My friend Scott ran in the American River 50 (AR50) mile Endurance Run on Saturday. This would be his first 50 mile race. AR50 starts in Sacramento (nearish Sac State) and ends in Auburn (at ADO). The first part (a marathon) is on the bike trail. Then, you get to Beals Point (in Granite Bay) and run on the trails all the way to Auburn. The last three miles is up a big hill to the Auburn Dam Outlook (ADO). From Beals Point and on, a racer is allowed to have a pacer run with him/her.
In ultra running, runners may have pacers. Pacers are sometimes described as "trail companions." Unlike in shorter racers where there are pacers running a particular time or pace so one may meet a particular time goal, a pacer in an ultra-marathon is more of a support role for the runner. And, a pacer is usually focused upon one particular runner. That pacer is to be a companion, to provide support, to make sure they are staying properly fueled, to help them move along, etc. . .
In my training for my first Ultra Marathon, Way Too Cook 50k, I learned more about ultra running and about pacers. I also started running more with my friend Scott. He and I seem to run about the same pace. And, we bonded over many long miles running on some trails. He certainly helped me in my first ultra-marathon. In Way Too Cool, we ran the bulk of the race together.
For AR50, I agreed to be Scott's pacer. When I first heard of AR50, I had already signed up for the Pardee Party 100k bike ride, on the same date as AR50. As I thought about pacing Scott, I thought then that I can ride the Pardee Party route anytime and do the event another year, but to pace my friend in his first 50 miler race was a rare opportunity. And, I wanted to be there for my friend's first 50 miler. So, I gave my Pardee registration to another friend (making him very happy) and paced my friend Scott (making him happy).
Then, I had to decide where did I want to pace Scott from. A pacer can start at Beals Point (running about 23 miles) or at other points along the way (and not have to run quite as long). But as I thought about it, I wanted to be there for my friend the whole allowable distance. So, I opted to start from Beals Point.
Beals Point (mile 26.53)
At 6am, Scott (and all the racers) started their race. They had to run a marathon mostly on the American River Bike Trail.
Around 10am, I start heading over to Beals Point. It takes me awhile to get into the State Park as there are a row of cars going in. I eventually get into Beals Point and see a TON of people. A ton of energy too. All very exciting! People are cheering all the runners coming in! Since this is the point where pacers can join the runners, there are a lot of runners around, ready to pace their friends.
I get my gear together for the run and go looking for Mary, Scott's wife. I find her and she updates me as to Scott's location. Not too long from now. The sun was shining and getting warm already. I worry a little bit as to how hot it will be during the run.
At one point, Mary and I stand and see Scott come running into Beals Point. He is just full of energy. Really amped up about the race. I am really happy to see that the marathon part for him went well. He did a good job in pacing himself and not going out too fast. I stood by as he changed into his Gordy shirt and into his trail shoes. He ate some food. I grab a few extra GUs for him and stash away into my fuel belt.
Mary tells me I am his wife from here on out (we joke that I am Scott's running wife) and for me to take care of him. Scott gets a big hug from his wife and sons. Then, we start running (a little before 11 a.m.).
As we head out of Beals, Scott tells me how good he feels. He seems just full of energy. I am amazed as to how much energy he has having run 26+ miles already.
Beals Point to Granite Bay (mile 31.67)
From Beals, we run through Cavitt. Scott tells me about the beginning half of the race. We are enjoying ourselves. I am doing my best to not run out too fast but I feel excited and know my legs want to go faster. But, I stay with Scott's pace. As we are running along, we hear a mountain biker behind us. He hangs back behind us for awhile commenting on how interesting this race is. Amazed people are running 50 miles. We eventually hit a fork and he heads to the right while we run to the left. He wishes us luck.
We run along Cavitt and Scott spots Paulo on the side. Paulo & Fred are in the grass to the side taking pictures and cheering runners on. Always nice to see our running friends.
My first few miles for me go by quickly. We hit Granite Bay quickly. I am really amazed as to how much energy Scott has and how well he is running. We stop at the aid station quickly. I drink some coke and eat a couple potatoes. I generally get pretty hungry near the lunch hour so I am making sure I eat a bit.
Granite Bay to Buzzard's Cove (mile 34.67)
After we pass the 31 mile mark, Scott says he just wants to just sneak through the 30s. I see he is still running pretty strong. He is now officially on his longest run. Running into unfamiliar distances. He looks to be running well. We make sure we pace ourselves and not go too hard. At some points, I run up some of the hills but tell Scott to tell at me if he wants to walk certain hills. It is tricky to figure out how he might be feeling since he has 26+ more miles than me. He tells me to walk at some points and I walk for him. Even walking some of the hills, Scott still looks strong.
The day is warming up. I find myself drinking a lot more water than usual. I check on Scott to make sure he's drinking enough water. We continue along.
We chit chat about various things. I ask him if he gets a qualifying time at this race if he will throw his name into the Western States lottery. He says yes. I tell him if he gets into Western States, I will pace him in that race too. Sounds like a plan. hehehe.
