Stone Cold Gumby

Rabbit. Crew. Good cop. Bad cop. Drink-holder. Feeder. Distractor of pain. Concealer of truths. A pacer is all these things, and more.

I am pacing my good friend RunWiki at the Shamrock Marathon March 18th. I’ll run the second half of the race with her as she attempts a BQ. I ran Shamrock last year so I’m familiar with the course; it’s pancake flat but the second half can be lonesome as you run away from the crowds, through a very pretty pine-tree area, and then onto Fort Story. Even after coming off the Navy Base, the streets are a bit quiet as most spectators are at the finish. Quiet can be good, allowing a runner to get away from the noise for a while, but quiet can also allow the negative thoughts to creep in with nothing to detract from them.

So that’s where I step in. Except, I’m a bit of a novice at pacing. In fact, the only other time I paced anyone was at the Hershey Half Marathon; I paced my husband for the last 7 miles. He wanted me to talk to him so I blabbered away about random things as much as I could, got him water at the aid stations and tried to pull him through the last 3 agonizing miles, which were all through the parking lot, but really wished I could have done more.

We didn’t discuss what he’d need from me before the race. Going into this next race, I’ve discussed extensively with Lisa what I should say and do. Actually, most of our discussion converged around what I shouldn’t say.

Me: “If I start to slow down in a marathon I say to myself, ‘you’re going to look really stupid when you didn’t achieve that time you predicted.'”

Lisa: “Don’t say that.”

Me: “Oh, ok. How about, ‘Think about all your family and friends waiting for you at the finish.’ ”

Lisa: “No, that’s worse. I like Shalane Flanagan’s mantra she used at the Olympic trials: stone cold.”

Me: “Stone cold? OK, so do I tell you you’re stone cold?”

Lisa: “Yes. No emotion.”

So “stone cold” will be the mantra. It kinda fits me anyway because my coach told me Lisa and I have such different personalities and I am the “stone cold” one. Ha ha.

The other thing that we’ve discussed is where she wants me to run. When I paced my husband I ran alongside but slightly in front of him, trying to maintain or push the pace just a little, but not enough that he’d notice. In the last few miles I started running in front of him to try to pull him, but I realized at one point that I’d gone too far ahead and the lifeline was broken. For Lisa I’ll run just slightly ahead and she will imagine a cord connecting the two of us that cannot be broken.

But what other strategies are useful? I took a look at the forums on Runner’s World and found some good ideas and some real gems, on which I’ve added my thoughts in italics.

  • A pacer should know how to evaluate the runner’s condition (whether by knowing the person or from broad experience with endurance athletes). Alive and running? Check.
  • A pacer is to do nothing to distract the runner from running (the runner comes first). Right, no “OMG look at that man’s shorts!!!”
  • A pacer must be able to pick up the pace as much as the runners wants (runner might come back to life). I’ll be ready with my kick.

“I like my pacer to only speak when spoken to (I know that sounds tough, but I dislike idle chatter when I’m hurting). So ask your runner to tell you straight. There’s no room for niceties.” Yes Ma’am. I will just pretend it’s Downton Abbey and I’m your maid.

“Establish how far he wants you to go if he says he wants to quit, like “only let me quit if I’m in the back of an ambulance”, or “don’t listen to me when I say I’m going to quit”, or “I know when I have had enough, and I’ll decide when I’m stopping.” Lisa, there will be no quitting. 🙂

“Never ever say “not far to go now”. Your runner will know exactly how far there is to go. “not far” is a very subjective thing.” Very true. I want to punch everyone in the face who says this. Lisa, do let me know if you want me to punch anyone in the face for you.

“Try to remember that if the runner “barks” at you or is mean, don’t take it too personally, take it as a cue to keep quiet for a while and just let them do their thing.”  OK, but I’ll get you back later.

“You never know what their mood will be after the fatigue kicks in.  Just be flexible and help while they run their race.” Call me gumby.

  • A good pacer must be both understanding and relentless. Like Jekyll and Hyde?
  • A good pacer focuses on keeping their runner on track at all times. Lisa, just ignore my comments on other runners’ attire. 😉
  • A good pacer holds your hair back while you’re puking. OK I think that’s enough.

I think that last one is the best.

Have you ever paced a runner?
What tips/advice do you have?


  1. I paced my wife in a 5k mud run and a friend at Hershey this past year. The toughy, and the reason I’m glad I read this post, is that I am pacing a friend at Leadville this August for either the 3rd or 4th quarter of the race. I have some questions to ask him and I thank you for that!!! I may request that he cut his hair so I don’t have to hold it, though…

  2. What a great honor. My husband often tries to pace/help me and despite his efforts, just CAN NOT seem to do it. During our last 1/2 we were at the mid way point, climbing hills at about a 7;45 pace (the FASTEST I’ve ever sustained for a long period BTW) and he kept pointing out the damn buzzards….like I care!!! It’s all I can do to keep running and not vomit. It takes a special person to slow down and selflessly help another….to be willing to be EVERYTHING that person needs…nothing more, nothing less. Good job…and Good Luck! I know y’all will do great things!!

  3. I like the cord idea. There is a guy who lives near us (Florida) who always runs with a pacer because he is blind. His pacer has guide duties as well of course. They run with a cord between them. Amazing!

    Also, fyi some pukers don’t want their hair held or to be touched at all. The best thing you can do for this puker is crowd control-“yes she’s fine, move along!”

    • Blind runners amaze me. They must really trust their pacer. Now that’s a pressure-filled pacing job – point out hazards and make sure your runner doesn’t trip!

  4. I’ve never paced anyone, but I’d love to try it! I think when I have friends doing 100 mile races, that will be fun, especially if they are seeing unicorns and Carebears and I’m all fresh and happy, haha

  5. I’ve paced my wife a number of times and her #1 pet peeve when being paced is talking about running…while running. Not sure if it helps, but she prefers to think about other stuff, so I need to come up with random things to talk about. So maybe you need a cue card (or mental one) of random conversation topics to come up with. That is, of course, unless the dreaded “don’t speak unless spoken to” rule applies!

  6. I giggled at your blog post title – Stone Cold Gumby. That just makes me laugh!

    In trail races/ultras, the rules are a bit more restrictive. No muling (carrying your runners drink or food or anything) and you have to stay behind/beside them, no leading. I’ve only paced a couple of times, but it is grueling (and rewarding).

    In my 1st 50 Miler a good friend paced me for the last 11 miles. I had to tell her to stop talking, even listening was too taxing!

  7. I will always be eternally grateful to RunWiki for pacing me in the 2011 Marine Corps Marathon—my first marathon (and by pacing, I mean she practically threw me over her shoulders and carried me from mile 16 to the end!). Around mile 20, I remember her quietly pointing out a runner ahead of me and saying “Come on Robin, you can beat her”. I set my sites on that runner for a couple of miles but eventually got distracted by the sensation of knives piercing my lungs and, at that point, I abandoned any desire to pass—I was in survival mode. I had forgotten all about this exchange until a few weeks ago when I was looking at one of the pictures from the finish. Low and behold, that runner is captured in the picture finishing behind me! Another highlight from my RunWiki pacing experience included the insanely delicious Pop Tart and orange gatorade that she and her husband had waiting for me around mile 15. I also chuckle when I recall her flirting her way past the Marine who tried to shuffle her off the course because she didn’t have a bib. RunWiki was the best pacer I could have ever asked for and it makes me smile to think that you’re going to be there for her in the same way that she was there for me!

  8. Your friend is lucky! I am sure you will do a wonderful job at pacing. I never really thought about everything that goes into it, although I paced my husband the last 3 miles of Shamrock last year.

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