I was recently asked, “Zach – your crewing article was great, but I am not really wanting to sit on my butt for hours just to pop blisters, make sandwiches and fill water bottles… what about pacing?” Well, “fictitious friend”, that is a great question! However, for the purposes of disclosure, let me start with a disclaimer. I have never actually paced another runner during an event. This being said – I have utilized pacers in a wide variety of race distances and terrains during ultras. I have also not utilized pacers – so I feel confident I can speak with authority on the subject matter.
First and foremost – and I cannot stress this enough – make sure that you are FAST ENOUGH to keep up with your pacer. I personally have had to leave a pacer behind that could not keep up with me and ended up leaving said pacer alone in the dark in the middle of the night. While I felt bad for her, I was feeling amazing, and was going to take advantage of that. Another friend’s pacer decided to quit during his “shift” and did not run again for a year. To avoid this situation, don’t agree to pace someone that you are likely unable to match speeds (and preferably push). Also, be careful to assume that just because it’s the late miles of a 100 you will be able to keep up with a normally much faster runner – I have seen some ultrarunners run faster the last 10 than the first 10.
Secondly, don’t whine and complain about how bad YOU feel. Chances are you have been out there much less time than your runner has, and the goal is to help THEM. Your pissing and moaning might make them run faster to get away from you, but most likely they will just get very annoyed and take it out on the crew at the next aid station. Best case scenario, your runner might just put in her earbuds and crank the Metallica – take the hint.
Next order of business; be prepared. I am talking “Eagle Scout” prepared! Learn and study the course! Know the distance between aid stations. Just like Dad driving to the family vacation destination, you can expect to hear “Are we there yet?” Know your runners goals and push hard to exceed them! Find out what you can do to help your runner and the crew when you roll into the next aid station. Don’t forget to remind them to eat and drink, then take a mental note of when and how much. It is important you do not let them get behind; else you are making things harder on the both of you.
Finally, and this is sometimes overlooked, HAVE FUN! One of the best things you can do is help your runner keep their mind OFF the pain, the race, and the other hardships. Crack jokes, sing songs, tell stories. ENGAGE your runner to help pass the long arduous hours and distract them from the task at hand for a bit. Some of my best pacer experiences were not because my pacer kept pushing Heed and Hammer Gels, but telling dirty jokes and sharing (and sometimes OVERSHARING) personal stories. It really makes the low times much more bearable.
I could give you a thousand more tips on how to be an effective pacer, but if you follow the four simple rules above, you will be successful. If you are interested in being a pacer but have not been asked, PUT YOURSELF OUT THERE! Post availability on forums or Facebook pages! It is a great way to see part of a course or race without ponying up the entry fee! You may also make some great friends. Last summer, I assembled a team of 4 complete strangers who spent more than 27 hours in the scorching Kansas heat for a guy and his gal that they barely knew – and now they are now my lifelong friends!
Until Next Time…. #BeEpic!