As we reach Buzzard's Cove, Scott refills his water pack. They have ice cream cones at this aid station. I get one for myself and one for Scott. It tastes wonderful. Nice on a warm day. Some of the ice cream melts a little on my fingers. I eat the whole thing and Scott only eats part of it before tossing the cone.
We then continue onward.
Buzzard's Cove to Horseshoe Bar (mile 38.14)
At some point, Scott tells me he's taking a S-cap and tells me to remind him to take one again in 30 minutes. A little later, he takes a GU and again tells me to remind him to take another one in 30 minutes. So, I keep an eye out on my watch. I have to remember to keep Scott on top of his fueling. He seems to be doing well.
About 20 minutes after Scott had taken the S-cap, Scott tells me he's getting a little headache so taking another S-Cap. I note the time. Five minutes later, Scott asks if it's time to take an S-Cap again. I tell him he just took one five minutes ago. He forgot. I am familiar with how the brain starts not thinking very clearly when you run long distances. He must be getting a little tired but he seems to be running well. I remind him every so often to take a S-Cap or a GU.
These miles seem to be taking longer than usual. Horseshoe Bar seems to be taking awhile to get to. Scott says he feels like each mile is taking a long time now. He still just wants to sneak past the 30s.
Eventually, we get to Horseshoe Bar and take a moment at this aid station. We see a few friends here. I refill on water and eat some chicken soup. Tastes SO good! I eat some potatoes too and drink more coke. Scott refills his water and puts some ice into his water pack. The cold water feels and tastes wonderful. Scott says he likes the ice cold water on his back. This is nice as the day is getting warmer.
Horseshoe Bar to Rattlesnake Bar (Mile 40.94)
We walk out of Horseshoe Bar. I had grabbed some electrolyte drink for Scott and he was drinking it. Said it tasted like salt water. He then tossed the cup and we start running again.
At one point, we see a small cluster of people sitting on the right side of the trail cheering people on. Scott expresses a little disappointment to not see Mary there. I tell him she's going to be at Rattlesnake. He thought we were at Rattlesnake. I tell him we are about a mile from Rattlesnake and she'll be there. I sure hope Mary is at Rattlesnake when we get there.
We eventually make a turn down the trails and head down into the parking lot at Rattlesnake. I can hear the crowds cheering. I pop off the trail and immediately spot Mary there. There are a ton of people at this aid station. It is like a big party! I turn to see Scott run down and see Paul dash past us.
Scott is energized by all the people at Rattlesnake Bar! He says he feels like a rock star and they were all cheering for him. I am happy to see him so excited. He talks to his family and friends for a little. He eats a little. I refuel a little bit and see they have a bucket of water with sponges. I tell Scott he should probably sponge himself down.
Rattlesnake Bar to Dodwin's Post (Mile 43.92)
As we get ready to leave, Scott notes that he's about 8 hours into his race. He does not think we can get to ADO in two hours (Scott's goal is to break 10 hours). He seems a little disappointed at the time. He feels we are behind in time and that he may not be able to break 10 hours. I look at my watch and think we seem to be good on time. I think we can do it.
So, I start running in front of Scott. And, I kick up the pace just a little bit. Scott has finally gotten past the 30s and had said he wanted to pick it up in the 40s so that is what I am going to do. We start rocking and rolling through this section. We run a few of the smaller hills and briskly walk the steeper hills. And, we just fly on the downhills. I sometimes get a little ahead of Scott and worry I may be going too fast. But, I look over my shoulder and see he is still right there behind me. So, I keep up the pace. I figure he will tell me if I start going too fast. I am amazed he is still running so strong 40 miles into the race. We pass other runners along the way. We have a good momentum going and as we approach runners ahead of us, both Scott and I will yell out that we are approaching to pass. Both of us do not want to lose our momentum.
At some point, Scott's garmin dies. So, we are relying on my watch now. I keep checking that Scott is taking s-caps and GU and water.
We roll into Dowdin's Point in hardly any time. Last year, Scott had volunteered at this aid station. He had served chicken soup to runners and back then. At that time, he had thought to himself that he wants to run this race next year. And here we are, a year later, Scott is running in AR50. We eat some chicken soup and other food.
I drink more coke. But, I realize that I have not been drinking any electrolytes this whole time. I dump out one of my water bottles and fill it with the electrolyte drink. I do not feel like I am near bonking. I feel pretty good and strong. Have been eating a lot of real food (which is better for me). But probably should put in a little electrolytes to get through the last section.
To Last Gasp (Mile 47.56)
I note that we are doing good on time. We run along. Scott talks about when we hit the bottom of Cardiac Hill, we will just power up the hill as best we can. He says he wants to just pass Last Gasp and push up the hill to break 10 hours. I am glad that he is believing again he can still make his time goal.
We keep going along at a decent pace. Though, I feel like it is taking forever to get to the bottom of Cardiac. Where is that darn hill?! I keep hoping to see it after every bend.
