Experiences with pacing and crewing

Experiences with pacing and crewing
Apryle crossing Bridge

I would be remiss if I did not express my gratitude to those that have paced, crewed or provided support to me during my various excursions of the ultra marathon variety. Much like a professional cyclist requires stoic domestiques in order to reach the finish line in top form; ultramarathon runners benefit similarly from an experienced crew and perceptive pacers. It is quite possible to finish a 50 or 100 mile race without either, but it requires extensive planning, self discipline or exceptional talent. More importantly, who wants to bask in the glory of finishing a race of that magnitude alone?

Coming from a track background where speed is everything, carrying water or food never entered my mind. For years I would run for hours without even considering much less feeling the need for provisions. If I am running less than 30 miles or rather less than four hours I still do not feel the need to bring food. I have broken down and started carrying a handheld water bottle for long runs. I have taken the minimalist mentality into running ultramarathons, but as indicated from my lackluster finishes; food and water are key. I have learned to heed the advice of Napoleon, that an army does indeed march on its stomach. The quality of forward progress during a race is proportional to intake of nutrients.

That is why a solid crew, pacers and support group is key. Not only do they provide you with nutritional needs, they also provide you with companionship and encouragement. Additionally, I feel that finishing the race is further incentivized by the fact that others have sacrificed to help get me get to that point. Therefore, I would not only be disappointing myself but disappointing my team. This is no different than running outside of my abilities within a 3200-meter relay versus an open 800 meter race in high school. I performed better when others are depending on me and I thrive under that pressure.

During Leadville in 2012, I had the advantage of spending over a month in Leadville adventuring with my pacers. We made the cross country trip to Leadville and lived out of Mountain Peaks motel on the corner of 24 and Harrison street. During that time we hiked Hope Pass, swam in Turquoise Lake and Twin Lakes, hiked Mount Elbert and Massive and we even attended Boom Days.

Passed out at the Fish Hatchery with Jay Smithberger and Shaun Pope

We planned out weeks in advance how we would coordinate race day and my dad flew into Colorado Springs a few days before the race to assume command as crew leader. My best friend from college, Tom Wilkin would assume the difficult task of pacing me from Winfield to Twin Lakes. Pete Brown, a friend and former rugby player from Ohio University would pace me from Twin Lakes to Fish Hatchery. Then Tom would reassume duties of pacing over Sugar Loaf Pass, which we practiced a few weeks before. Finally, friend and college rival John Gogle would pace me from May Queen back into Leadville.

The trek up Hope went well, Tom kept me motivated and I was feeling spry when I got into Twin Lakes where Pete began pacing. I was feeling great until we were half way between Elbert mini aid and Half Pipe. Then the wheels fell off; I was struggling to maintain a walk. Pete did an excellent job of keeping me moving; when we were leaving Half Pipe Pete yelled out to the crowd of spectators asking if anyone had salt. We were lucky enough to acquire some and I remember I actually had to pretty much eat it out of his palm.

At Fish Hatchery I appeared to be finished. I passed out and my crew with the exception of my dad headed back to the hotel to pack up. However, I popped back up and hit the trail. My dad did his best to ascend power lines with me but his lack of elevation acclimation got the better of him and he turned back. At any rate this actually raised my confidence and within a few minutes I had caught up to Jay Smithberger and Shaun Pope who I met in the last aid station. Now I was without food or water at this point; so it is safe to say I would not have finished the race if it were not for Shaun’s excellent pacing.

Jay was en route to accomplishing the impressive feat of the Grand Slam of Ultras (which he went on to do when he completed the Wasatch Front 100 in September with an overall time of 91:33:57). Shaun too had a very impressive ultra marathon resume despite being only one year older than me. Both of the individuals I might add were from the great state of Ohio as well. Shaun did an excellent job of keeping both Jay and I on pace and helping me stay fed and hydrated.

After departing May Queen we went at our own pace and parted ways. The trip around Turquoise Lake was lonely and I was elated to see my father as I hit the stretch of road, meaning that there was less than five miles of racing remaining. It was poetic to finish the Leadville 100 walking in side by side with my father on his birthday and hotel neighbor and veteran Troy Waller who waited up eight hours to watch me finish. It is a moment I will never forget. That is what pacing and crewing is all about.

Leadville 2013, was more efficient because we knew what to expect. My father, my most trusted lieutenant in the mountains was there once again to crew and Apryle was there to pace the two mountain stretches. Additionally, one of my best friends from high school Craig Genet was there to pace the flat stretches. Once again I am indebted to them all for there support.

It is safe to say that I would not have made it over Hope Pass without Apryle keeping my nutrition in check. I went from a hypoglycemic emergency to running full tilt back down the pass. When I met up with Craig we took it conservative and walked for a while. We worked into a jog and then at Fish Hatchery I was feeling good. Apryle and I tackled Sugar Loaf an hour faster than the previous year. Upon reaching May Queen I knew that I was capable running across the line this year. In the final stretch down Sixth Street, we triumphantly ran together, my father, Apryle, Craig and Catherin. Once again a moment I will never forget.

In late February of last year I got my first experience of pacing for someone. Apryle ran her first 50 mile race in Rocksprings, Texas. It was the Nueces 50 and in typical Joe Prusaitis style, it was rocky and hilly. Apryle did an amazing job tackling a difficult course. I found it very rewarding to put all of my energy into helping her run the best race possible. Additionally, I enjoyed being the one dishing out the pain in setting a pace for once.

Although, I know she was strong enough to run the event on her own and finish without a pacer, I am glad I was there. It was fun running between each aid station, calculating times and projecting times that she would hit at each checkpoint. Pacing the last lap was interesting, I finally got to see how the course linked up and most importantly I was able to watch Apryle throw down an incredibly fast finishing kick in the last three miles. Watching her cross the finish is another memory that I will never forget.

Last summer, a friend that I met in Leadville in 2012, Alan Murphy asked me to pace him at the Badwater 135 in July. This was a great honor and I would have loved to have been even a small part of his amazing accomplishment, but unfortunately Physical Therapy school scheduling did not allow me the opportunity to get away. At any rate Alan went on to finish the iconic Badwater 135 in 41:47:30.

Most recently in the JFK 50; Apryle once again did an amazing job of getting from point to point to cheer me on and provide me with much needed water. Additionally, Kenny Janasko provided me with valuable course information and advice. A race can be run and even won without the assistance of a crew and pacers, but I prefer to share in the experience with my friends and family.

It makes the process of competing in these events that much more enjoyable when there is a positive support team. Both my mother and my father have always been extremely supportive of my running and racing; always providing encouragement. Apryle has always been equally as encouraging and has been my strongest supporter in developing workout plans and race plans. I am looking forward to the next pacing and or racing experience.

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