My brother Kelly recently asked if I would pace him during the last 50 miles of the Western States 100 Endurance Run, the oldest and largest 100-mile trail run in the country, on June 26-27. So what exactly does that mean—to pace a runner during an ultra-marathon? The best description is one I found from author Chris McDougall in the book Born to Run:
Pacing is so grueling and thankless, usually only family, fools, and damn good friends let themselves get talked into it. The job means shivering in the middle of nowhere for hours until your runner shows up, then setting off at sunset for an all-night run through wind-whistling mountains. You’ll get blood on your shins, vomit on your shoes, and not even a T-shirt for completing two marathons in a single night. Other job requirements can include staying awake while your runner catches a nap in the mud; popping a blood blister between [his] blood cheeks with your fingernails; and surrendering your jacket, even though your teeth are chattering, because [his] lips have gone blue.”
Despite all of this, I enthusiastically replied, count me in! It would be an honor to accompany you through Squaw Valley. (Although I most certainly will not be popping any of my brother’s blisters. Especially between his butt cheeks. That I can assure you.)
I’ve been secretly toying with the idea of running an ultra-marathon for a few years now. My brother ran his first 100-mile ultra-marathon during his senior year in college—that was five years ago and he hasn’t stopped since. I’ve detailed a few of his races here and here. It’s extraordinarily inspiring. And the way he’s described his experiences, it just seems to me like the purest form of running that exists. And certainly my recent reading of Born to Run helped intensify my interest. So earlier this year I decided. This is the year I will run my first ultra-marathon.
And quite honestly, I’m ready for the next adventure. I’ve completed six Ironman triathlons and am signed up for my seventh this September. I’ve run the Boston Marathon. I still love competing in marathons and triathlons, and continue to find them all very challenging, but part of me is ready for a new experience—and one that is less commercialized and more of a real adventure in the pristine back country—running on trails, through streams, and up mountains. I just can’t think of an experience more raw and real than that.
Honestly, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do it. It’s all very scary—the terrain, keeping up with my brother, the risk of altitude sickness, the things we might encounter in the middle of the night, etc. But I’m excited to try. It should be one hell of an adventure. And I can’t wait to share the experience with my brother.
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