Want to get faster at ultras? Train for a 5km

It’s been said that if you took all the runners at an ultra and had them run a 1mi race, the finishing order would look pretty much the same for both races. It’s not just that Nick, Ian, Rory and Ellie are fast in ultras, they are fast runners. If you watch them run, they look different, smoother and more efficient.

In 2004, I was able to watch Matt Carpenter (CR at Leadville, 15:42) run up the back side of Hope Pass as I was running down. His stride was light and quick as he seemed to float, almost effortlessly, up the incredibly steep climb.

Far too many ultra runners spend far too much time doing long, slow, plodding miles. While you may become somewhat better at the highly inefficient ultra shuffle at 15, 20 min/mi pace, you need to include some fast running to become more efficient and stronger, which will make you faster in ultras. Fast ultra runners learn how to run fast short before they learn how to run fast long.

Benefits of Speed Training

Training for speed will make your stride more biomechanically efficient, increase your cardiac output, and increase your leg strength. These improvements will carry over to ultra running.

Stride: When you run fast (properly), your stride rate is faster. Namely, your foot spends less time on the ground with each stride. That means that more of your momentum from each stride is carried forward to the next one. More momentum means less energy is needed to generate and maintain speed.

The ultra shuffle – where your feet barely get off the ground, your foot slides forward when it hits the trail, making that sandpaper sound, and spends a long time on the ground – is very inefficient. First, when your foot hits the ground sliding forward, much of your forward momentum is lost. This actually puts the brakes on your forward momentum. If your foot hits the ground pulling back (paw back), it’s much easier to propel yourself forward. Also, when you strike pulling back, your foot spends less time on the ground, thus losing less forward momentum. Second, it takes more energy to swing a low foot forward than a high one, one that’s closer to the pivot point. You should be lifting your foot using muscles in your hip area, rather than driving it up from below. These lifting muscles are much less prone to fatigue than the leg muscles. Paw back, leg lift, and time on the ground work together to make an efficient your stride.

Cardiac output: When you stress your body (within limits), your body responds by getting stronger to adapt to that stress. When you stress your cardio system, your heart responds by getting stronger, allowing it to pump more blood volume with each stroke; your lung capacity increases, allowing your blood to capture more oxygen; and your blood vessels adapt, allowing the blood to pass through more easily. Short, high effort, VO2Max (zone 5) type intervals (in measured amounts) give a greater stimulus to increase cardio efficiency than long, slow, ultra miles.

Leg strength: A determining factor in how long your stride is, is how strong and how much of your muscle fibers you use with each stride. A stronger stride will help you power along the trail faster. Like with cardio, faster running provides a greater stimulus to increase leg strength than long, slow, ultra miles. The VO2Max type intervals as well as hill sprints are good for leg strength.

Speed before Distance

Isn’t that contrary to everything you’ve ever heard about training? No. I don’t mean you should do your speed work before you build your base. What I mean is that you should develop speed at shorter distances before you increase the distances you are running and racing.

When you first start running, you should run slow and easy. Develop a base level of aerobic fitness and muscle conditioning before you work on speed. Your heart, lungs and muscles need to be able to handle easy running before you increase the stress.

Once you develop a basic level of fitness, a base, you can start to work on speed. The first step in that is working on form; i.e., teaching your body how to run fast. That means doing drills and striders before doing hard intervals. Then start doing some hard speed training, such as intervals, specific to the distances you are running and racing. Take some time to build your speed at shorter distances before moving up.

As you move up, from 5km, to 10km, to ½-marathon, to full marathon, to beyond, repeat the process of building a base at the longer distance, then adding speed. As you build a bigger base, back off on doing speed training, the hard speed work, but continue to do drills and striders to maintain that fast running stride. Then, as you add speed training specific for the longer distances, maintain an element of 5km speed training.

If you’ve already been doing ultras, this might seem like starting over from the beginning. It is to an extent. However, since you already have a big endurance base, you can compress the time it takes to step up through the distances. I do recommend taking time off from ultra training for a while. Take an entire year off from ultra racing and training if you are able (that’s largely a psychological question that you need to answer for yourself). At the very least, take a good part of the off and early season to focus on speed. A 2-hour run is OK, but longer, slower runs plodding up and down the sides of mountains are likely to hinder your progress. Do some 5km races (I hate them too, but sometimes you need to do what you hate to get better), or a little longer.

5km Training

5km training includes both drills and workouts designed to teach you how to run fast. While this is not about how to train for a 5km, here are examples of the types of training to include.


  • High Knees – With a quick stride, while moving forward slowly to moderately, exaggerate your knee lift, like in a marching band. It’s the stepping that’s quick, not the forward movement. Exaggerate the pumping of your arms (back) to help drive the knees up. A variation of this is skipping. High knees will help with leg lift, and skipping will help with quick feet.
  • Stairs. Run up stairs, and walk down. Keep your stride short and quick, taking only one stair step per stride, even if you can take more.
  • Butt Kickers – With a quick stride, while moving forward slowly to moderately, exaggerate your heel lift in back bringing it up to literally kick your butt.
  • Striders – Gradually build your speed for 20-30 strides, then maintain the speed for another 20-30 strides. Jog slowly to recover for a minute or so. Often this is done on the track, striding the straight, then jogging the curve. However, by counting strides, it can be done anywhere. Very important – DO NOT REACH OUT WITH YOUR STRIDE! Keep your stride under you (it should feel like you’re falling forward), a bit uncomfortably short and quick. Imagine that you’re running on hot coals. Striders are about how fast you step, not how fast you run.
  • Embedded Striders – On your longer runs, embed series of striders to help keep you from falling into the ultra shuffle. After a good warm-up, every 30 min, do 5 sets of 30 sec striders, 1 min jog.

Speed & Power:

  • VO2Max (zone 5) – Approx. 2.5-5 min long, at ~10 sec/mi faster than 5km pace/effort, with rest/jog ~50% of the hard effort time. For example, if you run a 5km at 8:00/mi, do 800m or ½mi hard intervals in 3:55, with ~2min rest. You want to keep the rest fairly short so that you can get back up into the zone more quickly and spend more time there. I prefer rest by time rather than distance because it keeps you honest; it’s too easy to get lazy and rest too long if by distance.
  • Uphill Striders – Do your striders uphill, on a grade that’s moderately steep (hard, but not so hard that simply running is a struggle), and on a road or not that technical trail. Focus on a quick stride and good uphill form.
  • Hill Sprints – If you haven’t done these before, start by doing uphill striders. For hill sprints, use a steep, but still run-able hill. Take several strides to build speed, sometimes I skip into them (don’t go hard from a standstill), then go hard for 5-10 seconds. Take a full recovery in between. Start with 5 or 6, at the end or middle of an easy to moderate effort, short to medium length run 2-3 times/week. 5-6 may seem easy, but if you haven’t done them before, you’re likely to be sore the first few times, or at least need some time for your muscles to adapt. Gradually increase to 10-12 sprints over several weeks. After a few weeks at 10-12 sets, change to sprinting for 20-40 seconds, on a slightly less steep hill. After a build up to full speed, run hard until your stride rate starts to slow and your legs tighten up

A few notes of caution about speed training. First, if you haven’t done speed work before, or not for a long time, ease into such workouts slowly, just one short interval workout per week. No matter how good you feel and how easy the first workout may feel, the soreness may come a day or two later. It takes time to adapt to something new. Too much, too soon, risks injury. Second, always make sure you are well warmed up before starting the intervals. Third, keep your stride short and quick, like with striders. DON’T REACH! Fourth, higher efforts put greater stress on your endochrine and immune systems. Thus, limit how much and how often you do speed training.

Running fast and efficiently is a learned skill. You need to practice to develop and maintain that ability. This takes time, especially if you haven’t done speed work (or not for a long time). Take a good part of the off and early season, to learn how to run fast. I’d even recommend taking a whole season away from ultra running to work on speed and do shorter races. Then, watch how your ultra running becomes more efficient and faster.

Have fun. Train smart. See you on the trails.


Building Strong Feet

Your feet are your foundation for your entire body when you run. How your foot strikes the ground affects how the stresses of the impact are felt in your muscles and joints up through your body, and how much of your momentum, the energy from each stride, is carried forward to the next stride or lost.

Strengthening your feet and improving your balance are important for all runners, whether your feet are healthy or (and especially) are recovering from a foot/ankle injury; whether you wear orthotics or (especially) if you plan to go barefoot; whether you run primarily roads or (especially) trails. This article will show you ways to strengthen your feet and improve your balance, and how that can improve your stride and reduce injuries.

Sensing the ground

Walk barefoot, around your house as often as possible, and even for short walks outside. This will help teach your feet to better sense the ground. Along with strength and balance, sensing the ground will make your feet better able to automatically adjust to changes in the surface and your stride, making your stride more efficient.

 Muscles under the foot

The muscles on the bottom of your foot support your arch, and provide a spring-like effect. These muscles undergo a lot of stress from pounding, stretching and contracting. If they are not up to the task, they will cause excessive energy to be transmitted up through the body leading to injury in the leg muscles and joints, and can be damaged themselves (e.g., plantar fasciatis).

Toe Curls: Lay a wash cloth, bandana, rag, t-shirt, or something similar, flat on a hard floor. Stand with the ball of your foot just on or off the edge of the fabric. Grab the fabric with your toes, curling them in a raking fashion, to pull the far end of the fabric towards you. A couple of variations of this include picking up a pencil with your toes, or standing with your toes dangling over the edge of a stair step, and grabbing the edge with your toes.

Arch: Place something small, like a pencil or marble, on the ground. Stand with the arch of your foot over the object, and try to pick it up with your arch. You can’t actually pick it up with your arch – at least I don’t know anyone who can – but just squeezing your arch – trying to move the ball of your foot closer to your heel – works those muscles that support your arch. This uses different muscles than the toe curls, so it should feel different. It may be hard to figure this one out, so work at it for a while.

Alternating toes: With your foot on the ground, raise your big toe while pressing the other four toes down to the ground. Then switch, raising the four smaller toes while pressing the big toe down.


Your ability to balance as you land affects how hard your foot has to work, as well as your risk of sprains. While we almost can balance, this is a skill that can be improved, lost if injured, and regained.

Stand on one foot: This may sound simple, yet it is a very powerful exercise. Notice that your foot will wobble. This is the natural process of starting to lose, then regaining your balance. Training this reflex will help keep your feet stable when they land, reducing the risk of injury, and making a more efficient stride. It is especially important for trail running, where every step can be on uneven ground. If you’ve sprained your ankle, you may have lost this reflex and need to regain it. I’ve had numerous sprains and three surgeries on my right ankle (the last in 1994), and have lost and regained this reflex several times. Despite this, my ankles are more stable now than before the first sprain (1981), and I am confident, aggressive and fast on technical down hills

Depending on how good your balance is, you might need to start with just 20 seconds or so on each foot, several times/day. If you’re very unsteady at first, especially if you’re  recovering from a foot or ankle injury, you might need to start by standing in a doorway and lightly touching the sides to help you balance (not a bad idea for elderly people with balance problems). Gradually wean yourself away from support. You’ll probably notice that your balance is better on one foot than the other (if you’re right handed/footed, it’s usually your left foot that has better balance because that is the foot that you plant on when kicking). Spend more time on the less stable foot.

Start on a flat, even surface. As you progress, there are numerous ways to add more difficulty while standing on one foot:

  • Stand on towels, foam, a trampoline, or something else that’s not quite so stable a surface. You don’t need to buy a wobble board.
  • Close your eyes.
  • 1-legged squats.
  • Forward bends, like warrior pose in yoga
  • Cross bends. For example, stand on your right foot, twist and bring your left elbow down to your right knee, then come back upright. Then, bring your right elbow down and left knee up to meet in the middle.
  • Get up on the ball of your foot. First just try standing on the ball of your foot without movement. Later, you can add some of the above technicques while on the ball of your foot.


