Running an ultra takes a lot of training, gear and planning. Part of that planning is identifying crew and pacers. Another part is to ensure that they are in the right place at the right time and are able to work with you during the race. This means that the pacers need to be just as ready as the athlete. As you will see in these steps to being a good pacer, there are certain must-haves that will allow your pacers to help you achieve your finish line goals.
Steps To Being A Good Pacer
Step 1: Be Physically Ready To Complete Your Segment Of The Race
When an athlete asks you to pace them at an ultra, they are putting their race in your hands and you need to be prepared to cover the distance and do so comfortably. For example, if you’ve been asked to pace for 20 miles your fitness should fit that distance. By being prepared for this distance you can allow the athlete to follow their race plan without having to stop/slow down to help you. Remember, that you’re there to help them and not the other way around.
Write a training plan, if you need to, that will give you the opportunity to be physically ready and rested (don’t forget you should taper as well.) Putting yourself in a position to cover your agreed upon distance will set your athlete up for success on race day.
Step 2: Talk To Your Athlete Before The Race
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s extremely important. Don’t make the one time you chat with your athlete be the moment they asked you to pace. Set up opportunities to go on training runs with them and ask them questions. A few questions to ask before race day are:
- Where do you want me to be when we are running? In front of you? Behind you?
- What is your hydration/nutrition plan so I can make sure your eating/drinking during the event?
- What is your ultimate goal?
These types of questions allow you to understand what you need to do as the pacer. As training for the event unfolds, things will change and you should be asking your athlete these questions regularly before race day. Staying in-touch and in-tune with your athlete gives you the best opportunity to be the best pacer possible.
Step 3: Talk To Your Athlete During The Race
Again, another step to being a good pacer that may seem obvious but if you don’t remind yourself to do this you can find yourself in complete silence for long stretches. Running an ultra can lead to long miles/hours in the dark and having a companion is a tremendous help, unless that companion is silent.
Talking to your athlete takes their mind off the event and allows time to pass by faster than it would if in silence. Feel free to tell stories and jokes but also remember to ask them questions about pace, hydration, nutrition, gear and how their feet are feeling. Being connected through conversation allows you to gauge where the athlete is and provide feedback to the next pacer, if there is one.
Step 4: Pack Your Gear As If You Are The Athlete
Regardless of distance, your gear needs to be prepared as if you are the athlete. Remember, that your goal is set your athlete up for success on race day and you cannot do that if your gear falters. Don’t wait until the last minute to ensure that your gear is ready. This will set you up for failure. Be prepared ahead of time and remove your anxiety and the anxiety of the athlete.
Look over your shoes, socks, clothing options, hydration vest, flasks, nutrition, hydration, sun screen, hat, sunglasses and more. Be sure that your gear won’t fail you and cause your athlete to have to wait on you.
If you’re wondering if you have all the necessities covered, take a look at this checklist and you’ll be sure to have everything you need.
Step 5: Put Your Athlete Above All Else
You were asked to pace because the athletes trusts you to help them achieve their goals. This is not a responsibility to take lightly. Do everything you can to ensure their success. This might mean handing over your favorite nutrition bar because they have a need for something savory. You may have to sacrifice your jacket because they are cold. There might be a time when you tell them that you’re not able to go any further.
I am not advocating that you put yourself in a dangerous position. If you’re not feeling up to the task, bow out gracefully and allow the athlete to continue in their race. Remember that this is their race and not yours. Take a step back and allow the athlete to shine, with your help.
I have paced numerous times at varying distances, terrains and climates. I made sure that I was ready to cover the distance regardless of outside factors. I’ve sacrificed gloves and nutrition as well as gone on training runs in the middle of the night. Being able to tell stories and jokes has put my athlete in a position for success. Sometimes that means being a hard ass and other times being empathic. Through it all I knew I was ready to pace, because I took the steps to being a good pacer.