PACING TOM BRENNAN IN THE 2006 ARKANSAS TRAVELLER 100.
I did not know what to expect when I agreed to pace Tom Brennan in the AT100. He had paced me in 2004 so I owed him and was happy to help. Tom has been a good friend over the years though we only saw each other once in a while at races and spoke mainly by email. He also would be directly racing my good friends Steve Kirk and Greg Eason. who I see all the time and train with so while I wanted to help Tom win, I would not be disappointed to see one of them win as well.
I knew Tom was very fast, and is so fast on down hills that I doubt anyone in Arkansas right now can hang with him. He's also a great climber, and had won some big races. He had never gone past 50 miles, and also did not have a lot of experience with managing his systems, fluid intake and nutrition requirements. He also didn't have much experience in running at night, and since it was his first 100 no one knew how he would react to the low points and pain that come with any 100 miler. What he did have was a tremendous amount of speed, and as I was to learn a great desire to win the race.
When Tom and his first pacer Harold hays came through Chili Pepper at mile 53 they were in 3rd and Harold said Tom was running strong. He told me I better get ready to run. I really didn't take this warning seriously.
When Tom arrived at Powerline where I was to meet him, Harold was about 100 yards back and Tom was as strong as ever. I had his light, t shirt, filled his bottle, and hurried out to catch him for the run over to chicken gap. He remarked briefly about how much fun it was running with Harold, and how much Harold had pushed him so far. From then on our only conversation involved what lay ahead on the course, how far to the next aid station, how far back Steve and Greg were in my opinion, and whether I thought they were running this particular hill we were walking. He did not want me asking the radio personnel where they rally were, we just speculated through the night.
From the beginning Tom told me he never looks at his watch, never wants to know the splits, and never wants to know the time of day. He keeps track in his head, and usually knows within a minute or two where he's at. He simply runs as hard as he can and does the best he can at that moment I was wearing a Nike speed distance monitor so I knew exactly what was going on at all times, and it was very hard not to tell him. When I slipped a few times and said "hey we ran that last mile in 9:30", he let me know he didn't want to know.
He also is not happy or relaxed unless he is dropping someone. He wanted me 1 step behind him at all times, and on downhill's he wanted me at least 20 yards behind, which was no problem, as he really fly's on down hills and I could not have stayed with him anyway. His stated goal was to beat me to the next aid station, every time. He usually had a 2-3 minute lead, and I had to sprint and run a sub 8 minute mile to catch him. That is what a pacer does and it was working well.
At every aid station I would hear that Greg and Steve were 10, 7, 3 15, etc minutes back. Tom did not know this but he was racing like they were 10 seconds back. Many times he looked back and saw a glow stick and said there's Greg, lets go and we'd start sprinting up a hill. Or he would see two glow sticks and say there's Steve and Greg they are both catching us, and we'd run down a steep rocky hill at sub 8 minute pace.
I know how tough Steve and Greg are. I knew they could climb faster than us and match our pace on the flats, but I did not think they could catch us on the downhill. I doubt anyone could have matched the pace Tom ran on the downhills. I would not run that fast on those roads and trails if I were doing downhill repeats.
Tom ran most of the race from Winona without his headlamp on. He also ran the tough 212 rocky gap section in 45 mins, all the time complaining that he was bonking, slowing down and running 15-20 minute miles. I knew this was not the case, but kept the info to myself.
At Electric tower is where the race finally turned in our favor. Tom ran on through, and by the time I got things, I had to run as hard as I ever had in my life to catch him at pumpkin patch. It didn't help that he had his light off and swore that he saw Steve and Greg coming into the aid station as he was leaving. I knew they were close but not that close. My split was 14:30 for 2.1. When I finally caught him at the pumpkin patch I gave him a drink and a hammer gel and told him to take off and I would jog on home. He refused, he wanted me with him. I was afraid that I would slow him down too much so I convinced him to go. I decided I better go with him as long as I could. I had come this far, I wanted to finish with him and was also concerned that If I didn't he might get DQ'd.
We ran strong to the finish, and ran the last mile in 6:42. It was an incredible experience, and I think I learned more than Tom did. I have never seen anyone with such a strong desire to win, and would have never dreamed that anyone could run that hard that late in a race. I have a lot of work to do on the mental game of running, and also in handling pain late in a race. Tom really left it all on the trails, and won a hard fought victory over two good friends and great competitors. 3 guys gave it their all and were genuinely happy for each other, the effort and most of all for the great race that is was.
In conclusion, Toms guess at his time was 19:10, he ended up running a 17:47.
RACE REPORT FOR AT 100 -
I had never before been so nervous before a race. So many questions
were going through my head. What was I doing here? Why was I doing
this? Etc. I didn\'t have answers for these questions and just knew
that I had to try to finish. I had to see if I had what it took to
make it through the rough times.