Dynamic Motion

As you get more advanced, add motion to the exercises. Motion better simulates the demands of running.

  • Skipping.
  • 1-legged hops.
  • Lydiard/Nordic bounding. Forcefully drive knee up and out, and drive same arm back, as if elbowing someone behind you in the gut. Both should be exaggerated over a normal running stride. Driving the arm back will help generate a more forceful forward leg drive. As you go forward, try to hang in the air, unlike a running stride. Go slow, don’t rush, don’t race To start, pause when you land. If you have to put your other foot down to balance, practice the non-moving exercises more. As your balance improves, bound forward with the other leg as soon as you land (spend as little time on the ground as possible). First do this on flat ground. Add more difficulty by bounding up increasingly steeper hills. If you have good balance, you can also try this downhill. In addition to balance, bounding also builds leg strength. Below are a couple of videos demonstrating bounding:

Slow motion bounding on flats – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHYLRBRi8d8

Hill bounding – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F1EvhPf6DPg

  • Jumping rope, first with both feet, then just one. If you’re worried about the coordination with a rope, simulate the foot and arm motions without a rope.

Transitioning to Less Supportive Shoes

Transitioning to less supportive shoes takes time. You’re not going to go from wearing orthotics to running barefoot overnight. It takes time for your muscles to strengthen and your stride to adapt. The less you run in your old shoes your old way, the quicker you can make the transition. Unless you are willing to sacrifice almost all of your training for a while, it might take several months to over a year to transition to running barefoot/minimalist full, or most of the time. Running with less supportive shoes too much or too soon can lead to injury. Be patient, be realistic, be conservative.

Remove the insoles from your running shoes. The insole provides both cushioning and arch support. As the muscles in your feet become stronger, you can try running without the insole support. Start gradually, just short runs, one day/week. This doesn’t work with all shoes. It depends on how much, where and how rough the stitching is under the insole.

Get a somewhat less supportive shoe. Look for a shoe that’s not highly engineered, without a lot of bells and whistles – easy to flex longitudinally, hold the heel and push up from under the toe, and easy to twist, at least easier than your current shoes. They’ve been making shoes like this for decades, well before the term “minimalist” came along – they’re called racing flats and lightweight trainers. Don’t go from a highly supportive shoe straight to a minimalist shoe. Gradually work your way down through less supportive, neutral cushioned trainer, neutral lightweight trainer, before moving to a racing/minimalist shoe.

Run barefoot: You don’t need to spend $70 or more on so-called barefoot shoes. Start slowly and be conservatively. Run inside on carpet or a nice grass field (no rocks, garbage, etc.). A treadmill is a great place to start. Your first few runs may only be for 15-30 seconds. It takes time for your calf muscles to handle the strain of forefoot running, and the bottom of your feet to handle the foot strike without a cover.


Having strong, balanced and quick feet is essential to an efficient and injury free stride. For a long time, runners just used to run without working on form. This is different from most other endurance sports: swimming, cycling, Nordic skiing, etc. The popularity of books like Chi Running and, especially, Born to Run, have gotten mainstream runners to start thinking about and working on form. These exercised don’t have to take a lot of time. Many of them can be done at home, in your spare time. The dynamic motion exercises can be done at the end of easy to moderate runs, a few minutes, a few days/week. Change doesn’t happen overnight. However, with consistency, your stride will improve and your risk of injury will decrease.

Have fun. Train smart. See you on the trails.

Fall 2013 Races: GG Cancelled, 10-Spot On

The Bear Creek 10-Spot and Little Fiver races will be Sunday, October 27. Registration and web site info will come soon.

The Golden Gate Canyon Trail 1/2-Marathon is cancelled again. With my twins born last fall, I didn’t have time to work on the race earlier in the year. The race has some logistical challenges, including communications around mountains in in canyons, safety and parking. These are things I needed to have worked out months ago, but I didn’t have time. I appreciate that some of you have offered to help, but this is the stuff I need to do myself, and quite a while ago. I’ll do my best to bring it back next year.

In the meantime, you can run it for free with the Denver Trail Runners, on Sept 29. More info at:

Thanks for your patience.

US Marathoning

If you’re a fan of running, like me, you were excited to watch the marathon trials last weekend. While I think the future looks bright for American distant running, we still have a ways to go before we can compete consistently on the world stage.

I think the women are a lot closer to the top than the men, and do have a legitimate shot at a medal, any of the 3 qualifiers. The winning time of 2:25 is a world class time, especially considering how slow and tactical it was early (opening mile of 6:11).

This was only the 2nd marathon for Trials winner Shalane Flanagan. She’s won medals on the international stage: bronze in the 10k at the ’08 Olympics, bronze at the ’11 world x-c championships. She has the US records in 3k, 5k & 10k. Among other things, that means that

2nd place finisher Desi Davila ran 2:22 in finishing 2nd at Boston last year. I think it might take a low 2:20s time to win or medal at London.

Kara Goucher, the final qualifier, is still coming back from the birth of her child 9 months ago, and is only going to get faster. She’s shown

On the men’s side, the winning time of 2:09 is not up to what the top marathoners in the world are running. The good news is that they, lead by Ryan Hall, took it out fast, running 4:50 for the first several miles. Ryan Hall said (and I completely agree) that Americans need to get used to going fast from the gun if they’re going to compete with the rest of the world, and I agree. And, this is the first time ever that four Americans have broken 2:10 in the same race. The last time three had done that was 1983 at Boston. However, go beyond the top, and it’s telling that the 17th fastest qualifier going into the trials had the same time as the 40th fastest qualifier in 1984. In a sense, we’re no better than we were three decades ago. At least the depth of talent behind Meb and Ryan is growing, and that can only help to push the Americans forward.

Trials winner Meb Keflezighi has shown he can win – silver at the 2004 Olympic marathon, win at 2009 NY marathon – but hasn’t run faster than 2:09. After Sammy Wanjiru ran a 2:06:32 at the hot and humid Beijing games in 2008, I think this year’s London is more likely to be a fast race rather than slow and tactical.

Although second place finisher Ryan Hall has run 2:06 at London, and 2:04:58 at last year’s wind aided Boston, he seems more interested in time than place (5th at London and 4th at Boston. He hasn’t won a big, international race.

Third place finisher Abdi Abdirahman has made three prior US Olympic teams in track, but has yet to medal in international competition.

I’m looking forward to the Olympics this summer. The Women’s race is Aug. 5, the men’s Aug. 12. I hope I am wrong about the US men’s chances, but will cheer them on anyway.

Barefooting Part 1 – Were we really born to run … barefoot?

The book Born To Run, by Christopher McDougall, has had an immense impact on the running world and beyond. The hardcover was on the best seller list for most of 2010, the paperback for much of 2011, and there’s a movie in the works. It is largely responsible for the boom in barefoot running and minimal shoes. It has spawned great interest in ultra running, especially the Leadville 100 (the 2011 race sold out months earlier than ever before).

While I highly recommend the book – it’s entertaining, informative, and inspiring – I’m skeptical about barefoot running. I think it’s good that this has gotten runners to think about their form (I’ve been teaching running form since 2003, using the same principles found in Chi, Pose and almost every other running form system and minimalist). Despite the evangelical zeal of barefoot runners, it’s not the magical cure for all running injuries and running shoes are not evil; the science doesn’t show either.

In part 1 I’m going to briefly review the book and critically evaluate barefoot running. In the part 2, I’ll look at ways to strengthen your feet and improve your form. This should be valuable to you whether or not you are thinking of going barefoot or minimal (I will use these terms almost interchangeably throughout), and absolutely essential if you do.

Born To Run: At its core, the book is a wonderful tale of adventure travel. Beyond the adventure, McDougall weaves in everything from the evolution of ultra running, Tarahumara history and culture, an analysis of the running shoe industry, to cultural anthropology (i.e., were we born to run?). That’s where the book hits its mark.

The adventure took place in 2006, when a group of Americans travelled down to Copper Canyon, in Mexico, for a 50 mile race with the Tarahumara. The cast of characters including 6-time Western States 100 winner Scott Jurek, a guy named Barefoot Ted, a 20-something party animal who would stay up all night drinking and then win a race the next day (subsequently, she has gotten serious and has run sub-15 for 100miles), and the author. They were travelling down to meet up with Caballo Blanco (his true name and background are revealed at the end of the book), perhaps the biggest character of them all, an American who had been living with the Tarahumara. The story of how the race came about, traveling to Copper Canyon, and the race itself is quite entertaining.

The book has one of the best histories of ultra-running, and the most detailed account I’ve read of the much heralded 1994 Leadville 100mi run battle between Ann Trason and the Tarahumara. In that race, Tarahumara runner Juan Herrera held back early on, while Ann Trason led for much of the race. When he finally let go, he flew by Ann, averaging 2 min/mi faster, to shatter the course record and win by 34 minutes. His winning time of 17:30 stood as the record for 8 years (who knows how much faster he would’ve run if he hadn’t held back). Ann Trason’s 2nd place finishing time of 18:06 is still the women’s record, over 1.5 hours faster than any other woman has run at Leadville.

Were we born to run … barefoot?

The part that created all the buzz in the running community (and beyond), and made the barefoot movement take off is the claim that we, humans, were born to run, and run barefoot. The argument combines both bio-mechanics (the heel is important for balance when standing and walking, but not necessary for running) and evolutionary biology.

The evolutionary biology theory of barefoot running (i.e., born to run) is that our ability to run long gave us an advantage over our prey. Even the fastest humans are a lot slower than four-legged animals (and we didn’t have the weapons to kill them from afar), but we could run them to death (almost literally) over time. Humans keep cool through sweating. Other animals don’t sweat. They dissipate heat through breathing. So, while they can easily out sprint us, they quickly begin to overheat, have to switch much of their breathing from energy to cooling. Quickly they slow, and if forced to continue, they overheat, and stumble and collapse, making them easy to kill.

There are several problems with the claim that since our ancestors ran barefoot successfully, we should too.

1) It’s unlikely that all of our ancestors were good runners and hunters. It’s likely that only the few good runners were the ones who hunted. In other words, we weren’t all born to run.

2) Ancient humans grew up without shoes and developed strong and tough feet. They also were physically active – climbing trees, building shelters, etc., – developing strong core and stabilizing muscles. In contrast, we sit behind a desk, in front of a TV, drive cars, etc.

3) While some of us may have been born to run, I don’t know that we were born to race, and to do so for 26 miles on pavement.

Are shoes to blame?

McDougall’s book includes a near indictment of the running shoe industry claiming that cushioned shoes enable heel striking (which leads to injury). Barefoot advocates state that injury rates haven’t changed since the introduction of cushioned and motion control running shoes – 70% in the 70s, and 70% today – and that if shoes were better, they would have declined. However, there are several problems with this argument. And, there’s no scientific evidence that shoes either hurt or help runners.

Before the first running boom, when shoes were strips of thin rubber attached to a leather upper, most runners were built like me (I did my first race in 1971) – wispy, thin, efficient (i.e., born to run). As the number of runners has grown immensely, so has the variety of body types. On average, runners today or slower (and probably heavier) than before the modern running shoe – median marathon times in 1980 were 3:32 for men and 4:03 for women; in 2008 they were 4:16 & 4:43. A lot of newer runners may not have been born to run. In fact, cushioned and control shoes may be preventing them from getting more injured, and may have been necessary to enable them to get into and continue running.

Even with efficient runners, it could be that modern shoes have allowed runners to train more and harder before they become injured. In other words, injury rates may remain a constant regardless of whether or what kind or shoes runners wear, because runners will tend to push themselves in training to the point they get injured.

