Pace Yourself

I’ve been running marathons and half marathons for over 15 years, but I tried something for the first time at the 2012 Helvetia Half Marathon — Paula asked me to pace the 10 min/mile runners. “Sure,” I thought. “How hard could that be?”

I’ve followed a few pacers in my time, I suppose. And they were always right on the money with their pace. I think they were usually faster runners just running slower than their usual pace for some reason. The event may not have been one of their goal events or they were just giving back to the sport in some way.

I’ve been keeping up with our training schedule this season and just ran the Rock ‘n’ Roll Portland Half Marathon, so I knew I was capable of keeping up with the general overall pace (though just barely). But I did have some other immediate concerns:

I don’t wear a watch when I run anymore.
Over the last 15 years, I’ve tried almost every gadget. But for the last couple of years, I’ve gone au naturel. Well, at least when it comes to running gadgets. I used to have the footpod, heart rate monitor, the fancy watch (some veteran Yellows may remember my hydration alarm that beeped at me every 5-minutes reminding me to take a swallow), and the phone app that talked to me, though I still haven’t tried that Zombie Apolalypse running app. Instead, I’ve just been taking it easy and not worrying about my time. I run for stress relief, so I wanted to avoid the artificial stress of worrying about my pace or my finish time.

I don’t run a constant pace.
AC Jess likes to say she “trains Red and races Yellow.” I prefer to run the Portland Fit rainbow – I strive to spend a little time in every color group, including walking (Purple) through the aid stations and sprinting (Blue) in the finisher chute. Negative splits means running (or walking) the second half of the race faster than the first, and I always feel better after a race if I use that strategy.

Helvetia is hilly.
When you pace, are you supposed to run a constant 10 min pace the entire way? Can I just average 10 minutes over the course of the event? I struggle up hills, but run fast downhill. My favorite leg of Hood to Coust is Leg 1. Any other leg sounds hard.

I, of course, didn’t mention any of these concerns to Paula. Except the bit about the watch. She helped pair me with one of those new Garmin watches. No footpod, no extra gadgets. And it’s fantastic. I may convert back to my old ways of tracking my heart rate, pace, and distance again. Visit Portland Running Company if you’re interested.

So I made it to the start, wrote 10 min/mile on one of Paula’s yellow pacing balloons tied it to my Pfit hat, and posed for a picture with her other pacers. I was ready. Or so I thought. During the race, I had a series of revelations:

This is too easy. Since I haven’t been running with a watch, I wasn’t exactly sure what 10min felt like. In the old days, I could nail it. Now I wasn’t so sure. We hit the first mile a little slow. My watch was close, but it was a little off (10 seconds) from when we passed the marker. Mile 2 was the same, then we hit some hills.

It was too easy. Whoops, we’re at mile 5 and I’m a full minute behind schedule. We’ve hit some big hills, so maybe we can make it up on the downhills. I chat up my fellow 10 min folks and tell them we’re going to go a little faster downhill.

Now it’s easy. Coming off the hill after the Little White Church, we start flying down. And I might have gone a little too fast. But we do make up some good time. By mile 8 we are within 10 total seconds of where we should be at eighty minutes + 10 seconds.

3-2-1-mark! I begin to get the hang of the pace and from mile 8 through 12 we are slowly dialing it in. We cross Mile 12 at exactly 2:00:00. Bam! I am the best pacer ever. “OK, everyone, eleven minutes to the finish. We can do it!” I can sense folks start to pick up the pace around me while I tried to dial it in and keep an even pace, letting them pass me to reach their goal times. This is nice, running easy, not worrying about my own finish time. Just. Need. To. Stay. Even.

As I make the turn into the stadium, I check my watch and something’s up. How can it be almost 2:11 already? It should be 2:11 at the finish line, not as I hit the stadium! Ugh. I kick it up a bit and cross the finish line in 2:11:20. Weird. How could I be right on the money at Mile 12 and then slow down to a 10:20 pace for the last 1.1 miles? I guess all those folks passing me should have been my first clue. My effort to stay even just resulted in an overcorrection. Worst. Pacer. Ever.

Portland Fit History: Back in the early days of Portland Fit, we used to participate in a 15 mile race called the “Silicon Corridor Predict.” It was a fun race where the goal wasn’t to cross with the fastest time, but rather the winner was the person that came closest to their predicted finish time. I think I came in 7th place once being off about 15 or 20 seconds. There was a Red runner that was within two seconds to win!

If you are looking for something new on your training runs or a race, try predicting your finish time and see how you do. Or maybe you can be a pacer at an upcoming event. Just don’t make the same mistakes that I did!

Stay fit,
John