They’re at every big half and full marathon, carrying their signs for many, many miles and helping innumerable runners achieve their big goals. But have you ever stopped to wonder what the pacers you follow in races are thinking or doing? Have you ever thought about being a pacer yourself?
I recently had my first opportunity to pace the 2:00 group at the Madison Half Marathon and it was a great experience.
I don’t pretend to be an expert in pacing, like our pacer-extraordinaire Clove, but it was fun and I learned a lot from it, so I wanted to share some of it with our Salty readers.
To start out, I’ll come clean. This was my first pacing gig and I was a bit nervous.
Fleet Feet Sports Madison asked me to pace the Madison Half Marathon 2:00 group. It would be 4 weeks after the Chicago Marathon. It was a tight squeeze, but hoped I’d have plenty of time to recover, even if I had a break out marathon.
Unfortunately, I ended up hurt at Chicago and questioning whether I could even pace. Even worse, 6 days pre-race, I got slammed with bronchitis. After seeking out my doctor and getting meds, I called a good friend who came to my rescue. PLEASE cover this for me! She said yes and Fleet Feet said they’d add her on without giving me the boot. Hopefully I could do it, if not, she’d step in.
The best news was I started feeling better as the week went on. My friend and I were both SUPER excited to pace too. We met up on Friday night to get our packets and to hang out at the pacing table at the expo. After about an hour, my co-pacer started rifling through the clearance rack and found some pink bun huggers that said “Catch Me if You Can” on the back. I told her I’d give her $100 if she ran a race in those (and those only with a sports bra). With a twinkle in her eye, she mentioned we could wear them over our tights. “Like super heroes” I said. She smiled. “We’re getting them!” And suddenly things were getting epic.
We laughed a lot about that in the next 48 hours. Particularly when I showed my boys (“really mom?!?!”). Go big or go home.
Race day eve came and I was almost as nervous as I would ordinarily be for my own race. I went to bed early, got up early, picked up my fab co-pacer and headed to the start.
It was fun and the pre-race excitement was palpable. We hit the start and took off. The first 2 miles were intentionally slow with the crowd and I was surprised not many people running with us identified themselves as running with us. A couple did, but they seemed to take off in front of us quickly. I get it as I have hung around pace groups before, but I really thought we’d have more people speak up since it is a traditionally big group.
We went out slow the first 2 miles, then settled in. The 2:00 half marathon is a 9:10 pace, but I figured a 9:05-9:07 average on the Garmin would be more accurate as we settled in since the Garmin always measures long. We went out slightly slower than goal (9:15), but we worked through the crowd without worrying about it and settled into pace by mile 3. And actually, since there were some big downhills early on, we quickly found ourselves at an ideal pace.
About 5 miles in, a kid was enthusiastically hamming it up for the race photographer and I gave him big ups for it. Turns out, he was 17 years old and this was his first half. He had a shirt made for a friend who was recently in a car accident. He was so enthusiastic and fun, he ended up being an honorary pacer with us. We encouraged ALL of our runners to surge and kick our butts in the last mile, but he was determined to finish with us. It was so cool.
We received lots of hilarious comments on our bun huggers too. Too funny.
It was super windy in certain spots (just as we hit the biggest hill), but we charged on and encouraged our runners to dig deep. This was particularly true the last mile. “I know it hurts, but this is what you came for – push!”
We crossed the finish with a chip time of 1:59:09. It was super cool as people we didn’t even know were with us came up to thank us. One woman even had tears in her eyes as she said we helped her hit a big PR. Another said it without tears, but with a huge smile.
SO AWESOME. And so honored to have the opportunity to do this. But there are some lessons here I’d love to share if you are following a pacer or are a pacer:
- Your race pace is the pacer’s easy pace. Don’t rely on them 100% if that pace is your red-line. Trust yourself and your own watch.
- Your pacers are excited to be there. Introduce yourself and your goals. Hey, we get it if you don’t want to talk during the race – we get it – you are racing! But it’s nice to know you are there.
- Share your accomplishments and PRs with us. It’s so awesome and we love it! We are so excited for you and we get it, so definitely share!
- Know your course. I knew Madison would have some big hills, but if I did it again, I’d prepare more for the ups and downs. It ended up working out well at the end of the day, but I wish I knew going in where some of the bigger inclines / declines where (and how big they were).
- Wear something fun if you are a pace team. It makes you easy to see and hey, it’s so much fun (even if a little ridiculous).
Do you have any advice for pacers or pacees?