I drove up to the Umstead 100 this weekend to volunteer as a pacer. This is the first time I have done pacing duty and ended up running with my friend John Straub. I really liked the whole pacing thing - helping someone finish their race, previewing a race course, etc. What I found I enjoyed the most was the camaraderie with the runner and learning things that will help my own race efforts.
John ran a great race. When I arrived, I soon found that he was on loop 6 (75 miles) rather than loop 5 (62.5 miles) as expected. We got right to work once he was ready and I would run with him for both of his final two loops. He said he felt okay but that his stomach was not cooperating - gels were intolerable so he was relying on Boost, PBJ and shot blocks. As this was a loop course he had several landmarks that he was using to mix up the run/walk combination. A very good idea and one that can be applied in point-to-point races as well. We kept the pace up and I did my best to push him as much as I could and it seemed like we were passing someone every 10 minutes or so. We checked into the aid station and after a quick stop headed out to the "sawtooth" section of undulating ups and downs. We power walked the uphills and bombed the downhills. Soon we were at the turnoff and a bit later back at the start/finish. John took some Tylenol and I grabbed some more gel and changed out of my long sleeve shirt.
We walked the first mile to let John recover some and then began to pick up the pace. John did not know it, but when we left on loop 7 he was in 20th place and we passed a lot of people on the last loop. Many of these were folks a lap or two behind us but I was sure he had picked up several spots. More importantly, he wanted to break 23 hours and it was only 12:00AM so I knew his goal would be met. I did not share any of this with him until much later and focused on pushing him to keep going. Even when we walked, it was at a good clip and when running, I could tell he was really giving it his all. Before long, we were back at the aid station and I decided to carry his drop bag with me so he wouldn't have to worry about waiting around for it.
Shortly after leaving, John "lost" all the calories he had just ingested but with less than 5 miles to go we were not worried. I adopted a "nobody gets by" approach at this point, John just didn't know it yet. I would really push the walk up the hills and John was right there. I would hammer the downhills and he was right there. We topped off at the last water stop and about 1.5 miles from the finish my watch read 2:22 AM so I spilled the beans:
Me: "John, what was your time goal again?
John: "Sub-23 hours.:
Me: "Do you think you can run 1.5 miles in 38 minutes?"
John: "Um, yeah, why do you ask?"
Me: "Cool, because that is what you need to break 21 hours!"
John was siked and I was glad I didn't say anything until now. We declared that the new goal was 20:45 and took off. We passed Jaret and got to the turnoff an my watch read 2:32, so the goal was again changed. I told John to GO! and he did in an effort to get in at 20:40. His final time was 20:40:56. Upon finishing, I strolled over to the leader board.
Me: "Um, John you are top 10 overall."
John: "No way."
It WAS true, John was 8th male and 10th overall. What a great race for him and a great experience for me. While I take no credit for John's result, I do think my presence helped keep him focused and made time go by more quickly. I think there are some key things every pacer should do when jumping in to run.
-Asses the "status" of your runner - hydration, stomach, fatigue, etc.
-Be assertive but remember "who" is boss - the runner.
-Subtly find ways to push them and keep them motivated and encouraged.
-Ask often about electrolytes, pain, feet, etc. as they are likely to forget things late in the race.
-During rough patches, let them recover but keep them focused on hydration/calories.
-Be prepared to run in silence or to talk your head off - whatever the runner prefers.
-Have fun and stay in good spirits yourself.
Not exhaustive but this also would serve anyone well to do this in your own races. I look forward to hopefully pacing more in the future.