So last Wed we got a call from our daughter in Sacramento- the baby they were seeking to adopt, which they were told would be hospitalized for three more weeks, was suddenly released to go home and surprise, I'm a grandpa. My wife headed down immediately, I planned to follow Friday. Naturally I was thinking about where and when to run while there and thought of AR50- not to enter (too late, too much time commitment), but to pace- but alas, none of my local friends were going down this year and I couldn't find an entrants' list.
Then Robert posted, at that very moment!, a request from a girl who had lost her pacer last minute and wanted a reasonable facsimile to get her through her first 50M, which she had been training very very hard for. I called her, did the interview, and got the job as the best qualified applicant out of a pool of one.
Lainie's parents, sons, husband and various others were crewing her and a friend wanted to pace her but wasn't very fast. Lainie is fast.
My sole pacing experience was for Klas Eklof at Hardrock in '06 and I didn't mess up his run but since I don't generally use pacers I wasn't totally clear on the concept. But I made some guesses and basically figured out what was expected of me- keep her on pace, eating, drinking, peeing, electrolyting, etc. Distract her if she was in pain, help her focus if she wasn't. Encourage, prod if necessary, shut up when uncertain.
She was aiming for a finish between 8 &9 hours, I did an 8:35 last time, so that seemed a good match. She told me she was really aiming for 8:20 (10mpm avg); and based on her prior results that looked like a good goal. I found her parents about 5 seconds before she reached Beal's point (I didn't know what she looked like except 32, 5'0" tall and 97#) and they pointed her out. It was about 9:50 AM, 3:50 into the race. Right smack dab on schedule.
She had been planning to run the first half at a 9:30 mpm pace (which would have got her to BP at about 10:10) and the second half at 10:30 pace but I told her that wasn't realistic at AR. (AR is 27 miles of flat pavement to BP, followed by 23M of rolling trails). With her speed she should be looking at about 3:55 to Beal's and 4:25 from Beal's to finish. So far so good.
We took off from BP and started to get acquainted. When I felt she was a little slow I told her we should stop talking and she should focus on her pace. She got back in the groove and eventually we were able to converse without her slowing down. Eventually she asked me what I do for a living and I told her and she didn't freak out.
I almost committed the unforgiveable sin when she stopped suddenly for a log across the trail- we were moving fast and I was close behind her while we chatted and when she stopped I crashed into her- she managed to get over the log OK, I smashed my shin and fell over the log and onto her foot. I feared I had twisted her ankle or caused some other dream-ending injury. It was a horrible moment. But she was OK. As soon as she got her shoe back on.
The trails were dry, the weather was perfect and it was so fun to run that section of trail faster than usual and feeling better than usual (I've run AR 4 or 5 times). Despite over 700 people in the race, it wasn't at all crowded up here with the speedy people.
Worried about her other pacer's abilities (she was going to take over at Rattlesnake- mile 42) I agreed to come down the big hill from the finish and meet her (the RD assured me it would be OK for her to have an extra pacer after Last Gasp). When I met her, about 2 miles from the finish, she was all alone, having left her pacer at the bottom of the hill.
It is amazing how easy that hill is when you haven't run 48 miles to get there. I spurred her on and she made good time to the top, passing several more runners on the way up. Lainie finished in 8:05, 10th woman overall, and she moved up from 6th to 3rd in her age group after Beal's Point and from 94th to 68th overall.
I'd like to think that this is due to the excellent pacer she had, but it probably has a lot more to do with her 100-mile training weeks. She was consistently strong and steady and really didn't need much from me. Maybe just a little on the hill. Maybe.
Still, I'm 2 for 2 as a pacer at not-screwing-things-up, and once again I had a blast. If there was a place that had ultras every week, and if I lived there, I'd be volunteering for pacing duty every time I wasn't racing. It's about as much fun as you can have for free!
I may be a grandpa, but I've still got my wheels!