At 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Chain O'Lakes State Park, the race directors of the Indiana Trail 100 will be hosting a “Pacer Clinic” in advance of their April 20-21 event, also at Chain O'Lakes. The inaugural race has swept the ultra community by storm, long-ago capping the fields at 180 runners for the 100-mile event and 120 for the 50-mile event.
But if you failed to register in time, there's still a way to participate: as a pacer for the 100-mile entrants. Pacers are allowed on the course after a runner has completed 50 miles, or three of the Indiana Trail 100 16.67-mile loops. Pacers can run and walk along participants for one or more the remaining three loops, much of which will be in the nighttime hours.
The clinic will consist of running and walking a 16.67-mile loop of the Indiana Trial 100 course and will include some running in the dark. Runners must bring their own supplies, including a head lamp, but there may be a roving aid station depending upon the number of participants.
Pacers are needed for any ultra trail marathon as most runners are completing the final miles in the dark on an unfamiliar course. Pacers literally come to the rescue of both the runners and the race directors. But the Indiana Trail 100 is paving new ground in the ultra community: it's pacer clinic this Saturday is a one-of-a-kind.
“We don't know of any other 100-mile races that have held a clinic like this,” said Mike Pfefferkorn, one of the Indiana
Trail 100 race directors. “We just think that for safety purposes (trained pacers) would be a good idea. A lot of the field will be running here for the first time, so it's unfamiliar territory at night. So, if we can have people who know the trails and what to expect, it will be a win-win.”
By “win-win,” Pfefferkorn says it's good for both runners: the participants and the pacers. Certainly a high completion rate, especially in an inaugural event, will help a positive word spread across the nation for the Indiana Trail 100. But how will serving as a pacer be a benefit?
“It's really an honorable type of thing,” Pfefferkorn said. “It's about being there for someone else. To help another runner finish a 100-mile race is a great experience. You get to see what an ultra is all about.”
Pfefferkorn, along with his co-race directors Jerry Diehl, Tom Landis and Don Lindley, are experienced ultra trail runners who have also served as pacers for runners trying to finish 100-mile races.
“We will provide steps to help your runner,” Pfefferkorn said of the clinic. “Tips on how to (engage) your runner in conversation, what to do in certain circumstances. I always start as a pacer getting to know the runner. I will ask about his hobbies. Then, when we hit a rough patch and he's starting to struggle, I'll ask him about his hobbies. It kind of re-focuses him and brings them around.”
Helping a runner finish a 100-mile race is less about physical achievement and more about emotional and psychological survival.
“Really, it's a glorified hike at that point,” Pfefferkorn said. “It's not about how fast you can run as a pacer, it's about being there for someone else, even by distraction.”
Pfefferkorn and his fellow Indiana Trail 100 race directors will meet at the Sand Lake parking lot with the run scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.