Arash and I planned to pace Mike approximately 25 kilometers from Cleveland Dam to the turnaround at Nelson Creek. It was pleasantly cool out. Thick clouds shrouded Cypress Mountain and there was a threat of rain... a prospect I wasn't exactly looking forward to.
As a pacer, one's job is multi-faceted, but success is measured quite simply: "Did your runner finish?"
This task sounds simple enough, but in fact, can become quite a hairball. God help, for example, the pacer who gets their runner lost, who says the wrong thing at the wrong time and destroys the person's morale, or who runs too fast or too slow for their runner.
Mike was running strong. A very experienced runner with a goal of improving his pervious best time on the Vancouver 100 course, Mike had distributed an email to all crew and pacers with everyone's names, mobile numbers, where they were running from and to as well as a spreadsheet with estimated arrival times at important checkpoints at 10-15K intervals along the course. From the aggressive way Mike charged through the aid station at Cleveland Dam, I could see he was on a mission... and I would be hard-pressed to keep up to him over the next 4-5 hours!
If you were to look at the profile of the section of trail I was pacing, it would look like a pyramid. Two-and-a-half hours up, 2 hours down. Somewhere between 1/3 and 1/4 of our route would be in the snow.
Things went as smooth as silk as we ran up to the snow line. Mike's mood was great. We passed the time telling stories and letting him set the pace. We closed in on the runner with the familiar yellow shirt (David Crerar) and passed him at about the level were the stink cabbage gives way to snow. I thought I smelled baking bread. (Turns out it was Mike's "Cookies and Cream" energy bar.)
Mike's energy level dropped when we arrived at the snow-covered XC ski trails. Was he drinking enough? (What color is that pee?) Was he eating enough? (What, apart from Cookies and Cream bars, have you eaten since 3:30 this morning?) A blast of quick energy from a gel appeared to do the trick. I lost my spare shades somewhere around there when I pulled a pair of gloves out of my pack.
I figure one of the jobs of a pacer is to capture a few memories for the post-run party. To that end, I brought a camera I hoped would capture someone fall into a creek or otherwise perform a dramatic move for posterity sake. Mike was running so quickly, I barely had time to pull it out and snap a poorly-composed photo before he would drop me so badly I had to run hard to catch up.
The trail section from the wide, cross-country ski trail across the side of Cypress Mountain to the downhill ski are parking lot, is challenging to follow on the best of days. The time had arrived to earn my keep as a pacer and run ahead a bit to make sure we were on course. Where did the orange markers go? Arash, Mike and I fanned-out. Mike saw a markers and we managed to regain the trail before precious time was lost. Oh no... first black mark against my name in my pacer role!
Snow on this section of the trail was consistently inconsistent. Running became very difficult, as the snow was at once icy, soft and hollow underneath. Every second step, it seemed, was a post-hole (where your foot falls through the snow, sometimes to the knee). I struggled to catch-up with Mike and Arash, then ran into old buddies Curb and Scott, who were returning down the trail after their own running adventure in the snow. We chatted for a bit as we carefully descended a deep snow gully with a rushing creek at the bottom. Oh no... too much lollygagging and socializing. A second black mark against my name. It took me 20 minutes to catch up to Mike and Arash!
The snow from Cypress Bowl to Black Mountain was deep, so post-holeing was no longer an issue. I tried to make good for past misdeeds by taking the lead and allowing Mike to focus more on running than route-finding. In shorts and light running gear, we passed a group of 4 hikers tricked out with crampons and hardware suitable for a trek up Mount Everest. Recent deaths on Mount Everest became a topic of discussion. As we approached the summit of Black Mountain, the dark image of freeze-dried corpses lining the route gave pause for reflection. Oh no... negative thoughts, another pacing no-no!
We stopped briefly to claim Black Mountain in the 2012 Bagger Challenge and began our descent to the course turn-around. Somewhere along this section, I broke my big toe. Funny, I truly don't recall where it happended? I figure I kicked about 500 rocks over the 25K, but that would be normal for a run on this particularly rocky route. My feet were soaked and frozen from running in the snow, so I guess when the incident did occur, I was numb to the pain. In any case, I began to fall behind at Eagle Bluffs and didn't see Mike again that day until he had changed pacers and was running back uphill!
Forgive me, brother, for I have done a sheit job of pacing.
For the record, here are some of my experiences running alone down the side of Black Mountain:
snow turns to mud just below Eagle Bluffs
route finding is actually an issue. It occured to me that, while I may have run this trail 100 times, I had never once run it in this direction.
it's tougher going down the boulder field than it is going up. Especially with a broken toe
I wanted a video of someone falling into a creek. Unfortunately, the video was not on when I lept from one slippery log to another, slipped on the slime and went into the creek.
it was a pain-in-the ass running down the fast-moving creek chasing my shades (the spare pair I did not lose on the snowfield)
Sammy looked like $1-million as he bounded up the trail. I felt bad for stopping him for a chat, as this might have meant the course record for him. (It didn't. Congrats, Sammy!)
in the hope that I might still catch Mike and Arash before the turnaround, I put the hammer down. I hammered past the Whyte Lake trail junction and barrel-assed toward Horseshoe Bay on the wrong trail.
some hikers alerted me of the cute baby bear just ahead. I noticed a huge pile of steaming bear skat in the middle of the trail that clearly didn't belong to the baby bear
Ian had picked up 2 boxes of Tim Horton donuts as comfort food. (Ian, by the way, spent his whole day and part of 2 nights driving the Team Adventure Mike mobile aid station/sag wagon to every checkpoint along the course) I treated myself to one of Mike's French crullers and shared part of a maple glaze with Sacha's hound
A great, big "Congratulations!" to all of the unbelievably determined and talented runners who challenged the course. I look forward to pacing again next year... that is, if anyone will take me!