Ultra Runners


Crew/pacer question (Read 407 times)

L Train

    I don't post here much because I really am a novice at ultrarunning.  This weekend I tried to help pace a friend of mine at the Ghost Train 100 in NH.  It seems like a relatively small race, but was pretty cool. 


    The course is multiple 7.5 miles out/7.5 miles back.  Another RAer and I were to pace our friend from mile 60 on, which is what the race allowed. 


    She had never done a 100 miler (we have all done 50s) so we didn't know what to expect.  She only had one crew member early in the race and I'm pretty sure she didn't get enough calories. 


    Anyway, at 1:00AM, I picked her up at mile 60.  She didn't seem that bad, but she was already walking.  We sped up to a really slow shiffle a few times, but really it was pretty much walking.  The course has a cutoff at noon the second day that you have to be at the 90 mile mark to be able to continue to 100.  I felt like I was doing pretty well encouraging her but prodding her, and not sympathizing with her.  But we were moving SLOW. 


    Somewhere around the 65 mile mark, I started doing the math and realized that at our current pace, the cutoff was in jeopardy.  And she just would not move.  Around mile 70 I made the decision to tell her that if she wasn't able to get moving, we were not going to make the cutoff.  She indicated she could NOT move faster, and was going to have to settle for 90.  But then after about 10 more minutes, she bargained with herself and decided that since the 100 goal was not being met, why put herself through the agony of getting to 90 after getting to 75 (which would probably involve 6.5 more hourse of slogging through the woods. After this decision was made, she slowed to a near crawl, as she more or less gave up.  Her feet were just killing her and she was very nauseous. 


    My question is this, in case i ever have to do this again.  In my role, should I have just kept this information to myself rather than tell her?  She really wasn't going to make it.  But in telling her, did I make her give up, when she otherwise may have gone further?  The problem is, rationally, I agreed with her, knowing her; the goal was not met, so 75 was no different than 90.


    I'm guessing the best answer is that the conversation should have been had ahead of time.  The pacing thing is a tough balance of drill sargeant/nurse.      


    Demon of Bad Decisions

      You did the right thing. Your job was to see that she hits those cut-offs. Part of that is making sure they understand when they are, and what pace to run at. Math and memory aren't so great for a runner late in a race. Telling her what she needed to know was either going to get her hustling, or it will be a cold slap of reality. Every single ultrarunner has experienced both sides as a response to cut-offs/goal times.

      I want to do it because I want to do it.  -Amelia Earhart

      L Train

        If I knew all I had to do was to post here to hear from you more than every 6 months I would have done it long ago.  Thanks for that though, it eases my mind. 



          Also, sometimes offer up a cold slap of reality.


          Demon of Bad Decisions

            Considering the Cubs 100+ loss season, I have been trying to avoid you as much as possible. (Also the fact that you have decided not to race me at Monkey, you gigantic sissy.)

            I want to do it because I want to do it.  -Amelia Earhart

            Feeling the growl again

              Imagine if she had walked the majority of that 25 miles to reach 90 before realizing that she was not going to get to finish?


              IMHO you did her a favor.  A crew's job is to provide support.  Doing the math a fatigue-foggy mind may not be able to do is providing support, in my book.

              "If you want to be a bad a$s, then do what a bad a$s does.  There's your pep talk for today.  Go Run." -- Slo_Hand


              I am spaniel - Crusher of Treadmills



                Real answer.


                While agreeing with WrigleyGirl, I will also say that HOW you share math-based info along the way is important too.  This is something you have to work out with your runner, and it may change as the race and fatigue progress.  The gal I pace hates (and would absolutely kick my ass for) regular updates on progress time/mile-wise.  Except, in very certain circumstances, when she doesn't.  It took experimentation to work that out.  But in the meantime, yes you did the right thing.


                As for the decision to give up, in general that is a tricky thing.  In general.  If the cut-offs are firm and runners will get swept or pulled, then that's that.  But in situations where you are close to cut-offs or in some situations where the runner's pre-fatigue goal was "I want to hit 100 despite the time" (and you won't get literally pulled from the course), then that may or may not go differently.


