Pacing Patrick Sweeney

Pacing Patrick Sweeney

The text read “What are you doing on October 18th, do you want to pace me for the EC 100?” The sender? Patrick Sweeney, THE Patrick Sweeney…winner of many races, current holder of the Beer Half Marathon World Record, and past holder of the World Record for the most miles run in sand in 24 hours. “You’re asking ME to pace YOU? Do you think I can keep up?” Yeah, you’ll be fine, he reassured me as I signed on the dotted line…committed.

The week leading up to the event was a bit stressful. Pat told me his goals for the race, he planned to run splits in his 100 miler that were faster than I’d ever run in my life…but, he still assured me that I’d be alright.

100 Mile Club Ultramarathon - Patrick Sweeney

Saturday morning Patrick started running from Norco, California at 7:00 AM. At 7:00 AM I was just waking up in my car in Santa Barbara. I strolled down to my office for breakfast and to get a little work done. Eventually I visited the grocery store, filled up on gas, and headed to LA. I wasn’t in a hurry, Pat had to run 50 miles through Orange County and into Long Beach before I’d see him. I drove along the PCH, taking the long way to Los Angeles through Malibu and Santa Monica.

While driving on the highways in LA I looked at the people driving the cars around me and wondered how many of them knew that right now, in this very moment, there were a few crazy runners out there covering 100 miles through their cities on foot…probably even further than most of these people would be driving today.

Sweeney running east of the 91 freeway
Sweeney running east of the 91 freeway

The Endurance Challenge 100 Mile Race supports The 100 Mile Club, a group that teaches kids to be healthy and active. Kara Lubin started the program in her classroom in 1992 to help her students put their high energy toward something positive. The students cover on average 3 miles a week to achieve at least 100 miles during the school year, and today the program has grown to 30,000 students in 200 schools across the United States.

Patrick Sweeney is a big supporter of the 100 Mile Club and is actually fundraising for his upcoming Run Across the USA event (yea, I said it…he’s running all the way across the United States). Check out his website and support his cause!

I arrived at the Casa de Sweeney at 1:29 PM sharp, Pat told me to be there by 1:30 PM. Pat’s mom Diane and I packed her car to road trip to Long Beach together.  We pulled into the 50 mile aid station and got a text from Kirsten, Pat’s sister and main crew for the day, saying Pat would be there in about 2 hours.  Pat’s mom, being a very athletic grandmother, was not planning to sit around and wait all afternoon.  “Do you want to go for a walk?” she asked me.  I politely declined, making some reference to the miles I’d be putting in later with her son and not wanting to put his race at risk.  She took off down the road and I posted up on the grass along the road, stretching out and enjoying the afternoon sun.

I was wearing my Luna sandals but brought my running shoes with full intentions of lacing them up for the run…until I realized that I left socks in my car back at Sweeney’s house.  Oh well, I guess now was as good a time as any to try running a road marathon in sandals!

I was walking around the aid station when someone came up and said, “You must be pacing Patrick, you look just like him and if my kids were here they’d call you the naked runner #2.”  I thought it was interesting but understood…I am a skinny guy, wearing running shorts and no shirt, with long hair kissed by the sun and Luna sandal clad feet.  Yeah, I guess I could be a Sweeney stunt double.

Next, the race photographer came up and asked, “Are you Sweeney’s brother? You look just like him.  We HAVE to get a picture of the two of you together.” Man, maybe I really do look like Sweeney…

When Pat’s mom made it back from her walk I was rummaging through her car, preparing my gear.  She came over with a worried look until I popped out and she said “Thank goodness, I thought you were Patrick, I was so confused!”  Even Pat’s own mother was getting us mixed up!

Sweeney and Chris at mile 50.
Sweeney and Chris at mile 50.

I really don’t mind being confused with Patrick for his looks, it’s a compliment, but if I could just get mistaken as him for his speed…that would be great…

Speaking of his speed, Patrick was running well and making great progress.  The previous week while driving with Sweeney from Arizona he told me about his history with this race.  He had started it several times, was even in 1st place deep into the course, but injuries plagued him year after year, keeping him from a finishers buckle.  It was time to get him to the finish line, and get him that dang buckle.

