I’ve never paced before, so when the opportunity arose to be part of a pace group for this past Sunday’s Clearwater Distance Classic, I took the chance. I’ve always been curious about pacing and wondered if I would be able to do it. I decided that for my first time out, I’d like to co-pace a half marathon; being with an experienced pacer would make me feel more comfortable and help keep me on pace, I thought.
I had never run the Clearwater Distance Classic, but I was familiar with Florida Road Races- they are pretty popular on the West Coast and put on several races in the area. Many have to do with holidays (they have a Holiday Halfathon, a Halloween Halfathon and several others), so they seemed like a fun organization.
Being registered as a pacer also gave me the opportunity to set a new road racing goal for myself. Last year, I joined the Half Fanatics (#16054) as a way to set goals for myself to complete more half marathons. The first level required 3 half marathons in 90 days, which I finished in Spring of 2017. When I was lacking direction this year for training, I happened to check back on the website and it turns out my next criteria is to reach 8-11 half marathons in one year or 6 half marathons in 6 consecutive months. I needed a half for January if I was going to be able to do this, so this provided me with the perfect opportunity.
Race morning we woke up to AMAZING weather- in the low 50s in the morning with all day highs in the low 70s. It was proving to be very good weather for the half marathoners, although the marathoners would get a little hot towards the end. The race started at 7:05 (all distances started together) and I was set to pace the 2:30 half group with Maria, who was the more experienced pacer. However, right before the start, I was approached by the pace group director and found out that one of the full marathon pacers had gotten sick and was unable to pace her portion of the 5 hour full. The full marathon pace teams consisted of two pacers, one pacer who would run the first part of the course and the second pacer who would run the second half of the course. He asked me if I could pace the second half of the marathon course to take the place of the pacer who got sick. I was a bit nervous, but I ended up agreeing because a) they really needed the help and b) it was the same pace I would have been running for the half, albeit a start time several hours later than planned.
We sent the first group of pacers to the start line and cheered them off at the start. There were trucks taking the second half pacers to the meet up point about 25 minutes away and we were leaving at 7:30 so there was some time to go to the bathroom again, get some snacks (because I had planned on being done by 9:30 not starting at 9:30 so I needed more fuel) and relax prior to loading up in the cars to be driven to the exchange point. When we got to the exchange point, the first finishers of the full hadn’t even started coming through yet, so we all waited in the cars to keep warm. Even though the sun was up, the wind was blowing and it was still chilly in the 50s. Soon the runners started to come through. We met up with the 3:15 pacer, the 3:30 pacer, 3:45, 4:00, 4:15, 4:30 and finally it was my turn to go. When my pacer came through, she had a few stragglers on her tail but no one really running with her in her pace group. She ran with me for about half a mile to get me on pace started and then trailed off to go back to the drop point. I was off and on my way! It was about 9:45 when I started running. The pace was an 11:27- the first pacer was about 10 minutes ahead of the prescribed finish time so I had a bit of a cushion.
I began running, trying to stay close to the 11:27 pace, but I was ahead by about 10 seconds per mile. My average pace was saying I was closer to an 11:15. No one was running with me for the first several miles, so I stayed at that pace and ran along. I met a few people who talked to me for a bit- around my 3rd mile (mile 17 for the full marathoners) I met a guy named John, who was doing his first full and wanted to keep up with me. He said his goal was to beat me, but he began walking shortly after and dropped behind. I called back to ask if he was ok, and he said yes, but he didn’t catch back up with me. Since I was aiming for a pace goal I couldn’t hang back too much so I kept going. I also met a guy running the full in flip flops. Yes, you heard me right, flip flops. He said he was famous and told me to google the “flip flop man.” I did and this is the article I found. An interesting character for sure. He asked me some questions about myself and gave me some information about himself. He sure runs a lot for a guy who doesn’t wear running shoes!
Until mile 6 (mile 19 for the full marathoners) I kept up a pretty steady, even pace of 11:24 average per mile, which was right next to my target pace. I was doing well, walking the water stops and maintaining a good pace, despite feeling the heat climb slowly as the morning wore on. Various people would stop and chat with me for a mile or two but then move on past me. This is the job of a pacer- you want people to beat you, so I was pretty happy when someone had enough energy to surge past me and stay past me.
However, along the back half of the course, the heat began to catch up to me and I began to falter in my pacing. Miles 7-9 for me (and 20-22 for the full marathoners) were starting to catch up to me and I was behind my goal pace. Since I had the 10 minute cushion I wasn’t worried just yet- according to the time on my watch I still was in front of my goal time. One of the ladies at the water stop even commented that I was ahead of pace. There weren’t many people left on the back half of the course and they were few and far between. It made it rather hard to keep pace when I was running alone and didn’t have anyone to chat with. I was walking every water stop and trying to keep drinking but I could tell I was getting dehydrated; my mouth felt like cotton.
Around mile 22 I picked up a guy named Jake that was running the Ultra- his first Ultra distance- only two weeks post Dopey Challenge! I was impressed, but I could tell he was struggling. Since I was kind of struggling too (although I didn’t tell him that) I told him if he wanted, being the only person currently in the pace group, we could switch to intervals and I would lead him in Galloway pacing. I figured the walk breaks would do both of us good. He said that would be good and I switched my watch over to 90/30 intervals and continued on the next few miles like that. By mile 24 we had picked up another struggling runner who was completing her first full, Rachel. She said the walk breaks would do her good too so she jumped on the Galloway style running as well. Those two stuck with me for the last few miles and we trudged along. I kept encouraging them, telling them that they would get through the last few miles and the accomplishment they would feel would be amazing. They were really cool people and we chatted whenever they felt like they could breathe well enough. Having them in my pace group most likely saved me from pretty much giving up. I don’t do well in sunlight and I was hurting.
I maintained a good pace until around mile 25.5. By mile 25, Jake had pulled ahead and was running for the finish line. Rachel was sticking with me. When I realized I would have to take an extra walk break, I sent Rachel ahead of me and encouraged her to keep running. I ended up taking an extra walk break because I couldn’t shake an annoying side stitch that had been nagging at me since mile 22. Once I hit the downward spiral of the bridge, I started running and kept running for the finish. I really wanted to finish in the 5 hour mark, but I was off by 1:34 according to the clock. Originally I was a bit disappointed in myself for not making it, but looking back, I ran a pretty strong race for several reasons:
- It was my first time ever pacing and I was by myself
- I had gone into the day expecting to pace a half marathon and be done by 9:30; instead I didn’t even get to start until the hotter part of the day
- My nutrition and fueling would have been different had I known I’d be pacing the full instead of the half. I did the best I could with the resources I had on hand.
- I maintained a pretty even pace throughout, even though most of the race I ran straight through and did not use the Galloway method. I haven’t just “run” a half since 2015- all my other halfs have been with the Galloway method.
- I did my job- encouraged other runners, helped struggling runners and motivated them to finish ahead of me.
My experience pacing was definitely a learning experience, but it was a good one. I would do it again, but next time I prefer to pace the first part of the race so I’m not running in that crazy heat!
*To make it extra clear: some people have been getting confused when I say I was part of a full marathon pacing team. I did NOT pace the entire full, just the second half of it. So technically I ran a half marathon, I just ran the second half of a full marathon course.
Have you ever been a pacer? Did you find it easy or hard? Would you do it again?