Racing from the flip side: reflections of a pacer

Last weekend, I crewed and paced my bestest trail buddy to his first 100 mile finish.

I LOVE crewing and pacing.  It is completely different from the grind of racing, yet so important to the success of a runner, especially over the course of 100 miles.  Because crew and pacer can make or break the race for a runner, it comes with A LOT of pressure.  And contrary to what many people believe, pacing is NOT about keeping your runner company.

I was so fortunate to have a good friend and fellow Ninja teammate, Kelley Mims, to come along for the fun.  Kelley grew up in Louisiana and loves any excuse to go for a visit.  Plus, she loves trail running as much as me and is always willing to help someone out.  We were also camped next to some Dallas Dirt Runner gals and helped out with them when we could.  We ended up having some hilarious adventures with Ang while all our runners were out on the loop.  I honestly can’t wait until I see her again!!

The race

The race was held at Chicot State Park somewhere in the middle of Louisiana and started at 7AM.  The race was to be 5 loops of 20 miles, with me jumping in at mile 60 to bring him home to the finish.  The weather was cool and overcast, with some misting throughout the day. Kelley and I would soon learn, as Tommy came in off the first loop, that the trails were muddy with standing water in some areas of the course from rains that had moved through during the week.  Kelley and I worked to get Tommy everything he needed so that we could get him back out as quickly as possible. I taped a hot spot, slathered as much Trail Toes as I could get on his feet and sent him on his way.  Tommy was moving well, but I was REALLY concerned about the feet.  It was clear to me that feet were going to be the battle of the day.

Between second and third loop, Tommy was still moving well and looking good.  Kelley had taken one for the team and warmed up his macaroni & cheese with tuna (I COULD NOT warm up tuna. GAG)  I taped a hot spot on his other foot, slathered more Trail Toes on, then on with dry socks.  He also opted to change shoes.  I should have stopped this – I should have made him wait until the start of the 4th loop.  He didn’t have another dry pair with him and I didn’t override my gut on that one.  I’m not sure if it made a huge difference or not, but everytime I reflect on it, I regret letting that happen so early.

Tommy would update us at mile 8 and mile 16 aid stations each loop.  I could tell during loop 3 that it was becoming difficult for him.  He came in at the end of loop 3, 60 miles behind him, looking tired and a little defeated.  But I know from firsthand experience that knowing you get your pacer can pick up the mood, so I was hoping that would help to put a little pep in his step.  We changed his socks (again), and this time there were blisters to attend to.  I did everything I could to make his feet more comfortable, but all day trapsing through mud and water in wet shoes was beginning to take its toll.  Kelley and I were trying to get calories in him as well, but he wasn’t having much of that.

Off we went on loop 4.  The course was fun.  I didn’t think the first 4 miles were nearly as bad as everyone had said, but then again, I was fresh as a daisy and hadn’t been battling the course all day.  Tommy was moving slow.  I had a good idea what battles he was fighting in his mind.  I had to be careful at this point.  I knew we were in that delicate time during a 100 miler when your body is telling you to eff off, you’re off your goal pace and you can’t see any hope in the situation.  I had to keep him in it, but without pushing him to a point that he went over the edge mentally.  I never feel that I handle this part well.  I can troubleshoot your GI issues, take care of your feet and manage all the other moving parts, but I feel like I always fall short in managing the mental state.  In any case, I was concerned.  I knew he was in a bad place, but somehow I managed to keep him eating and drinking and moving.  Now if we can make the feet last 30 more miles….

We came in from loop 4 and I went to work on Tommy’s feet.  Kelley had gone out to pace a runner from Dallas Dirt Runners who didn’t have a pacer lined up, so I was on my own! LOL.  God bless Tommy.  His feet were a mess.  I drained so many blisters…again.  I drained one with blood – I know, I know – but I had to do what I had to do.  I joked that I could do this without issue but warming up mac & cheese with tuna crossed the line.  Tommy wasn’t about to eat anything.  I know how the stomach feels at mile 80, so I didn’t push it too much.  Tommy asked about dry shoes, but we had none.  Oh how I wish he could have worn my shoes, but they were just a tad too small.  We sat for a minute to let him reset, then we were off for the victory lap.

Tommy got cold while we were in camp and wanted to take it slow for a bit to get warmed up.  After the first mile, I was beginning to worried.  We HAD to pick up the pace or we wouldn’t make cutoff.  But suddenly, he started running.  I asked about it and he said that he realized he felt better running than walking.  I’ve been there and know how that feels.  That was all the confirmation I needed to know that I could start pushing him more.  I knew that the key to keeping him moving was to keep him from submerging his feet again.  If I was successful at that and could keep, at least, a slow flow calories in him then I could get him to the finish!  We started making a wide berth around the muddy areas and when I couldn’t find a way around, I would find a way through.  We used logs already laying in place, or I found logs to drag a path across.  I would then wade in so Tommy could grab my shoulder for stability.  I was willing to carry him across on my back, if it had come to that.  With each mile, I could see him becoming stronger physically and mentally.   Come hell or high water, I wanted to get him in under 28 hours.  And he made it 🙂

Tommy ended up crossing the finish in 27:26:42.  I was so proud that my eyes actually got watery.  I was more proud than I would have been if he had hit his original goal of sub – 24.  He experienced the misery that 100 miles had to offer and WON the battle!

Welcome to the 100 mile club, Tommy.  You EARNED it!!

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