The Pacer Chronicles: A Dark Night Rises
Our second does of pacer perspective comes from Carla, who endured the darkest part of the night, both figuratively and literally. Once I had a chance to process the whole experience, I realized that this group of friends saw a side of my running that they had never seen before. In any ultra, the overnight hours can be rough, but stomach cramps, nausea, and sleep deprivation make for a wicked trifecta. She got me through the toughest stretch of running I’ve ever experienced, and I’m eternally grateful to her for that!
“Go Adam! Go Adam! One lap down. Three to go. Yeah really. He’s running three more. He’s got this. That’s right. One lap is 25 miles. No, it’s not a bike race or a car race. He’s running on nothing but two legs for 100 miles!
This will be easy for Adam. That’s what I thought. I see him running all over town all the time. He runs before runs and he runs after runs. And it was easy for 25 miles. It even looked easy for him to run 50 miles.
Wait, let me back up and start from the beginning. A friend of mine, Adam, sent out a Facebook request asking if anyone wanted to run part of the last 50 miles in a 100 mile trail race in Missouri with him. I’ve never watched an ultra-marathon before so I said sure. As the race got closer, we learned that we would be camping in a primitive campground and the planning began for food, tents, water, fake tarantulas, etc. We never did see a tarantula and for that I’m thankful. It wasn’t until after the race that Lani read there are wild boars and bears in the Mark Twain forest. I’m also somewhat thankful that I didn’t know before the race. We all thought we were prepared with our water bottles and head lamps. I had so much to learn about ultra-marathons.
During the week leading up to the race, I took some time to look at the race website. I noticed times from the previous race were like 24 hours. Wow, I hadn’t done the math. Adam is running all night long? If anyone can do it, Adam can. On the trip down to Missouri through the curvy hilly roads, Eric did his best to calm all of us ladies with his stories of creepers jumping out with pitchforks. Either he is really good at getting into character or he was actually freaked out about running through a dark forest. Despite his apparent apprehension, Eric offered to take the late shift running the last leg in the dark. I took him up on that. I mean, there are tarantulas out there. I was taking the second leg which was 16 miles long from mile 59 to mile 75 to run with Adam. I was so excited to have the chance to run through the forest with Adam while he accomplishes this amazing feat that few of us can fathom attempting.
We’re up bright and early to see Adam off on his journey. This is really happening (I think that’s what Adam said). There were what looked like 50 people headed off into the dark forest with their camelback (water backpack thingies), head lamps, compression socks, special secret “nutrition” drinks (maybe captain, no one really knows), and gaiters (shoe umbrella thingies). So off they go and back to bed we go while Melissa faithfully meets Adam at his first aid station at mile 9. We roll out of our tents for a team meeting so Melissa can fill us in on what we can do to help. Whoa, there is more to this than we thought. He needs his water backpack thingie filled, his special secret drink filled, secret special knee cream, magic muffins, needs changes of shirts and coats, and headlamps and shoes. I still wasn’t really concerned because Adam will tell us what he needs. I was an ultra-marathon virgin though. I didn’t know what was coming.
Adam finishes his first loop of 25 miles at a great pace with a smile on his face and joking around. He looks as fresh as some of us look after 5 or 10 miles. We help him refill his special secret drinks and hand him a magic muffin and he’s off again. Go Adam! Lap one down. Nicole, Lani and I head down the road to buy wood for a campfire and of course some photo opps with peacocks and buses then off to meet Adam at mile 34.
Adam’s still looking awesome! This is so easy for him. 34 miles! Amazing! Now he’s headed back in the woods to make the trip back to the campground. We’re headed back to the campground via the car to enjoy Melissa’s famed s’more pancakes. Noteworthy graham pancakes sandwiching marshmallows and chocolate, mmmm. We’re thankful to find that two boys waiting for their Dad have built a stellar fire and they are willing to share. It’s naptime for some while I talk Lani into a short jog to stretch our legs. There were two races taking place this day. The other race was a 50 mile race. So we started seeing those “only” running 50 miles begin to cross the finish line. The family and friends were sitting in lawn chairs near the finish line cheering for everyone running in from the forest.
Soon we see Adam who is still at a great pace and looking amazing. He has completed 50 miles which is only half-way. He seems strong and ready to go. We fill his secret drinks and get him set to go again. They asked him what he’d like to eat and told him the options. He asked what was on the burrito…beans and cheese. Yes he said, so Nicole gets one for him. He eats half then he’s ready to take off. Now that he has completed 50 miles, his pacer can run with him. We’re pumped and ready to go. Nicole takes the first 9 mile leg. They run off into the forest.
