Running is an inherently paradoxical sport: some love the solitary aspect of it, some prefer the social benefits – and while some run to beat new PRs or even qualify for events, others are completely content taking comfortable jaunts simply to maintain overall cardiovascular fitness.
Then there are people like me.
You see, it’s hard for some people to understand (especially non-runners) but I simply LOVE running. Fast, slow, alone or with a big group – it’s all good. Really! If I’m in shorts and my running shoes, I am generally a happy camper! So when the opportunity came up recently to help a friend improve her race time to qualify for a faster corral for an upcoming race, I jumped at the chance.
In previous races, I’ve ‘paced’ just one other person: my husband – once in a 10K and once for his first half marathon. For those events, we agreed on a comfortable pace range for him and aimed to maintain that through the race (even splits) and it worked out great. Since I already knew his personality, I knew when he’d want that extra push and when it might be better to just back off and let him settle back in.
For this next experience, it was with a friend that I had never run with before. This presented a few challenges: I was not 100 percent sure how she wanted to tackle the race, if she wanted to do straight running or a Galloway “run-walk” method (which has launched her to some great PRs, I might mention) or if she wanted to buckle down and race. Luckily for me, I love talking as much as I love running, so we hashed our battle plan pretty easily with two important questions:
In an informal setting like ours, these two questions were able to guide the rest of our experience: we were looking at a sub-10 pace and that we could split up if/when either one of us were comfortable with it, for any reason. Pretty easy parameters, right?
Race day came along and lessening the pressure on me a bit, she had received the news that she was already in the best corral for her next race, so this one would essentially be ‘for fun’ and training. Score! Any PRs would basically be a bonus.
The event was a 14K (roughly 8.7 miles, Valentine’s-themed) which meant it was a distance neither of us had formally run before. That was kind of neat – I put it in my head that we could aim for a 10K goal (58 minutes was what I had paced my husband to, which was about a 9:30 pace) so after the gun went off, we settled into a comfortable pace and chatted. She had an earbud in her right ear, so I stuck to her left side.
For four miles, I did my best to keep her mind off the running – only mentioning it to ask if she wanted to slow down, speed up or take any walk breaks. She brushed each one off and looked great, so we kept on.
Around Mile 5, she had plugged in her other earbud, so I took that as a cue that she had headed into the zone. We had not taken a single walk break, save for walking through the aid stations so I pulled to the left of the course and kept a 9:10-9:20 pace, glancing back to keep her in my sights. She commented at one water station that I was acting as a beacon, so I stuck that in my head.
She was still looking fantastic! Miles were ticking off, no problem. I glanced down at my watch and to my surprise, saw “58″ pop up on my Garmin right at 6.2! Her previous 10K had been 1:02…PR! Whoo! I jumped off the course for a moment to let people move ahead and shared the great news before getting right back to it Her smile told me that the rest of the mile and a half of the race was in the bag.
Right around a mile before the race was closing out, she gave me a look that said, “I got this” as we passed through a candy station. I gave her a quick thumbs up and knew that she was totally ready to finish strong and she deserved that moment! So, I reached down and sped toward the finish so I could be there at the finish line, cheering for her!
Now, in my previous pacing experiences, I had always aimed to finish AFTER my runner but in this particular situation, I don’t think it could have worked out any better. I was so proud seeing her cross that finish line and truly enjoyed every last minute of those miles! It also renewed my personal aspiration of taking more formal pacing roles in the future.
Have you ever paced someone? Have you been paced? What tips/tricks would you recommend? Please share in the comment section below.