As I was doing my track workout tonight with 2 other women in the group, we were discussing pacing and pacers for races. We mostly agree on the topic, but it was first mentioned because other people in our running group do not hold the same opinions as us. A little background...
A pacer is a person in a distance race - typically half and full marathons - that carries a stick that has the goal time on it. For example, a pacer may carry the 4:00 sign for a marathon. That pacer should run 9:06/mile splits and theoretically cross the finish line at 3:59:59.
There is a lot of stress put on a pacer. Many people depend on them to meet their goal times. They need to be excellent at pacing. If they go to fast, they will have people drop out of their group because they will not be able to keep up with that speed. Those people will get mad, especially if they worked hard and really want to achieve that specific goal time (read: me in the Rockford half marathon). They also cannot go too slow because then they will not cross the finish line at the designated time.
Most likely, people sign up to be pacers for a group that is much slower than their normal time. In addition to running even splits, they also encourage the runners to keep going and tell them how wonderful they are running during the race. In essence, they are also the on-course cheerleader.
A few people from my running club signed up to be pacers at a marathon last weekend. One lady, who has paced many marathons, crossed the line 12 seconds ahead of her time (4:30). I was impressed! Another was close to his time as well. Then, the debate comes in...
One girl from the group paced the 3:55 group for the marathon but ended up dropping out due to a hamstring issue. (Side note: I'm not sure if I believe her, as she was a speed work tonight running hills with the other track group...if it was that serious, I wouldn't be running, let alone hills.) She was the only pacer for that group, so the group was left on its own after she dropped out.
I feel like pacing 3:55 is a really important job; more so than other pace times. Many people want to break that 4-hour barrier so running with 3:55 is a reasonable thing to do. The girl that signed up to be the pacer isn't that fast...I honestly don't know if she could run that on her own right now. I realize that sounded like a snotty comment, but it is just honest. I'm actually a nice person...I swear!
I personally believe that a pacer should never pace a group where the pace is too fast or even causes them to breathe a smidgen hard. They should be anaerobic the entire race and be able to easily converse with those in the group to provide motivation for all 26.2 miles. I would not understand why you would sign up to pace at a pace that you could not do...it is selfish and very self-centered. Think about everyone else relying on you to get them across the finish line.
It makes me sad that some people cannot think about others' goals before their own. I have no desire to sign up for a pacer right now, but if I did, I would do it at least 1:30+ my average time for that race. For example, if I were to pace a half marathon, I would pace a 9:30 or 10:00 group.
What do you think about pacers? How important is their role? Would you drop out of a race?
In other news, I signed up to run a 5k on Saturday. I'm excited for it.