                I said that mostly to say this... when cut-off isn't the driving factor, you will almost ALWAYS get to the point with your runner where she/he is pondering "no mas" and going through the bargaining.  Unless their legs have fallen off, they are bleeding from the eyes, or the race was a complete I-didn't-train lark, my job as a pacer is to keep him/her in the game through all means necessary.  Most ultra runners are a stubborn bunch who would rather finish slowly (and perhaps hurty) than to dnf because it got tough.  But, of course, IN THE MOMENT, they will act differently.


                So says the guy who dnfed at M60 of Rocky Raccoon with a potential broken foot who could barely walk... and who still regrets that decision daily.


                  The problem is, rationally, I agreed with her, knowing her; the goal was not met, so 75 was no different than 90.


                  I agree with what's been said here, but race mentality (in any race, let alone a 100) is a peculiar thing, not playing by the ordinary rules of rationality (which, for me, is what makes running interesting). Speaking for myself, but I'm sure this is true for most, racing well requires I constantly kind of trick myself into not thinking about how much left there is to race. Negative thoughts are doom. How do you tell someone they have to speed up, without discouraging them? Goal met or unmet, for most people, in hindsight, 90 is better than 75.


                  I'm still struggling to figure out the role of ultra pacer as well, from both sides. I paced PerfesserR at Rio del Lago a few weeks ago, and I think I did OK, but... was I supportive enough? If I had injected more exaggerated observations on how great he was doing, would he have finished sooner? Did I push him too hard; will his Achilles recover? Pacing is a fine art of psychological gamesmanship, I believe, balanced with evaluating likelihoods, meanings, and costs of goals.


                  On the other side, my pacer at Western States this summer was laying it on thick telling me how great I looked, when I know I looked like crap. But that didn't keep hearing it from having a positive effect. What I'm still not sure about is his decision to tell me, at M63 or so, that I still had a legitimate shot at sub-24, though I was > 2 hours behind target pace when I picked him up at 62. I think I was skeptical, but I let him drive, and cranked it really hard for the next 8-10 miles. Then I dared to ask how we were doing... we were going to have to sustain that pace the rest of the way. Not a chance in hell. And... I was spent, shot. The last 30 miles were really, really hard, and I think there's a good chance I could have finished feeling a lot better, and an hour or two earlier, had I not spent my wad when I did. But. *If* he was correct that I had a chance... let's call it 30%... would I trade the likelihood of a long, painful finish against the possibility of a silver buckle? Yep. 


                  MTA -- also what srlopez says.


                    >> Goal met or unmet, for most people, in hindsight, 90 is better than 75.


                    Yes. Absolutely.  For most people.  Dunno about the person in question, but that surely matches with the folks I know.  And me.  I'd rather talk about my Rocky 80 or 90 DNF than 60.


                    Home Away From Home

                      In response to L-Train's posts, I was the before mentioned early pacer. I did the first 37.5m with her, but as a registered racer my self.  I don't want L-Train to feel he is fully responsible for how this turned out. I learned a lot too. I was eating and drinking more then her only doing 37.5 but how do you force someone to drink or eat if they don't want to? I can't literally shove it down their throat, in the end the choice is theirs and they have to learn through their own training runs how and when to eat. I have learned this just being there and helping support her.  In addition, my thoughts on L-Train's question is sure you did the right thing. we are there for the math and the difficult thought processes one can't do at 60+ miles.  As others wrote, it is then up the individual to decide if 75 is ok or if 90 is better even though it is not 100.  

                      What you missed L was that when she arrived at the campsite on my end, "Ally" was there with walking shoes on and ready to walk the last miles with her all the way to the end and she doesn't run as you well know. She tried every girl to girl thing to get here to get out. We even discussed go till the cut off because then the course is telling you have to quit instead of you telling yourself you quit and there is a mental difference there.  In the end, L, didn't beat yourself up, we are like any team, we all win or we all loose, but you can't blame just yourself.  I will not be surprised if we aren't all back there next year, I have my wheels turning on the 100 already, her pain and suffering, in some way almost seemed inspiring to me.


