Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Running Debate: Pacers

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 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. 


  1. I have never followed a pacer but I think they are fantastic. I love watching them with their little school of fish following behind :). They do have an important role because that school of fish is totally depending on them to carry them through. Like a mini coach of sorts. So I agree with you, to choose a pace that is too fast is just irresponsible. I know you are a nice person!

  2. I remember reading a good article about marathon pacers somewhere, and I forget which group it was (Nike, perhaps?) that requires that their pacers can COMFORTABLY run 30 minutes faster than their pace group.

    That sounds about right to me: I'm probably going for a 3:10-3:15 in Chicago and I would never DREAM of pacing a group any faster than 3:40. It's too easy for something to derail you and I wouldn't want to be responsible for hurting the group.

    Related question: trying to decide if I want to BE paced in Chicago. I've never run w/ a pace group before. What do you think?

  3. @ Marcus: I am still trying to decide if I want to be paced for Chicago as well. It is a tough decision. Although, I believe that the bigger the race, the better the pacers are and the more accurately they run. I guess you have to decide if you can run even splits on your own...or if you think it would help if another person totally concentrated on it for you so you could concentrate on other aspects of the race.