by Lynn Ballard
Squaw Valley to Auburn, CA
June 24, 2006
Where? Michigan Bluff Aid Station on the Western States 100 Course
Why? My runner was reported to have made it through Devil’s Thumb, actually making up time after Robinson Flat. I thought since he was behind schedule, I could begin pacing him there (after 8 pm) rather than wait till Foresthill.
Reality? Devil’s Thumb, for my runner (Dave E), turned out to be Hotel California as in …check in anytime you like, but you can never leave…
As I was wondering out loud…can I pick up a runner here or should I return to Foresthill…I heard a voice say…”do you want to pace my runner? I don’t think I’m prepared to run with him.” CHA-CHING!
“Can I do that?” I ask, not knowing if the rules of the trail would allow me to change runners (I had the pacer race number for my friend, who was under a space blanket at Devil’s Thumb) with such a short notice. Race officials assured me it was OK, that I could pick up the correct pacer number at Foresthill. My new runner’s “handler” explained that his runner was Karsten Solheim, of Glendale AZ. Karsten, as it turned out, was attempting his 12th completion of WS100, 10th SINCE HE TURNED 60!!!
I do a quick check and realize there are only a few minutes until cutoff and that IF Karsten arrived and successfully got out on time, we would probably cover a few miles only to be pulled from the race at a later checkpoint.
Directly, a lanky runner in red pants lumbered into Michigan Bluff with a few minutes to spare against the 9:30 pm cutoff, was attend to by his crew and introduced to me, his new pacer. I had been warned he didn’t have much of a sense of humor, he didn’t like to talk about much while running, and before I knew it, we were moving out of the aid station and into the night. My focus was to “read” my new runner to determine where he was mentally, physically and spiritually. I tried to read every signal, looking for signs of fatigue versus just someone who liked it to be quiet during his run.
Early out of Michigan Bluff, a sharp downhill revealed that I had a downhill running genius as my runner. I could discern no change of pace as Karsten barreled down the mountain, reeling in tired runners in the 17th hour of his run. He moved gracefully over the roots and the rocks and I realized…this just might be more than a few miles until we missed a cutoff! As we moved through the night, Karsten and I grew more comfortable with each other and I realized what a jewel of a man I had been paired up with. We quickly moved through the shallow conversation and I began to see into the soul of a man who was deeply spiritual, passionate about his family and running, and much more.
Karsten basically put on a Western States seminar with me being the only participant and he the master teacher. Because of his experience on the trail, he had an intimate relationship with every dip, turn, climb and maybe even some of the wildlife! Coming out of Dardanelles, we hit a climb and he would say…”so-and-so hated this climb until I pointed out it was only 8 minutes” …I checked my watch and sure enough, eight minutes on the nose! It seemed that every climb was familiar, he could state unequivocally this climb is 20 minutes, or that climb is 12 minutes… The Hwy 49 climb, by the way, is 18 minutes! This was
repeated no less than 4-5 times during the balance of our little “night run”…always dead on target.
We had met up with Elizabeth and Bill (from the RW forum) at Dardanelles, and an off and on with them until Rucky Chucky. It seemed that as the night wore on, Karsten got stronger! By Rucky Chucky, I could tell he was comfortable he would make the 30 hour time limit (made it by 3 minutes in 2005), and began to get serious about a sub-29 hour finish! My word…HE PICKED UP THE PACE out of Green Gate and even had a couple of splits that he claimed were his all time best (Auburn Lake Trails to Brown’s Bar and Brown’s Bar to Hwy 49). Moving into Brown’s Bar, we passed Drew M and his pacer Matt C and exchanged greetings, visiting some in the aid station, it appeared Drew was gaining strength for the coming sunrise! It was good to see some of the Texas runners still in the hunt.
Sunrise hit us just after Auburn Lake Trails and the temps started climbing again, but Karsten didn’t slow down. I heaped praise on him as he would smoothly transition between “walk with purpose” and run the flats and downs (and even a few of the ups!). He seemed to gain strength with every step. After sunrise, we were running down along the river just before the climb up to 49 and Karsten vocalized a prayer…”Lord, thank you for giving me the ability to run. I would be a fool to think I could do this alone…” I caught myself echoing “amen” as he offered up praise to his maker. Incredible moment…
We crossed into Hwy 49 and I was greeted by Catra (again, from the RW forum), cheerfully helping tired runners (and in my case, one whipped pacer!). I was cramping, probably because I had begun to neglect myself and focus on Karsten AND the killer climb to 49. We left quickly for No Hands and Karsten went nuclear on me! I was working out my cramps, slamming Gu and E-lytes on the short climb out of 49 and fell about 1/4 mile behind him…I encouraged him to keep moving, and I would catch up. Well I did catch up, using almost every ounce of reserve I had…by the time we got to No Hands, he was moving so fast that I went anaerobic to keep up …ON THE DOWNHILLS! I passed the baton to his handler at No Hands and went to Robie Point to cheer them on, then to the track to see him finish (read: I got dropped by a 69 year old ultrarunner, and I’m danged proud of it)! His finishing time was 29:18, and he was the oldest runner to finish the 2006 WS100!
I never really knew for sure where I stood with Karsten, but was grateful for the opportunity to run with him. After being invited to dinner with his family/crew, I learned he was planning on running in the Vermont 100 in three weeks. Jokingly, I suggested that I may need to come out and “put a foot in his rear” to make sure he got through that one. Without hesitation, Karsten gave me the biggest compliment…”no, I think I’ve got that one covered…but would you consider meeting me in Leadville in August?” I slept very well on the red-eye flight back to Dallas!
“I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.” Ps 119:32