                      "Anyone can do it in ideal conditions"- A quote from a true NE CN runner and friend.

                      L Train

                        Thanks everyone, inforamtional replies and really it's just good to hear from people who know that there wasn't a clear cut answer. 


                        Sailor, I wasn't blaming myself, really, just wanted to ask some people who have experience what they would have done in a similar situation.  I sort of disagree that it's up to the individual (runner) to decide whather 75 or 90 is enough, I think I have to assume that the runner isn't capable of rational thought at that point.  In any case, rational thought would probably almost always say "stop". 


                        srl, I agree with the message delivery/timing being key.  Honestly the cheerleading thing wasn't going to work because she would have recognized that as out of character as we do not generally communicate with each other that way.  I like bhearn's description of gamesmanship and probability - that's exactly what my approach was. 


                        All that said, it was a ton of fun and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.



                          Also, fwiw, this is very much course-dependent.  When you are at M65 in the middle of the woods, you handle that differently than when you are on a 20 mile loop you repeat (like rocky), or... almost a worst-case scenario in terms of "don't quit!" motivation... a course like Ghost Train.


                          Anyway, there is no "rational thought" when it comes to 100s.  You are trying to complete 100 miles! And no one is making you!  You do what you can to be the voice of reason, but sometimes there's "reason" vs REASON.  Anyway, the runner is who decided to sign up for the race and the bottom line is that it is the runner's deal.  The decision itself is not necessarily rational, but it is not the pacer's to make, except in maybe very end-of-the-spectrum conditions.



                            THe thing about a 100 is your have many, many dark times.


                            1st - Yes you should tell her about the cut-off.

                            2nd - Then you start playing Jedi mind tricks to boost her morale (I suck at this)

                            3rd - If moral boosting Jedi mind tricks do not work, then you pull out any type of psycological warefare to keep her going.


                            Finally - With her moving so slow - You could take 5 minutes at an aide station and fill ger with food, caffeine, electrolytes, hydration or any other thing that might have a chance at turning it around.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.  Convince her if she eats X and drink Y along with 3 cups of coffee worth of caffeineshe might just turn it around.  Once she buys into it, she will at lease get out on the loop that gets her to 90.


                            Again - I suck at it, but I have been manipulated by crew and pacer before.

                            7/20/17 #247 Comeback #19 ... 10/8 - Glacial Trail 50M



                            Imminent Catastrophe

                              Bob, you were great. You exaggerated just the right amount!  A little nudge or encouragement now and then to keep me moving, letting me know I was moving up in placement (kept me out of the chair), keeping track of my estimated finish time, and making sure we were still on course.  I really think that if you had pushed harder my leg probably would have gotten a lot worse, a lot earlier, and could have caused a bad outcome.

                              Cutoff times were not a factor in this race but I sure would want to know if I was getting close. And I had already had my dark time and mostly recovered before I got to where Bob was so that wasn't a factor but if I had one of those spells I'd appreciate some encouragement or a kick in the ass, whatever it took, to keep me going if it was a matter of attitude and not injury. What DoppleBock said.

                              "Able to function despite imminent catastrophe"

                               "To obtain the air that angels breathe you must come to Tahoe"--Mark Twain

                              "The most common question from potential entrants is 'I do not know if I can do this' to which I usually answer, 'that's the whole point'.--Paul Charteris, Tarawera Ultramarathon RD.


                              √ Javelina Jundred Jalloween 2015

                              Cruel Jewel 50 mile May 2016

                              Western States 100 June 2016

                              You'll ruin your knees!

                                I don't think there's a wrong answer here. Your runner chose you just like your runner chose his/her footwear. It was tour runners choice and can really only be answered by them. I say good for you for being there for your runner and wrestling with the decision... That said, I really like screwing with a 3am, 80 mile runner's head. They are pretty gullible and will play along with just about any old tired bit. If they take issue the next morning, I just tell them about the great hallucination they had... Please don't second guess yourself...you were there for your runner and you used your best judgement when theirs was diminished. You did your job.

                                ""...the truth that someday, you will go for your last run. But not today—today you got to run." - Matt Crownover (after Western States)