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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The TRIals of 70.3 Training and “Other Stuff”

In an attempt to dig myself out of the blogging black hole that I have allowed myself to fall into, I’m penning this catch up post.

Half Ironman training is…..kicking my ass.  

There is NO other way to put it.  Of course, most of the ass kicking is of my own making because I am terribly over-scheduled.  Some of the ass kicking is because I, um, probably scheduled a big race too soon after Houston…..in my defense – switching from Cowtown Half Marathon to the 50k seemed like a really good idea at the time!  LOL!!  And I think some of the ass kicking is due to my lack of motivation.  I used every single ounce of motivation, determination and dedication that I possessed while I was training for and racing at Houston.  I did what I set out to do and grabbed my BQ.  And since  it was such a huge goal and I spent such a long time focusing on it – the absence of chasing it is causing me to flounder.  I am struggling to maintain focus on these shorter term races and I am most definitely struggling to set my goals for the remainder of the year.  I’m going to get there, though!!

After Houston, I reveled in the glory of my BQ for exactly 5 days, then it was back to work.  (I literally had NO time to waste to get started on my 70.3 training.  The timing of Houston had already put me behind the 8-ball in relationship to Galveston.)  I know planning my workouts caused some stress for my coach.  It sounds so ridiculous when I put it down in print – I’m training for a 50k and a half Ironman AT THE SAME TIME.  Big-time kudos to my coach for: 1) the balancing act (aka training plan) that he put together for me, and 2) choosing to create a training plan instead of strangling me (which, I’m sure crossed his mind)!

The first week of 70.3 training was HELL.  I was SO EXHAUSTED.  The second week – I was still exhausted, but my schedule was wonkier than usual.  I had some out-of-the-norm commitments that required rearranging my training schedule.  I *nearly* skipped a bike workout.  I intended to get up early to do before work; then I moved to the next day (which was a rest/swim day) and planned to do early.  I got up and just skipped it that morning.  I tried to justify to myself that swimming was enough for that day.  But I confessed to Brent that I skipped the bike and whined because I was tired.  All he had to say was, “You’ll be tired at Galveston” and  I decided to do it when I got home…..at 9 PM…after driving Alli to practice and after swimming.  I did it and I was STILL exhausted, but at least I could live with myself.  I needed that kick in the rear and I’m glad that Brent is willing to do the kicking when it is needed. 

I’m now in week 3.  I did my 2 hour ride on Tuesday and it was easier.  (Probably because I had been off work for 2 days, but I’m choosing to believe that I’m getting stronger!)  I have one more really long run this weekend in prep for my ultra in 2 weeks, then the “long” runs won’t be as long.  I finally feel like I’m on the edge of getting a handle on juggling it all again.

Back in the pool

I jumped back into the pool a couple weeks ago.  It had been six long months since I had done swimming of any kind.  I was pleasantly surprised that my fitness in the water seemed about the same as the last time I swam!!  This was a huge mental boost for me, as the swim is the biggest question mark for my 70.3.

But the same day I got back into the pool, I learned that the pool I use was scheduled to be closed beginning Feb 1 through sometime in the Fall.  SERIOUSLY.  I did something completely out of the ordinary for me: I didn’t fret – I just started looking and found another pool across town.  Last week I was able to visit this new pool for a swim and I’m not sure it is going to work.  It is smaller and a high school swim team practices there at the same time that I am available to swim.  Most likely, I’ll head back to the pool in which I started  It isn’t my favorite, but it will get me by.

At Galveston, if I can get myself warmed up and avoid the panic related to that and figure out how to manage the inevitable panic related to all the people in the water, I really do believe that I can finish the swim before the cutoff.

Rocky Raccoon 100 Pacer

This weekend, my long run was to be a very SLOW skip around Huntsville State Park as a pacer for my teammate, Tim, on his last 20 mile loop of his 100 mile attempt.  As it turns out, having a fractured tibia isn’t conducive to finishing a 100 mile race and Tim was forced to drop after 40 miles.  I know that another 100 mile attempt is the LAST thing on his mind right now, but he is going to have to attempt another just so I can fulfill my job as pacer!

The Flu? Ain’t got no time for that!

I drove down to Huntsville for the race and arrived Saturday around lunch.  Around 2 PM, Alli started texting me saying she was nauseous.  Then she texted saying she thought she had a fever.  Then she texted saying she was achy.  UH OH.  I had a gut feeling that she was coming down with the flu.  She was at a friend’s for the night, since I had planned to be running at 12-5AM-ish and Bobby was gone to the lake.  Logan picked her up and brought her home.  I decided to stay in Huntsville, but deep down I wasn’t convinced that was the right decision.

Brent came in from loop 3 and after he got off on loop 4 with his pacer, Alli started texting me again.  She still wasn’t feeling well and Ibuprofen wasn’t working all that well.  My mom knew she was home sick with Logan and was having a fit to go down and stay with her.  (My mom is 83 and notoriously fretful.  I knew she wouldn’t sleep a wink unless I came home.)  So I decided to leave my Renegade family behind to go home and take care of my little girl.  It was a tough decision, but the right one.  I was home before midnight.  We arrived at the clinic as soon as it was open on Sunday and, sure enough, Alli had the flu.

The timing of this illness couldn’t have come at a better time, for me. On Monday, I did NOTHING.  I actually thought I was coming down with something.  But I believe it was my body finally being able to relax for the first time in….forever….and it was letting go of all that exhaustion and tension.  Alli was still running fever on Tuesday, so we stayed home again.  I felt much more energized and got several things accomplished around the house, which also helped my mood and energy level. 

Yesterday, Alli was back at school and I was back at work.  She was zapped after school, though, so I made the decision to keep her home from practice. 

Hopefully, the time off will give me enough of a boost to make it to Spring Break.  Alli’s team will be heading into qualifier season, which is difficult because of the amount of travel. But I’ll also be two weeks away from Galveston and a break will be in sight!! 

I’m trying not to sign up for any races for a little bit of time after Galveston. I am beginning to think that a couple week break, then maintaining base might be the best plan for a while, to give my mind and body a little break. 

Happy Thursday!!