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