Race Recap: Lake Chabot Trail Challenge 2017

If 2016 was a year of super consistent running, then 2017 has so far been the polar opposite. As I’ve complained all year, I’ve yet to find my groove, whether that’s been due to burnout, lack of motivation, and/or life/work events. After a grueling race at the Cinderella Half, I had a week off before I dove into a full week of 12-14 hour work days (not including commute). This left me very little time at home, let alone run. So, for the first time in a long while, I ran zero miles for a week.

The day after the crazy week at work ended (and one week before the Lake Chabot Trail Challenge, or LCTC), I slept in and went on a trail run, thinking my legs would be all rejuvenated. Hm, maybe my legs were fine, but I was definitely still very, very tired. I cut my run short, though I did make myself ascend one of the steep hills just to make the run feel worthwhile.

I continued to have short, crappy, sluggish runs the week before LCTC. So, when race day rolled around, I didn’t have high expectations. Because of some construction going on at Lake Chabot, the course was different than in years past. This was in some ways a relief, as I wouldn’t have a point of comparison to past years that I’ve run this race (2012, 2015). Also, coming off a tough race at Cinderella, I really just wanted to finish feeling strong (i.e., not like death). My plan was to start easy, and try to run as consistently as possible during the race. I didn’t have a specific time goal, but I thought it would be nice to finish in less than 3 hours. Since I wasn’t racing with friends, I decided to bring music with me to keep my spirits up. I don’t normally race with music, especially on trails, but I made an exception this time.

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Strava GPS trace (full activity details here)

Pre-race activities all went smoothly. It’s such a small race that logistics are really easy. At 10 minutes to race start (5K runners started 30 minutes after the half marathon), there were announcements and directions. Then the kids of the Lake Chabot Track Club, which this race benefits, came out and did a little sprint warm-up in front of us. Right around 8:00 a.m., the race director did a count down and then we were off!

As planned, I stayed in the back of the pack for the initial miles. The first (and last) 1.5 miles of the course are paved, and people have a tendency to go off too fast. I took it as a warm-up and didn’t think twice as people passed me. I had to make a quick pit-stop as I forgot to go for a pre-race pee (TMI). Fortunately, there are pit toilets all along the first part of the trail. I was in and out in less than a minute.

The rest of the race went according to plan – except for one hiccup (*foreshadowing*). On the hilly portions, I thought about a trail running podcast where one of the hosts said that runners have a tendency to run up hills too fast/hard and down hills too slow. So I made sure I wasn’t charging up hills and ran more aggressively down them. I ended up passing ~10-15 people this way, and only one runner passed me back up.

The other thing I made sure to do was take in a lot of sugar. I knew I wasn’t well-trained, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to make sure my glycogen stores were topped off at all times. I ended up eating 2 gels and 4 clif bloks, and drinking 3 cups of Gatorade. I guess that’s not a ton, but it seemed like a lot at the time!

OK, so the one bummer of the race happened in the last part of trail – less than a half mile before the pavement. I was cruising downhill, excited to be almost done, when I tripped on a rock (or myself, who knows) and flew forward. I might have been able to ease my fall a bit had my left calf muscle not seize up at the same moment. I scraped up my left hand and right knee, but I appeared OK otherwise. After a few gentle steps of walking, I started jogging again.

Finally, I got to the paved portion and I felt I had enough left to finish strong. I passed one more runner, then crossed the finish line in 2:35:46 – much faster than I expected! (Note: I expected to finish around 3 hours because the race website had listed the elevation gain/loss at 2200′, but my GPS and others have it closer to 1700-1800′ gain/loss. I’m not sure why there’s such a huge difference, but I’m not complaining!) I went to the medical tent and got my knee and hand cleaned up – which I think was instrumental in how fast they’ve been healing.

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My gnarly knee

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Elevation profile in gray, pace in blue, GAP pace (adjusted for elevation) in purple.

Post-race thoughts:
I was really happy with how I executed this race, given my general level of fitness (or lack thereof). It was mostly a mentally-driven performance in many ways. Of course, I wish that I hadn’t fallen, but I supposed that’s par for the course given how clumsy I am. I didn’t do as well as I thought in the standings, but that all depends on who else shows up on race day. The LCTC was the second race in the East Bay Triple Crown, and it usually draws some good local runners. The other thing that struck me was how much easier it was to run on fire roads and non-technical terrain (Captain Obvious here). Compared to Cinderella, LCTC had significantly less rooty and rocky trails with tricky footing, making it a much faster course. Anyway, all in all, LCTC was a pretty good race for me!

