Most 19 year olds are more concerned with finding people to buy beer for them than finding the next ultra to run. On this edition of Elevation Trail, Gary talks with Patrick Caron, a New England kid who would rather be on the trails than go to a party. We’ll find out why he has chosen to run every day, race every weekend, why he didn’t have a high school graduation party, and how sustainable is his race schedule. We’ll also talk about his 14:51 effort at the Ghost Train 100 mile ultra, his second place at the Eastern States 100, why Ian Sharman hasn’t talked to him, and the dangers of running with bacon.
Why limit the excitement and enjoyment to the activity of running the race? Finding a way to the start line can be part of the thrill and danger of ultrarunning.
People are getting soft. Don’t believe me? Look how much you Ooo and Aah at video and pics of normal little runs [hikes] up mountains by skinny, dirty runners with no jobs or homes, sleeping in the back of a 1978 Vega. You drool over these images in your grey cubicle, nearly sweating through your Dockers chinos, and then burn the mental image into your brain, replacing the main character with yourself, as you bound up the 100 ft mound in the neighborhood park (that used to be a garbage dump). Jumping up and down like Rocky among the scent of old oil drums buried deep beneath your dancing sneakers.
Sad. You could be sharing the same giardia filled streams with any of these guys but quickly justify your grassy toxic dump GPS’d hill run with the fact that you actually have a life and, thus, some semblance of responsibility. But I digress.
Gain back some of that adventurous youthful ability in the travels and accommodations to your next race. Fly by the seat of your khakis and wing that shit.
You’ll want to keep your “plans” to yourself or at least somewhat vague. I mean, no reason to bother your family with silly details like driving 110 mph through the desert half asleep with one index finger on the wheel or spending the night behind a gas station in East Los Angeles.
Transportation. In the true spirit of adventure, leave that 7-year financed SUV in the garage and find some freestyle mode of transportation. If you don’t have any friends dumb enough to be involved with ultrarunning and can’t sucker anyone into believing this will be “just like a vacation” to drive you to the race, then post some carpooling posts on local running club boards or on Facebook. Make sure to be clear about the “NEED RIDE” detail. Otherwise, you’ll end up with two idiots meeting at a coffee shop with all their luggage and gear and neither will have a car, thinking the other was supposed to drive. Don’t laugh, I’ve seen it.
Craigslist is an option too. They have this “ride share” section (at least all the cool dirtbagging-type towns do, anyway). You’re either going to be riding with a business sales guy chugging pepto bismol and listening to conservative talk radio loudly, or you’ll be in the back of a windowless van that smells like urine and has what appears to be dried blood on the ceiling. If you make it to the race with all your orifices intact, then anywhere you end up sleeping won’t seem nearly as bad.
Accommodations. Race Directors will often write on the race website IN BOLD AND ALL CAPS (AND SOMETIMES DIFFERENT COLORS) that you can’t camp here or park there, blah, blah. It’s dark at night and no one will see you. Besides, the parks’ budget is smaller than an Arkansas teenager’s weekly allowance, so there’s like one park ranger covering 5 million square miles of land and the chances he’ll catch you (or even be in the same area code) are nil.
Once, when I travelled to a certain race in Pennsylvania, I found an open (or, rather, unlocked) window in a ski hut cabin, so I crawled in and spent the night there before the race. Some might call this breaking and entering. I didn’t break shit. I call it a warm sofa. Oddly enough, that experience ended up as an article on minimalism in Trail Runner Magazine (last time I talk about my travel experiences on a run with an Editor).
Anton slept on a park’s bathroom floor the night before a race a few years ago. That’s roughing it. I’d rather sleep naked on an open boulder field at 13,000 ft in January than be snuggling up with moldy feces. Geoff Roes had the “roughing it” when traveling to races down to a science. He’s got all the camping gear shit and he’s a cook that can turn Ramen Noodles into spaghetti con le vongole (I italicized it to make it look fancier), so he’s living it up in the woods while the rest of you soft, 300 series BMW driving, $200 multi-colored hydration vest wearing yuppies are trying to figure out how to open that child-sized piece of soap in your hotel bathroom.
If you live to make it to the start of the event, it’ll seem like one of the easiest races you’ve ever run after the hell you put yourself through to get there.
