Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My Western States 2010 "Pace Report"....193 days to go.

We had a busy weekend...a muddy trail race on Saturday, dinner with friends, and then an all-day birth class on Sunday. I'm still playing catch-up at work, and it's Tuesday. Therefore, I thought it'd be a good time to share my "pace report" from the Western States 2010 race. I first published this on the Runners World Online forums shortly after the race. Nearly 7 months later, and I'm proud to say that Fernando was one of the first people I emailed about my entry into WS100. I also asked the race director to assign me his bib number (189) in this year's race. I hope you enjoy this report from the final 38.2 miles of the course as much as I enjoyed running it...and writing it, too! It's certainly interesting to review again now that I'm officially an ultrarunner...and an entrant into this great race!

Who is Fernando Fernandes?

Two weeks ago, I had never heard the name. Thirty-eight miles later, I know so much more:
He is a former cruise ship waiter, having spent 11 years waiting on American tourists throughout the Caribbean.

He is a farmer in his native Faro, Portugal, where he raises wheat, oats, and sheep.

He is a bit of a potty mouth, with two of his favorite English words making George Carlin’s famous “dirty words list.”

He is a runner, having run the Seville Marathon in 2:43 and earning a silver medal in his second Comrades Marathon, covering that famed 56 mile course in 7:19, all only three years since he first took to the roads.

Who is Fernando Fernandes?

Oh, he is a sandbagger. We definitely have that in common.

On June 14, I saw a post on the Western States Facebook page that runners still needed pacers for the famed ultramarathon race 12 days later. I knew I had to go. With the blessing of my amazing better half, two years’ worth of credit card points, and a little bit of cash, I booked a flight to San Jose and arranged for a ride to the start with my friend and fellow pacer Jay (aka Bird), a fellow runner who lives in nearby Santa Cruz.

One problem: I still needed someone to pace. I went to the Western States website and perused the listings. Who would want to run with a trail novice with no ultra experience? Even worse, I perhaps not-so-secretly hoped to find someone reasonably fast. Finishing this race is an admirable goal, and certainly never a given for any runner from elite to back of the packer, but I really wanted to run, not hike, my 38 miles. My preferred runner was someone chasing the famous silver belt buckle awarded to those runners who could cover the 100 mile course through the Sierra Mountains in less than 24 hours. I had two motives there: such a runner would be running fast enough to give me a good long run and also would allow me to make it back to San Jose in time to catch my mid-afternoon flight on Sunday. As I scanned the list of runners seeking a volunteer pacer, there he was: Fernando Fernandes, 48, Faro, Portugal. He wanted to go sub-24. He didn’t have a pacer. He didn’t even have a crew. We were a perfect match.

Another problem: Fernando’s first email mentioned a bum ankle injured on a training run in the weeks after he ran Comrades. He said he’d be okay to go on race day. By his third email, a few days later, his ankle was fine, but his knee was bothering him. He tried to run a few miles only one week before the race and had to cut the run short. The thought occurred to me then: Fernando was a fellow sandbagger.

Saturday morning arrived. Bird and I woke up to a 9 a.m. alarm, and the first words out of my mouth were “They’ve been running for four hours already.” After watching the soccer game with a member of Bird’s runner’s crew in Auburn, we drove 17 miles down the road to Foresthill, Mile 62 on the course. We were able to watch the leaders come through the aid station there, and it was amazing to see these guys in good spirits and running at a decent, if not marathon fast, clip. There was even a lead change in the aid station. The entire place had a carnival atmosphere—family, friends, and fans coming together to cheer for every single runner who passed through the aid station. After a couple hours, Bird was off with his runner around 4:45, and I was left waiting.