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Victory!

Official results:
2:35:46 (11:53/mile)
6/10 AG, 38/57 F, 114/144 overall

Race logistics can be found in previous reports (2012, 2015). Or, feel free to ask questions below in the comments.

 

Posted in Race Recap, Trail running

Race Recap: Cinderella Trail Half Marathon

Back in 2012, the Cinderella 10K was my second ever trail race. It was in some ways the perfect introduction to trail racing – a brutal but scenic course, with technical terrain to constantly remind me to pick up my feet. In fact, I fell halfway through the race, and ended up spraining my thumb (I was holding a handheld water bottle and fell with my hand still clasping the bottle, but my thumb decided to go the other way.)

Fast forward 5 years and many more trail runs and races, I decided to sign up for the Cinderella Half Marathon. My main motivation was to run with DD, who had signed up for the 30K as a training run for next month’s Big Basin trail marathon. My other motivation was to force myself to keep doing some long runs, and hope that my growling laziness wouldn’t take over. I also love portions of this course – in particular, Sequoia-Bayview in Joaquin Miller Park and the French Trail in Redwood Regional. If you’re ever in Oakland, I highly recommend that you hike or run these trails; they’re fantastic.

I woke up race morning with a sore throat. Correction: I tossed and turned all night with a sore throat. I debated for about 2 seconds whether I should bail, and decided to table the decision until I got to the race. I could always downgrade to the 5 mile race (they’ve changed the course since 2012, switching the 10K to 5 mile, which makes all of the distances – half marathon, 30K, marathon, and 50K – easier to handle logistically). It was really cold that morning – probably in the mid-40’s? I decided to bring my hydration pack so that I could start out with a long sleeve and stuff it in the pack if I got hot (which I did).

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Start line selfie! (Photo credit: AS)

DD’s friend JO was also running the 30K, and our friend AS ended up getting a free bib from an internet friend for the half marathon. The 4 of us started together, but within the first quarter mile, JO shot off like the speedster that she is. We didn’t see her for the rest of the race. AS, DD, and I had a nice time chatting, running along at a relaxed pace and hiking the steep parts. Because of the technical terrain (mostly loose rocks and big rutted holes), we had to hike many of the downhill sections as well.

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Elevation gain: 2,370′ over 13.22 miles

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Gorgeous redwoods

It was a tough course and without looking at pace, I would say that I ran consistently throughout the race and felt fairly good. Approaching the 3 hour mark though, I was ready to be done. DD ran ahead, and soon AS was also a few runners ahead of me. I think we were all getting impatient. There was a tricky section of single track where I moved over for a passing runner and fell into a ditch and rolled my right ankle. Argh. Luckily, I was able to run through it. A few minutes later, I came to a complete stop as another runner had taken a bad fall and was blocking the path, with about 6 other runners stopped making sure she was OK.

Fortunately, there were no hiccups after that. I knew from the 2012 race that the finish feels like it comes out of nowhere, so I kept pressing on even though I was tired. I saw that AS was slowing down too, so I optimistically yelled out, “I think we’re almost there!” And sure enough, we turned a corner, went over the tiniest of hills, and ran into the glade where the finish corral awaited us.

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Finish line “sprint” (PC: Coastal Trail Runs)

I finished in just under 3:18, my slowest half marathon to-date. But it was a technical uphill and downhill course, and I knew I wasn’t in the best shape. I was happy to finish strong despite the impending head cold. I celebrated my race with an ice cold Coke from the cooler.

It’s fun to think about how many trail miles I’ve run in the past 5 years. I’ve certainly learned a lot and experienced some beautiful vistas. I look forward to exploring many more trails in the future!

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Cheers to another finish!

