By Suman Silwal
The humble beginnings of my pacing journey happened at the 2013 Mercedes Marathon. Prior to pacing marathons, my race paces were all over the place. In 2013, I did not want to race the Mercedes Marathon, but I wanted to be a part of the marathon weekend. I had two options: be a volunteer or a pacer. I signed up with Coach Al DiMicco to be a pacer. This actually ended up making me both volunteer & pacer. It was a win-win situation for this runner.
My First Pacing Experience
In the 2013 Mercedes Marathon, I was teamed with Vanessa to pace a 4 hours 30 minutes (4:30) group. Vanessa, a very experienced marathon/ultra runner, told me that she could run an even pace as long as she knew how fast she was supposed to run. Before the race, we trained at our goal pace. At first, it was hard for me to keep a slow, even pace going. However, the more I trained, the more I started to enjoy the pace training.
Pacing was a new game for me. I needed to learn how to hold back and even pace from the beginning so that I would not run at full speed like I do for most races (yes, still). I am sure Vanessa was worried that I would take off as I always do. I assured her that I would stay calm and continue to be a student and co-pacer.
As the race started, even though my legs wanted to move faster, I held back. From the start, I talked to others around me and got to know them. As the miles progressed, I realized that this felt like a long training run with all my running buddies around me. In return, I was happy to help others to achieve their goals. I realized that this race was not about me finishing the race, but about getting others to the finish line.
We chattered about different things, mostly involving running. As we paced through the city of Birmingham, I learned a lot about pacing and being around other runners who had never covered such a large distance at this speed. For them, this was a fast race. Around mile 10, a runner who was following us fell and broke off her front tooth. I stayed with her as the team moved forward. As she got up and moved, she told me that she was fine and set on finishing the race. It is inspiring to see how determined runners can be.
As we came close to the finish, we took more struggling runners to our pace group and asked them to keep on pushing and stay with us. The motivator/coach side of a pacer had kicked in. When I crossed the finish line, I was very happy that I was able to pull off this new pacing gig with help of my trail running mentor Vanessa.
Second Year of Pacing
For 2014, I signed up for 3 pacing tasks at the New Orleans Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, the Mercedes Marathon, and the Publix GA Marathon. All 3 marathons were at different terrains with the same 4:30 group. Pacing helped give me a totally different perspective on running. I learned that we, the runners, are similar no matter where we go. We have goals and the mindset to finish. I enjoyed these races much more than when I went at full speed.
Chicago Marathon Pacing
As my friends were signing up for the 2014 Chicago Marathon, I really wanted to go with them as well. I just wanted to enjoy the city and run – no full out racing. Then I thought to myself, why not give pacing a try? I sent an email to the Nike Chicago Marathon pace coordinator. The coordinator, Paul, told me that he did not have any spots at that time, but still wanted me to send him a running resume including my pacing experience. I did not hear from Paul until late July about a few available pacing spots for the marathon. After a long conversation, we both agreed that I should stay with the 4:30 group where I feel the most comfortable pacing. Yes! I was in as a 4:30 pacer for the Chicago Marathon! It was one of my biggest marathon pacing experiences to date.
After traveling by bus, the train, and my own two feet, I arrived to the pacer tent at 6 A.M. for a pacers’ meeting on the race day. I noticed that the security around marathon village was much tighter this year than it was when I ran last time. I guessed it was an effect of Boston 2013. It was still dark, but I could feel excitement building even among pacers. As a new pacer for this marathon, I had to find my way around things. Finally, I ended up meeting other 3 pacers from the group. Between us, we had over 250 marathons worth of experience. I knew I was at the right place.
Even though our group did not start till 8 AM, we loaded up the G Corral with a 7:30 AM start group. At first there were hardly any runners on our corral; as the morning progressed, there were more runners gathering around. There were a lot of nervous runners who were also happy to be there. I talked to a few runners around me, getting to know them a little. Some runners from my local Birmingham even came by talk to me.
Once the race started, the fun really began. The Chicago streets had been completely invaded by runners from all around the world. It felt like water flowing through a big river, with different colored shirts and cheering crowds on each side of the streets. I knew these four and a half hours were going to be a fun journey through the streets of Chicago.
Streets of Chicago
The streets of Chicago were filled with people in the early morning. I loved the enthusiasm of the cheering crowd. In most small marathons, such a thing is very few and far between. A lot of the time, families are waiting on someone they know to run past. It is different for Chicago and a lot of big city marathons. People actually come out, cheer on marathoners, and enjoy their morning. I saw many places where they create a day of partying on their own. There were people of all ages, from kids to elders, cheering on runners. Live bands, music, and different acts were happening around us as well. With how big the Chicago Marathon is, you can tell that it is a well run marathon with a lot of intricate details. I felt that this race had more water stops and volunteers than any other races I have done so far.
Story in Side Story – Runners Running for Others
Many marathons bring people from different parts of the world for a singular cause, to make statements to themselves, to help charity, etc. I believe every runner has a story to tell. I found such a story as we were pacing through the streets of Chicago. I saw a runner with a flag. From afar, I knew there was something different about this runner and his flag. As I got closer, I realized what was going on. He was running in memory of his sister who died on 9/11. The flag had the name of each person who died that day as stripes.
Getting to the Finish Line
After a long journey on foot through the streets of Chicago, it always feels great to get close to the finish line. The crowd started to get bigger and bigger. I started to feel the normal marathon pain, but I could not stop. We kept going. As we made one last turn towards the finishing line, we knew we were home free now. I was so happy to finish the race with a nearly perfect finish time of 4:29:32! It was an emotional finish with a lot of hugs and thanks from fellow runners. A few runners said things such as “I could not have followed a better pacing time for my first marathon”, and “You guys were great”, and of course, “Thanks!” You know that made our day.
The first place we stopped after getting our medals was the beer tent. There, we had celebrations and waited on runners who had run the race with us. A lot of people came by, thanked us, and had some beer with us.
Reflection of a pacer
When I race, I hardly talk to anyone even during ultra distance races, which are 6 to 12 hours – or even longer. As a pacer, it was different. You couldn’t stop me from talking start to finish. To get the best out of pacing others, I feel that you need to learn to be a motivator, teacher, coach, counselor, newscaster, weather man, time keeper, story teller, and more. As a runner, it is easy to connect to each other, but for most, it is a new adventure and they are counting on a pacer. I also realized that it is hard to keep the same group from start to finish. There are always runners who we can roll in to help them finish those last miles with just one pat on back. Encouraging words, such as “let’s finish together” or “we are at almost at the finish, keep pushing”, may be all they needed to push through those last miles.
So what is my Happy Pace?
You may have guessed by now – if you guessed 4:30, you are correct. This is where I am most comfortable running, talking, helping and being a part of marathon events as mentor and coach. Even though I find joy in racing, the joy of pacing is much different.
How to become a marathon pacer?
The job of pacing comes with a lot of responsibilities that you may not want to deal with during a marathon, but it is still a fulfilling task. Not every marathon/half has a pace team. Contact your local race director or pace coordinator. If you are interested in pacing the Mercedes Marathon, contact Coach Al DiMicco at email@example.com.
Finally, what is your happy pace?
To Race Directors: If you looking for pacers, please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org