Monday, November 5, 2012

Confessions of a Javelina pacer - Part II

...continued from Part I

Loop 5

With a new found determination and some calories in her belly, Liz was making some good time back toward the Coyote aid station.

"Screw these rocks", she said as we climbed. Though we walked the rough rocky spots, we were running everything else...uphill.

There was a huge cheer as we pulled into the Coyote aid station. Several of the crew recognized Liz and were applying high-5's all the way around. I got the sense that they too were not expecting to see us back again after our prolonged stay only an hour earlier. The station manager catered to our every need and duplicated my efforts to ensure Liz was eating something. Watermelon, salted potatoes and ginger ale were the only things that sounded less-disgusting. Bathroom break, more water and Gatorade and we were off again to tackle that ominous Jackass Junction segment...that grueling 6.4 miles.

As I mentioned before, night miles are the longest EVER. I did my best to continually be honest with Liz about the mileage. I may have rounded up a few times when she asked me how far we'd gone...you know, like "1 mile" when it had actually be only 0.75 miles. Or said "4.5 miles to the next aid station" when it was actually closer to 5. Given GPS accuracy in the desert isn't really all that good, it was a tolerance I could live with so long as it didn't completely destroy her motivation and mental stability.

The red rectangle is Loop 5 from Coyote to Jackass Junction.

The Jackass station did seem to take a while even by my standards. Lights in the distance?! Nope, just a couple of runners. "God hates me right now", she said on more than one occasion. I'm fairly certain that wasn't the case but in her mind, the ups and downs along with the rocks were the equivalent of being trapped in one of Dante's special circles made specially for ultra-runners.

Eventually the lights of the aid station came into view like that cartoon oasis from on the Bugs Bunny show. You shake your head and rub your eyes just to make sure it's real. With a huge sigh (well, more like a whimpering groan), Liz made her customary pit stops while I filled her bottles. Upon returning, she plopped down next to her drop bag to change her socks. Up to this point she had not once complained about blisters, but now that the socks were off...holy crap, they were a mess.

She had at least 3 blisters on her right foot and 2 on the left that needed to be lanced. All inquiries to the volunteers at the station failed to produce a single sharp object that would help lance these so they could be bandaged up. What does Liz do? Lathers up with sanitizer and uses her fingernails...

Pretty sure Chuck Norris never popped blisters with his hands.

Pacer initiation = over. When you find yourself squeezing someone else's blisters at 4 in the morning, it's for real.

With socks and shoes back on, we made our way into the aid station tent to get some food and warm up.

"Well, that hurts considerable more", she commented in the most deadpan tone.

I laughed awkwardly knowing that blistered feet suck most any time - particularly when you have 32 miles left to run.

There were plenty of other runners resting in the tent - some were laying on the cots, but most were huddled around the heat lamps chit-chatting and making grimacing faces as they all dealt with either intestinal and/or muscular issues. Eventually the talk turned to the time...and how late it was...and when the first cut-off was.

Between small bits of banana, some hot chocolate and ginger ale you could see the sense of urgency growing on Liz's face. "We're going to make the cut-off, right?" she asked. Myself and several others reassured her that it was definitely possible...but certainly going to be close. We needed to cover 7 more miles in an hour and thirty minutes. Definitely possible on any other day...a bit harder when you've got 70 miles under your belt.

But again, Liz rose to the occasion. She tossed the hot chocolate at me and took off running ("It was good hot chocolate though", she said). We didn't stop until we reached the Rattlesnake Ranch aid station. 4 miles, gone just like that in 50 minutes. I think both of us were encouraged by her vigor and spirit that we strolled right by the aid station and kept plowing forward. At this point, it was about 4:50 am and we openly discussed that it would require essential the same 10/11-minute pace to make the check-in at Jeadquarters.

