Hello again intrepid runners. It's been a long time since my last posting back in February - brrrr, that's one winter I'm happy is over! I should have stayed in Europe.
When I got home, I had cancelled my gym membership and although I got outside for some runs with the local Trail Apes as they call themselves, some days it was just nicer to stay indoors and forget about that run. As things began to thaw out it felt good to be back on solid footing and my training was just ticking over with no big mileage increases or real race plans. A race becomes real when you've paid for it.
I was really tempted by Sulphur Springs as my first race of the season and figured perhaps the 50km rather than 50 mile this year. Then, the 50km sold out leaving me with one option. I really didn't think I had the fitness and the week before did a 1/2 marathon on the trails and decided no, I didn't think I could do the same distance again 3 more times racing and felt good about my decision.
In the last few weeks I had contacted one of my running buddies, Jack Kilislian, since I knew he was entered in the 100 miler, to ask if he'd like a pacer. I've never paced anybody in a race before and thought it might be interesting - no stress, be part of the event, enjoy the atmosphere and help out a fellow runner. Jack said that he normally runs these on his own but that it would be nice to have me as a pacer in the later stages and just to be aware he quite possibly could be a cranky runner by that stage.
I didn't get back to him as I still had thoughts about entering the 50 miler on my own and then the day before figured I'd head up to the event after work on Saturday May 23rd. It was great. I didn't have to get worked up, slept great the night before, didn't have to worry about what I was going to take, etc. and I felt very relaxed about the whole thing with no real plan, other than to show up and pace Jack if he wanted me still.
Arriving at Sulphur Springs Ready to Pace
I arrived and there were still lots of cars and as I'm organizing what things to take over to the start/finish line I see a lady in the car next to me putting on her finishing medal. I asked her which distance she did and congratulated her on her 50km success. We got talking and then a guy comes to her car and I get introduced to him as Sean, and we're talking and he says his wife is in first place. I say, oh, maybe I know her and he says it's Michelle Leduc. Yes, of course I know Michelle!
Back in 2012 her and I met in the final km of the Run for the Toad 50km. I caught up and passed her, and then she passed me, and I caught up once again and said to her, 'You're going to make me work for this, aren't you!' to which she replied 'Damn right!' with a big smile. So we fought hard in the final meters and here is a sequence of photos showing us having a great final challenge leading into the home stretch.
After that we sat down and she told me about her race and that she was from Ottawa, etc. as we warmed up in the marquee. After that we went our separate ways and I saw her several years later at Dirty Girls. I was doing the 48 hour and she did the 24 hour and she flew past me and obviously had been training hard. She had gained a personal trainer in Ottawa, Laura Perry (at the time), who is hardcore and wins ultras outright.
Getting back to the parking lot he says, what are you doing here, and I say I figure I'll pace someone and he perks right up and says, really! I've been trying to find a pacer for her. She really wants one and I said, sure, I'd love to. We talk a bit longer and then I say I'll see them both once I get changed. I was told Michelle was due to be back at the start in about 30-40 minutes.
I got changed, got my stuff together and headed over and saw many familiar faces. Ron with his wife Barbara were intently checking results on his 50 mile race. Well done Ron! Then I chatted to Chris McPeake about his struggles in the Spring with colds followed by bronchitis. He did the 50km I believe but could have been 50 miler and was still hoping to be able to run Western States later in the year which of course is a huge race and a bucket list race for many runners so I hope that goes well for him. Then I saw the familiar Boultbee sisters and Steven Parke who had run the 50km with Rhonda (a legally blind runner who I had helped run on one of the days of her epic Bruce Trail run last summer). Steven then paced Clay Williams on the 100 miler I believe and was out for something like 134km.
Sean found me and I put my stuff in the marquee and then ran into Jack Kilislian coming in from one of his laps. His kit bags and chair were nicely placed right at the top of the hill and he asked if I was there to pace him and I felt kind of guilty telling him I'd agreed to pace Michelle for her two laps but would pace him on one after that if he'd like. He was easy going about it and said that would be great and we'll catch up later. Off he went and I stood there for a bit until Sean came over. We talked and he said she'll be coming up soon and has a blue top and off he went to get prepared for her pit stop.
A few minutes later up the hill comes Michelle looking just like I remember and she says to me, 'ALEX! What are you doing here? Are you running?' I said, 'I'm here to pace you' and she looked like she just won the lottery and hugged me. She was smiling from ear to ear and I felt really happy that I'd agreed to help her out. She had run 75 miles already and with night approaching spirits can really drop when you are exhausted and alone and the pace can take a hit also.
Pacing Michelle Leduc
She followed the cones past the finish mat and I head into the big marquee to meet her and her husband while they sort her out on a short pit-stop and then off we go. I was well aware that she was likely not going to want to talk and we caught up quickly and started into the course. I was a bit nervous about pacing having never done it before and not sure the best strategy but I guess every runner is different in what they want from a pacer and it's up to the pacer to take the cue from their runner. Michelle was friendly throughout, very affable, and I tried to tell stories sometimes, I even sang a stupid song (short thankfully) to keep her spirits up. The way we ran initially was mostly me beside her and I know the course intimately and was able to tell her what was coming to help encourage/motivate her. This became extremely helpful I think after it got dark.
