In most 100 mile races a runner is allowed to have a pacer join at some point in the second half of the race. A pacer is another runner who goes along to give the racer company and moral support. Pacers are not allowed to provide any physical support, but in a long race where staying motivated is half the battle, a pacer makes a big difference.
In my own first 100 miler I went into the race without a pacer, but during the race I met Tami, a pacer whose runner had dropped out, and she volunteered to pace me. At the time I was feeling mentally and physically exhausted and probably moving too slowly to make the cut-off times. Tami watched the cut-off times for me, encouraged me to run at times when I felt like walking, and gave me the motivation I needed to believe that I could finish the race. Without her, I probably would not have finished.
This year I went to pace my friend Ken at the Mohican 100. I was allowed to join him for the third and fourth laps. During the first and second laps I went to meet Ken at a few places along the course, and each time I found him feeling strong and in good spirits. At the end of the second lap, however, he was struggling. He decided to at least go out on the third lap and see how it would go, running from aid station to aid station. Soon he realized that he didn’t have the energy to continue, and he made the difficult decision to turn around and go back to the start. As a pacer I was there to encourage him, but I also didn’t want to push him to do something that might endanger his health. He had to make that decision for himself, and it seemed like a wise decision. I got Ken back to our campsite where he could get some rest. We were both a little disappointed at the time, but now Ken is already making plans to go back next year and give it another shot. “Live to race another day.”
After Ken got settled I went back out to look for another runner who wanted a pacer. Since our campsite was right on the course a couple of miles from the start/finish area, I took off running the course back to the start. Before I reached the start I caught up with Matt, a runner who didn’t have a pacer and was happy to have my company. Matt had run Mohican the year before as his first 100 miler. He had finished it in about 25:30 but had felt really beat up at the end. This year he had decided to run it more conservatively and expected to finish in 26-27 hours but hoped to feel better at the finish. With that intention he started the fourth lap at an easy pace, and I just followed him to keep him company. I thought I was just following him, but he felt I was pushing him. He said that when he was alone he “slacked”, but, just having someone to run with, he felt more motivated. It was exciting to see how, throughout the last lap, Matt kept picking up the pace. Shortly before the last aid station he looked at his watch and realized he could actually beat last year’s time. That clearly energized him, and he picked up the pace to the point where I had to work hard to keep up with him, even though he had well over 90 miles on his legs, and I was relatively fresh. When he caught sight of the finish he took off sprinting, and I could not keep up. He finished in 25:09, a good 20 minutes faster and still feeling much better than last year. Matt thanked me for running with him. I was happy I had the chance to run, and I enjoyed watching him succeed.
Pacing is an excellent way to participate in the sport when you’re not running the race yourself. As a pacer you get in a long run with the benefit of aid stations; and, whether you end up standing by your runner in the tough decision to drop out, encouraging him to finish, motiving him to run up to his potential, or just giving him some company in the long, lonely hours, your runner will be grateful for your support.