Liza Howard

Liza Howard

Liza Howard is a national champion runner with multiple records in distances ranging from marathons to 100 mile trail races.

November 2011
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Pacing duties (You might laugh)

LizaLiza

I got to pace my good friend Chris at the Cactus Rose 100 the weekend before last.  I ran with him for 15 miles dressed as a prickly pear cactus pad.  Unexpectedly, this was the smaller adventure of the night.  Like most ultrarunners, I have a large bag of partially used batteries — because I put new batteries into my headlamp and flashlight before each race.  All the partially used batteries go into the “Used Batteries” Ziploc.  Having this “Used Batteries” bag weighs on my soul somehow.  I hate how it takes up space on the shelf and I dream of emptying it.  This mania led me to stuff all 16 ounces of Ziplocked batteries into my Nathan pack before I headed out with Chris.  Bandera is rocky enough and hilly enough that I figured if I actually had to replace a battery, there’d be time to do it.  (Right, I realize that was full-on craziness now.  But if it weren’t for the delusions, I’d have nothing to entertain you with.)

So Chris and I are running along and my flashlight dies.  It doesn’t get dim slowly; It just has a heart attack and dies.  No problem.  I’ve got a pound of batteries.  Of course these batteries are in my Nathan pack, below my water bladder, which is under my prickly pear costume.

And Chris is having the best 100 miler of his life.  There is no walking in sight.  So I take the headlamp off my head to use as a flashlight.  Then I put my water bottle under my arm and wiggle one arm out of the Nathan pack.  Of course the prickly pear costume shifts in front of the headlamp as I do this and I’m thrown into complete darkness.  More wiggling, more darkness, a partial shoulder dislocation, more wishing Chris would start walking, and finally I have my fingers on the “Used Batteries” bag.  I struggle to pull it out from under the water bladder as Chris continues to run.  I am equal parts happy for his wonderful race and wishing his calf would cramp for a short while.  Finally we come to a steep hill and we start walking.  I quickly get three batteries out of the bag.  Of course, the headlamp has become incredibly dim at this point.  And I can’t shine it at the batteries to see which end is which because it’s Bandera, and inattention is rewarded with blood.  So I put the top of the flashlight in my mouth to unscrew it.  Then I dump the battery cartridge into my hand.  So now I’ve got the battery cartridge, and the other two pieces of the flashlight in one hand, and the headlamp and heavy “Unused Batteries” Ziploc in the other, my water bottle under my arm, and my Nathan pack slung over one shoulder.  And the cactus costume foam is beginning to rub my neck raw.  I’m sure an hour has passed at this point.

Chris is on fire.  He runs up a hill.  I curse under my breath.  Then I begin the process of figuring out the right direction to insert the batteries into the flashlight cartridge.  Lots of feeling of springs and battery bumps.  I manage to insert three batteries while running with the top of the flashlight in my mouth.  I insert the cartridge.  I screw on the top.  I press the ON button.  Darkness.  Okay, surely I’ve just inserted the cartridge upside down.

Will Chris ever walk?

I curse quietly, make cheerful pacer conversation, and begin the process of reinserting the battery cartridge.  Sigh.  This time the battery cartridge pack ends up in my mouth. It doesn’t taste like the outside of batteries should.   I ignore this information.  What feels like nine hours later, I’ve reinserted the three AAA batteries, flipped the cartridge and replaced it.  I press the ON button again.

Darkness.

Quiet swearing.  More cheerful conversation:  “Wow Chris, you’re really running well.”  I’m thinking the prickly pear cactus costume foam has actually taken off a layer of skin at this point.  Another hill and I manage to shine the headlamp on the flashlight battery cartridge.  It’s covered in battery acid.  Okay then.  I shove the flashlight into a pocket and reassess.  The headlamp is dim, but functional.  Surely it will last until the next aid station.  I start a deranged conversation with Chris about how it’s so important to have experienced runners as pacers.  My headlamp gets dimmer.  There’s no moon.  I ask Chris our ETA to the next aid station because his estimate will be much better than mine.  2o minutes.  I do a little celebratory cactus dance behind him.

We pull into the aid station where many friends tend to Chris as I switch out headlamp batteries.  I am filled with relief.  I am offered a new flashlight.  I almost refuse.  I’ve only got five miles to go and my headlamp will be fine.  Chris’s guardian angel intervenes and I accept the flashlight.  I refuse the offer to put new batteries in it though.  We leave the aid station with lots of light and Chris’s can of Spaghettios in my pack.  Exactly 12 minutes outside the aid station my headlamp goes black.  I swear to God.  I will let you imagine the contortions, swearing and passage of time as I blindly replace three AAA batteries in the headlamp.  Of course they don’t work.  And, of course, the second set of batteries doesn’t work either.  Chris finally slows to eat Spaghettios and I am able see that the end of the battery isn’t making contact with a small piece of metal in the headlamp.  I do my best to pry the metal out with the end of a GU packet.  Chris hands me the empty Spaghettio can at this point and starts running.  I work on the headlamp as we run.  Healamp, flashlight, and battery Ziploc in one hand — empty Spaghettios can in the other.  It’s a lost cause.  So now I’m down to the borrowed flashlight with questionable batteries.  Totally unacceptable.  And what will I do if it starts to dim?