Leaving Rattlesnake, we were off to good start. Somewhere after the first 3/4 of a mile however, things began to slow down. The last 2 1/4 miles is one of the smoother parts of the trail but still has some small rollers scattered throughout. My gut is that the rollers were just enough discouragement...the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back. After all, the smallest rise after running 75 miles can seem enormous.

"I need you to keep running Liz", I said.

"How much farther?" she asked while wincing.

"We have 2.25 miles to go. But we need to go..."

Finishing Loop 5
"We haven't even gone a mile?", she asked with disbelief laced with anger.

"You can do this Liz but you have to focus on running", I said.

As a pacer, you walk a fine line between encouraging without telling and supporting without forcing...all while trying to keep a positive attitude.

Whether it was a sign or not, this was about the time my Garmin died. Half-heartedly, Liz managed a run-walk for the next mile or so until it was pretty obvious that a heavy shroud of defeat (and/or fatigue) had descended over her. We walked side-by-side...my arm around her attempting to offer encouraging words of congratulations as the reality of missing the cut-off began to take hold. In all honesty, I was just trying to distract her from my failure to see her to the end of her 100-mile journey.

Nonetheless, I was very proud to walk her through the finish line. An accomplishment in it's own right, but just a little short of her overall goal. Liz Braun ran 77 miles and received a 100K buckle at the 2012 Javelina Jundred.

We would miss the cut-off by 12 minutes and 21 seconds.

A Pacer's Remorse

I will tell you that the competitive person in me feels like a failure. The single most important reason for supporting Liz was to finish...and I failed. Which sucks big time.

Liz and her 100K finisher buckle
I have experienced enough of my own races however to know that there is seldom just one thing that contributes to a DNF (unless it's an injury). I know personally that I did the best I could but I am not ignorant of the fact that I still have things to learn.

There are plenty of things I will do differently and many things that I will do the same.

So what did I learn as a pacer? Here are my top 5:

5. Be honest with your runner about distances and set their expectations on things that must happen at each aid station.

4. Never tell your runner that they should drop out. If I had, I'm fairly certain Liz's race would have been over at mile 62.5. Instead, she proved just how much more she could do.

3. Discover your marketing hat. Always find small ways to improve the situation. Turn the terrain, the distance or feelings of fatigue, pain and/or nutrition into something positive. Negative thoughts breed doubt - doubt leads to failure.

2. Listen and learn. The smallest sounds, grunt, whimpers and sighs say just as much as words. As you learn what these mean to your runner, find ways to help take their mind off the struggles going on inside their head (or with their body).

1. Force your runner to take in calories at every aid station, no matter what. Running requires fuel. Calories = fuel. Period.


Being the engineer, I have the tendency to analyze and dissect results from a race like this. Data brings perspective and puts the entire race into focus to see just how hard this distance really is. So if you're already impressed that Liz ran 77 miles, prepare yourself.
  • Liz had a 100K time of 18:39:28 - good enough for 132nd place out of 159 (100K) splits
  • Her total race time was 23:42:21
    • This is 202nd overall for all runners (364 total)
    • 75th for all females (out of 123)
  • There were 160 total finishers out of 364 (44%)
    • 55 out of 123 females finished (44%)
  • Only 56 runners finished under 24 hours (15%)
Mind = blown.

For perspective, the 2011 finishing rate was 51% (total of 339 runners). Most every report I've read or person I talked to that morning said that the heat was especially brutal. The heat, dehydration and going out too fast in the early morning desert are easy mistakes to make in a distance like this.

In case you're bi-directional-loop-curious, her splits are below:

Loop 1
Loop 2
Loop 3
Loop 4
Loop 5
Elapsed Time
Loop Time

Congratulations again Liz. I am very proud of you and I hope that when it's time to seek vengeance on the Javelina Jundred, you'll give me a call so we can both finish what we started.

1 comment:

  1. Utterly fantastic race report! I'd love to have you as my pacer any day. It WAS brutally hot out there this year, and Liz did great to get that 100k. I hope she's ready to take on another 100-miler and get that ultimate finish!