Ultrarunning: Pacing Your Runner

July 17, 2012

This article is part of Endurance Planet’s ultrarunning article series. If you have questions, comments or feedback about “Pacing Your Runner”, please leave it below in the comments section…

An ultrarunner’s crew is generally expected to carry out his support role during pit stops. There is one particular task however that will require a crew member to go out on the trail with the runner. Being a pacer is not an easy responsibility. You basically serve as a navigator and a motivator. How well you accomplish this task can significantly affect your runner’s performance in the final stages of the ultramarathon.

Train yourself

You’re going to be running along with your runner. Depending on what kind of ultramarathon event you’ve participated in, you could be asked to run anything from 10 to 30 or more miles. Apparently you can’t be a pacer if you’re not physically conditioned to take on such distances at the rhythm that your runner requires. The last thing you want to happen is to be left behind by the runner you’re supposed to be helping keep the pace.

Know and abide by the race rules

Every ultramarathon has its own set of race rules and there are always provisions that define what a pacer can and can’t do. In most races for example, the runner is only allowed a pacer at the second half or later stages. Then there is also the usual prohibition on “muling”. That means you’re not allowed to carry the runner’s gear for him while on the trail.

These specific rules for pacing will often set how much aid you can provide, where and how long you can be with your runner, and what the procedures are when a problem occurs on the course. Always mind the race rules. Imagine how terrible it would be if you got your runner disqualified.

Familiarize yourself with the course

Organizers of ultramarathon events will often distribute information regarding the race. This allows participants to formulate their strategies. You should know all this and also be briefed of your runner’s plans before the race. In the middle of it, when your runner is already physically and mentally pressured, you’ll serve as the calm and reliable reference that will help him focus.

It is part of your job to tell him what to expect in the upcoming section of the course as well as provide updates on how he’s doing in terms of time. In 100-milers where night running is involved, the extra set of lights and companionship you’ll provide will be crucial.

Remember who’s actually running the race

You can cajole, nag, be talkative or just quietly keep pace. Whatever approach you take from the stick to the carrot, the focus is always your runner and his current mood and needs on the trail.

It’s quite possible he’ll make a few mistakes or deviate from the race strategy. You’ll have to gauge how best to put him back on schedule. It always helps to be factual and constructive in your reminders. You might want to develop an extra layer of skin too as 50 plus miles can make even the most cheerful type of personality cranky.

Through all that never forget the fact that he’s the one running the race and making the decisions. You’re there to give him the best support you can offer.


Do you have questions about how to pace your runner, or what you’ve read so far? Do you have any ultrarunning pointers of your own to add? Please leave your feedback, comments and questions below, and we promise we’ll respond.

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