Monday, May 18, 2009

The joys of pacing, coaching, and love at the MMT100

I was a newby pacer last Saturday at the MMT100. In my ultra career I have been a runner, a crew member, and a run organizer, but never a pacer, so I was looking forward to this new adventure. My buddy Marlin Yoder was in need of a pacer and I was happy to help him from mile 86 to the finish, so the week before the race was spent getting my stuff organized.

There are logistical issues to consider with pacing. Who was going to take my car back to the finish line for me? How would I get my change of clothes to the finish line, including a jacket for the cooler temps and rain? What would I do if I was delayed getting to Woodstock Tower AS in time to catch Marlin?

There are also the practical issues of being a helpful pacer. What kind of support would Marlin need? Does he want me to be chatty or quiet? Does he need someone to remind him constantly about salt intake and food, or is he self-sufficient? Would he need a serious pep talk when his energy stores got low? What would I do if he wanted to drop...what role would I play to keep him out there?

I described my notion of pacing to my lax team while we were out on a trail run last week (yes, I am recruiting newby trail runners from my team). I told them I thought a pacer was part-coach, part-therapist. They all said, "then you'll be a perfect pacer!" Hmmmm. I had my doubts, as this was a new experience for me and I didn't want to mess up.

I've had some awesome pacers for my 100s. Mike Broderick kicked my butt into gear at MMT in 2005 and kept me from dropping. He did so by being a quiet, patient therapist of sorts, using psychology to motivate ("what will your students think when you came to school on Monday and told them you QUIT?"). Gretchen Garnett was like a big sis pacer at WS100, upbeat and chatty but bossy when I wanted to take a nap along Auburn Lake Trail ("we're not going to get to Auburn any sooner if you sleep here...besides, this is the cougar area."). Mike Mason was my whipping boy pacer for Grindstone. He endured big whining as we descended Elliot's Knob---sideways, per trashed quads--and then my refusal to run the last 4 miles for fear of barfing, despite his motivational tactics ("Vicki is right behind you!"). Despite these episodes, all three continue to be good friends and we have a bond for life through our shared experience---cool!

True to form, Marlin was very low-key in his pacing requirements. He asked me to bring extra S caps and a few gels, and he told me he would talk when in the mood and chill out when he wanted to be quiet. He had a time goal (25:00) but really just wanted to finish. Since MMT100 was his third 100 in a year (after Old Dominion and Grindstone), he was focusing on having strong race before taking some time off from racing, and wasn't going to stress about his time. This positive attitude was HUGE in helping him finish strong---but more on that later.

Logistically, this adventure was tricky, but ultimately worked out beautifully. Chapin's state championship lax game was in Richmond at 5:00pm. I knew I needed to be at Woodstock no later than 12 midnight, so I had to leave Richmond no later than 8:00pm. Check (and we won, which was really cool). I was able to get my change of clothes to Jeff Wilbur here in C'Ville, who was running the race and was camping with Marlin Friday night. Check. I asked Steve Core and his Leesburg Mafia, who were in charge of the Woodstock AS, if someone could shuttle my car to the finish...he said, "Sure." Check. I was able to take a nap at Woodstock...sweet!!! Check. But my alarm never went off, so when I awoke with a start at 3:27 am, and discovered that Marlin had been through 20 minutes earlier, I panicked (and spewed a few F-bombs to boot). Sean Andrish, aka Mr. Positive, told me "you can catch him if you start now" but I wasn't even dressed to run. What a loser pacer.

Fortunately, as I was hastily getting dressed, a crew from Ohio drove up the road. I flagged them down and begged for a ride to the next aid station. They (Andrea and Courtney) were happy to make room for me and we were on our way in 5 minutes. I was able to help them get to Powells Fort without a wrong turn and an hour and a half after Marlin had left Woodstock, he came into Powells looking upbeat and running strong. Whew!!

The next 4 hours were total fun. Marlin was running at 27:30 pace and didn't look remotely tired. He ate and drank and chatted about the lightning storm and rain and ran--- a lot. I was impressed. I have never had that kind of energy in the last 10 miles of a 100, so it was fun to experience 27:30 pace, a pace I had wanted to run at MMT in 2005 but was unable to. Marlin had such a positive attitude and it was paying off in spades. I took some great pics as the sun came out, and I felt like we were on a training run with a finish line party at the end! Along the trail to Elizabeth's Furnace we saw some old friends...Ryan Henry, David Horton, Jeff Wilbur, Jack Kurisky. Marlin was passing some awesome runners!

