Dream pacer. Jenn Shelton. Photo Bad Ben’s blog
With Western States 100 approaching and Hardrock 100 just around the corner after that, you may find yourself on both sides of the rusty razor barbwire pacing fence. So I felt it appropriate to discuss the act of pacing.
One of the most selfless acts a human can perform is pacing another person in an ultrarunning event. Mother Teresa never paced, nor did any of the popes. It transcends all mundane humanity and will surely secure you a ticket in heaven (I visualize heaven as an all day BBQ on the 4th of July with the majority in attendance being thin twenty year old women – you get your own heaven).
Becoming a pacer is the easy part. With the abundance of novice (read: scared petrified) ultrarunners bravely signing up for races so far in advance that it never occurs to them that the race will actually take place until they get the final instructions letter from the race director warning them of injury, wild animals, lightning strikes, kidney failure, and, of course, running in the dark, there are plenty of pleas for pacers to be found. This is where you come in, cape embroidered with a big “P”, tautly flowing from your broad shoulders and say, “Uh, I can pace you.” The rush of relief and gratitude is palpable through the email response and you feel like you just kicked five Ninjas’ asses and saved a baby from a burning yurt.
Once the emotions settle, you and your runner have to figure out a few things. Where along the course will you start your pacing duties? Are you in good enough shape to pace for 50 miles? Is your runner faster than you, even with 10 hours of running on his/her legs? Will you lead or follow your runner? Should you talk or stay quiet (or sing TV show tunes)? Are you prepared to give the runner all your clothes and finish the race naked in 25 degree weather? Are you ready to simultaneously feed a gel to your runner while he’s squatted with diarrhea? (I draw the line at feeding and wiping). Can you stomach walking at 2 mph for 20 hours when your runner falls apart but is stubborn to finish? (tips on how to subliminally convince your runner he’s wasting his time and should DNF coming later).
There are a lot of things to consider before you take on this seemingly simple task. Once you figure them all out, you can forget about them because nothing will go as planned and you’ll need to ad lib the pacing gig as it unfolds. This flexibility in planning comes into play as soon as you meet your runner for the first time. You have played and replayed the scenario of him scampering into the aid station, switching out bottles, sponge bath, eating gels, all while in full stride running at you yelling, “Let’s do this!” in a college football coach voice that sends chills down your spine. You latch on to this running machine and the two of you bolt out of the aid station and onto endless ribbons of singletrack trail with the finish line as the one gravitational force.
By the time your runner shows up you’re amped up like a rabid squirrel that just shot an eight ball mixed with white heroin. Your runner, on the other hand, looks as though he just fell off a 1,000 foot cliff onto a ten lane highway and got pummeled by speeding traffic. Balancing this odd mixture is an art form and imperative if you want to make it twenty feet together, let alone 40 miles to the finish.