Rather, the problem with shoes may be that it restricts your foot from functioning naturally. Your foot is supposed to pronate, the arch collapse, toes splay out, flex at the mid-foot. This is all part of dissipating some of the impact, and gathering energy in a spring-like fashion to return to your push off. If you wear shoes that restrict those motions, you don’t allow the muscles to strengthen and learn to operate efficiently.

Even for those who have an efficient stride in shorter runs/races, it’s not clear that’s sustainable over a longer race (i.e., ½-marathon and longer). High speed video analysis of runners towards the latter half of longer races show that even the majority of elite runners land on their heels (although, I’m not sure whether such analysis is really able to distinguish between where it appears the foot strikes and where the major impact is). So, as your foot fatigues, you may need some heel cushioning. And, cushioning may forestall the fatigue that, among other things, makes you more susceptible to injury.

I don’t have much to say about zero and low heel drop shoes because they are so new onto the market, and there hasn’t been time to study them. I read one report that implied that the amount of heel cushioning didn’t matter, but whether there was cushioning or not did. However, that was a very small and not very scientific study.

Is forefoot better?

The science does not show that barefoot running or forefoot (for purposes here, I use forefoot and midfoot interchangeably) striking reduces injury. Harvard evolutionary biologists Daniel E. Lieberman, who’s work is widely cited in the book and by barefoot advocates, states on his website, “Please note that we present no data on how people should run, whether shoes cause some injuries, or whether barefoot running causes other kinds of injuries. We believe there is a strong need for controlled, prospective studies on these issues.”

Dr. Lieberman’s most widely cited study shows how loading rates are significantly higher with heel strikers vs. forefoot strikers. There are several problems with this analysis. Force exerted down onto a strike plate doesn’t equate to force transferred up through a cushioned shoe. More loading doesn’t necessarily mean excessive; no one has showed how much is too much. Loading rates, rather than indicating excessive stress on the body, may simply indicate inefficiency. In fact, there’s a theory that the higher loading stresses the bones, making them stronger. Also, it’s not been shown that such measures in a lab represent what’s happening in the real world.

Another theory says that your body adapts to the stresses it encounters and automatically adjusts your stride (you automatically adjust your stride when you change from concrete, to dirt, to mud or sand). In other words, if heel striking hurt, you wouldn’t.

It’s not clear that forefoot striking reduces injuries. For one, landing off your heels means your muscles absorb more of the impact. Those who don’t take the time to properly adapt to fore/midfoot striking are prone to more soft tissue injuries. Even after properly adapting, on longer runs and races, muscles fatigue (bones don’t), becoming less efficient, less able to stabilize and support, which can lead to greater injury. Other studies have shown that higher frequency (hertz) forces, associated with heel striking, travel through bones, while lower frequency forces, associated with forefoot striking, travel through the muscles. So, changing to mid/forefoot striking may be trading off one set of injuries for another.

More than forefoot

Forefoot striking alone is not sufficient, and may not even be necessary for an efficient stride. For example, the University of Virginia’s Center For Endurance Sport has done analyses that indicate that where your foot lands relative to your body – your foot should land under the center of gravity (COG) – is more important. While they say that most people who land under their COG do strike forefoot, they can show you heel strikers who land under their COG and forefoot strikers who land in front. Regardless of what part of the foot you land on or what kind of shoe you are wearing, landing under your COG produces less impact than landing in front. It’s also more efficient.

Let’s add two more important characteristics of an efficient foot strike – the direction your foot is moving, and your stride rate.

When your foot hits the ground, it should be pulling back. This “paw back” motion (like a cat scratching) means that you are using the existing inertia of your body’s forward motion over the ground (or the ground’s/treadmill’s backwards motion under you) to help propel you forward. When you land flat, or with your feet moving forward relative to the ground (sounds like sandpaper), not only is the impact greater, but you stop your forward momentum (actually slowing yourself down), and require that much more energy to generate the forward momentum. Another way of thinking of this is when you have to move a heavy object (e.g., a large box), it’s easier to move it if you get a running start. Combine the paw back with landing under your COG, and it takes less energy to produce a more powerful stride than how a lot of runners land. It’s easier to push something away from your body than pull it towards you.

A faster stride (most non-elite runners can benefit from a faster stride) is more efficient, has less impact, and leads to faster running. Stride rate is much more a factor of how much time your foot is on the ground, than how much time it’s in the air. When you land, the muscles and tendons in your foot and leg collect energy and then return it, like a spring. That return of energy can happen very quickly. The longer your foot is on the ground, the more energy is absorbed, and the less is returned to propelling you forward. A faster stride means you don’t have to propel yourself as far in the air meaning less energy and less impact.

And that’s just foot strike. Other factors to consider include pelvic tilt, arm swing, shoulders and head tilt.

Can we adapt?

Even if it turns out that barefoot and/or forefoot running is better for runners, it’s not clear how easily, or even whether we can adapt to it after a lifetime of wearing shoes. Analysis of runners at barefoot/minimalist races (done after the start when runners have settled into their stride) has shown that the majority of runners still land on their heels.

Anecdotally, having watched a lot of runners, and through my own experience, it’s not clear that it’s the cushioning that causes people to run on their heels. Rather, it may be that people have different, natural running styles, perhaps altered by lack of ankle flexion from years of little or misuse (e.g., high heeled shoes). I know runners whose heels never seem to touch the ground regardless of what kind of shoe they’re wearing, and others who can’t get off their heels. Personally, I’m able to consciously alter my foot strike in whatever kind of shoe I’m wearing. For me, at least, it’s not the shoe that dictates my foot strike, but how my muscles are conditioned to fire.

Bottom line

Before you rush out and buy a pair of barefoot shoes (contradictory terms), consider whether you need to change. If you have recurring injuries – not just in your foot, but radiating up to your hips and lower back – then you might benefit from a change. However, the irony is that those who can benefit from it the most can afford it the least. I’ve always had a fairly efficient stride and good feet, and have never worn supportive shoes. I can, and have run a few miles barefoot with no build-up. However, for those who don’t have good feet and have been wearing supportive shoes, you may only be able to run a few seconds barefoot without risking injury, and it may take months of build up before you can do any substantial barefoot running.

There is a lot of benefit in working on your running form, even for efficient and injury free runners. Athletes in every other endurance sport – e.g., cycling, swimming, x-c skiing – work on their form. Whatever the reasons, most non-elite runners don’t; they just run.  Becoming more efficient will make you faster, less likely to get injured, and less tired. You will be able to wear lighter (which should also make you faster), less supportive shoes, and thus less expensive shoes, that will last longer.

In the next part I will talk about how to strengthen your feet, how to transition to less supportive shoes, and more about who should consider going barefoot.


NY Times article 6/8/11 – http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/06/08/are-we-built-to-run-barefoot/

Barefoot lab at Harvard – http://www.barefootrunning.fas.harvard.edu/

RW interview with biomechanics expert Benno Nigg, 1/9/11 – http://peakperformance.runnersworld.com/2011/01/jan-9-veteran-biomechanics-expert-benno-nigg-doubts-that-barefootin-forefootin-or-pronation-control-will-change-injury-rates.html

Science of Sports blog on barefoot running, 6/6/11 – http://www.sportsscientists.com/2011/06/barefoot-running-shoes-and-born-to-run.html

UVA Center for Endurance Sports – http://uvaendurosport.wordpress.com/ or http://uvaendurosport.com/

Crewing the Leadville 100 Run

What’s crewing? Briefly, crews meet runners at points along the course with food, fresh water bottles, clothing changes, etc., supplementing the support and supplies available at aid stations.

While having a crew can be extremely helpful, it’s neither required nor necessary. A lot of runners from out of town can’t afford to bring crews with them and don’t know locals who can help. Some runners choose to go without crews, preferring to do the race as a solo effort.

Done right, crewing can be extremely valuable to the runner. However, done poorly, it can end up costing the runner time and energy.

Since 1996, I’ve paced and crewed 8 times, raced twice with top-20, sub-23hr finishes, and have coached several runners. I’ve worked with runners from all parts of the pack. I have also crewed at the LT100 mountain bike race twice. I know the race from the inside out and gladly share my knowledge, including some insider tips that you can’t find elsewhere.

While this is written primarily for Leadville, much of this information is applicable for other ultras.

Use the Outline headings to navigate. Please send me feedback,– comments, suggestions for improvement, critiques. You can also post your comments on here or on my Facebook page.

  1. Crewing explained.
  2. Making a plan.
  3. Gear – What to bring and and how to organize it.
  4. Efficient Aid Station Management.
  5. Dealing with a troubled runner.
  6. Communication/tracking.
  7. Stepping Through the Aid Stations. Specific information for each separate aid station, from start to finish.
  8. Taking Care of Yourself
  9. Final thoughts.

 1. Crewing

What’s crewing? Briefly, a crew follows a runner throughout the race, meeting them at designated points, providing them with food, gear, and moral support. Crews can be used in lieu of, or in addition to aid station (AS) supplies and volunteers.

Crewing at Leadville is fairly easy in that the crewing stations are all easily accessible, easy to find, and you have plenty of time to get there before your runner. The downside of that is that they can be extremely crowded and you may have to park and walk from a mile or more away, especially at the start of the race.

Crewing doesn’t require you to be an ultra runner, or even fit, though having that experience of racing can help you better understand and serve the runner.

Pacers can and often do crew. Alternating pacers may be the crew. Or, pacers can assist the crew before/after their pacing leg. Decide in advance whether the pacer(s) is going to ride with you or separately. Riding with you means they don’t have to worry about finding you for when they are supposed to start pacing. It also means fewer vehicles fighting for limited parking spots at AS. They don’t necessarily have to ride with you from the start. What I’ve done when pacing, is watch the start, go back to sleep, have a leisurely breakfast in town, then meet the crew later in the morning at Fish Hatchery, Treeline or Twin Lakes.

Crewing is surprisingly exhausting, even more so than pacing. Unlike pacing, which is a fairly constant output of energy, crewing is a repetition of highs and lows – a short burst of high energy as you get them taken care of and on their way quickly; pack up, drive to the next crew station, get a good spot and set up; wait, and wait, and wait; then repeat again. All that turning up and down can be wearing, especially through the late night and early morning hours before sunrise on Sunday.

In 1998, I was injured and not able to pace, so I was a full time crew instead. Around 3am, as I was driving from Fish Hatchery to Mayqueen, I started falling asleep at the wheel. I had to stop and have the pacer I was ferrying take over driving, and then wake me up when my runner was coming into the aid station.

That leads to some basic guidelines for crewing:

  • Take care of yourself. This includes food, clothing (to keep you warm and dry), and things to do while you’re waiting. You’re not much good to your runner if you’re tired, hungry, cold, cranky, or even asleep. There’s more on this below.
  • You are there to be of service to the runner. It’s their race. Put your own personal agendas aside and strive to accommodate whatever wishes they have. Remember that your runner will be tired and may be cranky and behave in ways you’re not used to later in the race. This can sometimes strain relationships. Don’t take it personally.
  • Know the rules. Don’t get your runner disqualified by doing something stupid. Read the runner’s handbook in advance. Ask questions of race personnel at check-in on Friday, or an official at an aid station on race day.
  • The more the merrier. As I said, crewing can be exhausting. Having help makes it easier. Help can mean a second (or third) person the whole way, having pacers help (if the runner has more than one, the off pacer can help), or having a second shift take over or provide added help through the night.
  • Stock up, organize and pack in advance. There’s one Safeway in Leadville. With the huge increase in volume for the bike and run, they’re likely to run out of some essentials. Don’t wait until Friday to shop. Don’t rely on finding supplies during the race. There’s limited availability and limited time during the race.
  • Have a plan, but be flexible. You need to be able to adapt to changes in the weather, how your runner feels, and other issues that come up. Things happen in ultras that are hard to predict, even for the most experienced ultra runners.

