Wednesday, November 8, 2017
It wasn't my race. I was simply pacing. When the idea came about a few weeks ago, I was still deep in recovery mode from my own 100+ miles. But I couldn't pass up the opportunity to get in some miles on a race that has been on my radar for a couple of years. The timing doesn't allow me to do Hinson and Pinhoti, but I do hope that I can race it.
We had a crew meeting at Taco Mac 2 weeks ago where Dan & I promised to get him through the last 45 miles and Sam promised to drive us all around. I knew that the later miles would mean that I would be running in the dark and likely when he was hurting the most. So it was imperative that I be as positive as possible and forget any of my own woes.
After running the Greenville Marathon the weekend prior, I felt pretty good about running 20-25 miles with John - more if necessary. I slept in until close to 8:00 a.m. on Saturday morning and putzed around the house until picking up Dan close to 3:00 p.m. We made decent time and lost an hour on our way to Alabama going from EST to CST. Luckily, we found Sam pretty easily among the huge crowd at Bald Rock and waited for John at mile 40.
The atmosphere at Bald Rock was unreal. There were so many runners and crew members around that it reminded me of videos I've seen of Western States. People were decked out in racing shirts, wearing belt buckles, sporting trucker hats and tattoos, and everyone was craning their necks for their runner. It was definitely a warm day for the runners, but a perfect day to be crewing. We saw Lauren with pacer Keith right when we hopped out of the car! As we got closer to the aid station, I saw Andy & Deano. More runner friends!
John came in and we walked with him to the truck asking him how the race was going. He seemed to be in pretty good spirits with 40 miles already completed. He chugged an Ensure and a Yoo-hoo before setting off down the road. All of sudden, we heard yakking and saw him hunched over in the ditch. Crap. All those calories were on the side of the road now. Luckily, he picked himself up pretty easily and carried on. We told him we'd see him at the next aid station and gave each other nervous glances.
Dan & I had yet to determine which legs we were running. So we had Sam flip a coin for who would get to finish with him and be "Runner 2". I called heads, it was tails, so Dan would bring him in the final leg. That meant that I was up first and had to be mindful of what I was consuming myself in the next couple of hours.
We drove to the next aid station at 45 miles and he seemed to be in better spirits. The sun was starting to set and he reached us just in time to grab his headlamp. After heading off into the woods, we started hauling ass to drop my car at the finish line. It was nearly an hour drive, but really quite beautiful with a very long sunset. Dan & I threw our gear in Sam's truck and then we made the drive back to the mile 55 aid station.
The crowd at mile 55 was huge as well. There was a fire pit, music, and people camped out in chairs, in cars, and all over the road. Runners came into this station in various states. Some looked fresh and happy whereas some were in an incredibly bad place. I had to go back down the road a ways to find a place that I could get far enough away from people to pee!
John came out of the woods and wasn't in a happy place. He hadn't been able to keep anything down and struggled to sip some broth. He sat for a bit in a chair near the aid station and tried to get some liquids in him. We walked about 20 steps down the fire road and he lost everything he had just put in his stomach. However, like earlier, he wiped his mouth and we took off down the road.
The first few miles were very long because were walking almost exclusively. I was hoping that he was going to be able to settle his stomach a bit by walking, but it seemed to revolt even water. It was extremely humid out and though the temperature wasn't too bad by southern standards, the humidity made it seem worse.
I actually really enjoyed the sections that I paced. The first one was half fire road and half easy single track. I like running on fire roads because the footing is generally easier to navigate in the dark and the grades are typically not as steep in either direction. After another failed liquid attempt at the mile 60 aid station, I started to get concerned. From then on, I tried to remind him every half mile or so to sip on his handheld to at least try to get something to stick.
Once we turned off the fire road, he actually wanted to run a bit on the single track. It was much different than the trails I'm used to running. Covered in pine needles, the footing was pretty easy. There were rocks and roots in some sections, but it was more the exception than the norm. Plus, most of what we covered in miles 60-65 were downhill. The temperature started to drop and fortunately got a bit more pleasant as the evening wore on.
At mile 65, we came to the Chandler Springs aid station. I gave Dan an update and we got John to drink some broth and a bit of Red Bull. Dan & Sam seemed pretty peppy and they said they were able to get in a nap because of the lull between aid stations. Dan took over the pacing duties at this point and I climbed into the truck with Sam. We drove to Porters Gap pretty quickly and I changed into a dry sports bra and shirt. Aaaahhh!
They were in and out of Porters Gap pretty quick and we got back in the truck to find the next aid station. And got lost. We drove for quite awhile, including on a spooky, foggy fire road with an old cemetery and dilapidated farm houses. Eventually, we found the road we were supposed to be on and waited at the Pinnacle aid station. They had music, tiki torches, and a huge set up. It was fun just hanging out, but I could feel the sleepiness coming. I knew I needed at least a 15 minute nap to keep going.
Luckily, the next aid station was 4 miles down the same road and we were able to get there very quickly. We set our alarm clocks and passed out with our chairs leaned back. I slept hard for 45 minutes. Okay, 5 more minutes because I had to snooze. I climbed up a steep embankment to use nature's porta-potty and then came back to the truck to gather my gear for my next leg. I was hungry so I grabbed a pack of Pop-Tarts and started eating one on the way to the aid station. We walked up right as Dan and John were coming in and I threw my remaining Pop-Tart to Sam.
The next section was just as pleasant as the first. A bit of fire road and nice single track. I think I lucked out on my pacer sections. The sun started to come up as we made our way and John was more apt to run a bit than when I was with him prior. We weren't as talkative in this section, but rather just doing steady work as we made our way from mile 79 to mile 85. I kept hearing music as we came into the final mile, but my GPS had gotten a bit ahead and I was expecting to see the aid station sooner than we did.
