I’ve had the honor of pacing two ultrarunners in the past 2 years and both times have made me realize that running is more than just lacing up your shoes and finding a satellite signal on your Garmin. You can Google “5ks near me” and find a 5k you decide to spontaneously run on any given day of the year. You can sign up for the 10k you’ve always wanted to try. Or you can committ to a half-marathon still waiting to be scratched off your running bucket list. But have you ever considered going on a run for someone else? Have you ran side by side with someone who has been running for 5 or more hours who needs a mental boost? Or someone who needs someone else to remind them to eat, to drink, or keep moving forward? This is a pacer, my friends. Pacers aren’t looking for a 5k PR or another silly medal – pacing provides a completely intrinsic reward.Pacers are running to help someone else achieve their goals. And I honestly believe all runners should be an ultrarunning pacer at least once in their life (but I know from experience that once won’t be enough – just like ultrarunners, pacers always come back for more).
So let’s start from the beginning…let me share a story with you!
Last spring my dad decided he wanted to run 50 miles. So he trained for months and raised money for the MS Society, which he was dedicating his run towards. So he set off on a warmer than usual Sunday on a trail that is 50 miles in length. There were no race officials or other runners – just him. One of my dad’s running friends, who also happened to be an ultrarunner, joined him a few hours into my dad’s run to run miles 10-35ish with my dad. And thank goodness the pacer was with my dad for those miles (especially at the 30 mile mark). Without this pacer – who had taken hours of his Sunday morning just to help my dad achieve his goal – my dad might not have made it to the road crossing where me, my mom, brother and two grandmothers were waiting for him. At mile 30, my dad couldn’t keep anything in his stomach. He was barely moving forward and needed someone to talk him through the struggle. The unexpected “heat” of the early spring had taken too much out of my dad. When he finally reached the road crossing it was both a relief and a wake-up call.
This is where I come into the picture. My dad and I had discussed that I would be pacing him through the last 10ish miles of his run. I was in the midst of my track season and so we had agreed that 10 miles wouldn’t effect my training schedule for track. But even before my dad reached the road crossing, I knew I would be running more than 10 miles that day. By the time he reached the road crossing, he would have about 17 miles to go. So I put on my Camelbak and threw some crackers, ibuprofin, my cell phone, and a headlight into it. And so I began my first experience as a pacer.
I remember splitting peanut butter crackers in half to give my dad some kind of food to put into his stomach. He would eat the side without the peanut butter first. Then 5 minutes later he would eat the other half. A few crackers later I gave him some ibuprofin. I reminded him to drink the water from his Camelbak. I kept him moving forward – one step at a time. When dark started to set in, and with only one working headlight, I became our set of eyes. I found the markers on the trees. I kept us on the trail. I paced him to the end. I paced him to help him complete his goal.
My next ultrarunning pacing experience was this past weekend. A running friend of ours was doing a 24 hour running race in attempt to run 100 miles in 24 hours for a charity called “Back on My Feet”. He had asked for pacers throughout his 24 hour journey -especially during the nighttime hours. So my dad and I didn’t have to think twice – we wanted to help a fellow runner achieve his goal. So we signed up for the 4:00 AM shift!
When we got there he had already been running for 18 hours and was about 76 miles into his run. He got to us and needed some motivation. So me and my dad and one other early-morning pacer set out with him to do another 8.5 mile lap. (We also got to run in the presence of another ultrarunner who was also competing as he joined in our group throughout the loop too!) We started the lap just walking. But before we got a mile into the lap we eased him back into a run. My dad reminded him in a tough-love-kind-of-way, “You’re going to be in pain if you walk and you’re going to be in pain if you run. So just run”. So we ran. We walked through the aid stations but we kept a steady pace for the 8.5 mile loop – especially considering he was now almost about to reach his 84th mile. We reminded him to drink water and have a cup of Gatorade. We gave him some Ritz crackers that settled easily in his stomach. We talked about running and our summer adventures. We did everything to distract Ultraman from the pain. And we got him to the end of the loop, we were greeted by a small crowd ringing their cowbells. It was a quite the welcome back to “base camp”!