Pat rolled into the 50 mile aid station in good spirits.  He weighed in and walked to the van to refuel.  I refilled his bottle, he ate some food, and then we were on our way.  It was late afternoon as we zigzagged our way to the beachfront path in Long Beach.

We ran north as the sun faded in the sky and the ocean waves crashed to our left.  People were out enjoying their evenings and we passed several restaurants as they kicked off their weekend happy hours. The sun set and the night air turned cooler.

Sweeney getting weighed in.
Sweeney getting weighed in.

We settled into a comfortable pace and talked about everything. If you’ve ever run an ultra, you know what I mean…I learned a lot about Sweeney in 25 miles. Everything from how to find plastic shovels on the beach, being careful to not steal them from little kids, how the Sweeney evolved from cavemen millennia ago, the art of running in sandals, how he was a professional disc golf player, why he supports the 100 Mile Club, and on, and on, and on. That’s one of the great things about ultra running, some of my best friends are ultra runners and it’s fun to be able to spend several hours just hanging out, talking about nothing and everything.

We missed our crew at the next aid stop….instead of seeing them we got this text:  “Grandma had a car accident. We will be a little late.” Sweeney grabbed his phone to see if everything was okay.  It turned out to be just a love tap that Sweeney’s Mom shared with an overstressed guy and his Mercedes.  All parties were fine, once the Mercedes guy calmed down.

Our crew found us at the last turn from the ocean and we grabbed food, water, and Pat’s custom made reflective t-shirts.  From there we followed the bike path along an inlet until we reached the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) that led us into the sketchy section of the course…Wilmington and San Pedro.

Wilmington was bumping at 8:00 PM on a Saturday…literally.  There were lots of cars with stereos cranked, bumping the beats at every corner.  We passed dilapidated industrial warehouses, taquerias, and liquor stores with locals sitting on the curb, eyeing us as we passed.

For all the weirdness of the sketchy town the residents seemed to be friendly enough, calling out cheers as we passed through town.  They drove by and yelled “Run, Forest, Run!”, “Nice lights brothers!”, and “F*** You!”.  Such nice people!

We approached the 100K aid station in a Del Taco parking lot. We checked in, refueled, and left amid more cheers (another car drove by and yelling F-You!), and made our way down the dark streets.  We turned and followed the perimeter of the Los Angeles Harbor toward the ocean and to San Pedro.

San Pedro was on par with Willimgton for its friendliness.  As we ran a few cars seemed to hug the white line on the edge of the road. At one point a few people were standing outside a reception hall and one guy in pleated kakis, a plaid shirt, and an interestingly well groomed neck beard sprinted after us.  When he caught up he yelled directly into Pat’s ear, “WATER, I NEED WATER!”  We tried to make conversation, but he just continued to yell “WATER, I NEED WATER” until he had sprinted himself out of breath and he trotted back to his laughing friends chanting “Run, Forest, Run!”  Urban races sure aren’t boring!

Patrick Sweeney's custom reflective team shirts.
Sweeney’s custom reflective team shirts.

We turned off the main drag in San Pedro to a long tedious hill climb.   We slowed to a power hike and put it in low gear.  The climb took a lot out of us and at mile 70 Pat started to experience the fatigue of the day.  His feet were hurting and he was tired.  We continued a fast hike-jog combo through the next section of Palos Verdes.

Palos Verdes is a very ritzy area in Los Angeles with multimillion dollar homes built on the side of large rolling hills looking out over the Pacific Ocean.  For all the wealth in the area they seem to have chosen to save money by not installing street lamps.  This was totally fine because without the ambient light we were able to look to our left and see the ocean waves crashing on the beach below, but I have this annoying problem of not replacing my headlamp batteries until I absolutely have to, which tends to always happen at inopportune times, like this one.

My light faded to a soft glow and I followed behind Pat to utilize his torch.  The cars sped past as we hugged the shoulder for space.  By this time the miles of pounding the pavement in my Lunas had taken a toll on my feet and the cool ocean breeze was chilling my scantily clad body.  Pat was hitting a bit of a wall and we were both looking for the mile 75 aid station to regroup.

