Thursday, February 11, 2010

Rocky Pacer's Reports

I was interested in the Race Report from the point of view of the Pacer/Crew so, I asked my crew if they would write something about the race from their point of view.  Below you will find reports from the crew, my notes will be in purple

First up: Marny (Picture on the right)
If you have some time head to the Marny link and read her entire blog on the race, it is awesome.  She did a great job of capturing the whole race.
Tara came in to mile 60 just after 6PM so she was still on pace. The goal was to pace her to run the 100 miles in under 24 hours. We had plenty of leeway. When we started running together, Tara told me she had been walking all the hills. As a pacer it was my job to remember this and to start walking when we approached a hill. Tara and I had different definitions of "hill" and I kept forgetting to walk them. Luckily, she was not too far gone to remind me. It grew dark a few minutes into the run. As night fell, things got hard. Tara needed more and more walk breaks. After several minutes of walking, I worried that the whole loop might be this way. I had to get her moving faster, not just for the sub 24 hour goal, but just for the sake of not being out there so incredibly long. I asked her to run again and she agreed so I started to play around with different run/walk intervals. 4 minutes jogging to 1 minute walking seemed the most feasible, but even that was hard to keep up after awhile. We were moving slow, but we were moving. The one thing Tara didn't do was stop. At one point I looked at her face and she just looked so tired, so sad and so down. The mom in me wanted to scoop her up and carry her to bed, tuck her in and let her fall into the sleep her body was so forcefully pulling her toward. But out in the middle of the woods, that wasn't an option. I kept glancing at my Garmin. "Run....Walk....Run.....Walk...." I glanced back every now and then, but mostly just listened to her quiet shuffle. I listened to the rustling of her Honey Stinger packages and the sucking sound of her hydration pack and when several minutes had passed without those sounds I reminded her to eat and drink. The chews were making her stomach hurt. I wanted to say "Ok, forget them" but they were all we had until the next aid station. She didn't want to eat, but she did anyway, knowing it was the only way to keep moving. Pacing Tara was a lot different than I expected. I thought we would talk, laugh and sing the night away. I knew there would be hard times, but I didn't expect the whole 20 miles to be so brutal. Maybe I was a boring pacer. I threw out a few stories and anecdotes where she politely laughed, or grunted her acknowledgment, but for the most part I just said "Run....Walk....Run...Walk..." Maybe I didn't come through on the entertainment portion of pacing. Maybe it was Stage Fright. Maybe I just didn't have enough material. Maybe it was the stress of Miles before us and the solemness of Night, but nothing seemed like the right thing to say. Except "Run....Walk....Run....Walk..." After a couple hours of being on the Run/Walk schedule, I realized it was still early and that Tara was still on pace for a sub-24 hour run. I told her this and she brightened a bit. There was a renewed energy now that the original goal was still up for grabs. I asked her if she still wanted it and of course she did. I wanted to allow Tara at least six hours to do the last lap. I felt this would make the goal more realistic. I knew the last lap would be the hardest, which meant it would also be the slowest. To make room for that, we had to pick up the pace again. I'm sure picking up the pace seemed like the worst idea in the world to Tara, as she had already resorted to the "survivor's shuffle" and there was nothing left in her legs. But she was down with it! We had an hour and a half to get back to the finish line by midnight, thus giving her 6 hrs for the last loop. My eyes stayed glued to the Garmin the entire time. "Walk..Run..Walk..Run.." That last 90 minutes flew by for me because I was so focused on time and intervals. Tara kept on eating and drinking, but now only on my recommendation. She was focused on moving and that was it. We made it to the start/finish/turnaround area a few minutes after midnight as planned, and the crew was waiting with warm clothes.
Marny was awesome, she kept me focused and moving.  She did an awesome job on a very difficult leg of the race and she kept telling me the next leg would be easier and somehow that made it so much better.  Later on she told me she knew the last leg would be even worse but she thought the little lie might keep my spirits up and she was right. 