Finally, we near it and the BIG hill begins. I am feeling strong and feeling good I can help Scott power up this hill. Unfortunately, Scott is now starting to feel weary. I gently run up the hill but he is walking. He eventually yells at me to stop pulling him and that he has to just go at his own pace or he will stop. So, I slow down and walk alongside him.
I run ahead at one point just to snap a couple pictures of him. We are nearly there! Just up this hill! We stop at the mile 47 marker for a quick picture and continue our trek up the hill.
We get to the Last Gasp aid station. Scott does not feel like eating anything anymore. He is not feeling well. So, after a brief moment, we get going.
Last Gasp to the Finish (50 miles!)
As we continue up the hill to ADO, I notice another runner dragging himself up the hill. His pacer is a super bubbly girl jumping alongside behind him. Way too peppy I think.
I ask Scott how he is doing. He says not good and to stop asking him. This is the tough part for me as a pacer. I don't know what to say to him to help encourage him on but also not annoy him. So, I stop asking him how far he's going. Since Scott's garmin is dead, he just wants me to tell him how far the finish is. I tell him we are 2 miles away, 1.5 mile away.
Two miles from the finish, we start running again. Up the hill. Scott says we have 26 minutes to go 2 miles. We have it! And, I notice that we are running a sub-10 min/mile pace. This is really good. We can totally break 10 hours. I am very happy for him. I am feeling excited and emotional to be there for Scott's big accomplishment.
Then, I feel a twitch in my left calf. The pre-cramp twitch. oh no! The right calf does the twitch too. I make a little hop at one point and try to shake out the twitches. Scott asks if I am okay. I say I got a little pre-cramp twitches happening in my legs. He asks me if I have been taking enough s-caps. I tell him I am fine as I do not want to worry him. He should focus on finishing. But, I know I had not been taking enough electrolytes. I had been focused on reminding Scott to refuel properly. I forgot about myself. And, it is too late now. I eat a GU and drink my electrolyte drink. But, it's too late to get into my system. I just pray my legs keep it together.
As we approach the mile marker, Scott says to tell him every quarter mile that has passed. So, I look at my Garmin and check the mileage. Meanwhile, both my legs are twitching like crazy. They both want to cramp up badly. I would slow down but Scott has picked up his pace. He smells the barn and is kicking it up to the finish.
I am struggling and begging my legs to keep going. I tell Scott at one point, I may go down due to cramping but to just keep going and you will finish great! I really want to finish with him. I have run 23 miles with him and I want to finish with him. It would break my heart if I end up cramping up this close to the finish.
I tell him we are 3/4 mile away. Legs, please keep going. 1/2 mile away I tell him. My legs are tightening and I mentally tell them to hang on for 1/2 mile. 1/4 mile away I tell Scott. You're doing great Scott, I tell him. My legs are twitching like crazy. They are ready to cramp up.
We make the final turn onto the grass and see the crowds cheering us on for the final stretch. I hear people cheering Scott on. I do my best to just stay behind him. My leg has started cramping but I keep running, with a slight hobble. Oh man, this hurts so bad but I want to be there for Scott's finish. I run behind Scott. He crosses the finish and I cross a moment behind him. He breaks 10 hours! My whole leg is cramped up. I am glad to have reached the finish. Scott hugs me. I am just doing my best to stay standing. :)
Scott is greeted by his family and is so very happy. I just want to sit. I hobble along. As we are walking to the spot Mary had set up for us, my left calf cramps up and I collapse onto the grass. I am tearing grass out and swearing up a storm, I have not experienced such bad cramping. Any movement hurts.
Mary eventually comes to help me. She rubs my calf a bit and helps me up and over to a chair. A little later, I cramp up really badly again that I have to get carried to the massage table. Two guys tag team me in massaging both my legs. The cramping is happening all over. I am just yelling out in pain and all parts of my leg....left calf, right foot, right hamstring, etc....
I then sit in a chair for awhile unable to stand. Mary gets me food and soda. I am tired but I feel good to have been there for Scott. I see he's just so full of energy. Socializing with other runners. I am happy for him. All this pain I feel now is worth it. I am glad I got to be there for him for this accomplishment.
Reflections of being a pacer
Being a pacer is an interesting experience. You are running someone else's race rather than your own. In some aspects, I feel less pressure since it is not my race. In other aspects, I feel more pressure because I feel responsible for the runner. I want to make sure I remain strong for them for whatever he needs.
But, I did rather enjoy being that support person for another in a major accomplishment. I felt honored to have been Scott's pacer. I felt great during the entire run. Yes, I did kind of forget to take care of myself during the run and ended up cramping up pretty badly. But, I did what I set out to do and I feel happy with that. And, I am just glad I that I fulfilled my job as pacer in being there for Scott as he finished his first 50 mile race.
I would not mind being a pacer again. I rather enjoyed the experience. Though next year, for AR50, I am going to run the full 50 miles myself. ;-)
Scott's official time: 9:54:58