Patrick Sweeney running through Long Beach
Sweeney running through Long Beach

We got excited when Pat saw a person in the road ahead and we expected to see the aid station.  When it didn’t materialize Pat chalked it up to his first hallucination of the night.  Luckily a few minutes later we both saw a person, then several people, then the lights of the aid station.

We ran in, weighed in, grabbed warm soup, and sat down to refuel.  I fixed Pat an avocado sandwich while Thomas Podell, Pat’s next pacer, got the lowdown on our progress.  Pat and Thomas loaded up and hit the road, Pat in some thicker Lunas for cushion and Thomas on his pink rimmed beach cruiser.  Kirsten gave me her keys and I took over the crew van while Kirsten and Diane drove the other car home to get some sleep.

My first stop? Coffee. I was cold and tired, so the first 7-Eleven I saw looked like a heavenly oasis. I grabbed a tall cup of joe and drove down to the next aid stop at Miramar Park in Torrance. I stopped, unloaded some gear, and waited in the dark, watching the waves crashing on the beach until two headlamps made their way down the hill. Patrick grabbed food again, put on some warmer clothes, and continued to move on, but not before doing something I’d never seen him do before…ever…he put on a pair of shoes. It was the right decision. The first 75 miles had been beating up his feet pretty bad, all road running in a thin pair of sandals. He tried to use a thicker pair of sandals from mile 75 on, but it just wasn’t working. The ultimate goal for the day was to get to the finish line, no matter what. So out came the shoes and onto Pat’s feet they went.

I drove to the next aid stop, the Manhattan Beach Pier, and when I parked the bars were just letting out, closing for the night. Most patrons had found their way home, but a few were still stumbling around. I hung out for while on the pier before Pat and Thomas appeared out of the dark. Pat refueled again and Thomas grabbed Sweeney’s portable speaker from the crew car…it was time to bring out the rocking tunes for an energy boost.

Sunset in Long Beach
Sunset in Long Beach

I drove to Dockweiler Beach and waited, but this time wasn’t surprised by their appearance, I could hear them coming for about a mile, portable speaker cranked with high energy music followed by two bobbing headlamps. Sweeney gave me a plastic beach toy (even during a race he picks them up) and they continued on in the dark.

Next I met the guys in Marina Del Rey. I had some time on my hands, and it was after 5:00 AM, so I stopped by McDonald’s, ordered a coffee and 3 hash browns. Sweeney said they are vegan and I figured he could use some real food (and the Monopoly game pieces might cheer him up). During the drive back from Arizona the previous weekend we had done the same and won a medium fry, I hoped for more good luck with Sweeney!

When Thomas and Pat arrived I surprised them with hash browns. Thomas turned his down, and Sweeney probably should have. Pat did win another free fry, but he said the last few miles were pretty tough becuase he felt like throwing up the entire way after the hash brown. Oops!

I drove to Venice Beach to wait for the guys. Kirsten and Diane showed up just in time to see him pass by. We drove to the Santa Monica Pier, parked the cars, and waited for him at the finish. Just over a day after starting, and several attempts at this race, Patrick appeared on the bike path in Santa Monica and clogged his way to the finish, crossing amid cheers and tears from the race staff and his family. Kara was so happy to see Patrick finally finish and get his buckle that she pretty much lost it, and her excitement was contagious. We all congratulated Pat as he looked around for a place to finally sit down.

Chris and Patrick Sweeney at the finish line. Success!
Chris and Patrick at the finish line. Success!

It was another great weekend for me, another road trip adventure, with no sleep, and pacing/crewing a good friend to victory. I’m glad I didn’t back out because I was worried I couldn’t keep up, I enjoyed seeing the race course and the seed has been planted…will the EC 100 be in my future? Maybe, I’m pretty interested in it now…so we’ll see!

I left LA after driving Patrick back to his house. I struggled with the long drive home to Santa Barbara after a sleepless night, but made it back, showered at the gym, and went to the beach where I promptly passed out in the sand and woke up to a sun burnt back and freezing because the sun went down. Another weekend, another adventure, another story in my life. Live free!

Team Patrick Sweeney - Go Pat Go!
Team Sweeney – Go Pat Go!

More ultramarathon posts here.

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