I swear after this post I will get off of it. But, I did a little investigating about the pacers at Hartford because I still couldn’t believe they would really be that off. They had one job, right?
Mr. 3:10, revealed:
Mr. 3 Hour:
Okay. Now I feel like I’m not crazy. Honestly, I think I have about a 3:05-3:08 in me right now. I don’t think I have a 3:02 in me just yet. To look at the bright side of things, I’m happy that I hung on to 3:02 pace as long as I did! I’ll call that a win.
So while letting good old Jeff get in my head on Saturday could have potentially hurt my race, I’m taking it with a grain of salt and I’m going to use his pacing error as a lesson. I’m pacing a half marathon in a few weeks. It’s a local one, called the D&L Half Marathon and I’m the 1:45 pacer. I’ve paced before – twice, 1:45 at the Garden Spot Half Marathon and once at the St. Luke’s Half Marathon as the 1:50 pacer. For me, 1:45 is a comfortable time to pace and I really enjoy it.
Being a pacer myself, I know there are two sides to Jeff’s story. I know that as a pacer, you have to go by your own watch. Anytime I run with friends, our watches never say EXACTLY the same thing. So there’s that. There’s also the whole ordeal with the beginning of the race, trying to keep the group together and stay on pace. That can be a little tricky, too. There’s so much adrenaline at the start of a race that it’s easy for someone racing to go out too quickly, and it’s just as easy (if not easier) for the pacer. The only problem is, the pacer is running a pace that is “comfortable” for them. So a few seconds fast isn’t a big deal – for them.
Let’s use my 1:45 time as an example. I should probably be running about a 7:57 pace throughout the race. 1:45 is an 8 minute mile, so there is no reason my first mile should be a 7:30. Or any mile, for that matter. But for someone pacing a 1:45, a 7:30 probably feels pretty comfortable. No big deal, we can slow it down in the next mile. Wrong. Going out even seconds too fast can make or break someone’s race. Someone with a 1:45 half marathon goal is now likely running around their 10K pace in the first mile of the half marathon. By the last mile, there’s a good chance their legs will be cooked.
I’m certainly not an expert on pacing. As a matter of fact, I suck at pacing myself in my own races because I’m impatient. But when I’m in charge of someone else’s day, I make it my mission to be patient and reliable because I’m there to do a job. Here are my tips on being a good pacer to help motivate runners and get them to the finish within their goal range:
1 – Be Prepared: Prior to lining up at the start, you should know what your pace per mile will be. That’s obvious. But you should also be aware of what what time you should be hitting cumulatively. So for a 1:45, I should hit mile one in 8 minutes, mile two in 16:01, etc. This way, if your watch is off you can adjust using the clocks on the course.
2 – Print out a pacing band: Did #1 make you panic because it involved runner math? Don’t worry, I suck at math. Websites like Runner’s World and MarathonGuide make it very easy to generate a pre-made pacing band that you can wear the day of the race. It doesn’t have to be pretty or fancy – just needs to give you a backup plan if your watch decides not to cooperate. Never underestimate the power of a simple piece of paper with some splits listed on it.
3 – Don’t go out too quickly: It’s easy to get caught up in the adrenaline of a race and start too fast – everyone knows that and mostly likely has experienced this. As a pacer, be mindful of your pace in the first mile, because you are setting the tone for these runners for the rest of the race. If the first mile is too fast, it could discourage runners in your group or those running around you. For example, if you are pacing a 3:10 marathon and are running 3:02 pace at the start, you are likely going to burn out those following you. There’s a good chance that your pacing error will also probably mentally burn out anyone trying to run faster than your goal time (ahem, me vs. Jeff!).
4 – Clock Watch: Watch your watch, but don’t rely only on your watch. Keep a close eye on the time clocks set out on the course like a hawk and adjust accordingly. If your watch is beeping before the mile marker, you might have to speed up a little bit to stay on pace and make your goal.
5 – Even Splits: Something else that Jeff had listed in his bio really bothered me. He actually planned to run a positive split for the race. On some courses, a positive split is normal and sometimes unavoidable. Like Boston: the first 16 miles have a net descent, and then you have more hills in the later miles of the race. While I would still prefer to negative split that course, it’s common to positive split that course. Usually by about 2-3 minutes if you are running it like a normal human (read: not like Meb or Shalane). As a pacer, I highly recommend running even splits regardless of the course. Not everyone trains for negative splits, positive splits, etc. If you are going to do something other than run even splits, make sure to tell your crew at the beginning of the race so they can make an informed decision about what they are getting themselves into. Not everyone reads the pacer bios (I wish I had looked that up before Hartford!) and won’t know your strategy unless you tell them.
