A pacer’s tale

Finish line

Last year I ran my first 100 miler at the Lost Soul ultra in Lethbridge AB. Successfully I won the race in 21hrs 26min and overall was very happy with my performance. It was only fitting that when my best friend John Hubbard told me he was running his first miler at Lost Soul that I be the dude crewing him. Last year my pacer and brother Dan Proctor played a key roll in getting me to the finish line. At one point during the final stretch he even open hand smack me upside the face to wake me from a sudden sleep spell. Later he told me he enjoyed it but I still think it was his way of showing his undivided love for his little brother.

Friday September 5th the gun went off at 8:00am and that’s when I accepted the roll of crewing John. The day before I learned that my friend Alissa St. Laurent  who was running the 100K didn’t have crew. I volunteered to help her whenever I could. Cumulatively during those two days I ended up sporadically crewing many of my buddies which I found exhilarating.

John would run the first two laps (106K) then I’d join him for the final 54K. All throughout the day I drove from aid station to aid station helping out as many runners as possible. The front runners would make their way through the aid stations as quick as possible whereas most runners would arrive at the stations, regroup, fuel and get back out on the trail. The stations are always one of a kind. Stocked with slushy machines, BBQ salmon, bacon, burgers, a ton of fruit and yes…even a chocolate fondu machine! It’s impossible to leave an aid station not feeling upset you can’t stay longer.

Over eager pacer

The funniest crew mishap that happened that day was I was running alongside Alissa entering the Pavan aid station. She asked me if I could put some pink powder from her pack into her bottle. My clumsy hands seemed to rip the baggy completely in half releasing a large pink pixie dust cloud all over me. Alissa stopped and started laughing hysterically. Well, the rest of the day I guess I was wearing pink.

Meanwhile, John was sitting comfortably in 3rd or 4th place for the first 50M. He looked strong and in control whereas his competitors were starting to show signs of fading. I knew that John’s strength was really going to come into play into the wee hours of the morning. John is a very mentally strong dude who always needs to finish what he started. John and I do loads of training together. We feed off each other’s energy and our meeting time is almost always at night after the kids go down to bed. Night running and John Hubbard went together like peanut butter and jam. We would run so often at night it almost seemed strange to run during daylight hours. Running at night after a long work day sucks and we’d often say “Embrace the suck!” I proudly wore my shirt displaying that very saying while I crewed my best bud that race day.

Heading out on final north loop

Around 9:00pm I was getting ready for my pacer role at the start/finish line for the long, overnight trek with John helping him through the final lap, the last 53K of this grueling course. I had all my gear but most importantly I had a speaker in my pack blaring rock music and 75 glow sticks attached to my body trying to get a rise from my exhausted compadre. We departed on the south loop, just a short 7K loop before heading out on the larger 46K north loop. John who was solid and looked in control all day started showing signs of fading. We got back to HQ, drank a Red Bull and learnt we had a 7 minute lead. A friend told us that Majo Snrik was looking strong and was asking how far he was behind John; Majo was hungry for a win. Not only that Philippe Legace was not far behind Majo. Now a bit scared, we left HQ to tackle the two hardest legs on the course. As we ran down the first coulee John and I had the same thought, “GAP LAP.” We needed to gap Majo and Philippe enough in the next 20K that essentially the race would be over. Even if John is feeling destroyed, the chasers would feel so hopeless that they would give up the chase. It was impressive to watch John run like a stalked prey. I don’t know if it was the Red Bull or running scared shitless but John seemed to find another gear. I kept turning around and telling him how impressive this pace was. He kept saying he was not at all comfortable with a 7 minute lead. When we got to the Pavan aid station, roughly the 130K mark we saw two friends Leanne Doerksen and Dennene Huntley. Dennene ran the 100K earlier and Leanne crewed her. Needless to say they were dog tired but there they were coffee in hand committing to crew us the rest of the race. We left that aid station not knowing what John’s lead was but knew he ran damn well. If

John and Majo after finishing

Philippe or Majo could keep the 7 minute gap, then kudos to them. I was so proud watching John run away and up the next coulee, still not satisfied with his lead. I received a text from Leanne 16 minutes later telling me Majo ran straight through the aid station only stopping long enough to ask where John was. She said he looked strong. John turned to me and said he still wasn’t comfortable with the new 16 minute lead. I told him there was a flat section ahead where we could carry some serious speed. John was hunched, quiet and obviously exhausted, yet the idea of winning was the carrot on the string that made him not only maintain but accelerate his pace. With 1K to go before the Pavan aid station, roughly the 147K mark, I ran ahead to get his drink and food ready allowing a crazy fast transition. Knowing that Dennene and Leanne would leave for the Pennaquim aid station I asked a friend if he could text me when Majo came in. We skittered right out of there, still moving at an unreal speed given this point of the race. John became more talkative, his spirit was lifting and 29 minutes after leaving the Pavan aid station I heard a loud beep. John immediately turned knowing we were receiving a very important text. The text read “Majo is leaving Pavan and is 29 minutes behind you and knows he is not catching.” I turned to John and congratulated him on winning the Lost Soul 100miler and being the ACU 100M national champion! We high fived and that’s when he said he was still not completely comfortable until he was climbing the last coulee, looks back and doesn’t see a charging Eastern European hunting him down. That being said, we slowed the pace, had some good buddy time and every step was one closer to an ice cold celebratory beer. At 5:41am John Hubbard ran across the finish line as the winner of the Lost Soul 100mile!

As I reflect on what happened that night I think of how John and I met. Our friendship was forged by running at night, it only seems fair that running all through the night at Johnny’s first 100 miler would be the definitive and most rewarding experience we have had together. 
Photos courtesy of Daniel Bowie

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