I always pace a half-marathon the week before Boston (Garden Spot), but starting last year I began pacing one the week after, too. It is a race that holds a special place in my heart because it was my first ever half marathon. I wrote about my first experience pacing it last year here, when I was asked last minute to fill in as the 1:50 pacer.
This year, I was asked to pace the 1:45 group. That’s my favorite group to pace, and I knew I had the Kentucky Derby Marathon the following week and would probably run 10-13 miles around that pace anyway. When race day came around, I woke up and was less than amused with my decision. I wanted to sleep in, put on my iPod and go for a run – not go to a race. Why did I think this was a good idea?
I drank some coffee and headed out. I got to the race around 7am, and once I was in the gymnasium of William Allen High School (the staging area for this race), I was glad I decided to do it. Pretty much all of our local running community was out, whether they were running, volunteering, or spectating. We have such a wonderful community that I would have been bummed if I’d missed out on this event.
The race goes off at 8:10 am (there’s a 5K that starts at 8am) so we made our way to the starting line about fifteen minutes early. I had a fairly large group, and several runners asked my strategy. I always like to do even splits, but possibly a few seconds per mile faster until mile eight for this race to account for the Parkway. Most runners lose steam around mile eight because we enter Lehigh Parkway, which is a narrow cinder path with some moderate climbs. It slows you down to run on cinders, plus the climbs and the tight space means you expend more energy trying to pass runners and stay on pace. Whether I run the race myself or I pace it, I find those miles to always be the slowest of the race.
An older gentleman came up to me and told me he wanted to run an 8 minute mile and has been trying to hold onto that pace for years. He seemed familiar, and then it dawned on me: we ran several miles together when I paced the D&L Half Marathon in November! I reminded him of that, and he remembered me immediately. At the D&L, he ran exactly a 1:45. It was fun to see someone from a past race, and he seemed excited to see I would be his pace leader again.
The race went off on-time, and it was a gorgeous day. It starts with a steep downhill, so I focused on not taking the group out too fast. The first eight miles of the race are my favorite. Once you hit mile two and get on Martin Luther King Boulevard, you get to see the lead runners coming back from the turnaround so there is a ton of cheering. My good friend, Zafer, started with my pace group and running with him is like running with a celebrity. Everyone knows and loves Z (he is seriously the sweetest guy ever) and was cheering for him. He, in turn, was cheering for everyone – including the spectators. My mom got this great shot of us running together – it might be my most favorite running picture ever:
Once we could see the lead runners on their way back, I saw that my training partners were leading the women’s race! Megan was in 2nd (she ran a 1:23 and took second overall), and Cassie was in 3rd (she ran a 1:25 and took third overall). It made me extremely proud and happy to cheer them on as they came BLOWING past us. Watching them cruise back at their speedy pace made our 1:45 group look like we were standing still. It was awesome and exciting to cheer my friends on and watch them run such strong races. I cracked up as Chris G. came blowing by us – I’ve done a few long runs with him over the past year. He organizes the pace team and I thought he was pacing. Nope! He ran a 1:19 half marathon that day, but he also ran Boston in 2:55 a few days earlier! He told me after the race that the half was his first run back from Boston. Mind BLOWN! I love it!
Through this point and up through mile eight, I’d maintained around a 7:55 pace. The mile markers seemed slightly off so I relied on clock time and effort to keep the pace consistent. I saw so many other friends in this section of the race, and everyone was all smiles and cheering for each other. How could you not be? It was a gorgeous day, a great course, and our community rocks. If you live within a reasonable distance from me, I highly recommend coming to run this race next year. The Lehigh Valley is a great place to be a runner, and the St. Luke’s half has been around for over 30 years. It’s a great place to be.
We entered the Parkway, and Emily came running up next to me! I knew she was trying to run somewhere in the 1:45 range but had a more casual approach to training this year. She was running with her fiance and looked great. They ran with Z for awhile, and were a little ahead of me through some sections in the Parkway. Once we crossed over the red covered bridge, there was still a few more Parkway miles left to go. That’s when the struggle seems to hit most runners. Z was feeling good and took off here, and Emily fell a little behind. I had a few runners from my original pack with me, but picked up a few new ones along the way. It was through this section that I began averaging a true 8 minute mile – some were even slower, 8:08ish pace – to try to keep the group together through the hills.
A local runner that I’d never met before, Nanette, caught me towards the end of the Parkway. I recognized her name because she works with my old coach, Kenrick. She had a tough winter and had the goal of 1:45 for the day even though she’s run faster half marathons before, so she stuck with me for a few miles. Around mile 11, most of the runners I began with had either fallen ahead of me or slightly behind me. I maintained an 8 minute mile pace and tried to motivate whatever runner’s were in my general area.
Chris G. gave our pace team the task of coming in around 30 seconds under goal, and I came in at 1:44:39 according to my gun time, but 1:44:22 according to my chip time. It was about eight seconds fast, but I didn’t seem to have anyone upset with me. Many runners came up and thanked me and told me that they had a great race. Both Emily, her fiance and Nanette ran 1:44:55, which was exciting. Another local runner, Beth, sought me out after and said she made it her goal to keep me in her sights and finished in 1:46 – a PR! That made my day.
I truly enjoy being a pacer. You meet so many amazing, strong people and to have the opportunity to watch them achieve their goals is incredible. It’s the most rewarding experience and one of my favorite ways to participate in some of the local races. I love any chance I get to help out our running community. I’ve met some of my closest and best friends through running in the Lehigh Valley, and it’s a joy to watch my friends succeed and help others reach their goals. We are such a supportive group, and everyone is always cheering each other on. Great job to everyone who participated in the race this weekend – it was a spectacular event!