Peak 500 – The Pacers
My Peak 500 Race report this year is being broken up into 3 parts as really I witnessed more than one race happening the 8+ days I was in Vermont. Below is the second segment – How to Run 500 Miles… A Tale of Two Races at Peak 500. Here is the first segment link – Michelle’s Race and second part How to Run 500 Miles.
The Pacers & Crew
The racers are the stars of the show of any endurance event, which is how it should be. However most endurance races and extreme endurance races have a supporting cast and crew. This cast and crew normally gets no medal at the end and is there to help the racer complete the task no matter the odds. The most that most pacers receive is a heartfelt thank you from a racer, which can be more meaningful than any piece of medal. During most endurance races the pacer might run 20 – 30 miles pacing for a 100-mile race some more some less. It is normally a job that lasts about a day or two at most. For some of the more extreme events a pacer might spend a weekend give or take a few days helping out their racer. Then their is Peak 500 and it blows all those jobs out of the water.
My personal experience at Peak has been as a racer and as a pacer/crew for other racers. With a 10-day event pacing is as much an endurance event for the support as it is for the racer. Each day the pacer and crew might traverse 10, 20 or 30+ miles with a racer as well as help with the racers food, water, laundry, medical, emotional, and more needs. The pacer needs to not only lookout for the wellbeing of the racer but also themselves at the same time. The pacers are often the rational voice of reason as fatigue and sleepless nights start to compound. This post is dedicated to everyone who took a part of their life and put their own ego aside to help a friend or fellow athlete achieve or strive for a dream goal.
Nick’s Crew – Jeff and Steve – The Well Oiled Machine
If there was ever a book to be written about how to be a pacer/crew it should be written by these two. Not only did they traverse 20+ miles each day on the rugged mountain loop but they made sure that Nick was out on the trail each morning at a certain time, cared for his sore muscles and feet. They kept Nick’s spirits high with notes on the course hidden for Nick and the other racers to read. Steve’s “trail bucks” and of course changing the words to several songs creating Peak Originals. Their were times they were tired and had their own aches and pains but always made sure that Nick came first. They also made sure he had food waiting for him at the end of each loop. All the while both of them logged 200 miles themselves in the 10-day race. I think they earned the title of “Super Mega Elite Extreme Pacers” as we laughed about in the barn. In all seriousness they are and were a big part of Nick’s race.
Kale’s Crew – Mark, Stas, Kale’s Friends, Myself – It Takes a Village
Kale came to the race with no crew but soon found a world of people take him in and help him reach the finish line. The ragtag team was lead by Mark Jones and Michelle Roy’s friend Stas as well as a few friends of Kale’s coming over from NH when they could as well I did a few night loops. Mark gathered the Pittsfield party loop more than once to keep Kale going at night consisting of several local people. Jessica’s (who had to drop due to injury) mother also played laundry fairy as well as her pacer Gary helping out as well. Pacers come in all sizes and shapes and help out in all sorts of ways during Kale’s race it really was a village of people all helping out a little to get to the end.
Michelle’s Race – Julie, Bob, and I – The Ladies Club and Bob
I saved my own pacing and crewing duties for last as I lived it. Bob is Michelle’s rock, her ying to the yang, and he was there in the beginning and in the end of the race there for Michelle pushing her at times and at other times comforting her. Even through due to surgery he didn’t do many loops with Michelle he was always there to do what needed to be done. The majority of the race it was Julie and I there for Michelle, the ladies club. Julie had been training with Michelle for most of the year each weekend and upped her mileage make sure she could go the distance with Michelle and I was there to do whatever needed to happen.
After a couple days we fell into our groove, Julie would go out on the trails with Michelle 20 miles a day (out of her average 40 miles) I would spend between 6ish – 16ish making one loop shorter to prep for the last loop of the day. The day consisted of Julie with Michelle in the morning, they had coffee and prepped for the trail. I would come in after they left for the first loop of the day, pick up any food that was wanted/needed, do laundry, and any other stuff needed before they completed the first loop. When Michelle came in we would check her in and help however needed and she would do loop 2 alone. Loop 3 I would short course meeting Michelle and Julie at the top of the mountain, normally running up to Facebook about Michelle’s progress in the race from the best cell service spot in town (on top of the mountain). I would wait until they reached me then spend most of the loop with them, talking about random stuff, then run cutting the last couple miles short in order to make sure everything was ready for the last loop of the day. Sometimes I would head out with her for the last loop or she would do it alone and I would wait for her to return or head out with Kale for a late night loop.
This is how I spent my time at Peak, eating, sleeping, running, errands, joking around or trying to keep the outside world updated with Michelle. It is and was not a trip of luxury most nights were spent sleeping in a old horse stall or at a friends house once I got sick (probably from sleeping in a damp, cold horse stall).
I came home with no medal, no t-shirt, no swag but it wasn’t about the swag and pacing is never about what you personally gain. We all have our own reasons for doing things in life, this is also true in pacing/crewing for an epic race. It is a selfless act and you must put yourself, your ego, and your own goals aside for those of the racer are all that matter. It is a lesson and in Peak’s case a very long lesson in learning more about trail running, about the human condition, and about motivation and goals. For a newer trail runner looking to go longer and longer distances it is an invaluable hands on lesson in the sport. It’s a way to give back to your mentors, your friends and the greater running community. It can also be an escape from your day-to-day life and even I dare say a strange vacation. Often times the pacers are the ones in a photo running behind the racer, anonymous just there to see them to the finish, and this is one of the things I love about pacing is seeing your athlete to the end after an extreme endurance race.
To all the pacers and crew at Peak 500 this year it was a pleasure being with you all, laughing with you all, and learning from you all. To the racers thanks for bringing out some of the best people to help you get to the finish line. We truly are now one big family.