Michael Aish joins us today on Elevation Trail to discuss a world of topics. He’s fresh off his DNF at Leadville 100 over the weekend and has a lot of interesting perspectives on racing and ultrarunning in general, delivered in a way only Mike can do it. Very fun show! Hope you enjoy it.
Learn more about Anton Krupicka than any previous interview. Listen in with us as we invite Anton Krupicka into our little studio at Elevation Trail. We talk ultra, trail, sponsors, validity in sport, training, and much more. Tony finds out I’ve been stalking him for nine years, calls me a conspiracy theorist, and Gary pushes Tony to start a book. It’s both your typical Elevation Trail show and one of the most unique. Check it out and share it with your friends.
Direct .mp3: Anton Krupicka Interview
Over the years I’ve blogged about several things, a lot about running, but also a lot about other topics in daily life (some a bit too personal and thus pinched from public view after a scant few hours). Seriously, though, how many times can one write about the eight mile run he does routinely without lulling even himself into a deep sleep?
This is where the humble race report shuffles out onto the stage from behind the black velvet curtain and shyly acknowledges the audience of blog readers who’ve grown accustom to following varying levels of blog reading etiquette and mores. They question ideas when appropriate, plump up the original context with their own comments, and often rally to the defense of notions and even other people whom they will likely never meet in real life. The diversity and anonymity of the blog reader is not always for the thin skinned. But the race report seems to bring readers together in a like-minded circle of campfire warmth to share in the recount of self imposed race struggles.
Our friend, the race report, serves as reporter, lamenter, cheerleader, and historical reference. Races are unique, even the same event from year to year is unique. Players change, crowds grow, the venue morphs. And yet they are similar.
Other than the bib number, medal, or belt buckle (if you’re nutty enough to finish a 100 miler), the only thing that stands as a tangible reminder of the event is the race report, so respect and effort must be given to produce the best place holder possible of your great achievement, or, unfortunately sometimes, your suffering defeat.
So, what exactly makes a great race report, well, great?
For me, the prospect of death (like mountaineering) or at least scary close encounters with death (like Putnam Pass in the San Juans) seem to evoke the most memorable and lucid writing from me. There isn’t a lot of intrigue in the local trail half marathon just a mile from a large city, aid stations every 3 miles, and spectators at several trail intersections. However, consider a tough, remote mountainous 100 miler and now you’ve got a good shot at finding a way to kill yourself, or at least suffer tremendously, and terrific fodder for your race report. Other situations that virtually guarantee a good report are a competitive race to the finish, wardrobe malfunction, wildlife encounters, and crapping your pants. I’m not saying you can’t create a great race report on a shorter local event, you can. It just takes more work to squeeze the interesting parts (i.e. fabricate) from the experience.
There are varying approaches to the race report. Gary Robbins is adept at the humorous report, typically in a humbling, self-deprecating way. Geoff Roes lays it out in a realistic, journalist manner, leaving you knowledgable about the mundane facts of the race as he experienced it. Some reports are so overly detailed (dragged out) that you wonder how the person ever made to the start line after exhausting himself in the pre-race preparations, while others seem to be written by a half-witted sloth – “I tied my shoes and ran. The end.”
The astute reader will eventually see patterns to all race reports. There are ingredients that have become fundamental. Some of these include sandbagging, excuses (Major = I got hit by a bus walking to packet pick up. Minor = my iPod broke half way through “It’s Raining Men”), pre-race bowel movement details, running out of water, feet hurting, trouble with pre-race sleep, etc.
In part 1 of this post, I’ll layout my guide to writing a good an amazing race report.
The Build Up. Me on an exposed wall at 14k ft. I do epic shit.
You’ve just run an epic race, whether it be a half marathon in a local park or an ultramarathon in a place so remote that the pre-race briefing included costs involved in search and rescue operations. You planned, trained, worried, talked about it until friends’ ears bled, then lined up and did it or, maybe, didn’t get it done. Either way, it was an adventure and you need to do something to capture the details before they are diluted by the thin liquid of daily life.
If you ain’t so good at writing but good (and prolific) with a camera, you could put together a photo album of the race and call it a day. Photos say a lot but only you can personally and completely express how you felt during your race and words are the way, my friend.
It’s not difficult. You have the hardest part out of the way: the experience itself. You simply need to lay it out in a somewhat organized and hopefully entertaining way. Even if it’s not that entertaining, you’ll at least be able to go back to re-read it and relive the experience. It’s more fun to make it entertaining, though. Here’s how to do it.