2. Planning

It’s a good idea to plan out race and aid station strategy, and have the runner go over this with you in advance. The plan should include what they expect to want at each station, and approximate time they’ll get there. Write the plan and time estimates in advance and carry it with you.

For time, make sure it’s clear whether you’re using time of day, or race time. For example, does 12:30 mean 12.5 hours into the race (4:30pm), or 12:30pm (8.5hours into the race)? This has confused more than one crew in the past.

Also include the time between stations. Perhaps simple to calculate, it can be hard to figure out for a tired crew, especially one who’s not experienced with ultras. When I last raced, in 2004, I was running a couple of hours behind schedule (due to stomach problems). I had “planned” to get into Mayqueen around 9:00pm, but I was having a bad day, and didn’t leave Fish Hatchery until a little before 9. Knowing that it would take me a little under 3rs, so knew to expect me at Mayqueen sometime between 11:30 to midnight.

Realize that plans aren’t written in stone. As I said above, things happen in ultras that are unexpected. Be prepared to deviate from the plan and improvise to meet your runner’s needs.

3. Orgainzing Food and Gear

I’m not going to suggest specific things to bring – each runner has their own particular wants and needs – rather, I’m going to suggest categories of items and how to organize it.

Put different types of items in different containers – e.g., plastic totes, small gym/duffle bags. This makes it easier to find things quickly when you need them. When your runner comes into an aid station, at night, asking for a specific green hat or peanut butter bar, you want to be able to find it quickly. Label the bags/boxes, and even use different colors, to help you find them quickly. After the runner leaves, put extra items back in their specific container and keep them fairly neat so you can get the stuff you need quickly the next time.

Types of gear:

  • Clothing. Possibly keep small items like hats, gloves and socks separate from larger jackets and pants so they don’t get pulled out accidentally and lost. Have a separate container for used and wet clothes. If the runner is using multiple pairs of shoes, uniquely identify each pair (e.g., number the midsoles), especially if you have multiple pairs of the same shoe.
  • Lights and batteries, radios, and extra iPods. Bring extra lights for yourself to help you find things at night, and to light up the area for when the runner is there.
  • Dry food; e.g., bars, gels, drink powders.
  • Cold and wet foods. Most crews will use an ice chest.
  • Water. While you can use the water at the aid stations to fill bottles and hydration packs, in most places you’ll be crewing away from the actual aid station itself. It’s often easier to fill bladders, bottles, and mix drinks from your own water containers. Make sure you keep the water away from dry clothes and food, and make sure it’s secured and closed so that it doesn’t spill or leak.
  • First aid; e.g., bandages, Vaseline, duct tape, mole skin, ibuprofen, Tums, Rolaids or ginger for the stomach. I usually keep these with the lights and batteries.
  • Crew gear. Keep it separate from the runner’s and pacer’s stuff. More on that below.
  • Pacer gear (if they’re riding with you). The pacer(s) should be responsible for organizing, maintaining, and getting their own gear. The runner may supply the pacer with food, batteries, etc., but that should be determined in advance. The pacer should have separate containers, but a limited number so that there’s plenty of room for the runner.

Some additional items to bring:

  • Small table – e.g., TV tray, camp table – to set up stuff for the runner. There are several places where you are not going to be able to crew from your car.
  • Additional bag or box to carry the supplies needed for that particular AS. There are several Ass where you’ll have to park a ways away, and carry stuff to the AS – namely May Queen at the start, Twin Lakes both ways (some can park along the route), and Winfield.
  • Folding, camp or beach type chairs.
  • Towel(s) to dry off a wet runner, and to clean their feet after crossing the creek and swamp on the way back to Twin Lakes.
  • Extra hydration packs. It’s easier and quicker to have a new pack ready to go than to pull out a bladder, fill it quickly without spilling, and stuffing it back in.
  • Camp stove and fuel. Allows you to make your own soups, hot chocolate, coffee, etc.

4. Efficient Aid Station Management

It’s important to get the runner out of the aid station and back on the trail as quickly as possible. AS time adds up; even just 5 min in each AS means almost an hour of lost time not moving closer to the finish. If the runner is flirting with the cut-off times, 30 hours, or the big buckle (25), those AS minutes can come back to haunt them.

Start with the plan the runner drafted in advance, but be ready to react quickly to changes. Unexpected things can change during the race. In 2002, I had prepared detailed plans for my crew. However, a bottle of bad Cytomax at the start left me with an upset stomach only an hour into the race. I had planned to take one bottle of Cytomax and one of R4 at Mayqueen, so that’s all my crew had available for me (the rest was in the car 10 min away). Since I knew the Cytomax was bad, I had only one bottle of R4 to get me over the hill to Fish Hatchery. If I had explained the need to have additional items available, I would have had more options.

Get set up well in advance. As soon as your runner leaves, pack up quickly, drive to the next AS, and get set up. Take time to relax, eat, take a short walk, chat with friends, etc., after you’re set up. Getting to the next AS quickly usually lets you find a closer parking spot and better place to crew. Getting set up means you don’t have to scramble when your runner gets there. I would wait until 15min or so before their earliest expected arrival before mixing drinks and taking out perishable foods.

Shortly before the earliest expected arrival time, go to the AS, or where they come into the crewing area (more on this below), find them, and escort them to where you’re set up to crew. Finding them can be harder than you’d expect in the early parts of the race, where the runners are still bunched together, and at night.

Escort them to where you’re set up so they don’t have to waste time and energy looking for you, or worrying about whether you’re there. If there are two or more of you crewing, one can find the runner, find out what they want, then radio ahead to the other; or tell the runner where you are set up, run ahead to alert the other, then back to escort the runner.

Figure out an efficient order of doing things. While there’s no one best way of doing it, the key is for the runner to spend as little time with the crew – i.e., not moving forward – as necessary, and for the runner to always be doing someing (e.g., eating, changing) rather than waiting. Here’s how I did it (as a racer):

  1. Take off my pack so it can be restocked while I’m doing other stuff, and drop stuff I don’t need any more (e.g., light at Mayqueen, on the way out).
  2. Eat foods that are hard to carry on the trail (e.g., soup)
  3. Take some extra gulps of water and sports drink or bites of food from sources I’m not going to take on the trail; I still leave with full bottles.
  4. Change clothes, socks and shoes.
  5. Put on my pack.
  6. Check to make sure I have what I need for the next leg. It can be a good idea for the cres to have a simple, generic check-list to quickly read through with the runner before he/she leaves to prevent missing critical items.
  7. Go.

If there are two or more crew, split the duties so that at least one caters to the runner, while the other(s) prep the packs and stuff for the next leg.

Be efficient, but not hurried. Your runner can pick up on nerves and frantic energy, which can drain his/her energy and cause them to worry. Present yourself calmly and confidently, which can translate to your runner being calm and confident.

Most of the time, the runner is better off continuing to move rather than stopping and sitting at AS. Try to get them out of the AS and moving as soon as possible. This is especially true late at night, when it’s cold. Once they stop, their body stops generating heat. They can get cold and start shivering. Shivering uses up a lot of energy. And, it can take a lot of extra time to warm up enough to be able to start moving again.

If the runner also has drop bags, the crew can often get them from the AS in advance (check with the AS staff to make sure they’ll). Remember to return the bags to the AS on the way out, and to keep them on the way back. One of the advantages of using a crew is that the runner doesn’t have to prepare drop bags.

If the runner is using pacers, have the pacer’s gear/food bag available for them. Generally, pacers should be responsible for getting themselves ready – gear, food, clothing. It may take the pacer a little longer to get ready for the next section, especially if they spend some of the AS time catering to the racer. The racer doesn’t have to, and shouldn’t wait for the pacer. The runner should start ahead, and the pacer can catch up.

If there’s a new pacer for the next leg, they should have their gear all ready before the runner arrives. Make sure that the racer’s supplies are transferred to the pacer’s pack/pockets. Simple, but easy to forget in a rush. One time, as a friend of mine was leaving Fish Hatchery on the way to Mayqueen, the outgoing pacer forgot to transfer gels and bars to the new pacer. They were part way up the Powerline before the new pacer realized it, too far along to go back.

5. Dealing with a Struggling Runner

Most runners will probably struggle physically and/or emotionally at some point during the race. In fact, it’s often said that success in ultras depends on how you deal with the problems.

There are not rules for how to handle this. It depends on the situation, the runner’s personality, the dynamics of the relationship between runner and crew/pacer, etc. It may help to be a comforting parent, psychologist, cheerleader, drill sergeant, or all of the above.

The decision to drop is a difficult one to make (unless time cut-offs make the decision for you). Typically it’s the runner’s decision to make, but a tired runner may not be in a proper state of mind to make the right decision, and you may need to intervene. Intervening may mean stopping a runner when they don’t want to quit, or getting a runner to continue when they don’t want to.

Just being tired and sore, or low on energy, usually isn’t a good reason to stop. These and many other problems can be helped with food and fluids. Just like giving a crying baby a bottle, getting some food into the runner often helps them to feel better, both physically and emotionally (though perhaps not quite as quickly as a baby). Once they’re refueled and rehydrated, often they’ll start feeling better after a few minutes of moving along the trail.

If they’re dehydrated and have lost significant weight (runners are weighed at check-in, and several times during the race), take enough time to pump fluids (and electrolytes) into them.

Some of the typical more serious issues that may necessitate quitting are:

  • Blood in the urine or stool, or coughing/vomiting blood; can be caused by dehydration or taking too many NSAIDs (e.g., aspirin, ibuprofen). Vomiting in and of itself is not necessarily a reason to quit.
  • Sprains, twists, sharp pain or significant swelling in or other injury to joints, especially if the pain is getting progressively worse or significantly altering the stride.
  • Difficulty breathing, caused by fluid build-up in the lungs.
  • Severe headaches, caused by fluid build-up in the brain.

There’s medical personnel at each AS to check runners. They can check the runner and give you advice on whether they think the runner can/should continue.

Otherwise, few problems can be solved by sitting or laying down. Time spent in AS (or otherwise stopped) is time lost not getting you closer to the finish; as little as 5min in each AS adds up to an hour lost throughout the race. Sore muscles don’t recover while sitting in an AS (any relief is temporary). Everyone gets sore and tired, yet it’s amazing what the body can do when it’s tired. Get them fed and get them on their way.

In 2002, after 30 miles of struggling with an upset stomach and cramping legs, when I got off the back side of Hope Pass (you used to be able to crew from there), I told my crew I wanted to drop out. They wouldn’t let me, “There’s no f-ing way you’re dropping out of this race.” My pacer kicked and dragged my sorry butt back over Hope Pass where I rallied mentally, and improved from 41st to 20th over the final 40 miles.

There’s the story of a woman who’s husband wanted to drop out at Mayqueen. Citing all the time he took away from her for training, she got in the car, locked the door, and refused to let him in and drive him back to town. He finished.

6. Communication and Runner Tracking

Knowing when your runner is coming in and what they need can make the AS experience faster and better.

On the way out (first 50mi), you’ll mostly rely on estimated time splits. In the last couple of years, some runners have taking to texting and tweeting from the trail. I think that’s a waste of time and energy, both carrying and using a phone while racing. It’s also unreliable. There are many places that don’t have good, or any cell coverage. So, messages sent minutes out from an AS, might not actually be sent or received until hours later.

On the way back, especially at night, advance notice can be helpful. There are several ways a pacer can help.