From Tracey (Picture on the Right):
I really was not sure what to expect when I signed up to crew for Rocky. I just knew Tara was doing something amazing and I was lucky to be a part of it. Looking back on it now, I think we should have had some plans for if things got bad. I have read many race reports and knew that most of the time there were problems, but I just never thought more about it. When night fell we knew we had to have her change clothes, but we ONLY planned for her to be running. So we sent Tara out in the woods to freeze for the next 6 hours when her legs started to get tired. We then got her dressed better, but by this point she was exhausted. The next three miles were the hardest 3 miles of my life, and I am still shocked at how fast things got bad.

When we took off from the start she wanted was doing good. She was still shooting for the sub 24 hours and we planned on a walk run. We started off walking then she wanted to try a run, about 30 seconds later she said no running. She decided at this point that the goal would have to be to finish, the sub 24 was not going to happen. Her legs were shot after the last 80 miles. I really started to worry when our pace kept slowing down and she started not understanding what I would say at times.  She told me she was tired and needed a nap, but I was so worried if she slept she would not want to get up or her legs would lock up, so I told her she needed to consider that. I finally convinced me that she had to nap or there was no chance of finishing when she fell asleep walking. Her feet stopped and she started to lean on me. I pulled her forward and told her that she had to keep moving and that she could nap soon, we were almost to the next aid station. All we had to do was get to the next station and she could sleep. When we finally came around that corner and I saw the lights for the station, I cannot even tell you how thrilled I was. Tara you scared the crap out of me!

I think as a first time crew we did well, but there are things we could have done better. We should have planned for a slower pace at night which would mean warmer clothes. When the Ensure gave her a wonky stomach we should have some peanut butter to give her. There are a few things that would have made this easier on her and I hope that one day I will have the chance to try to do better for her. Poor Tracey got stuck with me when I bonked and when I say bonked I mean it.  I ran out of gas totally and completely it was all we could do to walk those 3 miles and get to the car for a nap.

From Bethany (picture on the right):
I got to Huntsville a day later than the rest of the crew, and Tara had already started racing, so the first time I met her was after 40 miles. She was doing great—good pace, good form, good spirits. We switched out her gear at the start/finish and sent her back out. I tried to rest for a few hours because I knew, even in the best case scenario, I was in for a long night—little did I know how long! The girls got me up around 8:30 and we headed back to the course, where Marny was out with Tara, pacing her on miles 61-80.

Luckily, Marny had her cell phone on her because the day started taking its toll on Tara. Her pace slowed, Marny said they were walking a lot more, and the temp had dropped a lot from earlier in the day. In retrospect, this is the point where we should have taken a good look at what Tara was eating and realized that she needed more “real” food, especially protein—most important lesson learned for next time! Marny and Tara made it back to the start/finish around midnight and we added a layer of tights and a shirt for Tara (another lesson learned—should have added more layers earlier. We knew her body wasn’t keeping itself warm and she could always take them off later, if needed.) Marny was a rock star and did an amazing job of getting her and Tara through what was arguably the toughest loop on the course.

Tara set out with Tracey for what would turn out to be the longest 5K any of us had ever experienced! Cathy, Marny and I waited at the aid station for her, watching other runners come and go—there was a guy who only spoke Spanish and tried to converse with one of the aid station workers who spoke Portuguese, a smokin’ hot guy who came in and brightened our night for a few minutes, and a lady who seriously had to be 70 years old and was rockin’ an ultra marathon! We got there about 45 minutes after Tracey and Tara had set out, and watched the time closely—50 minutes, 55, 60, 65, 70….at 70 we started getting a little nervous.

Finally, about 80 minutes after they left the start line, we saw two lights moving slowly through the trees. Tara’s bright green jacket and Tracey’s red shirt slowly came in to view and we finally saw them shuffling along. The first words out of Tracey’s mouth were “We’re going to take a nap” and we all sprang into action. Tracey and Tara checked Tara out of the course and made sure it was ok for her to leave, Marny, Cathy and I helped Tara down the stairs and into the car. Tara was literally asleep on her feet and we basically carried her down the stairs and helped her into the car. While we talked strategy for the next step of the race, Tara’s teeth started chattering, she was shivering and mumbling incoherently. So we high-tailed it to the medical tent. Marny went for help, I grabbed a sleeping bag and bear suits, and Mama Cathy climbed in back with Tara to help warm her up. For a group of five women who had never met in person until 24 hours before, I think we worked together amazingly well.
Ohhh I forgot that I got to snuggle with Cathy :).  I have never been so cold in my entire life, it felt like my stomach was going to shake its way out of my abdomen.

