Tuesday, June 9, 2015

On Pacing 100 Milers

Kettle Moraine 100 - 2015

"Hey man....you want a beer before we head out?"  Not the typical conversation between a runner and his pacer before heading out for mile 62 of a 100 mile footrace.  But this wasn't a typical runner or a typical day.   His wife Cindy Faford is the world's greatest supporter/cheerleader/crewperson. James ran a rather unusual 100 miler in April at the Potawatomi Trail Races (46 hours over a couple of days after signing up for the 50 miler). Prior to that, he hadn't finished a 100 mile race in almost five (5) years.  James was 0-2 at last weekend's Kettle Moraine 100 mile race.  At 51 years old one would think his best years of running were behind him.   

James told me about his prior struggles at kettle as well as his problems running at night, generally, at the St. Pat's 24 Hour Race last year.  When I heard of them my response was simple: I need to pace you and make sure you get that kettle.  (the award you get for finishing the Kettle Moraine 100).

Little did I know this was not going to be a slog (slow jog) fest with a masters runner.  Instead, James took off like he was trying to win the whole race.  I expected to finish between 30 and 32 hours.  Much to my suprise, James rolled into mile 62 (the point where I was going to pace him) at 13:55.  About 3-5 hours sooner than I imagined.  He looked great and he was full of energy.  He was in fantastic shape and I instantly knew he would finish.

"Sure, that might hit the spot."  James took a cold Spotted Cow and started hiking with me down the Nordic Trail.  The sun was shining.  Our plan was to hike a couple of miles, drink the beer, get his stomach settled and then start running.

We had a blast.  chatting up some of the more colorful and interesting ultra folks along the way.

My nemesis Juli (although we can be friendly when not trying to kill each other)

We had a few run-ins with ultra vegan Dave Wiskowski and his amazing pacer Daniel Robinson.

In the end, vegan power overtook us.  We were resigned to a walk for the last five miles.  We went from at one point gunning for sub 24 hours, to 25, to, well, top speed at the time.  We talked of life and love and music and god only knows what else.  We saw and heard virtually millions of animals and frogs along the trail.  We tried certain things to settle James's stomach that worked and some that didn't.  One thing we never talked about - quitting.  The idea of dropping never came to mind and I think that's one good thing that can happen when you have a pacer.

In spite of what you might think, I didn't really focus much on pace.  (That's a lie.  I did break down the numbers on a semi regular basis for him to finish sub 24, 25 and 26 until he confessed that he could go no faster).  Moreover, we were not really concerned about what place James was in.  (That's also a lie.  I was constantly pointing out that he was ahead of people we saw on the trail in hopes of motivating James.  I don't believe it worked.  James is way too nice of a guy).  At the end of the day what we really were was two good friends (Well, that might be a lie, we don't really know each other too well at all) sharing the wonder of the trails at night (Another lie.  "This Sucks" was said early and often) together.

Does any of it matter?  At 26:02 we crossed the finish line.  James got his kettle and I finally fell asleep at the finish line.

You may be someone like me, that is in an Ultrarunning club.  You may have many questions about how to run 100 or 50 miles.  I just want to put out there something that I said earlier in my group about pacing and crewing: "I learned what I learned from finding people that knew a lot and watching them, crewing them, pacing them and expiramenting with them. I didn't learn it in a book or from the Facebook page. there's no easy answer. It's a path of discovery....It's one thing to come in [to a Facebook Group] and say "Anyone have any advice for me....I'm trying my fisrst 50k." It's another thing to spend 20 hours in the woods holding someone's bottle and seeing first hand how they struggle and overcome. And you give back. And you remember that later when a new guy wants to hold your bottle.

That smile was for you James Faford.  Because you really knocked me out!