Thursday, September 6, 2012

PACERS: A night of basketball, barbeque and adult entertainment?

Well, I hate to disappoint you folks, but the kind of pacer that I am talking about is not this:
Or this:
And certainly not this:
So THAT is what they mean by escort service!!  It really is innocent, after all!!  

Alas, the kind of pacer I am talking about is the glutton who agrees to drag your exhausted butt around in the wee hours of the morning during an ultra marathon, when you are grumpy, sleep deprived, and covered in all kinds of yucky stuff from being out on the trails for so long.

Most ultra marathons will take pity on you and allow you to drag someone along after the first 50 or 60 miles of the race.  They figure by this point, it will either help to keep you safely on the right path, or at the very least it will give your buddy a chance to get lots of blackmail material to use against you in the future.

Here's the rule on pacing for the Cactus Rose 100 miler next month:

Pacers: pacers are allowed AFTER 50 miles or AFTER it gets dark. As many as you want, but only one at a time. Only start from Aid Stations. If a runner is over 60, then a pacer is allowed the entire 100 miles. No muleing is allowed. Please carry your own stuff, whatever it is.
And this is from the race doc for the Rocky Raccoon 100 that I am doing in February:

Pacers are allowed to start from any aid station after 60 miles: only one pacer at
a time per runner. No mule-ing. Each runner must carry their own gear. Pacers
are welcome at all aid stations, same as their runner. If age 60+, you can have a
pacer the entire 100mi. Waivers will be available and must be signed at packet
pickup or at Dogwood. If you choose to start pacing at DamNation, you need to
walk there. NO pacers for 50mi runners. 

It seems pretty simple.  Find someone who : 1. can cover the distance necessary; 2.  can put up with your bitching and moaning; 3. will not make fun of you - at least until you are healed and the race is but a memory.
The reality is, though, that it is SO much more than that.

As soon as I finished my first 100 miler in 2011, I started thinking about who I wanted to pace me for my next hundred.  One name kept coming to mind.  It was someone who was easy to talk to, laid back, and who's company I know I enjoy.  He is also a very talented athlete who has competed in ultra distance events (Iron distance triathlons - 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run), trains his a@% off, and knows a thing or two about suffering during a race.  I have lots of ultra running and trail running friends, and they all would have been great company out there, but in the end, I knew it had to be John Fell for miles 80 - 100.

John had paced his father-in-law,  Keith Manuel, the year before at the same race, so he had experience on that trail as well.  All I had to do was convince him to do it.  So, I sent John a FB message, and waited.  Well, I didn't have to wait long.  Within a few hours, my cell phone rang and it was John.  Not only was he saying yes, but "HELL YES". :)  The stars were aligning.

Now for a lap 4 pacer, or from 60 - 80 miles.  As luck would have it, I have been fortunate enough to become friends with Mark Weineke.  He is one of the race directors for Cajun Coyote - the trail run put on in Chicot State Park every December.  Mark is a very experienced ultra distance trail runner, and he has paced people at some of the hardest ultras in the US.  Mark came into the store one day, and while we were visiting, I asked if he might be interested in pacing me for 20 miles at Rocky.  Being the great guy that he is, he was easy to convince.  So, pacers were in place.  If I could get to mile 60 with my wits in tact, I would have two world class pacers to help me finish up the race.

A couple of weeks before race day, John and I had lunch to go over strategies and expectations for the last 20 miles of the race.  Some folks like their pacers to follow behind them - I prefer for the pacer to run in front, so I can hook onto their back (mentally), and they can pull me along. We also went over projected split times.  This would help John to know when to be there, as well as give him an idea of how my race is going based on how far off of these times I might be.  Race day nutrition was also discussed, since we could safely assume that after running 80 miles, I would not mentally be as sharp as I would like, so I would need someone to help me to remember to eat, take salt, etc.

Next thing you know, it was race day. I had put in all the work necessary to have a great race and beat my previous time on this course.  I just had to race smart until I got to mile 60, then I would have help making the right decisions.  I knew John and Mark were driving in that morning while the race was going on.  The weather was bad that day, so I was concerned - for their safety first, but also hoping there wouldn't be anything that would get in the way of their arrival.