So, from both of these experiences I’ve come to learn the importance of pacers. And I’ve come to love the sport of running even more than I ever thought possible. I have yet to be awarded a medal for pacing. There is no website on the Internet showing that I even helped a runner achieve their goal. I only have the knowing in my heart that I did good for someone else. I helped someone achieve their goal and I believe that that’s what matters most.
I’ve also been inspired by both of these men to try ultrarunning for myself. I plan on waiting a few years until I give a shot at an ultramarathon of any sort. I want to push beyond my limits. I want to see how far my legs can take me. I want to cross the finish line completely exhausted. I want to have a pacer/pacers by my side telling me to suck it up and stop complaining. As long as they bring some Ritz crackers, some positive energy, and the desire to help a fellow runner out, I can’t wait to experience the tough love of a pacer for myself. But in the meantime, I will remain a pacer for any other runner who is trying to achieve their goal – and that’s what matters most.
This weekend in particular seems to be worthy of its own blog post for many different reasons. I spent the weekend surrounded by plenty of friends, runners, and family members which always makes me so happy because these are three things I value in my life the most. I guess I should start from the beginning.
I’ll start the weekend at Thursday because this day was a particularly good day in my opinion. I would like to thank my best friend, Brianna, for being my go-to girl for life chats and gossip. She may not realize how important her friendship means to me even though we acknowledge its importance regularly. Without her I would go insane. We make sense of each other’s highs and lows. After a stressful week between losing electric for a few days, preparing for my brother’s graduation party, and balancing work, running, and a social life, I was in much need of a few hours with her. So thanks for making me realize that life will be okay because our chat refreshed me for the weekend ahead. I LOVE YOU! ❤
On Thursday I also became an official member of a local running club which I am extremely grateful for. All the people are so friendly and it makes me love the running community even more than I ever thought I could. Everyone is just so supportive of each other. Runners have a way of bonding with each other no matter the age, gender, or speed. We’re all runners. We understand each other and that’s what makes the running community so perfect. Through this club I know that my love for running and the running community will continue to grow beyond what it’s already been so far.
On Friday (as it is our tradition), my dad and I went to pick up our race bibs for our traditional 4th of July race. We did our pre-race run, had pasta for dinner, and set out our racing shoes and race-day outfits. Before falling asleep I remember going over every mile of the race in my head to visualize the race course and mentally prepare for the race. I felt ready and I knew I was ready.
Saturday morning I woke up a little before 7 oclock, ate my usual pre-race meal (toast with peanut butter and banana) and put on my “galaxy” spandex and a purple shirt (I would later change into a blue-ish tank top for the race). We got to the race and met up with a few friends and did a 2 mile warm–up. During this 2-mile warm-up we also found a few other friends we knew which was exciting!
The race started at 8:45 so we got to the starting line around 8:35 and claimed our spot. This year I decided to sneak a little closer to the front so I wouldn’t have to weave through baby strollers or kids that had sprinted the first 100m of the race. I stood about 5 rows back and could see my dad and former coach in the very front of the running field. A four mile race was ahead of us with uphills, downhills, sprinklers, and plenty of local spectators. And then the race official counted down “3-2-1-GO!”
The field of runners took off. I settled in with my friend, Catherine, who also decided she was going to pace me during the race. (THANK YOU, CATHERINE, FOR BEING THE BEST RACE PACER EVER! – I LOVE YOU!) Since the first mile is mostly flat (and maybe even slightly downhill) we went out a tad bit faster than we probably should have. We crossed the mile marker at 6:29 and a huge hill was waiting for us a half-mile down the road. We both knew the first mile was extremely fast but we didn’t say anything to each other. In our heads, we just pretended we didn’t even see 6:29.
Then the hill came. This isn’t some miniature hill that only takes a total of 6 second to climb. This is a quarter-mile hill to nowhere. Luckily, thanks to former cross country speed workouts I was used to this hill. This is the hill we did 800m repeats on. This is where we all became stronger hill runners. So I felt mentally prepared for this hill and knew that at the top I would have a 200m downhill to recover. At the top, I took a deep breath and used the downhill to catch my breath.
