Tim Davis paced Tyler Clemens the final 29 miles to the finish of the 2014 Burning River 100. Here is Tim’s account of the day and getting Tyler to the finish line.
My journey with Tyler began at mile 72. The sun was setting over the rolling hills, and we were about to embark on a wild journey – the last 29 miles to victory. I was prepared for an adventure, the lows of lows and hopefully even a few high points along the way. Being asked to pace for the last 29 miles though, I had a feeling it was going to a tough, uphill battle. Knowing Tyler though, I knew he would prevail, but it was going to be an entire team effort. The reality of the race was that while I felt prepared to fulfill my duties as pacer, no one can really prepare for this sort of event. Tyler’s limits are being pushed farther than they ever have before, and that inner person and feeling is completely unknown.
As we jog off into the trails at sunset, Tyler is very excited to tell me about his run leading up to this. He is thinking very little about what he is actually doing, but more about getting me up to speed with his previous 16 hours of nonstop fun called running. He is moving better than I would have expected at this point, trotting through the trails as if he has run these trails for years. Momentum is carrying us down the hills, the love for running is propelling us across the flat grounds, and pure strength is driving us up hills. It was as if he didn’t even realize what he was doing anymore. His brain was just set to autopilot as we dashed deeper and deeper into the woods and total darkness. Our headlamps were on, and we were crushing miles at a very fast clip. At one point, I looked down and realized we were running near a nine minute mile. I thought Tyler was inhuman at this point. Most people would be happy that their legs were still moving by this point, and he is concerned with me making sure he isn’t running too fast. For the next seven miles or so, I am closely monitoring my watch to make sure we weren’t going much faster than an eleven minute mile. This takes us to about mile 82.
The stretch from mile 81 to 86 is where the wheels started slowing up for Tyler. This portion of the course was all trail with very unfriendly terrain. Mud holes seemed to be around every turn, and the need for such extreme focus was starting to take its toll. After nearly falling down or losing a shoe countless times, Tyler was growing very frustrated and equal parts mentally and physically exhausted. We were running all by ourselves for what seemed like an eternity when Tyler noticed another person up ahead. He pointed and mumbled something incoherent under his breath. I got up close to him and asked him to repeat himself. Not being able to quote him exactly, I will put it in English. Is that guy going to the bridge, he asked. Is he going straight there? Looking down at my watch, I realized we were at least two miles from the covered bridge aid station part two. Not knowing how he would take this, I informed him that yes, he was going to the bridge. We were all running to get to that bridge; however, we still had a couple miles to go until we were going to get there. Tyler was very quiet at this time, seemingly confused. We were mostly walking at this point, but then, out of nowhere, Tyler started trotting along again – likely in the hunt for the bridge. He began telling me a story about the lion and the gazelle. He was telling me that the gazelle wakes up every morning knowing that he has to outrun the fastest lion, and…. wait a minute, “Hi Chris!” The look on Chris’s face was pure disgust. I was unable to tell if Chris was just having a very difficult time, or if he hated Tyler as we ran by. My guess is it was a combination of both. I’m just glad we didn’t run alongside each other for too long for fear of Chris pushing Tyler into the next mud hole. As we passed along, Tyler finished his story, and as he did, his running was beginning to slow down. About a mile or so later, Chris came back and passed us back. Tyler looked at me, and said that he didn’t care about keeping up with Chris and that he hoped Chris would break the 24 hour barrier. I think Tyler knew right then that the rest of the race was going to be a struggle. We made plans for the covered bridge aid station. It was there that Tyler was going to sit down, eat some soup and fill up his handheld with Mt. Dew. That stretch was difficult, and we hadn’t seen our crew in eleven miles. Knowing it was going to be another five miles before we were going to be able to see them, I knew I was going to have to be strong for Tyler.
The main storyline between mile 86 and 91 was that Tyler was growing extremely frustrated with the incorrect distances between aid stations. His watch continually showed that we should have arrived at each aid station much before we actually did. My biggest mistake was not taking his watch away from him at this time. The watch was becoming his main enemy as he became more and more angry with the course director and just life in general. These miles were spent more walking than running, and I was quickly trying to figure out what food Tyler would be excited to consume when we saw our crew next at mile 91. After many suggestions, we landed on honey buns. He couldn’t wait to get his hand on that sticky disk of processed deliciousness. It was for this reason too that I believe he was extremely agitated when his watch informed him he had gone five miles and we still could not see or hear the aid station. Upon arrival, Tyler laid down by the crew and appeared to be done. The smile on his mom’s face when he arrived was such a sigh of relief. It was obvious that she was beginning to worry about both of her boys. Chris and Tyler were both in the aid station together going through similar difficulties and seeming defeated. Chris and Jess took to the woods while we finished getting Tyler setup for what was going to be the most difficult five miles of the entire day.
