Over the past several years, there has been discussion from time to time in the ultrarunning community about pacers and whether they are a necessary part of the sport. While some of these discussions center on the fairness of having pacers, most of the active dialogue is focused on the notion that perhaps if certain events prohibited pacers they could potentially add more entrants and in turn reduce the pressure on the race lotteries that seem so ubiquitous in our sport these days.
As a long time ultrarunner, I am in support of pacers. While I certainly understand the position that some people take with respect to environmental impact and race-entry limitations, I remain convinced that the tradition of pacers in the sport, particularly in North America, is a fundamental part of the fabric of ultramarathon running. For me, the biggest reason I support pacers is not for runner safety or guidance, which has long been the rationale of allowing pacers, but rather for the fact that pacers allow for events to become shared experiences, some of which are of the once-in-a-lifetime variety.
Personally, I am looking eagerly forward to one such once-in-a-lifetime experience this July when I toe the line, for the third time, at the Hardrock 100. Indeed, I am one of the lucky few who, with about a 22% chance of being picked, had my name drawn in the lottery. Now, after waiting an extra year due to the cancellation of the race in 2019, I am counting down the days until my turn comes to venture out into the San Juans with 144 other lucky souls. And, this time around, thanks to the race organizers allowing pacers, I will be sharing the experience out on the trail with all three of my sons.
Carson (22 years old), Logan (20 years old), and Tully (17 years old) were all not yet born when I ran my first ultra. However, all three of them literally grew up going to races. Whether it was endearing themselves to aid-station workers at Michigan Bluff at the Western States 100 for over a decade or running in and out of aid stations at Vermont, Angeles Crest, Hardrock, Leadville, and many others for the better part of the last 15 years, the JW boys, as they are affectionately called by many, have been as much a part of the ultra community as my wife Shelly and I have been. And this coming summer, thanks to some schedule juggling and a little bit of luck, all three of them will be on hand at Silverton, Colorado to be part of our family’s Hardrock experience.
While the boys are still working out the logistics of who will run which section with me, what we do know is that for the last 43 miles of the run I will have one of my sons by my side. Now, this is not the first time the boys have paced me at a 100 miler but this is the first time all three will be pacing me in the same event. And, I must say, I am quite proud of how growing up in the ultra community has shaped all three of the JWs. Carson has moved to Durango, Colorado and become an expert bicycle mechanic for the Fort Lewis College Cycling Team while also completing his undergraduate studies and skiing and climbing in the San Juans on the weekends. Logan, a freshman at the University of Richmond, is a sponsored road cyclist with the Kelly Benefits Strategies Elite Team and also a sponsored gravel rider/adventurer/writer with Rodeo Adventure Labs in Denver. And, not to be outdone by his older brothers, Tully has evolved into an accomplished climber and backpacker and is currently preparing for a month-long National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) course in Wyoming which he will complete shortly before coming to help out at Hardrock. In short, growing up in the active, outdoor-oriented world of ultras has certainly rubbed off on these three guys and I have to assume they’ll take good care of me as I stumble my way through the second half of Hardrock in July.
As I look ahead to this summer, I am filled with gratitude. Not only gratitude to be healthy enough to participate in such an extraordinary thing but also gratitude for the community that allows such a thing to happen in the first place. Sharing something as massive and life-defining as the Hardrock 100 with my beloved family will undoubtedly be the jewel of my ultrarunning career and one which I don’t think any of us will ever forget. So, for me, I’ll continue to support the use of pacers if for no other reason than they allow us to share indelible parts of our lives with others that may never be duplicated and the memories of which we will carry forever.
AJW’s Beer of the Week
This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Crime and Punishment Brewing Company in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. C and P’s Knockturnal Dark Lager is one of the best I’ve tasted of that somewhat-rare variety. Malty and toasty with a hint of sweetness, this is a great beer for a late winter’s evening by the fire.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Have you had a very special experience pacing or being paced by someone?
- Can you tell us about it?