“Angel pacing” has been happening for years at races, and now that ultra running is becoming more popular, this term is catching on in the community lexicon. Angel pacing is the practice of offering oneself as a pacer to competitors during an ultramarathon. Angel pacers can greatly assist runners who are unable to organize their own pacers or crew prior to the race. It is a true gesture of unexpected and a random act kindness.
Last month USATF Mountain Running Champion Allie McLaughlin and I traveled to the Moab 240 ultramarathon in Moab, Utah, in search of angel pacers and to learn more about who they are and why they are so generous with their fellow trail runners. It didn’t take long before we found Loli Arosemena, a trail runner from Connecticut, who came to Moab with the intention of finding runners in need, and offering herself as their angel pacer.
Racing Is About More Than Running
Coverage on social media captured the exciting race action of the Moab 240, featuring incredible stories of the top finishers and elite runners who competed at this year’s race. Although the competition and results are some of the most important things to focus on at nearly any running race, there are other incredible stories from this event going largely untold. One such story is that of the angel pacer Loli Arosemena.
“His name is Peter. I don’t know him, but I hope I can help,” Arosemena told us, while waiting for her runner and polishing off a single-serving container of peanut butter. She ran with him for over 31 miles on some of the most difficult terrain in the entire course — most through the middle of the night.
Arosemena’s story demonstrates the beauty of human compassion towards complete strangers. It reminds us that racing and competition is really just a part of the story. Arosemena had this to say about why she was angel pacing at the Moab 240, “I think everyone should experience more than running — volunteering, cooking, giving support to the runners. These runners see others helping and it’s a release of the pain and suffering that they’re going through mentally and physically. Come out and help in any way you can. Running is fun but helping others is beautiful.”
As a professional athlete competing for Nike Trail Running, I’ll admit that the things on my mind when I’m traveling to races are competition, winning, and my performance goals. For many of us, the race environment brings out our competitive sides and we find ourselves focused on getting the most out of ourselves and meeting racing goals. Running, at least at races, becomes somewhat self-centric.
After witnessing Arosemena’s angel pacing at the Moab 240, I’ve been introduced to a completely different way to view the racing experience. Instead of adopting a competitive mindset, angel pacers think about giving. Helping others, as opposed to meeting race goals, becomes a newfound source of joy and fulfillment. This attitude is a refreshing take on the racing environment that I think anyone with a competitive mindset could benefit from. I encourage runners to try being a pacer — instead of racing — every now and again. You may find yourself walking away more satisfied than if you raced yourself.
Arosemena’s angel pacing also showed me how it can be a great way to give back to the trail running community. When you race, think of your crew, friends, family, volunteers and race organizers who are there to support you. Most of the time when we’re racing, it’s easy to forget the generosity and selflessness of these individuals. Angel pacing is a way to support others racing and to focus on the needs of others, not personal racing goals. Finishing a race can be a wonderful moment, but so can helping someone else make it to their own finish line.
How To Angel Pace
Angel pacing is fairly straightforward: show up to a race and offer yourself to a random person who needs a pacer. However, there are a few considerations you should be aware of, including knowing exactly what responsibilities you’re taking on as their pacer and how to do this within the race rules, so you don’t risk disqualifying your runner. Listed below are my top three tips for angel pacers.
Know The Race Rules
Knowing the race rules is essential because many trail races have very specific rules on pacing. Certain races, including the Moab 240, only allow designated pacers (requiring pacers to wear an official “PACER” bib) and pacers may only start pacing at specific points in the race, usually at designated aid stations. Breaking these rules could result in disqualifying your runner by providing unsanctioned aid. If you need to register and sign a race waiver, be sure to do this prior to heading out to pace.
Prepare Yourself For Logistical and Physical Challenges
Pacing runners is a physically and mentally demanding task and you should make sure you are prepared and up to the challenge. You should know the course beforehand, so as not to risk leading your runner off-course. Make sure you have proper nutrition, gear and training for the segment(s) where you are pacing. If the runner already has some crew or family at the race, try to coordinate with them how best to incorporate yourself into their support team. Keep in mind that it’s likely runners will be in need of an angel pacer during the middle of the night when they might not already have another pacer lined up. Be prepared to run at any time during the day or night, especially in longer ultras like the Moab 240!
Be A Good Listener
The most important thing you can do as an angel pacer is listen to your runner. Listen to their needs and goals, so you can work together to meet them. Help your runner make the most of their experience. Encourage them to see the beauty on the trail around them and listen to their preferences, such as if they prefer running in silence or having conversations. Every runner will have unique personal needs, which could also change throughout the course of the race. Do your best to listen closely!