I’d been tracking Fernando on my phone, and he’d come out of the gate in Squaw Valley fast, checking in at Mile 20 in 56th place. By Mile 47, he had fallen to 109th. He entered Foresthill in 135th place, his lowest position of the day, having been stopped at two aid stations for 15 and 17 minutes, respectively, because he’d lost too much weight in the sun, heat, and steep climbs of the Sierra Mountain canyons. The good news? He still was on pace for a 24 hour finish. The bad news? My cheat sheet told me that he was no more than 1-2 minutes ahead of that pace, and he had been bleeding time for 40 miles. Beth later told me that he was 15 minutes ahead of the pace, but the signs in the aid station didn’t lie: the departure mark for a 24 hour finish was 6:45. I figured there was no way we’d be done by 5 a.m. the next morning.

Sometime shortly before 6:45, Fernando emerged from the trail in his red “Portugal” shirt. I immediately shouted, “Fernando!” to him, and he raised his arms and cheered, “Chad!” We met him about 200 meters above the aid station and jogged in to the scale station. He passed his weigh-in, barely, and the medical volunteer warned me that he would need to eat and drink quite a bit from now on since he’d already lost 4 of his 127 pounds. I promised I’d take good care of him, and we slid down to the food and drinks. A few minutes later, we ran together out of the aid station, and civilization, for the rest of the night. The next town we’d enter was Auburn, 38 miles down the trail.

“Ice cream”--Foresthill to Dardanelles (62.0 to 65.7)

The first 3/4s of a mile are run on the road. Fernando and I ran side-by-side so we could talk for a few minutes about our strategy. I asked him how he was feeling (not great), how his knee was (sore), and where he wanted me to run (he wasn’t sure if he wanted me to lead him or run behind him). All of a sudden, I heard a spectator yell at us, “LEFT TURN!” I realized that we’d just missed our first turn, onto the trail, and were about to head down the road and off the course. My first turn as a pacer, and I’d missed it! I hoped it wasn’t a sign of what was to come in the dead of the night as we wandered through the mountains.

Fernando and I hit the dirt trail as the sun was falling lower in the sky. The first few miles were largely downhill, and we leapfrogged back and forth with a few pairs of runners. To our left was a spectacular view of the canyons and the American River far below us. In the distance, I could see the snow-capped mountains not far from where Fernando started running. It was breathtaking.

Fernando caught me up on how his morning and afternoon had gone. His description of the earlier canyons, known as some of the most challenging trails in the sport, were profanity-laced. He described how he came to one of the several scale stations set up along the course to ensure that runners were not losing too much weight and failed his weigh-in. He was led to a chair, where he excitedly shared that a volunteer brought him ice cream. Before we knew it, we reached the first aid station of my run, smack dab in the middle of a small clearing on the mountainside. There was little room to move, and dozens of runners and volunteers weaved in and out of each other’s way. A volunteer met us at the entrance and asked us what we needed. Fernando handed me his water bottle and asked me to have it filled with some Coca-Cola. I relayed the request to the volunteer, who seemed as surprised as me to be asked to fill an entire bottle with Coca-Cola. Fernando dove into the spread set out on a table, devouring some of the treats. Within 4 minutes, we were out of the station.

“I hate Coca-Cola”--Dardanelles to Peachstone (65.7 to 70.7) (8:35 pm arrival)

The second leg of our run was filled with ups and downs. Fernando made it clear that he was most comfortable running in front of me, so he could run the pace that is comfortable and rely on me to tell him how he was doing compared to the 24 hour pacing charts posted at the every station. As we climbed up and down the trail, the sun disappeared behind the mountains, illuminating the trees with an orange glow. At one point, Fernando pulled his water bottle out of his belt pack, took a big swig, and spit the drink out. “I f’in’ hate Coca-Cola,” he said, using the unabbreviated adverb. I made a mental note not to let him fill the bottle with Coke again, but realized that, even in his exhaustion, he probably wouldn’t forget this. After just under two hours of running together, we left the second aid station and started a steep decline into the canyon. We were still on pace, even having banked a few minutes. Fernando was in 120th place.

