Thursday, 29 May 2014

A PACER'S TALE (Part 2) Nov 2013

A PACER'S TALE  (Part 2)  
Nov 2013

How to write a report about pacing the runner who has just won the GNW100 mile event.  One part of me is humble and doesn't want to make a fuss, but another part of me wants to shout "oh yeah baby !", jump in the air, do a few thousand fist pumps.  He worked hard.  He deserved it.  Lots of planning, and awesome execution.  It was also the furthest I had ever run in my life, so a little chuffed about my own effort as well. 

As some may know, in 2012 I paced Gav to an inglorious DNF (A Pacers Tale - Part 1).  He had arrived at Yarramalong "a bit tired", then we had a painfully slow six hour death march between Yarramalong and Somersby, and it was all over when he began developing a lovely case of hypothermia.  So waiting for him at the 100km mark this year was nail biting.  We had begun hearing about was how hot it had been, runners dropping out, IV drips, and checkpoints that looked like medical evac units.  By this time last year there had been a constant stream of runners at the finish. This one (however it did give Bek time to completely reorganise all my drop bags).  When the 100km winner finally arrived he looked smashed.  Then Brendan Davies, the hot race favourite and 100 mile race leader arrived, and immediately disappeared for a lie down.  Other pacers and support crews were receiving word that their runners were way off schedule, or had already dropped out.  It didn't look good, and I was hoping Gav didn't arrived smashed like last year.  After a while Brendan Davies eventually resurfaced, looking average, but OK.  He picked up his pacer, then checked out and disappeared into the night.  

Then almost immediately Gav appeared looking GREAT !!  Game on.

In the year leading up to this moment, we had planned endlessly.  I think we came close to wearing out Gmail and Facebook swapping ideas and working through what had gone wrong last year.  We had discussed training, preparation, hydration, and nutrition at great length, and in infinite detail.  We had workshopped an endless number of possible scenarios.  Gav going well, Gav going bad.  Me going good, me going bad.  Me carrying Gav, Gav dropping me.  Even a slow  hand in hand death march to the finish was discussed as a horrible, but entirely possible outcome.  Whatever the scenario, though, we were getting to Patonga.  Being a modest chap, Gav never made a fuss, but we had also definitely discussed the scenario of a Top 10  finish.  It was a possibility that we had contemplated, and suddenly here it was, and we were ready.  As we set off, he simply told me "I'm fine on the flats, great running downhill, we are walking the hills.  Stay level, or run behind me, just don't get in front".  I had told him to lay down the law.  He did, and this is exactly what we did for the next 75km. 

Soon after we left Yarramalong we found Brendan lying on the trail.  He seemed in an awful way (and this is why runners have pacers).  However, the man is a champion, and we knew he was more than capable of rising from the dead and winning by several hours.  As we overtook him, he and Gav exchanged a few kind words, and  then we set off.  It is a race, but we did feel for him.  He looked seriously messed up. 

No.  We did not get excited.  We did not discuss the possibility of winning.  There was way too much work ahead to get stupid and screw it all up now.   

Compared to last year, the leg between Yarramalong and Somersby (28.4km) was a breezy 4.16 of fun.  As the wet weather set in, we sweltered down in the valleys, then worked our way up hills to be greeted by rain and freezing winds.  This was to be the pattern of the night.  Peel layers off, zip layers back on.  Not that I minded the hills.  I love slow hill climbs, and found  it very calming moving steadily through the night.  Very beautiful and peaceful.  I hadn't just run 100km though like Gav.   As we climbed the last hill before Somersby, I heard him swearing - and he never swears!  Apparently that last hill was inordinately fond of it's mother and engaged in sexual relations with her.  Repeatedly.

In places Gav would get a roll on.  It felt great as a pacer to have fresh legs to run with him, and just help him keep pushing the good stretches just that little bit longer.  It was also so quiet that I noticed how often our footsteps were in sync.   It was fascinating to get into a steady rhythm and just hold it for as long as possible.  Mostly I could read his body language and know when he was about to start running, and when he was about to stop (and then I would try getting a little closer to him to maybe push him on that extra bit longer).  My main problem was trying to eat in sync.  For some reason, just as I just shoved food into my gob, his body language would change, he would say "run", and off we would go - me with a mushy mouthful of food trying to chew, salivate, breathe, swallow and run all at the same time. 

