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).Â 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.”Â 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 veryÂ subjectiveÂ 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.” Â OK, but I’ll get you back later.
“You never know what their mood will be after the fatigue kicks in. Â 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.