“The Scare”--Peachstone to Ford’s Bar (70.7 to 73.0)

The next segment of running was short, and the sunlight disappeared entirely. I pulled out my headlamp, and because Fernando’s headlamp was in a drop bag on the other side of the river ahead on the course, he relied on my light to see the path. Most of the trail in here was dirt, but occasionally we’d come upon some rocks. Like earlier, one footing slip could have sent us falling down the mountain into the rocks lining the river banks below. We continued our practice of walking the uphills and running the flats and downhills. Fernando was hurting, but he was in good spirits. He told me a funny story I won’t relay here to protect the innocent, but let’s just say that someone in his past who gave him a little scare. Needless to say, and to answer the question I’d asked him, he remains a bachelor without children at the age of 48. (Interesting note I can share now: Fernando was the first person in the world that I told about our pregnancy. I figured our secret was safe with him!)

At the Ford’s Bar aid station, exhausted, he made a new food request: chicken broth. Little did I know what this would do to him!

“Beep beep beep”--Ford’s Bar to Rucky Chucky East (73.0 to 78.0) (10:17 pm arrival)

We had entered the Ford’s Bar aid station having just passed a series of runners. They all left the aid station in front of us because Fernando plopped himself in a chair and refused to budge. Therefore, we knew there would be backlog of runners ahead of us approaching the American River crossing five miles down the road. In normal years, this would not have mattered, as the runners all just ford the river themselves, wet shoes and socks be damned. This year, because of a late snow fall over Memorial Day weekend, the river was higher and colder than was safe for us, so two rafts would transport runners across the 20-30 yard wide river. The race director had warned the runners in the pre-race meeting that patience would be required if a line formed. Fernando didn’t want to wait, so he turned to me and said, “We need to pass all of those people.” I wondered how that was going to happen. And then, just as quickly as he drank his chicken broth, he started running. Fast, at least fast for a guy who had already run 74 miles that day. We went from 13-14 minute miles to 10-11 minute miles. The slow shuffling and walking were over. We were going to run.

After asking me how much farther we had to go, Fernando was relieved to think of what was still to come as “only a marathon.” Because the sun had gone down, we could see the LED lights of other runners ahead of us through the woods when we might not otherwise have been able to tell where they were. One by one, we picked them off. Fernando, in all of his enthusiasm, shouted, “BEEP BEEP BEEP” as we approached each runner. Most got out of the way. The rest can probably still hear him beeping repeatedly at them. At 10:17 pm, we made our arrival to the Rucky Chucky river crossing. We stopped briefly for an energy drink, then climbed down the rocks to the river banks, where volunteers outfitted us in life preservers and, because we arrived ahead of a dozen or more competitors, ushered us into a raft all to ourselves.

As we crossed the river, I looked over the side of the raft into the river, my LED light piercing the river and lighting up the crystal clear water so well that I could see the rocks below us. Fernando was in 110th place.

“Gu…and a familiar face”--Rucky Chucky West to Green Gate (78.0 to 79.8) (10:55 pm arrival)

Within a minute, we exited on the other side of the river. Fernando picked up his headlamp and a flashlight at the drop station, and we started our steep climb back out of the aid station on a wide gravel road. Fernando, like most ultra runners, had decided that moving forward on the uphills was more important than moving fast, so we walked this stretch of the road. Walked is probably too strong of a word. We crawled up this stretch. It was painful for me to walk this slowly, but after nearly 80 miles, it definitely hurt Fernando even more, and the raft ride had left his muscles tight. The enthusiasm he had shown less than 30 minutes earlier had disappeared. He was beaten down and left to ramble at a 21 minute pace up the hill. This stretch was accessible to the runners’ crews, and school children who had walked to the river to watch their parents cross it passed us on the uphill. I tried to motivate him. He wanted nothing to do with it. At one point, he mumbled, “Gu. Gu.” I knew he had taken one on the downhill heading to the river, and I was surprised he already wanted another one. I asked him if he wanted a Gu, as I knew he had put one in his pack at the previous station and perhaps he had forgotten about it. “No. No Gu. This Gu is sheet.” Say it with a Portuguese accent, and you’ll realize that the Gu was not sitting well in his stomach.