1. The build up.
I like to use snippets from conversations with others about the race or quotes from emails, race reports, and/or the event website. This is the first opportunity to make people aware how difficult the race is and how your level of awesomeness for taking on such an impossible task is off the human charts. It’s also the first chance you get to slip in a little sandbagging. I like to use, “My training wasn’t great.” This phrase is so vague that it could mean you’ve only been running 98 miles a week instead of 100, or that you’ve been eating 98 delicious cream filled Twinkies a week and running 20 miles. Either way, the purpose is to soften the reader’s expectations of your pre-set abilities going into your epic race. Here’s an example:
“In the weeks leading up to the race my training was lackluster and I missed some sleep. I felt ok but something was missing.”
Read in context with preparation and build up to your race, those sentences blend in and subconsciously set the reader up beautifully for either a triumphant or disastrous outcome. “Man, he killed that race even though his training was lackluster and didn’t get much sleep!” or “Well, of course he had a bad race. His training was lackluster and probably didn’t sleep since January.”
Ok, let’s dissect that phrase. “In the weeks leading up to the race my training was lackluster (lackluster? what are we, like 90 years old – who talks like that? What is lackluster?) and I missed some sleep (like entire weeks of sleep or 15 mins one morning when the garbage truck woke you?). I felt ok but something was missing (WTF? something was missing, like a lung or your car keys?).”
The beauty is that it’s so vague you can twist it’s meaning when questioned post race.
Another key during the build up is making sure people understand that you’re probably the only human who’s badass enough to undertake such epic shit like this race. Any cool race has warnings; these are great to add to your build up. Here’s one (of many) taken from the awesome Hardrock Runner’s Handbook:
“The weather is a dominant factor for this run and can be at least as formidable as the terrain, remoteness, or high altitude. It is our general opinion that the first fatality we may have will be either from hypothermia or lightning! We would rather that there never be a fatality, and so we will continually be giving you warnings, cautions, updates, and suggestions regarding the exposure you must face when attempting this run.”
They all usually have warnings about wildlife encounters (more frequent than you might imagine), like bears, mountain lions, elk, buffalo, snakes, and other scary stuff (wait ’til you see the reflection of eyes in the woods on your first night run in the wild…).
Quotes from friends warning you of imminent death are great. Here are just a few from my Hardrock Race Report from 2011:
“Be careful crossing above the waterfall, it’s a fatal spot.” -Karl Meltzer
“Watch out for cliffs on the left. Fatal spot again.” -Karl Meltzer
“There is always one more climb. You will feel the worst when you are high on the passes so get off of them quickly, your condition will return to good quickly. I know this. I have sat there on the passes with death coming soon but just know it will be a matter of minutes before you feel better if you get down.” -Scott Jaime
“Virginius Pass, go across the Talus slope and pick up the route through the notch, it is steep, slippery, brutal.” -Karl Meltzer
How great are those!? Other guys telling your readers how badass you are for even thinking about doing this death defying event. It serves a couple purposes. It validates the difficulty and your bravery and it bolsters the sandbagging/excuses angle, sort of an ancillary benefit.
The rest of the build up varies in depth. This is where you write about the details of preparation. Write about some big training runs, about family and friends sacrificing for your self-centered venture, lists of every item you packed in drop bags, what you plan to start with, what the weather was like, things like that. Over time, I’ve gone from long lists of things I “need” for races to now when I basically make sure my privates are covered and I have some water.
Next up: The race itself…
So far we’ve learned much of what to expect when pacing someone, mostly through clinical analysis, hypothetical situations, and real life personal accounts sprinkled in to make it sound legitimate. If you haven’t yet, you’ll need to get caught up by reading Part 1 and Part 2. Hurry up and go do that now; we’ll wait for you…whatever.
Ok, now that we all have a grasp of how unglamorous pacing truly is (travel on your own dime, taking time off work, telling a grown person when to eat, often moving at a pace that makes you feel as though time is actually going backwards, and watching your runner cross the line to loud applause, hugs, medal, buckle, and other accolades while you stand alone off to the side, soup broth stains on your shirt, picking burrs out of your socks, and wondering where you can get a beer at 4 o’clock in the morning), we can now look at a case study in the form of one’s pacing duties at Western States 100 from last weekend.
