Go Speed Pacer, Go!

My new achievement:

You'd think I was carrying the Olympic Flame.

You’d think I was carrying the Olympic Flame.

One of my running buddies was signed up to be a 1:45 pacer at the Rock and Roll Half-Marathon this Sunday, but she’s working through a lingering hamstring issue, so I said I would take her spot, with the warning that I might besmirch her name because I had no idea what I was doing, only that an 8min pace is comfortable right now, and I’d planned to run 10 miles on Sunday anyway, so why not? (yes, Half-Marathons are still 13.1 miles)

I’ve volunteered at races before:

  • I’ve volunteered at water-stops
  • As a course “marshal” (i.e. point and yell “go that way!”)
  • And, as a bike-marshal (the “weee! follow me guys!” kind, the “hey jackass, pull over before 1,000 runners come barreling into you!” kind, the “I’m so sorry but you’ll need to finish your race running/walking on the sidewalk” kind, and also the “please send an ambulance, I just got puked on, again” kind)

I volunteer a couple of times per year because, although the business model of big races is questionable, and actually doesn’t make a ton of sense to me, I do recognize that without the huge numbers of volunteers laboring for hours at every race from a 5k to a marathon, then the opportunities for us age-groupers and experience racers would not exist in anywhere near the abundance or quality they do.

I haven’t ever seriously considered volunteering as a pacer. Mostly because between experiences I’ve had while training, racing, and volunteering, the more popular running gets the more I see a whole lot of self-absorbed runners do and say a whole lot of disrespectful things to volunteers, as well as to fellow runners and walkers. Therefore, I’ve selfishly figured that if I’m going to put the energy into running the entire length of a race, then I’m going to be trying to do so as fast as I can, that is to say, I’m going to race (kind of hypocritical isn’t it? I’m complicated).

If the jersey fits...or whatever.

If the jersey fits…or whatever.

I’ve never run with a pace group even, but I’ve heard enough horror stories that although I was really motivated to help my friend out, and a though I felt pretty sure I could maintain the steady pace, I definitely lost a little sleep over the nuances of being what I thought would qualify as being a “good pacer”.

My experience of the actual pacing gig was 90% positive. The runners who stayed by me from start to finish of the race were all pretty stoic runners, which can be good when people are vying for a PR, because it means minimal banter and no energy to spare for heckling the pacer.

I was relieved to learn, when I went to the expo to get my bib and pacer jersey, that I’d have a partner-pacer who was a veteran at this game and could sort of show me the ropes. He definitely got me going and settled in over the first few miles, and totally helped me to not panic when I realized that everyone’s GPS watches were basically useless in this race (bridges, buildings…city races are fun, but offer a lot of satellite interference), he was great in knowing what to say to help people not freak out, and helped me be confident in my own rhythm and using my Garmin’s stopwatch function. (Which is silly because until a few years ago I’d only ever done so, well, no Garmin) Unfortunately, my pacer-pal was not having a great day and needed to ease off about 70% into the race. So it got a little lonely.

The not so positive 10% was actually nothing to do with this specific experience but some general things that happen in every race. There are always a few people who don’t know or aren’t aware of race etiquette, or more accurately, their surroundings.

So of course, there were the few folks who came to a dead stop getting water, and the guy who dropped a part for his iPod and dead stopped then reversed direction to retrieve it (add this to my growing list of why personal music devices should be banned from ALL races).

There were also a few passive-aggressive digs. This infuriates me, and I assume it happens with regularity, in different iterations, to most dedicated runner’s. I tried really hard to be extremely self-aware during the entire half-marathon. In fact, I made a point to only speak when I was either calling out the mile split, or answering a question someone had asked me directly. As it happens there were several people who had lots of questions. Those people, (4 of them) as far as I know, all ran substantial PR’s, I like to think in no small part because I told each of them, when our mini-conversations ended, that they were clearly feeling comfortable and they should speed up just a touch. They all did.

Insult # 1: Just after I finished one of these mini-conversations (lasted exactly a half mile – yes, I was tracking it), a man said “how can you talk so much while running this pace”? Trust me, he wasn’t giving me a compliment. I responded that I was in peak marathon training (a lie).

Insult #2: Post-race another man from my pace-group, said “I know why women are better endurance athletes than men” Sadly, I took the bait and asked why. He said, “Because women always talk the whole time they’re running.” I responded “No, I can talk because I train my ass of and I was pacing not racing. It has nothing to do with being female.”

I wasn’t trying to be an a-hole, that’s really offensive. Obviously, I’m not going to volunteer to pace a target-time that I don’t know is well within my comfort zone (I’ve since learned people do sign up to pace at targets shockingly close to their own PR’s, I do not like this, it seems very irresponsible).

Also, DO NOT use my sex against me because you’re feeling intimidated.

If you’re feeling intimidated, then work HARDER.

