I had the pleasure of pacing Range of Motion athlete Peter Beck at this year’s Tahoe Rim Trail 50 miler. Every time I pace I gain new insight and my ideas of what pacing is and what it means to the runner evolves ever so slightly. So here’s a quick rundown on what I learned this time around.
ONE: Spend time with your runner prior to race day so you can get into the same headspace. I think it’s hugely beneficial to know where your runner is mentally so you’ll have a solid idea of how far and how hard you can push them. Spend a few hours the day before the race if you can and definitely be there at the start. Getting an idea of your runner’s mood and expectations will definitely help identify what buttons you can push and how often you’ll be able to do so.
TWO: Do not get caught up in the pre-race activities and neglect the fact that you have to run too. At TRT, besides hanging in a house with 8 other running friends, I also found myself extremely focused on Pete’s 50 miler when in fact I needed to stay focused on my own 20 miles of pacing too. A big part of any successful pacing duty is being able to remain razor sharp and cognitive throughout the entire assigned miles—remember to take the time and effort to get your head there. And it just so happened that this year’s event was the 2nd hottest on record so hydration concerns, fueling concerns, and most important, finishing concerns were hugely taxing so I was glad I was mentally ready.
THREE: “What’s said on the trail stays on the trail”. You should make sure that those words are written in stone upfront so all involved can feel comfortable showing sides that may only emerge at Mile 33 in high elevation under a very hot sun. Pete and I go back 32 years—so our parameters for, er, verbal exchange are wide but you should know how far to take it and know which words might end up doing more harm than good.
FOUR: Pacing is all about your runner but you should have some fun too. A positive, happy demeanor translates to your runner. I hear some folks say they prefer not to pace because the momentum is dictated by the runner but I suggest that the race actually starts when the runner gets to the pacer and the real fun commences then. It’s about finishing strong regardless of pace.
FIVE: Hope for some of the worst to happen so you can leverage that to point out the good things. “It’s soooo much easier to run when you’re not puking peanut butter and jelly!” “I know we love direct sun light and heat, but lets take advantage of this shade!” “This big hill means better views!” You get the picture.
SIX: This is more of a pet peeve than anything else, but the finishing photo op is the runner’s not the pacer’s. If you’re lucky enough to get your runner to the finish, let your runner finish the last 50 plus yards by themselves so they can bask in the glory of a few documenting camera shots.
Pacing is not for everyone but if you’re interested in seeing a race as an intimate outsider that’ll give you some insightful ideas that will contribute to making you a better racer, then I definitely encourage giving pacing a shot. Personally it’s helped me learn more about metering energy, aid station efficiency, race strategy, mental toughness, and how team work is a great energizer and motivator. And most of all, there is a bonding with your runner that will last a life time.