Official results:
time: 3:17:57 (14:53/mile)
5/9 AG; 98/133 overall

**

Race details:
Organizer: Coastal Trail Runs
Distances: 5 mile (60 runners), half marathon (133), 30K (28), marathon (25), 50K (16)
Cost: I think I paid $40 or 45? As usual, registering early is cost effective. Skip the shirt to save another $5.
Parking: free parking along Joaquin Miller Road, though DD says her car has been broken into many times there (I have yet to experience that). There was also parking inside the park. I don’t know if there was a fee.
Bathrooms: 2 porta potties set up at the road, and 2 more set up near the flushing toilets.
Aid stations: They’re pretty far apart, so I would definitely bring my own water and back-up fuel. For the half, they were at mile 2.8, 8.2, and 11.3.
Terrain: Everything from relatively level, easily runnable trail, to slippery, rocky single track. I did get a rock in my shoe at some point, so maybe gaiters would have been good.
Tips: This is a challenging course — the ascents are steep and lung busting, and the descents are treacherous. I was glad to be running “just” the half marathon. I wouldn’t want to run two loops of this course like the full marathon and 50K runners did! Register to run pretty and tough trails, not for a fast time.

Posted in Uncategorized

The Running Sweet Spot

I’ve run a lot of different race distances from 5K to 50K. Lately, I’ve thought a lot about what my favorite distance is… or rather, what my least favorite distances are. I’m currently in the frame of mind that longer isn’t necessarily better. Some might accuse me of being bitter after having a disappointing race at my last marathon (CIM) – and I think that there’s some truth to that. But the more I think about it, the more I realized that I’ve never really enjoyed running longer than 2.5 hours – either in training or during races. For me, that translates to about 15-16 miles on roads and 12-13 miles on trails. The one time I can actually remember having FUN while running longer than 2.5 hours was when I had a magical day at the Santa Rosa Marathon. Sure, I’ve had the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction following a 20-mile training run, but never joy or fun. Maybe I need to run more of them? I’m not sure I’m invested enough to try. When I think about why I don’t want to run another marathon in the foreseeable future, 3+ hour long runs are at the top of my list. Even when I’ve had company, even in decent conditions… I don’t know if it’s because I’m not fueling enough (2.5 hours seems like the point when you enter glycogen depletion) or if I just get bored. Or maybe physiologically, I’m not meant to be a marathoner.

When I think about the times I’ve been happiest running, it’s almost always between 6-10 miles. I should clarify: not 6 miles into a road 10K, but 6-10 miles into a half or full marathon. I’ve literally been giddy with joy as I cross the 10K mat numerous times, not knowing how hard I would bonk later in the race. I’ve also really enjoyed the 2 ten-miler races I’ve done. They didn’t hurt as much as a 10K but I still felt like I put forth enough effort to warrant a substantial breakfast as a reward. I’ve felt similarly after a tough trail 10K race. So, I guess my sweet spot is about 1-2 hours of running.

What about you? Do you have a sweet spot – either race distance, time on your feet, or weekly mileage?

Posted in random

Steps in the Right Direction

I’m finally beginning to see the light at the end of the (low motivation, very fatigued) tunnel. I went to see Dr. W, my general practitioner, on Monday and had a complete blood panel done. Dr. W suggested we look at the usual suspects (iron, vitamin B, thyroid hormone). I asked her,”What if the tests come back and there’s nothing obvious?” I was a bit afraid that it was all in my head. I mean, who DOESN’T feel tired these days? If that happened, she recommended that I “top everything off” with a daily multivitamin. She said it wouldn’t hurt and could only help if I was just slightly (but not detectably) deficient. So, I dutifully went to the store and picked up a women’s multivitamin and have taken one everyday. So far, so good.

The great thing about Kaiser (my healthcare provider) is that they believe in transparency. They emailed me the results as they came in, along with the normal range and a link to find out more about each test. I still need to consult with Dr. W, but from what I understand, I’m very deficient in vitamin D and magnesium, and my ferritin levels are low for a runner. Everything I’m about to write needs to be predicated with this disclaimer: I may be a doctor (Ph.D.), but I’m not that kind of doctor (M.D.), so everything I say should be taken with huge grain of salt. I will say that I’ve found the NIH’s Office of Dietary Supplements page to be extremely informative.

