How To Pace An Ultrarunner

June 23, 2024

While trail running, especially in ultramarathons, is often seen as a solo gig, seasoned distance runners know races can be much of a team effort! Pre-race preparation might include support from physical therapists or coaches, but once on the trails – it's all about the runner and their pacer.

Pacing involves tailing or running with a runner to keep them on track with their race plan, but it’s more than just running alongside them. Pacers need to be prepared to give support when the race gets tough, offer words of encouragement, monitor their hydration, and beyond.

Check out these tips for pacing an ultrarunner.

Know Your Runner

One of the easiest ways to prepare for pacing is to know your runner, inside and out. Ask yourself questions such as: What are their strengths while out on the trails? When do they need more support? Are there specific mental cues or strategies that help to keep them motivated?

Consider discussing these topics with the runner prior to racing with them. Knowing how your runner responds in various environments will ensure you’re fully prepared to meet their needs during the race. If your runner prefers words of encouragement when they are struggling, telling them a silly joke isn’t going to benefit either person!

Know the Rules of the Race

Every race is different. Be sure to know your race’s regulations and guidelines, like cut-off times, aid station locations, or specific gear requirements. Pacers can get disqualified if rules are broken. For example, some races require runners to carry all their gear, whereas others allow pacers to help.

If possible, anticipate their needs by carrying essentials like a buff, anti-chafe lubricant, and backup toesocks.

Know the Course

As the pacer, it helps to be familiar with the course, to prevent any unexpected detours or navigational errors if the route isn’t marked explicitly. Making a wrong turn can be costly in terms of both time and morale. Familiarizing yourself with key landmarks or fueling stations along the route can aid in pacing decisions.

While it’s not always an option, checking out the course beforehand can provide valuable insights and preparation for both the runner and the pacer. For example, knowing the first 10 miles are extremely hilly or on difficult terrain will allow you to adjust pacing expectations, accordingly, ensuring the runner conserves energy for the later stages of the race.  

Communication is Key

Effective communication between the runner and the pacer is crucial for success. It’s important to establish expectations and preferences. For example, does your runner want to know what mile they’re on, or how many they have left?

This is where knowing your runner comes in handy: understanding their emotional cues (and how to react) can make a significant difference in their mindset and performance. Sometimes, check-ins to access their physical condition and mental state can help gauge when adjustments to pacing or strategy may be necessary.

Hydration and Nutrition Reminders

All ultra runners have a fueling system that works well for them. Whether it’s electrolyte drinks and energy gels or McDonald’s cheeseburgers, only they know how to best fuel their body. However, during an intense race, it’s easy for these essentials to slip the runner’s mind.

As the pacer, it can be helpful to remind the runner to hydrate or fuel appropriately. Make note of when an aid station is approaching or ask them what specific items they want to grab to maintain their energy levels.

Ready to hit the trails? Nothing says “I can’t wait to pace you!” like a fresh pair of Injinji toesocks for your runner. Shop Ultra Running socks to improve their comfort and longevity on race day. 

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