Most long ultras in the US allow pacers. These are people who can accompany a runner in the latter portions of a race for safety and companionship. It’s a great way to experience a course, help a runner and learn. But it’s never easy! Here are three tips on how to be the best pacer you can possibly be!
1. Be the brains
Your number one job as pacer is to be the rational, coherent brain of the runner. When all the runner can focus on is putting one foot in front of the other, you get to do the rest. This includes remembering all the specific details about the course that are sure to become fuzzy for the runner as the miles wear on, watching for course markings, and calmly tackling every issue/drama/problem/excuse that the runner throws at you on course. Help your runner stay on top of whatever hydration/nutrition schedule she needs to follow and manage the logistics at the aid stations.
2. Adapt to your runner’s needs
What motivates your runner? Does she thrive on positive constructive encouragement or tough love? Does she like to be reminded of times and distances? What are her goals and inspirations? Does she want you to crack jokes and entertain her with campfire stories during the dark hours of the night or would she rather you just shut the hell up? Most importantly, be ready for personalities to change when #$%& hits the fan. You might have to switch from being a cheerleader to a whip-cracker, or from a companion to a comforter. Be sensitive for when it’s time to be chatty and when silence is golden. Know when to lead and when to run behind your runner. Adapt to what she needs, not to what you think you’d like if you were in her shoes.
3. All is Fair in Love & War
Do not take it personally if your runner drops you, is short with you, tells you to shut up, turns into a diva, throws a tantrum like a toddler, or gets emotional. No matter what, make it seem like you are enjoying yourself even if you’re not! Otherwise a polite runner will start to worry about how you are doing instead of focusing on herself.
Pacing is a lot of fun but can also be really hard. It’s not the same as going for a training run with your buddy. You’re not running your own pace, you’re often out there for a long time in the dark and possibly in difficult weather, no one cares how you are doing or how little sleep you have gotten, and your only goal is to get your runner to her goal. Quietly take care of yourself. Pack an extra warm layer to wear in case your runner starts moving more slowly than anticipated and make sure you keep up with your own nutrition & hydration so you don’t bonk and if you do, then fake it ‘til ya make it!
Now that you’ve got pacing handled, how about crewing? Click here to read Silke’s Tips for Crewing an Ultra.