When I pulled into the Start/Finish area at mile 40, I was able to see Mark W., so I knew he had made it.  One down, one to go. Then, as I was leaving an aid station at about 43 miles into the race,  I looked up to where I would be crossing a park road and saw a beautiful sight - a white FJ Cruiser with none other than John Fell in it!!  I ran over (with a mouth full of gummy bears - remember I just left an aid station), leaned in the passenger window and gave him a big hug!  I know he's a friend because he said nothing about how bad I probably smelled.  Phew!  All pacers present and accounted for.

When I made it back to the Start/Finish at mile 60, it was about 8:00 p.m. and I had been running for 14 hours.  This is the lap where the fatigue really set in.  Not that my legs were too tired to run - I was SLEEPY!!  My body was telling me it was time for a nap.  Thank goodness Mark knew what to do - he would walk the uphills and run the downs and most of the flats.  When we did walk, and he would start up again, I would find myself thinking, "Nooo - I don't wanna run".  But I kept that to myself and ran to keep up.  We had a great lap - it was only 20 minutes slower than my previous one, and with it being dark and tiredness kicking in, I was happy with that.

At mile 80, Mark handed over the reigns to John, and off we went.  Early in the lap, John told me that he had a surprise for me later in the lap.  I just smiled to myself.  At this point, I had been on the trails in ankle deep, shoe sucking mud, and soaked through more than once from the rain.  It was hard to imagine what might warrant excitement from me, but I trust John, so I figured it would be good.  Before this lap, when we were at the start/finish, my crew (crazy running friends who enjoy watching me suffer) wanted me to sit down.  I refused, knowing that with the state of my legs, I might not be able to get up.  Just using the porta potty was a challenge.  Only pride got me out of there without calling for help.  Any time I would try to stretch a muscle, the opposing muscle would cramp up.  Everything took tremendous effort.  So, when it was time to put my jacket on, at about mile 87, I was grateful for John's help.  And his sense of humor...his words,"Well, this is the first time I have put a girls clothes ON in the woods".  To make someone laugh at this point is a real skill.

So, we were trudging along and around mile 90 or so, in a part of the trail that I really dislike (and you get to dislike it 5 times in this race), when John revealed his surprise.  He told me that he had been thinking that if he had been running for 20+ hours, what might he like?  The answer - GUM.  It was as though I could hear the angels singing when I started to chew it.  I may have teared up, but I doubt even my tear ducts were working at this point. Shear genius.  It was about 4:00 on the Sunday morning.  I started running at 6:00 on Saturday morning.  I had had Vespa, gels, snacks from the aid station and gatorade just to name a few.  All the perfect recipe for some serious dragon breath.  That gum was like manna from heaven.

Now that he had my complete attention, John did the perfect pacer thing.  He ran.  When he could tell I was tired, he walked.  We visited much of the time, and he told stories when I was too tired to contribute.  He even asked once if I would prefer quiet, but like I said, I enjoy his company, so it was all good.  Besides, I know John well enough to ask him to stop talking should the need arise. It didn't.  When we got to the finish chute, I looked around and saw that John had stopped a way back.  He knew that it was my finish line to cross.  What he may or may not know is how much having his and Mark's company made the race so much more enjoyable.

WooHoo!  There's the finish line!!

Where's John?
Happy, Happy!!

There he is!  No words suffice, but hugs do!!

Looks like a hug, but he was really holding me up.
Mark - He helped get me through lots of dark hours!
So grateful to know him!
And this is why I do it:

With Josh and Shelby.  So awesome to see my kids proud of me,
instead of the other way around.
Well, I guess I should have warned you to get a pacer for this post.  It was a little longer than planned, but it is a very important topic.  It might have been nice to have someone next to you handing you a Gu and filling your water bottle. :)

Have a great weekend, and Happy Running, Y'all!!



  1. Awesome post Edie. I had all my pacers ready to go, but all they got to do was watch my feet come apart! This year will be better! I have 2 shelters and more people coming!!!

  2. Congrats on your finish,you prepared well for it!