Look Ma – I’m a Pacer!!
Just what is a pacer you ask? No – I am not a sleek orb of a disaster that AMC put on the road in the 70’s and while I’ve admitted on this blog that I sometimes wander in circles around my apartment – this is not what I’m talking about.
A pacer is someone who helps other people finish a race in a specific time. Or – at all. Faster runners may have a friend or two help them along the way. I’m not a faster runner so I can’t really fill you in on that but the last couple paragraphs of this article sum it up.
I was part of a pacer team helping runners finish their half marathon in 2 hours and 45 minutes and it was pretty awesome. I would have been nervous about it BUT I was pacing with Lara Mish – who I’m pretty sure has paced more half marathons than I have run – which is a LOT. So with that kind of experience – what could go wrong?
Nothing. Nothing went wrong. I know that’s like a writing device for “well let me now tell you all of the things that went CRAzy during the race!” – but nothing did. It all went to plan. It was a great day and I got to help some really nice people achieve their goal.
A huge thank you to Lara Mish for organizing all the pacers (all of them – for the half marathon and the full marathon) and for inviting me along for the ride!
What’s in a Name?
You: “What’s with the extra heading Chris?? I come here for a max of THREE headings. What am I supposed to do with this?!”
Me: “I don’t know. There was a lot to say about what Rock n’ Roll is and I didn’t want people who skip only to The Run to have to wade through it all.”
The Rock n’ Roll Marathon Series is a pretty well known, successful series of races put on by … Rock n’ Roll? That doesn’t make any sense. Oh wait – they’re owned by the IRONMAN group… more here if you’re interested but basically these folks are good at organizing large scale races. They encourage many many charities and build and maintain relationships with cities (you need permits and police support and medical support for these things) and the merchants in those cities (to help with travel and accommodations and tourism.) They put on good well supported races and that is something that isn’t easy to do.
Make no mistake – it’s a business but I think that’s ok. What some folks have been critical of in the past is that they will buy up smaller races (and organizers) only to eliminate the race a year or two later or even if the race does survive – it becomes this massive thing and the small local race and organizer are no more.
Also – Rock n’ Roll races feature LIVE MUSIC which I am all for. They may not be bands that you have ever heard of but they are good and they are playing songs you know.
The Run Before the Run
You: “Kaplan – you re KILLING me with he extra headings today. What the actual hell dude?”
I met Lara at Starbucks near my place. I ordered a coffee ahead of time and was just coming out of the store when she pulled up. I have only recently started drinking coffee on race day. I had stayed away from it knowing that it will cause problems with my stomach during the race howEVer I recently discovered that if I have it long enough before the race starts then I’ll have time to take care of it. Of course this means waking up earlier – and we all know how I feel about that.
On this day I would be up plenty early because of the ride in and also Lara needed to get a few additional miles in before the race for her marathon training.
We met a handful of Striders at the New Carrolton Metro station who were also pacing. Michelle (a long time running bud and absolute positivity machine), and a few new (to me) faces – Leslie, Sarah, and Jessica.
After a pretty short metro ride we emerged to some pretty decent running weather – though a little on the cold side. Lara almost immediately ran into her friend John Young who is running 12 marathons this year. You can read more about him here and here.
After the photo op we started a short run around the mall and guess what we found? BATHROOMS – not port-a-pots my friends – BATHROOMS. No lines and fully protected from the elements. We took advantage knowing that the lines near the start would be pretty long.
About two miles later we took our place in the starting corral. Pretty soon we were making conversation and listening to the stories of those people around us. Some were curious about what a pacer does – “what’s the 2:45 sign for…?” other folks were nervous about either running their first half or maybe this was their first big race since having children. One woman was running with her mom who was running *her* first half-marathon.
For me this was a really neat part of the day because it brought back a ton of feelings from when I ran my first half marathon back in 2010. I was nervous about wether or not I would be able to run the distance but my friend Eric (who is actually the person who got me into running in the first place!) ran with me the whole way and also ran with me in my first three marathons – but that’s a story for another time…I digress.
Ok NOW we can talk about the run… and listen – just because there have been extra sections and you’ve been reading all this extra stuff I can tell you “The Run” is not going to be all spectacular and interesting so I’m hoping at this point that you’ll just keep reading because you’ve put in the time and “I’m gonna finish this thing dammit!”
The thing that struck me as being so different about this race than any other I have run was that I felt almost like I wasn’t really running in it. I mean – I was there… I was running… but I was paying so much attention to the folks following us and my watch and mileage and pace. It’s not like I couldn’t focus on the here and now so much as the here and now did not belong to me. It belonged to the people who were following us. Those folks trusted us to get them to the finish and do it on time.
The race was not as crowded as I thought it would be. Maybe it was because of where we were in the pack, but even before the race started though the lines to the port-a-pots were long the place didn’t seem like wall to wall people. I liked this. Large crowded races are not my thing.
We made our way down Constitution Ave. where I tried to be a good tour guide. I learned that just because you work in a place does not mean that you know that place. I’ve even done a handful of runs downtown but I found myself drawing a blank on building after building. I was particularly drawn to the American Pharmacists Association building. First of all – what the heck? Second – why is it on the National Mall? Third – why does it look like the nondescript entrance to a massive underground operation? It’s super plain and super cool at the same time.
I did properly recognize the Lincoln memorial, the Kennedy Center, the Watergate Hotel, Georgetown and Rosslyn. It wasn’t after 6 miles or so of pointing these things out that I turned around and asked if anyone was from out of town. Thankfully – we had a handful of folks who had never seen the city so that worked out. If they had all been locals my plan was to then pretend like I was from Nebraska or Canada.
The later miles of the race had us running through parts of DC I had either never been in, or had only driven through. If nothing else I was left with a sense that this city was one that I wanted to know better. I don’t have a plan for that but hey – I start with an idea – *then* make a plan.
It wasn’t until the last mile or so of the run that any of our group started to express any concerns which I was very grateful for. My biggest fear as a pacer:
Runner: “I CAN’T DO THISSSSS”
Me: “YOU SO CAN DO THIS! YOU GOT THISSSSSS”
(everyone yells during a race BTW – at least in my head there’s dramatic music and sound effects – stay with me…)
Runner: Does not *actually* finish.
Yikes – what happens if I can’t motivate the runners enough to finish? What happens if I fail as a pacer?!?! Fortunately for me Lara is a coach – and also a coach of pacers and she told me this: “Your job is to finish the race in 2 hours and 45 minutes. That’s it.” I quoted her here but I think now I’m paraphrasing – in in the movie version in my head that exactly what she said to me, bombs going off in the background, music playing – you get the picture.
Not the Run
Lara was right though – even though as pacers we literally set the pace and do what we can to distract and motivate the runners – actually finishing is up to each individual. It sounds simple and obvious but I like that. Actually finishing is up to you.