Have the pacer carry a walkie-talkie. Radio channels get crowded with so many runners, but all you need is a quick message; e.g., “Runner 264 is 10 min out from Twin Lakes.” You can pick up a 2-pack of radios for $30-$50, and a 4-pack for not a lot more. It’s worth having fully charged extras to get you through the night.

Additionally, or instead, a pacer can jog ahead as they’re coming into an AS. They should find out what the runner wants (e.g., food, drink, clothing), run ahead to find the crew and inform them of the runner’s needs and where they are, then run back to the racer (or wait) and guide them to the crew.

I have seen way too many runners come into Fish Hatchery at night feeling fine, sit down to eat, start shivering within 30 seconds, then end up having to having to lay in a warm sleeping bag for up to an hour. A runner can save time by eating and changing tops while on the move, instead of sitting. Focus your efforts on the runner first. You can hang back to fill their bottles/bladder, grab clothing form crew or drop bags, get what you need, then catch up to them on the trail. The runner doesn’t need to, and shouldn’t wait for you.

7. Stepping through the AS

Start: You can have extra clothes to allow for last minute changes, lights/batteries in case one goes bad, extra food to top off the tank, and to give encouragement. You might also want to take pictures. Of course, if you and the runner don’t think you need to be there, then head out to Mayqueen in advance.

Head out to the AS immediately after the start. It’s going to be crowded and the later you get there, the further away you’re going to have to park and walk. Stage your car at a place you can get to quickly, and that can get you to the AS quickly without having to wait for the runners to get too far down the road.

Tabor Boat Ramp: I strongly recommend skipping it at the start and going directly to Mayqueen.

  • It’s very crowded.
  • The runners come through in large packs, with no advance warning, and it’ll be dark, so it’s hard to find your runner.
  • It’s early enough in the race that they shouldn’t need a crew until Mayqueen.
  • It delays getting to Mayqueen, meaning you’ll have to park even further away.

Mayqueen (MQ): Get there as early as possible. I suspect that if you’re not there by 4:20, you may have to walk a mile or more to the AS where you can crew (thus the need for a bag or box to carry things, mentioned above).

If you’re coming from Tabor, it may be easier and quicker to approach MQ from the north (go left out of the Tabor lot rather than right). They don’t let you drive through to MQ itself, but you can park along the road where they head back onto the trail. You might be able to crew there, although that’s not a good idea unless your runner is expecting you there. It’s ~1/3mi down the road to MQ itself.

At the AS, wait for them on the road, on the incoming (east) side of the tent. Don’t crew there, but make contact with them. They have to go through the tent to check in and out of the AS. Then, meet them on the other side of the tent to crew.

This is a quick transition. They’ll drop off lights and maybe some clothing, and quickly swap out bottles or hydration packs. You can walk with them up the road a bit to do the swaps rather than have them stand and wait.

It’s going to be cold – Mayqueen is at a low point and by water – so dress appropriately to keep yourself warm while waiting.

As soon as they are done, head back to the car and to Fish Hatchery.

Fish Hatchery (FH): They don’t allow you to drive the road between the Power Line and FH on the way out. Don’t take the right after the golf course, but continue straight to hwy 300, then right, W up to FH. Parking will be at a premium in the morning, and you’ll have to park where they tell you too.

The ideal place to set up is on the road, where the runners go up and back to the actual AS; it’s 50m or so up from the road. There, you can see them twice. They can drop off their pack and tell you what they want before heading up to the AS. You can get it ready for them when they return. Give them food/drink for them to take while they’re going up and back to the AS.

If you’re able to park along the race route (don’t make the runner go out of his/her way), then you can crew from your car. Still meet them at the spot above, take their pack so they don’t have to carry it, then either tell them where your car is, or wait and escort them there.

It’s a short leg to Treeline, so they don’t have to carry much. When I was racing, I would drop my pack and just carry a hand held bottle, perhaps half full, to Treeline.

Because of all the fish ponds, be prepared for lots of mosquitos.

It’s only 4mi to Treeline, but it’s a quick drive, and there’s plenty of parking. So, while you don’t need to rush, you don’t want to dawdle either at FH.

Treeline: This is a crew spot, not an AS. Park where you can, which should be along the race route. Find your runner so they don’t have to waste energy finding you. It’s 3mi from there to Halfmoon (HM), the next AS (there’s no crew access allowed at HM), and then another 9 to Twin Lakes (TL). If they’re going light from FH, they’ll need to reload packs and gear at Treeline.

You’ll want to be on your way quickly after they leave because of parking at TL.

Twin Lakes (TL): If you get there early enough, you can park in the lot on the left side of the road. The AS is a block up and in to the right, but the runners run through the lot on their way to/from Hope Pass. You’re not allowed to park on the dirt roads above hwy 82. Otherwise, you’ll be directed to park along hwy 82.

If you can’t park in the lot, then set up to crew either in or at the entrance to the lot, or along the dirt road heading up to the AS. It’s usually less crowded and easier to crew away from the AS itself.

Meet your runner up by the AS, then escort them to your crew spot. Carry their pack while you’re escorting them. Bring food/drink for them to take while you’re escorting them.

TL is often the first place runners will stop and take extra time to eat and change. Hope Pass is looming ahead so it’s a good place to do that. However, follow my advice above about getting them out on the trail and moving closer to the finish as quickly as possible.

Have them take a jacket, and perhaps hat and gloves with them over Hope Pass, no matter how warm and sunny it may be at the time. There’s almost always rain, sleet or hail over Hope at some point during the race, and far too many runners have lost valuable time or had to drop out because of not being prepared for the cold and wet.

Although you want to get to TL fairly quickly because of parking, you’ll have plenty of time until your runner comes in. There’s a small store along hwy 82 with a limited amount of food and supplies. You can get some snacks, but don’t count on it to restock your race supplies.

Beware of mosquitos in the lot and by hwy 82. They’re usually not a problem up by the AS.

Winfield: Although you have plenty of time, it’s a long drive from TL to Winfield – 45min for the first crews, 1hr our more for everyone else due to traffic. The last 12mi is on a dusty, and occasionally bumpy, 2wd dirt road. The last 2.5mi is shared with the runners. There will be 2-way traffic for both runners and cars here. You’ll have to go slow because of traffic. Go extra slow and be extra careful when passing runners to minimize kicking up dust. Please don’t make the runners suffer any more than they already are just because you’re late and rushing.

You’ll have to park as directed, and then carry the gear to the runner. The best place to crew is in the actual AS in the shade of the tent. You can walk with your runner along the trail from the road to/from the AS for additional crewing and to save time.

It can be hot and dusty at Winfield. There can also be mosquitos.

You’ll have plenty of time to get back to TL, but the sooner you leave Winfield, the sooner you’ll free up a parking spot for someone else. You’ll also want to take the opportunity to cheer your runner on as you pass them on the road.

Twin Lakes: Parking should be easier, and the atmosphere less rushed on the return trip. It’ll be that way the rest of the race.

Meet your runner by the bathrooms, where they come off the trail (you can go up the trail a bit), or in the lot. Crew for them before they go to the AS, then walk them to the AS. The exception is if they’re close to the cut-off time, make sure they check in and out of the aid station before that time. They’re still considered official if you then crew for them, and they then leave after the cut-off.

Many runners will change shoes/socks here after passing through the river and swamp on coming into TL.

Although the next section is relatively easy (no major climbs), this is often where runners run into trouble. Perhaps it’s something about 60+ miles in the legs, or where food and fluids management catches up with them. Regardless of how good they may be feeling at TL, make sure they eat and drink enough before heading out, and carry enough with them.

Treeline: If you need to go back to town to eat or restock supplies, this is the time to do it. Treeline is fairly close to Leadville, you’ll have plenty of time, and stores and restaurants will still be open.

Treeline can be a bit of a party scene for crew at night. Crews will be waiting there 1-2 hours. There will be camp stoves cooking food, music playing, Frisbee, football, etc. Be prepared to wait. Be prepared to start bundling up against the cold.

It can be hard to find each other at night. There’s usually a couple of race volunteers, one a bit down from the crewing area where the runners are coming from who will radio ahead with race numbers, and another by the crew calling out the numbers. Do your best to keep your runner from spending time finding or worrying about you. Wearing something reflective and distinctive can help. Keep your lights pointed down, away from others’ faces (blinding them).

Again Treeline to FH is short, so again they can go light.

Fish Hatchery: Feel free to slow, and cheer your runner (and others) as you pass them along the road to FH.

Parking should be easier than on the way out. If you can, park and crew by the place they go in-and-out to/from the AS. You can also carry the stuff into the AS building where it’s warm and crew for them there.

For most runners, it’ll be dark and cold. DO NOT LET THEM SIT DOWN (unless absolutely necessary). Shortly after they sit and stop generating energy, they may get cold and start shivering. Keep them up and moving so they can maintain body heat. FH can look like a M.A.S.H. tent at night, and you don’t want the runner to become another casualty.

Mosquitos shouldn’t be much of a problem at night.

Leaving FH, you may be able to drive the road to the Power Line trail. It’s almost exactly 1mi from FH. You can meet them there and cheer them on before they tackle the last major climb of the course.

Mayqueen: You’ll have time to head to town after FH if necessary.

From the AS, at night, you can look up to and see the string of lights from runners and pacers coming down from Sugarloaf; it’s a pretty sight. If you are using radios, they should be able to contact you from the top. However, it’ll take them another 1-2 hours from the top.

There will be someone where they come off the trail, 1/3mi above MQ, calling numbers ahead via radio. Someone at the AS will then relay those numbers to waiting crew so you know when they’re coming. Be patient. It always seems to take longer than you think.

Meet them as they’re coming in towards the AS, and go into the tent with them. It’s warmer and there’s light inside. Again, even though they’re tired and want to sit, the sooner you can get them on their way, the sooner they’ll finish.

Tabor: They don’t let you through the short way, because of runners coming down to MQ from the trail, so you have to drive counter-clockwise. The road diverges from the lake quite a bit, so it seems to be a lot longer than expected. The entrance to the boat ramp can be hard to find at night. Hopefully they will mark it better with lights.

If there’s room, you can back your car down the boat ramp; there’s space for 3-4 cars. However, after sunrise, you may have to leave space, or temporarily move your car to allow boaters access to the lake. Otherwise, park up in the lot and carry gear down.

Runners come in from the right (as you’re facing the lake). You have almost no warning. You won’t see lights or hear runners coming until perhaps 10-20 seconds before they get to the boat ramp.

Remember that it’s cold by the water, and there may be mosquitos after sunrise.

Turquoise Lake trail head: The end of the Turquoise Lake Trail can be another good place to crew. This is about half way between MQ and the finish. It’s easier to get to, and easier to find at night, and easier to crew than Tabor. Although it’s not an official crew station, race management has always been aware that people crew there and condoned it. Check with the new race management.

There’s room to park right near the trail head. There’s also a larger dirt turnout, with room for several cars, on the S side of the road, a bit E of the T road intersection, at the top of the short power line section. This is a lot easier to get to, and easier to find at night than the Tabor boat ramp.

To the Finish: You can meet them and cheer them on a couple of other places before the finish. At Sugar Loafin’ campground, which is at the end of the dirt road they’re running on, and the bottom of the hill on the paved road you’re driving down from the Turquoise trail head. Please don’t drive on the dirt road, although you can park at the end.

At the RR tracks, where they turn off the paved road. Note that the bridge/river crossing just before the RR tracks can be the coldest part of the whole race. Absolutely don’t drive the dirt road alongside the tracks, or the “boulevard” dirt road.

At the bottom of 6th, the top end of the boulevard dirt road. That’s just less than 1mi to the finish. They may choose to drop packs and bottles so the road up to the finish is easier. Extra pacers, crew and family are allowed and encouraged to accompany the runner on this last section.

