The Pacer’s Tale (Part 1)
Pacing. It’s an interesting word. The dictionary defines it as something like “the even spreading out effort”. However, in the world of ultra running, it means something closer to “silly bugger who hangs out with a tired runner all hours of the night, because after 100km they may be a bit foggy in the head and run into a tree ”.
On a training run along the Great North Walk in April last year, Gav asked me to consider being his pacer for his first 100 miler in the GNW100s in November. I was still training for my first ever marathon in July, so committing to something twice as long (a night run of 75km) seemed foolish at the time (still seems silly actually). So I demurred.
However, time went by, I ran my marathon, couldn’t walk for a week. So when Gav asked again, despite still limping, of course I said “yes”. I had 4 months to recover and train some more, so why not. Let’s see what this old body can do !!
I did have concerns that I am not a very serious fellow. I usually ran in my son’s discarded school sports pants I rescued from the bin, daggy Explorer socks, old t-shirts, a sweatband to keep my headphones from falling out, and a legionnaire’s hat I stole from my preschool. My poor son out with his mates constantly gets asked “hey is that your Dad?”. I think so much about distance running is hilarious – silly clothes, silly food, silly training. I try not to get too serious about it all. Gav, though, was attempting to run 100 miles (possibly no laughing matter), and I was worried I would be more annoying than supportive. But Gav seemed somewhat non-serious too (have you seen those sock things he wears?), and after exchanging a few *knock knock* jokes, all was good (*knock knock* *who’s there* *Keanu* *Keanu who ?* *Keanu believe we are running all the way to Patonga !!*).
In training, we ran together, we ran separately, we swapped Facebook messages. Somehow a joke about a Gorilla on his back turned into discovering an online recipe for Gorilla Bars which became his secret nutrition weapon. I went for my first night run and got scared in the dark. At some point I also ran over 50km for the first time and impressed the hell out of myself.
Eventually the big day arrived. I had planned to arrive at Yarramalong (100km finish) at about 8’ish, but I was tracking Gav’s progress online and having trouble working out whether he was running a 100 miles or a 100 metres. He was flying, so I had to head off early. Leaving early meant that I only had the chance to nervously repack 30 times instead of 50, so probably a good thing. I was developing RSI from checking my pack so many times.
Just before 8.30, word began trickling in that Gav was nearby, and it seemed everyone was asking “are you ready Rob ?”. Well yes I was – except the moment Gav arrived, my glasses snapped in two !! Hey Universe, I am about to run 75km through the dark and this is NOT FUNNY. The lovely Bek, however, whipped out the Elastoplast, and taped them together. We agreed not to tell Gav, and I kept my head down so he wouldn’t notice and get distracted.
Off we went into the night. Gav mentioned that he would like to walk for a bit, which was fine by me. I was the supportive pacer, and was happy to see him eating and drinking. He was very chatty and upbeat as we bounced up Bumble Hill watching a trail of head lamps stretching up the hill. All was looking good (although wearing a headlamp and buggered wonky glasses was not the best experience of my life). Other runners were around, and we had a few chats along the way. An owl was hooting up a storm, and it was a special feeling.
However, the “walk for a bit” seemed to go for a while, and the pair of us kept trying to get a trot going. The trots never seemed to last long, and I repeatedly looked back to see a silent circle of light pointing straight down at the ground accompanied by weird whale like noises– not good. But we kept on moving. However, I knew he was going through some mind games, because if he put on/ took off his jacket one more time and fussed about putting it into his belt a certain way I was going to choke him with it (but being supportive I just tied it back into his belt, knowing full well he would probably remove it again several minutes later). The night was also very misty, and because I was scared to remove my glasses to wipe them in case they fell apart, I was half blind. I collected more than one low hanging vine during the rainforest sections because I couldn’t look up.
I have to be honest and say that whilst I appreciated that Gav was definitely in the hurt locker, I was having an absolute ball. Owls, bandicoots, chatting with other runners – it was incredible fun.
|Check Point 5 with my amazing eye wear|
After many an hour we arrived at Checkpoint 5-Somersby. I suspected our 30 hour finish was gone, but no worries. I felt fine. More concerning was Gavin’s chattering teeth. It was cool, and Gav couldn’t move fast enough to keep warm. After some soup and a rug, we set off at about 3 am, but after about 5km, when we had left the bitumen and were hitting the track proper, it was crunch time. I was pretty sure what was going through his head, but was never going to say it to him; but through chattering teeth Gav made the call to call it quits. I can’t even begin to imagine how hard that must have been. For some reason he began apologising for “only” running 140km and letting me down – that’s the kind of weird stuff runners say.
We made it back to the bitumen, Bek collected us, and Gav was asleep soon after. I was nodding off too after walking a midnight marathon.
Maybe Gav should have slept more before the race. Maybe he should have run the first 100km slower. Maybe a longer rest at Yarramalong or Somersby. Maybe I should have slapped him with his jacket. Maybe some better *knock knock* jokes. Maybe maybe maybe. These are things to think about later. I, however, had an absolute blast, and an experience I will never, ever forget or regret. Thanks Gav and Bek !! Maybe 2013.