I was set to pace this one at the 2:00 spot but with the health issues I've been fighting, it was one of the races I dropped from. However, since I had already made arrangements for some of the pacers to spend the night at my sisters, I didn't think it was right that I didn't at least make the trip up. Besides, I really wanted to spend some time with my pacing family.
When I contacted our pace leader to give him the bad news, I did throw out the suggestion of having a pacer at the back of the pack running "sweep" or "clean up". This one stays at the back and makes sure everyone crosses with some encouragement and camaraderie. Sometimes when you are last, struggling, and ready to give up - if you have someone experienced to talk you through it, it becomes doable. We weren't sure if the race director would go for it, but we figured we would try anyway.
Friday afternoon, Kimberly picked me up in her big red truck, we grabbed Sheri and hit the road north for Logan. After much googling and a few turn around's, we found the park for packet pick up. The other girls got their bibs while I waited for Walter and to meet the race director. Once we/I explained our proposal, she was on board - and I was in!
After a ripping good time at the Firehouse with the group for dinner, us three ladies headed to my sissy's in Logan and bedded down for the night.
Look at the size of that pizza! Walter is there in the background to give some reference on it's size.
No, I didn't eat any of it. It was covered in cheese duh!
I did however, eat this delightful dessert.
As we waited for the buses in the morning, I really had no idea what to expect. A final finisher in a half marathon can come in anytime between 3 hours and 5 hours. It was a gamble. I didn't know if it would be all walking. If it would be fast walking or if it would be a combination of jogging/walking. Either way, I felt good about it and was determined to just get out there and see if I could shake some of my own self pity and attempt to help someone else. And to be honest, see how my body handles 13.1 easy miles.
waiting to load the bus in the am. Kimberly, me and Sheri
At the start I found my cute Kim A. and offered her good luck before I headed to the very back. As the gun went off, and the crowd started to move slowly forward, I looked around to see who had also put themselves in the back and tried to start noting faces in my head.
The first couple of miles were pretty much some leap frogging around as people stopped for the potties, jogged a bit or walked faster than others. It was clear that some racers, go into it with no intention of running at all. This seemed entirely foreign to me but it gave me something to think about until about mile 4.
At this point, distinct groups were off. The very two last people were a man named Matthew and a woman named Janiece. They weren't together but happened to be striking up a conversation as they walked. I jumped in alongside of them and got to chatting. This was Matthew's first half marathon and he admittedly wasn't as prepared as he should have been. He was starting to feel some aches and pains and had decided at the 6 mile mark that he was going to pull off and call it quits. We encouraged him to keep going a bit and not make that decision until he was really at the 6 miles.
We kept a fairly good walking pace but I noticed that we were coming up on a solo lady that hadn't been anywhere near that back when the gun when off. She was walking kind of funny and by her body language, looked quite miserable.
We easily caught up to her and as I approached her from behind, it was clear that she had had a bodily function accident. Matthew and Janiece said nothing but kept their same pace so was quickly past her. I hung back and tried to engage her in conversation.
She was pretty hesitant at first, and I don't blame her. HELLO! She was embarrassed and felt miserable. She told me she hoped that her husband had figured out she wasn't at the mouth of the canyon yet and come looking for her. Each step looked more and more miserable for her, so I pulled my phone out and told her we'd call her husband and he could come get her instead of her trying to get two more or miles further.
While we waited for him, I kept talking in attempts to put her at ease. I reminded her that those things happen to the best of us, we have no control over them, and really - it just meant she was "hardcore". I don't know if anything I said made her feel any better, but at least I would walk behind her when cars came down the canyon so no one else needed to see her cause of discomfort.
Her husband showed up, she crossed the street, offered a thanks and goodbye and quickly dashed off as fast as she would. I jogged lightly to catch up with Matthew and Janiece who were still the last of the pack. We walked together and talked. I mentioned to Matthew that I thought there might be a better pair of shoes out there for him. Talked some tricks for soreness and fatigue that hit you mid race, made sure we got water and kept on moving. He decided that he would go ahead and push it and finish. YAY!
