Friday, November 25, 2011

A Pacer's Perspective At 100 Miler

I asked my sister Hollie (crew member and pacer extrordinaire for the Javelina Jundred) if she wanted to write her experience of the race from a pacer's perspective. (She is way too nice. I think I owe her cookies now for all her kind words.) Here is her review:

Every spring I dust off my copy of Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine I’ve had since high school. I love ushering in the growth and new life of the season with this book. Within the first few chapters, the protagonist discovers for the first time in his life, “I’m alive!”

“And everything, absolutely everything, was there. The world, like a great iris of an even more gigantic eye, which has also just opened and stretched out to encompass everything, stared back at him. I’m alive, he thought. I’m really alive! I never knew it before, or if I did I don’t remember! He yelled it out loud but silent, a dozen times! Think of it, think of it! Now discovering this rare timepiece, this clock of gold-bright and guaranteed to run…”

The Javelina Jundred reminded me that it’s definitely not spring…but it was the quintessential affirmation of I’m alive! My play-by-play perspective on how this race panned out and how it taught me some of the most simple, beautiful truths in life:

Before the Race
I admit, I was nervous and skeptical about Cory doing a 100 miler. Even now, I can hardly wrap my brain around the magnitude of how long you run! And honestly, our family’s DNA is not really designed for endurance sports outside of…Monopoly games.

LAPS 1 through 4 (0 – 61.6 miles)
The anticipation sitting around at the headquarters (where you finish a loop, refuel and change supplies, then head back out on the loop in the opposite direction) waiting for your runner was intense. Seeing Cory come around the corner after his each lap was phenomenally exciting. He was positive and upbeat every time, like he was totally getting the most out of the experience.

He noted after the first lap that this course could not be underestimated (oh, how I can attest to this now!). He pointed to some mountains that seemed 200 miles away on the horizon and said, “You run all the way out to those. This is a BIG loop.”

Mel and I had a lot of down time at the headquarters while Cory was running his laps. Spending an entire day with Mel is a bit like Christmas. There’s always a surprise, and it’s so much fun. We tried resting (ha!), making motivational posters for Cory, watching a movie, and eating our body weight in powdered donuts and Oreos.

The weather during this whole race was bananas. It started out freezing, but within 10 minutes of the sun coming out, it felt like we were sitting in an Easy Bake Oven. I worried that Cory was frying out on the trail. There is not a single ounce of shade out there. But every time he finished a lap, he looked more elated, stronger, and increasingly excited. He. Looked. Outstanding!

I learned that if you complete 60 miles (100k), you still get a belt buckle (it’s a different color and reads 100k rather than 100 miles). It was a little shocking to see so many runners drop out at this point. This made Cory’s strength and enthusiasm all the more impressive. He was not shooting for “I’ll go as far as I can comfortably make it, and I’ll quit at 60 if necessary to still get the buckle.” True to Cory form, go big or go home.

LAP 5 (61.6 – 77 miles)
By the time he started lap 5, it was dark. Cory ran this lap with Mel, making it the most lonely and stressful few hours of the experience for me. This was also the lap when the rain started. It turned everything into a muddy river within a minute.

I think this is where the wheels started to come off the “Cory cart” a bit. I set my timer to be ready to see Cory and Mel again in about 3.5 to 4 hours. And then I waited around headquarters for about 2 hours after that wondering where they were and what happened. I’m not gonna lie – I was quickly developing a growing case of mother-like worrying. I maybe said 2,449,893 prayers during this time and envisioned every manner of animal that may have eaten them.

All of this waiting time at headquarters, though, proved to be one of the best experiences of the weekend. Ultra runners are pretty remarkable people, and I felt so honored to talk with several of them. They know what it’s like to feel alive, and I love the perspective it gives them.

LAP 6 – (77 – 92.4 miles)
I ran this lap with Cory, and it was one of the most insightful experiences of my life. I’m pretty sure it totally sucked for Cory. I could hear him groan in pain and frustration after he tried to run. To add to it, the rain and mud were horrific. It felt like every step required 3x the energy just to ensure stable footing; it was so slippery. During several parts of the trail, the mud stuck to our shoes. It seriously felt like someone strapped 10-pound cinderblocks to each foot. We had to stop a couple times just to scrape buckets of mud off our shoes.

I learned that being a pacer is both the easiest and the most difficult run. It’s easy in the sense that the focus is entirely on someone else. It wasn’t my race, so it didn’t matter if I was tired, if my knees hurt, if I almost fell 200 times in the mud. The singular objective was pulling Cory through this, and it seemed as though my body registered the “you’d better not complain right now – it’s not about you” message.

