By Kaitlin Wood
Pacers are those bright shirt-wearing, energetic, motivating people that keep you on track to finish a race on your terms in your time. They’ll play music, yell encouragement, tell silly stories – anything to help people cross that finish line with smiling faces. No matter the weather or the course, they’re there to help you. (As any 2013 Gazelle Girls know, all weather is possible during 13.1 miles through Grand Rapids, MI).
I trained with local running group RunGR to get ready for my first 25K in 2012 and was lucky enough to have our coach as the two hour club pacer that year. Before the race started, I let him know my goal was to stay with them and break two hours. Throughout the race, he reminded me of things I needed to do in order to reach my goal and wouldn’t let me fall behind.
In 2013, I didn’t have a set goal in mind for the Grand Rapids Marathon and I ended up running with a pace group that just happened to be running the same pace as me. At one point, around mile 24 and again at 25, I started slowing down a bit to just “take it easy” and a pacer swung back and scooped me up to get back with the group. When I crossed the finish line, I realized I had just set a personal record at a race that I planned to just run at a “whatever feels good” pace, and, to-date, it is still my fastest marathon. I never would have completed these two races at such great times without the aid of the pacers on the course.
Since then, I have been a pacer for the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon, LMCU Bridge Run and 5/3 River Bank Run. I try to get to know the names and faces around the starting line at each race I pace and learn what some of the goals of the runners are so I can properly encourage them along the way.
For those who have trained with a group over the past few months, running with a pace group is very helpful so you have people to talk to and make it feel similar to your training runs. Some prefer to run on their own, but find it helpful to just keep the pacers in sight. A good friend of mine, has learned first hand just how important this can be:
“I have been running for more than a few years now,” Jennifer Smitherman said. “I’ve run hundreds of 5ks and 10ks and I’m not sure how many half marathons anymore, and five or six marathons. By now, you would think I should have some idea of whether or not I could run a certain pace for ten miles. Definitely not the case.
“Like many runners I find myself battling with that nagging little voice that starts to say ‘maybe not. What if you can’t really do that pace for the entire way? You should slow down…’ This is where the pace group comes in to help keep me focused (and possibly distracted – whatever works!) and going strong. The pacer and fellow pace group members can keep your spirits up and your will to succeed strong. And all the cheerful banter blocks out any of the negativity that pops into your thoughts. There is camaraderie there – a team effort to meet that goal. With the help and support of a pace group, led by Kaitlin, I was able to run a sub 8 for ten miles for the first time two years ago at the ten-mile Bridge Run. I resisted the urge to slow down and was held back from going out too fast, and I could focus on the stride and breathing instead of checking myself against a watch. If I faltered at an aid station, I just had to find that group again and I knew I was still ok. I felt much more confident all the way through, and the success at the end was celebrated by every person in that group who had run every step right there with me. It was a great experience. Had I run it alone I doubt I would have beaten that inner voice that day.”
So when you toe the line to the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon, Fifth Third River Bank Run 25K or any other race, take a look around for the bright colored shirts that say “pacer” and bouncing pace signs. Say “hello” and let us know your goals for the race. Whether it’s to finish your first half or to get your first sub 2, we’re there to help you physically and mentally along the way!