The medic who came to help was no brain surgeon, but she checked Tara out and basically said if we got her warmed up and rested, and got some food in her, she should be fine to return to the course. Tara napped for a couple minutes on and off, we got her to eat some broth and potatoes, and then drove back to the aid station where she had left the course. She got close to an hour of good sleep once she warmed up. We did the math (several times, in fact!) to figure out how long she could sleep and still finish the race without having to push the pace too fast on her tired legs.

At about 3:50 am, Tara and I set out, knowing we would have to cover each mile in about 27 minutes in order to finish by the noon cut-off. Other than that, the pace plan was flexible—we would walk for a while to warm up and loosen Tara’s legs up, and then maybe try jogging. We hit the aid station at Dam Road (now known as DAMN Road to Team Ul-Tara!) at about 4:55 am, just under 22 minute/mile pace so I knew we were in good shape. Soon after that, Tara felt up to trying to jog a little—she took two steps and that was the end of that. Her legs were done.

Everyone had told me how much the Damn Road loop sucked but I just kept thinking, it’s 6 miles, how bad can it be? Let me tell you how bad it can be—crazy bad. I kept trying to think of ways to motivate Tara and it was like my brain was just numb. We would talk for a couple minutes and then just concentrate on getting up the next rise.  Did I mention it was cold? The temperature had dropped to the upper 30’s and it was freakin’ cold, which couldn’t have been helping Tara’s legs at all. But we pushed on and I almost cried tears of joy when we saw the lights of the tent at the 9 mile point of the loop (six miles and halfway through the leg I was doing with Tara). After that (I think it was a little after 6 am) it started to get better—we knew the sun was coming up soon and the sky started getting lighter. We got to the dam just as the sun was coming up, and it was gorgeous—a light mist on the water, two guys out on the water in a fishing boat…and only about a mile back to the Damn Road aid station. After climbing down the dam, backwards, we got to the aid station about 7:20, still hitting about a 23 minute/mile pace.

At that point, we knew that Tara’s finish was a lock—she had 8 miles to go and four and a half hours to do it. Worst case scenario, she could have crawled to the finish line! There was still one particularly long, straight stretch of road that was brutally long, and would have been much better traveled in the dark so we couldn’t see just how long it was. But we made it to the next aid station at about 8:40 and I handed Tara over to Mama Cathy for the finish.

We all walked a little ways onto the course to meet Tara and Cathy and walk her into the finish together. With help, Tara sat down and flashed the best smile I’ve ever seen, holding up her buckle for the camera.

I can’t even begin to describe how impressed I am with Tara’s achievement, and how lucky I feel to have been a part of it. All the Running Moms were so supportive throughout the whole weekend, with emails, Facebook posts, thoughts, and prayers, and I’m just so lucky to have found such a great group of women.

Lessons learned:
-Go with our gut as far as switching out equipment, etc—if we know she should change her socks, gloves, etc, or put on more layers, make sure she does it. It won’t hurt anything to have her switch out or add more gear, and it will probably benefit her and prevent problems later.
-Make sure she’s eating real food. Have small containers of peanut butter, diced chicken breast, cup of chili, etc
-A longer time in the rest area later in the day might be beneficial—don’t hurry her back out onto the course, but make sure she takes a couple minutes to eat substantial food, get dressed, etc.
Bethany was awesome.  She kept me marching for 12.5 miles.  I can't remember all that we talked about but I remember that it was so nice to talk and just think about something besides how freakin bad each step hurt.  She kept me walking at an 18 mm pace which I think as pretty dang good for that point in the race.


Bethany said...

I still feel awful that I didn't talk to you more!! I have a whole list of questions and topics for Lone Ranger to keep you going :)

Anonymous said...

As I said in the earler post/blog/report Tara had the ULTARA CREW of CAFE MOM's for her ROCKY RACOON UNLTRA. Thank you. Tara's Mom XOXO