Mile 2 we ran a 7:05. This is proof that we went out too hard. But I knew that if I could hold this pace I would still PR by a lot. Mile 2 to mile 3 is also a slight uphill. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, this is the hill I always forget about because the only hill I “worry” about is the big hill. This is where I really started feeling that 6:29 first mile. I complained every so often to Catherine that I felt horrible. But she got me to the top of the hill and got me refocused to finish the race strong.
Mile 3 was even slower than mile 2. 7:35. Well, shoot. I made some noise of recognition that I was dissatisfied with a 7:35 mile split. But we had a mile to go. A mile left to break my time from two years ago. A mile of people lined up along the race course to cheer on runners they knew and runners they didn’t know. And that’s what got me to the finish line. That finally turns onto Broadway sends a rush of adrenaline. Yes, there’s still three-quarters of a mile left when you make that final turn but you also know that the finish line is closer than it was 2 miles ago. So Catherine and I picked it up a bit. And then maybe some more – I don’t really remember. We crossed over the railroad tracks which is when you have a direct view of the finish line 200m in front of you. The end was near!
Something in my head, or in my legs, or maybe even in my heart told me to give it all I got. To sprint. To push beyond what I thought were my limits. But limits don’t really exist. Because I told myself that I wasn’t going to let the guy beside me beat me. And he was telling himself that he wasn’t going to let me beat him. So we sprinted. And I pushed beyond the limits that I thought were in my head. And I out-sprinted him. And THANK GOODNESS I sprinted. Because by out-sprinting that guy by miliseconds, I achieved my goal of being in the top 70. I finished exactly 70th.
I don’t remember seeing the finishing clock. I forgot to stop my watch. I was just excited I out-sprinted someone for once in my life. I was handed a water bottle which I think I took rather drunkenly because I couldn’t catch my breath. I finally looked at my watch and saw 28:12. That’s a PR! I thanked Catherine for pacing me and being awesome as usual. Teammates look out for each other and I wouldn’t have ran so well if she wasn’t by my side the whole time pushing me beyond the limits in my head.
I found my mom and mommom who had been anxiously waiting at the finish line. And we cheered in all the runners we knew. Even my five-year old “cousin” finished. And he was smiling the whole time! Overall, the race was an awesome experience. My official time (since I had forgotten to stop my watch) was 28:08 which is officially a minute and 27 seconds faster than my previous best time. This is a goal I had control over because this goal depended on my ability to push myself beyond what I thought was possible. And I was able to do just that by focusing on the goal and believing in my strength. Two of my other goals were to improve my 12th overall female placing from last year and be in the top 70. Both of these goals were completely out of my control because there was no possible way for me to count 69 people ahead of me or how many females were ahead of me. But I knew that if I ran a PR, I would have a chance of achieving both these goals. I finished as the 7th overall female and 70th overall (out of 831 finishers). Therefore, I achieved all my goals which is the best feeling in the world!
I ran another 2 mile cool down discussing the race and life with Angela. This was a perfect way to end the morning and celebrate our running success for the day! That night we had family and friends over for our traditional 4th of July BBQ. So too much food. Lots of fun. And some illegal fireworks.
Fourth of July has always been one of my favorite holidays and every year brings something new. Whether it’s new friends, old friends, family inside jokes, or just plain ‘ol new memories this weekend always makes me appreciate everything that I have in my life. I’m extremely grateful for all my friends for always being there for me. I love the running community that I am a part of and will continue to be a part of as it continues to expand. I love my family more than anything and without them I wouldn’t be the person I am today. And I have a love for this country and my freedom to make all these memories.
I hope everyone had a safe and memorable 4th of July weekend! Until next year, folks!
