“Will you please get up. You’re embarrassing me.”
In the intro to How to be an Ultra Pacer, we covered the wide range of emotions from ebullient anticipation, to the grinding sad reality of the lead up and preparation, to the time you finally meet your runner. Now we’ll focus on the process of pacing. An important thing to remember going into your pacing duties is that, at one point or another (or many), you will hate your runner. I mean like push-him-off-the-mountain in the middle of the night hate. Like all misery and suffering in running ultras, once you anticipate and accept it, you’re able to manage the emotion and situation in a somewhat sane manner without actually killing anyone. Side note: Your runner will undoubtedly hate you at times as well, but who cares.
Before you meet up with your runner it helps if you’ve been crewing for him over the first sections of the race, so you can see the gradual transformation from happy, clean, likable person, to filthy, hobbling, scratchy-voiced, grouchy shell of a human. With any luck, you will grow a tiny seed of pity for the poor slob, which will hopefully give you at least a touch of patience. This patience will disappear “poof” the first time you start arguing with your runner about eating. “Time for a gel.” “I don’t want anything.” “You have to eat.” “I don’t want to. It sounds gross.” “If you don’t eat, you’ll bonk and die.” “I don’t care. Gels are disgusting.” “I will beat you to death if you don’t eat a gel…”
This could go on for hours, until he finally eats, or until you actually kill him. This is a good opportunity to start lying. “If you down just one gel and some water, I won’t bug you about it anymore.” This will only work for about eight gel feedings, unless your runner is really dumb. Another embarrassing tactic is to treat your runner like a small child. “If you finish the three gels you have before the next aid station, I’ll buy you pizza and beer after the race.” This is an awesome lie for a number of reasons, the main one being that your runner will never remember you said it and he’ll be so happy to be done running after the race, that he’ll be throwing money around like a drunken sailor in Charleston.
Eventually, nothing will work to convince him to eat gels and you’ll have to find anything he may like at aid stations and employ aid station workers to help you force your runner to eat. “Eat the goddamn turkey sandwich, and shut the hell up. You’re doing great!” Getting your runner angry isn’t all that bad, actually. In many cases it will serve to give him a shot of adrenaline and you’ll be relishing the speedy 12 min per mile pace as your reward. At Leadville while pacing a guy, I refused to go further until he ate a gel and drank some water. We stood on Power Line at mile 80, two grown men arguing over eating 1 ounce of sugar. He finally ate it and then tried to drop me by running up that bitch. He finished in 6th place overall and all was forgotten.
How far you want to take your pacing duties is up to you. Charming lore of the pacing world are abundant. There was last year at Hardrock when some dope dropped his shoe off the side of an icy mountain and Scott Jaime was on the verge of giving up one of his shoes to the runner until finally risking his life by climbing down to retrieve the shoe dangling on a lower ledge. No freakin’ thanks, I say. I’d be like, “Whoa, dude, that sucks. If we hurry, you’ll probably only lose a couple toes to frostbite.” “Now eat a gel.” Then there’s that sad image of Alex Nichols squatting solemnly next to a dehydrated and soon to be DNF’d Anton at Leadville. The image reminds me of animals that stay with their dead animal friends for days (apparently not bright enough to realize they need to move on and find a new friend, who’s breathing).
|Alex Nichols wishing he was getting teeth pulled instead of squatting in the middle of nowhere. Photo Rob O’dea|
And one of my favorite stories, sadly, about the same guy I’ll be pacing at WS this weekend. He was out of it after running a poorly paced race at Leadville last year and at around mile 78 fell backwards to a sitting position. The unfortunate part of it was that he had like ten gels in the back pockets of his shorts and they all exploded upon impact. He now had a butt crack of sticky gels, was shivering, and couldn’t remember his name. His pacer was forced to dress the poor slob in warmer clothes on the side of the trail in the middle of the night. They somehow crawled to the next aid station and their race was over. That’s loyalty (I would’ve just left him, sticky-assed and all, and jogged on into town for a beer). I’ll omit my own story at Hardrock last year. I hear about it regularly from my heartless pacer and am still scarred by the experience.
Once in a while you’ll get lucky and your runner will run a smart race, show up to meet you for your pacing duties and be in fine shape, run reasonable paces to the finish and you look like a hero for just running along with him. This brings up the next topic of how to run with your runner. Following or leading is a matter of taste. I prefer the pacer to lead, both when I’m pacing and being paced. Unfortunately, novice pacers will shoot off the front and yo-yo back and forth in front of you anywhere from two feet to two miles. Don’t do this. You’re not there for yourself; leave your ego at home. Just because you see other runners up ahead does not mean that your runner wants to break into a 6:30 pace after 70 miles of running to catch the other poor bastard walking up ahead. Do this to me and I’ll rip your shoes off and throw them in the woods. Stay with your runner.
While you’re staying with your runner, the thought of talking and keeping him company may cross your mind. Let that thought cross and go away. Your runner likely isn’t in the mood to be hearing stories of your boring ass life. Very sporadic encouragement is key. “You’re doing awesome.” or “That was a good stretch you just did.” Those statements uttered in a quiet voice will sink into your runner’s mind and make him feel like this stupid thing he’s doing might have some (albeit unknown) purpose and that he’s actually doing an “ok” job of it, even if he’s sucking wind at 16 min/miles. Don’t over do it, either in exuberance or frequency. Like sex, an hour is fun, 10 hours is chaffing.
Up next in How to be an Ultra Pacer: Part 3 – Finishing the race and salvaging any fragments left of your friendship. And how to embellish the details to make your runner look as dumb as possible.