We finally arrived just before 11 pm at the Green Gate station, a large, festive station at the top of our 700 foot climb. I’m pretty sure this was the penultimate scale weigh-in, though it may have happened at the next aid station. Fernando again was very close to failing the weight test. Fortunately, I mentioned to the medical volunteer that he had just urinated on the uphill walk (he had) and that he was taking his fluids and food seriously at each station. As we had approached the station, he was very cognizant of the scales and finished his entire water bottle of fluids. After passing this test, Fernando sat down in a chair, having asked a volunteer again for soup broth and a refilled water bottle (this time, like every other one after the Coke incident, with water). I headed to the spread in search of some potatoes and watermelon…the things that sound good when you’re hungry. It was here that I saw my friend Jay. He’d dropped his first runner off at the station with a fresh pacer and had been hanging around for hours waiting for a new runner to pace. The only candidate? Wrapped in a blanket fast asleep in a lawn chair. Amazing, the runner later came to life again after four hours of rest, and Jay paced him to the finish that morning. I asked Jay to snap a photo of Fernando and me with his camera, since it was a digital and I only had a disposable, and we pledged to see each other at the finish line in the morning. Fernando was in 113th place.

“Essay”--Green Gate to Auburn Lake Trails (79.8 to 85.2) (12:17 am arrival)

This next stretch really disappeared into the woods. It was filled with gentle rolling hills, and we were able to get into a good rhythm of running again. Fernando felt much better. Somewhere in here we both turned our ankles, though neither bad enough to stop for more than a few seconds. The full moon overhead was worthless during this stretch, as the trees formed a canopy overhead. My Garmin report shows an elevation gain of over 1,000 feet, but we were able to keep our pace steady and pass several runners. Fernando once again seemed to respond to the carrot of passing the headlamps we could see in the distance in front of us, and there was a return of the “beep beep beeps” in this stretch. We entered the Auburn Lake Trails aid station, and Fernando again took a seat. I went to get him some potatoes as a volunteer refilled our water bottles. As I did so, I heard him shout out what sounded like “Essay.” And again. And again. I turned to him and asked him what he needed. “Essay.” I finished up at the table and hustled the five feet back to him.


“Essay!” This time with hand gestures.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know what you need, Fernando.” By now we’d attracted the attention of the volunteers. One of them got another’s attention and waved him over, telling him he needed a Spanish translator.

I interrupted, “But he speaks Portuguese, and until now, we were doing just fine in English.” No matter.


Fernando laughed. “Espanol. Francais. Englese. Italiano. Portuguese.”

The volunteer laughed. “Well, at least he’s got a sense of humor.” I assured him that was definitely the case.

And then out of nowhere, “S-cap.”

AHHHHH. He wanted a sodium capsule. I’d seen him take one earlier in the race, but I didn’t know at the time what it was. I’d asked someone else about it at a later station, but had forgotten what it was called. Armed with an s-cap in his stomach, Fernando was ready to hit the trails again. It was approaching 12:30 in the morning. Fernando was in 101st place.

“Thong Don”--Auburn Lake Trails to Browns Bar (85.2 to 89.9) (1:28 am arrival)

The next stretch of trail probably would have matched the views of my first miles, if we had any sunlight. We weaved around a canyon with such tight turns that you could see headlamps illuminated on the other side for almost the entire segment. The full moon really lit up the mountains around us, and it was absolutely gorgeous. Fernando was growing more and more energetic as we advanced toward the finish line. I made it a point to compliment him for his toughness and ability to find a pace and go. It occurred to me that he had not complained about his knee since our first ½ mile together, and other than a few complaints about blisters that required some Vaseline at one aid station, he really didn’t complain about any pains at all. Not bad for nearly 90 miles. We again took to passing people. Some were folks we’d leapfrogged with several times. Many welcomed Fernando like an old friend with a “Portugal” cheer. It was a race, but we were all in this together.

