The ultrarunning community is a great one, but a weird one. We have our own language, habits, quirks, and live in a world that is blinded by trails and mountains. A great way to learn more about the ultrarunning community is to help a friend at a race by crewing or pacing. Many races in North America allow pacers for races longer than 80K (50 miles). A pacer runs the last sections of a race with the registered runner. The purpose of a pacer is to keep the runner alive, fed, and motivated when times get tough. Here are some pacing reminders: 

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Photo: Adam Campbell

Do

Communicate with your runner before the race. Ask questions about their expectations and perceptions. What are their goals? Do they want to be competitive? Do they prefer you running behind or in front of them? How often do they want you to remind them to eat? What helps them stay motivated when times get tough? Do they prefer you tell stories of juicy gossip? Or do they want a quiet pacer to enjoy the beauty of nature with? You may not get all the answers, but you should have these conversations before the start line. 

Do

Know the course and the race rules. Getting lost sucks.

Do

Practice positive reinforcement during the race. Things will get ugly, so positivity is essential. For example, thank them for eating at regular intervals, even if they feel sick. Tell them they are moving well, even though you’re crawling. Say they look great, when they look like the Grim Reaper. Remind them of how grateful you are to spend time in the mountains with them. 

Do

Ignore your runner if they consider dropping from the race (unless there is a major injury or a plan to drop beforehand). Instead, deflect the conversation and talk about anything other than a DNF . Distractions are key. 

RELATED: It takes a village: How to crew and ultra

Do

Stay organized and alert. Have a plan of attack before the race starts for what is happening at each aid station. For example, most aid stations will require you to acquire their drop bag, empty garbage from their pack, refill bottles and bladders, etc. Ideally the runner also has a crew to help at aid stations, so you can focus on pacing.

Do

Negotiate with them as though they were a five-year-old (or six-year-old depending on the distance of the race). For example, there will be times where your runner refuses to eat, or thinks that running in socks is a good idea because their feet are sore. At this point, you can trick them. Say you are going on a hunger strike until they eat, or put their shoes back on. 

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Do

Take care of yourself. Pacing is not crewing, and vice versa. Do one thing, and do it well. Eat, go to the bathroom, and sleep when you can. Your job is to make this the best experience for your runner.

Do

Have extra snacks and wet wipes.

RELATED: How to crew for an ultrarunner, by a Barkley finisher

Don’t

Assume anything. Often during a race, the registered runner prefers running ahead and having their pacer run behind. Don’t assume this will remain true for all [insert race distance]K. Keep the line of communication going throughout the race, and adapt accordingly.

Don’t

Ask how they are feeling. Not only does your runner feel horrible 110K into a race, they likely are unable to answer questions either. Instead, practice positive reinforcement and make up lies about how great they look and smell (see above). 

Don’t

Expect a response from them when you talk. No matter how brilliant your conversation is, they don’t care. They are probably in pain, and are just grateful for you to be with them through the suck. 

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Don’t

Run faster than them. This is demoralizing for your exhausted runner. If you are are walking at the same pace they are running, be sure they don’t see you. When in doubt, just pretend to jog. 

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Pacing is an unforgettable experience, and has perks such as running part of a race you didn’t get into (i.e. Western States 100). Fun fact: in Europe, pacers and crews are almost non-existent.

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