A pile of runners came into Bulls Gap at the same time. I needed to refill my own water bottles and started looking around for Dan & Sam. They weren't anywhere to be found and John was ready to move on pretty quickly. I told Deano if he saw them to let them know we went on ahead. Luckily, I was pacing him through mile 93.
Our last section together was the hardest and the best. The hardest because I knew he was hurting and was struggling after not being able to really drink or eat much of anything for 50 miles. The best because we knew he was going to finish and our conversations got very silly. There were talks of magical unicorns carrying us to the finish and big life questions like, why are all beer cans/bottles tossed on the side of fire roads domestic cheapies?
Though I had covered far less distance than John, the fire road did seem to go on forever. I was actually getting really hungry and wanted real food instead of just the junk I had in my pack. But the funny thing about pacing is that I wasn't really as concerned about it had I been alone. It was almost as though John's pain masked any discomfort I had of my own.
A small group of runners & pacers bunched together at nearly the same time we came into view of the aid station. I was excited that John only had about 7 more miles to go and Dan would certainly bring him home. Selfishly, I was looking forward to a breakfast beer, a breakfast burrito, and a breakfast nap. In some sort of order.
Dan and Sam were ready to help with the pass off and got John what he needed. In the craziness of passing him off, Dan asked if I had 7 more miles in me. He looked fresh and ready to run so I was a bit confused at first. Then he explained that there was a female runner, Allison, chasing cutoffs who had been without a pacer all day. She had her parents and brother as crew and Dan & Sam struck up a conversation with them while everyone was waiting.
Dan & John took off and I went over to the parents to introduce myself and explain my offer to pace her. She came in not too long afterwards and was in major pain due to blisters covering half of her feet. At first, she was going to just tough it out and keep going with the blisters, but the aid station volunteers urged her to pop and bandage them. They had her needle them and once drained, someone found some medical gauze which was then covered in duct tape. Because, well, ultras.
I asked her if she wanted company on the last 7 miles and she was agreeable to the premise. I stuffed a few burritos in my mouth as the aid station began to break down. She had 14 minutes to get out of the aid station before the cutoff. 14 minutes!
When she was bandaged and ready to go, someone stuffed a few gels in my pack for her and then we were off. It was extremely slow moving at first. We were going at a 40:00 minute mile pace for about a quarter mile and I was really worried that she was going to have to DNF at mile 9X. But after we crossed a few hills, she wanted to run a bit and so we continued this pattern for about 2 miles.
The sweeper was on our tail and eventually we/I invited her to come and join our party. She was far more talkative than me at this point and walked behind or side-by-side Allison. I stayed ahead about 10-20 steps and would stop to help her over steep declines or water crossings. I could tell that she was in a lot of pain and every step was hurting her feet more and more.
The trail section in the last part was quite beautiful with the colorful leaves and nice downhills. I hated that she was so miserable that she couldn't enjoy any of it. We talked a little bit about running, work, etc., but then just let the sweeper fill the void of conversation.
Once we reached the fire road section, the sweeper's husband came running up from the other side and joined our pack. The fire road was full of loose gravel and each spiky rock was incredibly painful on Allison's feet. We were slow moving through this section as well even though it was reasonably flat and relatively easy footing.
At the pavement, I was hoping that she would feel ready to run, but it was still nearly 3 miles to the finish. We did pick up the pace for brief sections, but by the first mile, it was definitely tough again. I could see the pain on her face. Every step was like fire on her feet. And given that she had a nearly full handheld on a warm day, it was likely she was pretty dehydrated too.
I checked my phone at one point and the group text from Sam and Dan asked where I was. I responded and they said they were on their way. In my sleep-deprived state, I thought they were coming in the truck and I kept getting excited when I heard a car coming. Except it never was a white truck. Time keep ticking and I saw a text that told us we need to hurry up!
I was like, duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuh!
But then I saw 2 people on the other side of the road coming towards us and I was like, hey, I think those are my hooligans! They had run from the finish line to where we were!
So now it was Allison, me, the 2 sweepers, Dan, & Sam in our entourage. Dan & Sam had plenty of fresh cheerleading in them and urged her to run just a little bit. I had no idea how close we were to the finish because I really wasn't looking at the actual time. Plus, we lost an hour going into Central time and gained an hour because of daylight saving's so I was all turned around. Dan gave me an update and we were cutting it close. Really close.
Luckily, they were able to convince her to run a bit and then when we were less than a mile a way, she continued to shuffle along. They called out the landmarks along the way and explained exactly where she was going as we neared the stadium. When we saw the lights of the stadium, I asked Dan how much time she had left. 10 minutes! She was going to do this.
We crossed the railroad tracks and neared the entrance to the grassy field next to the stadium. I heard her parents screaming and saw them waving as they came into sight. I fell behind and let Dan & Sam show her the way. Once we hit the track, the entourage stopped and let her cover the final 200 meters on her own to the finish. I walked over to her mom and immediately started tearing up as I gave her a hug. As we all walked across the field towards the line, there wasn't a dry eye in the group.
Watching her cross with 6 minutes left on the clock was far better than finishing my own race. It was incredible. Her parents were beside themselves excited and her brother was jumping up and down. After a couple of photos in front on the finish line arch, she made a beeline to me (who was actually trying to just let her have her moment) and gave me hug. Y'all, I was in serious tears. Dammit.
I went to go find John to congratulate him and Kathy had picked up some slushies from Sonic. It was the best thing I have every slurped in my life. Seriously, I could barely listen to John's finish because I was so enamored with my slushy. Kidding....kind of..... We laid against the cool wall of the football stadium for a bit, talking nonsense, and enjoying the sweet feeling of being finished. It was the best kind of adventure and I cannot wait to do it again!