Should I run with a Pacer?

Recently, I saw a tweet from @mileposts, a blogger who runs marathons a lot faster than I do. I don’t normally respond to blogs, but after reading her opinion, I felt I had to add my two cents. I like her blog, and her entire article can be found at http://www.mile-posts.com. Essentially, her point was that she doesn’t like running in a Pace group, which is certainly valid. But some of the comments that followed showed an lack of understanding of what exactly it means to be a Pacer, and the fact that, well, Pacers are human beings who, sometimes, fail.

As Pacer you usually don’t run a race for selfish reasons. You run to help others, to be the support they may need. It’s not all about yourself. And for me, it became very critical that, no matter how I felt, not to let them down. I ran the best race I could, and I hope I helped. At least two runners came up afterwards and thanked me, saying if it wasn’t for me, they wouldn’t have made it.

That made it all worthwhile. I’m sure my technique wasn’t everyone’s bag. But it felt good to give back something to the community.

In any case, below follows my response. To see her article, please click the link above!:

Personally, before anyone critiques a Pacer, I think they should try it first. It’s not as “easy” as you might expect. Some Pacers are awesome, some are terrible, but before I say anything for/against, I try to put myself (run) in their shoes.

Pacers are as different as individuals, each with their own style.

So, this Sunday I ran as a Pacer for a marathon for the first time. It was, in fact, a lot harder than I expected. Partly because I like to do a good job at what I do, partly because it was my first time, and partly because I knew runners would be relying on me.

At the very beginning of the race, I told the runners with me my intended strategy. My other Pacer in the group had a different strategy and we ran separately for a good portion of the race (but finished together almost exactly on Pace time). I also loudly announced that I would be telling stories, explaining why I was doing what I was doing and when, and giving “heads up” on the hilly course on what to expect next. I also said that if that wasn’t your bag, to completely ignore me. Additionally, no matter what I said, to NOT do anything new on race day. I took all the great things I’d seen from Pacers, tried to do that, and tried hard NOT to do all the bad things.

Running as a Pacer I did NOT start fast. In fact, I started SLOWER, because it was a cold morning and we needed to warm up. I told everyone what I was doing – and then gradually increased the pace over several miles. My strategy was an “equal effort”, so we were slower on the up hills, and faster on the downhills. When behind pace, I announced how far, why, and when we would get “back” to pace time (usually an upcoming downhill). Having driven the course before, and studied the elevation profile helped a lot there. Perhaps over-preparation, but I didn’t want to let anyone down.

Other Pacers may not be as prepared or care that much. Best to determine that early on.

If you were a 8/1 runner (Galloway), or negative split, or something else, I said not to stick with me as I did not match your intended strategy/training. If you were a social runner, stick with me. If not, go on your own and good luck!

So the advice to do what you think best and what works for you is golden. Pacers aren’t your bag. But, in the Ultramarathons, I have found them both critical to success (Comrades, where many, many marathoners fail because they don’t pace properly), and also completely unnecessary (50k+ trail runs as I always end up running by myself).

The best strategy is to use all tools available to you to achieve success. Sometimes, that’s Pacers. Sometimes, if the Pacer isn’t to your style, it’s without. Have “A” strategy, that’s the important thing, but also a “B” and “C” strategy when things don’t go as planned, and roll with the punches.

Just my 2 cents. You should give it a try, Dorothy – consider it a new challenge in your racing career, and try being the best pacer you can. Then see what you think. If you still don’t like it, then at least you have a new perspective and a great training run!