One night as a pacer-
What a pacer or safety runner in a 100 mile race do?
A pacer is a person who accompany a runner after the second half of a long race, in this case a 100mile. Is a combination of friend and coach whose job is to provide safety, companionship, motivation, help, guindance and support to the runner in those hours when the fatigue, the pain and quitting begin entering their minds. A pacer can also play a big part in a runner success, sometimes, even could determine whether or not a runner finishes. And this is what I’m going to talk about, my experience as a pacer on the Western States 100 Mile endurance run on June 25th and 26th 2011.
I had been training on the previous weeks of June, because I’m also running a big race: the Tahoe Rim Trail 100M this Saturday. Every week I was incrementing my mileage and I was at the peak of my training on the week of WS 100M, so I thought that would be a good idea to look someone to pace the last 38 miles of this race, not an easy task, I need it to find a runner close to my speed. Fortunately @[1514837787:Karen Bonnett], and excellent ultrarunner who also was on the list to run WS 100M helped me to contact @[100001520420974:Henry Bickerstaff] from Oklahoma who was in need of a pacer, so I volunteered. I was schedule to arrive around 6 to 7 pm the day of the race (Saturday) at Foresthill,Ca. Same day, early Saturday I was volunteering as a sweeper at the Double Dipsea race ( 7.5 miles) and made plans to be ready to meet him on time.
@[1309989709:Ky Faubion] and I were almost finishing our duties (sweeping) when I got a text message from Henry’s wife, telling me that he just dropped out from the race due an injury in his ankle at mile 30, then I thought-Now what!! I don’t have a runner and I have to run many miles this two days!. I called her to tell her that I’ll be there anyway, probably I could find another runner who also could needs a pacer. I had my running gear ready to participate in the party too, I also have a driver supporter, my brother Saul, so we took off to Foresthill, 3 hours from Stinson Beach,Ca.
We got there around 7:30 pm. lots of people in that small town. I was happy to see many familiar faces from the Ultra running community, pacers and crews. I went directly to the pacers registration booth and told them that I was available to pace a runner for the last 38 miles of the WS 100M course. I put my name on the list, then sit down to wait: 8 pm, 8:30, 9pm, 9:30, -Nothing for me? I asked the pacer coordinator many times.-” NOPE, nothing for you” I was told repeatedly. I also was asking to the runners who were leaving the place if they wanted a pacer, a “NO!!!” was the answer. It was 10pm, it seemed that nobody needed my help. It was around 10:20 pm. when I started to be worried because at 10:45 pm was the 30 hours cut-off time, as was announced. It would be difficult to run that distance if I don’t find a runner in 20 minutes. I think that because I was making a lot of noise with a cowbell when the runners were passing by, and also because I was telling everybody that I was waiting for ANY runner who needed a pacer, when finally before 10:30 pm someone started yelling, asking if the “guy with the cowbell” was still available, because a runner was coming in and it is asking for a pacer, I jumped from the chair and I said “HERE, I’m ready to go!!”. Immediately I got a pacer bib#, I met the runner, then we left, his name was Thomas Wong, a New York resident from Hong Kong. It was 10:34 pm., a 9 minutes window for the 30 hours cut-off time: -A lot of work to do.
I had a few experience as a pacer from last year WS when I was helping Rob Silva, from Michigan Bluff aid station (mile 56) to Green Gate aid station (mile 80) so I had some ideas of what to do and don’t. First thing that I did was to ask him what would he want me to do. “I want you to be in front of me at all the times” -he replied, OK I said. He also requested “and don’t talk to me!. Oooops. So I kept my mouth shut.
It was a constant fight with Thomas along the course, he was complaining every moment that I was moving to fast, that could be true, I was trying to catch some minutes, he was moving to slow and I was afraid that at the next aid station the volunteers would ask us to stop due his slow running time. I was walking at 15 minutes pace. Fortunately my plan worked, we got 20 extra minutes at Peachstone aid station (mile 70.7). Then I thought, we need to run almost a 50k in less than 9 hours, my runner looks cranky and tired so I needed to try something that could work, I didn’t want him to fail, so I was planning some strategies.
