This is a question most runners hear, or ask. I am always tempted to respond by saying, "life! I am training for life."
Lately though I have been saying I am training to pace Lalo at The Angeles Crest 100 mile trail run.
Pacing is one of the most rewarding experiences a runner can have. And it's one I take very seriously. Not only do I feel I need to train physically but I also need to train mentally. I sometimes feel pressure. Pressure I place on myself. I have to be at my best to provide the best support possible. Sure, at the late stages of an Ultra when I will be called to action, my runner will be tired and maybe moving slower but I have to be ready for anything. My runner will be depending on me to help him stay engaged, to keep moving, to provide motivation and I feel I may have to be tough but still remain his friend throughout and at the end.
Physically, I must be fit enough to run, walk, climb, and be ready for any weather conditions that may exist.
Mentally, I need to be ready to give and take (mostly take) verbal stabs while still keeping my runner focused on reeling in the finish line.
Many of my favorite and most memorable running experiences have been when I have paced and have been paced in the later stages of an Ultra Marathon.
While being paced I have had to provide a flashlight to my pacer! Her's was a dime store model with dead batteries. It was laughable but she was my friend and she asked to be there! Good thing I had an extra flashlight in my pack. Other pacers of mine were patient as I struggled to walk, pointing out constellations in the star filled sky, not complaining when I arrived later than projected at the aid station. There was another I wanted to punch in the mouth because he kept trying to push me to run when I didn't want to. I didn't say a word when his stride ahead of me began to speak. I locked my sight on his feet and he took me to my best finish at 100K.
Memories I have of pacing friends in ultras play in my mind frequently. When I see them or when I run on trails we've run. These are memories like no other. I feel there is a special bond that lives on between runner and pacer well after the race is over. While pacing you may laugh and cry with your runner. Share thoughts, life experiences and sometimes secrets. Accompanying an ultra runner late in their race is a unique experience. All runners are different. That is what makes every experience unique and all of them memorable. That's what makes life enjoyable, doesn't it? Making good memories.
So much is shared between runner and pacer on ultras. Some things can be laughed at and told to others. Some will forever remain between a pacer and his or her runner.
I've made mistakes while pacing. Almost took my runner off course. Were it not for a camper at a trail junction pointing out that I was going the wrong way I would have royally screwed up my runners race. Forgetting supplies my runner asked me to carry (muling is allowed at some races), not allowing my runner to put on a jacket when it was getting cold, not filling my runners water bottle at an aid station! I sometimes still cringe at what could have happened but all turned out well and we're still friends. I've been dropped by my runner! I have done some positive things pacing too though.
I am looking forward to pacing Lalo. I can't wait. He is unique and genuine. I've never been with him at mile 70 though. I know it will be an experience that will live in my memory forever. All pacing experiences are.
I have to keep training. For pacing, for a race that may come up, for Lalo, ..... for life.