Pace until it HURTs.

Last year I did quite a bit of pacing. Hell, I did a whole lot of pacing and for the most part, I had a good time. I feel I learned a great deal about how to help out my runner and definitely experienced the sacrifices a pacer is needed to make at times. Pacing, especially the longer stretches, can be extremely hard. Sometimes when you are 30 miles in you could feel the need to slow down, stop and go to the bathroom, etc etc. But when you are pacing, your own needs go out the window. At least, in my opinion that is what a good pacer does. I paced 4 100 milers (and several other races) in 2009 and after reviewing my experience, as well as examining how pacing fits into my own training and racing schedule, I decided that I would be doing a bit less pacing in 2010 or at the very least, I would think a bit more carefully about my pacing choices. So what is the first thing I volunteered to do this year? Pace!

 Pacing in Hawaii. At least the recovery doesn't suck!

Of course I did! I was the only one in our fearsome four (Brett, Larissa and Nathan, my regular training partners) that was not running HURT 100 on January 16-17th, so when Nathan asked me to pace him for the final 40 miles of HURT, I happily said yes. Ok, maybe there was a subsequent freak out about what I had just gotten myself into, but I just tried to prepare myself for 40 brutal, rooty, muddy, insanely steep and possibly dangerous miles on one of the hardest 100 mile courses in existence.

I arrived in Honolulu the Tuesday before the race and was able to get out on the course with Nathan and over the course of the next few days preview the course. At the very least, I was able to see the route and get a more realistic idea in my head of the terrain. I had been scared s**tless by Bryon Powell telling me he has nightmares about pacing there. See, nothing to worry about.....

Course photos by Nathan Yanko

 And my job was to pace on those trails, at night with a very fast runner. At least there was in fact a huge bright side. There was none of the very famous mud and rain. Usually those roots are covered in a thick ankle deep mud that makes it nearly impossible to even see the roots. This year there was serious luck and no rain fell before the race making it optimal conditions for running fast.

Crew extraordinaire Kristin, Nathan, Larissa, Brett and I before the race.

Run fast they did. Gary Robbins, my Canadian friend and a very speedy Montrail runner and Nathan ran the second fastest first loop ever in 3:36 (20 mile loops). They were flying. There is about 5,000 feet of ascent on every loop, so that is really no joke. Brett was running solidly as well through lap one, as was Larissa. Nathan's sister, Kristen came to the Hawaii to crew for Nathan and she was absolutely outstanding. I have never seen someone crew like her. She should hire herself out and make some serious cash. She was outstanding and together we got Nathan in and out of the aid stations really fast.

The race itself I can't really comment on. We saw the runners 3 times per loop and by early 3rd loop Gary was solidly in first, Nathan still hunting him in second, and Brett was running third guy and fourth overall. When we got back to the nature center to await Nathan's arrival for loop 4, I got myself ready, donned my cycling gloves (on Bryon's recommendation for grabbing roots and such) and my two lights.

All ready to run? Photo by Courtney Brown

Pacing is a weird experience in that you wait and wait and wait to run and then all of the sudden your runner appears out of the woods and you go from spending hours and hours not running to go go go. I have only paced fast people, so I have never been able to just ease into pacing. You just go straight into go mode. I have never found an easy transition.

Nonetheless we headed up the trail (first rooty picture above) and ran/hiked as fast as we could. The sun was disappearing and the light faded quickly since the trail is very shaded. I paced from behind, letting Nathan monitor his footing and see the trail. We ran mostly in silence, except for the occasional encouragement to pick up the pace or tell him to eat. We went up and over and picked our way down to Paradise where Kristen was waiting. Then back up and over and down to Jackass Ginger aid station. You pretty much go straight down, straight up, straight down, straight up in this section of the course which is about all but 6 miles of the course.

After we reached a runnable section along an exposed ridgeline, we got a bit chatty and enjoyed opening up the stride for a bit. I thoroughly enjoyed this part. It is those moments on the trail, especially at night, that just don't translate in every day life. It was cool. Lap 5 was probably the hardest. You have the taste for the finish but are still 20 miles from the line. It's dark, at this point it was 11pm and everything on your runner is tired. I managed to fall a few times and bang myself up and was not feeling awesome. I just kept going though, pushing, encouraging and supporting. When we made it back to the top of Jackass Ginger we yelled at the top of our lungs in celebration (that and sang "Climb Every Mountain").

I had told Nathan that I wanted to make it from JackAss Ginger back to the finish in 2 hrs which would put him at a 22:30, which is wicked fast for HURT. He was running uphill incredibly well even in the 5th loop (I was sure at points he was going to drop me) and we made our way as quickly as possible. My light started to die and less than 1/2 mile before the finish Nathan gave me his headlamp and went to just his handheld. I looked at my watch and said "You can get under 22:30 but we'll have to push it". We picked up the pace through a not so fun rocky downhill section. A few feet from the end of the rocks I tripped and smashed into the rocks very painfully. I told Nathan to go, to leave me behind and make the time. But of course, he wouldn't. So I jumped up and started running as hard as I could. Nathan didn't miss a beat and sprinted in front of me and made a final push for the finish. He crossed "the line" (there was no real finish line) in 22:29:50. Of course we find out after the race they don't count seconds, so it shows up as 22:30, which was the 4th fastest time on the course ever. Gary had won the race and set a new course record! As soon as Nathan was cross the line, I stopped, burst in to tears and finally let myself hurt from falling. It really did hurt, but just a few bruises.

Post race, pacer and runner watermelon

Fast guys! Brett (3rd), Nathan (2nd) and Gary (1st)

It was a hard 40 miles. Not that running 40 miles is ever easy, but this was particularly brutal. But I only got to run 40 miles, all my pals ran 100(miles or kms)! I am so happy I got to be a part of Nathan's race and watch so many friends and runners run, fight, struggle and triumph. The relaxing on the beach for a week after the race didn't suck either!