You’ve probably seen them at the races, the start line, or maybe even the afterparty. Those brightly dressed people that are holding finish times on a stick in the air. They look pretty confident. How do they know exactly what pace they plan on running for the race? Well actually, that’s their job! (Not a “job,” really. They volunteer for the role.) The person you saw was a pacer, and if you use them correctly they can help you stay on track during the race and maybe even set a new PR!
Pacers are runners just like us, with a little extra training. In fact, if you’re running a race in your hometown you may even recognize some of your pacers. But whether you’re running on familiar streets or not, running with a pace group is a great race day plan to reach a particular goal, stay on track during the event, keep you from starting out too fast, or prevent you from fading in the final miles.
Connect With Your Pacers
If your race has pacers, it’s easy to find them at the start line. Again, they’ll be the ones with the signs indicating projected finish times. Simply line up with the appropriate group, and maybe even introduce yourself to the runners around you, too. You’ll be spending some time together. When the gun goes off, away you go!
If you’ve got questions about “how” and even “who” you’ll be running with on event day, it can be a good idea to meet your pacers and talk to them about your race day plan before lining up at the start. Most events that provide pacers make them available at the race expo. If you’re running Charlotte, we know they’ll be at the Novant Health Charlotte Marathon Expo. This is a great place to meet your pacers and ask some questions. Like most every runner, they LOVE to talk about running, too!
Even if you’ve run with a pace team before, don’t assume you know exactly how it will work at a race you aren’t familiar with. For example, if you line up on the wrong side of the street at the Marine Corps Marathon, your pacer may be far away from you. Having to catch up to them or slow down to run with them can throw a wrench in your race day plans. Bottom line, if you have questions, don’t hesitate to ask them.
Speaking of race day plans, let’s talk strategy!
Create Your Racing and Pacing Plan
You know the pace you are shooting for, but if you are running with pacers it’s important to understand exactly how you are going to achieve that goal.
Our suggestions for running with pacers:
- Stick with your pace group from the start of the race. Nothing will ruin your race faster than starting too fast with an adrenaline rush.
- If your goal pace is between 2 pace groups start with the slower group and have a plan to break away from them once the course begins to thin out after the first or second mile
- Pace groups are great if you are hoping to PR, set a BQ, or even seek your first finish, They can give you extra motivation and help you maintain your pace as you get further into the race.
- Understand a pacer or pace team’s goal is to set even splits throughout the event.
- If you realize mid-race that the pace group you are with is going too fast, no worries. Slow down immediately and focus on getting your effort levels in check, connect with another slower group, so you can still make it to the finish line.
- Pro tip: Create your plan BEFORE the race expo so you can talk with the pacers about it.
Insider Race Info!
Introduce yourself to the pacers at the expo. Talk to them about your plan, and what you are hoping to accomplish. Your pacer can talk to you about a choke point on the course that might slow you down. They’re your “insiders” and can give you information on the race that might not appear on the event website. They are there to help, so use them!
“Making the race day experience enjoyable for all participants is what I focus on when pacing a race. Running a race requires concentrating on a lot of things at the same time such as fueling, hydration, and pacing. Leave the pacing part to us!”
-Eric Smith, veteran Novant Health Charlotte Marathon Pacer
Running Your Race Pace
Now that you know your pacers and you’ve got your strategy, you’re ready for race day– be excited! But don’t get caught up in the frenzy that is race day morning. Stick with your plan – including your warm-up. May we suggest “The Perfect Warmup?” But be ready to adapt if the weather, the course, your body, etc., demand it.
Lastly, run your race! You’ve put in the miles to get this far. And when it’s all over, remember to thank your pacer. They’ll be just as excited for you and your accomplishment.