Walk down from the finish and accompany them the last few blocks. There’s a volunteer at the crest of the hill ½ mile from the finish, who will ask for the runner’s number, and radio it ahead to the finish. The announcer will broadcast that number or the runner’s name to people waiting at the finish. Walk/run with them the last few blocks. Typically you’ll want to stop just before the finish line so they can cross it alone.

The last hour, especially the last 30 min before the 30hr cut-off, there will be huge crowds lined up cheering the last few runners. It’s very moving to witness and be a part of this. I remember one year when two runners finished in the last minute, the final official finisher crossing the line with just seconds to spare. You didn’t think they had a chance when you saw them cresting the hill, but they somehow summoned up the extra energy and fed off the screaming crowd to run across the line.

8. Taking Care of Yourself

When you’re crewing, you’re going to be out there as long as the runner. If you’re going to be helpful to your runner, you need to keep yourself warm, fed, and alert through the long hours.

Food: Bring food and drinks with you. You are not allowed to take food from the AS. There are very limited opportunities to get food during and along the race route. There’s a small market at Twin Lakes, but they don’t carry enough food and supplies to take care of the high volume during the race. You won’t have time to go back to Leadville, to restock at a market or to eat at a restaurant, until Saturday night, after your runner has left Twin Lakes on the way back.

Clothing: You’ll want clothing to stay warm at the start and through Saturday night. Warm weather clothes during the day (depending on weather). Rain gear, and changes of socks, shoes and clothes if they get wet. Hat for sun/rain protection.


  • Lights for yourself with spare batteries.
  • Camp soap, wipes, etc., to clean your hands before/after handling food for you and your racer.
  • Towels to clean and dry yourself, plates, utensils, etc.
  • Beach chair, camp chair, folding chair, etc. to sit in while waiting for your runner. It’s nice to get out of your car, and sometimes you won’t be able to crew near your car.
  • Mosquito repellent.
  • Books, magazines, music to keep you entertained.
  • Alarm clock

Pets: If you’re brining dogs/cats, make sure you have stuff for them to get through the race. Clean up after them. Keep them away from the runners; even if you have the sweetest, gentlest dog in the world, the other runners don’t know that, may be allergic to or afraid of dogs.

Getting through the night: The wee hours of the morning, from around 2am – 6am (sunrise), are the hardest on the crew. Adrenaline has long since gone. Your body’s natural rhythms are telling you to sleep, just like a lot of runners struggle with energy during this time. Be aware of this going in, and have strategies to deal with it.

I don’t normally take caffeine, but when I’m involved in ultras, or when I used to do adventure racing, then, as John Lennon said, “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night.”

Take quick naps, selectively. Go to the next AS first. Set an alarm and/or have your crewing partner wake you up. Plan to wake up well in advance of when you expect your runner to come in (every so often, crew has had to be woken up by a racer or pacer, or they just slept through the runner). You don’t need a lot of sleep during the race – as little as 10 or 15 minutes may be enough to refresh and re-waken the mind.

9. Final Thoughts

Crewing can be a lot of fun as well as a lot of work. It’s a great way to experience ultras without running in one. It’s one way to learn about ultras before doing one yourself. If someone asks you to crew, please consider helping them out.

As always, I welcome your questions and comments. Visit my web site, http://www.runuphillracing.com/

Leadville Pacers Guide

This is a guide to the Leadville Trail 100 Run, for Pacers, Crew, and Racers. Although focused mainly on pacing, I think the information us valuable to crew and runners too.

Since 1996, I’ve paced and crewed 8 times, raced twice with top-20, sub-23hr finishes, and have coached several runners. I’ve worked with runners from all parts of the pack including perennial top 5 finisher Joe Kulak, several 25-27 hour finishers, and runners who have dropped. I have also crewed at the LT100 mountain bike race twice. I know the race from the inside out and gladly share my knowledge, including some insider tips that you can’t find elsewhere.

This was originally posted to the LT100 Yahoo Group, in 2004, and has been revised over the years. Use the Outline headings to navigate the different sections. Please send me feedback – comments, suggestions for improvement, critiques, or comment here.

  1. Pacing Basics: What is pacing. Why pacers. Should/can you pace.
  2. How To and Pacing Strategies.
  3. Pacing Legs. Tip: Don’t change at Halfmoon. Change at Tree Line or Fish Hatchery instead.
  4. Pacing Gear.
  5. Crew and Aid Stations.
  6. Finding a pacer, or runner to pace. It’s possible even on race day.

1. Pacing Basics

  • Why pacing is important.
  • Muling.
  • Should you pace?
  • Can you pace?

What is pacing? Briefly, pacing is accompanying a runner during the race. A pacer is part friend, coach, psychologist, nutritionist, and mule (see below). A good pacer can play a big part in a runner’s success, sometimes even determining whether or not a runner even finishes. Ultra running is as much a psychological challenge, as it is a physical one. A pacer can do a lot to help a runner through the rough spots.

Muling refers to carrying gear for the racer. Unlike most other ultras, muling is not only allowed at Leadville, it is encouraged. This can mean carrying food, water, clothing, lights, and batteries. I’ll talk about what and how to carry stuff in the Gear section.

Should you pace? Yes. If you or a friend are still on the fence about pacing, jump in. Pacing is a fun and motivating. You’ll feel their joys and triumphs, their pain and struggles. It can be an extremely powerful experience to be out there with “ordinary” people doing amazing things.

Pacing is also a great way to learn about Leadville and ultras. If you’re thinking about getting into ultras, this is a great way to learn, from the inside, about the course, race tactics, managing crew and pacers, gear, nutrition, the mental challenge, etc.

Who can pace? Almost anyone. You don’t have to be an ultra runner. You don’t have to be that fast. Most racers will be doing a lot more walking than running over the last 50 miles. Even when they do run, it won’t be that fast. Only the top runners will be running sub 10 min/mile pace, even on the flats.

Pacing legs are as short as 4 miles, or as long as 50. So, you don’t have to be able to go that far. Even if you do end up going longer than you’re used to, you’ll probably be going a lot slower than you’re used to going on your long runs. So, as long as you are taking in fuel and fluids, you may be surprised at how easy it is to go far. My first ultras were done pacing at Leadville.

You don’t even have to be a “runner.” A good, strong, hiker can make a great pacer. As I said above, most of the racers will be walking most of the last 50 miles. So, if you can hike for several hours, at night, at 10,000′, you can pace many of the runners in the field, especially over the mountain passes where they’ll likely be walking anyway. I have a friend, who has paced several times, who can’t run a 60 minute 10k, but is a strong hiker.

2. How to Pace
There’s more to pacing than just tagging along. In this section, I will give you tips to help you get the most out of your runner, and get the most out of your pacing experience, and how to deal with a struggling runner.

  • Where/How to run – in front, behind, along side.
  • Hand-offs.
  • Talking vs. Silence.
  • Dealing with a Struggling Racer.
  • Injured Runner.
  • Getting Dropped

Rule #1: TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF FIRST! You can’t help, and may even hurt your runner’s chances if you end up struggling. Make sure that you have enough food, fluids, the proper clothing, lights, extra batteries, etc. At Leadville, you need to be prepared for varied terrain, rapidly changing weather, and to be out there longer than expected. I’ll talk more about gear in part 3, later.

Rule #2: You are there to be of service to the runner. It’s their race. Put your own personal agendas aside for a few hours and strive to accommodate whatever wishes they have.

Everyone has different preferences about where they want you, what they want you to carry, how much they want you to talk, etc. Let the runner dictate the routine and the relationship. If you know your runner/pacer, talk about these things ahead of time. If you’re meeting each other on race day, use the start of your time together to figure out a routine. Regardless of what you may have worked out, be prepared to change. The runner will likely go through different emotional and physical states during the race. Each change may require a different routine.

Where to run? Some like you in front of them, some behind, some alongside. When I’m racing, on a single-track trail, I runner usually like to be in front – I like to see the terrain, and the unobstructed sight helps me go faster – with my pacer behind. This is especially true on the steep climbs and descents, like Hope Pass. Others like their pacer in front. Having the pacer set the pace helps pull them along.

When running behind, you’ll want to stay far enough back so that you have clear view of the trail (you don’t want to be staring at their heels or back the whole way), yet close enough that you can hear them talk, and quickly scoot up to hand them a water bottle, etc. When running in front, look back periodically and try to maintain a constant distance.

When the trail is wider, many runners want their pacer alongside. When I’m pacing, I’ll always try to give the runner the inside on curves, often crossing from side to side, behind the runner, as the trail bends.

This may change at night. While I generally want my pacer behind me during the day, at night, on rocky single-track, I like having them in front. They can pick the better line through the rocks so I don’t have to think about it, and the extra light in front helps illuminate the trail; from behind can cast a shadow. There are a few very short sections that are extremely rocky (especially along the Colo Trail, from Hagerman Rd down to Mayqueen). There, it may help for the pacer to go through first, then turn and shine their lights down on the rocks as the runner traverses them. See more on lights below.

When handing stuff, I use a baton relay style hand off. They’ll tell me what they want. When I have it ready, I’ll move closer and tell the runner to hold out his/her hand. This allows both of you to keep moving while you’re exchanging gear.

To talk or not to talk? That depends on the runner. I’ve seen runners and pacers chatting for hours. Others like to stay stoic and focused. Even then, it’s still a good idea to check in with them periodically and see how they’re feeling. Remind them to eat and drink if necessary, but don’t nag. They may ask you to remind them to take an electrolyte tablet at a specific time interval.

Everyone struggles at some point in an ultra. Success depends on how you deal with the low points. A pacer can help a runner get through those times. However, lifting the spirits of a struggling runner can be a difficult task. There are no simple tricks. Everyone deals with the struggles differently and responds to different tactics. As a pacer, be prepared to try different things and see how the runner responds. Have a few stories or jokes ready. Mental struggles are often caused by physical struggles, so make sure they eat and drink.

Try to keep them moving. Each step gets them that much closer to the finish. Look for and point out milestones and positives; e.g., “good effort on that last hill.” Touching their back or shoulder can help. You’re not allowed to push them, but often a light touch seems to help their energy. You can play games with them to keep them moving, such as running to the next tree. One time, I had to negotiate with my runner. We agreed on having him run for 30 seconds (on the flats), with a minute of walking. I had the watch, so I tricked him, and had him run for a minute at a time. Even someone feeling strong may need some reminders to run the flat and downhill sections. Remind them to keep their leg speed up. Short, quick strides are usually more efficient and faster than long, slow strides, especially when they’re tired.

No matter how much they are hurting, it’s often better to have them go a bit faster, or at least keep the same pace, rather than slowing down. If it doesn’t hurt any less when they slow down, they might as well go fast (relatively). The sooner they finish, the sooner the pain will stop.

There’s a rare incident that your runner will get hurt between Aid Station (AS). If that happens, you need to make sure your runner is safe, then get word to the nearest AS. In most cases, you should stay with your runner. Chances are, another runner/pacer will be along soon. Tell them your runner’s name and number, and ask them to get the word to the AS crew. Many pacers are EMTs and are willing to help the runner. In that case, it may be better to let them stay with the runner, and have you run to the nearest AS. Don’t administer medical assistance yourself if you are not qualified to do so. If you are a pacer and come across an injured runner, be prepared to leave your healthy runner to get to the nearest AS as quickly as possible, even if that means running back along the course.

In 1999, a friend of mine was pacing someone up the Powerline. His runner became hypothermic. They laid down along the trail, and the pacer spooned with the runner to help keep him warm. An EMT pacer came along with his runner. The EMT stopped, while his runner kept going to get word to the AS. They got the runner moving again. He regained his energy and finished strongly.