Since 4th of July is a mere two days away, I decided I should make a post about the traditional 4 mile 4th of July race that I have raced a total of six times. My dad has been running this race since it started 34 years ago. He has ran every race except for a few due to either extreme heat (the race went on but he opted to not race) and crazy summer storms. My uncle on the other hand, has indeed ran every race since it started – I think that’s quite an accomplishment and I applaud him for it! I actually raced in this local premier running race in 1997 (if not before then) – when I was a mere 3 years old. No, I didn’t run. My dad pushed me in the running stroller. And we have pictures to prove it! (see below)
This isn’t a walk-in-the-park 4 mile race. Mile 2 is basically one giant hill. And if you go out too hard on the first mile, this hill will destroy every ounce of energy you have in the tank. And mile 3 is just a continuous gradual incline. I always picture mile 3 as relatively flat because I usually only mentally prepare myself for mile 2’s huge hill. But every year, (it never fails), I get to mile 3 and instantly remember that, yes, this straight road is a gradual incline to the next turn. What’s great about this race is that local residents set up sprinklers and water tables for us runners to cool off with. And 4th of July never fails to be a scorcher so I’m always running through the sprinklers to cool off and dumping cups of water on my head to refocus. I believe these little qualities make this race special and that’s why I look forward to it every year.
I also love this race because a lot of family and friends also participate in it. Every year the amount of people I know in this race continues to grow. It also has become somewhat of a social event because of this. I absolutely love 4th of July morning because of this race and it gives me something to look forward to to start my day off right!
I found all my previous finishing times and places which have shown significant improvement since I started running this race in 2008. Let’s take a walk run down memory lane.
2008 – time: 41:24, 178th overall female, 510th overall runner (10:21/mile pace) (yes, I was as slow as a turtle back in the day)
2009 – time: 35:24, 86th overall female, 348th overall runner (average 8:51/mile pace) (that was a 6 minute PR!)
2010 – I didn’t race this year because the race was moved to July 5th and I had to complete my Behind-the-Wheel driving lessons to get my permit on the same day…I was disappointed!
2012 – time: 30:07, 14th overall female, 103rd overall runner (average 7:31/mile pace) (2 minute and 23 second PR) (side story: this is the year that I almost threw-up my breakfast in the finishing corral…oops)
(side story: this is the year that I almost passed out after the race; I think I was on the verge of heat exhaustion because I was shaky, light-headed, and I felt cold even though it was 90 degrees out…thanks to Angela’s mom (who also happens to be a nurse) I was properly taken care of and I am forever grateful for that!…I ended up throwing up about 45 minutes after I finished the race…but racing hard was sooo worth the aftermath!)
2014 – the course was slightly altered due to construction so the race ended up being 4.3 miles instead of 4 miles.
time: 30:42, 12th overall female, 83rd overall runner (average 7:08/mile pace) (mathematically speaking, if the course was the accurate 4 mile course I had ran so many time before, I would’ve ran a 28:33 and PR’d by 1 minute and 2 seconds…BUT the course was different so it doesn’t count!)
So in conclusion, if you couldn’t keep up with all my number-crunching, I finished my first 4 mile 4th of July race in 2008 in 41:24. Two years ago, in 2013, I finished the same course in 29:35. That’s an 11 minute and 49 second difference. That shows that hard work truly does pay off and I encourage everyone to believe in their abilities to be faster, to work towards that PR, and have lots of fun along the way!
This year, I haven’t done much except for endurance runs so I’m not expecting a huge PR but I do hope to run faster than the 29:35 I ran 2 years ago. The course is back to it’s traditional route so it will be a fair playing field for an attempt at a PR. A few days ago on a training run, my dad and I ran our 3rd mile in 6:54 so I’m confident that I have some kind of speed left in me. I also hope to improve my 12th overall female finish from last year. It would be awesome to be in the top 70 of the race.
I’m confident in my ability to push harder, longer, and faster this year.
I’m focused on the race & I know what the course has to offer.
And I can’t wait to see old and new friends at the race participating in yet another traditional 4th of July race!
Happy 4th of July, runners! May you celebrate with a race, run, or some refreshing drinks and tasty food – or all of the above!