In fairness and to avoid any critical and/or theoretical analysis reaching the subject (runner), we will use fictitious names. We will call our case study from this year’s Western States “Brandonali Fullerton”. We’ll call him Brandon Fuller for short.
Brandon contacted me to pace him after his first choice of pacer made up some lame excuse for not being able to make it. Personally, I’m certain it was because he had paced Brandon the last two years at Leadville. The first year, Brandon ran the first half of the race like the finish line was at 50 miles, so the last 50 took him around 20 hours. To his credit, and his pacer’s horror, he finished, averaging something like 800 meters per hour. Last year, with all this experience (one crappily run 100 miler 12 months previous), Brandon apparently decided he could win Leadville and, in fact, was winning Leadville…for the first 1.5 miles, hitting the first aid station at mile 13 just minutes behind the leaders and about an hour ahead of his prescribed pace split.
By the time his pacer (Jay Pee Patrickonovich) picked him up at mile 50, Brandon was scraped hollow like an avocado shell and couldn’t remember his wife’s name. This brings us to the exploding gels in the butt scene on Power Line (read Part 2) and eventual DNF.
Now, as mentioned in Part 1, a DNF can save a life. Specifically, it can save the pacer from spending the 25 hours of slow walking and subsequent planning of the perfect accidental death of the runner. The pacer can facilitate a DNF, thus ending the suffering, saving time, saving his runner’s life (from the pacer’s own throat strangling hands), and hopefully allow him time to find a good Pale Ale in the nearest town. Subtle utterances work like, “Damn, we only covered one mile in the last two hours. We won’t see the next aid station until sometime next week.” Eventually, your runner will see the light and fold his cards. Unfortunately, when you have an inexperienced ultra runner AND a novice (read innocent and un-calloused sympathetic loser) pacer, you have ensured yourself misery until death.
So, with one barely finished 100 miler (a dime sized belt buckle) and one DNF, Brandon got his name drawn in the Western States lottery (that bitch!). I was happy for him (in a fun I-want-to-punch-you-in-the-throat sort of way) and offered my gifted, first-rate pacing services. Initially turned down, I scratched BF off my large group (3) of friends and deleted him from my phone’s contact list. Jay Pee came to his senses and made up some ridiculous excuse to back out of pacing Brandon at WS, like not wanting his legs to be tired for some race about 8 months later, and, low and behold, I get an email asking whether I’m free to pace the two-faced jerk. The nerve of some people! I happily accepted.
The months roll by with a couple of informational, detailed emails from Brandon to his crew and pacer (I never read them, so I can’t tell you what they were about). Soon, it’s June 22nd, the day before the race and I text Brandon to tell him I’m on my way and will see him that morning. We spend a little time together that day but don’t really discuss the race or the pacing. Everyone else on his crew is so wrapped up in all the important details, like what color Underoos he’s going to change into after the race, that I just assume he’s leaving my pacing details and plans up to me. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I had no plans other than to drag his dead carcass across the finish line before the clock hit 24 hours.
Two pacers awaiting their runners. Gary Gellin lucked into pacing a sub 17 hour finisher, hence the reason he’s dressed in running clothes ready to fly and I’m, well, not.
After standing around for about 10 hours at my designated aid station, waiting for Brandon to hurry his ass up and meet me, I changed into my running gear and started getting excited to run. As noted in part 1 of this guide, I was hoping my excitement matched Brandon’s. That hope slowly dissolved as Brandon came into view. His bow-legged shuffle was slow and choppy and the expression on his face looked as though he just worked a 12 hour shift at a butt sniffing factory. He was also 15 minutes behind the splits for a 24 hour finish and we had roughly 40 miles to go. I had my work cut out for me and knew I’d be employing all my pacing tricks to get him his undeserved silver buckle and save myself from 20 hours of torture.
Assume your runner is short on brains – you’ll have more compassion for him that way.
Once we left the bubble of comfort of his family and friends, all coddling him like a lost puppy, he was all mine and I began the task of snapping him to reality: “You’re going to eat when I tell you and we’re going to move fast and efficiently until we cross the line.” At first my sternness was met with whiny, “I don’t care about 24 hours. I just want to finish.” Wrong answer. I’m as compassionate as the next guy. Heck, I even once picked up a salt tab a fellow competitor dropped. I ate it right in front of him, but at least I picked it up.