As we walked back onto the path and away from the crew once more, pure exhaustion was setting in. Not only was Tyler physically and mentally drained, but he was also growing extremely sleepy. I’m not sure what time it was at this point, but I would guess somewhere around 2:00 in the morning. Having gotten up at 2:45 the morning before, of course he would be tired – not to mention the fact that he had been running for roughly 21 hours by this point. Tyler was fading fast. To start off, his legs were not working very well, and he complained about his knees hurting. Our focus was no longer on running, but rather on continually putting one foot in front of the other. With each painful step, his motion became more fluid again. His legs were beginning to work. Maybe he would be able to run again and we could end the pain quicker. That was wishful thinking on my part because the real challenge was just beginning… SLEEP.
Tyler began by asking nicely if he could sit down. “Tim, can I sit down? I just need five minutes.” Knowing how tired he was and the unlikelihood of me being able to get him up if he did sit down, I told him no. We passed a bench, “I have to sit down – I just can’t.” Then we came to a bridge, and he was beginning to demand it “I just need ten minutes. I have to sit down.” This later turned into him requesting fifteen minutes. The entire time he wasn’t asking or demanding to sit down and take a nap, he was falling asleep while walking on the trail. He would doze off and stumble to the side every few steps. I was prepared for pushing him, telling him stories to keep his mind off the pain, being mean to him to keep him going if he thought he couldn’t, but I was not prepared for battling sleep.
I tried to keep him awake by telling stories; however, I quickly learned that if he wasn’t talking, he was falling asleep still. I tried to engage him in conversation, but for the most part, he was unwilling to respond – likely because he was falling asleep during whatever I was saying. These five miles might as well have been an eternity. He fighting sleep and fighting me to allow him to sleep and I trying everything I could think of to keep him moving forward. I texted Weaver to have him get a coffee, Red Bull, or something else extremely high in caffeine. It was unfortunate that this coffee couldn’t have been delivered on foot to where we were though. This coffee was only going to be a lifesaver if he could get to mile 96. I remembered that Tyler’s Gu had caffeine in it so I convinced him to take one. This likely didn’t help much, but at least he was keeping up with his nutrition. It was a brutal five miles of sleep walking, but we were nearing the next aid station. Naturally Tyler’s watch informed us that we should have already been there by now, but at least he was getting angry again. At this point, any emotion was good because it meant he was awake. We finally heard and saw the aid station, and Weaver was there with a large cup of black coffee. This was an absolute lifesaver. Without the coffee, Tyler would not have been able to remain awake for the last five miles. This aid stop was quick, and he carried the coffee with him as we walked out onto the road. Tyler looked at me and said, “I must be seeing things again because it looks like there is a giant inflatable penis over there.” Wow!
The coffee was exactly what Tyler needed. He was awake and coherent but not happy. We knew that the remaining course was 40% road, 50% single track, and 10% compacted gravel. We attempted to run on the road a couple of times, but his legs had other ideas. So, walking it was going to be for the home stretch. As long as he was moving though, that is all that mattered. The road portion was uneventful, but the single track was the opposite. Since Tyler knew that the course was going to end on the road, he was devastated with each turn we took on the trail that didn’t lead us to the road. “F*** you damn single track. Where the heck is the damn road!?” Similar to the watch incident prior, this was another example of when knowing less would have been better. Tyler threatened to quit during this stretch and claimed not even to care about finishing. Finally, the road was up ahead. I’m not sure who was more excited to see the road at first. I thought this would restore his excitement for the remainder of the run, but it did the opposite. We got on the road, he looked forward, and he could not see the finish line. He put his hands on his knees and bent over in defeat and said “I’m done. I don’t even care anymore.” He was so close to sitting down and giving up. I gave him one last push to keep moving, and he reluctantly listened. Weaver, Stemen, and Maria met us on this final stretch. Tyler was still struggling though because he could not see the finish line. After some discussion though, we were nearing the top of the slight hill. The finish line was coming into sight, and the wild journey was coming to an end. Sharon met Tyler, and as Tyler insisted, we all jogged the last stretch to victory!
– Tim Davis, 2014