Anyone who has read my previous posts might have caught my occasional references to my wife and friends who have supported me both during my training for 100 milers, and during the actual races. This has been more true during the training for the upcoming Sulphur Springs 100 miler (which is next weekend!) than for any of my previous races, and so I thought that it was high time to both give credit where it is due, and mention some of the issues surrounding support teams and pacers in general.
As anyone who has done it will probably tell you, running a 100 miler is an odd experience, psychologically speaking. It starts out like any other run, but once the dehydration, malnutrition, sleep derivation, and general exhaustion kicks in, things start to get surreal. For me, one of the first things to go sideways is my sense of time. I mention this because I usually fail to notice when I meet my crew at an aid station in the middle of the night that my supporters have been up an awfully long time and have dragged themselves out into the woods to give me support. The unfortunate result is often that I am not as grateful to my team as I should be, especially considering that the support that they provide to me starts months before the actual race.
Training properly for a 100 miler is nothing if not time-consuming. My wife has to put up with my absences while I go for training runs, my generally slug-like behaviour after long runs, my occasional shirking of responsibilities in favour of running, as well as my tendency to eat everything in the house once my metabolism starts to ramp up.
My friends get stuck listening to me ramble on endlessly about running and training and eating every time that they see me.
Then the whole lot them get dragged out to the middle of nowhere and forced to stay awake for the better part of a weekend while I run around in the woods. All without getting anything in return.
It is sort of amazing that I have any friends left at this point.
This spring, one of my friends managed to cut me off during my running-related rambling to mention that he is hoping to improve his fitness level and so would like to accompany me on his bike when I go for long runs. I usually put audio books on my MP3 player and listen to them during long runs in order to stave off madness, but this sounded even better, so I took him up on it.
At first I thought that this would simply be a good way to spend more time with my friend and keep my mind occupied while running. However, there proved to be other benefits as well.
I have a tendency to run too fast during training runs, especially long runs. If I’m going out to run 40Km or more I usually want to get through it as quickly as possible and then get on with my day. So I often end up running at my race pace, which isn’t ideal for training runs because it puts extra strain on my body, which is already under an enormous amount of strain. I’ve been lucky so far and haven’t injured myself while training, and I would like to keep it that way. I was concerned that since my friend was biking, he would go too fast for me and I would end up pushing myself even harder. Instead my friend kept my pace and would remind me to slow down if I started to speed up. So, due at least partially to my friend’s help, I am going into my next race injury-free.
It was also immensely helpful to have my friend along for these long runs because I treated him like a pack mule and had him carry everything for me except my water belt. Carrying gear isn’t usually an issue for me, but it can be difficult on 40Km+ runs because I am usually out in the middle of nowhere and it can be difficult to find places to resupply, yet it is also very difficult to carry enough food and hydration with me to get me through a run of that size. So having someone to carry extra snacks and water for me was a huge benefit.
The final benefit was purely psychological. This spring was a very busy time for me, and it would have been very easy for me to use that as an excuse to skip long runs when I didn’t quite feel like doing them. However, not only did my friend keep me from ditching these runs, but combining doing these runs with hanging out with my friend made it easier to feel good about doing them and actually kept me feeling positive about my training when things got difficult.
So, I would recommend that anyone training for a long race who sees an opportunity to include friends or family give it a try. There may be benefits that you haven’t thought of, and if nothing else, it will help you stay in touch with your friends and family. Also, in my case I had the knowledge that while being helped, I was also helping my friend achieve his fitness goals.
Having friends and family around when actually running the race is also highly recommended. I have yet to try an unsupported 100 miler, so technically, I have never had to have a support team with me for a race. However, I can not even describe in words how great it is to get to an aid station in the middle of the night and be greeted by friends and family. While I would like to think that I would have finished my past 100 milers if I had been without my team, I know for certain that it would have been much more difficult. The mental strain involved in running a 100 miler is intense, so anything that makes it easier is a great thing. There have been times when I reached an aid station in the middle of the night when I was exhausted, and cold, and tired, and in no small amount of pain, and it meant so much to me when I saw my team there waiting for me that I almost cried. If I wasn’t raised to be an old-fashioned macho “boys don’t cry” sort of guy, I’m sure that I would have.
I have even seen my team jump in at aid stations and help other runners, which makes me proud.
Many 100 milers allow pacers on the course for the later parts of the race. While I have never used a pacer myself, simply due to a lack of friends who are also runners, it seems like a great idea to me. Having someone with you to keep you motivated and on pace would probably be wonderful. I say probably only because I tend to get cranky in the later parts of races (the pain and fatigue take their toll on more than just my body) and having some chipper person constantly telling me to go faster might be enough to push me over the edge. But that’s just me.
So, in conclusion I would just like to recommend to anyone planning to run a 100 miler that you try to work friends and family into your training as much as possible (or else you might not see them for a while….or ever) and bring along support to your races whenever possible. Just don’t be like me and forget to thank them sufficiently for it!