Conversation I recall: 
Me: "Gav, hope my bags are OK.  Bek kind of rearranged everything".
Gav: "Welcome to my life".

At Somersby (CP 5), the girls had everything under total control.  I know Gav had his notes for each checkpoint, but planning and execution are two different things.  Everything was totally nailed by the genius combo of Bek and Ryleigh.  We were in and out in moments.  We were ready to be flexible if we needed to stay longer, but no need.  Last year he was a sad, broken man.  This year he was great.  We took off to Mooney Mooney (17.8km) and reached it in 2.24.  During this leg we discussed how all those Wednesday night runs around Bobbin Head were paying off.  It was loose, rocky, and technical in places, but we screamed downhill.  This section is beautiful to run in the daytime, and it was great to be in good enough shape to enjoy its beauty at night as well.  Although the open exposed gravel area near the big water tanks could seriously be one of the spookiest places on earth - especially at night with rain and howling winds.  Creepy as hell.

On the flats to Mooney Mooney bridge (CP 6), we both got a bit sloppy in our foot work.  Lots of toe stubbing and stumbling (or maybe that was just me).  Our "pushes" were getting shorter and less intense, but at least we were still moving steadily.  About all Gav was saying was "walk", or  "run" - but there was nothing else to say really. 

We reached Mooney Mooney bridge, and Gav sent me off to wake Bek and his daughter Ryleigh while he got Coke and water and info about who was behind us. It took a while to wake the girls despite shining my head light into their faces and banging on the window.  Apparently they were a bit sleepy and not at all scared of crazy men who looked like serial killers.

I must admit to a rookie error here.  I needed to swap my batteries, refuel...etc.  I also needed to reapply lubricant to certain sensitive areas - but forgot.  As we set off from CP 6 I had an "oh dear" moment, but no way we were going back, so I didn't tell Gav.  SUCK IT UP PRINCESS !! (Let me just note that diving through the shower when I got home was something like visiting the seventh layer of hell).

We apparently had about an hour lead, but with 25.4km to go, this was absolutely no guarantee of a win (we found out later that the next runner was flying and that hour lead was fast being reduced to a half hour). We were moving steady, and I felt it would take either a superhuman effort to catch us, or a complete crash and burn from Gav, but both options were still very possible.  I was becoming concious of Gav starting to stress about the possibilty of someone catching us up, and I felt he was possibly beginning to push a little too hard.  I obviously didn't want to slow him down if he was feeling good, but I did not want to see him blow up either.  Aaahh, the mind games.  I must say, however, that we both left CP6 new men..  Gav set off like a gazelle, all bouncy and springy.  The man is amazing.

As we approached the unmanned water stop, Gav got cranky because there was supposed to be an unmanned water stop.  "There's supposed to be an unmanned water stop" !! he exclaimed frustratedly.  I was a little surprised as he was standing right next to a trestle table with half dozen 30 litre water containers.  "mmmmm"I  thought, "I think my runner is getting a little blurry".   But 10km to go.  We can do this.  This was also the only moment that Gav was good to go, but I had to say "not yet, give me a moment".  Trying to sneak in eating and drinking around Gav's needs had been fine up until now, but at this point I really needed to stop, and get a gel and a good drink in.

Conversation I recall: 
The unmanned water stop would mark the furthest I had ever run.  It was also the 100 mile point.  As we left it, Gav said "and now you have run the furthest in your life".  I replied "and so have you".  He said "I can't believe I have just run 100 miles.  How do you feel?".  "Pretty shit.  Let's finish this".

Approaching the top of Mt Wondabyne, we turned off our lights and looked behind.  Nothing. No one.  Without saying a word, we turned, put our lights back on, and kept on running. 