Occasionally, a runner will drop a pacer, meaning that the pacer can’t keep up. It’s not the responsibility of the runner to wait for the pacer. If, as a pacer, you find yourself struggling to keep up, it’s up to you to let the runner know, and to tell them to go ahead without you. If you’re the runner, and you find your pacer is repeatedly falling behind, you need to ask them if they’re OK. As long as they’re not injured, if they’re holding you up, it’s OK to go ahead on your own. Remember rule #1 of pacing – TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF FIRST! Even if the pacer is slightly injured, if they are well enough to be able to get to an aid station on their own, and they have enough clothing, food and fluids, it still may be OK to leave them.

3. Pacing Legs

There are four main pacing legs:

  • Winfiled to Twin Lakes (TL)
  • TL to Treeline or Fish Hatchery (FH) – NOT HALFMOON
  • FH to Mayqueen
  • Mayqueen to the Finish
  • There are also a couple of shorter ones.

The descriptions and mileage can help you find your way and gauge your time and distance, whether you are pacing or running. I’ve done this for 10 years, and I believe my intermediate mile estimates are more accurate than the course description on the LT100 web site.

Winfield, 50mi – Twin Lakes, 60.5mi
This is my favorite section to pace. There are great views, both from the summit towards town, and behind you, to the south, as you are climbing. Everyone goes over the top in daylight, so you can enjoy the views. It’s also the earliest pacing section, so your runner be relatively fresh and more likely in good spirits.

From Winfield, it’s ~2.5mi, slightly downhill, on a dirt road, to the trailhead. This stretch can be quite crowded in the middle of the pack, with runners and cars going in both directions. In past years you could crew and start pacing at the trailhead, rather than at the turnaround. This cut down on much of the vehicle traffic along the course. Unfortunately, that’s not allowed any more.

From the trailhead, you climb 2,900′ in ~2.5mi to Hope Pass. Everyone (except Matt Carpenter) hikes this section. The first half is forested. If it rains, it can be surprisingly (for Colorado) humid in the trees ans slippery. You’ll pass two rocky stretches a couple of minutes apart. The second one seems to be about half-way to the top, in terms of time. Once you clear the trees, you can almost see the pass. It’s still a long way, with some extra steep sections (as if it wasn’t already steep enough). You are exposed here. So, if you have wet weather, you’ll want to keep moving quickly.

From the top, you’ll see the Hopeless aid station (AS) in the meadow below, ~¾ mile down the trail.

Below Hopeless, you can really fly if you’re a good downhill runner. You enter the forest shortly after leaving the AS. The first part of the trail has pretty good footing. As you get lower, parts of the trail are rocky and rooted.

When you come out of the trees at the bottom, you have ~1.5mi to Twin Lakes. You’ll continue north and cross the river. If the water is high, there may be a rope to help you across. After crossing the river, the trail turns south. This last stretch can be marshy. As you’re heading south, look for a round hill on your left. Once around this hill, you’re only ~100 yards from the TL lot. Look for their crew in the parking lot, or continue through the lot, left across the road, up a block, then left to the AS.

Twin Lakes, 60.5, – Treeline, 72.5, or Fish Hatchery (FH), 76.5.
This is the prettiest section, in daylight, and the nicest running trail of the course.

There’s a short, steep hill leaving the aid station, a short, steel drop, then a right turn onto a steep, rocky, 4wd road. You then hit a single-track and enter the trees. This is a nice, rolling climb, ~2mi. The sub-25 runners will run large parts of the climb. At a small, dirt, parking area, you merge with the Colorado Trail, go left, and cross a bridge. This is nice, rolling terrain, through groves of aspen and pine. After another couple of miles, you’ll take a right off the Colorado Trail. This is a new section, added in 2009, and I haven’t been on it. It’s ~8.5mi from Twin Lakes to the Halfmoon AS.

DON’T SWITCH PACERS AT HALFMOON. During the race, crew vehicles are not allowed on the road above Treeline. In order to start/end pacing at Halfmoon, you’ll have to hike or bike in/out. If you start pacing at Twin Lakes, you should continue down the road to Treeline, or on to FH.

From Halfmoon, it’s ~2mi down the Pipeline road. Go left, and it’s ~1mi up to Treeline. You should be able to see lights and hear noise from the crews as you approach. You come into Treeline from the SE and turn right. Crews set up along the dirt road, just below the last line of trees – thus the name Treeline.

From Treeline, continue another 1 mi down the dirt road. On the return, cars share this stretch of road with the runners. Near the end of the dirt road, the runners veer left onto the old road. This is a little shorter, and rockier, than the dirt road sections where the cars go. Go left for ~1.5 miles on the paved road, then left for another 1.5mi up to FH. This is most people’s least favorite part to race or pace. However, if you’re looking for a short pacing section, this may be for you.

Fish Hatchery, 76.5, – Mayqueen, 86.5

This take you up the infamous power line, and over the last big hill of the course, Sugarloaf. Maintaining good energy is important on the climb. If you are cold and your energy lags, you may not be able to move fast enough on the climb to stay warm.

Exit down from the AS, then go left 1 mile along the paved road to the trail head. Sometimes the residents cheer you on from the houses along the road. The road rises from FH. It crests around a right curve. The road curves back to the left, drops a bit steeply just before the power line trail. Look for a small dirt road dropping off to the left. There are usually crew waiting by the trail head, but last year, there wasn’t when a first time LT100 racer and pacer came through. They missed the turn and were about another mile down the road before someone directed them back.

Go left onto the power line trail. Cross the creek (look for wood planks on the right). Take a left shortly after the creek under the powerlines. The wide path winds off to the left of the powerlines for a couple of hundred yards, then back under the powerlines before the real climbing starts.

The first pitch is the steepest, so don’t be too intimidated. There’s a short, steep downhill just after that. Then, it’s a series of seemingly endless stair steps. Many runners will walk the steep pitches, then jog the flats. Don’t let your runner get lazy. Don’t be fooled by the false summits. The top is where you cross the Colorado Trail and emerge from the forest cover.

From the top, the 4wd road starts flat, or even a little uphill, then descends and gradually gets steeper as you wind though a couple of turns. Parts of this road can be rocky. You take a sharp, right turn at the Hagerman road, the first one you hit. It’s almost exactly 1mi down that road to the trail. Look for flagging, in the daytime, or glow sticks, at night. Go left down onto trail. The first part is the steep and loose. After that the descent is fairly mild, but the trail is quite rocky and rooty. You cross 3 bridges on the way down. The last one is only ~150 yards from the road. As you hit the road, there’s usually someone taking your number and radioing it on to the aid station. Go right down the paved road, and it’s ~1/3 mi to Mayqueen. Go left into the campground, cross the bridge, then left up the dirt to the AS tent.

Mayqueen, 86.5 – Finish
Bringing someone home can be the most fun and inspiring part of pacing. The trail around the lake is fun to run, especially in daylight, but most runners will be coming through there at night, and most will be walking

Exit the tent and head down the dirt to the road, go left on the paved road for ½mi, then onto the trail around the lake. This first part is a true single track. It is rocky in spots, but not overly technical. It rolls up and down, but never gets too far from the lake. The Tabor boat ramp, the last crew stop, is ~5¼mi from Mayqueen. It comes up on you quick, so you may not even see it until you are there.

After Tabor, the trail becomes pretty flat, smooth and open. This is a good place to stretch out your stride, if you have the legs. If you’re coming through this stretch at night, pay attention to the glow sticks marking the trail. You run by several campgrounds, and it’s easy to get drawn off the trail to the left, away from the lake, by the campground lights. It’s ~1.5mi to the other boat ramp, then another ~1/2mi to the end of the trail.

The end of the Turquoise Lake Trail, where you cross the road, can be another good place to crew and change pacers. Although it’s not an official crew station, race management is aware that people crew there and condone it (at least before the sale in 2010). Check with the new race management. There’s about 6.5mi to go. This last stretch is all on dirt and paved roads, so it’s good for someone who doesn’t like trails. For crewing, there’s a dirt turnout, with room for several cars, on the S side of the road, a bit E of the T road intersection, at the top of the short power line section. This is a lot easier to get to, and easier to find at night than the Tabor boat ramp.

Jog left across the road, then down a short, steep, rocky section, under a power line. Turn left at the bottom of the short trail, onto the dirt road. Continue up the dirt road for ~1.25mi, then another ¼ mi on the paved road to the RR tracks. Note: just before the RR tracks, where the road crosses the river, can be the coldest part of the course. Both you and the runner should be prepared, but it warms up (relatively) quickly as you rise to the RR tracks. There’s about 4.5 mi to go from the RR tracks.

Go right and follow alongside the RR tracks for ~1mi. This is a flat, but undulating road. There can be pools of water in the dips. Go left up a short, steep hill. You are now on the “Boulevard.” The top of the steep hill is ~5km to go. The road is wide and smooth, and the grade fairly moderate. If it’s raining, it’ll be muddy and a bit slick. You’ll see a streetlight at the end of the dirt road. Don’t get too excited yet. The light is still almost 1 mi away. The road bends left ~80 yards before you reach the pavement. This is 1mi from the finish.

Once you hit the pavement, give it all you’ve got for the uphill finish. You can have all of your pacers and crew meet you at the bottom of 6th, and escort you up to the finish. At the crest of the hill, ~½ mi to go, look for a volunteer on the right side of the street. He/she will ask for your number, then radio ahead to the finish so that they can announce your impending arrival. It’s another 2 blocks down, then 3 blocks up to the finish.

If you’re looking for a shorter leg to pace, try the following: 1) Treeline to Fish Hatchery; 1mi dirt and 3mi paved road. 2) End of Turquoise Lake Trail to finish; ~6.5mi, dirt and paved roads. See above for descriptions.

4. Pacing Gear

Pacing is different than doing a training run. First, think in terms of time, not mileage. Think of Hope Pass as a 2.5-5 hour run, not a 10 mi run. Most runners will take 2-4 hours between most aid stations (AS). However, a struggling runner might take a lot longer. Be prepared for the worst.

Second, you will likely be going slower than on a training run. Going slower is not necessarily easier. If you haven’t done much hiking, slow running, or power hiking on steep trails, you may be using unfamiliar muscles for a stride that’s a lot slower than you are used to. You will also be generating less body heat than you may be used too. Thus, you may need more food and clothing than you expect.

Also, the weather in the mountains can change rapidly. Even if it’s sunny when you start, it could turn cold and wet before you get to the next AS. Almost every year, I see people leaving Twin Lakes or Winfield without a warm shirt or jacket, when it’s sunny. And, almost every year, it’s cold and wet over Hope Pass.

Carry more than enough food, fluids, clothing, etc. to get you to the next AS. Going back to my key rule, in my part 1 posting, make sure you take care of yourself first. If you struggle, you can’t help your runner. If you are going to “mule” for your runner, carry their food and gear, you’ll also need room for that. I race light, but pace heavy.

How do you carry all of that gear? When I’m pacing, I like to carry a medium size hiking/mountain biking type hydration pack, or a small adventure racing pack. I prefer something on my back for pacing, over a hip pack, because they usually have more space for gear, and leave the waist free for other stuff (e.g., an additional pack for water bottles, tying shirts). Look for something that holds a 70-100oz hydration bladder, with storage for clothing, food, batteries, etc.

I also like wearing a bike shirt when I’m pacing. I can use the pockets for smaller items that I’ll need to get more quickly and frequently (e.g., gels, gloves, batteries). It takes a little extra time to get to my stuff from my pack.

I try to carry as much of my runner’s stuff as possible. I may use a one or two bottle hip pack for his/her bottles, in addition. I’ve even carried a 3rd bottle in my hand. One year, I carried my runners hip based CamelBak, and handed her the tube whenever she wanted a drink. Don’t be afraid to load yourself to make it easier, and lighter, for your runner. Remember, you’re there to serve them.