Every 20 minutes I’d calmly look back and tell Brandon it was time to eat. I’d hear wrappers and disgusting sucking noises on his water tube, and I was content. When I was a little kid, for some reason I hated taking baths. My mom would fill the tub and I learned that I could go in the bathroom with the door closed and make splashing noises with my hand and touch parts of my hair with my wet hand to make it seem as though I’d taken a bath when, in fact, I was still grimy with the same dirt from days previous. Eventually, my mother caught on and after losing a few patches of hair from minor child abuse, I agreed that taking a bath was the right choice.
I began to realize that Brandon was pulling the same shit on me, so I began asking him what exactly he ate. “One Clif blok.” “Brandon, that’s 25 calories. That wouldn’t give a mouse enough energy to stand up.” “Eat two more.” 20 minutes later, “Brandon, time to eat.” [zipper and wrapper noises] “What’d you eat?” “A pretzel.” “Brandon, a fucking pretzel? You need to eat more, NOW.” This went on for a while until I started getting his food at aid stations for him, putting it in his hands and staring at him until I was content the food found his stomach.
Hwy 49 aid station. BF left and me right.
The constant prodding to get your runner to move faster is a true art form. You know he has a million miles on his legs and feels like shit but you also don’t want to waste half your life waddling slowly through the woods, so you find the edge you can push your runner to (figuratively, for now) and keep him there without going over that edge. Once I saw that Brandon could hike at a nice clip, I began allowing him to walk more (it was usually faster than his “running” stride). We maintained a pace that wouldn’t necessarily kill him, yet would allow me to keep my sanity.
Bribing works wonders. I promised Brandon Ibuprofen once we reached mile 70. Within 20 minutes he went from a slobbering, mute sloth to a jabbering speed demon. We must have clicked off a couple 13 min miles! I took advantage of my drug dealing and pushed him through the next hour, even having him lead us for a bit. As I pointed out previously, pacer talking is a no-no. Follow your runner’s lead when it comes to talking. Nobody cares about your kid’s stupid little birthday party after he’s been up for 18 hours and covered 75 miles. If the runner wants to talk, that’s a sign the pace can increase. Whenever Brandon started talking about something (to which I wasn’t paying attention), I would turn the pace up just a bit so it was barely noticeable but would make him stop talking. It was like the volume on the family stereo. If you could hear other noises in the house, you could probably turn the volume up a surgical fraction. It was easy to tell if you had it too high because your brother or father would come into the room, kick you as you scrambled under the sofa and then snag your “Air Supply” record off the turn table, needle ripping crossways through the lovely falsetto songs (wait, did I just write that out loud?). It’s a balancing act and can be mentally draining to achieve the desired results.
I was losing the battle with Brandon, but the war was still within grasp. I gave up on making him run. He was shelled and I can tell when there’s nothing left to give. This is the point (around mile 94-ish) when you need to act like you have a heart, walnut-sized perhaps, but you have one. Remind the runner of all the sacrifices he’s made and how selfish he’s been with his family and how it’s all going to be worth it in just a few short miles. In no time he’ll be crossing the deserted finish line in the middle of the night and get a cheap belt buckle that only the biggest tool would wear in public. Inspirational.
At the finish, the pacer typically peels off and allows the runner to act as though he ran the entire race alone, no aid, no crew, no pacer. He crosses the line, announcer proclaims his name and accomplishment, family and friends embrace him, tears of happiness flow. And there you are, standing alone to the side in your filth, cantaloupe juice stains on your shirt, wondering where the hell your car is parked.
Pacing is a true art form that some will never master. It takes a certain mentality mixed with physical ability. It basically sucks.
Brandon came back from a 15 minute deficit to finish sub 24 hours in 23:22 at Western States. Congratulations, Brandonali.
“Will you please get up. You’re embarrassing me.”
In the intro to How to be an Ultra Pacer, we covered the wide range of emotions from ebullient anticipation, to the grinding sad reality of the lead up and preparation, to the time you finally meet your runner. Now we’ll focus on the process of pacing. An important thing to remember going into your pacing duties is that, at one point or another (or many), you will hate your runner. I mean like push-him-off-the-mountain in the middle of the night hate. Like all misery and suffering in running ultras, once you anticipate and accept it, you’re able to manage the emotion and situation in a somewhat sane manner without actually killing anyone. Side note: Your runner will undoubtedly hate you at times as well, but who cares.