6 – Let them go: You might find yourself running with some really awesome people in the beginning of the race, and you might really be enjoying their company. Suddenly, you look down and see you’re running too fast. Slow down, let them go. And encourage them: “You’re looking great! I’m going to slow down to keep the [insert goal time here] pace.” This way, if they feel good they can take off and not feel obligated to keep hanging with you. Or, they might not realize that they are speeding up and be relieved to see that you are taking your job seriously.
Even if it’s mile 10 of 13.1 and you’ve been with “Miss I really want to go sub-1:45 today”, you can’t take off with them and push them to a faster finish. You can encourage them to lay down the hammer and go on without you, but you can’t go with them. This happened to me this past spring while pacing the Garden Spot Half Marathon. I ran with a woman who wanted a 1:45. She ran 1:20s in her hay day, but had been seriously battling Lyme’s disease for several years. She finally found some relief with homeopathic treatments, and she was running her first race in years. We ran together through mile 10, and I could tell she was having a great day. She kept pushing the pace, and I had to keep backing off. At mile 10, I said to her: “I’m really enjoying running with you, so don’t take this the wrong way. You are kicking ass right now and can breeze through this last 5K. I can’t take off with you, but if you have it in you, you should GO!!” I wanted so badly to see her finish. She finished in something like 1:42, and waited for me to tell me about it. She was ecstatic.
My point? Even if you are only running with one person, you have no idea who in the general area is keeping you in their sights. Many times I’ve crossed a finish line and had someone come up to me and say, “Thank you, I kept my eye on you the whole time!” I never saw them the whole race – but they saw me.
7 – Be Encouraging: I’ve run with pacers before who don’t say a word. Maybe they bit off more than they could chew and were pacing something a little too aggressive, but say something to your crew! Even if you aren’t making conversation, you could always say something like “Great job on that hill, guys!” every so often. Making conversation is tough because most people are racing, not talking. Give them things to think about in the later miles of the race, such as telling them to focus on the reason they are running the race to take their mind off of the pain.
8 – Be their personal race assistant: Bring a few band-aids, some gels, maybe some little squeeze packs of Vaseline, maybe some extra safety pins. Grab extra water/Gatorade/Gels at the aid stations and offer it to the runners around you. Anything to make their day easier and to keep the focus on their race!
9 – Run the Tangents: Most people finish a marathon and their watch says they ran 26.5 miles. You can reduce the extra running for your crew by knowing the course ahead of time and running the tangents. Encourage your crew to run the tangents with you!
10 – This is NOT your race and it’s not about you: No matter if you finish alone or with a big group, remember: this is not your day. It’s wonderful that you are giving back to the running community, but this is not your race! Your goal is not to run a PR and to tell the group you’re pacing all about your PR for that distance. Sure, they will ask and you should answer honestly, but you don’t need to spend the duration of the race talking about yourself and your accomplishments. You’re pacing them – they already know you are faster than whatever time you are pacing. This day is about them! Enjoy a different kind of runner’s high: you helped people achieve their goals.
On the Flip: Use a Pacer, or Run Solo?
If you are considering running with a pacer, proceed with caution. Pacers can make or break your day. If you are trying to qualify for Boston and you know that it’s a lofty goal, really consider what you have to lose. For example: if you are one of my Boston ladies under the age of 34 that needs a 3:35 and you know that’s going to require all of the stars to be aligned for you, be prepared to be your own pacer. If the pacer for your time ends up being awesome, it will be an added bonus.
Use your own sense of pace (whether you are running with a watch or on effort) and execute your own race strategy. It will allow you to implement the strategy you’ve trained for, and the strategy that is optimal for you. In a marathon, start the first five miles running your own pace and your own race. Look around at that point – if you see a pace group near, you can likely use them as an indicator to help you in case you start to lose focus. If you notice the pacer pulling away, take notice of your time and your internal sense of pace to determine if they are speeding up or you are slowing down.
If you encounter a situation like I did last weekend where the pacer is way off, try not to panic. I know, easier said than done. I let it get in my head. Take a breath, look at your watch and focus on your own race. Ultimately, trust yourself. Now, if I could only take my own advice… 🙂
Have you ever been a pacer? Any good tips to add to the list? Any stories about running with a pacer – the good, the bad, the ugly?