For the first time in a while I won't be running a fall marathon.
My lovely daughter, Carol, is getting married in early October so most of my attention is focused on that exciting event. Later on I'll be running my 10th half-marathon, the aptly named Run-Like-Hell Half Marathon.
And for the fourth time in my life I'll be pacing someone for part of a marathon. Which got me to thinking about what makes a good pacer.
Some runners thrive on pace groups, where you start and (hopefully) finish the race with other runners all striving for a certain time goal. Others like me prefer either running by their lonesome or meeting new people along the way.
A solid number of my marathoning friends enjoy having someone jump in with them towards the end of the race. When a buddy joins you it can be invigorating, especially if you are feeling rough. And, let's face it - around the 20-mile mark most marathoners are struggling both physically and mentally.
The question is - what works best for runners at that stage of the game? Obviously it differs from one person to another but are there some solid winning moves that assure the pacer helps the racer?
My first experience pacing a marathoner came five years before I tackled the event myself. After meeting up with the runner at the 21-mile mark I began doing what she asked me to do. I jabbered.
The thought was that my mindless chatter would distract her from the pain and discomfort of those final five miles. Only several days after the fact she revealed: "Ellison, you could have told me you were flying to Sweden the next day for a sex change and it wouldn't have registered..."
Good to know. Flash-forward six years when I offered to help my best friend, Monica, navigate the final miles of the Newport, Oregon marathon. The goal was to secure her BQ (Boston Qualifying Time) on a fairly dull out and back course.
I wound up jumping in with her at mile 19 after realizing she was looking rough. At that point she was on track to BQ but was slipping in part due to having blasted through the first two miles of the race in less than 16 minutes. We really hadn't discussed what methods I should employ so I confess to winging it.
First I tried the Drill Sergeant method: "Come on! You can do this! Pick those feet up and move it!!!"
This earned me nothing. Next came the wheedling and pleading. "Just do it for me. Think about Boston! I know you can do this, honey!"
Lastly I confess I resorted to shame tactics. "You're not going to let so-and-so get to Boston before you, are you?"
Fortunately Monica had enough energy left at this point to send me a silent middle-finger message. Which I processed and used to shut off my mouth.
From there we limped into the finish. I cried because I felt I had let Monica down. She wisely chalked it up to a lesson learned and began looking ahead. (And, yes, she qualified a year later in Eugene, OR with a solid 3:38!)
My latest pacing adventure came at the 2009 Portland Marathon when I offered myself up to Jill Parker who was in town from Colorado. We had dinner the night before so Jill could give me some pointers on pacing her to yet another BQ.
I immediately failed to meet one requirement which was to provide Jill with a small peanut butter and honey sandwich at some point. The problem was I was doing a 10-mile training run before pacing Jill with seven of those miles at my half-marathon pace. I told Jill cramming even half a sandwich in my fanny hydration pack probably wasn't ideal.
Jill and I met up shortly before the 21-mile mark. This time I took my cues from her and my knowledge of the course. This meant trying to restrain her on a downhill stretch, knowing that a hill was on the other side of it. It meant telling her a couple of funny stories but all the while offering phrases such as "Good and steady....You're doing it...Great job, Jill!"
Just before mile 25 I turned Jill over to Sarah of Run Like A Mother fame. Who, as life would have it, has asked me to run her in the last 10k or so of this year's Portland Marathon.
Sarah and I have known each other for over six years so I'm hopeful that I will be able to pick up the correct signals and propel her towards Beantown. This will entail calling her "Champy" several times and, if necessary, humming songs from an obscure British rock group that only she and my husband are familiar with.
What works best for you, as the racer striving for a great marathon? And/or do you have any winning moves as a pacer that make you the go-to person for all your racing pals?