Ultimately I am not forced to steal glow sticks.  Chris makes it to his next pacer, and the cactus costume doesn’t flay my neck.

I confess the whole story to Chris when we are half a mile out from his next pacer.  I tell the story well, which takes the edge off my incompetence.  Chris laughs because he is good like that.

Rest assured that I’ve got lots of new batteries and a new headlamp and flashlight for Javelina — and a competent pacer.  And it’s going to be a full moon.  Keep your fingers crossed for me anyway people.  🙂

 

 

Comments 18
  • Chris
    Posted on

    Chris Chris

    Reply Author

    What’s amazing is I had no idea all this was going on behind me.


    • Anonymous
      Posted on

      Anonymous Anonymous

      Reply Author

      I am incompetent, but stealthy.  


  • Javelina
    Posted on

    Javelina Javelina

    Reply Author

    Sounds like a story I heard where a pacer didn’t know how to burp a camelbak bladder. There may be more to learn in pacing than actually running a race!


    • Anonymous
      Posted on

      Anonymous Anonymous

      Reply Author

      So true.  And thanks for the flashlight.


    • Anonymous
      Posted on

      Anonymous Anonymous

      Reply Author

      A pacer who didn’t know how do burp a camelbak bladder!?!  Inconceivable!!


  • Domingo
    Posted on

    Domingo Domingo

    Reply Author

    Very funny story. You should write a book about your running adventures and misadventures. I think it would be a best seller.

    Carry a small flashlight as a backup.


    • Anonymous
      Posted on

      Anonymous Anonymous

      Reply Author

      Tom lent me a super snazzy tiny flashlight.


  • Gene
    Posted on

    Gene Gene

    Reply Author

    I learned the same lesson several years ago as I struggled in the dark to replace batteries.  My solution:  carry spare lights that have “new” batteries already installed.  If my light died, I just replaced it with a new one.  The extra expense of more lights is easily justified by the lack of drama.  One more note;  throw away “used” batteries. The extra lights weigh less than a bag of dead batteries.  When you get to your crew, they can replace batteries and return your new spare lights.
    Glad you had that experience at CR and not next weekend at JJ.
    Thanks for the entertainment,
    Gene


    • Lizajanep
      Posted on

      Lizajanep Lizajanep

      Reply Author

      You are a wise man, Gene. I’m going to look like I’m ready to go caving the next time I pace anybody. And I will be very well lit for Javelina — though I’m hoping not to have to use the lights for too many hours.


  • Brian Ricketts
    Posted on

    Brian Ricketts Brian Ricketts

    Reply Author

    Funny stuff.  Wonder if Larry’s pacers had any of the same issues 🙂


    • Lizajanep
      Posted on

      Lizajanep Lizajanep

      Reply Author

      Yeah, Larry might start to feel fortunate about his pacer situation if he reads this. Of course, Tanya & Jason were rockstars.


  • mtnrunner2
    Posted on

    mtnrunner2 mtnrunner2

    Reply Author

    Very funny. Pretty comical imagery, in spite of the frustration at the time.

    Between the chafing and the backpack inaccessibility, I’m trying to decide if I should pace next time as a cheese grater, a bale of barbed wire, a lobster or a mummy.


    • Anonymous
      Posted on

      Anonymous Anonymous

      Reply Author

      Lobster. Definitely lobster.  


  • Paige
    Posted on

    Paige Paige

    Reply Author

    You are hilarious 🙂  This story is a good reminder to switch out the batteries…I was just pondering whether or not I should use up the batteries currently in all my lights going with me to JJ.  I think perhaps I will change those out afterall!


    • Anonymous
      Posted on

      Anonymous Anonymous

      Reply Author

      See, I’m all about service to others.  🙂  Looks like we’re down to 10% chance of rain now during the day on Saturday.  (I’m afraid of melting.)


  • Rosie
    Posted on

    Rosie Rosie

    Reply Author

    Very funny and Im so impressed you did’nt trip. “Remember baby…Its better to look good than to feel good” (Billy Chrystal) “and you look marvelous baby”
    Now go chase a Javelina Record! I believe in you chica.


    • Anonymous
      Posted on

      Anonymous Anonymous

      Reply Author

      I will repeat: “I look mahhhhvelous!” to myself from miles 85-95.