The controversy whether pacing is fair is one that spans the running community at all distances. Pacers are often used in certain track and field events to act like rabbits and help runners maintain a certain pace. However in major competitions, such as the Olympics, this type of support is not allowed.
While some may use a pacer for this same reason in an ultra, I would argue that the main reason for pacing someone is for safety. Many ultras take most of the field over 24 hours. As a result, people are often running through the night in woods where cell service is often non-existent and a twisted ankle could be life threatening depending on the weather. Regardless of the reason one uses a pacer, I believe that if the race allows it, why not take advantage of it!
Personally I have found pacing someone to be some of the most amazing experiences. It was pacing that initially exposed me to the Ultra world when I paced my good friend Bobby Goat at the Mohican 100 in 2010. It was this experience that got me hooked on ultras as we ran through the night. I saw him experience challenges as was impressed as he dug deep to complete his first century run.
Pacing someone is not an easy task and can be stressful regardless of the race, the distance, or the person. This past June I had an amazing opportunity to pace Leila DeGrave at Western States 100 Mile Endurance run (WS100). I had met Leila in Colorado on a training run for Leadville. We talked about how we both needed pacers at our events and fortunately I had a business trip planned to California the week of WS100.
Some might suggest WS100 is to ultrarunners as The Boston Marathon is to marathoners. Regardless of your thoughts on that comparison, WS100 only allows ~400 runners and is the premier ultra-event in the US with an international field. It is the original 100mile race in the world and occurs on a beautiful course that involves climbing 19,000’ through the snow-covered mountains of the Sierra Nevada and descends 23,000’ through the America River where temperatures can exceed 100 degrees.
It was the third time I had paced someone but the first time it was someone other than a training partner. I wasn’t sure what Leila may need, and given her impressive running resume, I was worried about keeping up, having stomach issues, or any numerous other concerns. Fortunately I only had to run approximately 21 miles on the second hottest day in the races history to help Leila finish in the top 10.
Much like my desire to want to run 100 miles after pacing the Goat, I knew that I wanted
to run WS100 after this experience. On December 7th, my one raffle ticket was selected amongst 4700 tickets with just over 200 spots available. Unlike my lack of appreciation when I was selected in my first lottery for the NYC marathon, I knew this was something special.
I look forward to this race and would like to find someone to pace me and share this amazing experience. I have been fortunate to have the Goat pace me at my first 100, Leila and Heidi pace me in Leadville, and my friend David join me for part of the Pinhoti 100. However, I am just as comfortable running alone since most of my training is done this way. There is something so special about running in the woods and being surrounded by God’s creation. I know He is all around me and I take comfort in is His presence on and off trails.
Keep running and God Bless,