>Last month I had the priviledge of heading out to Squaw Valley as part of the crew for Russell Gill, of Bad to the Bone Endurance Sports, who would be running the Western States 100 mile. After the debacle of a race I had there last year, I was psyched to get to go out and not have to race! However, I would be getting my first true experience as a pacer.
I arrived in Reno on Thursday, got my rental car and headed out to one of my favorite places on earth, Olympic Village in Squaw Valley. Everything about this place is awesome, especially the fact that it’s like a little hideaway in the summer, even with the race going on. Right near Lake Tahoe, there is just so much to explore, and so many beautiful sunsets. But it wasn’t all play, as we spent Friday getting the game plan together for the race. Francesca and I would be driving separate cars to certain aid stations. They are pretty hard to get to, so its impossible to get to them all in one car. We’d basically be leap frogging each other the first 60 miles before convening at Foresthill where I would start to pace. Logistics and maps ready, aid station bags packed, coolers filled with ice….we were all set!
I will let you read Gill’s report here, but the long and short of it is that due to extreme stomach issues, he made the (wise) decision to drop at Green Gate (mile 85). I don’t want to focus on the outcome of this race as much as I do the concept of a pacer. To be honest, I was pretty nervous about the task – the day before, it finally hit me that I was running 30-40 miles myself…and with a pack! But, Francesca was there as my backup so I knew I’d be okay.
To prepare for pacing, I thought about the times that I have had a pacer. What do I like? What do I hate? Do I have enough stories to fill 8 hours of time? As a pacer I felt that I had to take care of my runner on 3 fronts – keep them strong physically, keep them strong mentally, and keep them safe and on course.
In the end, all of that went out the window. Unfortunately, Gill had been struggling to eat or drink for about 10 miles by the time I was with him. The first 5 or so miles I was with him was a battle of wills. We tried everything to get calories in his body, but nothing was taking. As time progressed and our paced slowed, it became moreso an issue of keeping the both of us safe on the trail. We still had to get 15 or so miles before any decisions could be made about his race. Darkness had fallen, and we both knew it was going to be a long night. Still, he never broke down. I have seen my fair share of tears on the trails, and have witnessed some pretty epic breakdowns. But, despite a painful pace (mostly due to stopping to puke every 5 minutes), the lonliness of the night, and the pain of 80 miles in his legs, Gill kept a good attitude. He counseled me about pretty much everything in life – from boys to careers to money. I pointed out the moon over the river, which just happened to be picture perfect that night, and despite a race which many would call chaotic or describe as “wheels falling off” he remained calm and collected. There was nothing left to be done but get to mile 85, so we just had to help each other make the time pass.
In the end, my duties as a pacer ended up being very different than I expected. But, it gave me more of an insight into what a pacer is really there to be. In a 50 miler or 50k, a pacer is probably used to push your pace, or keep track of time and when to eat and drink. But in a 100 miler, it’s a whole other ball game. In a 100, a pacer is there to be your friend. Because when things start to spiral away from your plan, the trail is a lonely place and your mind can easily depress you. Your pacer has to be there to keep you company. To remind you that you’re not alone. To laugh at you as you vomit and fart at the same time. To just go through the utter shittiness with you. An 8-hour 20 miler is not what I thought I had gotten myself into that night, but there was not a single moment where I’d have rather been somewhere else.