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On November 1st and 2nd, 2014 I had the blessing and honor to be able to give back and help another first timer run his first 100 mile race, the Pinhoti 100 — a point to point race that was the site of my first (and only) 100 mile finish in 2012 (see volume 2 of Quiet the Noise publish date early 2015…..).
It was a whirlwind and amazing experience.
But allow me step back a bit to give you yet another taste of how amazing and close knit the sport of off road ultra running is.
The person I helped (lets call him David “Y” because, well, that is his name) has only been a friend for a few months. I have run with him a few time at training runs and races, spent a fair amount of time with him getting lost at H9 this year but really don’t know him that well at all. I do know much more about him than most men would know about each other spending the same amount of time together doing something “normal” like drinking beer, watching sports, playing golf, etc. as time spent ultra running tends to break down all the natural barriers that keep us from being authentic with each other. I have never done anything social with him, or met his family, or anything that “normal” people do when they get to know each other.
In fact, as of this writing I still don’t know how to pronounce his last name, and I guarantee he does not know how to pronounce mine!
So, lets step back and think about this for a minute. This man, who I have met just a few times, tells me he is signing up for Pinhoti for his first 100. I, of course, tell him how cool (I have a terrible memory) it is and “if there is anything I can do to help, don’t hesitate to ask”. Well, I am not one of those people that just says that and doesn’t ever expect to help if it is actually needed.
I meant it.
And, guess what?
He took me up on it!
David put together a team of 3 guys (David W, Mark and me) to help crew and pace him through the race. Somehow I got picked for the finish, the last 15 miles…. Again, just like in 2013! I guess I have a reputation of being able to stay up and energized deep into the night/morning and I can motivate pretty well.
Maybe he just knew about my caffeine addiction and knew I wouldn’t sleep through my shift!
It worked out well because we had a jam-packed Saturday so not having to be there till late Saturday night worked well. David worked out all the details, with a little input from us — we actually did get together one time for coffee (I didn’t recognize him at first cause he wasn’t in running clothes) to discuss details, mostly I wanted to know his “why” and how badly he wanted this finish — basically how hard can I push this man who I barely know to get to Sylacauga stadium in under 30 hours?
To be honest, I really didn’t get a strong feeling either way from him. I could tell he wanted the buckle, but it didn’t seem “life or death” as it was for me! I figured I would use my 20 years of training clients to “play it by ear” as the day progressed, which ended up being a very good plan!
So, and this is how crazy long a 100 mile race is — I have a full packed day of family activities, including me searching all over for a good thermos to bring hot soup (was worth every minute) and leave for Alabama right after my son’s 5pm basketball game, and by the time I get there (2 hour drive but we gain an hour) he is still only 1/2 way done! The drive over was fantastic, did my Rosary and prayed for David and all the participants and gave HUGE thanks that I could do this crazy thing! The sunset was glorious and the temperature was dropping fast, a sign of things to come!
I met up with David W at mile 55 aid station (Mark had starting pacing him at mile 41 and would be with him till mile 65 when David would take over) and we got to know each other a bit. I Didn’t know my other pacers much either, I had met David a few times (I didn’t know this till I saw him) and had never met Mark (I actually had them text me pictures of what they looked like so I would be able to find them at the aid station, crazy).
David Y showed up with Mark right on time (we had been tracking him all day on the live tracking site), around a 24 hour pace and looking great! He was having some knee problems but other than that he was doing WAY better than I was at that point in the race (at least nutritionally — I fell apart at mile 27 and never really got my stomach back, he was totallyfine)!
Funny side note here, being on the “other side” of an Ultra, I came to the conclusion it is SO similar to being a party where everyone else is drunk and you are totally sober. Seriously, participants are staggering, slurring (especially in this race when their lips are frozen), not making any sense, have to have people take care of them and have emotions all over the board. They also look (not all of them, but most) like the walking dead when they come into an aid station.
Makes me question wanting to do another on, but not too much.
