Things I Learned Pacing an Ultrarunner (for three miles...)

Discuss this post in RPG FitGroup!

Pictured: Sweaty realizations.

 (Want to see the actual run and hear my thoughts in real time?  Check out the video here!

So this past weekend I had an opportunity to go and cheer on my friend Ryan Thorpe as he attempted to break the record for the supported FKT (fastest known time) on the New Jersey section of the Appalachian Trail.  Now, Ryan's been running for quite a while now, with quite a few 50 and 100 mile race finishes behind him.  I'm really proud to put a 5K down once in a while.  Nevertheless, I'm crazy, and Ryan's awful, so in addition to cheering him on, I decided I'd take up the open offer for pacers, as well.  I reached out to Alex, his crew chief (and incredibly supportive wife) to see what I might expect as a pacer.

She told me there was a 3.5 mile section of trail between stops that was the shortest length of trail in the time that Jackie, Lucas and I had available to come cheer.

"Three and a half miles...I think I can do that.  I can do anything for three and a half miles, right?" I thought to myself.

Hoo boy.

At the very least, it was definitely a learning experience...  Here's a couple lessons I picked up:

Take the Leap - And Leave No Recourse

Now, this might not be the best advice for everyone in every situation, but it was for me in this one.  Before we took off, I left my cell phone with Jackie.  There were a couple reasons for this, the most simple being I had no idea what I was in for, and I didn't want to lose my phone out of my pocket on some funky terrain (I don't have one of those cool phone armband things.)  The other reason is that I had no idea what I was in for, and I was, honestly, nervous.  I had hiked some of the AT before, I knew some of it could be brutal, and if I left Jackie my phone, with her and Lucas driving to the next aid station spot, it meant that I had to finish the section - running, walking, or otherwise.  The temptation to double back and phone for pickup a third of the way in didn't exist if I had no way to phone for pickup.

Probably a dumb move, safety-wise, but I'm not always the safest person...

Mental Grit will Take You Far...

So, I'm not a runner.  I mean, I run, sometimes, but it's usually a half hour at a chug-chug kind of pace, and then I call it.  Forty five minutes if I'm feeling crazy (and then, it's at a snail's pace.)  Usually flat ground, too (though occasionally I'll take a jog in the woods.)  I knew, going in, that this was going to be tough, and that cardiovascularly speaking, I'd probably be done at the end of the 3.5 miles, whether I kept up with Ryan and the other pacers or not.

I'm not terribly good at terribly many things.  Luckily, putting my head down and pushing through mental blocks is one of them.  While keeping up with Ryan and the crew wasn't too difficult at first, he was setting a pace over challenging terrain that is normally my "challenge mode" pace on flat terrain.  Worth noting, by the way, that at this point, Ryan was on Mile 54, and had been running for almost twelve hours straight.  I was fresh, well rested, and had recently grabbed a pair of McDonald's snack wraps.  Power fuel, baby!

Nevertheless, I kept on, keeping on.  I was honestly pretty proud that I was keeping up with Ryan and his "We do marathons as warmups," superhuman friends.  I did notice, however, I was the only one that sounded like he was dying of an asthma attack.  NEVERTHELESS, I KEPT ON.

...But It Won't Take You All The Way.

The flat portions of the trail were pretty chill.  The uphill, rocky portions were challenging.  The downhill rocky portions were, surprisingly, the worst of all.  Downhill is fun until you get tired, and it gets technical.  I can't point out any particular moment (though I did trip and stumble a couple of times as we went along,) but somewhere along the way, my left knee started to twinge.  We were probably a good half hour into it when the twinge turned into definite pain.


I paid attention to it as we went along (remember how I always say to listen to your body?) and came to a couple of conclusions. One: it was probably muscular, not ligament/tendon pain.  Two: It was getting worse, particularly on the downhills. Three: If I kept going at the pace we were going at, odds are it was going to become something more serious.  That was a chance I didn't want to take (but honestly it made me really, really mad.)

So, on the next big downhill, I pulled off to the side, let the guys pass, and took a minute to check vitals.  Put some weight on it...okay.  Took an experimental pace or two - ow!!

Yup, definitely something wrong.  Gingerly I made my way down the slope, and then hiked/jogged my way out.  The uphills and flats weren't bad, the downhills sucked!  I tried to keep my spirits high, and enjoy the scenery (it was gorgeous.)  Part of me was really disappointed that I dropped, though.  I kept bouncing back and forth between "I should have just pushed through," and "I made the right call."  In retrospect, it definitely was the right call.  The rest of the day after my muscles cooled down totally sucked, but with stretching and icing I'm basically back to 100% two days later, and I doubt that would be the case if I went much further at the pace we were going.

Ultrarunners are Crazy.  The Good Kind, though.

Seriously, mad respect to distance runners of all kinds, but particularly ultrarunners and trail runners.  Y'all are nuts.  I used to think I was crazy going to judo and karate classes and paying people to beat me up.  Now I know there's another brand of crazy out there.  I recognized you, brothers and sisters in pain.  Our masochism may have different flavors, but y'all are just as nuts as I am!

Ryan's a Badass

Though I didn't see him again that day after taking my stroll through the woods, Ryan went on to complete the NJ section of the Appalachian Trail running over 70 miles through ridiculous terrain, and setting a new FKT of 15:36:25.  To put that in perspective, the previous record was 19:08:25.  Ryan beat the record by three and a half hours.

Though it's not up as of the time of this writing, I'm sure Ryan will have a write-up for this one on his blog soon.  Check it out at  While you're waiting for this FKT attempt, you can read some of his other race reports.  My personal favorites are Manitou's Revenge, Grindstone 100, and The Vermont 100.  As if being an awesome runner wasn't enough, he's also a great writer!  Total package! (Sorry ladies, he's taken!)

So yeah, that was a good time.  Do I see ultrarunning in my future?  Probably not any time soon.  However, I will say I definitely had some extra fire added to my "sub-25 minute 5K by 2018" goal. =D

That's it for today!  Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed it.  I'll see you again on Monday with a new character post!  Until then, as always, remember to live boldly, change the world, and continue to be awesome!

The Best Dan Wallace

Dan wallace released this post 3 days early for patrons.   Become a patron