One of the more bizarre moments of our run occurred in this segment, and I’ll chalk it up to the onset of exhaustion and delirium combined with some cultural and language barriers. Out of nowhere, as I trailed a few feet behind Fernando, he turned around to me and said, unprovoked, what I heard as “Thong don.” Okay…here we go again.

“What?” “Thong don.” “Thong don?” “No, thong don.” “I don’t understand.” “Thong don…in my pack.”

Now I’m really confused.

“What is it? Do you need it?” “No. [I’ll now edit this to something I can post here…] It’s like what a woman needs when you are with her.” “A thong? Like underwear?” “No. You put it on the man before the sex.” “A condom?” “Yes!”

If I was confused before, I’m now lost.

“What about a condom?” That’s what I said. What I was thinking was why we would need one in the middle of nowhere, at night, in an ultramarathon.

“You can use it like a child on a drink.”

I politely nodded, imaging Fernando at an aid station breaking out a Trojan to use as a lid to ensure that he doesn’t spill his Gu2O. I thought it better to change the subject.

“So…how are you feeling? Is this pace good?”

Thankfully, I was soon saved by the sound of music. The infamous Brown’s Bar aid station was approaching, and I’d heard it was a party. We approached their Christmas light-lit station, where the men were dressed in costume dresses and Jim Morrison blasted into the night, and I made sure that Fernando found a volunteer to assist him because I was on a mission.
Oh yeah, and Fernando was now in 94th place. That belt buckle was in reach.

“An adult beverage”--Browns Bar to Highway 49 Crossing (89.9 to 93.5) (2:29 am arrival)

One of the cross dressers approached me. “Having a good night?”

“Absolutely. I’ve heard about you guys. Folks said it was crazy back here, that you had to haul all of this stuff five miles down the trail…but that if I asked, I just might find myself with an adult beverage.”

“Hefe or IPA?”

“It doesn’t matter, but IPA if you’ve got it.” And that’s how I ended up toasting a beer with a man wearing Raggedy Ann pigtails and a red dress five miles deep in the wood at 2:30 in the morning.

Fernando was more interested in soup broth. He drank several cups, in preparation for the 10 miles still to come. When we left the party station, he turned to me with a smile and said, “I think we’re going to do it.” He was partly right—he was going to do it. I was just the pacer. We had built a 30 plus minute buffer, and we only had 10 miles to go. Fernando said in a cocky fashion, “We could walk this.” I wasn’t so sure, so I encouraged him to run.

And run we did, when we could. This next section was brutal. It was narrow, and it was rocky. That’s why it was called the “Quarry Trail.” We struggled to find our footing, and when in doubt, we erred on the side of walking. My Garmin died no more than 1-2 miles from the Brown’s Bar station, and Fernando and I knew we wouldn’t be able to track our pace anymore. Now, it was just about moving forward. It was a steep downhill followed by a steep uphill. At some point, I realized that the silence of the night had been replaced with the sound of cars on the highway, and before too long, we could see the red and blue flashing lights of a cop car at the Highway 49 Crossing.

Fernando knew what this was: the final scale station. At my urging, he pulled out his water bottle and chugged. He had been drinking consistently throughout our run, but we were both concerned that he would be tagged as underweight and forced to eat. Even worse, he’d be forced to wait to regain the lost weight. We wanted to run. There was a belt buckle waiting for him.

“The weigh-in”--Highway 49 Crossing to No Hands Bridge (93.5 to 96.8)

Fernando climbed onto the scale. 123 pounds--a borderline case. I jumped to his defense once again. “He’s been taking broth at every station, drinking water, eating potatoes, and he’s been this same weight since sometime around Mile 30 or 40. He’s urinated twice. He’s still mentally sharp, and I’ve been monitoring that. He’s good to go.” It worked, as it should have because everything I said was the truth. He was freed from the volunteer’s control. We grabbed him some broth and a few potatoes, and we were on or way within 4 minutes. It was 2:33 a.m. Fernando was in 95th place.