Before you meet up with your runner it helps if you’ve been crewing for him over the first sections of the race, so you can see the gradual transformation from happy, clean, likable person, to filthy, hobbling, scratchy-voiced, grouchy shell of a human. With any luck, you will grow a tiny seed of pity for the poor slob, which will hopefully give you at least a touch of patience. This patience will disappear “poof” the first time you start arguing with your runner about eating. “Time for a gel.” “I don’t want anything.” “You have to eat.” “I don’t want to. It sounds gross.” “If you don’t eat, you’ll bonk and die.” “I don’t care. Gels are disgusting.” “I will beat you to death if you don’t eat a gel…”
This could go on for hours, until he finally eats, or until you actually kill him. This is a good opportunity to start lying. “If you down just one gel and some water, I won’t bug you about it anymore.” This will only work for about eight gel feedings, unless your runner is really dumb. Another embarrassing tactic is to treat your runner like a small child. “If you finish the three gels you have before the next aid station, I’ll buy you pizza and beer after the race.” This is an awesome lie for a number of reasons, the main one being that your runner will never remember you said it and he’ll be so happy to be done running after the race, that he’ll be throwing money around like a drunken sailor in Charleston.
Eventually, nothing will work to convince him to eat gels and you’ll have to find anything he may like at aid stations and employ aid station workers to help you force your runner to eat. “Eat the goddamn turkey sandwich, and shut the hell up. You’re doing great!” Getting your runner angry isn’t all that bad, actually. In many cases it will serve to give him a shot of adrenaline and you’ll be relishing the speedy 12 min per mile pace as your reward. At Leadville while pacing a guy, I refused to go further until he ate a gel and drank some water. We stood on Power Line at mile 80, two grown men arguing over eating 1 ounce of sugar. He finally ate it and then tried to drop me by running up that bitch. He finished in 6th place overall and all was forgotten.
How far you want to take your pacing duties is up to you. Charming lore of the pacing world are abundant. There was last year at Hardrock when some dope dropped his shoe off the side of an icy mountain and Scott Jaime was on the verge of giving up one of his shoes to the runner until finally risking his life by climbing down to retrieve the shoe dangling on a lower ledge. No freakin’ thanks, I say. I’d be like, “Whoa, dude, that sucks. If we hurry, you’ll probably only lose a couple toes to frostbite.” “Now eat a gel.” Then there’s that sad image of Alex Nichols squatting solemnly next to a dehydrated and soon to be DNF’d Anton at Leadville. The image reminds me of animals that stay with their dead animal friends for days (apparently not bright enough to realize they need to move on and find a new friend, who’s breathing).
|Alex Nichols wishing he was getting teeth pulled instead of squatting in the middle of nowhere. Photo Rob O’dea|
And one of my favorite stories, sadly, about the same guy I’ll be pacing at WS this weekend. He was out of it after running a poorly paced race at Leadville last year and at around mile 78 fell backwards to a sitting position. The unfortunate part of it was that he had like ten gels in the back pockets of his shorts and they all exploded upon impact. He now had a butt crack of sticky gels, was shivering, and couldn’t remember his name. His pacer was forced to dress the poor slob in warmer clothes on the side of the trail in the middle of the night. They somehow crawled to the next aid station and their race was over. That’s loyalty (I would’ve just left him, sticky-assed and all, and jogged on into town for a beer). I’ll omit my own story at Hardrock last year. I hear about it regularly from my heartless pacer and am still scarred by the experience.
Once in a while you’ll get lucky and your runner will run a smart race, show up to meet you for your pacing duties and be in fine shape, run reasonable paces to the finish and you look like a hero for just running along with him. This brings up the next topic of how to run with your runner. Following or leading is a matter of taste. I prefer the pacer to lead, both when I’m pacing and being paced. Unfortunately, novice pacers will shoot off the front and yo-yo back and forth in front of you anywhere from two feet to two miles. Don’t do this. You’re not there for yourself; leave your ego at home. Just because you see other runners up ahead does not mean that your runner wants to break into a 6:30 pace after 70 miles of running to catch the other poor bastard walking up ahead. Do this to me and I’ll rip your shoes off and throw them in the woods. Stay with your runner.
