|Tina and I barreling down Old Springs trail into Tennessee Valley. Photo: Brett Rivers San Francisco Running Company|
My legs were shot for a few days but I got out for short jogs each day to get them ready for pacing duties at the North Face 50 miler. I felt it would be a tall order pacing Tina Lewis. She stomped the field at the one-off rerouted tough course of Miwok 100k in May and followed it up with a blazing inferno run to win the Leadville 100 mile in 19:33, a time only surpassed by the surgical racing of the great Ann Trason. With money on the line and an international field of women so deep in talent top ten at the NF would be a foggy dream for most.
The weather was the biggest story of the day with a three day deluge of flood warning rain and winds that would create trails that would either suck shoes off the feet or send bodies flipping up in the air from an unfortunate foot placement begging for purchase which didn't exist. I laughed out loud on several occasions. It's difficult to keep a straight face when someone stands up like a newborn fawn and has mud in her ears.
At the first pass of Tennessee Valley for the runners, I saw Tina and she wasn't doing well. Her only comment while I jogged beside her to offer any aid was, "My legs feel seized." I told her it'd be light soon (we were already 8 miles into the race and it was still pitch black with sideways rain/wind by the coast) and that she'd loosen up and to just stay positive. She also blurted out that she may drop. I ignored that comment and told her I'd see her soon.
On her second pass I grabbed her headlamp and she was still in rough shape. I would start pacing her in a few miles and told her just to hang on the best she could. Her disappointment was thick. She (and I) felt she would be a contender for podium and here she was in 12th place.
I changed into my running gear and scrambled over to the half way point (the start/finish area) to pick her up and turn this thing around with her. Her mood was a little better, if only because she seemed to have given up on competing. We joked a bit and settled into the meshing that takes place between a good pacer and good runner. Soon we were stride for stride and making good time up the climb out of Fort Mason's aid station.
I brought 6 Vi Gels with me and hoped to get her to try one. She doesn't eat gels, but I had hope we could get one down later. In the meantime I coaxed her to eat her other nutrition and talked about pace, strategy, mileage, and some non running things. By the time we came through Tennessee Valley I felt we were definitely running faster and soon I spotted Krissy Moehl just up ahead with her pacer, Jen Benna. We caught a couple ladies (Bethany Lewis was one) before reaching her and finally rolled by Krissy on the slick, steep descent into Pirates Cove. Tina bursted past and kept up a solid pace, while I retrieved her lost visor hat and chatted with Krissy and Jen for a minute before giving chase to Tina. I caught back up and saw Brandy Erholtz and Joelle Vaught and they represented 9th and 8th place. We blew by them and dropped down to Muir Beach. On the climb back out we passed Lizzy Hawker and Megan Kimmel and we were now in 6th and Tina's competitiveness was in line and fiery.
Brandy, the strong mountain runner that she is, passed us back on the long climb but we kept her in sight, only allowing a gap of 100-300 meters. When we cruised into Tenn Valley again, we rolled right passed the aid station and were on Brandy's heels for the final large climb on Marincello. Brandy didn't walk a step and was moving steadily but slowly. We adopted more of a walk/run approach but Tina's walk was slow. I begged her every time to "fast walk" but there wasn't much there. Her run was great, though, so we yo-yo'd behind Brandy for the entire climb. Once nearing the peak of the climb I told Tina that Brandy looked like she was slowing a little and that we were going to catch her and then burn the descent to get away for good. It worked perfectly. We passed, stayed steady for a minute, and then picked up the pace until we reached a right hand curve where we began the kick and ran a 6:22 mile to put a large distance on Brandy. Once reaching the road to the finish, we eased into a solid pace and Tina crossed the finish in 7:13 and 6th place.
I've run a lot of races and believe I have a good, intuitive feel for racing now. Observing Tina's full throttle approach to racing through every obstacle was inspiring. She can wring every drop of energy from her petite body and push the limits to the edge like few people I've seen. Though I know she's disappointed in her result, her move from 12th to 6th place over the last half of the race was something she should be proud of. I'm proud of her and honored to be a witness to so exciting and gutsy racing.