As we ran along what I had marked on my cheat sheet as downhill, but found ourselves mostly going uphill, Fernando told me that he didn’t want to stop at the next station. “It’s only 10k to the finish,” he said. And he was right. This stretch of run took us out of the woods and into a pasture. It was fast and wide. We made a few passes---beep beep beep. I stepped in a hole and worried that I had sprained my left ankle just five miles from the finish. Thankfully, the sting disappeared within a minute or two. We were “flying,” if you consider 12 or 13 minute miles fast. By comparison to his fellow runners, it was fast. We even passed an elite female for the final time in this stretch. We approached No Hand Bridge, the second-to-last aid station, and Fernando tried to run through it. I insisted that he drink a cup of water and soup, which he did.
The aid station area was gorgeous. They had lined the No Hands Bridge with white Christmas lights extending approximately 100 yards. The river roared to our left, and the full moon lit up the area overhead. The station had set up a large projection screen that showed some movie that was probably meant to entertain the aid station workers more than it was meant to inspire the runners. Within a minute or two, we were exiting on our way to the finish. Fernando was in 88th place.

“Bling bling”--No Hands Bridge to Auburn via Robie Point (96.8 to 100.2 via 98.9) (4:12 am arrival)

Coming out of No Hands, I heard there was a big hill. The maps showed a big hill. There was no hill. There was a mountain. We both wanted to run this stretch, knowing the finish line was just miles away, but it was impossible. It was steep. We walked it, for the most part, but occasionally a shorter pitch would appear, and Fernando would declare, as he had done a few times earlier that night, “Run it!” And we would. We could hear a girl screeching at the small aid station at the top of the mountain. At one point, I was fairly certain I saw the shining lights of the high school track. The finish line was close. We could feel it.

ZOOM! A runner and his pacer went flying by us. I can only assume that he was an elite runner back from the dead, because this guy was cruising, and it was Mile 98. I suppose the alternative is that he left something out on the course in a conservative approach.

Eventually, we emerged from the trail and made it to the final aid station. A volunteer asked Fernando what he needed. He asked for broth. The kid informed him that they didn’t have any broth, but they could make him a Coca-Cola and Gu soup. I laughed, thinking back to those many miles earlier when Fernando had cursed those two products. Now they wanted to serve them together. He passed, and we headed up a final hill, this time on pavement, toward the town of Auburn.

As we walked up that hill, I heard a bell tolling in the distance. We rounded a corner to find about a half dozen people from the neighborhood stationed at the Welcome to Auburn sign that marked the final mile. As Fernando crossed their station, they cheered him on with a chant of “Portugal” and rang the huge bell twice in his honor. It gave me goose bumps.

Moments earlier, Fernando and I had started a jog toward the finish line. He was doing great, and we ran side-by-side through the empty Auburn streets. The road was painted with little footprints marking our path to the high school track. I congratulated Fernando on his run, told him that it was my honor to run the final 38 miles with him, and expressed my admiration for his toughness after the rough stretch just before we met. He laughed and started telling me a story about a runner he ran with early in the race. When Fernando mentioned that this was not just his first 100 mile race, but his first trail run of any kind ever, the man turned to him and said, “You’re f’in’ mad.” I couldn’t disagree, and I told him that! But no more than 15 seconds after he finished that story, we started to pass the only runner we could see in front of us. He turned to Fernando and exclaimed, “Fernando! You’re here. You’re f’in’ crazy, man. You’re f’in’ crazy.” It was the same guy Fernando had just told me about. Even odder, the man’s pacer was a Portuguese native. For the first time in days, and after 99 ½ miles, Fernando spoke to another person in his native tongue. What a strange world we live in!

