of trail and it was all over. He made it!

Alan has always been such an inspiration for me but this definitely topped it. 

He wasn't too beat up despite the almost 40 hours on his feet. Other than being pretty fucking exhausted he was like he was any other day. Once we packed up and took things in a bit we headed to a pizza place to eat before heading back to his house to crash as Alan and I needed to wake up at 5AM in order to get me to the airport.

It's going to be hard to adjust to real life as the past few days were so intense and enjoyable. It was an incredible learning experience and all around amazing time.

I need to sleep.