The Goal Of Pacing And Crewing

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As you begin to dive into the final weeks of training for spring ultras, consider which of your running compadrés might need a crew or pacer this season. With the pacer request page recently launched on the Western States website, there’s no guarantee all registered runners will be able to bring along someone to support them during the 100-mile adventure, so consider lending your time to help out a fellow ultra runner in need. Whether it’s a complete stranger or familiar face, pacing and crewing (or both) at an ultra is one of the most rewarding experiences the sport has to offer.

Just like volunteering at an aid station, crewing or pacing at an ultra is a time commitment. Getting a runner from point A (start) to point B (finish) may take longer than 24 hours and requires a lot of coordination as well as a good amount of waiting around. But if you’ve ever competed in a race supported by family or friends, you know how great it feels to see familiar faces. Which is why having crew and pacers as support during a long ultra can be so important. In her book, Running Your First Ultra, veteran ultra runner Krissy Moehl states, “If your entire crew sets out with the same goal of getting you to the finish line and has the best intentions to achieve your magnificent finish, then the experience will be magical.” That can often be said for both the runner and the crew/pacer’s experience.

So where do you start? Finding a friend who’s got a race on the calendar is probably the best way to hook up with a crew/pacing gig. Unless they’ll be making an extended vacation out of the event, there’s a good chance they’ll need a crew. And as the old adage goes, “the more the merrier.” Having a full team of support can also be beneficial when the hours get long and the sun begins to fade. Depending on the course, crewing can also entail a lot of back country driving to get to aid stations, and having someone to help navigate unfamiliar territory is key. Especially in the dark.  If you don’t have a friend running but have a favorite race, reach out to the race director and let them know you’d like to help. Reliving a race through another runner can be an awesome adventure, and you’ll likely be able to offer up useful advice.

Finally, remember that while you’re supporting someone else, taking care of your needs is also key. Fuel, hydration, sleep, protection from the elements and rest are all important factors when considering your stint as a crew or pacer. Thinking about how you’ll identify your runner at the aid station in the dark when it’s pouring down rain (while trying to stay warm), is just one example of a number of situations that might arise. What’s important is that you’re prepared to care for your runner or pace them into the night, no matter what the conditions. Your commitment to their success reiterates a deep, unspoken bond that ultra runners have with one another, and acknowledges the miles completed and the finish line that lies ahead.

Witnessing your runner finish their race is an emotionally gratifying experience that sits deep in the soul. While the intense emotions might be a by-product of sleep deprivation, it’s more likely a sense of relief that your job is done and you’ve helped someone reach their hard-earned goal. One that you’re probably all too familiar with.

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About Author

Amy Clark is a freelance writer and runner living in Bend, Oregon. In addition to running marathons and ultra marathons, she has parasailed in Baja, snowboarded in Big Sky and fought wildfires for the U.S. Forest Service. A native of Oregon, Amy is working on her first extreme adventure novel while living (and running) in Bend.

6 Comments

  1. As an ultrarunner for almost 30 years, I never used a pacer, and finished a lot of 100M runs without a crew. Please help me understand why a pacer, and to a much less extent a crew, is not a crutch to help the runner finish? I have much more respect for the soloists who do the 100 on their own determination and stamina than those who “need” a pacer, a crew, or the worst, need a mule (Leadville). I think some 100s are putting an asterisk by the names of finishers who are soloists – great idea.

    • I prefer the Massanutten method which provides a “solo” division with a separate recognition and prize instead of a “asterisk”. I completed MMT solo last year, then Eastern States 100 with crew and pacers. The difference for me was proximity, i.e. ES was only an hour from home so my family and friends could spectate and join me on trail. It made the experience ever more special, and I don’t care if you want to asterisk my finish, it meant the same to me regardless.

      • Thad – congratulations on your MMT and ES finishes, and glad to hear MMT has a separate division for soloists. Hope more races do the same thing. Thanks for the info.

    • There’s a slippery slope here. I mean: Why aren’t aid stations also a “crutch to help the runner finish”? Why allow runners to carry water bottles or wear shoes? Why don’t we expect trail runners to go out there naked, eat and drink what they find, wrap themselves in bark for warmth, and make it to the finish if they can? …. All these questions become kind of silly. It’s a fact of life that pacers and crews have become a traditional and widely accepted aspect of the sport here, particularly at the 100 mile distance, and typically the rules allow them. They may be unnecessary sometimes and for some people, but in other cases they really can help keep runners safe, and they hardly make completing a 100 mile race unchallenging. If using aid stations, or shoes for that matter, does not diminish the 100 mile accomplishment, then I’m not sure why seeing your crew at an aid station should. It’s certainly fair to admire solo runners especially, but thinking less of paced or crewed runners is silly. (Disclosure: I finished MMT100 without a pacer, but with crew. I’ll use pacers or not in the future. I’d like to go fully solo sometime, but I probably won’t anytime soon because I don’t really want to impose any more reasons to worry on my spouse and family.)

      • James,

        Thanks for making me laugh! Yeah Naked and Afraid does 100 milers. I don’t need to see that on T.v.

    • Im with you on this one. if you need a pacer catch the person in the race a run with him or her for awhile.

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