This past weekend, I had the amazing opportunity to pace Kristen Peterson on the way to finishing her first 50 miler. She already wrote an amazing race report that we published, but I wanted to spend a little bit of time reflecting on my personal experience, and what it meant to me to share such an incredible accomplishment and achievement. In my relatively short time distance running (and even shorter time ultrarunning) I have helped Colleen finish a marathon and run a few miles here and there during her other races, but this was the first time I had the chance to be a “pacer”. Even though Colleen has paced me more times than I can count, I really didn’t know what being a true, dedicated pacer meant.
To be honest, I don’t really know what makes a perfect pacer. For me, someone who runs in front of me and keeps me running is all I really want. But everyone is different, what if Kristen wanted me to not say a word? What if she had expectations for me to push her harder than I felt comfortable? These questions percolated in my mind and actually made me a tad nervous. Molly, who paced Harry to his first 50 mile finish, asked what I thought a pacer really needed to do, and I couldn’t provide a clean answer. Once we got to Ipswich though, and we sat around with marathoners finishing their race and pacers anxiously awaiting to start their loop, I just kind of felt at home. Sure, I might not be the perfect pacer, but no one is.
Ultrarunners and trail runners make such an incredible community I can hardly describe it here. Sure, we spend time in solitude in the woods, often running miles without saying a word. But at these races, events, and training runs, I have never felt more welcomed and acknowledged. Someone is always ready to share a story or offer some advice. So as I sat waiting on the cold basketball court that was the start/finish line, I knew that I was there to simply be supportive. Like everyone else, I was contributing to the community that we all love. Of course I had to get Kristen to finish line, but the weight of being perfect on the course felt lifted. There was an entire crowd of people out there being supportive, encouraging, and inspirational. My job felt easier and more casual. It wasn’t about keeping a perfect pace, but instead bringing that support and energy to a single runner. When it finally came to pacing, I asked Kristen what she wanted and all I really had to do was keep up, she was flying! Afterwards, she said that she couldn’t have pushed as hard without me there, but to be honest I had a tough time keeping up.