kaci pacer finish

Top 8 Ultramarathon Pacer Do’s and Don’ts

A good ultramarathon 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 an ultramarathon pacer 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 so you 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. Ideally, a runner has developed a simple, but effective bull’s eye nutrition strategy in training.

Don’t: Be a drill sergeant

Tough love is a part of an ultramarathon pacer’s 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

Compassion is good, commiseration is unnecessary. Runners in the latter stages 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, Hardrock, or Leadville 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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By Andy Jones-Wilkins
CTS Ultrarunning Coach

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More on this subject:

Podcast: Tips For Choosing Your Ultramarathon Crew And Pacer

Article: Build an Unbeatable Ultrarunning Support Crew in 6 Steps

Comments 6

  1. All valid and useful points for prospective and veteran pacers to view. Under the fifth point: “Do: Know the course, mileages, and aid stations”, I would like to add the importance of a pacer making it a point to be knowledgeable of the aid station cut-off times. Following successful outcomes, I have heard many runners express their gratitude to their pacers (myself included) for balancing their pace and general energy levels with keeping them on track to staying ahead of the cut-off times. Letting your runner know that despite their reduction in pace — to be expected in the later stages of an ultra — that they are well-ahead of the cut-off times can be a source of comfort and a psychological boost to elevate their spirits, as well as generating the inner encouragement which can be very instrumental in achieving the intended goal while immersed in the final miles.

  2. Good article,. I found the following also important..

    Get to know your runner, if you know what makes him smile and have positive thoughts coming up it’s easier to mention during a race.

    Thanks for sharing

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

  4. 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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