Practice tying clothing around your waist. This can include shirts, jackets and pants. One year, my runner was very cold, and left Fish Hatchery wearing a lot of extra layers. He started shedding them by the time we started climbing Powerline. At one point, I had a long sleeve shirt, fleece pullover, rain jacket, and rain pants tied around my waist, in addition to the CamelBak and hip pack. By the top, he became cold and it was snowing, so we ended up using it all. There’s a helpful technique for tying jackets: 1)pull the zipper almost all the way down; 2)take your arms out and tie the sleeves around your waist; 3)pull the zipper up as much as you can; 4)tuck the sleeves inside and roll the jacket up under the zipper. This helps keep the jacket tight and from flapping around.

You might want to carry a small, first aid kit: band-aids, moleskin, Ibuprofen, space blanket, etc. Check with the runner. Carry a watch. It’ll help you judge the distance, and keep track of how often both of you are eating/drinking.

Lights – Carry a light, even if you expect to finish in daylight. Things can happen on the course, and you may be out longer than you think. Carry extra batteries, know where they are, and how to change them on the run. Light technology has improved greatly in the last couple of years, and the prices have come down greatly, so there’s no reason not to have a bright light or two. Get a light that’s designed more for running, or at least fast hiking, at least 25 lumens. Lights for use around camp may not be bright enough for moving briskly along the trail. Two lights are often better than one, with the brighter light in your hand. Two lights give better vision because different angles overcome shadows created by a single light. Having the brighter light down low keeps the glare away from your eyes, improving contrast. A second light also lets you shine the light on the trail in front of the runner on a particularly rocky section, while you can still use the headlamp for yourself. While a hand light is not as easy to carry, a simple handle, even one made out of duct tape, lets you keep the light in your hand while keeping your fingers free to grab things out of packs or pockets. Hand lights are usually cheaper than headlights. When approaching others, point your light down or too the side, away from their eyes.

If you’re continuing to pace through the next section, you’ll probably need to refuel. If your runner has a crew, arrange to have them carry your gear and food. Pack it neatly and compactly, and so that it’s easily accessible. Ask them to have it out for you at the next AS, if possible. However, it’s your responsibility to take care of yourself. Their priority should be on the racer.

As a pacer, you can also use the AS supplies. The AS will be stocked with the typical ultra fare: water, Powerade, Power Gels, hot soup (e.g., Ramen noodle, potato, chicken), fruit (e.g., bananas, oranges), PB&J sandwiches, chips, pretzels, fig bars, brownies, etc. I’ll discuss how to be quick and efficient in the AS below.

Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Help your racer first, then be prepared to take care of your own needs. You can always take some extra time for yourself, then catch up to them on the trail. I’ll talk about dealing with crew and aid stations in the next part.

5. Crew and Aid Stations (AS)

A pacer can help save the runner a lot of time at AS. A lot of middle and back-of-the-pack runners say that a few minutes here and there don’t matter. I’m not sure why AS time is any less important to them than it is to the leaders. All that AS time adds up. Even just 5 min in each AS means almost an hour of not moving forward. Most of the leaders won’t spend more than 10-15 minutes in all the AS for the entire race. If you’re flirting with the cut-off times, 30 hours or the big buckle (25), those AS minutes become even more important.

Crew and pacers should be ready to react quickly to change. Many runners make plans ahead of time, but things can change during the race. In 2002, I had prepared detailed plans for my crew. However, a bottle of bad Cytomax left me with an upset stomach only an hour into the race. Both me and my crew had to quickly and repeatedly adjust our plans.

Some crews and pacers have use walkie-talkies. In the last couple of years, texting and tweeting have become more popular. However, even with crowded channels, I still prefer radios. All you need is a quick message; e.g., “Runner 264 is 10 min out from Twin Lakes.” Texting at night, on a rocky trail, is not any easier, or safer, than while driving. And, the signal is weak or non-existent on large parts of the course. In 2010, I remember reading dozens of tweets from runners coming off Hope Pass, that were hours old by the time they got a signal and were posted. The pacer will carry the radio and call in when they are 5-10 minutes out. You can pick up a 2-pack of radios for $30-$50, and a 4-pack for not a lot more.

As you’re coming into an AS as a pacer, you should find out what the runner wants (e.g., food, drink, clothing). Then, just before the AS, you might want to run ahead and get the stuff ready. If you’re using a crew, find them, tell them what the runner wants, then go back and help guide the runner to the crew. If the runner is using drop bags, run ahead and get the bag from the AS crew, pull out the gear they want, get the food they want, and have it ready for them when they come into the AS. If you’re changing pacers, pass on any vital information (e.g., how the runner is feeling and what they want on the trail) to the new pacer.

Most of the time, the runner is better off continuing to move rather than stopping and sitting at AS. Try to get them out of the AS and moving as soon as possible. This is especially true late at night, when it’s cold. Your body generates heat when you’re moving. When you’re tired, your body will stop generating heat when you stop, and you start shivering. Shivering uses up a lot of energy. And, it can take a lot of extra time to warm up enough to be able to start moving again. I have seen way too many runners come into Fish Hatchery at night feeling fine, sit down to eat, start shivering within 30 seconds, then end up having to having to lay in a warm sleeping bag for up to an hour. A runner can save time by eating and changing tops while on the move, instead of sitting. Focus your efforts on the runner first. You can hang back to fill their bottles/bladder, grab clothing form crew or drop bags, get what you need, then catch up to them on the trail. The runner doesn’t need to, and shouldn’t wait for you.

How do you know when you’re getting close to an AS? Read the legs section above and the descriptions below.

Twin Lakes – After crossing the river, you’ll curve right and head East. You’ll see a round hill ahead on the left. The Twin Lakes lot is about 100 yards past the hill. When I’m pacing, I’ll often run ahead, as I approach the hill.

Halfmoon (AS, no crew) – I haven’t been on this section since they changed the course in 2009.

Treeline (crew, no AS) – As you’re coming up the dirt road, at Pipeline (AS for the 100mi bike), the road curves right, then you take an quck left, back to the WNW. It’s ~1/2mi more to Treeline. The road drops down, and then rises just before Treeline. At night, you’ll probably see the lights and hear the noise from the crews before you get there. Sometimes there’s a volunteer taking numbers just before you hit the crew area, and calling them out loudly

Fish Hatchery – 4 miles from Treeline. You’ll see it as you’re running up the road. You make a left and go ~50m up to the AS, and then back out the same way as you’re leaving.

Mayqueen – It’s about 1/3 mi from the end of the trail down the paved road. There’s usually someone there who radios ahead with your bib#, so they can alert waiting crew. I usually run ahead when I hit the road.

Tabor boat ramp – It’s about 5¼ mi from Mayqueen. There isn’t a good advance point. You probably won’t see it until you are there.

Often a better place to crew (check to make sure it’s OK), on the return, is at the end of the Turquoise Lake Trail, where it crosses the road, just E of the dam. About 1/2 mile after the second boat ramp, you go up a short, steep hill to the road. Crews should park in the turnout, across the road, a bit E of the Turquoise trail, where the runners head down under the power line. Please don’t block the road or trail. Although it’s not an official crew station, race management is aware that people crew there and condone it (at least before the sale in 2010). Check with the new race management.

6. Finding a runner/pacer
It’s not too late to find a runner/pacer, even on race day. There are several web sites that are good for finding pacers. You can also find both pacers, and runners to pace on race day. I have done this several times, after my runner has dropped out, or after I’ve finished pacing and wanted to do more.

Some of the good websites to find pacers:

On race day, if you’re looking to pace – this includes those of you who’s runners have dropped out – you can pick up someone to pace at the AS. Show up at an AS ready to go. Make a point to look like you’re ready to go – wear running clothes, carry a pack, have your lights with you. As you see runners coming in alone, ask them if they want/need a pacer. Be and look eager, but don’t pester. Let the AS crew know that you are looking to pace. Sometimes a runner will ask the AS crew if they know of any pacers. Announce your presence loudly and make yourself very visible. A crew might know if their runner wants a pacer. I’ve picked up runners to pace this way twice, at Fish Hatchery – once by being ready to go when a runner came in asking if anyone wanted to pace, and another when a runner’s parents talked their son into having me help him. Both times were great experiences for both of us.

If you’re a runner and want a pacer, announce it loudly as you enter an AS. Let the AS crew know. They may know of someone who wants to pace. Or, you may come across someone who just came to watch or cheer on a friend, and becomes so enthused about the experience, they make a spur of the moment decision to pace when asked. This happened with a friend of mine. We were up there watching friends and crewing. She hadn’t planned on pacing. As we were getting ready to leave Winfield, she suddenly decided it would be fun to pace. As we were driving out the road (slowly), she started asking runners she saw heading back toward the Hope Pass trail alone. After several tries, she found a taker. I drove her up ahead to give her time to get ready, then she met the runner and took her over the hill to Twin Lakes.

Your best bet is with runners in the middle to back of the pack. Most of the top runners already have pacers, although couple of them might still be looking for a pacer. Don’t bee too picky. Pacing runners of different abilities offers different experience, and a chance to see the race from different angles, but all can be very enjoyable and rewarding. I’ve paced runners from the top 5 to back of the pack.

The best places to find a runner/pacer are at Twin Lakes (TL) and Fish Hatchery (FH), also called Outward Bound, on the return.

At TL, 60.5mi, the leader typically comes through around 2:00pm. The best time to find a runner/pacer is from ~6:00-9:15pm. You can still find people until the cutoff, 9:45pm, but runners coming in much after 9:15 will have difficulty making the later cut-offs. I think it’s best to wait at the AS. Many of the crew will be in the parking lot across the street or along the dirt road. You might want to announce your availability to crews there too.

At FH, 76.5mi, the leader typically comes through around 5:00pm. The best time to find a runner/pacer is from ~9:30pm, until the cutoff, 3:00am. The AS is the best place to hang out. You can keep warm and get food while you are waiting.

Winfield, the turnaround, is also a good place to find a runner/pacer. The leader might come through around noon. The best time to find a runner/pacer is from 2:00-5:00pm. Although the cutoff is 6:00pm, most reaching Winfield after 5pm are unlikely to finish the race, and after 5:30 unlikely to reach Twin Lakes before that cut-off.

Mayqueen, 86.5mi, is also an option, but is very late in the race. Most runners have their pacers set by that time, or don’t want to change their routine. However, it can be a great experience to help a mid to back of the pack runner through the final leg. The leader might come through MQ by 7:00pm. The best time to find a runner/pacer is from ~1:00am until the cutoff, 6:30am. Runners at the cut-off still have a decent chance of finishing before the final 30hr cut-off, but it’s not easy.

It’s not too hard to get a ride to an AS, or back to your car after the race. Often, you can hitch a ride from town, near the start/finish, out to one of the AS. You may find crew/friends in town after the start. You can also make announcements at one of the restaurants in town, where friends and other pacers will eat before heading out. I used to list the likely restaurants here, but since so many go out of business or change names, about any of the ones along Harrison (Main St) are worth checking.

If you drive yourself out, it’s pretty easy to get a ride back after the race. Ask people at the finish line Sunday morning, or at the awards that noon. Getting to Winfield might be a bit of a problem. If that’s where you plan to start pacing, you might be better off leaving your car at Twin Lakes or Fish Hatchery, and hitching a rideout from there. If you are going to hitch a ride out, Get there early enough so that most of the crews are still there as their runners head out on Sat morning, 8:00-9:30am at FH, or 10:00am-1:00pm at Twin Lakes. Most crews are friendly and helpful. You just have to ask.