Monday, June 25, 2012

Running Through the Night

This weekend I had the opportunity to help a friend on her first 100 mile race--yes you read that correctly. My friend Rebecca is about as tough as they come. She's done three 12 hour races before and had even done 76 miles in 19 hours as part of a 24 hour race. That may sound like a ton of miles (and it is!) but the difference between 100 and 76 is almost a full marathon so she was really going into uncharted territory.

Rebecca came to New York to take part in the inaugural NYUR Great New York 100 Mile Running Exposition. On Friday Rebecca got into town with her mom and boyfriend (her "support crew") so we all went to carbo load with another friend (and pacer) Bobby at Spumoni Gardens. During dinner Rebecca explained the course and her strategy, all while seeming unbelievably calm. We called it an early night since the race began at 5:30am the next morning.

Photo credit: Locusart
The 100-mile course began in Times Square, ran north along the Hudson into the Bronx, east to Pelham Bay Park, south and over the the Triborough Bridge into Queens, west to Flushing Meadows, and south to Rockaway Beach where I was scheduled to meet Rebecca at the Mile 71 aid station. I got there early to make sure I wouldn't miss her which meant I got to observe several runners coming through. A lot of the runners looked really beat up and some seemed a little out of it so I was worried about what to expect from Rebecca.

When she showed up a little before midnight, however, Rebecca looked surprisingly fresh. Although she'd warned Bobby and me that she might be cranky she also seemed in good spirits--especially for someone who had been on her feet for 18+ hours! After taking some time to refuel, use the bathroom, and get the requisite hugs from her support crew, Rebecca was ready to keep moving.

Unlike shorter races, where the pacer's job is truly to keep the pace and push the runner, the pacer's job in an ultra is more about keeping the runner safe, keeping the runner awake, and making sure the runner has everything he or she needs between aid stations.

I had never gone for a run past midnight before, I had never paced an ultra before, and I had never run most of the route I had volunteered for so this was a new experience.  How to describe it? Awesome.

Rebecca was so upbeat the whole time. Pacing her and watching her cope with what must have some serious pain was inspiring. When I passed her off to the next pacer on the Coney Island Boardwalk she was still alert and positive--two things I don't think I could have been after 22+ hours of running! She was determined to finish the race before the 28 hour cut-off and she did, with almost an hour to spare.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go catch up on some ZZZs.

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