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The Top 8 Things Great Ultramarathon Pacers Do and Don’t Do

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By Andy Jones-Wilkins
CTS Ultrarunning Coach

A good pacer can be a real asset, but a bad pacer can be a pain in the… So, after asking all of our coaches for their feedback, here are the top-8 things good pacers do (and don’t do).

Do: Take care of yourself

If you are a pacer for a runner at a big event you must avoid the temptation to get caught up in the emotion of the day and neglect your own needs. When your runner gets to you it’s important to make sure you have all your faculties intact and can bring your A game.

Don’t: Be negative

Optimism is the powerful psychological tool for success in ultrarunning. And pacers can help with this.  If a pacer brings negative energy to the event, it will undoubtedly rub off on the runner.  So, whatever you do, don’t go negative.

Do:  Know your runner’s nutrition plan and preferences

Typically, when a pacer picks up a runner it’s a challenging time on the nutrition front.  As such, it’s essential for a good pacer to know what the runner likes, doesn’t like, and how the runner adapts nutritionally to various ups and downs.  This requires significant focus for the pacer.

Don’t: Be a drill sergeant

Tough love is a part of the pacer responsibility.  Motivation and inspiration are certainly important.  But forcing the issue, pushing things beyond what is possible, can damage the runner.  Don’t force things that can’t be forced.

Do: Know the course, mileages, and aid stations

Every pacer I’ve ever had has known every mile, aid station, and course challenge ahead.  Pacers should spend time before the event learning all these things so when a brain dead runner asks “how far to the next aid station?” they can answer confidently and constructively.

Don’t: Offer sympathy

A little bit of compassion is good.  But runners in the latter stage of an ultra don’t need someone to tell them how much they relate to how bad they feel. Rather, runners need to hear how good they look, how well they’re moving, and how close they are to getting it done.

Do: Acknowledge and respect all runners, volunteers, spectators, etc…

Every year, after being around ultras, I hear stories from race volunteers about how great the runners were and how annoying the pacers/crews were.  Don’t be that guy or gal!  Pacers, please thank the volunteers, support the other runners, and help the spectators and other pacer/crews enjoy the experience.  This is what makes our community so strong, and different from the rest!

Don’t:  Make it about you

Pacers are often very excited about sharing an iconic racecourse like Western States of Hardrock with their runner.  And, that’s great.  But many a race has been ruined by a pacer who forgets it’s not about them.

Being a good pacer can be extremely rewarding. It’s an incredible feeling to contribute to the success of another runner and to help them achieve their goals and dreams. Enjoy the time you share on the trail with your runner, and give him or her a big hug at the finish line!

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Comments 3

  1. Pingback: Ultramarathon Daily News | Wednesday Sep 5 | Ultrarunnerpodcast.com

  2. Great post, Adam! The idea of listening to the sound of our own footstrike instead of tuning in to songs will not only make us aware of our running technique but also prevent the risk of unwanted injuries that may hamper our daily exercise/run regime.
    Thanks a lot for sharing this 🙂

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