It's that time of year – things are heating up as race season leaps into full swing. Many of you are no doubt either training for a summer ultra or pacing a friend (or stranger even) at one of the many upcoming races. Not long ago, we saw a post that talked about having a pacer as something of a lesser accomplishment than running for example, a 100-miler self supported, like Everest with vs without supplemental oxygen. That definitely got us thinking. Here at Suffer Better, we've been on both sides of that equation – both running and pacing. Both are serious commitments. And let's be clear – running 100 miles is an accomplishment – however you do it. Sure, doing it self-supported is certainly one way to do that and definitely worth a pat on the back. But pacing is still gonna happen, and if you're planning to have a pacer, as many of you are, or you're going to be a pacer, it's worth talking and thinking about what that entails and how you can maximize that experience for both of you. We've of course got our own take, but we've also talked to a few of our good friends for theirs. so here are some thoughts for you.
First thought – as the runner, the most important piece of advice we can offer is to remember to say thanks. Sure, you're running a long way and it's very much your day. But those good folks who are sharing the trail with you, keeping you hydrated, safe and moving forward, are giving up a ton of their time and energy to help you achieve your goal. Appreciate the heck out of that. It's a very big deal.
As a pacer, you'll be wearing a number of hats out on the trail, all of which are important. If you've run or paced an ultra before, those hats fit more naturally, but even if you're a rookie you can play the part of what our friend Kristin calls a "runabler," helping move the sport and runners onward and upward. As a pacer, you're definitely one part cheerleader, one part psychologist, one part creative problem solver (aka McGyver, because, as we all know, shit happens), and one part mind-reader. Two big keys for a successful day – for everyone – are humor and patience. One other thing Kristin mentions that we so agree with is that you gotta love it all – running, being outdoors, the total experience.
Talk to me. Communication is key – on both sides. You two should talk, before and during the big event. You should know your runner, their race plan, their goals for the day. Even more, you should know what they can tolerate and what they can't, and what their triggers are. You don't want to be caught with your pants down, so to speak. And you need to know how best to motivate your runner. It's definitely a case of different strokes for different folks, so know what works best to keep your runner on track. Some people respond to tough love while others to kudos and encouragement. Some a little of both. That's where you come in-know what to use where.
Be upbeat. Positivity is the order of the day. Each and every race is its own adventure; sometimes things go as planned; sometimes, maybe even often, not. Your job is to adapt to the changing situation and stay positive. Shoot, hopefully you'll enjoy your day and your runner, appreciate the inevitably spectacular views and soak in the entire experience. Remember to pass that on - thank the volunteers and your runner's crew for what they do all day, and, oftentimes, night.
Whose race is it anyway? As a pacer, of course, it's not about you; it's your runner's day. So don’t hijack their race – focus your attention and energy on what they need. That also means that sometimes you'll need to be thick skinned, people say and do things when they're thrashed, hungry, whipped. Don't take that personally. And you better not be easily grossed out - puking and shitting aren't all that unusual. Through it all, you "get" to be selfless, and help them get to the finish line.
Plan the run, run the plan. Do your homework and planning upfront. Know the course, know where aid stations are located, be synced with your runner's crew, be familiar with your runner’s food and drink preferences and understand what your runner wants to achieve, whether it be set the course record or beat the cut off. On race day you’re a moving Chief Operating Officer, often being called upon to make quick decisions and react to constantly shifting physical and emotional conditions. Having a plan to execute against will ensure things go as smooth as possible.
Of course, you're not a mule. Most races prohibit that – and rightly so. And it's probably worth thinking hard about pacing a loved one. Sure you love each other, but sometimes, especially when under stress, we see the worst in one another – love or not.
Run hard, be safe and have fun.