Thursday, November 1, 2012

Confessions of a Javelina pacer - Part I

Liz and I (on the right) at pre-race dinner
I will honestly say that being a first-time pacer is not the frolic-through-the-rose-garden I thought it would be.  

I will follow that up quickly by saying that it is a very rewarding experience and I would gladly do it again. But like anything else, doing it well comes with experience - and even then, it will never be the same experience twice.

I had some level of expectations going into this but I don't think there is much you can do to prepare for the waves of physical and mental emotions someone experiences when pushing their mind and body to the limits. I remember going through them myself at the Leanhorse 100. Like being the runner in the race, you deal with things as they come. You try to make decisions that won't impact the entire race but sometimes, point-in-time decisions are critical just to make sure the next couple miles are a success.

It is impossible to look upon the outcome of this race without the proper perspective however. There are things I would do differently for sure. There are also things I would do again without hesitation...

But here, is the rest of the story.

Pre-pacing Fail?

I thought I made pretty good time to McDowell Park. I was there around 6 but did not anticipate the 20-minute round-trip shuttle to the start/finish line. I was actually in the shuttle and on my way to the Jeadquarters when Liz calls. My heart sank totally expecting the "WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU!" call while she stood there waiting for her dumb-ass pacer. Talk about the ultimate first-time-pacer-FAIL! Turns out, she had slowed down without a headlamp and was just calling to check in. I was able to make it to the start line, get prepared and wait for Liz to come through the line.

Liz was in good spirits as she came through the line to finish Loop 3. She paused at the aid station, grabbed a slice of pizza and kept moving toward her drop bag. We sat down for a bit and I helped her change her socks. After a bathroom break we headed out to start Loop 4.

Loop 4

Leaving Jeadquarters, there was still a buzz of excitement in the air and the newness of conversation that kept us occupied for quite a bit. There were also coyotes howling in the distance. I think this freaked Liz out enough that her pace picked up for a couple minutes just to make sure we were moving faster than the group behind us :) After that, the 3 miles to Rattlesnake Ranch seemed to melt away as we navigated the Pemberton Trail.
The 7 loops of the Javelina Jundred
But night miles are long miles.

I could tell that things were getting hard for Liz - both mentally and physically. The good news was that we kept talking. An occupied mind is a positive mind. When we arrived at Rattlesnake, we paused for a short bit, hit the bathroom and tried to eat. I don't recall Liz eating anything - if she did, it was pretty low in calories.

During the course of the next 4 miles to Jackass Junction, we did a fair amount of walking given the uphill nature of the loop. The conversation was getting thinner but Liz was coherent enough to notice a feeling in her head...somewhat "woozy and annoying", she said. She brushed it aside and I encouraged her to stay focused and keep moving. I could tell that the course was mentally eating away at her with each passing mile (it also doesn't help that your pacer tells you the wrong distance to the next aid station...rookie mistake #2).

It was times like this when clearly, hugs and encouragement from friends and family were needed more than anything. I had arranged videos via her boyfriend and played them for her when times were tough. Below is one of my favorites from Elvis and Lisa Marie Monkey...(a.k.a., Liz's parents)

Jackass Junction was a welcome stop now that night time had fully embraced us. Chris (Liz's boyfriend) was waiting for our arrival at this station and would be a good mental boost for her. I could tell we were reaching a point in the race where she was beginning to question whether she had enough in the tank to keep going. After filling her bottles and throwing down some calories myself, I encouraged her to eat. ANYTHING. Chicken broth was met with a "blech" so I resorted to some ginger ale instead. I was pushing potatoes, watermelon and anything that would stay down. Turns out, there wasn't much of what I was selling that Liz was buying.

Yes, I was concerned that she was in a caloric deficit but at that point, you have 2 choices: (1) Sit and wait until the desire to eat comes around (which could be hours or never) or (2) keep moving.

We left Jackass Junction moving a little more slowly and it was clear that the physical pain was starting to catch up to the mental anguish as Liz started verbally abusing the increasingly larger rocks under our feet. Jackass Junction to Coyote is the longest stretch on the course at 6.4 miles.

The good news - it's downhill.

The bad news - it's rocky.

Liz was not a fan of rocky trails
The wooziness and light-headed feeling continued to grow for Liz and I knew exactly what was going on. The lack of calories over the last 8 miles was catching up to her.

This made it a little treacherous for her to navigate the rocky downhill portion of the trail, even with my help. I stayed either beside or behind her the entire time for fear of her taking a header down the trail. I was honestly worried at this stage that she would faint and not even make it to the next aid station. We took some small breaks here and there but it was questionable whether Liz was going to be able to complete this loop.

As we approached the Coyote aid station, I started doing the math in my head. We did not great make time on Loop 4 despite what she might remember me telling her. I felt bad lying to her but part of my job was to continue to offer hope and encouragement regardless of where we might be at that moment. The only thing that was important at the Coyote station was making sure she consumed calories of any kind. Ginger ale went down well so we stuck with that. We layered on some watermelon and a Nutella sandwich followed by more shots of ginger ale.

Liz was sitting in the tent trying to eat and ignore the waves of nausea that accompanied these calories. You could slowly see the life returning to her eyes but I could also tell that the thought of future miles made her worried and uncertain of whether her body (in it's current state) would make it through the next segment, let alone the 40 miles needed to finish. She laid on the cot for 15 minutes consulting Chris (via phone) and I on whether she should drop out.

"Should I just drop?", she asked me.

I would not/could not answer that question.

"It's not my choice Liz", I responded, half-knowing what I think she wanted me to say.

(start internal monologue)
I didn't want to come off as a jerk by not answering - I'm her pacer dammit! The trusted adviser! Oh, ask me any other question but that one Liz! Who am I to tell someone what they can or cannot do? It's a personal decision - a decision that you ultimately have to live with.
(end internal monologue)

Thankfully, I remained silent.

You could see the struggle raging within her. Her body saying one thing but her mind telling her another. I thought for sure she was done. I figured we would walk back to Jeadquarters, get that 100K buckle and call it a night...

Turns out, Liz is a fighter with an amazing resilience (and maybe a little stubborn?). Life and energy had returned. "I didn't come all this way to quit", she said with conviction. With that, Liz was on her feet again and told me, "Let's go". Before I knew it, we were moving toward the conclusion of Loop 4. Her running was strong (the head was a little woozy still) but we made decent time back to Jeadquarters.

I don't remember even asking Liz whether we were going to start Loop 5. She disappeared to the restroom for a bit, hovered over the food, grabbed a few things while I refilled her bottles with water and Gatorade. She took a short sit-break next to the photographer (who I personally think had a little crush on her) while eating some fruit. I broke away to get some stuff from my drop bag, changed the batteries in my head lamps (yes, all 3 of them) and came back to Liz on her feet giving that same look my wife always gives me.

"Are you ready yet?" she said.


Look out Loop 5, Liz Braun is about to give you hell.

(to be continued)

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