We made a final left turn and cut through the gate onto the high school track. As we emerged from the darkness into the bright lights of the track, the announcer called out Fernando’s name and biographical information. It was just after 4:00 in the morning, and the crowds were sparse, mostly friends and family of runners aiming for a 24 hour finish. The winner had finished 8 hours earlier in a new record time, and the casual fan was fast asleep.

But those who were there cheered. Fernando and I had entered the track at the backstretch and started running around the final turn into the 75 meter homestretch toward the finish. When we hit the straightaway, I turned and shook my companion’s hand, congratulating him on his feat. I then swung wide, heading into the eighth lane, so this moment could be his. There was a lane to the right of the official finish line where pacers and crew could continue to run past the finish line, and I jogged along, cheering for my new friend. Fernando crossed the finish line at 4:12 am in an official time of 23:12:21. His average pace according to the WS100 website was 13:53. He finished in 89th place. As my friend Rick (aka Footloose) pointed out, only eight finishers in front of him were older than his 48 years. More importantly, he had earned the treasured silver belt buckle.

The finisher’s tent was a controlled chaos. Fernando was first weighed, and I again explained that his weight had been steady, if a tad low, for at least 60 miles. They then took his blood pressure on both arms, which was low, but okay. He had signed up for a study on the effects of endurance running, and that involved giving a blood sample, so he took his seat and gave a small amount of blood. Behind him were a few runners hooked to IVs, fast asleep, or huddled under blankets, or some combination of the three. A few hours later, this triage unit was even busier.

Fernando and I took our time at the finish. He even got a massage, appearing to fall asleep on the table. We wandered down to get his drop bag. He dug through it, pulling out a few things. He first handed me his official WS100 t-shirt, noting that it was probably too small for me, but that my wife might like it. He then handed me a Portugal World Cup scarf, noting that since the Americans had lost, I should cheer for Portugal now (unfortunately, they lost on Tuesday to Spain). Finally, he gave me a wrapped present and told me that he hoped it had not broken in the travels. I opened it to find a beautiful hand-painted rooster, known in Portugal as the Rooster of Luck and Happiness. It contained a story of a man accused of murder and sentenced to death who confronted the judge as he prepared to dine on a rooster. He told the judge that he was so innocent that the rooster on his dinner table would crow before he was put to death. As he was brought to the gallows, the rooster stood up on the table and crowed. The man was set free, and those in the region continue to mark this tale with the statue in their homes. It was a thoughtful gift. Even more thoughtful were his words, as he told those who congratulated him that he couldn’t have done it without his pacer, who was the best pacer out there. While perhaps a bit hyperbolic, it meant a lot to hear him say this. I was certainly glad that I had a chance to run with him, and I look forward to visiting him someday in his native country. I don’t know if he’ll ever run Boston, but I’ll be working on it!

I have always been intrigued by this race, but it seemed too big for me to ever participate in. I’m still not sure I can finish it, but I know that I have to give it a shot. I am thankful I had the opportunity to run with Fernando, to see the race, to witness others go through the ebbs and flows of a 100 mile race. The human body is amazing…more than once, I feared that Fernando had lost all ability to run again that night. Time after time, he found something deep inside of him that allowed him to continue. It was an impressive display, and one I hope to emulate someday.

The t-shirt Fernando gave me proclaims, “The thing I don’t like about Western States is that you show up at the starting line in the best shape of your life and a day later you show up in Auburn in the worst shape of your life.” Fernando certainly wasn’t in the worst shape of his life, even if he ached in every cell of his body. Someway, somehow he found a way to finish. But when I think back to my original question—who is Fernando Fernandes?—I know the answer that can never be taken away: he is the owner of a silver belt buckle. For at least one day, Fernando Fernandes dug deep and did something epic. I’m glad I was there to witness it.

1 comment:

  1. Amazing race report - thanks for sharing it with us!!