If you follow me on social media then you already know that I spent the weekend of Dec. 9-10 at Trail Racing Over Texas’ Brazos Bend 100 in order to pace my dear friend Jennifer. She was attempting her first 100-mile race and asked me way back in January or February if I would consider being one of her pacers. I jumped at the chance to do this, even though I know I’m way slower than her (I mean she also qualified for Boston this year with a generous time cushion). I was figuring that since I’ll be training all year that maybe around mile 60 I can hold a pace that she needs. There’s no way to fully convey how amazing this was, but here’s my meager attempt.
Over the months before she had some pacers drop and then all of a sudden I was the only one. Then she asked me to switch to her last loop, that means I’d start around mile 80 and be responsible for bringing her to the finish line to get that buckle. If there wasn’t pressure before, there definitely was now. There was absolutely no way that I was going to let her DNF on that last loop.
I’m not sure that Jennifer knew just how much I was focusing on being ready to pace her. I let my coach know what I was planning and anybody asked about my race schedule, I said the most important thing on it wasn’t my race, but Brazos Bend 100 and making sure my friend finished. I read all kinds of articles about pacing people, how to help someone who is hallucinating (a very real possibility when you’ve been running for that long). I was all in on this.
Finally race day arrived.
I was super excited to be at Brazos Bend State Park because it’s maybe 15 minutes from where I grew up, so that brought back lots of good memories. I got there at about 1 p.m., but the race started at 6 a.m., so I knew Jennifer was already out running and it would probably be a while before I got a chance to see her. All around the start and finish line is a tent shanty town (race director Rob dubbed us the 99 percenters!). Runners had their crew waiting for them in the tent areas and we had camp chairs, etc. in our tent and were ready to hang out and help out our runner. I got to meet Jennifer’s super-sherpa Carmen and her boyfriend Brad. Man, those two are amazing! Carmen is such a great crew leader for Jen and knows exactly what she’s going to want at every moment, she tracks her time down to the minute and can almost feel when Jennifer is ahead or behind her pace. This was Brad’s first time at an ultra race and no one would’ve ever known it. He jumped right in and was cooking her oatmeal, hooking up the propane for our heater, and helping all the other runners who were there and also a part of Jennifer’s team, Renegade Endurance.
Did I mention it was freezing? I think it was 60-50ish around the time I got there, but as soon as the sun went down it dropped into the 30s. So I spent almost the whole time cooooooold and not feeling my hands and wrapped in a blanket and just willing Jennifer to hurry up so that I could run and be warm.
We sent Jennifer off for her 5th loop, and I started mentally preparing for loop 6. The final loop where I needed to really work to help her finish this thing. Each loop was about 18 miles and she had been on a great pace of less than 4 hours per loop. Her first couple were super speedy in about 3ish hours. We expected Jennifer back at camp around 12:45-1 a.m. All of a sudden it was after 2 a.m. and she was just walking into camp. That 5th loop alone and in the dark had really done a number on her and she struggled to get through it.
I don’t think Jennifer knows this, but the nerves from waiting over an hour past predicted time really did a number on my stomach. I was running with stomach cramps the entire loop and I was almost certain that I was going to poop on myself. I didn’t ask for any bathroom stops, I didn’t tell her how I was feeling because that wasn’t my job! I was there to run with her and if that meant I had a nasty accident, then that’s just what was going to happen. (I did not have any accidents.)
Anyway, I set off with her on loop 6 and I could tell she wasn’t her normal self. She didn’t want to run and she told me that she just wished she could run a mile without stopping at this point. After about 45 minutes and a lot of run a couple seconds, walk a couple minutes, I suggested we try to run half a mile and then walk for two minutes before running the second half mile. Jennifer said she thought she could do that, so that’s what we did. It worked and we were making decent progress.
My next question to her was, do you want to try to run a little longer than half a mile before we take a break? She said yes and that’s all it took. From then on we ran a mile at a time and took a 2ish minute walk between. We were running pretty consistent in 12 minute pace range which I thought was great at that point. I stayed up ahead of Jennifer and literally felt like I was dragging her along, the whole time wondering if I was running too fast. She said it helped her to chase me and especially on some of the longer and tougher stretches of the course she said it was nice that she didn’t have to be the lead runner.
We talked some, but very quickly got down to business. The most conversation we had was in the first 6 miles of the loop. After that I just called out run and walk breaks, let her know if we were almost done with our mile and if I could see any aid stations. I also mentioned a few times that I knew we were going to pass some people before the race was over.
Jennifer also helped me out, too. My watch died because I stupidly wore it all day instead of turning it off until race time, so she called out the miles. My headlamp was not made for the darkness you find in a state park, so she loaned me the extra one she had in her pack.
When we got to the last 10 miles, I wanted to do some work, so when I saw some people ahead of us on that stretch of trail, I turned to Jennifer and said, “Hey there’s some people up there who we can pass!” And tried to get her to run a little faster. We passed several people on that last stretch, which felt great (sorry other runners!) We called out and received many “good work” from the other racers.
Finally, the end was in sight. Jennifer was behind me and I knew she was tired. I did my best to motivate her, encourage her and pull her to the finish. She asked me to cross the finish line with her, but I said no. That was her moment and she could cross alone. She ran the whole race alone except for this lap, she put in the work, and she deserved all the recognition. I’m not sure if she even heard what I was saying to her to motivate her, or if it was really even working, but I tried!
To top it all off, Jennifer was so freaking sweet that she gave me an incredibly sweet card and this AMAZING mug that she had personalized as a thank-you for being out there. Like…all I needed was for her to cross that finish line in order to feel thanked. But, I do love the mug and am so grateful!