When my friend Angela asked me, "Hey, Natureboy Willy is running a 100 miler and needs a pacer. I can't do it, would you be interested?" I sparked up and said "yes".
I have read about many ultras but have never been a part of one. With 3 days until the ultra I checked with my calendar and loved ones. Neither told me to do anything so I made plans to drive to Heflin, Alabama. Granted, when I first heard about the race I thought it was closer, but 2.5ish hours isn't too bad of a drive anyway.
When I arrived at the hotel I was greeted by Willy "Natureboy" Syndram. He shook my hand as I went around the room and talked to the rest of the crew, Josh and Leigh. Apparently I had already met Josh earlier in my life(10+ years ago). They had already set me up an air mattress in the hotel, which was much better than the anticipated floor.
We discussed pacing and crew work. It was the usual stuff. I got the sense that it was going to be a very flexible race, meaning we weren't going to go crazy trying to get everything perfect, but we would anticipate Willy's needs as the race progressed. This is probably the better route for such a long race where anything can go.
4AM rolled around quick. We hopped out of bed, got ourselves ready(as ready as a pace crew needs to be) and headed out.
The start point was a cluster of cars and runners. Imagine accidentally driving down the forest road and finding this festival of runners.
Willy kind of walked around, warmed up, and did his thing.I took some pictures
|The Starting Line|
After the race started we moved along to the different aid stations. The first was 6 miles away. Karl Meltzer passed by, then a few minutes later the rest of the runners came through. Willy did great and covered it in a little over an hour and was in 4th or 5th place.
The next aid station was near a train track about 6 more miles down. It was so cold there for some reason. I was trying to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The mayor of the town was there talking with some people. He stopped talking, looked at me, and started laughing. "Your so darn cold that you about near tore your sandwich in half!" We laughed and went back to waiting on the runners. Meanwhile a train passed by.
"Oh good a train passed by. There probably won't be anymore for a while." Karl passed through and a few minutes later the rest of the runners started to show up. A few passed by and then we heard it. The train....
A runners came out of the woods, stopped at the aid station, and was yelled at, "There's a train coming! Go!" The runner took off and just made it past the train.
|Mmm... An ultra feast! Every aid station was like this. I was impressed.|
Willy wasn't so lucky. Since we were on the other side of the track we were able to give him food and tend to him. Tough luck, but 4 minutes isn't really going to make a big difference in such a long race.
Finally the train passed and Willy was on his way. We got into a pattern of anticipating what Willy needed and getting everything ready for him.
After a 20+ mile stretch, ending in the Bald Rock trail parking lot(the highest point in Alabama), Willy came in. He was really sick and had just thrown up. Apparently one of his gels was old and really messed with his stomach. We gave him some Motrin and food and sent him along his way. This was past the 41 mile mark, so Josh was able to pace with him for the next 3 miles.
|The scenery was very beautiful|
Willy came out of the woods at the next aid station. Leigh asked me if i thought that was him, and I agreed it looked like him, but we didn't see Josh. In a slight panic we checked the radio but Josh was not calling.
A minute later Josh came out of the woods. Awesome! Willy must be feeling good!
Willy plopped down on the chair and did not look his finest. We fed him some mashed potatoes and chicken broth. Hopefully the sodium will get him going again.
Willy and I started our trek into the woods! 10 miles to pace and I have never paced in my life. In fact, all I know about pacing is what I have read in Jason's blog.
Willy was keeping a great pace despite his problems. I could tell he wasn't feeling good and was very quiet for most of the run. I know as a pacer I am supposed to keep him company, but I know that if I am feeling like crap I don't want people bugging me.
I was trying to keep an eye on him. His stride was pretty consistent, but he was tripping a lot. I didn't put much thought into it since he was approaching 50 miles.
I asked him, "Is there anything you want?" and he replied, "There are a lot of things I want, but I can't get any of them now." Darn, he is feeling toasted. His head was hurting him really bad. Dehydration wasn't a problem since he was drinking, but he was probably lacking some nutrition. I encouraged him to drink more since he didn't want to eat and kept putting it off when I suggested it to him.
I knew an aid station was around mile 5 or 6. Expecting but never seeing it, we progressed down the trial. As we approached the top of a little bend Willy laid down with his arms out in a very relaxed position. I thought, "Is he taking a break?" I rand back and asked,
Me: "You okay man?"
Willy: No answer.
Me: "Shi.. Willy wake up!"
Willy: "No answer."
Me: "**** **** **** Willy wake up *grabs leg and shakes it*"
His eyes opened like he had just woken up from a nightmare.
Me: "Here, drink some water."
Willy: No answer.
As he came in and out I was able to get some water into him. I scrambed through my bag and pulled out the radio Josh and Leigh gave me. I tried to use it and realized I had no idea what I was doing. "What am I doing wasting my time on this radio? Just use a phone!"
Luckily I had reception and was able to dig through my text messages from Angela and find Josh's phone number. I explained to him the issue. Looking at Willy I though, "There's no way I can carry him. He is going to have to get up..." That is when I thought I heard voices. I yelled, "HEY!" Nothing... Then a second later, "You need help?" "Yea!"
5 or 6 people came down to help. I asked if they were hikers or aid station workers. They said, "We are from the aid station. It's right around the corner!" I told him he was out. A man came behind Willy and started rubbing his shoulders. By rubbing I mean almost ripping the muscles out. The man was yelling in his ear, "Hey we are here to help you! What is your name?" Willy, with a discomforted look on his face replied, "What do you want!?!"
The man asked his name and age, which Willy replied correctly in a weak voice. The man said, "You couldn't have passed out at a better spot." We walked Willy to the aid station, got him some oranges and chicken broth. I really appreciate those volunteers help and everything they did.
Willy got back on his feet. He seemed much better and there were only three more miles until the next aid station, where Josh and Leigh were(the last was out in the middle of the woods and was not open to everybody). Those last 3 miles were spent mostly walking at a fast pace. I could tell Willy is a hiker. He kept a killer walking pace even when feeling crappy.
By this point my achilles was killing me. I have bruises from a month ago from the Merrell Sonic Gloves. If I had to run again I would need to switch into my Sanuks.
Finally we started to hear music. I believe it was 3 Doors Down. We tried to run out of there but ended up going back to walking.
Willy plopped down in the chair and looked horrible. He was cold and his head was still torn up, so we took him into the warm van to sit down. He fell asleep. After about 15 minutes he felt the same. We asked him if he wanted to go on and he didn't give us a straightforward answer. Josh said, "Well from the way you are looking I can't see you going on. Do you think you can finish this race?" Willy chuckled and replied, "I can maybe do the next section(A 5 mile dirt road section), but I am scared to death to do the 17 mile section after that." With that answer Josh made a good decision and told the official that he was dropping out.
Just like that, at mile 55, the race was over for Willy. Am I disappointed? Heck no! He kept telling me that he was sorry about passing out. I kind of expected it to happen sooner or later, so it didn't really bother me. He made the right choice dropping out. He can learn from the misfortunes of this race and do better next time.
All-in-all I had a great time! It was an adventure I will never forget and I am so happy that I got to run on the trail(it is a really great trail and pretty barefoot friendly).