November 7, 2014

Pacing Pinhoti 100: round 2

Two years of pacing Pinhoti 100 is building up to one giant desire to make this race my only goal of 2015. Some of you (no one) may remember that after the 12-hour race I did back in May, I swore off long distances because of that little almost-dying incident. I love running, but it isn't more important than staying alive. Weird, I know. But as with any painful moment in your life, the sting of nausea, vomiting, and your spirit slowly leaving your body and going toward the light, all slowly fade. Now I can only remember how vivid the trees looked when I was on the verge of hallucinating and how those bikers, strangers whom I unnecessarily told that I was going to squat in the bushes, promised not to look -- you know, the good things, only remembering the good things.

Things you enjoy seeing after running all night at Pinhoti.

The key that makes Pinhoti an actual option is the weather. This year and last year, the temps were chilly, and this year, they even dipped below freezing, which for Alabamians might as well mean you traveled to the North Pole to run. It's not that we aren't tough enough to handle it, it's just that we spent all summer training our bodies to handle heat, sweating, 100% humidity, and all things electrolyte depletion. So much so that runners in the South have been spotted wearing puffy jackets in the middle of summer -- that's how well we trained our bodies. So well that the slightest breeze or any sub-82 thermostat setting gives us chills.

As a runner who does not perform well in heat, as evidenced by the almost-dying-due-to-heat-stroke business, I know that the only way I will ever run a 50 miler again or a 100 miler ever is if I can pretty much guarantee that I will not have to run in any temp with a 7 or above as the first digit. That includes 7 degrees because that's just crazy (standards, gotta set 'em somewhere).

Even though I have never run Pinhoti for my own self, it teaches me something new every year. This year's stand-out lessons: I can run all night (huge! never done that before), nutrition is a game changer, and you have more to give even when you thought you reached the bottom of your barrel.

When I was talking to my chiropractor, who just laughs at all of these crazy running antics (but never tries to discourage me from running, which I appreciate!), he wondered aloud what the point of running 100 miles is. And to quote my soldier sister Vanessa Stroud (who was quoting someone else and now I will paraphrase), it's all about getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. I see life lesson after life lesson after life lesson in just that little sentence. And even my chiropractor, who thinks you and I are all nut cases for choosing the punishment of running, said, "That actually makes a lot of sense." He's never said that about anything running, ever!

And the runners aren't the only ones learning to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. As an extension of this, my family learned that there are never too many blankets. And when a sea of blankets, sleeping bags, and thermals can't keep out the cold, you go turn on the car and get inside. Sorry, ozone layer, it was that or frost bite.

On the way to our Pinhoti campsite. 

Making dutch over cobbler. 

Eating said cobbler.

?? Help us ??

And here's a little more on the story of this year's pacing. I was set to pace Mindy, who is probably the most positive runner I know, from miles 69 to 85 with an estimated starting time of 12:45 a.m. I got there around 11 p.m. to wait because I was so nervous that she would accidentally beat me there and because I couldn't sleep/rest anyway. Porter's Gap (our meeting spot and the start line of the Mt. Cheaha 50K) was hopping with warm food, rockin' tunes, and a giant pot of ramen noodles. By the time I got there, I got the message that Mindy would be a couple more hours, and I now had the option of taking a nap. But of course I couldn't! First, because naps leave me feeling unrefreshed at times, and second, because I just wanted to get out there and see what was happening at the aid station. The whole time I was there waiting for Mindy, I saw familiar face after familiar face, which I loved. I even loved seeing/helping the unfamiliar faces. There was most definitely a sense of community and a feeling that we're all family helping each other out.

Also while waiting, you learn things. Things like how to pack your drop bags. Thank you, Michael R., for teaching me about packing toothbrushes! Why have I not thought of that before?!

Vanessa in action with her ultra (get it!) organized gear pack. It folds into a square.

Also, you see new products that your friends swear by and you are tempted to try. RunGoo, anyone?


Mindy arrived sometime after 2 a.m., and she was smiling. But having run with her many times before, I knew she wasn't 100%. I mean, who would be at mile 69? But she didn't eat much at the aid station, and when we took off, our pace that started off as a hike got slower and slower and slower. Eventually turning to a weave. Of course, at the time, I tried not to mention to her how worried about her I was. About a mile before the aid station she started asking me about cut-off times, but I didn't want her to freak out about the time. So I tried to gloss over the numbers and then told her that the only thing she needed to worry about was taking in some food at the next aid station. She had been nauseated and unable to eat, but she was going to have to find a way to keep something down because the truth was that the cutoff times were getting closer and closer to us while we got slower and slower. If she could get down some salty broth and some calories, she still had a chance to finish. 

About that time, two trail angels, I-still-think-they're-twins-but-they-claim-to-just-be-sisters Emily and Jennifer, came smiling and bubbling happily along the trail and offered some espresso beans. Mindy ate two or three, which woke her up a miniature bit and got her to the aid station.

Pinnacle, the next aid station at mile 70ish, was run by our local BUTS (Birmingham Ultra Trail Society) crew, so every face was a familiar one, and they all wanted to know how Mindy was doing. At this point she was doing still doing really crappy, but I didn't want to say that out loud to them. Instead of voicing that it was getting sketchy, I made weird faces like this. 


And talked about how much better she was going to feel after she ate. 

The effect of food was almost immediate. She went from a walking zombie to a talking, non-weaving person again, and we were able to pick up the pace and run some of the flats and downhills. Slowly fighting against those cutoffs that had gotten scarily close. 

I knew that my family campsite was .8 miles before our handoff point (meeting another friend to pace to the finish) at Bull's Gap, mile 85, and we kept thinking we were almost there, then of course not being there. As soon as we saw the tents and heard the kids yelling at us, I looked at my watch, and we had 12 minutes. A lot of time to run .8 miles on a normal day, just not a huge surplus when you are at mile 84 of 100. Where I had been ahead of Mindy pulling her up the mountain with my invisible pacer rope, now she took off ahead of me for the first time the whole night and used her 47th wind (she was way past her second) of the race to book it to the aid station and fight against that cutoff.

Basically, with all of the pain and fatigue weighing her body down, she was able to shake it off and push past it when it was time to fight. 

The two miracles of the power of nutrition and the power of the human spirit will stay with me long after this night. Oh, and Mindy didn't let the cutoff nab her! She continued pushing and crossed the finish line in a little over 29 hours. That's 20 plus 9 hours of running. Incredible!

Handing off Mindy to Elena.

Some other things that I learned:

Pinhoti has nailed-in reflector dots on the trees (at least on the paths we were taking), which at the time seemed like the coolest thing ever. 

Can you see the reflector pins?

After running all night, sunrise is the best medicine for weariness.



And I learned that I can run without sleeping for 24 hours! I was of course exhausted the next day, but it was possible and really not that bad to keep moving cloaked in darkness until sunrise. So I didn't have to run 50 miles and then continue running through the night, but I still feel happy with the accomplishment because I've always seen running through the night as a hurdle to running a 100 miler. 

What's the most you've ever run at night? What type of gear do you count on for dark runs? I just had my Black Diamond headlamp and a handheld flashlight as backup. 

What top three items would you put in 100-miler drop bags? I am adding toothbrush to my list. Those gels are so horrible for your teeth. 

Have you ever paced anyone? For what? I love pacing people because it gives me a chance to make someone else's goals a priority over my own, and there is lot of joy in witnessing friends (and even strangers) reach their goals/dreams.