The pace for me thankfully was ok to maintain and I was really impressed Michelle was still keeping up a sub 2:30 lap pace (12.5 miles/loop). We always offered words of encouragement to our fellow runners who were either 100 milers with their pacers, or 100 milers on their own, or 100 mile relay runners who were easy to spot since they were flying by.
I ran into Kimberley Van Delst also coming up the final hill and gave her a hug of encouragement. I had initially asked to pace both her and Richard Takata but Kimberley said they would likely run it together. Unfortunately that didn't happen by the point I saw her and as often happens, they each ran their own race. Kimberley did well until the end of lap 5 where she had developed very large blisters between her toes and walked in the last 3 laps to get the coveted 100 mile buckle.
Unfortunately Richard's race ended early but he is a fighter and will be back for plenty of other races this summer. We passed him walking on our lap 7 and I gave him a hug and words of encouragement also. I'd not seen him since last year and it was great to see him also.
The one other person I recall was Rich Humber who I had trained with about 3 years ago when I was doing the 50 miler for my first time and he was doing his first 100. He finished that one, took a year off after it and came back last year to do the 100 and had a DNF on that one, like I faced in the 50 miler. At one of the aid stations I ran into him and we hugged and it was really nice to see him and at the point I saw him he looked happy and focused so I hope the rest of his race went well.
Back to Michelle and I. . . I really felt lap 7 went well and I believe we finished in 2:25 or thereabouts. We turned our headlights on about 1/2 way around the lap and I was surprised by the number of raccoon's our headlights found with their eyes flashing back at us. By this point I'd taken the lead and would run about 10 feet ahead of Michelle and she would concentrate on my steps only and keep up whatever pace I set. I was mindful of how she would be feeling but wanted her to keep up the good pace she'd maintained and of course keep her in the lead position. I'd gauge the hill and give her an opportunity to walk up. Her stomach on the first lap was quite upset and she had to make a pit stop at one of the aid stations. I'd stop and turn around and focus my light on any tricky section but mostly that kind of aid came on lap 8. On lap 7 she was really well focused and came into the start/finish looking really good I thought.
On Lap eight I could see her legs were getting rubbery and when she walked she was weaving a bit but once she got back into a running gait she was back into the groove. I knew she was in alot of pain and unfortunately on this lap she had two spills in the dirt which bloodied her knees even further. I squirted on some water and dusted her off to make sure she was ok and decided I'd stick closer and told her I'd point out rocks or roots.
That seemed to work well and she seemed to be getting a bit wonky mentally and would yell out 'root, rock' after I called it out to her, I guess to make sure her mind absorbed what her feet needed to do to avoid the obstacle. I was really proud of her and really was amazed at what 3 years of training can do for some people. She has put in a lot of hard work and was going to win her first 100 mile race! The winning guy had passed us on lap 7 and was really scared she was going to come flying by, he later admitted.
I was turning around more often on this lap, lighting up the way, telling her uplifting things and she was counting down the things she knew were coming up - bridge, hill, road, aid station. . . It was a good temperature and I only felt slightly chilled a few times but it was a perfect evening for running.
We had lost time on the final lap but I was instructed she wanted a sub 19 hour and we had 3 hours to do it and I knew from our pace that she was well on target for that. On the final hill we finally turned the corner and there were spectators camped out in the dark on the hill who started clapping and saying well done and Michelle was so happy to almost be done. I told her to run and get that medal and left her for the final meters to savoir her 100 mile victory and the clock was 18 hours 28 minutes. I walked around the side to the finish where she was in a deep embrace with her husband which was a lovely moment and quite a few people there also to cheer her in and people taking photos. It was a great few minutes. After she'd had her time with her husband she saw me and gave me a big warm hug and thanked me profusely. She said she would have got it done but never as fast without my help and it really meant a great deal to me, being able to help her achieve a first 100 mile, a first win, and the second fastest female time on that course - and the fastest was set by her coach!
After being by the finish we were feeling a little chilled and and headed to the marquee to get her something warmer on. As we were talking, Jack came running by and I called out asking if he wanted me to pace him and he said no. I was a bit taken aback and thought maybe he does want me and grabbed my headlight and ran over to his kit bag but he'd already started his decent down the hill. I would definitely have paced him on that lap but I was inside kind of happy because I was tired. Sorry Jack but congratulations on your medal.
So there you have it. My first time pacing. It was really special to help someone and see them through difficult moments and offer encouragement. I liked the experience alot. Here is a photo of Michelle only minutes after her win. I can't believe she looks so fresh. She was on a high for a good 30 minutes after this and it was well deserved. Congratulations Michelle :)
After this I headed back to the car and drove home. When I woke I was thinking about the night before and also about the runners who even then were out on the course still completing their 100 mile journeys. Congratulations to all of them.
|2nd place - 1st place female - 18 hours 28 minutes! Awesome job and looks totally fresh!|
|At the car organizing my kit before pacing duties with Michelle.|
|Back at the car with the lock of hair I always carry until I'm with my love again|
My next race? Well, I may do Niagara 50km but have not entered, and I am entered in the 100km Laura Secord in July. Honestly though I'm not that stressed about this season and have other priorities in my life now. I look forward to seeing the people I know and hope all your running is going well also.
Take care for now.
Alex (aka The Running Dude).