Ask Ann: Guilty about using a pacer?


Dear Ann,

Some of my friends make me feel guilty about using a pacer. What do you think? 


Dear Paul,

There’s no easy answer. They’ve been controversial since the early days of ultra running. Ultimately they are there for safety, but their role has evolved over time. They expose new people to the sport; they help some runners who would be afraid to run alone at night or along a remote trail; they allow more people to meet the challenges of the course.

Everyone has a choice. As a race director, I know the decision whether to allow pacers is not something to be taken lightly. If the race allows them, then it’s up to you. Guilt should not be part of your decision. After all, Gebrselassie and Bekele felt comfortable using them when they set world records, and many marathoners follow one to a Boston qualifier.

Personally, I never liked the term “pacer.” Marathons and track races have pacemakers or rabbits. Ultrarunning is more complex than a marathon, and so is the relationship between the runner and the person who shares the trail or road with them. Perhaps what we need is a different name that better describes their function.  Trail companion? Running buddy? I’d love to hear your suggestions.




About Author

Ann Trason is a 14-time women’s champion at the Western States 100, and set World Records at the 50-mile (5:40:18 in 1991), 100K (7:00:47, 1995), 12-Hour (91 miles 1312 yards, 1991) and 100-mile (13:47:42, 1991) distances. Ann was co- director of the Firetrails 50 in northern California for 10 years, and has taught science at the college level. Ann currently coaches middle school cross country and supports other's ultrarunning achievements by volunteering, pacing and crewing at ultramarathon races throughout the Western US.


  1. Couldn’t agree more Ann. If the race allows it, do it or don’t, but don’t let guilt enter the picture. As for a name, any runner I have paced has become a friend, someone I have shared an incredible experience with, seen highs and lows and inevitably, gotten them to the finish line. Like a friend, you are selfless in your assistance, your goal is solely to get your runner safely to the finish line, everything is secondary to that. Friend, trail companion, motivator, partner, teammate, whatever you want to call it is fine by me. There is nothing like helping someone achieve a life long dream, it’s helped me to believe I could do things I thought were impossible (at least to me).

  2. Rey Letada on

    Ann Trason, I completely agree with you. On another note, I think “Running Buddy” seems fitting versus Trail Companion where could be construed in a negative way.

  3. Kind of like a trail therapist, or a companion/trail
    therapist, Dan? A contrailapist?

  4. If you need a pacer shouldnt be running the race. Whole point of these is to finish on your own.

  5. Diann Boyle on

    a friend; for me, it’s usually someone who wants to run, but doesn’t want to run the whole thing. And above all, they believe in me and my successful finish.

  6. If the race allows running with companion then there should be no guilt about it. It is part of the game.

    Personally though, I am against this concept. If the excuse is race security then the organizers should do something to improve it and not rely on runner-companions for this. Ultra running is about trying hard with your own resources and capabilities. A pacer who is supporting, encouraging, providing, carrying for the runner is messing with the essence of ultra running. What next? Speaker with encouraging music tunes throughout the course, or maybe special running shorts massaging the bottom of the runner while running to make him feel better?

  7. Would you of been able to finish without a pacer? Thats the question. If you’ve finished a race with the help of a pacer or crew, those races should be on your redo list, and run the races again without help. I wouldnt be proud of those buckles.

  8. Jay Greenfield on

    If you like a pacer use one, if you don’t then don’t use one. The remarks that call a runner out for using one are unacceptable. Let’s try lifting people up instead of tearing them down. I have done 100’s both ways and do not consider any finish without a pacer above another one where I have used one, IMHO.