I did notice something right away about our runner; he was taking a ton of time getting what he needed in the aid station. This was not a factor at all as he was way ahead of cutoffs, but I made a mental note to keep an eye on this if we got close later in the race.
We then drove to mile 65 to prep and wait for him to switch pacers. He slowed down a lot at this point but was still looking strong and way ahead of the cut offs at this point so no worries.
This was a cool aid station as it was right on train tracks (btw, either this aid station didn’t exist in my race or I totally blacked out cause I don’t remember it at all) so we got to see about 4 trains go past while waiting. We also helped a little guy who was totally hypothermic and had lost his crew — he never was able to get warm again and didn’t finish the race but it felt good to get him a blanket and try to warm him up a bit. It was getting progressively colder, ended up getting down to right at 30 degrees with wind up to 25mph, very tough race conditions.
David Y came in still feeling good and about 2 hours ahead of the cut offs, he had lost a bit of time but was still doing fantastic! He again took way too much time in the aid station again and picked up David W for his pacing duties.
I was now free until picking him up at mile 85. He left mile 65 at 12:50am so I figured at his current pace he would be at mile 85 around 6am.
I was wrong, of course, but more on this later.
Anyway, at this point I had to take Mark back to his car at mile 41 so he could go home, no problem and he smelled fantastic at this point so I really enjoyed being in a heated car with him for about an hour! Actually, he really didn’t smell bad, that or my truck just perpetually smells like the sweat of trail running — probably the latter. We got to know each other and guess what…..
He, and David W, were not long term close friends with David Y either!
So, back to the nature of trail running and ultra running / runners in general. Here we are, 3 guys who are barely acquainted with this gentleman and we are driving to Alabama on a Saturday night, to stay up all night, in the cold, to crew and pace him and help him to the finish.
And loving every minute of it! Giving back feels good!
So, I drop him off at mile 41 and, of course, my GPS on my phone is not working so I have no idea how I am going to find the mile 85 aid station (I have directions from aid station to aid station but that would be brutal and probably not the quickest way to get back).
Bam, first of many God moments — Mark has already printed these directions for me! Between the 3 of us we had it all figured out. Well, the 4 of us with God.
So, I drive about an hour on deserted country roads, at 2am, very tired at this point and find the mile 85 station. So glad I rushed so I could….
Now a funny part about this race and the clock. Picture this.
1. It is 2:50am Alabama time.
2. Which is really 1:50am Alabama time cause the clocks changed this night.
3. Which is actually 2:50 “Pinhoti time” cause they don’t change the clocks in the race till it is over.
4. All the clocks in my truck are still on Atlanta time which is an hour ahead of all this.
5. So, what the heck do I do when I set my alarm on my phone, which btw, has automatically adjusted for the time change at 2am!
This is tougher than the running part, for me at least.
So I finally figured it out, I calculated that he should be at this aid station at around 6am so I set my alarm for 5am to allow for changing time, hot soup, etc. and I planned on being there at 5:30am to be safe and allow for the impossible, which would mean he got faster at mile 65-85 in a 100 miler, at night, in the freezing cold.
So, I actually fell asleep in my truck (I brought a pillow and sleeping bag) for about 30-45 minutes and when my alarm went off…
I had no idea where I was and totally freaked out, the only clock I could see was the one in my truck which was Atlanta time — I had overslept!!!
OK, took me about 2 minutes to come back to reality and I figured out I was OK, it was about 5:15am “Pinhoti Time”.
And I was frozen.
I had turned off my truck cause it was so warm when I fell asleep. I started it and shivered for a bit before I started to get ready.
I won’t lie, this is when the “so happy to help a guy I hardly know” started to not make much sense. Thought a lot about my family at home sleeping in their warm beds and the thought of getting out of my car and waiting freezing by a fire was not very appealing! Actually, if I knew I would just walk up and start running, it would not have been bad — but based on my last experience pacing when I waited by the fire for hours for “Silent Bob” I had a feeling that would not be the case.