The finish line at MMT is awesome and, like the event, old school. You pop out of the woods, round a corner and there it is. But first you have to run across an open field while Mike Bur says "Runner" and then your name into the loudspeaker. The crowd (usually numbering 10 at most in the early am before swelling to more than 40 by days end) claps and cheers and there are hugs all around. Pictures are taken, and then you get a shower and food before joining the crowd. So Marlin ran across the field, hugged his wife Mary, and we got the requisite photo opp. What a thrill!

Earlier in the day, I told Marlin that while I was happy to help him, I actually believed that pacing is also a fairly selfish activity. Rachel Toor wrote the definitive article on pacing in Running Times and she wrote that unlike racing, which is all about "me, me, me", pacing is all about the runner you are helping. That is true, but I also believe that pacing gives the pacer (almost) all the fun and reward of running a 100 without the pain and suffering. It was a total pleasure to hang out all night in the woods with Marlin. No drama, no whining, no begging for sleep breaks. Awesome! Congrats Marlin!!

A special shout out to John Cassilly and Quatro Hubbard who ran personal "bests" for MMT---for John this was his first 100 and he smoked the course; for Q, this was his 5th 100 and, I believe, truly FUN 100 mile race. Both trained their butts off and were rewarded with a great day. Congrats, fellas!

Finally a BIG shout out to all the finishers and volunteers at MMT this year. The weather was epic and the rocks were slick, but spirits were high and the finish line energy proved once again that we are part of a sport that gives us so many rewards--- the satisfaction of hard work and perseverance, the bonds of friendship and lifelong connection. Speaking of which...a marriage proposal took place at the finish line between a runner and his crew (she said yes) after "Marry Me" notes were shared in drop bags all along the race and the ring was carried 101 miles by the groom-to-be over the groom's beloved MMT trail...not a bad way to start a life together. Congratulations, Keith and Tracy!

Massanutten Rocks!

Pics of the race and finish line are here.

You can see Marlin flying towards the finish in this cool video here


Rick Gray said...

Sophie, Your energy level is at the top. I know Marlin so appreciated your help. MMT is a tough place, but yet you helped Marlin finish in fine fashion. You are a true friend and supporter of our sport. I am so glad that you had a wonderful time doing something you love. My congratulations go out to Chapin and his team! Rick

Trail Pixie said...

Sophie, I enjoy reading your blog and this post was so important to me as I consider potentially pacing someone at the VT 100 (if I can logistically be there). You raise questions I've considered and practical concerns, planning, too. One of the best aspects of your pacing is your prior experience with/in this distance. I'm not a fast runner but I'm guessing after 86 miles the pace slows (for mortals) ;-) and 12-16 min/mile is in order along with whatever the runner needs...? Thanks for sharing. Great photos, too.

Sophie Speidel said...

Thanks guys for the nice comments!

Rick, I was sorry you had to end your MMT adventure early, but I know the next time will be sweet redemption :-)Thanks for the kind words for Chapin---he is stoked. Keep your fingers crossed as we are entering the final college recruiting month---arrrgh.

Trail Pixie, I am glad you enjoy the blog and that some of what I write is helpful (I am not always sure that what I write is worth anyone's time to read!). Yes, the last 20 miles is totally within the 12-16 min/mile pace, at least it was for Marlin, and he is a fast runner. What I didn't have to do for Marlin, but what other pacers frequently have to do is deal with the runner having sleep issues and wanting to nap. One pacer friend literally propped her runner up against a tree so she (the runner) could take a 5 minute nap! Others waited at the AS while their runner snoozed on a cot. In hindsight, I got off easy! I loved pacing and would do it again in a heartbeat---don't worry about pace, it will be slow and easy unless you have a front-of-the-pack runner.

Also...if you can work out all the car and clothes logistics, it's a blast, but I can imagine what a drag it would be to have to retrieve a car or not have a change of clothes at the end...

Have fun!!!

Rick Gray said...

Sophie, Grindstone will be my sweet redemption. My climbing training starts tomorrow, as Tammy and I are running/walking up a local mountain to an old fire tower. Monday we have a group fun run and I will be running about 42 miles. We will see what kind of difference a little training can make at Highland Sky. I have been doing a little internet research and have somewhat come to the conclusion that my past medical history might be part of my problem. Not sure what I can do about it, but it does make me feel a little bit better knowing there might be an underlying cause.

Chapin has had his time to shine, so he is going to standout with the recruiters. He knows his Mom and Dad are with him every step of the way. Have a great long weekend (if you have one). Rick