Having found out that Hal dropped, Gary and I gave Kate's crew a call and found out that she was faring well. I weighed the decision to head out to Michigan Bluff (mile 55) to catch a few words with her against the fact that I was beginning to get incredibly tired. So I dragged a reluctant Gary back to the hotel to catch a few Zs and a hot shower. Well, two hot showers. One shower each. Just to clarify.
I checked the online progress and noticed that Hal's soon-to-be-bride, Carly, was WAY ahead of her projected 26-28 hour finish, likely rolling in around 24 hours. I wanted to catch her finish, not only to have an audio record of her crossing the line, but just in case - and this is the producer in me, not the friend - Kate couldn't make it. I needed an ending. Without so much of a "good night", Gary and I passed out from around midnight til 5AM, when we awoke and scrambled to the car.
Sure enough, we were at the track no more than 30 minutes (this is when I FINALLY got to meet the lovely, talented and sweet-as-hell Gretchen, who was kind enough to grab us coffees while we chatted) when in rolled Carly. I met her at the entrance to the track and then jogged across the infield to capture her finish. She looked so damned fresh, it was ridiculous. Hal was, of course, there to greet her, and we caught up on what had unfolded as far as his day went. He seemed in good spirits, although I did notice a slight limp as he and his crew swept Carly away to the car.
I tried to track Kate's progress, but the site hadn't updated in a long while. I texted Kate's crew and let them know we were heading back to the hotel, when Karen called and said, "Kate's doing well! We think she should finish in about 29 hours." Quickly gauging the time, I made the decision to get another hour or two of sleep and again, dragged a bummed out Gary from the finish line back to the hotel.
Right, right, right, left, left, right. This is how you get from our hotel off I-5 to the Western States finish line at the track. How do I know this? Because we drove there about 90 times over the course of 12 hours. And we were about to do it again, having caught another 2 hours of sleep.
Tracking Kate's progress, I knew we'd need to be ready to record by 8AM. I was kinda bummed I hadn't made the effort to meet Kate at any overnight aid stations, but I also knew that this would be an exhausting feat, and possibly fruitless due to the sheer amount of crew cars driving up and down 2 lane highway roads. But then, inspiration smacked me in the face...
I would meet Kate at the last aid station (Robi Point) and record and run the final 1.2 or so miles with her to the finish.
Gary and I parked and hiked through the neighborhood to the trailhead, congratulating finishers along the way, most of whom looked like the walking dead. I remember one runner staring dully into our eyes without so much as a blink when we went to high five him. Yeah, running 100 miles? Not so easy.
I couldn't BELIEVE how steep the downhill was to the aid station, which of course, means that Kate would have to climb it. I must say, the producer in me was ecstatic, knowing that I'd get some good sound bites from her on the climb, but the heart of the friend in me was breaking for her.
We greeted more runners coming through the aid stop (most of whom just blew right past it) and within 10 minutes, I see Kate's unmistakable stride pulling up the trail. This woman is an ANIMAL. I quite remembered that powerful hike from when I paced her at Headlands Hundred and could barely keep up with her the final 5 miles.
I screamed, "Heya, Doc!" to which Kate flashed a big ol' grin. I told her I'd be running the final stretch with her, and I think she grunted something as she blew past me, determined to put the sword through the heart of this thing.
We jogged that nasty uphill for a bit, hiked for a few minutes, and Glenn told me that Kate had been passing people NON STOP the last 10 miles. Sure enough, we reeled in more runners as we made our way to the track. I was in awe.
If her perseverance and strength hadn't left me utterly dazed, what happened next drilled it home, and I am SO glad I have it captured on audio:
Glenn: "You know, if you make it to the finish in 6 minutes, you could break 29 hours."
Gary snapped this photo about 10 seconds after this information was delivered:
As you probably can see, Kate's strides grew longer. And faster. She was a woman on a mission, and no way in HELL was she finishing in over 29 hours.
Passing more runners, Kate sped to the track entrance. I told her I'd meet her at the finish line and sprinted across the infield as the announcement came over the speakers, "This is Kate Merrill...she could break 29 hours...".
This is where I began to do color commentary...and began to lose my shit.
She was HAULING ass around the track, passing another runner, and kicked into a new gear. All the while, I'm describing the insane mission as the crowd begins to stir to life, cheering for Kate to break 29 hours. And as she dashes to the finish, breaking this arbitrary number, I completely freak the hell out and have my own "DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES??!?!?!" moment.
She was ELATED. The grandstands went berserk. I jumped around like someone had set my ass on fire. It was amazing.
A few weeks ago, along with my dear friend and co-podcaster Carl, I laid down the final voice over for the audio piece. I am now revisiting the material I've collected over the last (ulp) 7 months and face the daunting/exciting task of editing it all together. I expect to be amazed yet again by the determination of everyone involved, and it most certainly will not deter me from entering another 100 mile race.
Congrats to every runner, crew member, and volunteer from this fantastic event. You're all class acts, every last one of ya.