So you’re thinking about diving into the world of ultras, but don’t want to fully commit to the crazy just yet? Especially after reading my recap? Be a pacer! Pacing a runner is the perfect way to get a feel for running the distance without actually putting your body through the torture.
I was really excited when Greg asked me to pace him at the Pinhoti 100, and I and my Type A self immediately started reading blog posts, listening to podcasts, and asking others about how to be the best pacer ever. And so I went into Pinhoti knowing what pacing entailed and what I had to do, but you don’t really understand until it’s 3 a.m. and your runner is hitting The Wall face-first and you’re miles from the next aid station and you’re both cold and tired and it’s up to you to pull your runner back into good spirits. Whew.
I am by no means a pro at pacing—yet—but here are some things I learned:
Be flexible—A lot can and will happen over the course of 100 miles. You can try and plan all you want, and it helps to an extent, but you also need to be flexible and able to think on your feet. Your runner may go from dancing to shuffling to miserable to busting out some fast miles all in one stretch, and you need to be ready.
Greg and I planned to tackle my 30-mile stretch in 7.5-8 hours. Instead, it took us about 12. After 55 miles, his right leg was really hurting him and he just wasn’t feeling it. So we walked, we talked, we silently kept moving forward, and my job went from just keeping him company to watching the cutoff times with one eye and making sure he stayed upright with the other. And then when mile 99 came around and he took off at a 9-minute pace, we all happily sprinted after him.
Be supportive…—There will be times when your runner hits The Wall, and you need to help him power through it. Saying that he’s doing great, commiserating in his pain, and listening to his nonsensical stories all do wonders for his mood. And so what if it’s all a little white lie?
I can’t even tell you how many times I called Greg a rock star or told him he was doing great. Because it was true. And sometimes, it even made him smile.
…but be a bitch—Sometimes, it’s all about tough love. You’ll reach a point when you will know what’s best for your runner more so than he will, and by God you need to make sure he does what you tell him to. Force-feed your runner calories and fluids, even when he protests. Let his anger roll off you like water on a duck when you demand that he run.
Greg didn’t want to eat. I didn’t care. I nagged him so much that he began calling me the Food Nazi. I was also a heartless bitch who told him to run faster when his toenail fell off, stop whining when his knee hurt, and that he did this to himself. Our current friendship status is still questionable.
Be perceptive—Pay close attention to your runner. Like, really close. Try to pick up on her mood so that you can react accordingly, and definitely watch for abnormal behavior (as if running 100 miles is normal) such as running off the trail, stumbling, or slurring speech. Bonus points if you know your runner well and can read her easily.
Greg and I run together a lot, so it was easy for me to pick up on his mood swings. One word answers or grunts meant he was miserable. Eye contact meant he was feeling almost human. I did what I could to keep his mind off the race and his spirits up. But around 4 a.m. when I noticed that he kept missing turns and running off the trail, I made him stop, eat, take salt pills, and follow me until he felt better.
Just be—I can’t stress this enough. Take it all in. Embrace the suck, relish the happy times. You’re getting to spend a weekend in the woods helping your runner do something most people would never dream of doing. Enjoy it! And remind your runner to, too.
I was so incredibly happy the entire race—even when the going got tough. The stars were shining brilliantly, almost Wyoming-esque. Almost. The fires at the aid stations were warm and smelled delicious. The sun rising through the trees making the leaves glow and the hills surrounding us felt like I was running through a painting. And I was helping my friend run his first 100. That alone is a great feeling.
Do it. Go pace an ultra. Or hell, pace a friend to a PR in a road race. I would do it again in a heartbeat! I told Greg that I’m now his official pacer—I want to run every 100 he does. That is, until I start tackling 100s of my own.