From what I’ve read, it’s very difficult to accurately assess magnesium levels, so I’m not going to focus on my supposed magnesium deficiency (for now). My vitamin D levels are substantially lower than the recommended levels, and that wasn’t completely surprising given our rainy, dark winter. The best source of vitamin D is sunlight – it’s recommended that everyone gets 15-30 minutes of full sun exposure 3-4 times a week. Since I’ve been running early in the morning, a lot of my winter runs were in the dark or just at dusk. Fortunately, this past week has been much sunnier, so I’ve been working hard on “making” vitamin D. The confounding thing is that the symptoms related to vitamin D deficiency (mostly bone weakness and osteoporosis) aren’t the symptoms that I’ve been having (profound fatigue). Still, it’s good to know that my vitamin D levels are low so I can try to increase my bone strength and hopefully stave off any stress fractures.

The ferritin is the most interesting result to me as a runner. Ferritin is the protein that stores iron, while hemoglobin is the protein on your red blood cells that carries iron and oxygen around your body. My hemoglobin levels are normal, but my ferritin levels are low. Actually, I’m technically on the low range of normal (25 ng/mL), but according to this post, runners are recommended to have 40 ng/mL. According to the same article, as many of 50% of female runners are iron deficient, due to low iron intake (in their diets), menstruation, and loss through the GI tract. Moreover, iron is required for more than just oxygen transport, it’s also needed for oxidative metabolism. Therefore, runners who have low iron stores may suffer in performance due to multiple mechanisms.

Before I start downing iron supplements, however, I want to talk to Dr. W. There are risks involved in having too much iron and vitamin D. For now, I’m playing it safe and taking a daily multivitamin. It might all be in my head, but I’m already feeling better – my runs this week have been pretty decent. In particular, my 9.7 mile trail run this morning felt substantially better than many of my long runs of late. Hooray!

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Running happy at Lake Chabot today

Posted in random

More Rambling

Hi again! Thanks to those of you who commented on my last post about lack of motivation and gave me encouragement and suggestions. Upon further reflection, here’s what I’ve concluded:

  • My lack of motivation extends beyond running. I’m actually thinking that there’s something physically wrong with me (maybe low iron levels, B12, etc.?) so I’ve scheduled an appointment with doctor this week. Hope to get some answers soon.
  • I realized that I’ve put some artificial constraints on myself in regards to scheduling time to run/workout. I need to reconsider some of these self-imposed restrictions to give myself more flexibility and less stress. For instance, I’ve become so used to being a morning runner that I’m having a hard time switching over running in the afternoon. Since I’ve been so tired, I would like to sleep in, but running during the workday also means staying a bit later at work. I know I’d rather *not* stay later, but if it means getting more sleep and being less stressed about going to bed by a certain time – so be it!
  • I need to break out of my normal running routine. I’m OK with running a familiar route, but maybe I’ll run a loop counterclockwise instead of clockwise, or take some detours. On Tuesday, I turned off the autolap function on my Garmin so I don’t look at pace at all. Before each run, I’ve been asking myself, “What would make me happy or excited to do this run?” So far, the answers this week have been: run a new loop south of campus, reintroduce a bit of interval training in the form of fartleks (oh hai speed), and go out for a medium length run (instead of forcing myself to do a long run) without any expectations or goals.
  • Consider why I have certain mental blocks to things and try to remove the obstacles. So, this one is kind of random, but one barrier to me running at work is dragging all of my stuff on BART. When I look at the contents of my bag, though, it’s not a lot of stuff – just clothes and my running shoes. What I realized is that I don’t like the BAG that I use… and if it’s one thing I learned from the Konmari method, it’s that things can help or hinder you mentally/emotionally in a subconscious way (as weird as that sounds). I don’t love my messenger bag that I currently use. It does not bring me joy. It’s bulky and heavy and I don’t like the looks of it (it’s what I get for buying it on clearance). The solution to this problem is easy: buy a new bag. So, I did some exhaustive research and ordered a bag last night. Some of the other barriers (like not having a locker room or shower at my work) will continue to be a problem, but I think (hope!) the new bag will be helpful.

Something I should’ve said before is that this post and the last post are full of first world problems. Yes, if there’s something physically wrong with me, that’s definitely a real issue. However, lacking running motivation is just not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. That said, thanks for letting my whine about it. 🙂

Posted in random

Change of Plans

Happy Easter! Before I start this post – a quick shoutout for the Donate Life 5K/10K in Walnut Creek on September 9, 2017. 2016-Run Walk Logo

From their website: “Funds raised from the event go towards education of organ and tissue donation in the community, hospitals and outreach efforts as well as our annual Donor Family Gathering and research.” Registration is only $25 and goes up on April 30th. They’re also working on getting me a discount code to distribute to y’all, so stay tuned.

