One tipsy night back in November, I signed up for the St. Petersburg Rock N’ Rock Half Marathon and, in my impaired state, I typed in 2:00:00 as my expected finish time. For some people this would not be a big deal, but this was 15 minutes faster than my previous best time!
Fast forward 3 months of not nearly enough training later, and it was race weekend. My friends and I laughed when we saw the expected time I registered for back in November. My excuse, “I was drunk!”
Race morning arrived and we said our “good lucks,” before I departed and made my way up to the corral with the other runners who registered with similar finish times as mine. I looked at all the runners around me and couldn’t help but feel a little guilty about my unrealistic expected finish time. In the 10 minutes I stood there alone before the gun sounded, I thought about how great of a feeling it would be to actually finish with this group of people and to earn my spot in the corral.
Three minutes into the race I spotted the group of 2:00 pacers. (A pacer is a runner participating in a race to help another runner maintain a particular pace—usually a faster and more demanding pace that may be too strenuous for the runner to achieve alone.)
One of the guys was waving a neon pink sign in the air with the numbers 2:00 handwritten on it. In addition to the sign, each member of the 2:oo pacer group had a neon pink bib on their back with the same goal time displayed on it. I decided I would stay with them for as long as possible.
I ran directly adjacent to the group of pacers for four miles. I was feeling great, but I didn’t want to jinx myself. I told myself to race smart – a term my cross country coach would often use to describe not using all your energy in the first half of the race.
Around mile five we took a corner and I ended up with the lead group of 2:00 pacers. I turned around and the main pacer with the sign was about 20 yards behind. I contemplated slowing down to stay with him, but I had to take a chance.
For the next four miles, my eyes were fixed on the runners with the pink 2:00 signs plastered to their backs. (After the race, we drove parts of the course and I barely recognized any of the scenery because I was so focused on the 2:00 signs.) If I felt myself begin to drag a bit, I would surge ahead. I knew if I allowed a big enough gap to be created that I would give up with my goal.
It wasn’t until mile 11 that I realized that not only was I probably going to finish in two hours, I may actually finish sooner! By this point, the group of pacers had spread out and another girl and I were the only two remaining from the original pack. The excitement associated with my anticipated finish time, helped me power through the pain I was feeling.
In the shoot to the stretch, my running companion powered ahead faster than I could. I was disappointed because I wanted to finish with her, but mostly because I was unable to thank her for pushing me through the race and helping me achieve a 20 minute PR (personal record)!
I crossed the finish line with my hands in the air at 1:55:33 (less than 9 min. mile pace) — this made the dry heaving at the end a little more tolerable!
Next time you compete in a road race, think about the impact a pacer can have on your end race time.