Sunday, November 2, 2008

Pacing Cactus Rose

I had a busy weekend of running. Got up early on Saturday morning to go run with my group up at Brushy Creek. I had promised myself that I would hold back as I was going to be pacing a buddy at the Cactus Rose 100 miler later in the day, so I ran in the middle of the group and waited at the turnarounds to sweep the last runners. Finished a nice 13 mile run in 1:52:19 (8:38 pace).

Hung around and chatted for a while before jumping in the car and rushing home to get ready for the drive to Bandera. Obviously I was in a bit too much of a rush as I got a speeding ticket. Whoops.

Anyway, we got down to Bandera around 2pm and set up our tent by the Equestrian aid station, as the runners would come through here twice per loop. Cactus Rose is described as "a nasty rugged trail run: No Whiners, Wimps, or Wusses We give Bonus Points for Blood, Cuts, Scrapes, & Puke" and the course certainly lives up to that description. It consists of four 25 mile loops with every other loop run in the opposite direction.

I saw my runner, John Sharp, come through a little later at mile 45 and he was looking strong, so we drove down to the lodge to watch him get his 50. He said he thought he would need me later that night, so we drove back to Equestrian and Nancy went into town to pick up a pizza. I decided to hang around in my running stuff in case John needed me earlier. Sure enough when he came back through at mile 55 he was ready for me, so I geared up and off we went.

John had pushed a good pace for the first two loops and wanted to continue this for the third loop. He wanted to maintain a good pace on the flats and fast march the hills (and there are lots of them). We fell into a good conversation for the 5 miles that brought us to the Nachos aid station and here we caught up to another runner - Mike - who tagged along with us. He was from Detroit - we started talking away and everything was looking good. It had gotten dark by the time we got back to Equestrian so I filled John's bottles and made sure he had everything he needed before we set off for the nasty hills that led the way to Boyles. Somewhere along the way Mike forged ahead of us and we continued on at our own pace.

Boyles aid station had been adopted by some friends of mine - Jeff and his girlfriend Cheri. There were some long tough climbs on the way to Boyles and we were glad to see them (Jeff and Cheri, that is, not the hills). Again I made sure that John had everything he needed and we set off to Cairn's Climb. This is probably the toughest climb in the park and we plodded along steadily before clearing the hill and finally finding some room to run for the last 2 miles to the lodge aid station and the end of the loop. These last few miles were good because we could see the lead runners coming the other way, and somewhere along this stretch we caught and passed Mike.

We spent quite a bit of time at the lodge as John had hit a bit of a low point. He drank some Ensure and I mixed some Spiz into one of his bottles, while Mike came and went quickly. I was eager to get us going too because the aid station was warm and lighted - far too tempting to stay put (as one or two runners already had).

Almost immediately we realized that John had a problem. All the energy he'd had on the previous loop had gone and the liquid calories that had worked well up to now were no longer cutting it. To add to this, he had blister problems, stomach issues, his feet were hurting and we were about to reverse the nasty climbs of Cairn's and Boyle's Bump. The Boyles aid station was a long 5 miles away and we were reduced to a walk. The first solid food we would come to was the pizza Nancy had bought back at Equestrian - a good 10 miles away (Cactus Rose is a self provisioned race - the aid stations supply only water and it is up to you to pack anything else you may need in your drop bags). The night had turned cold and we noticed it even more as we weren't running and had just come out of the heated aid station. Well, the first big climb soon fixed that little problem so we resolved to walk/run as best we could to Equestrian and reassess things there.

I tried to steer the conversation away from running to try and distract John from the problems he was having, but he was 75 miles into a gruelling 100 miler and feeling it. On the other hand, John has the ideal temperament for a long distance runner and a great amount of determination and bravery. It was a beautiful clear night and at several points we stopped to rest and turned off our headlights to enjoy the mosaic of stars.

It took us a long time to get to Boyles, but sure enough Jeff and Cheri were there waiting. They took real good care of us and refilled John's bottles while I rummaged through his drop bag for Ensures and gels. Their good humor and back-and-forth banter lifted our mood and we set off for the long walk to Equestrian.

As we walked through the night, this felt like the longest 5 miles either of us had ever experienced. I could tell that John was spiralling downward, and tried to intersperse brief periods of running (where the terrain would allow), but he was really struggling. By the time we descended into Equestrian, I was worried we may not leave.

I got John sat down and he removed his shoes. He had several blisters that needed to be taken care of, but in the meantime I ran off to our tent and grabbed the pizza along with some homemade pasties and kolaches I had brought with me. I got John to eat some of these and realized that he was in no shape to run the remaining 15 miles in his current condition. There was no danger of us falling foul of any cutoffs, so I recommended he take a short nap and then see how things looked. I also realized that I'd been so intent on making sure John had everything he needed that I hadn't been taking anything other than water and pedialyte myself. I remedied that by wolfing down the remaining pasty.

When he woke up, John almost convinced himself to drop. We talked quietly about this, and Lynn Ballard came over and joined in. Between us we convinced John to carry on, especially as it was getting light outside. While he worked on his feet, I got us all loaded up and ready to go. Lynn took me aside and told me to keep a close eye on him.

We had spent about 2 hours at the aid station but the first light of a beautiful dawn made everything seem so much better. Whereas I didn't feel I could push John much the night before because he didn't have anything left in the tank, now that he was fed and rested it was a different story. I decided that I was going to go "Drill Sergeant" and really push him to the finish line.

"John," I reasoned, "it's f***ing cold out so we're not doing any of that walking s**t. If we're going to go, we're going to f***ing run".

Yes, very subtle I know, but it had the desired effect. John responded with all the guts and determination that I know he has and we set off with a renewed energy and a good jog/run. I promised that we would take walk breaks (and power walk the uphills), but when I said to run we were going to suck it up and run. I also made a point of making sure that he was drinking enough. Fair play to John, every time I demanded a run he responded. I broke the remaining run down to sections - we were going to run aid station to aid station - there were 2 of them left plus the finish line. We made excellent time out to Nachos, passing a couple who had left Equestrian ahead of us in the process. The next section back to Equestrian was a little slower because of the number of uphills, but we still ran a considerable portion of it. Just how John was able to do this is beyond me, seeing the state he was in a few hours earlier.

We did a quick "in and out" at Equestrian and headed off for the last 5 miles to the finish line. There was a nasty surprise in the form of the steep climb up and down "Lucky Peak" at mile 98, but John powered through and crossed the finish line just shy of 31 hours. His dog Lacey ran out and joined us for the last half mile.

It was an interesting weekend. I have never been a pacer before and enjoyed the experience. It is like seeing a race from a different perspective - you're running in it, but your focus is on your runner and making everything as easy as possible for them. I also got in a nice 45 miles of "time on feet" on the Bandera course. Of course, John made it easy for me too - he is a real character and tons of fun to run with. It seemed that we talked about everything under the sun, from religion to philosophy to movie quotes. Afterwards he wanted to give me his Cactus Rose shirt as a thank you for helping him get to the finish line. Of course, I couldn't accept it (I settled for a cold beer instead) but it shows the kind of big hearted generous character he is. It was an honor to help him get the finish.

He is planning on pacing me at Rocky Raccoon and I couldn't think of anyone better suited to drag me kicking and screaming to the finish line.

1 comment:

Derek said...

What a great race report as a pacer. If I ever get to the point where I can run that far, you can be my pacer anytime!!