Keep the Pace - Page 2
Know the Runner
Do some long training runs together before the ultramarathon to observe your runner's reactions to fatigue and pain and understand what motivates him. Don't assume what motivates you will kick your runner into overdrive. Silence or stories? Being nice or being a bully? Running in front or behind him?
And just when you think you've got it figured out, things could flip 180 degrees and you'll have to do the opposite of what you'd planned. At Western States, we overheard one pacer subjecting his runner, who was pale and in a death-march shuffle, to one bad joke after another ... with no response.
Plan Aid Stations Stops
I discovered at our first aid-station stop that my runner was a social butterfly who wasted precious minutes in her sleep-deprived state trying to say "hi" to everybody. From then on, about 10 minutes before arriving at an aid station, I planned our strategy, asking her what she would need and sometimes deciding for her. I'd then tell her what she would do for herself and what I would fetch for her. Consequently, we were able to move swiftly through the remaining aid stations.
To save more time, retrieve items from your runner's pack as he walks instead of stopping. At aid stations, fill the runner's bottle while he grabs a cup of soup and encourage the runner to leave the aid station as soon as possible, even if it's only at a slow shuffle.
Know When to be Bossy
Late in a 100-mile race, when upset stomachs are common and low blood sugar impairs judgment, many runners don't want to eat and may turn down sodium/electrolyte tablets and food. It's your job to make your runner eat and drink even when he doesn't want to. You may need to be domineering and become your runner's decision-maker as fatigue inhibits his ability to properly look after himself. Inquire about water intake, when he last ate, or if a blister needs tending. Avoid open-ended questions like, "How do you feel?" and instead ask pointed ones such as, "Are you nauseated?" and "Should we stop and fix that shoelace?"
It Isn't About You
Tuck your ego into your pocket because you are out there for the competing runner, but don't neglect your own needs. Take care of your own hydration, fuel and foot care.
Understand that after hours of running together, seeing your runner through thick and thin (and possibly embarrassing moments, too) once you reach the finish line, you'll be cast aside when he is engulfed in cheers, family and friends. Realize your runner is very grateful—and smile for a deed well-done.