Friday, June 27, 2014

Pacing Margo at TGNY 100 Mile

My sister was running The Great New York 100 Mile race, her first 100, and she asked me to fly out and help her by pacing the night sections. Pacers are highly recommended at night - the course is "open course", with runners responsible for knowing the route and a small field of ~30 runners. It's a minimal course with only $60 entry fee. Aid stations are every 5 miles with water and gatorade provided by the race, everything else is provided by the volunteers themselves.

Margo guess-timated she'd be at mile 60 around 5 pm, 12 hours after she started. This seemed like a blistering pace to me, but I didn't want to be late. After I bought a jar of pickles & watermelon chunks for her (the joy of an urban race), I took the subway the hour out to Queens and settled in at a Starbucks to wait for her at 4:30. At 5:30 I texted her, concerned, as I thought she'd left mile 55 around 4:30. I'd been following her all day with Facebook posts from aid station volunteers. What I thought was mile 55 was actually 50, and she said she was 6.5 miles away. Well! I found a pub a 1/2 block from the Starbucks & settled into watch the first half of the Bosnia - Nigeria World Cup match. 

Margo arrived at 7:15, in a bit of a bad spot - the day was hot and she'd walked most of the last section. I gave her 2 hour old soy java chip Frappucino, and we started walking. She seemed in no mood to run, and I was in no mood to make her run. Plus the jar of pickles was really quite heavy. I calculated pace in my head - even if we walked the next 40 miles we'd still finish before the 33 hour cutoff. 

When we got to the 100K aid station (mile 62), Margo COULD have dropped & taken the 100K finish, as other runners were doing. No, she was moving slowly but steadily. She changed her shoes and we set off again. We grabbed pizza slices, and wrapped up in foil a sweet potato and eggplant parmesean for later.  She drank the pickle juice from the jar, and ate a few pickles. The food bag I was carrying with watermelon, pickles, and "to-go" Italian was still heavy. We put the pickles in a sandwich baggie and dumped the jar. So I was carrying a bag full of drippy pickly increasingly nasty food. 

After mile 65, the sun had set. Margo stopped at a set of two Porta-potties. Though I didn't see them, I saw the expression on her face when she opened the door & looked inside, which said "EWWWW". I watched the jets stacked up above JFK waiting to descend, as mosquitoes descended into me. 

Now Margo wanted to run - and so we started running for 10 minutes, then walking two. I still had the pickles, and finally found a trash can, after lugging them for 8 miles. We stopped in at a bar to use the bathroom & I was excited to hear real "Nah Yawk" accents from the other patrons hanging out in Queens. We climbed a bridge where there was a honky-tonk underneath & it was tempting to stop in and get a drink. 

Mile 70 aid station went by in a flash, then we were at mile 75, a beautiful aid station with Empire State Building flashing ~15 miles away. We started to leave when Margo complained about her blisters. "Stop & tape them - they won't get better on their own". So this was our longest stop, as Margo taped her blisters. 

Margo had brought ramen packets for soup (no noodles), and now wanted them. We stopped at a Russian cafe and I bought baklava & they gave me a cup of hot water "no charge". We walked through Little Odessa past flashy night clubs and drunk serenaders. To my surprise, mile 80 DID have hot water, and I drank some ramen soup.

Now came the long part of the night - we had 20 miles to go, and it was 2 AM. I had deliberately tried to stay somewhat on West Coast time so it didn't feel too bad for me, but Margo was starting to flag. We walked all of Coney Island Boardwalk past lingering courting couples and delinquent teenagers, as Margo sipped her soup. After Coney Island, Margo warned me the neighborhood was "iffy", and we needed to run (not walk). I really wanted a Red Bull but all the stops on Coney Island had been shut for hours. 

We entered the sketchy part of Brooklyn under a huge crescent moon. There was a convenience store with a window open, with two very strung out guys waiting to be helped. Margo did NOT want to stop there. We kept running to a Chevron whose market was open, and then the funniest exchange of the night happened…I buy my Red Red Bull & immediately start drinking it while waiting to pay. A white tattooed guy sees me drinking and says, "Is that the best thing to drink after running?"
Me: "I'm not done running."
Him: "You know Red Bull is really bad for you, right?"
 I look down at the pack of Newport's he's buying, and he sees me looking at his cigarettes.
HIm: "Maybe I should make better choices also". 
I don't know if he was trying to pick me up or what, but "what" is what happened.

We set off running again, me with my can of red bull, till we got to a 24 hour diner where Margo used the bathroom. Then another section of wooded dark paths. I was really happy that Margo was with me. There's no way I would want her running this course in the dark by herself. We passed a guy in the shadows, and it was unclear if he was urinating or masturbating, and I didn't want to know. 

A persistent theme was Margo saying "my feet hurt", or "I have to go to the bathroom", so I made jokes that her feet were connected to her bladder. Before the race she'd asked "Do you think my feet will hurt?", to which I'd answered there was no doubt in my mind that her feet would hurt. The other joke we kept making was I would ask which bridge was which, and it was always the "Verranzo 

As we ran towards Verranzo-Narrows bridge I heard a "boom, thump" sound and thought it was another honky-tonk. Margo claimed it was "drains". It was a fully decked out bicycle with a generator playing dance music! Crazy!

It was 4 AM and Margo was flagging. I tried to cheer her up by saying twilight was soon - the sun would rise at 5:30 AM, but before that we'd have twilight - first astronomical, then nautical, then civil twilight. But I couldn't remember what nautical twilight was. Margo asked if we'd finish by 7 AM and I had to tell her no.

Then in a flash we were to mile 90 aid station, which was fully stocked with all sorts of goodies! The volunteers were absolutely super - all aid station supplies beyond water & gatorade were donated by the volunteers themselves. Margo lay down on a bench with her feet elevated while I filled our two Hydra-packs - a tedious and messy job. 

Into the heart of Brooklyn with dawn, as I fell back behind to take some photos of Margo against the brick buildings. Margo to me " Is it okay if I kick it now? I want to go faster." Me: um…yeah!!!

The last 6 miles went so quickly - we were at the 95 aid station, then crossing the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan. The last three miles weren't scenic, but it was exciting to think the end was SOO CLOSE. I hadn't timed any of our prior segments as I didn't want to kill my phone battery, but on Strava we clocked the last 3.4 miles at a 10:22 pace - not too shabby!! We would run for the lights, as we didn't want to wait. 

Margo thought the finish was at 46th St, so at 36th we started counting down the blocks from 10, getting closer and closer. There was a light at 43rd that we sprinted for, then we looked up and there was the "finish" - a chalk line and ~10 people cheering. We ran for it, Margo crossed holding my hand, and we both started crying. I'm immensely proud of my sister - I can't believe she ran 100 miles!

Top Takeaways:
Margo was immensely prepared. The route was marked only with chalk. She'd run every segment multiple times. Very rarely did she hesitate.

I can be a pacer! I let Margo dictate the pace - I just kept her going through the long night. Also, the course had some long segments through dark parks - I was happy she wasn't there by herself. 

Did I mention how proud I am?