Up ahead I could see a woman in white who also had not been part of the back of the pack at the start line. Based on her pace, I knew we were going to catch up and overtake her. As we approached and I caught her face, I could tell she was struggling and hurting. As I asked how she was doing, she looked at me with pained eyes and explained that her feet were "burning". I started jabbering in hopes of taking her mind of her aches and she tried very hard to keep the pace that Matthew and Janiece had set. After a mile, she looked over at me and said. "I can't keep these kinds of strides".
No problem, I shortened mine up to match hers better and we slowed it down. It was just now the two of us as the rest of the people ahead of us got further and further away. We were now long out of the canyon, the sun was up and it was starting to get warm. I could hear by her breathing that she was pushing. I kept talking. At one point, I joked about gabbing her ear off and she responded that she was grateful because it made the time go by and it kept her mind off her body hurting. So, talking I did!
As we hit each mile marker, I reminded her of how closer we were getting. When she expressed doubt she could finish, I tried to have her imagine herself at the finish line. Have her embrace the knowledge that no matter what - no one could ever take this accomplishment away from her. I told her that as she laid in bed tonight and tomorrow when she could barely walk, that should could remind herself that SHE DID IT.
The miles seemed to slip by and she struggled more and more physically. We took breaks in the shade, I showed her some simple stretches to relieve the cramping that was happening. We made sure to get water, gatorade and the last aid station had bananas so we downed those. As we continued forward talking and discussing ways to successfully finish and recover, I could see that she was close to tears.
I really felt for her. She shared her weight struggles, her health issues, and her desire to be fit. She knew that she had probably undertaken more than she was prepared for but she desperately wanted to finish. Again, we took breaks in the shade, little stretches to loosen up and moved forward.
With a half mile left, I could see Kimberly and Sheri walking towards us. I told Michelle - "Look, you have your own greeting party and cheering squad!" It was perfect timing. Just two more voices in her head telling her how awesome she was and encouraging her seemed to make a difference.
As we pulled in the chute to the finish line she turned to me and said, "I don't have to run through it will I? I won't like get disqualified?" After laughing, I told her no way, she could cross the finish line any way that she wanted to, just CROSS!
While all the other participants had long left and all that remained were race officials and volunteers, they still stood along the chute and cheered her in! I stepped back, told her to finish it strong and on her own and watched as she had her finisher's medal placed around her neck.
We hugged, I thanked her for the awesome experience of being able to share this with her. And then saw my sister off to the side. After loving on her, Tay and Cade for a little bit, we relaxed for a second, got more water, one more hug and thank you to Michelle and then we were off to the truck and the drive home.
Kimberly and Sheri had a great 2:30 group that stayed with them and it sounded like a lot of fun and partying. After getting home and reading of all the other pacers experiences, it solidified for me the service that a pacer can offer.
Our group had an invaluable and incredible pacers for 1:30 and every 10 minutes or so after that until 2:30 - these runners help others to reach their time goals. Often assisting someone to reach their PR. They are a voice of encouragement and positivity while a runner battles their demons on the course.
To my knowledge, this is the first time we ever put anyone at the very back. Not a spot that most runners would want. It's hard to hold yourself to a walk (and a slow one at that) when your heart wants to bust open with a sprint. But that pacer is just as valuable to that one racer who just needs to finish. Time be damned, they just want to finish.
I was the lucky one to get the gig this time! Thanks Walter for helping me push the issue. Thanks to the race director for allowing me on the course in the pace position. Thanks Matthew, Janiece, unnamed woman whose hubby picked her up and of course Michelle, for allowing me to hang back - chat them up - offer some encouragement and be a witness to their outstanding achievements.
I most definitely came away the most blessed one from this event. My body held out. My heart was touched, and I came away with a renewed sense of appreciation for racing, pacing and the entire running community. Good people they are.
So next time you have a tough race coming up. Your first? Your biggest? You're afraid of being able to finish? Find a pacer and stick with them!