(p.s. I wasn’t compensated to advertise this race; just hoping to help out a local charity race. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming…)

**

Get ready for some serious rambling/navel gazing!

At the beginning of 2017, I decided to make running trails my goal. Part of this goal was running 6 trail half marathons as part of the Brazen Ultra Challenge. Unfortunately, with the relocation of the Badger Cove Half to Wildcat Canyon last month, I decided to scrap that goal because it meant I’d have to race at Wildcat Canyon twice in 2 months, and pay for the privilege of doing so.

In the meantime, I’ve been contemplating my running goals, which has been difficult mostly because of lack of motivation. I knew that, even as I was training for CIM last year, I was facing serious burnout, but I didn’t realize how bad it would be. I recently just celebrated a 5-year blog-a-versary here at Running Tangents (yay!) and during that 5-year span, I’ve had a few dips in motivation here and there, but nothing as bad as these last 5 months. It’s not just mental/psychological (which I partially blame on the current President), but I also feel like crap physically. Since I’m not running much, I expect my legs to feel fresh, but alas, it feels like each run is slower than the last. Yesterday, I did a 10-mile long run along the very flat Bay Trail and averaged 11:50/mile, my slowest long run (on non-trails) in ages. Is this is what I get for saying that 11:26/mile would feel unnaturally slow?

After CIM, I was definitely ready to take a break. I figured I’d take a month off and only run when I wanted to. I tried to prioritize spending time with family and friends, sleeping in, and taking care of personal and professional matters that I had put on the back burner. December came and went…then in January, I decided to become a more well-rounded athlete and plunged into crosstraining. Which was fun, but became unsustainable. I felt like I was still being pulled in too many directions.

At some point, I asked myself, “Why am I stressing myself out about exercising? What is the point if I’m not enjoying it?” I also started wondering how healthy I truly was – in particular, my diet/nutrition was in shambles. I had started using running as an excuse to eat whatever I wanted, whether that meant donuts, soda, fast food… I was eating junk and feeling like junk. It showed in how lethargic I felt and in my ever-expanding waistline. I don’t like to talk about weight on this blog, because I think women have enough body image issues as it is, but when the excess pounds are a result of unhealthy eating and lifestyle, I think that needs to be addressed. However, I’ll confess that I’m motivated by vanity as well – we’re going to Mexico in June (hello bikini!) and then I have two events in June and July where I have to wear body-hugging dresses. Nothing wrong with multiple motivations, right? 😉

Anyway! Back to running goals…I’m still contemplating what the plan is for the rest of this year. My current goals are modest – run 3-4 times a week, averaging about 20-25 miles per week, and try to fit in an hour of crosstraining. I’d like to keep doing long runs on the weekends to maintain my endurance, even though I’m not technically training for anything. Two weeks ago, I did a solo trail run at Lake Chabot. A few of the trails were still closed due to storm damage, but I managed to get 9 miles in. Last weekend, a small group of friends and I did a gorgeous run in the Marin Headlands.

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Even with such optimal conditions, I’m not experiencing the endorphin rush that I used to get from group runs. My weekday runs feel like a chore currently. My plan for now is to switch from morning runs to lunch or afternoon runs. I’ve found that in the past, shaking up the routine was exactly what I needed to get myself out of the running doldrums.

The other thing that works for me motivation-wise is to start training for a race. I’ve been hesitant to do so, though, because of the whole burn-out thing. I’ve decided that whatever race I sign up for next as a “goal race” will be one that I’m truly passionate about, not just because it was convenient or there was a really good discount code (my Achilles heel). Since I’m going to have a very busy May, June, and July, I think something in the late summer/fall will be best.