I’m so excited! It’s finally my turn! We soon leave to meet them at the 59 mile aid station. Adam has run this 9 mile leg twice before so we have a good idea how long it will take him. This time it’s taking a little bit longer so maybe he’s slowing a bit. We’re still waiting and no sign of them. Did Nicole hurt her back? Did one of them trip and get hurt? We saw a lady earlier in the day who fell and hit her head on a rock gashing it open. It’s starting to get dark. They don’t have headlamps. No one thought they needed them. This is the first I’ve worried for Adam’s safety and now Nicole’s. It’s so hard not to just go out there and find them. Finally, here they are with a small flashlight. Adam’s not looking good as Nicole explains that he was dizzy and had to sit on the trail. His stomach is upset from the burrito. We learned he is lactose intolerant but thought the burrito sounded good (really Adam?? J) He’s not sure if he can continue. He rested while Melissa gave him a pep talk and enzymes. Adam and I put our headlamps on and headed into the pitch black forest.
Despite the shape he was in at the aid station, we started off doing quite a bit of jogging. The enzymes and a bathroom break helped his stomach. It was going well I thought until…the headlamp fiasco. The nice expensive headlamp Adam was using stopped working. We were so very thankful Melissa had handed me a flashlight just before we left the aid station. We keep trudging on through the dark forest. The trail was pretty technical with sharp rocks and roots making it even more of challenge for Adam as his legs tired. Apparently it was even more of a challenge for me because I was tripping more than Adam and even fell once. I tripped and did something similar to sliding head first into home base. I told Adam I was fine and we kept moving forward. We made it to the first aid station, rested shortly then moved on back into the dark forest. I know I keep saying “dark” but dark in the forest is darker than any other dark. It seems worthy of repeating.
We’re about 5 miles into the 16 miles and it’s getting a bit tougher for Adam. I’m in front now, he needs to stop for a break once, and he mentions being done at the next aid station. Our pace has slowed and it’s probably about midnight. I didn’t really know what to say other than we need to make it to the next aid station and rest. As his friend, it was hard for me to encourage him to continue doing something that was so painful. No, this was definitely nothing like a 5K run.
We really needed something to take our minds off the rocks and roots and dark and dark. We’d had good conversation about work, family, kids, running, friends, etc. Then there it was. Something fuzzy and tan on the trail in front of us. Looking at us. It was close enough we could see it with my not so bright headlamp, but far enough it was hard to make out what it was. We stopped dead in our tracks. Adam had told me before that someone had found a mountain lion track on the trail. We must have scared it. It ran up the hill to our left. Adam yelled “here kitty kitty” and threw some energy chews to it. This is when I knew Adam was hallucinating. Just kidding. We’re going to try that next time. I could see its eyes when it looked at us then disappeared over the hill. We just stood there. I said “that was kind of like the size of a large raccoon”. Adam said, “yeah but it ran like a cat”. I said “yeah, should we keep going”. We kept moving and Adam said something like you’ll know if it comes back and attacks me from behind. I’m pretty sure he was only half-joking.
We made it to the aid station through the dark forest without being mauled by any forest animals. Further research leads us to believe that what we were nearly attacked and eaten by was in fact a bobcat. We were so thankful to have a fire to warm up by. Adam seemed fairly serious about quitting but he said something about not really knowing how we would get back from the aid station. It’s in what seems like the middle of the forest with no cars in sight. He said he could make it back to the campground. And we find ourselves back in the dark forest traversing roots and rocks. A few runners and pacers passed us while we were on the trail but not many. We learned that about half of the 100 mile runners had already dropped out leaving about 30. From here to the campground was just Adam’s courage to take each additional step with legs that no longer want to lift a foot off the ground. There were no more jungle animals or broken lights or falls. Adam talked about quitting when he made it to 75 miles at the campground but not wanting to disappoint his friends who came to pace him.
We made it to the campground 16 miles and 6 hours later. Eric and Lani were there waiting for us. A sight for sore eyes for sure. Adam rested and ate some soup. Lani got him a coat to warm up. I didn’t know why he did it other than because the race director told him to and Lani said let’s go. He got up and headed for the dark forest with Lani for the next 9 miles. Nicole and Eric and I looked at each other asking if we should let him go in the forest in that condition. I got a couple chilly hours of sleep then packed up camp and went to meet Adam and Lani at the aid station. When Nicole and I got there we were amazed and elated to see a new Adam. He had a second wind. The sun was up and he was smiling and ready to go! It was such a relief as Nicole, Lani, and I needed to hit the road back to Iowa. We knew he would make it now. And he did finish the last 16 miles with Eric. Adam ran 100 miles! It was such a unique experience that I will always remember. A great time with friends and a chance to do something we had never done before.”