As the dawn broke, we passed a camper out having a morning slash.  Poor bugger.  Bet he didn't expect two sweaty dudes with head torches to go running by.
Things got interesting after this.  The soft tissue around my knees was getting really sore. Everything else felt great, but the knees...not so good.   I actually found it easier to run than walk, but this didn't really work for Gav. - and he was mixing up his running with some massively fast power walkin,g and his long legs and my short ones weren't in sync now.    I was in no man's land.  I was happy to drop behind, then catch up with a run, but I felt I was messing with his head, as he would turn and ask "you OK?"  Man, the guy is so nice.  After a 100 miles he was still checking in on me.  I just kept telling him "I'm fine" and telling myself "it only hurts" and pushing on.  I was pretty sure he hurt worse than me so I was keeping my little Princess mouth shut.  Then suddenly his "walk the hills" started going out the window as he kicked for home.  He began trotting up some lesser slopes and this suited me better.
For me, the funniest moment was when a couple of girls appeared to announce there was a news crew around the bend.  Gav the media tart suddenly began stripping off his unflattering night gear for me to stow in his pack, and began arranging his hair.  Brilliant.
We passed the cameras, but they reappeared soon after on a long, long, long, long road stretch.  They kept leap frogging us to set up cameras and film us, so we kept on running.  By this time we were both bleary with exhaustion, but felt we needed to keep going for the cameras.  By the time they waved good bye and wished us luck, we were two knackered little show ponies.
We climbed to the top of Warrah Trig overlooking Patonga and Broken Bay, and nervously looked along the long stretch of road behind us. No one.  Gav allowed himself to mumble that maybe we might win - but was he still worried just in case there was someone we couldn't see.  At this point there was still no exultation, and even I got eager to get to the end ASAP just in case someone WAS closing in and we got pipped at the post.  Gav knew I was in pain, but I was good to go, and with a gentle reminder to "suck it up" we rampaged down the last (oh my God please let it really be the last) hill down to Patonga.  As we ran along the beach, the finishing bell started ringing, Bek and Ryleigh ran towards us, and Gav started crying.  What a wuss.  Then the big finish.  Gav had spent all night telling me he wanted to kiss wood, and the moment finally arrived - AND he got to kiss that little post as the winner. 
It is weird being a pacer.  At times you think "why am I here".  However, you also know you play a part.  The times I commented "your foot work is great", or "you are getting sloppy feet" - it all goes into the mental data bank for your runners' blurry brain to process and (hopefully) contributes to their performance.  Talking through what is up ahead to clarify the course and help them to work out where they need to push or back off - it all helps.  Talking through what needs to happen at the next check point, and whether it will be a longer/ slower one.  And if you have ever been alone with your demons in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere, you know important it can be just to have someone beside you just to get you through.  It gets scary out there boys and girls !!

We had a game plan, and Gav was smart enough to be flexible enough to adapt it when conditions got so hot.  It was a well deserved, well planned win.  I feel so very honored to be able to run with someone so dedicated, so smart, so well prepared.  It was one of the great experiences of my life.  He also remained so kind and generous throughout the run.  At all the checkpoints, no matter how much he was pushing for time, or how tired he felt, Gav always took time to thank everyone before he left.   Of course mega huge super thanks to Bek and Ryleigh too.  Arriving in a rush in the middle of nowhere, there they were, totally organised;  not just caring for Gav, but his pacer too.  I got more than my fair share of attention.  It was awe inspiring.  What a team.
Of course, my last words needs to go to thanking the lovely wife Cait.  She knows how hard I trained, and she was accepting of the time spent out running.  We worked hard as a team to fit training around work and social events. Whole training days are a pain sometimes.  She helped me workshop all kinds of scenarios.  When everyone else was kept in the dark, she helped me talk through Gav's crazy pacing schedule which scared the crap out of me.  She allowed me time to crash out.   She was accepting of 5am alarms, as well as when I needed to sleep in.  She helped me plan nutrition.  As a vegetarian runner, she  made sure I was extremely well fed.  In short - a complete legend.  What a woman. *mwah*  *mwah*.  She even waited for five minutes, arms outstretched,  for me struggle down the drive way to gave me a big cuddle when I arrived home all dirty, slimy and sweaty, then lovingly watched over me as I collapsed on the couch and fell asleep for hours (after my painful shower of course).  Job well done.

Conversation I recall:
"Rob, next year I will pace YOU !"
"Not now Gav"

Time to rest a while.

the big finish


a few hours later

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