Back in September, I was asked to pace this race as the 1:45 pacer. I was beyond happy to accept the gig – the timing was perfect (a week before my own marathon) and I’ve always wanted to run this race. It never falls at a good time for me to race it, so I never wanted to cough up the entry fee to do it as a training run. I run the D&L Trail often, and I love it so I knew the race would be a spectacular fall event.
With my bum calf, this race was weighing heavily on my mind all week long. I hadn’t really put any mileage in and did a test run on Friday. While I was able to hold the pace no problem, my calf hurt by the end of the run. Ultimately, I decided to pace it anyway. First of all, I made a commitment to the race director and while I know he would have understood, I didn’t want to go back on my word on such short notice.
When I was first asked to pace this race I talked Charissa into coming for a visit to run it. I knew she’s been gunning for a new half PR and 1:45 was in the neighborhood she wanted to run. Additionally, my friend Kathy told her sister (Jill) that I was pacing 1:45. Jill also has aspirations of a 1:45 and thought it might be the right course to give it a go. So while I knew I probably SHOULD back out, I didn’t want to let anyone down! My ultimate deciding factor was that I should probably see if I could even run 13 miles before trekking all the way to Indianapolis to run a marathon.
Charissa arrived on Saturday night and we mowed down some pizza (gluten free!) to carb load. After a few glasses of wine, we headed to bed around 10. We didn’t even think about daylight savings time so we ended up getting a decent amount of sleep since I didn’t wake up until 5am for some coffee. After getting ready, we headed out around 6:15. The race is only a half an hour from my house, so we arrived with plenty of time to pick up our packets and relax in the gym. Before we knew it, it was time to line up at the start.
At the start, a few runners asked what I was planning to do to pace the race. I replied with my usual answer: even splits. I didn’t know the beginning of the course, but I knew the trail was pancake flat. A few of them were concerned about a hill in the beginning of the race, so I told them to keep me in their sights and catch me on the down hill. I honestly had no idea how big the hill could actually be.
The gun went off, and I fell into an 8 minute pace out of the gates. We began to descend a large hill, and I held back because I didn’t want to bank time. I promised even splits, and that was what I wanted to deliver. Well, what’s that saying? What goes up must come down…in this case, what goes down must also come up! At the base of the descent, we began to climb. And climb. And climb. And we just kept on climbing. I lost most of my group here and felt terrible for not knowing the course better and informing them of just how big the hill would be. I didn’t want to burn them out on the hill, but I didn’t want to be too far off pace that we would be fighting to make it up the rest of the way. When the hilly mile was over and my watched registered an 8:13, I knew I had to make up a few seconds. I also knew that wouldn’t be a big deal since the rest of the course was relatively flat. Most of my group was back in my sights after they recovered from the hill, and we pushed on.
We were still cruising on the road and running downhill at this point, so we clocked a 7:55 for the third mile. We hit the trail, and for the rest of the run all of my miles were right around 7:57, where I usually like to be for a 1:45 half marathon. At this point, I was running with a decent sized pack of runners including Charissa, Kevin, Ed, and Katie. I knew Charissa wanted to be in the 1:45 range, and I learned that Kevin was running with a goal of breaking 1:48. Katie was running her first ever half marathon and had her family waiting for her at the finish and had a goal of 1:45. Ed was a 71 year old guy who had been running for over 40 years but hadn’t seen an 8 minute mile in a very long time and wanted to run a 1:45.
This was a tough race to pace because I had poor reception on my watch. I had to run this race on effort, because being on a trail and in the woods was messing with my Garmin. Anyone I was running with had weird numbers on their watches. We were running in a straight line so there were no tangents to consider. My watch was consistently beeping early for awhile, and then it began to beep after the mile marker out of nowhere. I began to hit lap at every mile marker and run based on effort and clock time. For example, we hit the 10 mile mark in 1:19:42 so I knew we had about 18 seconds in the bank, but my watch was all over the place.
Through each of the water stops, I grabbed water and offered it to my crew. Most times they didn’t need it, but a few times Kevin grabbed my cup. I brought some Gu with me and offered it to my crew around mile 4. Around mile 9, Katie decided to give it a try to help her push her through the end of the race. It was salted watermelon flavored and she’d never tried it before. Her reaction was hilarious. “That is AWFUL!” she proclaimed as she downed it. But it must have worked, because she was looking extremely strong. Around mile 10, I told her that she was looking good and if she had anything left in her, she should start to leave me and pick up the pace and use whatever she had left. I told her to take one mile at a time, and not to let me catch her. She did exactly that, and she finished in 1:43:44 and got 3rd in her age group. She waited for me at the finish line and gave me a huge hug. It was so gratifying.
I crossed the finish in 1:44:47, which is 13 seconds fast. When I pace 1:45, I aim for 7:57-7:59 so a few seconds fast is expected. I was always told that you should never be more than 30 seconds over or under your goal. I was extremely pleased with this because it was within those parameters and it was tough to know what pace I was actually running since our watches were going crazy.
Ed stayed by my side until the final mile. He was so much fun to talk to. He had a marathon PR from the 1970s of 3:14 and told me that his favorite marathon was actually IN Marathon – as in, Greece. He also told me that he thinks women make much better pacers than men, which prompted me to tell him a little about my story from Hartford. I didn’t tell him the pace group, but I mentioned that my last run-in with a male pacer was less than ideal since he came in 8 minutes ahead of his time. Ed began to fade in the final mile, but he still had a smile on his face and ended in 1:45 flat. He crossed the finish line and gave me a sweaty hug.
As for Kevin and his goal of 1:48, he hung with me until mile 11. Around 10.5, he began to fade. I said to him, “You’ve already blown 1:48 out of the water. Just stick by my side until mile 11. You can do anything for a half mile. Then we take it one mile at a time.” He stayed glued to my side and when my watched beeped at mile 11, he began to fall out of step. I couldn’t slow the pace for fear of not meeting the 1:45 goal, but I turned and said, “Keep me in your sights for as long as you possibly can!” He finished in 1:45:13, completely crushing his goal. He thanked me, hugged me, and introduced me to his family. The pure joy of his huge PR had me on cloud nine!
As for the rest of the runners in our pack, several took off and finished well ahead of me, and we lost a few. At the start, I met a woman named Alyssa that wanted to run a 1:45, but she finished in 1:50. I talked to her at the start but I lost her in the first mile. My friend, Jill, never caught up after that first big hill and finished in 1:48. I hope my pacing efforts didn’t ruin their race, but I tried to stay as evenly paced as possible. I sometimes play with the idea that I should start slower and negative split, but not everyone trains that way.
After the race, the race directer had rented out a banquet hall down the street. They had tons of food, and held the award ceremony there. There was also a cash bar with wine and beer. We ate, had a drink, and hung out with some of my local running friends to celebrate everyone’s great finish.
And as for my calf, well, it didn’t feel as badly as I’d anticipated. It HATED the big hill right in the beginning – as soon as we started to climb, it made it’s presence known. It ached the whole run and was pretty sore as we milled around the finish area. But as the day wore on, it felt no worse after the half than it had after my four mile run a few days before. So there’s that. Pacing and helping people achieve their goals is so gratifying and I’m so glad I got to pace this race. I highly recommend the D&L Half Marathon for fall racers looking for a new PR!