One of the few things that he shared with me before we started to run together is that WS was his first 100M. I know from my experience of last year TRT 100M how important is for a runner to run his first “big one”, also, how hard is for a runner to get the WS 100M belt buckle. First, the runner has to qualify. Second, get a spot from the lottery system (very difficult). and third, run the whole course in less than 30 hours: An Odissey!! well that’s for slow runners like me!.
It was around 3:10 am. right before Rucky Chunky aid station (mile 78) when he started to complain ” hey you, we are lost, what kind of pacer are you?” he looked frustated and angry. I replied, why? “because I don’t see any runner in front of us, nor any passing by us, it is completely dark and I don’t see lights nearby”. I answered him, -look, you just follow me , we are on the right path, the aid station is close trust me. “Yeah right, you are lying, we are going to be pulled out from the race, I don’t believe you!”. lets say that at some point that’s what I thought, but I never told him, there was no time to be nice!
I checked my GPS after we passed the Green Gate aid station (mile 80), we had 30 minutes window gain from the 30 hours cut-off time, great!!. It was around 4:30 am. at this time I started to feel tired and sleepy, I hadn’t sleep and rest on the previous days due that I do my longs runs at night and my body was asking me to stop and sleep. -No, I told my self, not at this moment, after 11am. I”ll be able to do it! At that moment I had a lot of stress, I was dealing with my runner and I was fighting with myself, MEN, being a pacer is not an easy job!!
I don’t know why but after the sunrise, Thomas and I started to feel much better. Finally he started to run, we were gaining time. I checked my time at Browns Bar aid station (mile 90), we had almost 40 minutes spare time! I was always in front of him, sometimes I turned back to see if he was OK, he was fine but he looked tired and trashy and still was following me. At one point he asked me “do you think that we will make it?” I never said yes or no, I knew that if he kept that pace eventually we will, but also I never wanted to make him feel comfortable that he could slow his now great pace. We had more than two hours to run 10 miles. Those miles at that time was very difficult to reach, also we saw runners along the course who were having issues, I really wanted to help them, but I couldn’t, I had my own runner and I have to get him to the finish line!.
Then we got to the Robie Point aid station (mile 98.1). I will never forget that part when Thomas asked me “hey you”, -wait, wait, I replied, I have a name , and my name is Noe! “Oh, hey Noe, we have an hour to do a mile, right?”. Yes, I answered, then he started to show his emotions, about how hard he was training for the race and the sacrifice that this was involved, his job ,his family and friends. I know what you mean, I told him, but first we need to get to the finish line, then you can tell that you finished the “Western States 100 mile endurance run”,that all your hard work was worth it! “Yes” -he said, “and I want you to be with me crossing the line together” he also told me. I will, I will!.
Saul my brother was waiting for us at the Placer high school track, and he captured some memorable pics of Thomas and me getting to the track. He and I toed the line at 29:15:44, very emotional moment for both of us. We both knew from the beginning at Foresthill aid station (mile 62), that reaching the finish line would be very difficult, it was needed courage and hearth. He conquered it! and I was so happy to be part of his journey.
At the end he told me “Noe, you have played an important part of my race, thanks to you I got to this place, without you it would had been impossible. I’m very grateful for your help, it is priceless, I owe you a lot, what can I do for you!. You know what -I said, you don’t need to do anything, I did it because I love to run too
you don’t owe me nothing, two months ago I was in a very sad situation and all my running family gathered and helped me to get back on my feet, and this is nothing compared for what they did to to my family and me. “What happened” he asked me, you know what , enjoy your triumph, enjoy this moment!. Minutes later I told him that I had to leave, I needed to sleep at least couple hours before to run a “few” more miles in Tahoe. “OK” he said, we huged each other, then I left.
On my way to Tahoe I was talking with my brother Saul about the race. I told him about how happy I was to be part of Thomas’ dream. Definitely it was a very good experience. On few days will be my turn to run a 100M too, this is my dream and I hope to finish it. If anybody ask me to be a pacer again, I wouldn’t hesitate it, I’ll do it again!!
Pamakid, DSE & LMJS runner
Thomas and I crossing the finish line!
2011 WSER100 Bronze Buckle (30hr finisher). I saw the 24hr Silver Buckle in person – way way much shinier than this one. Maybe, a few more years of training