PACING IT FORWARD
Waugoshance Trail Half Marathon July 13, 2013
Run Woodstock Hallucination 100 Mile Run
September 6 and 7, 2013
I was bored and put this in the Google machine, “What is a pacer at an ultra?” The response I got was this: “In the traditional sense, a pacer is a runner participating in a race to help another runner maintain a particular pace-usually a fast, demanding pace that may be too strenuous for the runner to achieve alone.”
Did I read something about fast? Ha, never been accused of running fast before. Yet twice in the same year I was asked to pace friends at races. I’ve never done that before. Can I do it? Will I disappoint them? I have to say “Yes.” I’m honored, and a bit frightened I may let both of them down.
Pacing Part 1:
Rochelle is a girlfriend I met through my local running group (Your Pace or Mine Running Club.) She wanted to do her first trail marathon, the Waugoshance Trail Half Marathon in Mackinaw City, MI. She’s done a half before, but never on a trail. She was both nervous and excited. We both made reservations to camp in that area and meet up at the campground on Friday.
On Saturday Erick (my husband) drove us to the race. I should mention we were very fortunate to find the start of the race, this was quite an accomplishment-no real markings or directions to the start were provided. At the start novices are chatting about poison ivy and bugs and such. We brush off the chatter and are happy we put the Deer Fly Tape on our hats. If you’ve never been in Michigan in July on the trails, this is a must. You will hear those little suckers buzzing for your entire run, but you won’t get bit as they are glued to your head. Rochelle enjoys the trail almost as much as I do. I didn’t hear a single complaint out of her the entire time. She was made for this!
Rochelle’s only goal for the race was to finish within the cut off time. I plan to get her in with a little time to spare. I have done more trail running than Rochelle and my running pace is a little faster than hers. I’m comfortable that we will meet her goal.
The trail was marked well but you wouldn’t know it when I start headed the wrong direction and Rochelle has to correct me. Yikes! I’m supposed to be there for her and I’m already screwing up. Thank God she saw that course marker that I missed!
Before we know it the race is over half way done. We’ve crossed a dam, switchbacks and lots of quick hills. She is in great spirits. After a road crossing we hit a wet and muddy section of trail, she takes it all in stride. We have talked the entire time, I feel we have bonded over this race, it will connect us. We reach a point that the trail ends and we are back on a road that I know will make a few turns but eventually lead us to the finish. She’s getting tired, but she powers through it. We make the last turn to and see our husbands ahead at the finish. Her children are cheering for her. As we approach the finish she grabs my hand and we cross the finish line together. I am overwhelmed at how I feel. This was her race, she finished almost thirty minutes faster than she had planned. I’ve learned you get more than you give when you pace.
Pacing Part 2:
My friend David (the fellow that paced me at Kettle Moraine) asked me if I would pace and crew for him at the Hallucination 100 Mile at Run Woodstock. The crewing part, I got that. No problem. The pacing part? This is like asking a turtle to pace a rabbit. No joke here. David took 3rd place over all in 2012, I took 63rd place out of 69. Big difference in our speed. I knew I was going to have my work cut out for me.
We met up with David and his wife Amanda a few hours before the race. David is relaxed and seems ready to go. He gave Amanda and I a run down on what he would like us to do as his crew. I look over his supplies. He has a cooler filled with Boost and a small stash of food. He also had a small tacklebox filled with things like batteries, powdered gatorade, M&M’s, electrolyte capsules. He had a few extra clothing items in a bag and that was it. When I packed for an ultra I looked like I was going to be away from home for a month. I think I have more stuff stashed in my purse on a daily basis than David takes to an ultra.
The race starts at 4:00 PM. We go watch David and the rest of racers start. The weather is predicted to be good. A far cry from the past two years of rain and mud. We all enjoy the music and atmosphere that this race provides at the start/finish area. There are a lot of campers and I get a chance to visit with a lot of my running friends.
Earlier in the day, a runner approached us while we were hanging out at the RV. He surprised me by saying that he read my first blog post about my 100 miler at Woodstock. He said I inspired him to run his first 100 this weekend. I am in awe of this. I had no idea anyone actually read this blog, other than my family.
David’s first loop was under three hours, just as he expected. (The course is 6 loops of about 16.6 miles.) David is pretty easy to crew as he does not need or want a lot of support. We refill his bottles and he heads out. He takes his headlamp with him as it will be dark the next time we see him. David’s second lap goes by fast and again he doesn’t need much from us. Between laps, Amanda and I go back to the RV and get about 2 1/2 hours of restless sleep. Neither of us really falls asleep as we are thinking about David and don’t want to miss the alarm to get us up. I’d hate for him come in from a loop and us not be there for him. Most of the time we wait about a half hour extra in the dark and cold because we don’t want to miss him.
I lose track of what happened when during the night. I remember convincing David to take a clean, dry shirt so he wouldn’t get hypothermic during the night. I also remember him coming in with a green look about him that told me without even hearing the words that his stomach had turned on him. I think it is the first time he’s ever been through this. I’ve had more than my fair share of stomach issues at ultras. I remind him that it will pass and he will feel better. Overnight, he is forced to slow his pace to allow his stomach to recover.
He comes in on the second to last loop and I am ready to go do my official pacing duties. Even his slower pace overnight was still faster than my usual pace. I am only hoping not to be a disappointment to him. I’ve told him several times before the race, but I remind him one last time as we head out. I tell him that if his pace is too fast for me that his has to drop me. I don’t want to slow him down. He assures me that won’t happen. He has faith in me that I will keep up. David has a few times during the loop where he wants to just walk. I know what that is like. After a few minutes I suggest we start running again and he agrees. He runs far more than I do at that point in a hundred miler. We laugh as a black cloud comes out of nowhere and it begins to rain briefly. It feels great and we actually enjoy it. I’ve been at this race four years in a row. I enjoy the course and I get to know it better each time. There are several wooden bridges with no hand rails. David takes a bad step and slips over the edge. He lands with one knee in the bog and one on the wooden planks. Both his hands smash onto the planks and break his handheld bottle. His Boost energy drink is everywhere. Fortunately the water bottle got the worst of the fall and not David. He’s a tough one, he gets up and keeps moving forward.
There are only a few miles left and I know that David could run faster than me in finish a bit earlier. I offer the suggestion to him and he flat out refuses the idea. He said he knows he will still get a sub 24 hour finish with me. That turns into his goal. We have about a mile left on the course and we see one of David’s boys waiting for us on the course. He runs the last of the race in with us. His son is as fast as David is, I see ultra running in his future too. We hear the music that we know is playing at the finish line. We come out of the woods and charge to the finish. David and his son cross the line.
David and Amanda feel like family to us. We’ve been at several races together in the past year. It’s amazing how running can bond you. You see each other at your highs and lows. You get to see the core of a person, the part that is left there when all the daily distractions are stripped away. David did not care that I was a slower runner. He just knew that I would be there for him and help get him to the finish line.