When Your Kids Can Pace You

AJW's TaproomOver 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.

Bottoms up!

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?

The whole family plus Bryon Powell crewing at the Western States 100. All photos courtesy of AJW unless otherwise noted.

Left to right is Logan, AJW, Tully, and Shelly during AJW’s 50th birthday run in Shenandoah National Park. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Carson pacing AJW at the Hardrock 100.

There are 6 comments

  1. Richard

    Great article, Andy! I had my youngest (of 2) sons pace me for the Moab 240 in 2018. It was an absolutely wonderful experience for both of us. He ended up running 90km with me which blew me away as the most he had done before that was a marathon. I too am filled with gratitude when I think about it. It was a great bonding experience, as well as an amazing adventure that created fantastic memories for both of us. Now I need to run another 200 miler so that my oldest son can pace me too :-)

  2. Colin

    Love this edition, AJW! I’m currently still pushing the running stroller each morning with our 4yo daughter (somehow the hills on our routes have grown as she gets older!). It’s often special time together, and we sometimes get happy looks from the regular morning folks as we run by singing “Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood” or other favorites together. She’s now also learning to bike, and I’m guessing that it could be as early as this summer when we go to the Memphis Greenline for her to bike while I run.

  3. Ben Kepes

    Hey AJW – great article. At the risk of bragging (although, since it’s parental bragging, I reckon its OK), I thought I’d recount my tale of father and son racing.

    My eldest son has spent his whole life watching me train and race and, ever since he could understand what it was all about, has wanted to follow in my footsteps.

    I had the immense privilege to have run many of his “first-time” races alongside him – first up was his first trail half marathon (which, truth be told, was a bit of a long day and involved a lot of moaning on his part – that is before he sprinted me in to pip me at the line!)

    His first trail marathon at the age of 13, his first 100km that we ran about half of together and then, when he was 17, running every step alongside him in his first miler. What could provide more pride to a father than that?

    And just last weekend, we ran together the entire route of The Old Ghost Ultra where he set a junior course record and both of us managed top 20 finishes overall. Chances are it’s the last time we’ll run together, since he’s getting (much) faster and I’m trending in the other direction – but it’s been an awesome ride thus far.

  4. Lora Zagnol

    It’d been a long day. A 110-114 degrees in the shade day. A day where you just needed to buckle down.

    Thankfully my pacer has been around a bunch of these events and is an expert at keeping me straight. “Hey! Um. You might want your bottles… And your light…” Little things like that.

    All was going good until the mountain moved. Somewhere in the darkness I had become convinced that we were lost. I saw no trail markers, other competitors were spread thin, and there was a mountain where there hadn’t been one before.

    She tried. She really did. “Seriously! We’re going in the right direction! You got less than a mile!”

    I still couldn’t accept the fact that I’d missed a mountain, but light was dawning and we did need to buckle down.

    And buckle down we did. 23.49.12

    Thanks, Reesa. Daughter and pacer extraordinaire.

  5. Amy McDowell

    I love this. I’ve had pacers for the last 50 miles at my two 100 milers, with plans for pacers at my next one (the Umstead 100 in April). This next race is particularly exciting for me, as I live five minutes from Umstead Park and my running community here in Raleigh has been so generous in offering assistance that weekend that I’ve actually had to turn people down. My husband is planning to pace me for the last loop (12.5 miles) through the park, which I am really looking forward to as he has never experienced an ultra. He actually began running and hiking last summer in an effort to get in shape before our wedding and we have walked most of the loop together in preparation for the race. I am so excited to have him share part of this experience with me. I can only imagine how meaningful the last half of Hardrock will be for you and your sons!

  6. David Coblentz

    Awesome article, AJW; I agree completely. My kids (Kai and Amaya) and their LAXC teammates (Chris Buntain, in particular) have paced me at Hardrock, High Lonesome, and San Juan Solstice — their presence enriched the experience and helped instill a love of mountain running in the next generation!

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