My training was very rigorous leading up to this event. I had also
run a strong 50 miler in Minnesota in July and that gave me some
confidence but it was still TWICE that distance and that was hard
The weather was perfect and that was one thing going for me.
Furthermore, I had great support. I have many ultra friends in
Arkansas including Darin Hoover who put me up at his house the night
before in Little Rock. He and Paul Shoenlaub had gave me good advice
about e-caps and nutrition. I also planned to follow Darin\'s advice
on how to run the course as he had completed it twice before (the
second time I had paced him).
The plan was to go out slow until 17, pick it up a little to 30. Real
slow to 50. Run hard to 70 and then survive to 100. This strategy
had a lot to do with course terrain as much as anything.
My goal was to finish, nothing more - but if I was having a good day,
I was going to run as hard as I could.
The morning was nice and cold and my fingers were numb the first
several miles. Alas, the day broke and the sun came out and it felt
nice. What a beautiful, cool, crisp, autumn morning. The first ten were so easy. The miles over the Ouachita Trail were great. The single path trail was mostly downhill and I loved it and I may have went a little faster than anticipated but that was okay
because I was feeling good.
From 17 - 30, I picked it up a little but still was reserved. By this
time, the top three or four runners had left and were far ahead. The running
still was easy and I just kept thinking that when I get to30, I
will go as slow as I want. Which I did. I really took it easy.
At mile 48, I picked up my pacer Harold Hays, and I picked up the pace
as this is a smooth runnable twenty mile section. 50 goes by and then
55 and I am still feeling good. At the turnaround at 58, we see the
two runners ahead of me and I feel we will pass them soon. By mile 64
I am in the lead and I am in disbelief. I have run further than I
have ever run in my life and I am not hurting at all. All of the
miles have been easy. When will I bonk? I keep waiting for signals
from my body of a preeminate bonk but nothing comes so I run with it.
But when I do bonk, will I be able to handle it? Only time will tell.
Mile 68, I pick up my second pacer Darin Hoover. We take it easy up
Smith Mountain to mile 70. I\'m still feeling good and I still cannot
believe it so I just go with it. Down the mountain we go nearly as
fast as I can. Darin is wearing a Nike Time-Distance monitor. I do
not want to know my time or how far ahead we are. I checked my watch
once at mile 50 and it was 8:40 so I knew I was having a great day
(but when will I bonk?) Darin tells me after the race that we hit
those miles down smith mtn at a 6:42 pace.
We get to Smith Mtn aid station at the bottom of the mountain and I feel some heat on my heal. I check it out and it is rubbing and bleeding pretty good so they
bandage it very good and we move on. Mile 80 comes and still no bonk
but now the miles get progressively harder. Night came at the bottom
of Smith Mtn and I try not to think about how far we still have to go.
I just keep trying to get to Winona Aid Station at mile 84. We move
out and I am running hard but getting tired. The hills are getting
really tough and I feel like we are really slowing down. I am sure
that my friends Greg and Steve must be catching us and I use that to
push me up the hills. Strangely enough it becomes easier to jog the
hills rather than power walk as I had been doing. There is one
particular rocky tough section with a hill that goes on forever. I
didn\'t bonk here but came close. It was sooo tough.
Finally back to runnable forest roads. I run into the aid station at
mile 91 and am only there for a few seconds. As I leave I hear a volunteer at the aid station say \"Another runner is coming\". Holy *#$&! I wanted to cry. Oh
well. At least I gave it that good fight. And more importantly, at
least I will get a buckle. I knew that if any one caught me it would
drop the wind from my sails and I would slow to a crawl. And now here
they were right behind me. No way could I challenge another runner
after trying to hold them off this long.
But the next aid station is only 2.2 miles ahead and then 6 miles to
the finish. I decide to give it one last push. Maybe I can hang on to the lead to
mile 94. I run as hard as I can. Fearing that I will be caught at any moment I must be running 8 minute miles. Darin catches up with me near the mile 94 aid station. I tell him about the girl who said another runner was coming. He said I was
crazy because he was there for two more minutes and no one came
I began to think again that I might have a chance to win. We breezed
through that last aid station. I pushed hard and Darin was great
support. Up the last hill and then two miles downhill to home. I
continued to run hard and the excitement grew with each step. Then
mile 99, uh oh, I have to use the bathroom. I asked Darin if he
thought I had time to go or if I should just hold it and he said to go. So I got some toilet paper and went a few feet in the woods to go. Wouldn\'t that be great,
squatting here taking a )&*^& at mile 99 in a 100 mile race and get
But it didn\'t happen and as I crossed the line it was pure joy and
elation that very likely I will never feel again.
I look at my watch for only the second time that day expecting to see 19:10. The watch read 17:47!
What a day! I never thought I could do it.