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Pacer report by Thorbjorn Pedersen
Coming into the weekend of February 4-5, the weather forecast promised an exciting weekend. A promise that was kept. It would be nice and cool at night and the trails were in perfect conditions. Yes, it was going to be a weekend for some great experiences for most. I brought my son, Trevor with me to the event, but due to his commitments, we could not arrive till early Saturday afternoon. I had promised to help out with glow sticks and do trail cleaning after the race, plus I would add in some aid station work if it could fit around my pacer job for first time 100 miler Lynn Ballard from NTTR, Dallas. As it turned out, I would not have time for aid station work. After a restocking trip, I only had a short wait for Lynn to finish his third loop, before he and I could share forty miles of fun on the dark forest trails.
It was a great experience to pace Lynn. We hardly knew each other from before the race, but found a great connection focusing on a common goal, getting him to the finish line as safe, sound and as fast as possible. When I arrived at the park with Trevor, all the glow stick crews were already full, so Trevor and I were sent to Wal-Mart for extra supplies. On the way out we stopped at the highway aid station, just in time to see Lynn come in. We talked briefly and he checked his pace chart. It looked like he had already missed his super dream target of 24 hours and was right now on his 25 hour pace table. He still had a 26 hour backup table handy, just in case.
When I returned from Wal-Mart, the weather was great and I had not spent time on my legs setting out glow sticks, so I felt I could give those miles to Lynn instead. Therefore, to Lynns surprise there was a pacer waiting for him at the start of his 4th loop and we went to work right away to secure his 25 hour finish.
I checked for vital signals of my runner. He was clear in his head, focused on his goal and he was moving easily and steadily. We talked about pace and found a pattern with me in front talking about this and that, while setting a pace where Lynn could hang on to a reasonable opening between us. If I felt Lynn was falling behind I would encourage him to grab my virtual bungee cord, I had hanging behind me. And for the walks up the hills we talked about the importance of walking with purpose and not lose momentum. It worked great and by the time we reached the first aid station at the highway we had our little mile and minute grinding machine working perfectly. Lynn could keep a pace that allowed us to eat competitor after competitor. I quickly lost track of how many, but I would say around thirty to thirty five over his last two loops. And our machine was so well oiled that when we were approaching the straight down hill into the finish line on the fourth loop, Lynn had worked himself back on his 24 hour schedule. To give him a bit of teaser to keep up the motivation, I talked about the sub 24 hour buckle. To my surprise, Lynn did not know what that meant. However, when he realized finishing sub 24 hour was something really special I could sense the energy and motivation went up a couple of degrees.
Loop five started grim. His pacer made a huge boo boo. I lost track of him at the start finish area. I was finishing the last drops of my soup and posed for a picture for Joe (RD), while Lynn rushed to get a cup of Coke. When I went to go out with Lynn, I could not find him. I started to look around and ask if anyone had seen him go out again. No one had. I checked again before racing out and up the trail. When I got to the first down hill, I saw some runners come toward me and asked them if they had seen a runner just pass them with a white head lamp and a green handheld flash light, a serious 9 LED green light. No, they had not seen a runner go out. I should have known better, since they looked like they were approaching the zombie state. Anyway I trusted their words and rushed back to see if Lynn was still in the start finish area, maybe visiting one of the little green houses lined up along the parking area. No Lynn. Dang, I started to panic and knew I had messed up royally. At that time I had lost 15 minutes since Lynn left. I took off as fast as I could to catch Lynn, but still worrying that he could be somewhere else, but where? On the other hand, I figured that the way I had paced Lynn on loop four I would catch him soon and I could help him get back on pace again. Boy, was I wrong. As I was running toward the highway aid station and got closer without catching Lynn, I started to worry about what to do if he was not there. I checked thoroughly every runner that I saw run toward me. And I almost stopped every runner with a white head lamp and a green flash light. I could feel the panic build, what if Lynn was behind me and in trouble? What a stupid and failed pacer I would be. But as I was a few hundred yards from the aid station, I saw a white and green light start to walk toward me eating some noodle soup.