I then took some time to pray. And the first thing that came to mind were people in the military. They deal with situations SO much worse than this and sacrifice SO much for others, how could I even think of complaining or that this was not a great thing to do. I was helping another human achieve and impossible goal, and it was made even better that I really didn’t know him!
I got dressed, had some hot soup (yep, the ridiculously expensive thermos from REI was working great and totally worth it) and headed to the aid station.
When I got out of my car I actually thought I might be over-dressed, it didn’t feel too bad. Man, I am so glad I didn’t take off a layer!
When I got to the aid station at about 5:30am, it was still pitch dark and SO cold (especially when the wind was whipping). Last year this was my favorite part of the night, it was a beautiful night and every one was talkative and in a great mood.
Not so much this year.
I have rarely been so cold sitting doing nothing. We were rotating our bodies like pigs on a rotisserie to keep every section warm! I couldn’t imagine how the runners who had not prepared with a warm change of clothes were feeling! I prayed for them, and David, and waited.
Turned out this section took him 7.5 hours (my estimate was 5) so he showed up around 7:20am and we started “running” at about 7:35am (again, too much time in the aid station). The one upside of this was the sun had come up and it had warmed up a bit, in fact as soon as I started moving I was fine. At this point we had 5.5 hours to “run” 15 miles which sounds like a lot, however, at one point he was about 3 hours ahead of the cut offs, he had lost so much time in the last section he was now only 1 hour ahead. At this rate of decline he would not make the 30 hours and that would NOT happen on my watch!
I knew he didn’t have the luxury of walking the final 15 miles like I did, I would need to make him run most of it, and not take a lot of time in the aid stations.
I was fine with this role and looked forward to it!
David was still doing really well — he sat down by the fire and we got him food, whatever he needed but then he started to shiver and my “type A” driving personality made it’s first showing, “lets get out of here”!
The first thing I noticed was that he was able to run (not fast, but definitely running) whenever I asked him to. This was in complete contrast to my experience in that I basically walked the final marathon of my race! He also argued with me much less than “Silent Bob”, who was not so silent when I asked him to run.
I was actually not sure how he could be so close to the cut offs. The first 1/2 of his race he ran at the 24 hour pace so he “banked” 3 hours, what was going on? He was still running, he had no blister issues, no hypothermia issues, no orthopedic issues (the knee pain had gone away), nutrition was good, really he was in amazing shape!
I figured it out in the next 15 miles, more on this later.
The next thing I noticed was that David is the polar opposite of “Silent Bob”. With Bob, we can go for long, long stretches without saying a word (this is tough for me as I am more like “Chatty Bob” but once I get into it I actually like it, plus you can run faster when you don’t talk). With David I quickly realized that keeping him talking would not be one of my jobs, in fact I couldn’t get a word in most times!
This was another very good sign that he was running well within himself and we would not blow up or fall into a “death march” anytime soon.
Anyway, I really enjoyed the first section. He was running well, the weather was perfect, there was actually frost on the ground and the sun coming up glistening off of it was amazing. I kept trying to get him to be in the moment and take it all in. David is a spiritual guy so references to being thankful to the Lord for what he was able to do were touching him, I could tell!
Also, I won’t lie, after 12 hours of crewing, driving, waiting and more waiting, it felt good to be actually running!
We made it to the first of our 2 aid stations (mile 89.6) very quickly (for this stage and based on his prior pacing) and gained 15 minutes on the cut off! It helped that the sun was up, the final 15 miles are the easiest of the race and that I was dead set on getting him there in under 29 hours (he doesn’t know this till now) instead of 30 — I wanted him to enjoy the end, not be freaking out about making the cut off!
I also was keeping a very, very cool secret!
I had been keeping his adult son up to date on his progress and he had told me he and his two daughters were planning on surprising him at the finish.
How freaking cool is that?
A great surprise and also an “ace in the hole” for me in case he ever tried to quit, I could leverage that little gem to get him to run on a broken femur!
