Pacing Umstead 100

"Thank you. I really appreciate you doing this," Joey said a number of times during the five or six hours we spent together. He was my runner and I was his pacer. When Elizabeth, the pacer coordinator, introduced us, he already had 50 miles on his feet. That's a total of four loops on the 12.5-mile course, half way for his 100-mile race. I wasn't sure what kind of physical and mental state he was in, so when he started walking, I just followed him. Later, he told me this was his first attempt of the 100-miler, but he had done the 50-miler three times in the past. I guess this is new territory for him and he too wasn't sure how his body would react.

After some walking, I suggested some light jogging and we started trucking along. Very small steps, but every step is a step closer to finish. We stopped and walked all the hills, but as soon as we hit some flat and downhill, we'd jog again. I think he surprised himself by how much he could still do. Never been a pacer before, I began to see the significance and benefit of having a pacer in a grueling endurance race as such.

The race doesn't allow pacer until runners finish their first 50 miles and/or after 6 p.m. About an hour into our first loop, we had to put our headlight on. Running long hours in the dark can be really lonely. I've learned that from 24-hour races. There's seldom any noise other than your own footstep. I tried to make some small conversations to distract him from his pain and the miles still await him. The first loop was rather uneventful. We jogged, walked, and cheered at every mile marker. It took us about two and a half hours.

Race headquarters at 11 p.m.
Towards the end of the first loop, I told Joey I could pace him for another one. We got back to the race headquarters, picked up a few things, and got going again. I wish I could say the second loop was as uneventful as the first one, but I can't. Thunder and rain rolled in about two miles after we started again. It was first a drizzle, then a little heavier, then a full-on downpour. I was wet inside out, shivering from the chill. It was miserable. How I wish I could just pick up and run. But then I remember how Joey must be feeling, with 50 more miles on his feet, his body much more fatigue, and his immune system much compromised. The downpour went on for 45 minutes to an hour, though it felt like forever. At the half-way aid station, I picked up a garbage bag to block some of the wind and drizzle. Joey's footstep had become more like a shuffle because he could no longer roll on his feet. His spirit still high, though. A couple of times he looked and me and asked, "Do you have more jog in you?" And we started jogging again. At the end of his 75 mile, I was in awe of how well he was still moving while my own ankles had stiffen after only 25 miles.

Driving up to Umstead yesterday afternoon, I wasn't sure what to expect. Frankly, I didn't even know if I'd get to pace someone. Obviously, not all aspects of pacing are fun, like the miserable downpour and waiting around. But it's a valuable chance to contribute to another runner's success and put someone else before myself in this individualistic sport.

I left Umstead at 4 a.m., shortly after Joey started his second last loop. At 10:07 a.m. as I'm writing this, 28 hours and 7 minutes after he has started his race yesterday, I hope he has conquered his first 100 miler.

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