Last week, in The Art of Pacing, I discussed how to be a good pacer. Today, I will cover what it takes to be a good “pacee” – or the runner being paced. Everyone wants the perfect pacer, but few runners realize that it is often up to them to set the tone for the pacing experience. You will make your life, and the life of your pacer, much, much easier if you will just master a few simple ideas.
1. Remember your pacer is there to HELP you. He is out on that trail in the middle of the night to ensure you have a successful race and to keep you safe. His motives are pure; he wants what’s best for you. If you remember that basic kernel of truth, you will be able to look at the whole race experience positively.
2. Before the race, be clear about your expectations. Your pacer doesn’t know what you expect or want from her unless you tell her. If possible, before the race, chat about how you prefer to be paced. Do you like your pacer to run beside you? In front? Behind? Do you like a lot of talking and joking, or silence. Let your pacer know what works best for you, so she isn’t trying to guess and you will both be happier.
3. During the race, be clear about what you need. Your pacer is not a mind reader. Maybe you told your pacer you like to talk, but during the race you are finding that you are overstimulated and need silence. Tell him. He’s not talking to annoy you, he’s talking because he’s trying to help you. Do you need the aid stations to be handled differently? Do you need him to push you a little harder? Pacers want to do what’s best for you, but you have to keep the lines of communication open. When you get frustrated with your pacer, refer back to Number 1.
4. Be flexible. We all know that it is rare if things go completely as planned on race day, and this applies to our pacers. Don’t get locked into certain expectations and then be afraid to modify them when you find they aren’t working. Maybe you told your pacer you wanted her to lead during the last miles when you are most fatigued, but find that you are frustrated by the pace. Take the lead. Be prepared for things to change, and adjust accordingly.
5. Know the course. While you always hope your pacer is prepared, you are still in charge of your own race. Don’t expect your pacer to manage you. It is still your responsibility to know the course, know where the aid stations are, know the terrain, and to devise your pacing plan accordingly. A pacer can only help you do better, he can’t run the race for you.
6. Know the rules of the race. Because you are in charge, you are responsible for making sure your pacer follows the rules of the race, including those that don’t directly involve you. If she drops trash on the course, and the race has a strict “No Littering” policy, YOU could be the one disqualified. Remember, you cannot abdicate responsibility to your pacer – you are responsible for your pacer’s actions.
7. Know the rules for pacers. While you hope your pacer has studied the pacing rules, the reality is that many pacers are recruited at the last minute. It is important that you know exactly how the race will allow your pacer to pace you. Some races only allow pacing for safety (Badwater), thus pacers are not allowed to run in front of, or next to, their runner. Many races don’t allow pacers to “mule” (carry any of your equipment) for you. If your pacer breaks that rule, YOU will be disqualified.
8. Manage your expectations. Often a pacer is volunteering to get a sense of what an ultra is all about. He may not have much experience, just a lot of enthusiasm and good will. Don’t expect your pacer to be an expert. Be patient and open, and allow for mistakes. If you need an expert pacer, then it is your duty to find one.
9. Throw modesty out the window. More often than not, in the later hours of a race, you are going to need help from your pacer that you may not have anticipated. I have held people upright while they vomited. I have canvassed strangers for Imodium when one of my runners was having stomach issues. Something always comes up, and if you are embarrassed to ask your pacer for help, then you need to be careful who you ask to pace you. Remember, we are all in this together. More than likely, your pacer has experienced whatever issue you are going through, and is prepared to help you. Let him.
10. Most importantly, remember that your pacer has volunteered to help you. He is not getting paid to make sure you are safe and have a good race. He is giving you a gift, and the best way to show your appreciation, is to be patient and enjoy the experience. Then, return the favor and be a pacer yourself.