Again, he tried to take his time at the aid station and I would not have any of it, in and out, we had to move!
The next 5-6 miles to the final aid station were un-eventful, I kept getting him to run as much as possible and kept a close eye on the clock.
He was doing great, I was getting confident he had this in the bag!
Another interesting observation occurred during this sections. Remember how I said people look, and act, like they are severely intoxicated in these things? Well, you know how a drunk person’s personality tends to be an exaggeration of their “normal” personality?
The same thing happens in ultras. For example, I tend to be a bit (ok, a lot) of a Type A, Alpha Dog, controlling, all around jerk and during my 100 I am sure I was 10x my normal “jerkiness”.
Well, David is a super nice, caring and type B personality and this was multiplied in the race. He was super nice to his team, all the volunteers, every other racer he meet, etc. He was also totally submissive to my orders! When I told him to run, 99% of the time he did! He did negotiate a bit on pace and distance, but for the most part he did whatever I told him.
Scary, I am very glad he picked someone who cared about his wellbeing!
There were even points where he would say “I really have to go to the bathroom, I am sorry, is that OK that I take a break”.
Ask my pacers if that is what I did when I had to go! Or what I would say when my final pacer, Troy, asked me to run. Not so much.
What a great guy!
Of course, I said: “NO!”. Lol.
We reached the final aid station and our time was about the same, about 1:15 ahead of the cut offs.
David wanted to sit down, see above, of course he asked me if that was OK. We then encountered the best, by far, aid station worker I have ever met. This woman had it all down perfectly — giving him a list of options instead of asking him what he wanted, giving him hot fluids, checking on him but all the while keeping an eye on the clock (she didn’t have to, I was doing that part the whole time) and making him feel well taken care of. He was getting a bit too comfortable so I said it’s time to go!
5 miles to go to glory!
Now, he really thought he could walk it in from here and I could tell he was about to ask me if we could. I pre-empted this question by telling him we didn’t have a lot of time and would need to run where ever we could.
Again, he probably could have walked the whole 5 miles and made it in 29:45 or so, but I didn’t want that for him.
More importantly, I knew he was just tired — he didn’t have any major issues and was fully capable of running, at least the downhill’s and flats, so I was going to push the issue.
I could tell he heard me cause his whole demeanor changed and he started understanding what I was saying when I said “everything you do from here on in has to have a purpose and a feeling of purpose — run with a purpose, eat with a purpose, walk with a purpose, drink with a purpose – gosh darn it, pee and poop with a purpose”!
As we got closer to the finish I started really pumping him up, getting him ready for his moment!
Once I knew the finish line was around the corner it was time to really get him moving.
He asked me, more than once, if I cried when I finished and I told him I did, when I saw my kids run up to me about a mile out. I think he was looking for permission to let it out as I could tell he was getting emotional.
So was I!
We could see the stadium and I hugged him and told him it was an honor to help him finish, he started to cry and so did I (I am tearing up writing this!). He could barely breath, not from running, but from the emotion — and he hadn’t even seen his family yet!
We turned the corner on the track and I said — “Are you ready for the surprise?” (I had told him we had a surprise at the finish at about mile 99 but he didn’t know what it was and was really mad at me at that point for making him run so he didn’t really register what I was talking about). He said “what surprise”? I said, look at the finish line! He still didn’t see them or get it so I said “How about those 3 people yelling DAD!” — He got it and broke down!
What a cool moment!
He finished in 28 hours and 40 minutes (43% of the starters dropped out) — he had made up 20 minutes of the time he had lost in the last 15 miles of a 100, what an accomplishment!
Praise, praise, praise God.
Without him, nothing is possible.
I was my pleasure and honor to be a small part of your day, David Y. Rest well!
Postscript: I was gone a total of 21 hours from Atlanta, probably driving 8-10 of those, running 4.5 hours and crewing and waiting the rest. Crazy but amazing.