Currently, the idea that most floats my boat is a 10K series: Brazen Summer Breeze (8/5) and the Race to End of Summer 10K (9/3). I thought about doing the San Jose Rock ‘n’ Roll 10K (10/7), but unfortunately I’ll be out of town that weekend. If anyone has a good suggestion for a flat and fast 10K in October, please let me know! There are a couple of aspects of a 10K series that I like. First, instead of putting all of my eggs in one basket (goal race), each race presents an opportunity to PR (best case) and to practice 10K racing (worst case). Second, I’ve never trained for a 10K so it will be a new learning experience. Third, (I expect but don’t know for sure) that 10K training will incorporate the parts of training that I enjoy most, which are a mix of intervals and endurance, but it won’t be as high mileage as a half or full marathon. Forth, 10K is a distance that I can race once a month and not get burned out (I don’t think). Finally, training for a 10K PR will put me in a position to hopefully take some minutes off of my half marathon PR, which I view as a soft/easily targeted PR (not as soft as my marathon PR, but I’m not about to train for another marathon anytime soon – a subject for another post).

OK, I think that’s enough rambling for now. If you’ve ever experienced burnout or a significant lull in your running motivation – tell me about it. What (if anything) worked to get you out of your funk?

Posted in Goals, random

Tips for Pacers & Runners

I’m by no means an expert, but now that I’ve paced 4 half marathons, I wanted to write up a few of my thoughts and share some tips – to people who want to pace and to those who want to run with pace groups. Before my first pacing experience at Tiburon, I looked around the internet and didn’t find much useful information. So hopefully, some of the insights I’m sharing below will be helpful. If you’ve paced or have run with pace groups before (successfully or not), please share your experiences in the comments!

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Advice to Pacers
First and foremost, research the course. I do this anyway with just about every race I run, but definitely take a look at the route, elevation profile, number and location of aid stations, and what kind of fuel and fluids to expect. Runners will look to you for information. There’s some course info that’s not so obvious, such as number of turns (possibly affecting overall distance), congestion (either caused by field size, lack of waves at the start, and/or narrowing of the course from roads to a bike path). You may want to ask other pacers who have run the course for any peculiarities, as well as how shaded or exposed the course is, if there are particularly challenging portions of the course, etc. Googling race reports, researching the race on websites like RaceRaves, and looking at Strava activities can also be helpful as well.

It’s usually advisable to sign up to pace a group that’s 10-20 minutes slower than your usual half marathon time, but not much slower than 30 minutes. We all have a pace range with which we’re comfortable. 10:40/mile (2:20 half marathon pace) is my easy pace, but if I had to run 11:26/mile (2:30), that would feel unnaturally slow. Alternatively, I could pace a 2:00 group, but my PR (1:56) is too close for comfort. I wouldn’t be able to chat with any other runners, which is half the fun of pacing.

Use your Garmin as an aid to help you run the proper pace, but don’t depend on it. The satellite coverage could be spotty if it’s a cloudy day, or if you’re surrounded by tall buildings. The course could have a ton of turns or be too long – rendering Garmin pace useless. Most major races have mile markers – use them! Our pacing group leader prints out pacing bands for us as a reference, which I highly recommend using. My normal strategy now is to ignore my Garmin pace and look at the total elapsed time as I cross every mile marker. I make a mental note – am I ahead or behind? If I’m behind, how many miles do I have to make up the time? I’ve only been behind once (because I was too reliant on my Garmin GPS) and I ended up forcing my group to speed up by about 20 seconds per mile for the second half of the race. That wasn’t optimal, obviously.

Decide on a pacing strategy and stick to it. I think this one depends on your natural inclination and also the course profile. Some people like to run even splits, others like to negative split. Some pacers like to bank about 10 seconds/mile for the first few miles to see how it’s going. If there’s a big hill or a lot of hills, you’ll need to adjust accordingly. There are websites that will print out a pace band for you depending on your strategy and the elevation profile (like this one). Either way, I wouldn’t vary the pace by more than 15-30 seconds. Remember that there might be runners in your group who have trained for an exact pace. For example, they might have consistently worked on running 9:09/mile for a 2 hour finish. Therefore, they might be capable of running faster than that for a few miles, but probably not faster than 8:45 for a prolonged period of time. Remember that finishing a few minutes faster may be comfortable for you, but probably not for those in your pace group. When I ran 1:56 at Summer Breeze last year, I remember that the pace group leader for the 2:00 group was running my pace for the first 4-5 miles. He ended up finishing solo in 1:58 because he lost everyone in his group. Don’t be that pacer. (He’s also a classic example of someone who was leading a pace group that was too slow for him, as he normally paces the 1:30 or 1:35 group.)

