As I previously posted Kuni Yamagata asked me to pace him at this year’s “Big Dance”. Kuni, also known as “The Beast” is a tough as nails ultra runner. Here is how it went down:
Melisa Mahon, my designated driver delivered us to Foresthill around 3pm. Lily had arrived hours earlier to do massage at the aid station. Melisa and I were sporting our Fleet Feet Ultra Team kit ready to support our racing peeps.
I quickly located Dasie Yamagata, Kuni’s wife. Dasie and her posse of friends crew for Kuni at his races. Dasie is this most prepared, person I have met when it comes to ultra. She had everything covered, with backup. Dasie and the rest of the crew give off the good vibes a runner needs to feel when they see their crew.
After a few hours of watching the race and catching up with friends, I went down Bath Road to meet Kirk. He told me he had some issues earlier, regardless he looked great and appeared to be on his way to a great finish.
I later returned to Bath Road to meet Kuni and get us on our way. When I met him he looked great. I got a quick update from him and except for some quad fatigue, he was feeling good.
We met Dasie at the car and got on our way, onto the Cal-Loop.
After a short pee break at the top of the climb we got into a rhythm and headed for the first aid station. During the break I go off two photos, my camera promptly crapped out after this, so much for photos. As we ran I was amazed at how relaxed Kuni was on the trail after 62+ miles. This was a good sign that he had saved himself for the more runnable part of the race.
By Peachstone we were consistently passing people. I began to notice that no one we pasted stayed with us or even near us. With the darkness you can see people’s lights, even when they are not so near. I later joked with Kuni that they were either too scared of him or we smelled too bad to stay with us. This got me a few laughs form Kuni.
Kuni kept taking in food and held a consistent pace all the way to Rucky Chuck (mile 78). We completed the section in about 3:30. By now I could see that Kuni’s focus during a race is second to none.
A few howls by me let the aid station (and world) know we were coming. Dasie and the girls were waiting for us. A few hellos’ and we were in and out.
River Crossing to Auburn Lakes Trail (ALT)
After a very quick river crossing in the raft we took a short break on the Far Side. Kuni took a meeting in the Portalet. Kuni was still able to get food down without issue. But his downing of an Ensure and V8 juice in quick succession worried me. I told him we needed to take our time walking the hill to Green Gate to let his stomach process. I was worried that much food and the odd mix would sit in his gut.
On the climb Kuni began to get nauseous. He told me he was also hitting his first low point or “bad patch”. We took it nice and easy on the climb to Green Gate. I tried to distract Kuni at this point. I think I blabbered on quite a bit about how much I like the night and stars. A girl in hot pants went by at one point; I might have mentioned that to Kuni. Regardless of his nausea we hit the Green Gate aid station without stopping and no meltdown. Kuni got right back into a run as we left the aid station.
Prior to the race and during it Kuni told me, “I hate ALT”. I never understood this since I know that ALT is very runnable rolling single track trail. It was on the run from Green Gate that I realized his ALT section was different than mine, oops. Kuni was talking about the section from Green Gate to ALT. I always thought of “ALT” as ALT to Brown’s Bar.
After realizing this I told Kuni he was right that this section with the climb at Third Gate sucked. But I quickly pointed out that he was running strong. Since we always walk climbs he was moving through the section quicker than he was giving himself credit for. At one point I told him I didn’t want to hear anymore negative talk from him about ALT. He was running it strong and, he had to take my word for it.
As we started the climb to the Schoener Memorial Kuni had some mild vomiting and other bodily issues. To my amazement this hardly slowed him down. He would stop briefly to bend over and vomit a little. As soon as he was standing upright we were running again.
Up to this point in the race Kuni had mentioned more than once that his quads were shot. He told me he soaked them in El Dorado Creek earlier with good results. With the way he would go downhill you would not have known he was having quad issues. At the creek near Dead Truck trail Kuni again climbed in and soaked his feet. Again to my amazement he was able to sit down and get up with very little stiffness and no cramping.
At the ALT aid station Kuni took another meeting in the Portalet. I went on ahead to change out my batteries. At the aid station Kuni weighted in only half a pound over, NICE!!! The medical guy was there and asked Kuni how he was doing. I mentioned the issues he was having and that he recently took one Imodium. I pointed out that his fluid and food intake was good and that he was peeing.
Regardless Med Guy held us up and started in about Imodium stopping him from sweating and blah, blah, blah. I appreciated his concern, but he was holding us up. In my opinion compared to many others on the trail, (like the guy quivering in a chair a few feet away) Kuni was golden. One Imodium wasn’t going to end his day. Suffice to say I moved Kuni onto the broth while I deflected Med Guy. Don’t mess with a Pacer on the edge!
ALT to Brown’s Bar
Kuni was having some up’s and down’s through this section. But as always he was running the flats and downs like we were out on training run. His leg strength and fitness this late in the race continued to impress me.
I was now checking my cell phone and saw I had service. I gave Dasie a quick call with a brief update.
Brown’s Bar came quick. Kuni was still nauseous so we kept up the crackers and soda. The broth thus far was too condensed and salty for him. We left quickly and started down the hill to the Quarry Road.
By this point I had lost track of how many people we had passed. But I repeatedly pointed this out to Kuni to boost his confidence.
Brown’s Bar to Cool
We continued to hike all ups and run everything else. Kuni was tired of hills from the way he was talking about them. To combat the negative talk I continually pointed out that he was running more than anyone we had come across. I also told him that he was hiking the hills faster than anyone else, which was a true statement.
The climb to Hwy 49 came quickly and Kuni appeared to have got back some pep. I saw Lily at Hwy 49 and told her we were doing great. After some more soda and crackers we were moving up the hill.
After Hwy 49 I began to talk to Kuni more and outline the trail as we came to different sections, “Hill, start walking”, “loose rocks”, etc.
As we crossed the meadow near Cool I told Kuni we were running the descent to No Hands Bridge. In hind sight it was probably not the best thing to do. I could have ended up pushing him too hard and risked a meltdown. But this was the Beast and I knew he was game, and boy was he.
As we started the descent I drifted ahead of Kuni. Until now I was always behind him on the trail. I lingered just out of reach and kept up my talking, “steep decent starting, or loose rocks, short steps”. Mostly it was “stay relaxed, breath, and let the hill pull you”.
Kuni ran the whole 3 miles down to the bridge without one trip or misstep.
A few howls by me to wake the dead and signal our arrival and we were at the bridge. We found Dasie and Crew awaiting our arrival.
No Hands Bridge to the FINISH
After a brief stop and energy boost by Dasie and Crew we were took off running again.
We continued on towards Robie Point without issues. Kuni was running some of the moderate uphill’s now so I knew he could smell the barn.
Just prior to Robie Point Aid Station I asked Kuni if he would like to take the spur trail to the Overlook. I told him we had the time and it would show everyone just how tough he was. The look I got was priceless, but to his credit he politely declined. 24+ hours of running and he is polite, he is a better man than I. I think I would have dropped an F-bomb.
At the Fleet Feet (Robie Point) Aid Station I knew we would be greeted by a large group of friends. The crowd was huge and did not disappoint. This final boost of energy pushed us onto a glorious finish on the Track in 25:36.
If you have never paced a runner, I would highly recommend it. Especially if you are new to the sport of ultra running. The experience is like nothing else, it gives you an idea as to why we do this thing called ultra running and what it take to succeed. It also shows you the best in people.
Now that the race is over I have a few more nicknames for Kuni. “The Machine” and “Man of Steel” come to mind.
A priceless experience, thank you Kuni for allowing me to share in your Western States journey.