First Time Pacer


I wasn’t sure if it was going to happen or not, but it did; I got to be a pacer at Rocky Raccoon.

I had tried to set up a runner to pace prior to the race, but things didn’t work out. But everyone said just show up, and someone will take you as a pacer. So that’s what I did.

I rode up to Huntsville with Stefan. We got there about 3 or so and hung around the Start / Finish.  I got changed into my running gear and just sat around waiting. There were two races, a 50 mile and a 100 mile. It was hard for me to tell which race the runners were in. Usually, you can tell by color, but that wasn’t the case here. Like most races, it was a party type atmosphere. And unfortunately, since I wasn’t racing, I felt like I wasn’t part of that party. But that would change when Rachel showed up.

She was running the 100 miler and would be heading out for her fourth lap. Stefan told me to go with her. That way I could see the course during the daylight. I was nervous, who wants a green, untested, virgin rookie when they’ve just run 60 miles and still have 40 to go? Add to that the fact that we were virtually strangers. We’d both gone on a group run the previous weekend, and conversed for a few minutes in the parking lot after the run, but other than that… I’m not even sure if she knew my name. But off we went.

At first I tried to make small conversation, but that proved difficult. I couldn’t hear her because from the get go, I was following her. She was the pace setter. So whenever she said something, it was lost to the wind. I think she was smartly conserving her breath for more important things, like the remaining 40 miles. I wanted to figure out some way to help her,  but my idle chatter was probably not one. So I tried to converse only when necessary.

As keeping on her on pace was not an issue, then surely reminding her to drink and eat would be one of my responsibilities. Sort of. She didn’t eat anything. Not one morsel would cross her lips the entire night. Everything she consumed was in liquid form, occasionally with some Recoverite powder mixed in. She also had some Gatorade and of course water, and she may have had some soda/Mountain Dew, but absolutely no food. She mentioned that just the smell of food made her nauseous. Having spent a few minutes too long at an aid station, right after leaving it, she threw up. From the smell of the food. Meanwhile, I’m trying to scarf down as much as I can before I have to catch up to her.

And I was pretty sure she had a drinking problem – as in she wasn’t drinking enough. We filled up her bottle at one station, and it was practically full at the next station. She’d have a few Dixie cups of whatever, and then she’d take off. I asked if she’d peed at all. She told me twice for the day. I thought for sure she was going to be super dehydrated. But she kept chugging along. I timidly suggested she drink some of whatever was in her bottle. Often she declined and I wasn’t sure whether to press her or not. I figured she knew what she was doing. Later, she did start listening and would sip when I suggested. A few times, anyway.

I like to think that I did in fact help by providing light. I had bought a flashlight just for the race, 100 lumens. Once it got dark, I busted it out and it worked great. It made up for the dim headlamp she had. When she swapped that headlamp out for another, even with fresh batteries, somehow that turned out dim too. And since I’d forgotten to change the batteries in my headlamp, my headlamp was equally dim. The flashlight provided the bulk of illumination for the both of us. I was really happy I’d bought it… until it had a seizure. It started blinking rapidly. I turned it to the lower setting. That fixe– Nope. Still blinking. I turned it off and tried again. Same result. Later when I turned it back on, it would work for a while, and then seize up. It was like this for the rest of the night. I was tempted to throw it in the lake we ran by, but then thought better of it and would have to have to suffer and return it to REI.

*  *  *  *  *

{If I may digress into a brief product review of the Princeton Tec AMP 3.5, 100 Lumens Flashlight

This is the second Princeton Tec lighting product I have purchased, (the other being an inexpensive headlamp) and it is the second product to fail me. Chances are I could exchange the light for a new one and it would work fine. But the other major flaw is the design of the battery compartment. Which might not seem like a big deal, but trying to change these batteries during the race turned into an ordeal. At one point, a battery got lodged in the handle and took some persuasion in the form of pounding it against a table to release the battery. Even when I was sitting on the couch at home trying to figure out how to insert the batteries, I was stumped.

Bottom line: great when it worked, but bad design and a malfunction= bad product.

The issue with the other headlamp may have been my fault, but due to this recent incident, I’m going to blame the manufacturer.}

*  *  *  *  *

When we got close to finishing her fourth lap, I asked her who was going to run with her on her last lap. “Stefan?” More of a question than an answer.

I wasn’t planning on running 40 miles. In fact, the furthest I’d ever run was the 31 miles at the Bandera 50K. But then I thought I’m going to have to do this eventually, why not now? I told her I would run with her for the last lap. She said that would be groovy. Or at least I think that’s what she said.

I’m glad I offered because when we got to the Start / Finish, Stefan was in his street clothes. He wasn’t feeling well and wasn’t going to run. And what would be the point of pacing someone for the next to last lap, and then letting them run the last lap alone? So off we went. Again.

I was somewhat worried. My feet were aching. My New Balance Minimus gave me no cushioning whatsoever. I developed an unfamiliar pain on the top of my left foot and the ankle of my right foot. My hips were sore. My shoulders were knots. I was so ready to be done. All I could see was the trail right below Rachel’s feet. That’s all I saw for several hours.

I started to realize this was a personal undertaking as much as it was to help out a fellow runner. So I ate and drank more at the aid stations, and consumed several gels in between stations. What good would I be to my runner if I fell apart?

That’s when I told Rachel, “You know how earlier I said I envied you? Well, I take that back. I haven’t run even half of what you have and I’m ready to quit. You must be in some serious hurt, which I do not envy. What I would like to say is that I admire you. For being able to do this, for pushing ahead, for gutting it out. So good work.” At my first comment she had expressed confusion and bewilderment, on my amendment, she said, “Thank you.”

She had mentioned that she wanted to beat her time from last year. She told me her time, and I may have gotten it wrong, but I kept saying “22:33!” to motivate her. Whenever she’d start back running, “22:33!” I don’t know if that did anything for her, but maybe, in some small way, it did.

Throughout the night, I saw that Rachel was one tough cookie. She caught a few roots in the darkness and took a few spills. She refused help and got up on her own, dusted herself off, and kept moving. She threw up a few times, wiped up, and kept moving. Always moving, except for 7 minutes when she lied on the ground and I thought she was done for. But she got up, and kept moving. I couldn’t keep up with her power walk, I had to do a slow run. She didn’t eat anything, and rarely drank anything. I think she survived on sheer will power. I was impressed to say the least.

It was about 3 or 4 in the morning. We’d been running for what seemed like forever. We passed a small sign that said something about finishing with a smile on your face. I had no idea where we were until we came around a turn and I saw a familiar pile of cups. And then the lights. The lights of what would no longer be the Start / Finish; now it was just the Finish. Hallelujah! Trailing behind her I asked her if she was wearing her smile. She said she would be.

She finished 21: and change.

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