Keep the Pace
A pacer can make or break your next ultra
I had my work cut out for me when the runner, Eva, I paced at last summer's Western States 100-miler showed up ...
Illustration by Jeremy Duncan
I had my work cut out for me when the runner, Eva, I paced at last summer's Western States 100-miler showed up nearly an hour later than hoped at Mile 60, at Bath Road just before our planned rendezvous at Foresthill Aid Station.
"Therese! I knew you'd be here!" Eva chirped when she spotted me through the darkness at 9:30 p.m. Apparently she'd been sick, had taken a bad spill and hadn't eaten in hours. My job now was to help her through another 40 miles and a very long night.
Pacing isn't just a jolly jog. Pacers run alongside a racer for a section of an ultramarathon, usually in the second half, to keep the tiring runner safe and moving efficiently. A pacer is a mix of friend, motivator, shrink, coach, mother, nag and nurse. It's complex work to help along an otherwise friendly ultrarunner buddy who can morph into a needy, cranky creature. But the satisfaction you earn will make every step worthwhile.
Know the Course
If you can't pre-run the course to get acquainted with the terrain, distance between aid stations, river crossings and other obstacles, study topographic maps and trail guidebooks, talk to past finishers and review course descriptions. When approaching a slippery or difficult trail section, run ahead and scout out the best route. The course, as well as the runner's time goals, health and state of mind, dictate how hard you should push the pace.
Be familiar with the race's rules to avoid getting your runner disqualified. Know where on the course you are allowed to be with your runner, what you can do for them at aid stations and if "muling" (carrying his gear and food, which some races forbid) is permitted.