Monday, December 13, 2010

Marathon Pacing = Amazing Experience

Being a pacer at the Rocket City Marathon this past weekend turned out to be tougher than I thought and just as wonderful as I'd hoped.  I found it tough because it was difficult to stay on one exact pace for 26 miles.  And I was nervous about going too fast and wearing out my runners too soon, and going too slow and not getting them to the finish line on time.  There is a balance there and believe it or not, it is sometimes hard to find it.

But what an amazing time I had!  Oh, it was the best experience!  Here's the story.

The weather was perfect.  Not too cold, not to warm, not too windy and mostly overcast.  I lined up at the start line around 7:45, held my 4:30 pacer sign high and the runners started to come.  I met many of them as they told me their goals for the day, how many marathons they'd run, and where they were from.  They had many questions about me, such as how many marathons I'd run and what my best time was.  One guy told me I looked like I ran much faster than a 4:30 pace and asked if I'd be able to slow down for them.  That made me feel good, of course (although, I have no idea what "look" I had going on), and I assured him that I could slow down.

Mom is in light pink with a white hat.
My pack of runners stayed with me up until the half marathon point.  I lost many of them there, including my mom.  I was worried about her and would turn around often to check on her.  A few times she looked really tired and I prayed she would not overdo and hurt herself.  Every once in a while she'd holler out "Pearl!" and I'd hold my sign high in the air so she'd know where I was (Pearl is my nickname, and I am not the tallest of individuals).

She had a group of good friends running with her, so I knew she would be fine.  I also knew she would not be upset about not making her 4:30 goal, so I held pace and tried not to worry about her. 

A few people stayed with me, and we talked about races, where they were from, their running experiences.  As I lost those who started with me, I gained others and got to know them as well. I met two girls who were grad students at Auburn, running their first marathon.  I met a man who graduated from Auburn in 1981 when I was 1 year old.  This was his 23rd marathon.  I met people from Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin and all over Alabama.  Every time I met a first timer, I could see the excitement in their eyes as they took on this challenge, and it was amazing to share in that excitement.

While some people were very happy to see me and many kindly expressed gratitude for my presence in the race, some were not so thrilled when I showed up.  I could understand that.  I have been caught by pacers I was trying to beat, and it can be disheartening.  I told them, however, that I was only a minute behind the clock and that they should come and run with me.  I jokingly threatened one guy with my sign, and he ended up staying with me for quite a while (I'm formidable, what can I say?).

As I ran on, my numbers became sparse.  My strategy was to run a little under pace (which is a 10:18 for a 4:30 finish) so that my runners could stay with me and still have time for aid at each aid station.  I would grab a water or Gatorade, walk for about 10 seconds and then slowly begin jogging, increasing in pace until I returned to 10:05 or so.  I explained this to the runners who started with me, and they were all game for that plan.

A few times I was a little fast, so around mile 23, I stopped and stood looking at my watch until I felt enough time had passed for runners wanting a 4:30 pace to be on target.  It was only about a minute, but I did not want to discourage people who were still on pace.  One such runner was Brian.  He was struggling, but hanging on really well and I knew he could do it.  Every once in a while I would tell him how much he had left, and how many minutes he had to do it.  There was plenty of time, and I think that encouraged him to keep pushing.

I took the liberty of encouraging any runners I came upon as I neared the end.  The last 6 miles are usually the ones where people begin to fall apart, and there was evidence of this as far as I could see.  I felt like some sort of coach carrying that sign, so I cheered for everyone I approached and encouraged them to run with me.  Some did.  

I crossed the finish line with a chip time of 4:29:18, and a clock time of 4:30:01.  I could hear people in the crowd saying, "She's right on pace!  She's exactly on pace!" and I was pleased.  It was a lot harder to do than I'd imagined, but despite being a tad fast at times, I hadn't missed the mark. 

I turned to cheer in Brian, who did in fact make his 4:30 goal.  I then quickly got out of the finishing chute and ran back to where I'd seen Dad and Gary who were waiting for Mom.  It wasn't too long until we saw her and she looked good.  She said with a smile on her face, "I gave it up!  Wasn't meant to be today," and finished in 4:43, which is her second fastest marathon time.   

While I waited for Mom, I saw many of the runners who started with me and they weren't missing the goal by much.  I saw several others inside the host hotel and they smiled and thanked me for my help.  I had not expected so much gratitude.  I never realized it would mean so much, but it felt good to know I, in some way, helped other runners around me.

As I said before, running a marathon is a long, hard race no matter how many times one has done it.  It was a true honor to be a part of that journey with so many runners, and I would gladly do it again.

It wasn't a personal record for me.  It wasn't one of my best.  I didn't get to feel the exhilaration of pushing my self to the limit and racing this challenging event.  But it had to be, hands down, one of the most rewarding experiences in my running journey and I enjoyed every step of the 26.2 miles I ran that day.


  1. You were great! I was glad I got to run to the half point with you. I saw lots from our group on those last miles with me. Maybe next time. ;-)

  2. I was waiting and waiting to read about your experience with the pacing Jane. You should be commended for being so close to your pace. I was also glad to read that your orignal group did not stay with you the entire time as was the case with mine. And thanks for the recommendation about carrying the sign all the way through. It was a good choice. Can't wait for the cold to let up a little so we can run together again soon.

  3. Great story, Friend!! I am horrible at running even splits (regardless of the pace), so I can't imagine how hard that was! I had one of those not-so-happy-to-see-a-pacer moments myself, at mile 21, but I was glad it didn't happen until that point! I think the pacers were a great addition to the marathon!


  4. congratulations on your excellent pacing skills. and on that one guy telling you you look way faster...

  5. Thanks for reading, my friends! It was so much FUN! Definitely a new challenge where marathon running is concerned, but I loved it. I hope they ask again next year, and I hope I am in the right kind of shape to do it again!

  6. If you do it again next year I guess that means I will be running...4:30 is my secret dream goal for my first marathon :)

  7. Well, if I do it again next year you'd better come then! I'm all about helping folks reach their secret dream goals. Especially ones like YOU!

  8. You are the best writer, pacer, daughter, friend that I could ever have (along with your wonderful sister) and I may need you again next year if I don't get that 4:30 time sooner. Whenever or whereever I run for it again, I will NEED you!! It was great fun even though I didn't make it and it was because you and my wonderful running partners were there! Hugs, Ma