I always enjoy race reports. I’ve compiled a few reports (that I know of) for your for reading pleasure. Or helpful advice for next year’s race!
And last, but certainly not least, my friend Ron Duke’s account on his pacing Chris Gillen on his finish. Enjoy, especially the last lines!!
Hi All: I thought that I would share with you all my “race report” from this years Mohican 100. Chris had a very good run on a hot and very hilly course. This year, the pacer pick up point was at mile 65 which was also the start/finish line. It was very physcologically challenging for the runners to go beyond that point when they were hot, tired and their cars were parked nearby. I saw some nationally known ultra runners get to mile 65 and call it quits.
Chris had given me 4 different race plans that I had printed. The plans varied from his dream race to a fall back hot weather plan. As I sat at the pick up point, I tore sheets off of my bundle of plans as the clock ticked on. When Chris got to the pacer pick up point, I had two sheets left which i stuffed into a pocket in my shorts. As we ran, I would check his plans to see how we were progressing. Chris’ wife and sons attended this run for the first time. When Chris told me that his family was going to be at mile 65, I told him that his wife might take one look at him and grab him by the ear and drag him home. Cathy was quite a trooper as we sat waiting for Chris to arrive. I tried to assure her that as insane as it all seems, we would be practical in our approach to the run.
The run was mostly uneventful. Two years ago, we saw lots of runners along the trail as we ran. This year, the heat had knocked a lot of the runners off the course and I would say we only saw two or three runners the entire night. As the temperatures fell, I could see that Chris was recovering from the heat effects from earlier in the day.
The job of a pacer is a very interesting one. Mostly, my role is one of providing some sort of a level of safety in case he were to have a heat stroke or injury. Months before the race, as Chris and I were discussing whether or not I was going to pace him, he assured me that he could make it on his own. I told him that I knew he could and I was just an old dog that he was taking along on the trip. My analogy was that of those old Lassie TV shows. That stupid kid, Timmy, was always taking Lassie out some where and at some point in the show, Timmy would fall down a well or something and Lassie would have to go get help. I told Chris that I was glad to go along on the adventure and if he fell down a well, I would go get help, otherwise, I was just out for a fun evening in the woods.
Another job is to monitor the runners intake of fluids, food and electolytes. After that many miles, the runner’s mind is a little clouded and it is the pacer’s job to make sure the runner is getting his needs met. Before we would get to an aid station, I would ask Chris what his needs were at that station so we would have a plan. If you haven’t had the experience, it is hard to understand the incredible gift that the aid station volunteers give to the runners. Most of the volunteers are locals and not runners. They sit in the forest all night long and seemed to be as glad to see we runners as we were to see them. Some of the aid stations have generators and string lights along the trail at the entrance to the station. The cheerful lights and volunteers are a huge boost to the runners. When we get to the aid station, the volunteers hover over us and help us resupply our food and water.
The last job of the pacer is phycological. Years ago, I was running a Mohican training run with some first rate runners. I asked them what makes a good pacer. One runner told me that I always had to remember that the run was not about me. If I hurt…. I needed to keep my mouth shut and concentrate on the runner’s needs. It was perfect advice. As the miles go on, the runner has a tendency to do a lot of math in his head as to how long he has been running, how far and how much longer he has to go. The pacers job is to keep the runner out of his head. Along the trail, I chattered like a monkey. I got Chris to talk about his family, his plans and the World Cup since he is a big soccer fan. As we ran along, I talked about an episode of Deep Space Nine that I had watched earlier in the day, Chris is also a Trekkie. I was amazed the he didn’t turn around and throw a punch at me for my constant yammering. The job of a pacer is to keep the conversation light and positive. If the conversation turns to tiredness or sleep, it can be very damaging to the runner… not to mention the pacer.
As I said, the field of 150 runners and 100 pacers had thinned out to a point where we were alone in the forest for 99 percent of the time. One might think that running through the forest in the dark would be a problem but I find it quite pleasant. We both had head lamps with halogen lights which were quite bright. When the trail was wide enough, I would pull to the left or right of Chris so my light would widen our field of vision. Roots and rocks are a constant danger. At one point, Chris tripped on something and did a bit of a flip. My job was to act like it didn’t happen.
Most of the run was under a canopy of trees. At one point we were in a clearing. Chris stopped running and told me to turn off my light. I sort of thought he had gone nuts but I didn’t ask any questions and turned off my light. We looked up at the stars and to our surprise, we saw a shooting star. Ultra runners often talk about mystical moments that they experience in an ultra and Chris and I had that moment. We thought that maybe we were hallucinating but at the next aid station the volunteers assured us that they had seen the shooting start also.
The forest had been completely quiet all night long save the very erie call of a blue heron. As dawn began to break, first we heard one bird chirping and soon it became a symphony. Daylight was a big boost for both of us.
The last ten miles were on a very challenging section of the trail. Chris was in a bit of pain but his gait was not showing it. I could tell he was digging deep so I cut back on my chatter and let him to himself. Two miles out from the finish line, Chris picked up his pace and I was scampering to keep up with him. At one point, I asked him where he was getting that finishing kick… his response was that he just wanted to be finished. Chris began to thank me for keeping him company on the run but I could honestly say that I got as much as I gave that night. 37 seven miles… the course was actually 101.99 miles is a real stretch for me. In the time leading up to the run, my biggest fear was that once we went beyond my normal mileage I would become a liability. I learned that I could run pretty well after that many miles.
Chris called his family when we were two miles out so they met us about a quarter mile up the trail from the finish line. As we neared the finish line, I told his boys to get behind their dad and I followed from behind. His boys were having a bit of a time trying to keep up with him. I now know that I need to add wind sprints to my training runs in order to keep up with Chris’ finishing kick.
The tradition in ultra running is that the pacer veers off of the course and lets the runner cross the finish line alone or with his family. There was an aid station just before the finish line. A good friend of ours who completed 65 miles but was pulled off the course because she missed the cut off time for that point of the race was there to greet us as we finished. Like the good sport that she is, Cheryl spent the night at the campground, got up early and cheered the runners as they finished. Cheryl was my cheering section at my “finish line”.
I suppose this all might seem sort of crazy for those of you who had the patience to read this entire email. It is hard to explain exactly why this is all so much fun. We live in a world where we are surrounded by people who have a million reasons for why they can’t do this or that. I am incredibly grateful that I have found a community where I can hang out with people who have a million reasons why they can.