Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Pace Makes The Race

In horse racing there is an old saying that “pace makes the race”. Come to think of it, there are lots of sayings in horse racing. But, that is perhaps a topic for a different time.

In recent years, it has become common place for pacers to appear in marathons to assist less experienced runners at the distance. As runners we all want to run fast (“fast” being a relative term, of course). But in the marathon discipline, fast early means crawling late. That is where the more experienced runners that pacers are become valuable – they help runners dole out their effort over a course longer than they have ever run. If all goes well, pacer and followers alike hit the finish line more or less on time and more or less still alive and kicking.

I have never used a pacer. Well, I have never used one in the traditional sense. Last November in New York I felt like my training was adequate to get me around the five boroughs in about 3:45. When problems set in at mile eight and then mounted thereafter, I knew I was in some trouble. Hitting the half in 1:47 was little consolation as the problems continued to mount. What hitting the half in that time really did was tell me I had messed up. But, where the pacer came in was later on about mile 18 or 19 when the 3:45 pacer went by (with group in tow) I was able to use that information to confirm what I had expected earlier in the race. It was now confirmed I was cooked.

I said all that to say this: pacers, to my knowledge, have never been used in a half marathon. Nevertheless, I have received a few e-mails from runners planning to do the half (the “mini” as we like to call it) who wanted to know about pacers for that race. My advice to them so far has been to double your goal time then follow the marathon pacer for that time. In other words, if your goal is to complete the mini in 1:45, follow the 3:30 marathon pacer. That advice did not sit too well with at least one e-mailer by the name of “John”. He was pleasant about it though. In fact, he suggested I ask you. So I am. Do we need pacers in the miniMarathon?

Now, before you answer, be advised KDF does not control the pacers in our race. It is a group who came to us offering their services and we were thrilled (and still are) to have them. So, I cannot guarantee pacers for 2009 or, for that matter, 2010. So, the real question I am asking you the runners is: Should I ask for them? John certainly thinks so. Is he way off here?

By the way, (and off subject here), did you see this article?

Check out page 8. They got the name wrong, but for those of you from here you can take some pride; those of you not from here have something to look forward to. Hopefully, our other 12 and 25 miles will be just about as “ultimate”.

Okay, back on subject: send me your comments. What do you think about pacers for the miniMarathon? You can comment below or you can e-mail me at

Now, back to your regularly scheduled goofing off at work.

Wendell Jones
Race Chair


john said...

I would strongly support pace team for runners of the mini. 80% of the runners are doing the mini and for most it is their longest, hardest race of the year. There is a different mindset between marathon runners and mini runners. Any help is appreciated. Pacer Jim does have pace teams for the half at the Air Force Marathon and the pace team leaders will address specific concerns that the runners have. For me, it is hard to keep my focus and stay on pace in Iroquois Park and at mile 10. Thanks for soliciting comments.

hogenmogen said...

I don't see the rationale for a separate pace team for the half marathon runners. The split off for the half is at mile 12. Either you're pretty well set at that pace for the final mile or you're not. Taking your half-marathon time (and I NEVER call it the "mini" - there's nothing "mini" about 13.1 miles) and multiplying by two isn't exactly the same as calculating integral calculus in your head, especially if you have trained and done the math behind pace vs total time vs mph vs kph and heart rate. The point is that there is this moving target that you have to keep up with.

An alternate method would be to have a volunteer pacer stationed at Breckenridge, where the two routes split, and the second pacer picks up where the marathon pacer left off. Volunteers would be easier to find, as they would only have to run one mile, and they could conceivably circle back to the split to do more than one tour of duty. I don't believe they're necessary, but it is just a suggestion.

Guy said...

I don't see any need for extra mini-marathon pacers. There is so little left to run after the split, if you have kept up with a pacer for 12 miles, you're going to make it to the finish line. Even if you accidentally speed up a little, you won't run out of fuel in less than a mile and have a catastrophic finish.

Pacing is MUCH more important for the full marathon. I don't mean to belittle a 13.1 mile race (it was tough on me the first time I did it), but it just doesn't compare to the beating your body takes on longer runs. I'm training for my first full marathon, and I had all the confidence in my ability to complete it until my long runs passed the 14 mile mark. Running beyond that distance is entirely different, and every mile gets increasingly harder and more painful. Proper pacing is about more than getting a desired time. It helps prevent injury and collapse.

Again, no offense, but it just isn't necessary to have a pacer for your final mile of the Mini.

Anonymous said...

This is not rocket science. I have run with pace teams for a full marathon when I am doing a half. There is just simply a different mind set and different outlook among the runners. Having a pacer running the half meets the needs of the runners who are trying for a specific time goal for the half. All I am asking for are pacers to run the half with us. The split is closer to mile eleven and it helps to have someone come in with us.

wowo said...

I ran the St. Jude half marathon in Memphis with the marathon pace group and had no problems meeting my goal time. Having two sets of pacers is unnecessary.

Guy said...

Responding to "Anonymous" above: You are missing the point of pacers. People following the pacers for the marathon do not have a certain time as their priority. Rather, they don't want to accidentally run too fast at the beginning, which can spell catastrophe in the later miles.

You don't seem to be worried about your ability to finish the Mini, but that is not the case for first time/novice Marathon runners like me. During my preparations for my first half, I never worried about my ability to finish. I still had to work hard, but I could always tell that I had it in me.

I can't say the same about the marathon. The training has been eye opening and humbling. Right now I just hope I can finish without collapsing or suffering serious injury (as I'm expecting minor injuries to be the reality for a first marathon). Having an experienced pacer takes on a whole new meaning with this type of goal in mind.

Anonymous said...

Guy is right. But it also underscores the difference between runners who are doing the mini and those who are doing the full marathon. I ran with a pacer for the half marathon at the air force for the time of 2:15. The group of us who ran with him had the common goal But pacers offer support and encouragement to the runners with them. I still think that with 80% doing the mini, that they deserve their own pacers if it is possible.

stacey said...

One thing, for the Air Force Marathon, the half starts an hour after the full. Hence, the need to separate pacers. If the half and the full are starting at the same time, why not double the time and run with that pace group?

Pacer Jim said...

I thought that I should comment to clear up any confusion. The Pace Team is for both Full and Mini marathoners. We all start together and run the same course. The Mini splits off at mile 12 and by then the Mini runners in the pace groups are together as a group and they run to their finish line. The Pacers continue on with the Full marathoners to their finish. Everyone is welcome to run with the Pacers. If you need more information please look at the Pace Team page on the website. We will look forward to running with you.