While you’re staying with your runner, the thought of talking and keeping him company may cross your mind. Let that thought cross and go away. Your runner likely isn’t in the mood to be hearing stories of your boring ass life. Very sporadic encouragement is key. “You’re doing awesome.” or “That was a good stretch you just did.” Those statements uttered in a quiet voice will sink into your runner’s mind and make him feel like this stupid thing he’s doing might have some (albeit unknown) purpose and that he’s actually doing an “ok” job of it, even if he’s sucking wind at 16 min/miles. Don’t over do it, either in exuberance or frequency. Like sex, an hour is fun, 10 hours is chaffing.
Up next in How to be an Ultra Pacer: Part 3 – Finishing the race and salvaging any fragments left of your friendship. And how to embellish the details to make your runner look as dumb as possible.
Dream pacer. Jenn Shelton. Photo Bad Ben’s blog
With Western States 100 approaching and Hardrock 100 just around the corner after that, you may find yourself on both sides of the rusty razor barbwire pacing fence. So I felt it appropriate to discuss the act of pacing.
One of the most selfless acts a human can perform is pacing another person in an ultrarunning event. Mother Teresa never paced, nor did any of the popes. It transcends all mundane humanity and will surely secure you a ticket in heaven (I visualize heaven as an all day BBQ on the 4th of July with the majority in attendance being thin twenty year old women – you get your own heaven).
Becoming a pacer is the easy part. With the abundance of novice (read: scared petrified) ultrarunners bravely signing up for races so far in advance that it never occurs to them that the race will actually take place until they get the final instructions letter from the race director warning them of injury, wild animals, lightning strikes, kidney failure, and, of course, running in the dark, there are plenty of pleas for pacers to be found. This is where you come in, cape embroidered with a big “P”, tautly flowing from your broad shoulders and say, “Uh, I can pace you.” The rush of relief and gratitude is palpable through the email response and you feel like you just kicked five Ninjas’ asses and saved a baby from a burning yurt.
Once the emotions settle, you and your runner have to figure out a few things. Where along the course will you start your pacing duties? Are you in good enough shape to pace for 50 miles? Is your runner faster than you, even with 10 hours of running on his/her legs? Will you lead or follow your runner? Should you talk or stay quiet (or sing TV show tunes)? Are you prepared to give the runner all your clothes and finish the race naked in 25 degree weather? Are you ready to simultaneously feed a gel to your runner while he’s squatted with diarrhea? (I draw the line at feeding and wiping). Can you stomach walking at 2 mph for 20 hours when your runner falls apart but is stubborn to finish? (tips on how to subliminally convince your runner he’s wasting his time and should DNF coming later).
There are a lot of things to consider before you take on this seemingly simple task. Once you figure them all out, you can forget about them because nothing will go as planned and you’ll need to ad lib the pacing gig as it unfolds. This flexibility in planning comes into play as soon as you meet your runner for the first time. You have played and replayed the scenario of him scampering into the aid station, switching out bottles, sponge bath, eating gels, all while in full stride running at you yelling, “Let’s do this!” in a college football coach voice that sends chills down your spine. You latch on to this running machine and the two of you bolt out of the aid station and onto endless ribbons of singletrack trail with the finish line as the one gravitational force.
By the time your runner shows up you’re amped up like a rabid squirrel that just shot an eight ball mixed with white heroin. Your runner, on the other hand, looks as though he just fell off a 1,000 foot cliff onto a ten lane highway and got pummeled by speeding traffic. Balancing this odd mixture is an art form and imperative if you want to make it twenty feet together, let alone 40 miles to the finish.
Here at Elevation Trail we’re proud to announce we’ll be doing LIVE shows starting this month. The cool part, aside from getting the likely chance of me screwing up or swearing, is that you, the listener, will be able to call in with comments, questions, and generally participate in the discussion. Pretty cool!
The live shows will still be recorded and available here on our site and on iTunes for you to download and enjoy on your next run or long drive. Looking forward to hearing from you folks “on air”…
Hold onto yourself for this show. Today we have none other than Gary Cantrell, aka “Lazarus Lake” joining us to discuss his rich and deep history in ultrarunning and get his perspective on the changes our sport has seen and where it’s going. We also chat about the events he’s involved in, including a little beginner race called Barkley. Hope you enjoy the show!