Lynn had taken off and assumed I would catch him at some point, but he was now determined to bolster that 24 hour finish. He had run the section to the highway aid station almost as fast as the fourth loop with me pacing him, prodding him to walk faster and with purpose up those hills. I told him how proud I was of him that he had done the same alone. He replied with a grin, that he had not been alone, but I had been there all the way in his head, repeating all my commands and encouragements from the fourth loop.
Now loop five was onto to a race. Lynn was not being paced, he became the pacer. Loop four had been a catalyst for Lynn and something had clicked inside him. If it was the chance of winning the special sub 24 hour buckle or the phone call to his wife before going out on this last loop. Whatever it was, Lynn was on fire. Here and there on the up hills I would tell him to remember walking with purpose. Otherwise it was Lynn who set a fantastic 5th loop pace. Not many runners, let alone first time 100 milers would run five loops at 4 hour, 3 times 4 1/2 hour and 5 hour. But Lynn did. When we had our way around to the lake again, coming up to the dam and saw the start finish area across the lake, Lynn looked at his watch and saw it was 3:30 AM. He then asked me if we could finish in an hour and a half. I answered "Maybe". But there were no maybes in Lynn's mind and he bolted down the trail and I could barely hang on. Only on the up hills did I have a chance to catch a breather. On the down hills Lynn was a master, flying over roots and rocks. Out of aid station 174, we had about thirty minutes till 5 AM and Lynn went for it as hard as he could. At times a bit too ambitious for his legs going on 97 miles plus. There were a few stumbles that scared me, but Lynn was up and roaring ahead each time. At the Interpretation Center Lynn found some jet fuel he had held in reserve and sprinted down the trail. That long down hill should be easy running, but at the pace Lynn was up to, I had a hard time not falling out of balance. Literally, Lynn was sprinting. I could barely catch him on the short up hills and on the last up hill just before one goes through the low trees and turn left for the straight down to the finish area, there was no way for me to catch Lynn. I only saw his light a couple of hundred yards ahead of me going down the straight and eventually I could hear the screams and roars of victory as Lynn had passed the finish line. It was so great to see his face. I knew how good it felt for him and how happy he was. Finishing his first 100 miler in 23:02 hours was outstanding. And crushing his 25 and 24 hour pace tables on his last two loops showed that a lot more will be seen from Lynn in the future. What a great runner and what a gentleman to run with. For me it had been a pleasure all the way, even with the imposing cramps in my hamstrings at the last down hill from the Interpretation Center. It had been a great experience passing on some of the favors I have received over the years as a trail runner. The pacing I had received from great runners like Letha Cruthirds and Mark Henderson, had taught me a lot and I did my best to share some of what I had learned. It felt good to share and pacing forty miles felt almost as good as running the full race.
After some well needed rest, though I could not sleep despite Lynn had worn me out, I got up and helped some getting tables and chairs ready for breakfast. After the break fast and awards ceremony, Trevor and myself went out and cleaned the trail section from 174 backward toward the Dam Road aid station. The Tornados had left the 174 aid station area so clean that we could not see there had been an aid station with all its vigor and traffic. Great job. And all the aid station captains and their crews deserve big complements. There was not a glitch of any kind when Lynn and I would come into any of the aid stations. We received all the help we needed. The captains did an outstanding job getting their crews together and deliver an outstanding service to the runners. Thank you, thank you.
As a foot note I would like to honor those who did the real endurance job that weekend. I was reminded about that, when Trevor and I were about to leave at 3 PM Sunday. Joe and Joyce plus their super crew were getting all the stuff packed again after the race. It looked like a war zone, organized though, in front of the lodge. There was a buzz of activity. An activity, that had started already Wednesday/Thursday. Our whole running community is in debt to these people who unselfishly put on these great races for us again and again.