Friday, January 30, 2015

The Pacer's Ten Commandments

Not that I've served as a race pacer all that often (all of once, officially) but have observed enough, hung out with a few enough, and have heard from enough what makes a good pacer and what makes a great pacer. And, even worse, what makes a super annoying, not so awesomem pacer. I've paced a few friends to their first half finish line and to PRs. They've all been awesome, and very different.

So with that, I bring you my ten commandments of race pacing (you can take this as an official pacer, and even as not!):

1. Thou shalt not talk about yourself the whole race. 
It's okay to talk about yourself a little, maybe your experience, but use your time to learn about who you're running with - and better yet, who's running with you. Is it their first half? Do they have a few under their belt but are gunning for a big PR? Find out who's counting on you today!

2. Thou shalt be encouraging. 
Kind of a given, no? Especially for those folks struggling, trying to run their entire first 13.1 (or 26.2) or those trying to achieve that dream time, make sure you're encouraging everyone! "Looking good everyone!" and high fives with other pacers, just to show that you're looking out for everyone, regardless if they're in your group or not!

3. Thou shalt share your race strategy. 
Especially in a full marathon, I think this is super important. Are you going to pace to negative splits? Are you going to nail every mile to the exact goal time? Before you even cross the start line, share your race day plan with your group so they know what to expect from you and what to look forward to through the course.

4. Thou shalt say thank you to course marshals and volunteers. 
I try and make this a habit regardless of the race distance and if I'm running with others or by myself, but especially as a pacer, as you're 'officially' part of that race, thank those folks who woke up at o'dark thirty to hand you cups of water and bananas with the risk of having half the water dumped back on them. They deserve our thanks (and more than that) - make sure you show them as such!

5. Thou shalt not take yourself too seriously. 
Running should be fun - whether you're running, racing, pacing or not. You were chosen or picked up as a pacer because you can run the time comfortably. Don't act like you're better than others because the pace is 'slow' for you or it's an 'easy' way to spend your way. One of the best things a runner said to me at West Hills was, "Well, I can tell this is easy for you... so thank you for taking the time to do this for us!" I assured him every half was different and not always easy, but that sometimes, running for ease and for fun was the way to go! But him thanking me surely made my day.

6. Thou shall get to know those in your group. 
This goes with #1 primarily - get to know who's around. Who are the first-timers? Who are the veterans? Anyone coming back from injury? Who's gunning for a big PR? Get to know what people's goals are, and help connect them to each other, too, not just to you! The running community is good at that - be an example for it!

7. Thou shalt not push the limit. 
You're a pacer with a target time for a reason. If it was just about "Get People to the Finish," you could run all crazy paces if you wanted. But no - as a Team 2:30 pacer, my average pace was 11:27 per mile. One mile, thanks to the long, massive downhill, we were at an 11:05 pace at one point, at which I said to the group, "Alright, we picked up quite a bit of time, so we're gonna back off and ease into the next mile." Don't burn people out! Especially those with milestones in mind (BQs, PRs), you don't want to lead them out too fast and lead to a burn-out, resulting in them missing their goals. They're relying on you to pace them.

8. Thou shall communicate with your group. 
If you picked up the pace during a mile, let your group know so they don't freak out when you slow down all of a sudden. If you know there's a massive hill coming up and you plan to slow down a bit so you can cruise the downhill (or vice versa!), let them know. Don't leave your group wondering what you're doing when your pace changes on and off. You will have Garmin-watchers in your group - don't leave them confused!

9. Thou shalt not wear headphones, listen to music, e-books, etc.
There is all kinds of discussion about those wearing headphones during races, but especially as a pacer, don't wear headphones. That way, you can be the example runner in case you need to hear course marshalls, but also so you can talk with your group and be that motivating, encouraging person. It's only so fun when someone can only talk into one of your ears, or worse yet, have to yell over you jammin' to T-Swift while you're pacing.

10. Thou shalt come in not one second over the target time. 
When I signed up to pace the West Hills Half last weekend, one of the key expectations of us was that we would come in no earlier than one minute under time, and not one second over. Especially for those folks pacing for full marathons, you never know if someone is gunning for their BQ and one second makes all the difference. On the flipside, if they're running in group 2:30 with you and are appropriately trained for a 2:30, don't push them to faster and harder than that!

What other commandments would you add for pacers? 

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