I’ve been on both sides of the pacer experience, I finished my first 100 mile ultra trail run in sub 24 hours with the help of pacers (I couldn’t have done it without them) and recently paced a runner through 46 miles to help him be one of only 9 finishers in the incredibly difficult 106 mile (or more) Mogollon Monster mountain ultra race.
In this post, Part One of a two part series, I’ll first tell you why you should use a pacer in 100 mile ultra runs. I’ll also tell you why you should be a pacer.
The harder the 100 mile ultra race is the more important a pacer is to your overall success. Time and time again I see new ultra runners comment online that they don’t think they’ll use a pacer in an upcoming race. I also see a large percentage of runners at ultra races without pacers. I don’t know if anyone has ever tried to keep track of the finishing rate of runners with pacers versus those without pacers but I’ll guarantee it’s a huge difference. Even if a runner finishes an ultra without a pacer they would have finished with a better time (and had more fun) had they used a pacer.
A pacer should be more of a race manager than a companion to keep you company. One of the primary responsibilities of a pacer is to keep you, the runner, safe. I see time and time again runners posting online looking for “someone to keep me company through the night”. If that’s what you really think you need you should adopt a rescue cat, they make wonderful companions (I’d say bring your dog but most races ban dogs as pacers, I’ve never seen a race director specifically say “no pace cats”). Talk to your pacer about your race goals and the responsibilities they’ll have. If they’re not comfortable with it find someone else. But once you have a pacer and they know your goals and plan let them do their job. Don’t try to think for them or be the pacer and runner both…just run!
After running 50, 60, 80 miles and several hours a human being doesn’t exactly think clearly. A pacer can help you stay on course, not only the physical race course by navigating, but also your race plan that includes your nutritional and hydration needs. A pacer can help you push through the pain and can think logically with their head instead of you thinking with your heart when important decisions need to be made if the wheels start to fall off.
As a runner I not only use other experienced trail runners as pacers but I also like to recruit runners new to trail running when I have a chance. This helps expose new trail runners to the race environment and introduces them to different and harder trails than they would normally run (it also helps to develop them into the kind of pacer I want for future, tougher races). We all have races we run that aren’t really goal races for the year and we do it just for fun, if it’s a hard 50 that allows pacers or you have a chance in a 100 mile ultra race to use multiple pacers try using a virgin pacer between more experienced pacers. It not only gives you as the runner a new face to look at and new stories to hear but it also can give you a big lift knowing you’re helping expose a new pacer to this amazing sport while at the same time they’re helping you in your race.
If you think you’re too experienced and don’t need a pacer check out the major races in the country and the top finishers we read about in magazines and online. The pictures in the magazines rarely show them with a pacer, but if you read their personal blogs they often times mention their pacers and from my experience of actually being at a race I’ll tell you they all use pacers. There’s a reason for that and it’s not so they can have someone to keep them from getting scared on the trail late at night in the dark.
If you don’t have a running partner that can pace you or if you’re traveling to a race and need to find a pacer in that location most races have an area on their website or you can post on their Facebook page looking for a pacer. You can also find a trail running club in almost any location and could post something on the running clubs website or Facebook asking for pacer help. Trail runners are a great group of people, you know that already from your own experiences. Meeting someone new in a different city or state and spending several hours on the trail with them can create a memorable race experience for both of you.
Be a Pacer (i.e. Race Manager)
Even though not as many runners use pacers as they should, there still seems to be a number of runners at every race looking for a pacer. As ultra trail runners we have a responsibility to pay it forward and help our fellow runners on the trail. Along with pacing (or volunteering at an aid station) some of my most memorable experiences at a 100 mile ultra race came when I was helping someone else reach their goal and not running it myself.
Previously I talked about new trail runners, being a pacer can give you invaluable experience and insight into what it’s like to run a 50 or 100 mile ultra run without having to actually do that many miles. If you pay attention you’ll learn more about nutrition and hydration during your pacing duties than you’ll ever learn in a book. And more importantly you’ll witness an experienced ultra runner’s attitude and what they go through late in a race. Don’t be afraid to offer your services as a pacer if you’ve never paced before, just make sure the runner knows this is your first time so they’re aware of it prior to the race.
As for experienced ultra runners being a pacer can give back to our racing community and help new trail runners accomplish goals that will impact them for the rest of their lives. It’s a great feeling! Over the weekend I paced a friend through 46 difficult miles to help him be one of only 9 finishers at the inaugural Mogollon Monster 100. Having never completed a 100 mile race before my friend finished while 28 other runners didn’t. Not only does that give me a lot of personal satisfaction but more selfishly I was able to do a 46 mile, fully supported long run in preparation for my own 101 mile race next month at Javelina Jundred.
One thing I’ve always wanted to see is a running club step up and help organize pacers for local races. By working with the race director a running club could easily supply experienced and capable pacers for most runners traveling from out of state that need pacers. This would make things easier for everyone involved and help make the race a better experience for all runners.
So what are you waiting for? If you’re a runner in a race or a potential pacer (you can be both, just not at the same time) be proactive. As runners don’t just ask a few friends and give up if no one can pace you, broaden your search for a pacer and don’t be afraid to post online on the race website or Facebook accounts for the race and local trail running clubs. As potential pacers (anyone not running in the race with a bib is a potential pacer) I encourage you to let runners know you’re available for an upcoming race in your area. Do the same thing I told runners, post online that you’re available and willing to help pace someone. By all of us working together we can all have better race experiences, become better racers and have more fun in the process.
If you have questions about pacing or want to discuss this in more detail please make a comment below to get things started. In Part Two later this week I’ll explain in more detail the responsibilities of a pacer and just as important how a runner should deal with their pacer.
Until then have fun and be safe on the trails.