This past Saturday, I found myself lining up at the start of a race. A half-marathon. Everything was the same: Garmin watch on my wrist, Newtons on my feet, Lululemon shorts, and a race bib…but I had a second race bib on my back. The bib on my back read “Half Marathon Pacer, 1:45, Allison”. Instead of my iPod, I had a yard stick adorned with a 1:45 time goal. I was wearing a shirt provided to me by the race director that read “Half Marathon Pacer”. I’ve run races without racing before (like the Knoxville Marathon three weeks ago) and I’ve paced friends in a variety of distances (the Buffalo Marathon, for example). This was the first time I was tasked with the official job of being a pacer. It was an incredible experience to have the opportunity to help others achieve their goals this weekend. Helping others was undoubtedly the best way to wrap up my training for Boston next week.
The race I paced was the Garden Spot Village Half Marathon in New Holland, Pennsylvania. If that race wasn’t timed so close to Boston, I would love to return to the course and race it. Don’t get me wrong – the course is pretty hilly. It’s mostly rolling hills, with several longer climbs. The climbs are mainly at miles 2, 4, and 8 – with mile eight being the toughest of them all. After mile eight, it feels like a net downhill to the finish. There are still some gradual inclines, but nothing significant. If I were racing that course, I’d want to run negative splits. I’d kick up the pace right after the climb at mile eight and hold it (or get faster) through the finish.
I didn’t know what to expect from course since I never ran that race, and never really paced before. If I have the opportunity to pace again next year, I’d do things a little differently now that I’ve experienced the course. My strategy was to keep even splits, but try to bank a little time to account for the monster mile eight hill that everyone was talking about. For the most part, that’s what I did and it seemed to work. Next year, I’d worry less about the big hill and banking time, since the course really does get easier after mile eight. I started with a group of runners, and most of them actually ended up finishing ahead of me, using me to pace them until they were ready to pick it up. The race also has a marathon option, and it runs along the same course until the half turns and heads back. For the first seven miles or so, I had a lot of the 3:30 marathoners running with me because there was no 3:30 pacer.
After the turn around, I didn’t have a large group of people anymore. I spent the second half of the race running with one or two people every so often. It was really fun to talk to people and hear why they were running the race, and I enjoyed running at a comfortable pace and experiencing Amish country. Speaking of Amish country: there were a number of Amish people who ran the race, and they were wearing the same clothes you’d see them in if you stopped by their houses. I really admired that. It was pretty warm, and the clothing they wear is not very breathable. Pretty impressive.
My goal was to cross the finish line in 1:45. I started my Garmin as I crossed the start and stopped it as I crossed the finish, and it registered exactly 1:45:00! I was nervous because I was using the same Garmin I used in Knoxville, which was on the fritz that day. Luckily, it held out – but it did register the course as .11 miles long. My chip time was recorded as 1:44:57, so I felt like I did my job. I was so nervous that I’d be significantly under or over the goal time but it worked out better than I could have hoped.
For those looking to run this race, I highly recommend it. The race director does a superb job, from the expo right through to the award ceremony. The shirts are nice (short-sleeved tech tees), and the swag bag includes a matching hat. For a fee, runners and their families can participate in the pasta dinner buffet the night before. The post race food spread is top-notch, complete with oatmeal, an omelette station, sandwiches, shakes, smoothies, chocolate milk and more. You can really tell that runner is in charge of this event.