Going the distance

Life is like a long distance run. Most of the time you're looking forward, but occasionally you look back at what you've covered… You know there will be obstacles throughout the journey - but deep down, you know you can handle anything that comes your way. Most importantly... you keep putting one foot in front of the other and let 'NOTHING' stand in your way!!!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Oh the people you'll meet

This past weekend was the Umstead 100 mile endurance run. A event of this magnitude could not survive with out volunteers. So when the email came out requesting help I signed up to be a pacer.

Pacing a 100 is much different than pacing a marathon. A marathon you hold a steady pace for the entire race. In a Ultra your pace becomes determined by the condition of the runner. So you may be running or walking  possibly a combination of both. You could be a mule and carry the runners water bottles. You need to be part babysitter, best friend, entertainer, or worst case a medic.

I used a volunteer pacer last year for my first 100 and knew how important this position is. I agreed to pace two laps. 9 pm and 4 am

On Saturday morning I had a 5k to run.  Not in my original plan, but I had won the entry and decided why not. It had been a long time since I ran one.  When I arrived at the race I decided I might as well race it and see how fast I can go. 22:41 and 12th over all. Not bad for someone who slacks off on speed work.

I won 2nd in my age group, so I decided to hang around for the awards.

But enough of that this report is not about me.

About 11:00 it was finally time to get on the road. I arrived at the park around 1:30 found a parking spot and made my way to the HQ building.

I ran into many old friends and watched the runners come in. As I rounded the side of the main building I saw Charles West. We shook hands and I asked where I could check in to pace. Finding out I was there to pace he asked if I would be able to pace the second place female? She was coming in for lap 5, and was ready for a pacer.

He quickly introduced me to Jeff her crew member. I said I could do it but my shoes were still in the car. We decided he would go out for lap 5 and I would take lap 6. This would give me me time to get ready.

I went to the car and grabbed my bag, shoes and my chair.  Then returned to check in. I set up my chair and checked into the volunteer table. Rebecca had me pick out my volunteer gift. I went with the red hooded sweatshirt.I really didn't need a gift but thank you.

When I came back out I found Frank Lilly sitting in my chair. He told me how comfortable it was and I should think about buying one. I laughed and told him I had sat the last two hours. I didn't need to sit.

I was too busy working myself up getting nervous. I asked Charles you sure you want to put a top runner in my hands? He reassured me Id be fine.


Before I knew it Jeff was back and filling up a ice pack and getting things from Traci's bag.  And we were off. I took her water bottle and introduced myself. I could see she was focused on getting this race done. She quickly questioned If I had ever done a ultra. I let her know I had done this race and several others.
From there the chat was a minimal other than her asking for water. She informed me her plan for the hills. I stuck with her and followed her lead. run 20 walk 20. At mile 4  I started to question he water needs? Did she have enough or could I refill at the water drop coming up.  As we approached the water she said to fill I ran a head to do this so she could pass with out stopping. After filling her bottle and mine it took me forever to catch her.

We continued on until mile 6 when I asked what I could do for her at AS 2. Just fill the bottle while she used the restroom. She cave me a powder formula to add to the water. As we passed the butt tree I ran full speed ahead into AS2 to refill as quick as possible. I was ready when she finished her pit stop.

The second half was uneventful we kept a steady pace. When we made the turn att he gate I asked what she needed from the turn. She just asked that Jeff pace her next lap. I sped ahead to let them know we were back and to get Jeff ready to go. I passed Jonathan Savage as he was heading out. I alerted Jeff and Charles we were back and refilled her bottle. Passed it off to Jeff and they were off for the next lap.

I had done my job a 1:58 lap to keep her on pace. It was awesome to run with a elite runner.

The Wait

I grazed the food table and found a spot to set up with the group  from Charlotte who had drove up to pace. I set my alarm for 8:15 and sat down to sleep. However I just kept talking and eating. Before I knew it my alarm was going off . Guess I didn't need a nap yet.


Elizabeth told me I would get the next runner. While waiting I chatted with Gene and Amy. I felt a kick in the butt and  turned to have Elizabeth tell me I had my runner.

Sarah a 30 something first time 100 miler. She asked me to hold her coffee and we began to walk out. She kissed her boyfriend and we were off to make a stop for warm clothing and a bathroom break. She changed tops and downed her coffee. She stuffed her pack pockets with GU and food. From there we started a steady run through the gate. On the airport spur we began a walk run plan. I told her to let me know what she needed.

We walked the up and ran the downs.Talked about races, shoes, Born to run. I shred my night running philosophy to her. Only focus on the 10 feet in your light. If you can make it that far keep going.

We cheered and danced to every mile marker. Before we knew it we were coming into AS2. She picked up some soup and we were off.

Up and down the hills. She was afraid off falling off the trail so I tried to keep her in the middle of the trail. The moon and stars were lighting the trail well. Around mile 11 We turned out our lights and walked through the dark for a while. Taking in the night sky.

As we made the turn i took her pack to refill it and left her at the runners bathrooms. I handed her pack to a volunteer and let the coordinator know we needed another pacer. As I passed her off I let the next pacer know about her positive attitude and how she was moving.

My second shift was done a 3:02 lap. I had gone  my many miles it was time to sleep.

I picked my sleeping bag and a blanket from the car, settled into my chair near the turn and just outside the lights. Set my I pod alarm and pulled my buff over my eyes. This was good for about a hour then the temperature  started to drop. I decided to find a bench in the lodge. I moved in along the wall as close to the fire as I could get while staying out of the way. Jim Wei was doing a awesome job keeping the lodge warm with a roaring fire.

