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Ben Woodbeck Friday, 18 November 2011 11:08 TWEET COMMENTS 2

Pacing Diana - Page 4

You can see a runner coming from a long way off at Grouse Gulch, which is one of the few places in the race where runners are on a dirt road. Descending from Engineer Pass, above the trees, exposed, came Diana, and, I could tell, she was crushing the descent. The blue shirt, black shorts, white visor. The happy stride. Then, we were off.

"So I get to Engineer Aid," she said as we ran (Engineer aid station is at treeline, mile 50), "and I see this guy peering over the cliff above and he says, `We got a runner coming, it's a pacer.' And I said `I'm no pacer! I'm a runner!' And he yells, `We got the first runner coming, and it's a girl!' That was cool."

Immediately after Grouse Gulch Aid, we started up Handies Peak. It is a long climb, almost two climbs. One ascends to the base of Handies, the other to its 14,000-plus-foot summit. Relentless. As part of her training, we had climbed the mountain nine or 10 times. The fastest we ever ran from Grouse Gulch to the summit was 2 hours 10 minutes. That night, during the race, we made it in 1 hour 50 minutes.

We summited Handies at dark, 9:40 p.m. Lightning flashed in the distance, the last of the sun visible in the west. We looked back to see the lights of other runners chasing us. "We are at the front of this goddamn race, Finkel," I said to Diana, being the shrink, wanting her to appreciate the moment. "There are less than 40 miles to go. Let's just run your race. Enjoy it. But don't let it kill you."

We tumbled down the backside of Handies in the dark, slipping on the ball bearing scree, like skiing without skis, then falling, then upright again. I looked back up the mountain for the headlamps of anyone chasing us down. But I never saw any lights behind us, in that particular valley, all the way to the gravel forest service road, all the way down that road in the dark to the next aid station, Sherman, at mile 70. We ran strong the whole way.

Diana had stopped worrying about the second woman passing her and focused on maintaining the overall lead. It was not a conscious decision, just something that happened, borne out of a respect for the race, to lead for as long as possible, to fight for it, to make the runners behind her fight for it.

It is a long climb out of the Sherman Aid Station. As we left, I looked across the valley and finally saw the lights of other runners coming down the long hill into Sherman. "Alright, Finkel, let's climb this like mules, get to the top of the Continental Divide, and run the downhills into Pole Creek." It was the plan, made months ago.

Since we have run together so much, we can speak in code. "Climb like a mule" means establish a sustainable, hurried but methodical walking pace. "When we walk, we swing our arms and walk with purpose" is a reminder to not stroll. I said this in the dark to annoy her and remind her. Every step counted. That and eat. That and drink.


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