Wednesday, April 20, 2011

(Super Late) Pace Report: Philly 100 Miler

I have had this post half written for weeks now. Pacing the Philly 100 was probably one of the hardest things I've had to do mentally and it was up there in the hardest to do physically. I think I've had to distance myself from it to even want to write about it (which I still don't, but I have been out of the habit of blogging for too long).


This is nearly three weeks late...eeek. As a bit of background, I post daily on the Runner's World Forums. Through the Ultra Marathon thread, I met a guy named Jon, who gave me a lot of good advice my last training cycle. Last November, knowing I lived in Philly, he asked if I would pace him for the Philadelphia 100 mile race. I was super excited and said "yes." As the race has gotten closer, I helped him with logistics of the race and we discussed our training for our respective races.

Finally, race day came Saturday, April 2nd, and it was nothing like I could have expected. The race started at 6 am on Saturday, but Jon wanted me there at 7 pm. I got in 13 miles in the morning with Back on My Feet and just relaxed the rest of the day. When I got there, Jon wasn't feeling too great. He said his race was not going well from the get-go and he was really down about it. 13 hours in, he had covered around 58 miles, which is awesome, but still meant he had 42 miles left.

Mile markers on the course left from my 20in24 ultra 
Originally, I told him I could run three loops (~25 miles). When I got there and heard he had 42 miles left, as a pacer, it was daunting. Without knowing him well (only talked online), it was hard to know what would motivate him. When he told me that this was his third attempt at a 100 miler and that if he failed to complete this one, he was done doing them. I know runners say a lot of things when racing (like "I will never do this again," only to sign up for another race days later), but that seemed like a serious statement from Jon. I couldn't be the one to let him down, could I?! I knew then that it would be a very tough night, but that I wouldn't let him stop until he had finished 100 miles.

The first loop went fine as we were getting to better know each other. We talked about our jobs, significant others, running, and a lot of other things. I still was peppy as we finished this lap and moved onto the second. By the end of the second loop, we walked the last 1.5 miles with Keith Straw, a local ultrarunner who can be found running around in a pink fairy costume at races (not this time, sadly). He was a great person to hear talk about his experiences and I enjoyed the added company. When we finished our second loop, he had finished his 12 (we were at 9), so he left for home.

Fairy Keith!
With three laps left, it was pitch dark and the wind made it quite cold. I also had only brought some PB&Js, brownies, and granola bars (can you tell that I have a sweet tooth?). I didn't expect to be out there so long, so I didn't really prepare well (lesson #1 learned). I'd start out each loop either eating a few brownies or inhaling half of  PB&J, then have a sick stomach for about 30 mins. By the time we finished a lap, I was starving like I hadn't eaten in forever (each lap did take around 3 hours).

Each lap was mentally very difficult to get through. Although it was "only" 5 laps, that equated to 42 miles of walking. Running that distance would have been hard, but it would have been hours less time on my feet. I was really happy to help Jon, but having to push myself AND him to keep going when all I wanted to do was go home and sleep was mentally tough. I learned (lesson #2) that I when something seems too hard to seem fathomable, you can be underestimating your abilities. I surely was underestimating my physical and mental strength and so was Jon (his abilities, not mine).

By the time we got to the 4th loop at around 3-4 am, Jon and I were both exhausted. I started to fall asleep standing up and was walking all zig-zaggy. I did my best to hide it from Jon (later he told me I did a good job of hiding it...success!). Around this point, Jon said he needed to sleep for 7 minutes and he plopped down on the concrete path. He instantly fell asleep and did so with a smile on his face. I set my phone's alarm and got officially 3 minutes of sleep sitting against a pole. Lesson #3 learned was that I can take small naps and still feel refreshed. I always thought that since after ultras, my legs hurt too much to sleep, I wouldn't be able to take a nap, let alone take one and feel good. I was happily wrong.

Jon took another quick 5 minute nap later and then we were finally onto our last lap! The sun was starting to come out and as I had predicted, the sunshine woke us up and had us ready to finish. There was a regatta happening that day, so we had a lot of people watching that kept us entertained. You would think that after all of those laps, the last lap would go by quickly, but alas, it still felt like it went on forever.

Our goal, which we would reach no matter the circumstances!
The course was 8.4 miles long, so 12 laps equated 100.8 miles total. When we got the 3/4 mile left mark, I told Jon he had officially completed 100 miles. We stopped dead in our tracks and he gave me the biggest hug. Since he had worked so hard to finish the race, it was truly an emotional moment. We pushed through and finished the 100.8 mile race in around 28 hours (15.5 of them with me). I have never been so darn relieved to finish something in my life, especially since it felt like such an undertaking (and it wasn't even my race! Jon did so much more to get to the finish).

When we finished, Jon's dad was there to meet us. He asked me if I had ever met his son before and when he found I had only talked with him online, he was shocked that I would sign up to help him. One of the things I love most about running (especially the ultramarathon community) is the camaraderie that is infectious. You feel oddly close to other runners because they know what you have gone through and/or are about to go through. Even if you are competing with each other (maybe since I'm not an elite), people are friendly, generally want you to do well, and are willing to help you a lot.

Overall, it was a very tough experience for me and it wasn't even my race! It allowed me to know that more is possible than originally thought, mini-naps are good, and to be better prepared! So happy I was able to pace Jon to his first successful 100 miler and I cannot wait to one day complete my own!

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