I woke up around 3:15 as planned. Prepped for a cold walk if needed, and found some food. I checked in with the pace table to let them know I was ready. He warned me he still had 3 am pacers in front of me waiting for runners.

I went back in the lodge and sat at the on deck bench for pacers. I had 3 in front of me. We talked and watched runners come in with their sub 24 buckles. We took pictures for some and grabbed blankets for others. A few came in at their lap turn ready to give up. Going through  emotional low or just needing some rest and warmth.

Beth McCurdy and Kelly Wells came in. Beth was clearly done. She finished but said she had a rough day. I think I heard her say "I'm done with ultras." It reminded me of waking up with a hangover and saying I'm done with drinking.

As other runners came in either finishing or making the turn.  I started thinking about who I would get. Would it be the runner still holding a strong pace, or one who was going through a low and needed someone to hold them up and walk a lap.

Finally at 5 there was one pacer ahead of me. I was getting excited to go. Whoever I would get was going to get the benefit of the sunrise.

A pacer came in with his runner and reported a seeing a older man weaving on the trail and yelling loudly. We were kinda worried if the runner was OK. Then  Ray K was the nest runner in. I assured the pacer it was fine.

They called my name and said I was up. I turned to meet a older man with a white beard.


I introduced myself and asked what I could do for him or get him? He said I hope you are ready to walk a lot. I reassured him I was there for whatever h wanted to do. He asked for something to numb the soreness in his quads. I had some spray "Arctic Freeze"  in the car. So I left him at the runners bathroom and picked up the spray from my car. I sprayed his quads down and threw the bottle in my pack. Just in case.

We started moving t a steady pace. I started to question him on his running experience. I found out he had lost track of how many 100 he had done. Over 30 he thought. (35 as of this one) He started doing ultras around 1982, Has ran Western States several times.

On the airport spur we passed Ray K and his pacer. I made some comments to Ray about never hearing him sing. That changed rather quick. I was feeling sorry for the girl who was pacing him. Ray seemed to get louder with each step. Ian and I picked up our pace and made some distance on Ray.

Our topics of conversation bounced around from Ultra running to computers, urban planning, the environment, disaster preparation, our  jobs and family's. I found out he is a semi retired professor from UC Berkeley.

He told me how he was having issues with the tendons in his feet. Causing the feet to shrink and pulling the toes downward. A pending surgery to fix this issue could never fully recover. The new shoes helped him get some relief from the stress.

Before we knew it we were approaching the butt tree. I took his water bottle and  ran down the hill into AS2. I filled his bottle and he went for his drop bag. He asked for some soup then took off his flashlights from his fanny pack belt. I sprayed down his quads again, and we were off.

We fell back into our mixed conversations. At the Frost quote "many miles to go before I sleep."  I said I was more of Seuss fan .during my long runs.  "Oh the places you'll go." "Oh the people you'll meet."

We talked about how my church was using social media to make the gospel relevant to today's youth. How The Sermon on the mount would have looked as tweets.

I questioned how Hemingway would have handled twitter?  Probably would have added to his madness.

 We fell back into a discussion about Ultra running. I asked him about the changes he had seen in gear and runners over the years. I asked if he wore his belt buckles or showcased them. He told me about his 10 sub 24 finish buckles are in a big frame.  10! Sub 24's at WS. This guy is my new hero. Toeing the line on a 100 at 71 years old. Amazing!

He told me he was working with a runner who was training runners 60+. The muscles react different and need this coach is going through some of the same issues he is. I asked how long he planned to do 100's? He didn't have a goal of how many more. It depends on how his body recovers. But he will continue as long as his body allows.

We made it through the power line and had to manage pass some other runners. The morning running groups were starting to pass us. A few bikes zipped past. We heard a lot of good jobs and keep going from passer buys. We didn't see many of the racers or crews still on the course.

As we headed down the steps Ian's wife came out to greet us. She thanked me for being his pacer. She handed him a stuffed moose That held a small sign that read the "Wild Man". I'm guessing he crosses all his finish lines holding this.

Sarah that I had paced overnight was sitting with her family and cheered us in. She let me know she had finished and thanked me.

We neared the pacer cut out and I thanked Ian for the time together and it was a honor to meet him. He told me it was a pleasure and he was honored to have me be his pacer.

I met them on the other side of the finish and recommended she take him in and get warm. I told them the pancakes and french toast were awesome. His wife had him from here and my job was done.We did a 3:48 lap. Not bad for walking the whole lap.

"Oh the people you meet"  For the next couple hours as I ate some breakfast and cheered in runners I reflected on my experience at Umstead. It certainly gave me more perspective on the race. Being on the outside looking in. Seeing it from three different angles, changed my whole experience of this event.

While eating breakfast I over heard another runner say to his volunteer pacer, " I don't know what they paid you guys to pace but its not enough."

I cheered in some more runners, and talked with some friends who paced or had finished the race. About noon I finally packed up my chair, my paddle ball and my remote. I packed up the car, hugged some old friends and drove to the main parking lot of the state park to get some sleep before driving home.

 A event of this size relies solely on the efforts of the army of volunteers. I was honored to be in that army this year.

Contrary to popular belief this world is made up  99.9% of others. It felt good to be selfless for the day and help "others" reach their goals. Looking back I had even managed to hide from the camera lens. This race was not about me.

Great job to all who had the courage to start ,  the will to preserve and the heart to endure.

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