Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Haliburton Forest Pacers Report – 2009

Being asked to be a pacer for someone in a race is, as a runner, one of the highest compliments you can receive. It shows a respect for not only your ability to run the pace and terrain that the participant will be competing in, but also your ability to make tough decisions when required, and to both motivate and encourage. So when Derrick Spafford in a slightly “off handed” way asked if I would be interested in pacing him for the final leg of his 100 mile race in the Haliburton Forest, I did not take it lightly.

To get ready to pace Derrick, I had two major challenges: 1. Just coming back off the stress fracture in my left heel, I needed to get into shape to run 30-40km on the Haliburton trails; 2. To conquer my fear of trails in the dark. Getting back into shape was relatively easy - build slowly, listen to the body, and don’t get reinjured. The second required a little more “guts”. One of the reasons I never wanted to attempt running a 100 mile race (and there are quite a few) was that you, by nature of the beast, are required to run the trails in the dark. I don’t think that I am alone in the fear that that brings. So, on went the headlamp and the early mornings, starting with a easy 15’ run, building my confidence up to 2:00 the Monday before. I was ready.

Kim and I drove up to Haliburton on Saturday morning; there was no need for us to be there for the 6:00 am start as our job would be much later in the day. We got the car set up for sleeping in and headed to the Finish/50 Mile turn around and waited for Derrick to come though and head back out. It wasn’t long ‘til Derrick came through, looking strong but hot, or is that hot and strong based on his outfit? Sara drove in from CP#2 (check point) and picked us up, our day had begun. The later day/early evening flowed as we made our way from CP to CP unpacking and waiting – repacking and moving on. Sara was a bundle of nerves, happy to see Derrick come in and anxious every time he left. Based on his previous year and his performance so far, the plan was for me to join him at CP#6 on his final return at around 8:00pm. I was ready to roll, and at 7:59pm he arrived at the CP, reloaded and we headed off right on schedule.

Derrick had 4 goals for this race for himself, 3 of which I knew could be reached if we arrived before midnight, so leaving the CP we had 4 hours to cover 30km, time for me to get to work.

CP#6 - #5 - The first section was 5km long and the only stretch that I had not run before. I was surprised when we left CP#6 at how well Derrick was moving. We paced through the few hills and too many random logs fairly smoothly, arriving at CP#5 in good time.

CP#5 - #4 - After a quick pit stop at CP#5, we headed out for the longest section we’d face that night, 10km until #4. This section is the hardest. It has a couple of relentless climbs and some pretty technical areas. Derrick had a “bad spell” a couple of kms in, but recovered fairly quickly. I was impressed by how smooth he was running. He had asked that I lead on the up hills and he would lead on the down hills, but I instinctively knew that he would prefer to lead the majority of the time, as it the easiest for the experienced runner. So I let him take the lead through most of the trails, passing and trying to pull him when I felt he needed a little motivation. We passed quite a few other 100 milers heading out through this area, everyone seemed to be taking it all in and having fun with the beautiful night in the woods. Finally through that section, it was a welcome sight to see the dangling glow sticks and hear the aid station; we exited the woods and almost sprinted down to the CP.

CP#4 - #2 This was just a short 4km stretch, when done you have that awful loop around the lake to look forward to, but you are out of the physically tough section into the mental part. The coolest moment was when Derrick said it was here that he fell apart last year.. Just after he said it, he accelerated ahead as if to put a stamp on it -> it was not going to happen tonight!

CP#2 - #3 Up to this point I had been letting Derrick control the pace and only kick it up a bit when I felt he was losing focus. However, coming out of CP#2 I knew we had a good shot at the sub-18 and it was business time. I lead out of the CP and onto Normac, where once again Derrick had a “bad spell”, but after apologizing for the dinner conversation, he took the lead and we were off again. We exited Normac, climbed a long up hill, started running. From here it was us against the clock, and I was damned if I was going to let the clock win. A brief stop at CP#3 and we were off for the home stretch.

CP#3-CP#2-CP#1 Countdown. We had just over 5kms left and the clock was our enemy, 18 hours was doable but we needed to stay focused, time for me to get to work. I lead Derrick out of the CP and just ran; so long as I could see my shadow in his headlamp and hear his footsteps I knew he was fine. There was no conversation; there was no need. We both knew what had to be done. Derrick held strong to the invisible string, we ran the tangents on the corners, racing under the stars. Just before turning off the road to the small trail that lead to CP#2, Derrick said we have to enter the CP together, so I pulled aside and let him lead following him in. I told him to make it quick, and he did. He actually accelerated through the CP heading to the last 1.5km to the finish. I quickly took over the lead again as we followed another runner up that final climb – for a brief moment I thought it might have been the race leader, but it turned out to be Derrick’s friend Keith, having an amazing race too. Derrick struggled up the final climb and we ran stride for stride to the blinking lights ahead… the finish line, crossing in 17:52 – job done.

Words escape me as I try to describe what a thrill it was to watch such a dedicated ultra runner. The strength, focus, determination and pure athletic ability were inspiring to watch over the course of the day, and especially the final 4 hours that I got to spend with Derrick. It was an honor to be able to play a small part in his reaching 3 of his goals; beating his time from last year (18:42), breaking the 2006 course record (18:23), and finally, breaking 18 hours.

I have always said that I would never, ever run a 100 mile race. Now, I am not so sure.

Derrick report is posted on his site here

Kimberley's great pictures here


Kimberley said...

Quote: I have always said that I would never, ever run a 100 mile race. Now, I am not so sure. OH CRAP!
Awesome job pacing love. I really, really enjoyed the adventure and I especially liked being there with/for Sara as your job was to be there for Derrick!
I'm very proud of everyone. xoxox

Derrick said...

You were awesome and just nailed it! Thank you so much! I can't tell you how great it was to have you out there. You did everything that I needed and so much more. I have been replaying the race in my head ever since finishing....especially the last 30km, and was amazed with how you anticipated what I needed without even having to ask. Once again, I would not have achieved these goals if not for you...as evident by my last 25miles being 40mins faster in 2009 compared to 2008.
Thanks again and I look forward to returning the favour!

Sara said...

"Oh Crap!" Oh boy! Too funny.

I loved your report, David. What a perfect pacer you were; just the right approach and it all seems very natural to you, although at the same time well thought out. I don't think either of us knew about the running in the dark fear when you agreed to do it (with zero hesitation!), and that just makes it all the more giving of you and special.

Thanks to you and Kim my nerves were NOTHING this year compared to last year! :) Sharing the day with you guys was the best.

JD said...

Great post. Job well done. I can't even imagine running those hills at night going at the speed Derrick needs to go.

Again that word: UNBELIEVABLE.

Liza Pye said...

Hey David!
Not sure if you remember me...I was at haliburton last year with you guys! I'm out west now, so obviously didn't see you there in 2009, but I noticed that you've signed up for the K-Rock! I did the Diamond Ultra this past year and it was super. I skied, but I can certainly give you some hints about gear, sled design, etc. Feel free to ask away!

Aaron said...

Great report as always David! Derrick picked the right person for the job! It was also great finally getting to meet you in person. I hope the jerky helped :)
50 miler hmmmmmmm

Derrick's parents said...

Thanks you so much, David, for being there with Derrick through the final dark miles as it relieved our minds to know you were there with him.

Carrie said...

Wow. Great report. You guys inspire me so much!

EJ said...

Hey David I really loved hearing your perspective of the race. I am truely amazed that you ran that course in the dark with no prior experience and on top of that lead Derrick to the finish in under 18 hrs. Amazing!!