Things You Don’t Want to Hear from Your Pacer

Our pacing pro, Anise, leading strong!

As I prepared to be a pace group leader for the first time at the final running of the Soldier Marathon, I started thinking about the ways this pacing adventure could go really really wrong. And not really really wrong just for me, but for the people trusting me to help them finish in 4:10 (join me, it’ll be fun!).

Pacing is a responsibility I take seriously. And I should. If you choose to run with a pace group, you are trusting that individual to keep you on track for your goal finish time. Nothing will panic someone who has prepared at least four months for this one-day, race day test more than hearing something from the pacer that indicates they might not meet that goal.

To prepare, I asked the Salties for a little advice about what they never wanted to hear from their pacer, regardless of what pace group they were running with. Here are the top things we don’t want to hear from our pacers:

  1. “Oops, I forgot to start my watch!  Guess we’ll just have to go by feel.” Sounds like your pacer has no idea if you’re on pace for your finish time or not. You’ll just have to hope that they have a fantastic internal sense of time because they will have no other way to gauge if you are on track to meet your goal.  See also: “uh oh, the GPS is out again” and “I forgot my watch! Can I borrow yours?”
  2. “I’m not feeling so hot, y’all.  Would you mind holding the pacing sign for me?” While bad races happen, we just hope they won’t happen to the person we are trusting with our hopes and dreams. To our pacer: Please don’t get sick, have a bad race, eat spicy food the night before the race, etc.
  3. “To make sure we hit your finish goal, we’re going to start out fast and go hard for the first 13 miles!” Just no. This is bad technique, in my humble opinion, for anyone racing that is not elite, and definitely not what you want to hear from your pacer. We should be aiming for consistent mile splits throughout, and definitely don’t want to burn out our runners at the beginning of the race.
  4. “Do you think we should have turned left back there?” Ah, the panic of wondering if you are still on course. There has been many times when I’ve wondered if I’m on course during a race, but the course is definitely something that your pacer should have down pat. Nothing is scarier than wondering if your leader knows where she is leading you.
  5. “You aren’t looking so hot. Should I call the medical tent?” As a pacer, I’ve been trained about when I should step away from pacing to help a runner in medical distress. This is my job, but it is still not something that you want to hear from me!
  6. “I’m aiming for a PR today!” Ha. We hope our pacer is running a pace that they feel very confident they can maintain for 26.2 miles. Aiming for a PR either indicates they do not or that they have used their pacer entry as a free way to enter an expensive race. Either way, I’d reconsider your pacer selection.
  7. What pacer? Although perhaps better than showing up and driving you into the ground, the bare minimum expectation is that your pacer actually shows up race morning.

What can you add to this list?  Have you had a terrible pacing experience?  What did they say that indicated it might not go as planned?

Ultrarunner, adventurer, academic, and feminist. Running Across the USA in 2021 to raise money for Girls on the Run. Next challenge: Pinhoti FKT. I write about ultrarunning, adventuring, and the intersection of endurance athletics and life.

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6 comments

  1. This didn’t happen to me, but a friend of mine told me that after her pacer looked at her watch, the pacer said, “Well, this isn’t good.” They started out waaaaaayyyyyy too fast for a mile race. The pacer left a lot of road kill behind.

    1. I was on the “back” part of an out and back spur of a half when a pacer on the “out” direction peeled out of the group and collapsed in front of me. As the fastest person in the area (fighting for 3rd/4th), I threw my race plan out the window and kicked up the road to the aid station (after making sure several people from the pace group stopped) to find someone with a radio. It turned out that the pacer sometimes has dizzy spells and was OK.

  2. I’ve only run once with a pace group, at a big 10k. It was already clear we were at least a minute behind the goal time when the pacer looked down at his watch and muttered, “Scheiße.”