Also, seriously, I barely spoke. In fact, I worked really hard at that.

Equally frustrating (to me) are the runners who don’t understand that yelling at people mid-race is not going to teach proper etiquette. Mid-race is not the time to explain to someone why stopping at the water stop is a bad idea, or to yell sarcastically at completely panicked and clueless pedestrians who “Frogger” their way across the course.

In the end, I think I did well. I figure pulling it in 20 seconds under is enough time that people who were keeping me in their sights as a target could pull off a finish in the 1:45 minute, but close enough to 1:45:00 that there were not dead-sprints needed.


What surprises me is I always considered being a pacer a free entry to races. But it’s not. It definitely felt like work, between staying aware of what a runner might need (count down miles? Yell out splits? Do neither? Talk? Stop Talking? Encourage? Offer gel? Run close? Give space? etc etc etc), making sure I stayed on track for the target finishing time without any periods of sprinting or crawling (my variability ended up being only about an 8 second range), and even trying to find that balance between projecting confidence but not making it seem too easy because that could be really aversive to someone who is just hanging on (maybe I need to work on this, see “insults” above).

Anyway, if they comped your entry into another event (or the next running of that event) so that you could run your own race, then I’d call it a “free entry”, and holy cow, I’d volunteer to pace all the time, my desire to practice racing more and more is bankrupting me!

I probably wouldn’t have ever registered for a “Rock and Roll” event without this opportunity, but I actually can’t review the race at all because I was so hyper-focused on my little pacing-gig that I don’t remember anything except for running through the (McCormick?) tunnel near the list mile and almost falling several times because of the stupid disco-lights and thunderous music. Complete sensory over-load. I guarantee people threw up in there.


Thanks to my new blogger-friend Declan for the above capture of my first-ever pacer finish!


14 responses to “Go Speed Pacer, Go!

  1. I have a really hard time volunteering for large, for-profit companies. I mean, if a different industry made money off free labor, it’d be weird, right?

    But, I am super super curious about being a pacer…

    • Yes! That’s sort of what I was getting at, but I’m a wuss and afraid to say such things explicitly because I know some ass will be all “blah blah blah, show me the statistics” and I have none, but someone is making some dough because huge races are endless cropping up.

      All that aside, and I think I forgot to say this in the post, but I really enjoyed doing this, and would do it again.

  2. The tunnel was terrifying, so dark so much bass, and the strobe light was just absurd.
    Kelly, a regular in my yoga class, was in your group and said you kept her hanging on when she was starting to really doubt the race would ever end.
    I cannot imagine you talking through a 1:45 min period of time, that man was definitely intimidated and barfed stupid words on you.
    90% good experience is fantastic!

  3. Great to finally meet you! You did an awesome job! I think I would enjoy pacing more than racing during the summer heat. Thanks for the shout out too!

  4. Congrats for nailing a 1:45 on your first pacing attempt! I’m seriously impressed given the fact our garmins are rendered useless by the tunnels and buildings. That disco tunnel was a nightmare. I mean that tunnel is a nightmare after running outside for 11 miles and then plunging into darkness but the strobe lights!?! Eeek!

    Read a bloggers report of the race where they said they yelled at the people stopping at water stations. Who the eff does something like that!?! (Well that blogger) At least the people stayed on the sides and not in the middle. It’s a large race, congestion happens, deal with it or don’t run the race. But why expend energy yelling at people? SMH

    Again, congrats on getting your pace group to their goal. 🙂

    • I got this really nice phone call yesterday from a race organizer (not sure of his professional title but bascially he’s the person who selects and hires the race director) of a race I did recently. He asked me a bunch of questions about my experience as a runner, and what changes I liked, and my suggestions and so on.

      It seems to me that if they were to have consulted nearly any runner about the whole tunnel-rave concept before setting it up, that runner would say “um, yah, that will probably be more aversive than motivating”…like, if you’re going to write a novel about people working in an apple orchard, you might fo visit and orchard or talk to some people who do that job before you publish your book. (yes, that is the only example I could think of…too much public radio for me)

  5. Dude, you worked hard. And it sounds like it was more mentally than physically exhausting because of people’s comments. DERP! I’d be honored to have you as a pacer any day. And yes, that tunnel? THE WORST. At that point in the race, I was definitely not feeling it and the flashing lights didn’t help the situation. They were playing Robin Thicke when I ran through though… 😉

  6. Nice job on the pacing. I’ve never run with a pace group before but it sounds to me like you were the perfect pacer.
    And I totally agree on the tunnel with the lights being a stupid, stupid idea.

  7. Nice job on the pacing! I’ve never run with a pace group before but it seems to me that you would be an excellent pacer to run with.
    I totally agree that the tunnel with the lights was a stupid, stupid idea.

  8. Me again. Sorry about the double, similar but not the same, comments. WordPress and I had a disagreement. I thought I’d won but it looks like WordPress did.


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s