Brian and I offered to help my sister’s friend Mike at his Uwharrie 100 mile race. He said that if we were willing to do it, he could definitely use some pacers. We were a little nervous about doing it since neither of us had ever paced anyone in a race before and we weren’t sure that we’d even be able to keep up with him. He assured us that by his last two loops, speed would not be an issue. So we agreed to do it.
The Uwharrie 100 consists of five 20+ mile loops. Pacers are allowed for the last three. He already had a friend pacing his third loop, so Brian and I would be doing his fourth and fifth.
I’m a morning person and am not at my best late at night, so Brian agreed to do lap four, which would be overnight. I’ve been thinking more seriously about doing a 100 mile race myself, so I knew that running overnight would be a good experience for me, but my headlamp isn’t the best and I get cranky when I’m tired. As a pacer, I was worried about being more of a hindrance than a help to Mike. So I was more than fine taking Brian up on his offer to do the overnight loop.
On race day, we arrived a little after Mike had set out on his second lap, so we had a good chunk of the afternoon to hang out with my sister and do some geocaching with the kids.
We got to cheer for Mike as he came in from his second loop and see him and his friend Sean set out on the third loop as the sun was sinking low in the sky. Brian went straight for his sleeping bag, hoping to get a few hours of sleep before his pacing duties started. He set his alarm for 10:30pm. After a while, I crawled into my sleeping bag too.
By the time Brian’s alarm went off, the temperature had dropped pretty drastically. It was cold and dark as we waited for Mike and Sean to finish lap three. There were quite a few people there waiting for runners. Every twenty minutes or so we’d see a headlamp bobbing toward us in the dark and everyone would get up and ring cowbells and cheer.
A young kid came through and slumped down in a lawn chair and stared, unseeing into the cold darkness. I recognized him from when he’d come through earlier, but he looked like a completely different person now. Earlier he had been a bundle of energy and smiles. Now he barely had the energy to answer the questions a volunteer was asking him. After a few minutes, the volunteer walked over to the group and asked if anybody was willing to pace someone for a lap. Another aid station volunteer said that he had running clothes in his car and he’d be willing to do it. Before he offered, I’d been wishing that I could do it. I was happy that someone volunteered.
Sometime after midnight, the approaching headlamps belonged to Mike and Sean. Mike seemed to be doing really well. You’d never know that he’d just run more than 60 miles.
After a short rest and some refilling and refueling, Mike and Brian headed out into the dark. I went back to my tent to try to get a few hours of sleep. Mike had slowed down, but for some reason I had it in my head that I needed to be back out at the finish line by 5:30am. I would feel terrible if he came through while I was still sleeping. The night was freezing. Even in my sleeping bag I was cold. My alarm went off at 4:30 and I crawled out of my tent a little after 5.
It was still dark and so, so cold. I piled several layers of clothing on top of my running clothes and went in search of hot water for my instant coffee.
There was a large group of spectators circling the campfire. Many were asleep in their chairs. There wasn’t room around the fire, so I joined the handful of people standing around the heat lamp, which was on its last leg and not putting out much heat. It was the same as the night before. Mostly standing around freezing, with spurts of cheering and cowbell whenever a runner came through. I got to see the winner of the 100 miler finish. He broke the course record.
After about 2 hours of standing by the heat lamp, I started shivering uncontrollably and I couldn’t feel my feet. I needed to be able to feel my feet to pace Mike, so I mustered the courage to try to squeeze in by the fire. A very nice man noticed that I was shivering and offered me an empty chair. I was beyond grateful. I put my feet as close to the fire as I could without catching them on fire.
Some of Mike’s friends showed up a little after 7, so he had quite a few people to cheer for him when he came through at the end of his fourth lap. Mike and Brian both looked tired, but they were moving fine and seemed to be in good spirits. Mike lounged on a cot for a few minutes. I reluctantly took off my layers of clothing.
The sun was up by the time we headed out and the temperature rose quickly. I had stripped down to my tank top and shorts before we even hit the first aid station. Mike and I talked a little, but after a while he said, “Sorry if I’m not too chatty. I’m just really tired.” I took that as a sign that he was done talking. That actually was a bit of a relief to me. I relaxed and was able to appreciate the beautiful morning. The sky was blue, the trees were tinged with fall color and the warmth of the sun felt so good after the freezing cold night.
Each of the major climbs on the course are named (Soul Crusher, Hallucination Hill…) and marked with signs. The climbs are tough and some are technical, but none are particularly long. The tagline for the race is “Simply unrelenting.” I would agree with that description. No one part taken on its own is all that demanding, but there is always something to contend with; a hill, rocky section, stream crossing or tight switchbacks.
There are two aid stations out on the course, not including the one at the start/finish, but you hit one of those twice. Mike and I breezed in and out of the first aid station. I filled his water bladder and handheld and dropped one of his Nuun tablets into his handheld as he requested. I also partially filled my own bladder with water. About a half mile down the trail, I realized that I didn’t remember putting his bottle of Nuun tablets back in his pack. Had I left it sitting on the table? Good lord, I’m the worst pacer ever. I thought about asking him to stop and let me look in his pack, but after 86+ miles and no sleep for more than 26 hours, I knew he didn’t need to deal with that. So I did nothing and diligently hoped that they were in his pack.
I was very relieved at the next aid station when I went to fill his bladder and handheld and the Nuun tablets were right where they were supposed to be. I wasn’t sure if I had time to fill up my own bladder, so I didn’t take the chance. I didn’t want to hold Mike up. The young kid who I’d seen the night before came into the aid station while we were there. He seemed much more alive than he had the night before, but he had the same determined focus that all of the runners seemed to have at this point. He looked like all he wanted to do was get to the finish line and be done.
Mike’s spirits perked up as we left that aid station. He told me that he now was confident enough that he was going to finish in time that he felt like he could relax a little. He was more talkative than he had been earlier. I didn’t tell him that I again wasn’t sure that I’d put his Nuun tablets back in his pack. I was feeling like the world’s worst pacer. YOU HAD ONE JOB! I couldn’t believe I had let myself become distracted again. Actually, I totally could believe it, but that didn’t help matters any.
At the last aid station, Mike sat for a little bit longer. I again filled his water bladder and handheld. Hallelujah! His Nuun was in his pack. An aid station volunteer asked if he wanted a beer and he thought for a second and then said “Can I have just a little beer?” The volunteer cracked open a can and poured some in a cup. I offered to finish the rest. Instead of filling my water bladder, I chugged about 3/4 of a beer. I would come to regret that about a mile later when I ran out of water.
The last 6 miles were tough. They dragged on and on. I was eager to be done and I’d only done the loop once. I could only imagine how much stronger Mike’s desire to finish was as he neared the end of his fifth lap.
When we were about 200 yards from the finish, Mike asked me to run ahead and tell his friends to get their cameras ready. I could hear people cheering as I approached. I wished that there was some way to let them know that I was just a pacer and they could stop cheering. Once they realized that I was a pacer without a runner, it probably gave them a bit of a scare. I was quick to explain that Mike was doing fine, he’d just asked me to run ahead and let everyone know that he was about to cross the finish line.
Mike was happy to have finished and thrilled to receive his belt buckle. He also seemed pretty proud of his black toenails and blister-covered feet.
Now I’m thinking about running the Uwharrie 100 miler.