This is the story of my first pacing experience. The short version: I am humbled, inspired and amazed beyond anything I have ever experienced in my life. I made a lifelong friend. I will run a hundred miler. And now, for the long version...
I headed down to Zion on Friday at noon and arrived at Grafton Mesa aid station somewhere around 5pm. I met up with his crew, my friend Julia, Steve's Dad Laura and his girlfriend Kathleen. Steve was just coming into this aid station for the first of three stops here and so we got to meet quickly before he was fed and sent on his way. He seemed slightly concerned about his time and his hip was hurting pretty badly. After he left I was able to help crew for other folks who came in and needed things, as well as enjoy some general tomfoolery with my friends that were there.
Kathleen decided to go out with Steve for his next two loops, a 14 mile and 6 mile loop. That would leave Steve with only one stint in the dark alone before he picked me up at Dalton Wash. However, she ended up with some severe cramping and didn't make the whole 14 mile loop with him. He left her on the trail and came into the aid station looking discouraged. This is when I made the decision to head out with him from the next aid station, Goosebump. When I told him all he had to do was make it the six miles to Goosebump and then I'd go with him until the end, his face lit up like a kid on Christmas.
I got him fed, refilled and ready for the next six miles while Steve's dad tried to take care of Kathleen. Then, we sent him on his way and I got changed into my running gear and we caravanned up to Goosebump to wait for Steve. I was really full of nervous anticipation. This could be an amazing experience, or this could be a disaster. Steve and I had been chatting on the phone and messaging each other for a while, but really didn't know each other. Plus, I'd never paced and this was his first hundred. I sat by the fire anxiously waiting. When he came in, around 1am we got him new socks, food and we were ready to go.
He seemed relieved to have the company and I led the way down a very technical, steep trail with lots of loose dirt and rocks. Then the trail narrowed into a ravine, finally turning into winding and rolling double track. This is where we went from total strangers to pacer and runner. When the person you've only known an hour has to stop and take a dump in the desert and you say, "Find a rock or tree to lean on to take some of pressure off your quads." you've pretty much crossed the line from strangers to friends.
The next several miles found us walking, hiking, running and chatting. We got along well and Steve was happy to take my directions. We went through Dalton Wash where he was able to warm up in his dad's car and eat, then we made the long hard climb up to Guacamole Aid Station. Steve did a kick ass job climbing that hill. We power hiked like he was fresh, not like he was at mile 80. He continued, despite my constant reassurance, to verbalize his concerns about making it in under the cut off time. I continued to tell him he was doing awesome (and he really was, I wasn't just telling him that to shut him up) and encouraged him to focus on the work we were doing.
After arriving at Guacamole several runners who had been out on our next loop came in very upset. There was some very poor course markings and a lot of people were getting lost. This worried both of us, but I tried not to let Steve know I was worried. I was determined to keep us on coarse. We mostly walked this section because of the very technical trail, but also because I figured that rushing and getting lost would cost us a lot more time than power hiking. We kept as fast a walking pace as I could muster and we never got lost! There were other, lost runners, who joined us realizing that I was doing okay. One man kept wanting to argue with Steve that I was going the wrong way and Steve finally said, "Look, I'm following her, come along if you'd like." It was then I knew I had my runner's trust.
As the sun started to come up and Steve starting to fret again about the time. I said, "Steve, it's 6am and we have until 2 o'clock this afternoon! You are going to finish this race!" That's when I found out why he was so worried. We argued for a good few minutes because he was convinced the cut off time was noon. When he finally realized I was right and we had until 2 pm, he actually hugged me he was so relieved! From then on he didn't question anything I said.
50k runners started whizzingy by, many of whom I know, and we finally
made it back to Guacamole. Steve was shivering pretty badly, so I got him wrapped in blankets in front of a heater and put a hot cup of ramen in his hands. He actually fell asleep for a couple of minutes while I refilled his water bottles and ate something myself. Then came the downhill. Honestly, even though we were faster I think it hurt him a lot worse and I had to push him harder. I seemed to be able to know exactly how much I could push without overdoing it.
We came down through Dalton Wash and were surprised to find the crew there. We didn't think we'd see them until the finish and that was a pick me up, but despite me telling him explicitly NOT to, Steve asked someone how many miles left. He though there were 2.5 and the fellow he asked told him 5. I was seriously concerned he might cry. I told him to ignore what that guy said and just follow me. Be in the moment. We would make it.
Then there was one last climb. This time when I gave Steve instructions, he listened. I told him not to look up. I didn't want him seeing how big the climb was. Head down, follow me. He actually didn't look up until near the top. Then there was a little river crossing. One runner behind us actually yelled, "What the fuck!?" which made me laugh. There was a patch of muddy grass in the middle, so what better thing to do at mile 98 of a hundred miler
than do a little river jumping?
The last mile brought a lot of emotions. Steve was done running and I was done pushing him. We walked and joked about all the night's adventures. We talked about how you become forever friends once you've asked someone to check your armpits for chafing. We talked about the rabbit that charged him and the bat the flew about a foot in front of my face. War stories. This was it. We were nearly there. About a half a mile away Steve announced that I would be crossing the finish line with him and he wouldn't take no for an answer. He insists he would not have finished without me. His gratitude is humbling. We crossed the finish together and that was it. We were both different.
After running my first ultra, I was a changed person. I now know that running a hundred miler is transforming on a whole different level. I saw it first hand. Going through that experience brought me joy and humility I didn't know before. Of course I have joy in my life, my family brings me immeasurable joy. But this is different. I can't explain it. All I know was that by watching the struggle and perseverance and being a part of the reason an incredible goal was reached has made me a better person. I'm so grateful for that. That, and I've made a lifelong friend. You can't have someone say they hate you (He was joking. I hope.) and that you're the only good thing that has happened all day and not become fast friends.
So, Steve, my friend, we did it. YOU did it. Thank you for letting be part of this amazing adventure! I guess I'm next.
Views from Grafton Mesa Aid Station
Tag, I'm it! Julia and her kids heading back into town for the night.
Happy to be here!
Jo and Jennilynn
The amazing Miss Cherri on her way becoming the second place women's 100 mile finisher!
These aid station fires were so wonderful!
Jo and Karen waiting for their husbands to make their debuts.
Fast Cory, so of course there were hugs and selfies galore! He was doing fantastic and each time I saw him on the course he was able to bust out that giant, infectious smile of his!
Buffalo Run, humored Jennilyn who was taking videos of runners dancing!
The sun came up and I couldn't help but turn on my phone and grab a few pictures!
The course was not clearly marked, so I ran ahead to find the right way before making Steve do the climb.
The never-ending lollipop loop.
Near Gucamole Aid station.
Gotta represent! TrailAndUltraRunning.com!
The course was marked with flags, paint and many cairns.
Doing the Ultra shuffle. Probably busting out a 15 minute mile!
The last few miles
You should have heard all the great comments about this hill by all the hundred mile runners. Little did they know after this we'd be crossing the virgin river. Without a bridge.
Steve's dad snapped these shots of us coming back down through Dalton Wash.
I'm sure I was telling him to suck it up and shuffle!
Coming into the finish!
Steve finished the Zion 100 in 29:15. I paced him for the last ten hours and covered a total of 26 miles.