Once you’re in the race, make sure you communicate your race strategy to your group. Will you walk through aid stations? Are you running even splits or even effort (especially for hilly courses)? Are you planning on finishing just under the goal time? Prepare your group mentally by setting expectations. Your goal is to finish on time, but also to encourage your runners along the way. Be positive and supportive. Ask them about their goals and experience. Try not to get carried away with individual goals – especially at small races where you might only be pacing one person. You’re there as a goal post for all runners, not just one person. If someone is struggling and you’re about to lose them, encourage them to keep you in their sights. If someone has enough steam to finish strong, cheer them on in the last miles and tell them to run ahead.

If you don’t have anyone running with you, which can be a bit lonely and dispiriting, remember that it’s still important to keep pace because all runners are using you as a benchmark. Plus, there are times when it seems like you’re by yourself, but then it turns out that there are people using you as a pacer. I’ve had the experience at multiple races where someone has come up to me either at the very end of a race or after the race and told me that they were following me the whole way. Or, they used me as motivation to not slow down – to stay ahead of me. There are external motivations to finish on time too. Finishing near your goal pace helps the reputation of your pacing group and encourages race directors to invite the group to future races. Also, how well you pace may affect your future pacing gigs. Different groups have different policies – some are very strict and won’t let you pace again if you finish slower than the goal pace.

If you have a co-pacer, discuss possible strategies before the race. Will you run side by side, or will you split up and have a front pacer and a back pacer (covering a wider range of times)? Will you take turns at aid stations and holding the pace group sign?

Finally, enjoy yourself! Yes, it can be stressful to know that people are depending on you. However, if you’re someone who is thoughtful and running well within your comfort level, the pacing part shouldn’t be too hard. Fortunately, a half marathon is a long way and you have lots of room to correct minor errors in pacing. Keeping a positive attitude (and avoiding an anxious one) will help the overall morale of the runners around you. Feel free to give your group consistent updates about where you are pace wise, so they know what to expect. Remind them to breathe and check their form every so often. And once you cross the finish line and see the satisfaction of someone who has just achieved something they’ve never thought possible – it will all be worth it.

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Advice to runners
Thinking about running with a pace group? This topic came up recently on the Marathon Maniacs Facebook page, so I thought I’d share some tips from the runner’s perspective as well. First, try to research the pace group. Are they reputable? Or is it a random collection of people organized by the race director? Our pace group, the Trivalley Running Club, always publishes a chart after every race on the group’s Facebook page detailing our results and how far off people were from their goal paces. Except for a few DNFs due to injury, the TVRC pacing group does a great job. We all generally finish within 60 seconds faster than the stated goal time. Some races, like CIM, will post their pacers’ running resumes a couple of months before the race, which can be helpful in building trust in the pacers’ abilities to lead the group to the goal time.

Some questions to ask your pace group leader:
– what is the pace strategy?
– have they paced before?
– have they paced or run this specific course before?
– what is their running history? (especially if they’ve never paced before)
– are they aiming for exact finish or just a bit faster?

Additional tips:
– If a pace group isn’t available for your desired pace, start out behind or in front a group, depending on what strategy works best for you. Use the pace groups as indicators, even if your aren’t running with them.
– If you have time, tell the pacer what your goal is and maybe a bit about your experience, perhaps what has been helpful to you in the past. Sometimes you can do this in the first few miles if you don’t get a chance to talk to them at the expo or before the race. Some racers are more chatty and others quiet, so don’t be offended if you get a quiet one.
– If your pacer is not abiding by his/her plan (i.e., going out too fast or too slow), don’t be afraid to leave the group and do your own thing. There might be others willing to break off and work with you to form an impromptu pacing group.

We’ve all heard about or experienced good and bad pacers. Remember that pacers are humans, not robots, and are susceptible to bad days too. Plus, most pacers are volunteers. While their bibs are comped by the race organizers, they aren’t getting paid, nor are they professionals. Most of them are trying their best, or doing what they think is best, so try to be understanding.

Hopefully this was helpful to somebody out there. As always, leave questions or comments below. 🙂

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Posted in Advice, Pace Group, random
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