Pacing the Burn

Have you ever watched someone you care about do something great? There is something powerful about it. You witness the outcome of their hard work, their struggle. It is inspiring. It makes me proud. Proud to know them. Proud to SAY I know them. Proud to be a part of their life.

Standing on this mountain top
Looking just how far we’ve come
Knowing that for every step
You were with us
Kneeling on this battleground
Seeing just how much You’ve done
Knowing every victory
Was Your power in us

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say

Never once did we ever walk alone

-One Socic Society, “Never Once”

Teresa chose Tillamook Burn Trail race for her first 50. I do not remember all of the discussion we had before she chose it or what other races she had on her radar to choose from. I do very clearly remember her saying, “I am going to follow my heart.” Following her heart not out of blind ambition. Following her heart because the races on her short list were all great choices. She chose to follow her heart, after a conversation with her son about following his heart.

I put my athletes in a position for success by first encouraging them to train for events they genuinely care about, then building their physical tools around that event, not the other way around. -Jason Koop with Jim Rutberg, Training Essentials For Ultrarunning.

She was passionate about this choice. As her running partner and friend, I was going to believe in her, encourage her,  100%.  We were all in. This was going to be a tough race. I did not tell her until after we finished this event that it was the hardest,  climbing race that I have ever done. I ran Lake Martin 50, Lookout Mountain 50 and Zion 100k. None of these had as much elevation gain or loss as Tillamook! (9,300 feet up and 9,300 feet down!!!)

Life is most exhilarating when we are deeply involved in a complex challenge. . . one of the  most important factors for getting into flow is knowing what it is you are trying to achieve. -Susan A. Jackson and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow In Sports.

We sat down with a copy of the elevation chart and course map. We wanted to choose a pace for hiking that I knew would give us plenty of time to get up those climbs and a cushion for our tired bodies as the race progressed. We chose 21:00 min/mile pace as a conservative time for each climb we would have that day. We had a total of 7 climbs, ranging from 1 mile to 7 miles long. Teresa is a strong downhill runner so our pace on the downhills was not as conservative. We chose between 13:00-15:00 min/mile pace on all of the downhills. Again, we had 7, ranging from 1 to 7 miles long, approximately.

Going with our conservative numbers, we projected a 14 hour, 21 minute finish, which averaged out to 16:56 pace overall. Teresa took those stats and made some pace adjustments to come up with a more aggressive plan, on average 19:00 min/mile pace on the climbs and 12:00-14:00 min/mile on the decents. That is how we came up with our conservative plan, “C” and our aggressive plan, “A”. Our “A” finish time was 13:58, with an average pace of 16:29. She printed these numbers out, shrunk the data, and I carried this info all day, looking at it at every aid station, sometimes more. I also had a copy of the elevation chart that I carried all day.

These are GREAT tools and references, especially when your race has such variance, as ours did. By variance I mean that in the early miles, we would be running pace(s)that are far from our average pace(s), for a “C” time or an “A” time.

My goals as pacer?

  • Get Teresa to the finish line before the 15:00 cutoff time
  • Eat well, drink well (this has been a challenge for me in my past two races, Lookout & Zion. It was critical to care for myself and fuel well, because I was her help. She was NOT mine.)
  • To remember, it is HER race, not mine.
  • HAVE FUN. I wanted to have a smile on my face all day and I wanted to see a smile on hers. So, at each aid station, I took a selfie of us smiling. DO NOT underestimate this as a goal. A smile is powerful. A smile is contagious. A smile is engaging.
  • To adhere to the requests Teresa made to me via questionnaire about what she needed from me as a pacer.

She hiked strong all day long. She smiled all day long. She ate well all day long. I remember only 2 long sighs that I am familiar with as her running partner. To me, they mean, “this is tough”. . . or “I’m a bit tired”. . . or “am I still on pace?” (This is my interpretation. . . it may not be Teresa’s) She questioned me once, “Are you sure we are on pace?” I told her, “yes”,  and that if I felt like we were slipping behind, I would run/hike in front to get us moving. (per Teresa, “I want to lead most of the day. If I’m really tired towards the end, it may be beneficial to have you lead. . . but not if you are way ahead of me. . . that will just make me feel like you are leaving me and I’m doing poorly.”) I NEVER lead.

There were long stretches of quiet and that was okay. She also mentioned that she does not like to be asked questions. She wanted me to do the talking, sharing stories or bringing up topics. NORMALLY, this is not hard to do. I love to talk. It is tough, when you are challenging your body for 13+ hours. I had to dig deep for some of these.

Encouragement

I love being a coach. I coach a track group and a few ultra runners. I was THRILLED to pace Teresa for 50 miles. I wish I had a video tape of her racing. She did so well. Some key phrases I used:

  • “You are hiking so well”
  • “Get into a rhythm on this climb, short, choppy steps”
  • “I am so proud of you”
  • “Great running, Teresa”
  • “Great surge, every little 30 second surge will make a big difference over 50 miles”
  • “Keep it up”

We would also high 5 from time to time, because she was KILLING it. She looked confident and in control all day. It was a powerful stimulant for Teresa to see her friends throughout the race. We saw Jobie and Sherrie, twice during the race and once, at the finish.

Mini-transitions

We had one aid station that we visited 3 times, approximately every 12 miles. This is where we had access to our drop bag and a bathroom, and Jobie & Sherrie. I saw this as a mini-transition for us. We were both very efficient at all the aid stations that day. The longest we spent at an aid station was 5 minutes, at mile 36, prepping mentally and physically for the end! It was funny,  to me,  that Teresa would almost charge out of these 3 particular stops.  I would have to tell her to slow down each time, to settle us back into our pace. I wanted us to have something in the tank for a strong finish.

Finish: miles 47-50

Our last 3 miles were pretty much downhill. By this time in our race, 13 hours later, Teresa had legs to run and run she did. We sprinted through the finish line, in step, in stride, smiles on our faces. Mission complete. We were done. No tears. PURE JOY.

. . . after 50 miles and 13:32 hours. Wow. I was impressed. I was inspired.

 

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