But it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever experienced. I knew he was hurting, and it was excruciating to feel so helpless. When he expressed pain or frustration, I debated what to do:
1) Agree with him and empathize (I know, this mud does suck, huh?)
2) Encourage and praise him (You’re looking really good, just keep on going)
3) Tell him to get over it and keep pushing through (There’s only one way to make that pain stop, so quit ‘yer belly-achin’ soldier!)
4) Try to point out a silver lining (At least those birds aren’t vultures…)
5) Say nothing

I felt so frustrated that I didn’t know the right answer. I tried all 5 approaches several times and worried incessantly if any helped. When he mistakenly saw the aid station that wasn’t there, it was a major low point for both of us. I could sense the rising frustration and panic in him. And it felt like we kept running another 10 miles before FINALLY coming to it. I ran with him, silently crying in frustration and a growing sense of need to help…but not knowing how.

I imagine this is how Heavenly Father must often feel. I so badly wanted to help Cory, to carry him, to give him strength. But in the end, I knew it was ultimately up to him – and only him – to put one foot in front of the other. There were limitations on how much I could do. And finally, both of us just had to exercise the faith and trust that the end result would be worth this temporary challenge. It was a beautiful recognition of the love of the Lord. He wants to help us through our trials, but an important element is the realization that in order for it to work, we have to suck it up and trudge through the painful parts.

But then….watching the sun rise was one of the most beautiful and spectacular moments. It was stunning, peaceful, and reassuring. Sharing those moments with Cory is something I will treasure for the rest of my life.

LAP 7 – 92.4 miles
Waiting at the headquarters for Cory and Mel to finish the final lap made me feel like I was a 4-year-old. I was impatient, couldn’t hold still, and asked myself a gazillion times, “Are they there yet??” I ultimately gave up patience and ran backwards through the course until I met up with them. Seeing them trudge up a hill, still making progress toward the finish line was a bit like slow-motion running through the daisies [insert The Hills Are Alive music here]. I was so happy and so proud of them!

Watching Cory jump across the finish line was a tremendous sense of pride and gratitude. Gratitude that he made it and survived. Gratitude that I could be there to share the experience with him and Mel. Gratitude that he pushed himself to the utmost limits of humanity and now fully knows what it’s like to be and to feel alive in every respect. I see now how running an ultra-marathon shows you the highest and lowest points of human experience – all of it contributes to a perception of your own life experience and what you are capable of achieving. It’s a beautiful, incredible taste of Dandelion Wine.

“He stood swaying slightly, the forest collected, full-weighted and heavy with syrup, clenched hard in his down-slung hands. I want to feel all there is to feel, he thought. Let me feel tired, now, let me feel tired. I mustn’t forget, I’m alive, I know I’m alive, I mustn’t forget it tonight or tomorrow or the day after that…”


  1. Beautiful words Hollie. Way to be there emotionally, physically, and spiritually for your brother.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing Hollie. This was so great for me to read. I will be pacing a friend at the Vegas Marathon this Sunday and it was so great to read and hear your perspective.

  3. Hollie! Thanks for a well written report, and thanks for helping Cory get to the finish line. Your dedication was part of his success. Way to go!

  4. This is really cool. I can just imagine (well, sort of, anyway) just how difficult it would be to support someone through that and just not know the best way to do it. Sounds like Hollie and Mel had it just right...and I LOVE the belt buckle poster!!

  5. What a fantastic post! Thanks for sharing! I don't think I'll ever run an ultra, but i would LOVE to do this side of it sometime.

    It's hard to know what to say when someone is struggling, weather it's while they're running an ultra or just living life!

  6. What a beautiful story. I'm so glad she shared her perspective. I could imagine some of what she felt, but to hear it in her own words was beautiful. I still can't believe you did it! YOU. DID. IT. I've been bragging you up to all of my friends and family lately. That is most definitely LIVING- just like Hollie said. I would love to be a pacer- let me know if you need some help on the Zion 100 :)

    Also, the evolution of the belt buckle poster pretty much rocks my socks off.

  7. What a great story! Thanks Hollie!! It seems like Cory deserves more than a belt buckle or congrats for this! I think a ticker tape parade should be organized for 100 mile finishers. It's AMAZING!!

  8. I got a little teary-eyed reading this! What a wonderful recap!

  9. I love the Care Bear poster. I'm still in awe at his accomplishment as well. He is my current running hero!!

  10. Thank you for sharing this, Hollie and Cory. I'd love to pace an ultrarunner someday, so this was a great perspective, something to file away for the future.