By Deborah Paquin
When I saw that Lance Armstrong was planning to run the WS100 training run in February and pace someone at Western States my mind started to spin. That’s so cool; no wait, will that mean there will now be a media circus to follow? If Lance starts trail running does that mean more people will know about the races and then they’ll get sold out even earlier, or have to go to lottery, or get even harder to get into the lotteries? And of course, I next wondered, will he ride the bus with everyone else? (He did.)
Then I started thinking, hmmmm. . . Would I want Lance Armstrong to be my pacer at Western States? Would Lance be able to slow down enough to pace a middle- or back-of-the-packer like me? Or would he turn around and give me “the look” like he did Jan Ullrich in the 2001 Tour de France? “Hey, you’re not running fast enough kick it into gear or I’ll leave you in the dust.” I’d be frightened. I’m an ultrarunner. I’d rather run all day long at my little pace, than push myself to go fast, even for a mile. So he’d probably get too frustrated and I’d just be stressed I wasn’t running fast enough.
Then I wondered, could Lance really be a domestique? After all, when he ran the New York marathon, he was surrounded by an entourage carrying his gels. Alberto Salazar, the world champion, holding his water bottle. That’s a DQ in ultra, no Sherpas allowed.
Also, what experience does Lance have in ultra (besides being probably one of the greatest athletes in the world and finishing the world’s most grueling long-distance bicycle races?) I learned my lesson once when I asked a runner, but not an ultrarunner, to pace me through the night at a race. She showed up in a white tennis outfit. This was my first clue I could be in trouble. Then, her husband got mad at me because we were way off the estimated time for arrival due to the heat. He said he’d never let her run with me again, taking his wife out into the middle of the forest at night with wild animals. (I’m pretty sure he meant cougars and bears, not the other ultrarunners.) Anyways, she really didn’t know what to do when I was suffering, as she had never run that far, only pavement marathons. So when a runner is hobbling and pretty much needing someone to play nurse maid and needs a pacer with the knowledge of what to do for a large-sized bonk or triple blisters, will Lance know what to do? (Ok, he’s pacing an ex- major league baseball player, probably isn’t going to have any of these problems. Plus, Lance knows how to suffer; chafing is definitely a part of ultra cycling.) Would Lance be equipped to help me through a bonk or sleepwalking at mile 90?
So would I even want Lance Armstrong as my pacer? Oh, hell yes.
First, there are so many questions to ask Lance while we ran together through the forest:
- Hey Lance, can I go with you next time to Oprah’s house?
- Hey Lance, can you hold this for me for a minute?
- Hey Lance, will you change my socks for me?
- Hey Lance, will you teach me how to ride my bike better?
- Hey Lance, will you take me up Alpe d’Huez like you did Sheryl Crow?
- Hey Lance, would you coach me for a triathlon?
- Hey Lance, can you give me George Hincapie’s cell number?
I suppose there are the inevitable questions one might want to ask. I don’t feel like I need to know why he did what he did. I don’t feel like any sponsors really truly got hurt, because with the Lance effect, they probably made way more money from him than if he hadn’t doped, because he couldn’t have won in a dirty sport. (Not the point, I know, but just saying.) I guess what does bother me, is not so much the brazen lying (we’ve seen that before with politicians), but that he so actively tried to destroy the two women, Betsy Andreu and the Irish massage therapist, Emma O’Reilly, who spoke out. They stood up to the barrage of accusations and costly legal attacks when they didn’t back down from the truth. So I guess I would want to ask if he felt bad about that, or if he would ever make a heartfelt and sincere, much less public, apology and financial reparations for what he did to them. I would want to ask that, but I wouldn’t. Know why?
Because ultrarunning has always been an inclusive sport. We don’t have last names in ultra (well, Lance pretty much already doesn’t have a last name.) We may not know someone’s occupation or income, yet we might know their running pace and the next race they are training for. This sport has historically been a grassroots sport. The sheer volume of new runners has already impacted the sport and changed it. But someone, at some time, let this very slow, runner who didn’t know what she was doing, into the sport. Experienced runners took me under their wing, trained with me, showed me the trails, showed me where the water spots were and how to pack it in and pack it out. There was a day when I was included. And where else can Lance go? He’s banned for life from cycling and it also affects running and triathlon, not just cycling. So even if he’s clean and just wants to be an age grouper, he can’t participate. (Which sucks because I’d really LOVE to see Lance compete at Kona Ironman.) I know after a car accident how devastating it has been to not be able to run and enjoy my sport, the endorphins, the comradery.
I think the good news is that Lance needs ultrarunning more than we need him. That is probably quite refreshing actually for Lance. I hear this is bringing up the discussion of drugs and bans, and what ultra thinks about it. I don’t know Lance. I don’t know his soul or his intentions. But I do know, that no matter what he has done that folks may not agree with, he has also in the same big way, touched thousands of lives and helped many people—probably many, many more people than I could ever help in a lifetime . . . and he continues to do so. And how do I know that? Because one of my Western States crew members, Rick, was so inspired by Lance, that it helped him overcome his own bout with cancer. He drew from Lance’s story. It taught him at a young age, that he wasn’t alone, to get informed and fight back, and have hope for a future. It empowered him to live, to swim Alcatraz, to run the trails, to have children. And I know that because he named his son: Lance. So Lance, if you ever want to pace me, let me know, I’m available.